Listen to the Episode — 107 min
Clara: The Ex-Worker;
Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Clara: A monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Alanis: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Ex-Worker! We have returned from the almost-but-not-quite dead, ready to swing back into action with more of the radical reporting, analysis, interviews, reviews, and such and so forth we know you’ve been missing. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the upcoming National Prisoner Strike to End Prison Slavery on September 9th, with an interview with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
Alanis: We’ve also got an interview with an anarchist in London about the recent Brexit vote in the UK, a review of Dan Berger’s book Captive Nation on the history of black prison organizing, news, listener feedback, all sorts of updates, and plenty more. I’m Alanis…
Clara: And I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. As always, we’ve got the full transcript of this show plus lots of notes, references, and links with more information posted on our website at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: And we’d love to hear any feedback or responses you’ve got to the show, or updates or suggestions for future episodes; you can reach us by email at podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com.
Clara: So, at long last - let’s get back to it.
THE HOT WIRE
Alanis: Before we launch into the litany of riots, revolts, repression, resistance, and all the other R words we love and hate: let’s real talk for a minute. The world is a fucking mess right now, and so are we. It’s not that “nothing is going on”, or that resistance is at a low point right now - there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. But things are definitely looking grim here in the US and globally. And the kind of… I dunno, existential despair, or general bummed out, discouraged, adrift feeling that so many of our friends and comrades have been feeling has affected us, too. In these moments it can really be a struggle to stay on track, to remember that resistance is worthwhile, to believe that our projects have meaning.
Clara: So we want to apologize for dropping off the map for the last couple of months. Sincere thanks and warm greetings to everyone who wrote in to check up on us or inquire when the next episode would be coming out. For the rest of the year we’ll be back on our monthly schedule, and then we’ll see how things are looking for 2017.
Now - what has been going on out there, Alanis?
Alanis: In short: a whole hell of a lot. It’s been too long for us to even venture an attempt at summarizing the news from around the world, so we’re just going to mention a couple of things that we want to discuss in a bit more depth.
Of course, what we’re supposed to all be focused on - no, obsessed with - is the presidential spectacle. At a moment when faith in parties and politicians is at an all time low and serious disdain for the ruling order is pouring in from the left, the right, and beyond, the ruling class has managed to offer up perhaps the two least appealing candidates ever to combine into a single pitiful excuse for an election.
Clara: The convention protests turned out to be relatively small affairs. In Cleveland, the constellation of anti-Trump demonstrators included some Black Lives Matter and anti-police folks, RCP commies, miscellaneous liberals, and a handful of anarchists, who managed a small black bloc on the second day (and special props to the folks who knocked over Alex Jones, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory wingnut). But a number of white supremacists and neo-Nazis came too, along with heavily armed militia members taking advantage of Ohio’s open carry laws to make an intimidating pro-Trump spectacle (as if the thousands of riot cops weren’t sufficient).
Alanis: At the DNC in Philadelphia, seemingly the vast majority of protestors were disgruntled Bernie supporters, who rubbed shoulders with at least a few people who have an actual critique of electoral politics. A bit of traffic was disrupted here and there, and a small crew broke through the perimeter fence but were quickly stopped, with seven folks arrested and facing federal charges. The numbers were larger than at the RNC, oddly, which I think goes to show how much the Sanders campaign managed to absorb a lot of protest liberals and progressives, who were mad at being left irrelevant just when they thought they’d finally found their candidate.
Clara: Look. y’all - THIS IS EXACTLY THE TIME FOR ANARCHIST AGITATION. We’re unlikely to have another time in the near future when it is this blatantly, unavoidably fucking obvious that the two party electoral system is complete fucking bullshit. The best argument Republicans have got for Trump is that he’s not Clinton; the best arguments that Democrats can mount for Clinton is that she’s not Trump. In this case, for once, they’re both right. Vote no one for president, and let’s get busy organizing our own lives without politicians.
Alanis: We actually have a lot more we want to say about the convention protests, or the lack thereof. But we want to fold it into a longer discussion and assessment of anarchist protest activity in the US over the past twenty years. So we’re gonna save that for our next episode.
Clara: Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world? Oh, nothing much, ya know… Just a failed military coup in Turkey, escalation of tensions between Russia and the US and Europe over intervention in Syria as well as with Ukraine in the Crimea, all sorts of riots and disturbances in South Africa, tensions in the South China Sea, conflict over the Olympics in Brazil, a hostage crisis involving opposition political figures and thousands of protestors clashing with cops in Armenia, rioting in the suburbs of Paris… and of course, police murdering person after person after person, in the US and around the world.
Alanis: The government of Ethiopia cracked down brutally on protests against land grabs for so-called development, killing at least 90 people in a single weekend;
Clara: Young people in London went wild on multiple occasions, looting a McDonald’s and a supermarket, fighting cops, and chanting “Black Lives Matter,” when police tried to break up unlicensed public parties.
Alanis: Mothers in Argentina staged a mass public “breastfeed-in” - that’s like a sit-in, but with breastfeeding infants instead of sitting - in Buenos Aires and several other cities, in protest against police repression against a nursing mother.
Clara: And finally: the one piece of news that gave me hope recently came from Phenix City, Alabama, where an unnamed Taco Bell employee refused to serve four cops who came in to order food - because they were cops. And she was backed up by another customer, who said she didn’t want to have to eat near cops. As you might expect, the rebellious cashier was immediately fired, with Taco Bell tripping over itself to assure everyone how much they love cops.
Corporate News Asshole: …joining us live from outside that Taco Bell store along Highway 280 in Phenix City. What exactly is the company saying about this alleged incident?
Another Corporate News Asshole: Well, we actually reached out to a Taco Bell spokesperson, and we have the latest. We also did reach out to the sheriff of Lee County, Jay Jones, to get his reaction to hearing that two of his deputies were refused service here during their shift. And he also shared that - he thanked corporate management for contacting them about the incident in Phenix City last night, and that they were assured that this investigation was handled in a serious manner…
Alanis: In all seriousness, I think this is a potentially really inspiring new tactics to adopt. Insurrectionary anarchists say we should evaluate our tactics by asking, is it conflictual? and do it generalize? Everyone’s flipping out over these anti-police shootings that have happened recently; they sure as hell are conflictual, but it’s pretty unlikely that that degree of intense anti-police violence is going to generalize to the point where it’s likely to seriously alter power relations between police and their victims. But small acts of defiance that challenge the supposed respect and legitimacy police are supposed to have, like this woman at Taco Bell refusing to serve them, actually could generalize and begin to undermine the authority of police in our society. Imagine if a group of fast food workers all agreed not to serve cops, and then went on strike if one of them faced consequences. It could totally spread, with people competing for who can give the cop at the drive-in window the most wicked diss on viral videos, etc… They’re trying to clamp down on this insurrectionary possibility by firing her, but the more people who start doing it, the more it can spread, and the more polarized it’ll reveal our society to be - the more people will have to actually take a side.
Alanis: Anyway, wherever you are, anonymous former Taco Bell cashier in Phenix City, Alabama, you have our utmost respect and solidarity. You are a fucking inspiration to us all.
ANARCHISTS ON THE BREXIT VOTE
Clara: One of the major stories in international news over the last couple of months, whose consequences are still rippling out, was the vote in the UK to withdraw from the European Union, known as “Brexit” in the media. We’ve been following corporate news coverage of it, but we weren’t exactly sure what to make of it as anarchists. On the one hand, many commentators viewed the vote as an indication of the depth of anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK, and correlated it to a rise in racist attacks and re-energized extreme right organizing. On the other hand, the EU has been responsible for intensive border militarization, and weakening it could help decentralize some of the political power that maintains Europe’s collective dominance over the continents and peoples to its south and east. We wanted to get the inside story, so we contacted an anarchist in London who shared his perspective.
Jon: Me, I’m known as Jon Active. I do Active Distribution.
Alanis: Jon, thanks for speaking with us.
Jon Active: S’okay.
Alanis: So to get started, can you give our listeners who aren’t familiar some basic background about what the Brexit vote was, how it came to be up for a vote, and what was at stake?
Jon: Sure. So originally it was all about a small party called UKIP, the UK Independence Party, which was kind of on the fringes of British politics, run by one megalomaniac called Nigel Farage, whose basically a kind of populist character. And it was probably going to remain a relatively insignificant party. But it was eating away at the right wing element of the Conservatives, the Tories as we call them. And it basically kind of became more and more influential in the right wing scene and started to play heavily on the whole immigration debate and on the whole Islamophobia kind of stuff, and all that classic nasty right wing elements. So what then happened was that David Cameron, who was the leader of the conservative party, he basically tried to negate their influence by saying that he would at some point have a referendum on whether or not the UK should stay in Europe, which is what the UK Independence party is supposedly all about, is about whether the UK stays in the European Union.
And yeah, this has to be put alongside the idea that for many many years the right wing media has loved to have stories about how this country, the great British government, the great British people are being dominated by Europe, and we have no control over decision making process, all this kind of stuff - which is kind of rubbish, really. Most of that stuff was rubbish, and it was just right wing bullshit.
So David Cameron thought that he’d be able to negate them by saying, yes, we’ll have a referendum. And he, like pretty much everyone else, assumed that it wouldn’t be much of a contest and everybody would vote to stay in. But basically the momentum grew, and eventually he said OK, we’ll have one and we’ll have it before the next election. And the political establishment got quite a surprise, because the vote went against what the majority of people in the establishment wanted and thought it would do. And that’s basically because they didn’t realize how much the influence of the the populist anger against the idea (which, like I said, is kind of like a joke) that we’re dominated by Europe and we have no control over our laws and we have no control over our borders, and we have to let all these people into the country because Europe tells us to, and all this kind of stuff - this is kind of rubbish. We have the same kind of deal as every other country has. (And obviously it’s rubbish to say that we shouldn’t allow people in anyway.)
But basically, it was a lot of popular racist resentment and sentiment: one, against immigration levels, with right wing media stoking up the idea that the National Health Service is crumbling because we’re having to look after so many immigrant families, and because we haven’t got any houses for “real English people” because we have all these immigrants coming in, all this kind of stuff, which is actually proved to be rubbish when it comes to the actual finances. But of course it’s populist politics. And it got to be really popular in certain areas of the country - basically all the areas which don’t have large amounts of immigrants. Middle England’s what we usually call it; white Middle England.
So what happened was this campaign came along. UKIP wasn’t the only organization fighting for us to leave Europe; there was also a coalition of other groups and there were various important Conservative and also some Labor MPs, but most notably Boris Johnson, who used to be the lord mayor of London. He’s a very populist right wing Tory politician. He decided it was in his interests, and supposedly in the country’s interest, to leave. And so basically, [through] his campaigning and various other campaigns, they got the popular vote.
Alanis: Leading up to the vote, what did anarchists contribute to the discussion? Was there a single “anarchist position” for or against (or for abstention)?
Jon: No, there wasn’t. Obviously if you talk to some people they’ll go, yeah, this is the anarchist position. But from what I read before and from what I’ve subsequently read - because I was actually quite surprised by the result, and I was actually very saddened by the result, and so I kind of looked at what had been going on - and among anarchists, a lot of people were saying, what’s the position here? It’s a vote, but it’s not a vote for the government; and one of the few things anarchist tend to agree on is we don’t vote for governments. But this is a referendum, so is that different? If it’s just a one question thing, then is it right that we could vote here, because we’re actually going to get a result, yes or no? Well, the funny thing is, of course, it was only a very small percentage - something like 48% to 52% - which voted for this issue, and that democratic process has now meant that we’re all fucked. So I don’t think that’s a great argument for referendums from the anarchist point of view at all. It certainly doesn’t involved any consensus, that’s for sure.
But there was no consistent anarchist position on this, partly because some people were split. There are some anarchists - I guess they fall into two camps broadly. One were you could say the class struggle, class war types, and maybe the insurrectionist, “let’s create as much chaos as we can” type, who think that the vote to leave was a great thing because it’s kind of stuck up two fingers at the Establishment, and it’s a way for the working class to say “Ya Boo sucks” to the Conservatives.
I actually think that’s a complete misnomer; it’s rubbish. The Establishment were split as well about whether or not they should [vote yes or no]. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, the leaders of the Leave campaign - they’re total right wing bastards, they are total establishment people. There’s no way that we’ve kind of voted for something preferable for the working class in moving away from Europe. And the whole thing about being against the European super-state, which obviously is a very popular thing amongst anarchists, especially in Europe - that’s something that in this country we’re very aware of and also against - but this campaign, this referendum, it was not about criticizing the European super-state. It was about, what it became about - was immigration. It was about the whole notion of saying we don’t want all these people here because they’re taking “our” resources, that kind of stuff, you know? So for anyone to say, hey, we voted to leave because we’re showing that we don’t believe in the European super-state is just mind-bogglingly naive, because their vote basically went straight to this UKIP leader who’s basically a racist/fascist type, and other right wing people, and they’re the ones who are celebrating. And anyone who thought that their vote was going to somehow count against Europe, it’s just head in the sand.
Alanis: My impression from the media I’ve read here in the US is that the success of the Brexit vote reflects an escalating climate of nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK. Is that the case? Is there more to the story?
Jon: It’s quite tricky, because… you can’t trust the media, because obviously they exaggerate everything to sell papers or online adverts or whatever it is. But yes, there is definitely, as far as we can tell, an increase in reported racist attacks. And what I think is actually more worrying is not just that this vote has somehow legitimized racism - which is quite possible that it has, though; it’s quite possible that people now feel like, hey, look, 52% of the country says we don’t want you here any more. So I can say that openly now without fear of being accused of being racist. Because for quite a long time now almost everybody doesn’t want to be accused of being racist, even the right wing idiots. (Obviously the real Nazis, they don’t care about it.) But right wing politicians always say we’re not racist, we just want to put our people first - that kind of bullshit. That’s changed. But what I think is the really scary thing when the people who voted for Brexit because they thought, they were basically sold the idea that our country would return to a great golden era of being in control and spending the money on “our own people” - when they realize that’s not going to happen (which it won’t) then those people will be angry, and who knows who’ll they’ll direct their anger at. Probably at the most vulnerable, which will be immigrants, again. So that is worrying. What I do know is that lots of anti-fascist groups are trying to pick up their game because they’re aware of a lot more fascist activity.
Alanis: What impact do you think the Brexit vote’s going to have on UK society? What kinds of responses do you expect to see from anarchists?
Jon: It’ll be interesting to see. The other thing to remember is that this vote, it did kind of polarize the country. I live in London; and London voted - if you break down the vote by regions - London was totally for staying. London is the most multicultural part of this country, and has the most immigrants. It doesn’t mean there won’t be attacks and stuff, but it means that it probably won’t have the same effect as it will if you’re living in, shall we say, northern areas which have a more polarized, not so mixed [population]. Obviously I’m not quite so in touch with what groups are doing or going to be doing there. But I’m aware that there was a demonstration the day straight after the vote which was organized by independent antifascists in London as a support for refugees. And I guess there’s going to be an attempt to take on the fascists whenever they come out on the streets, if they do indeed. But I think what’s more worrying is not so much necessarily if fascists start doing their own demos - which I think they may do further down the line, when they get angry about the fact that Brexit is not going to fulfill what their dreams were - but what the general population’s attitude toward “non-English” people will be. And I don’t know how that will be counted.
This result was a bit of a shock to me, because I travel around Europe a lot. And I’ve been around long enough to remember what it was like before we had the EU, and every time you got to a border you had to show papers and that kind of stuff. And I hate showing papers! And I’m aware of the kind of sick, sad irony that the joy or the ease with which I can travel around Europe as a white European has to be counterbalanced against those who are not in Europe and who are obviously trying to get in to it, or want to get into it or whatever. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that I think the very notion that we can manage to create a zone in which people don’t have to show an ID every time they cross a border is actually a good thing. And I’d like to extend that to everywhere. But I don’t think we’re going to improve that by closing down the UK borders.
What was interesting to me was the reaction after, when the vote came through the next morning. Amongst anarchists, or people that I knew who were activist types, anyway; almost everybody I knew was surprised, shocked, hurt, or, shall we say, embarrassed. Basically, for the people from this country who were radicals it was kind of like: Jesus, what the fuck does this show about this country? How embarrassing, how annoying is it for us to be reminded how greedy and racist and horrible this country can be? And that was counterpoised to the other reaction which I directly felt, which was how hurt my European friends who live in this country, some of whom have lived in this country most of their lives now but aren’t English citizens, how hurt they felt about the result. And the people I live with, people I work with, people I do anarchist stuff with, were just like: geez, you know? And other people as well were like, wow, what does this say about all the people we spend our time with? They don’t want us here! And people were immediately thrown into this idea that we’re going to get kicked out, because that’s what the racists were talking about, that’s what the extreme position was talking about. And again, I don’t believe this could possibly happen. But it’s incredible - there’s currently a leadership battle over the Conservative party, and the most likely winner, the woman who’s going to be the next leader of the Conservative party, she has, as yet, refused to endorse the idea that anyone who already lives in this country and is European cannot or will not be kicked out, because she says she doesn’t want to “let go of her bargaining chips.” You know, it’s obscene. But that’s where we’re at with the reality of the politics of the right wing and what’s happened because of this vote. And just the idea that this country could vote and cause that kind of feeling to people who are already here just made some of us feel quite sick. And angry.
Alanis: Jon, thanks for speaking with us.
Clara: Along with our transcript of this interview and everything else on the show, we’ve got a few more links with anarchist perspectives on the Brexit vote that you can peruse on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
SEPTEMBER 9TH PRISONER STRIKE
Clara: Here on the Ex-Worker, we’ve spent a lot of time covering prisoner struggles. Way back in Episodes 4 and 8, we discussed anarchist perspectives on prisons, why they should be abolished, and strategies about how to move in that direction. We’ve tried to consistently share updates and reports on radical prisoners and their struggles inside as well as solidarity efforts by folks on the outside, particularly here in the US but also internationally. As states come to rely and more and more heavily on mass incarceration, surveillance, and deportation as strategies for maintaining a stable environment for capitalism, organizing efforts by prisoners and detainees are becoming particularly significant within global struggles for freedom. And here in the US, where more folks are locked up than in any country at any point in history, the stakes are especially high. As a result of the legacy of colonization, indigenous genocide, and slavery in this country, incarceration plays a central role in maintaining white supremacy even as race-specific laws vanish from the books. Given all of this, it’s crucial that we keep an eye on what’s going on in and around prisons (as well as jails, juvenile and migrant detention centers, and everywhere else folks are locked up), and that those of us on the outside do all that we can to support efforts to join together and tear down the prison walls.
September 9th, 2016 will be the 45th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion, one of the largest prison uprisings in US history, and although it was ultimately defeated, the spirit remains alive. In commemoration, incarcerated folks around the US have called for a National Prison Work Stoppage on that date, to interrupt the functioning of the prison empire and publicize the exploitation and brutality underlying our so-called justice system and the economy that increasingly relies on it. Here’s an excerpt from the organizing materials that explains what it’s about:
Alanis: Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement. This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.
Clara: We think this prisoner strike could be a historic challenge to the prison industrial complex, and we want to encourage all of our listeners to take part and support however you can. To learn more about it, we got in touch with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, one of the major groups organizing for the strike, which includes both workers inside as well as outside supporters. We made an effort to arrange an interview with one of the incarcerated organizers, but unfortunately our efforts were foiled by the challenges presented by lockdowns, solitary confinement, restricted communication, and various other conditions that we can only imagine make trying to organize a coordinated action among many different facilities outrageously difficult. Instead, we spoke with Azzurra, from the IWOC (or EYE-wok) in Austin, Texas. We had a fantastic conversation about the background to the strike, tactics of striking prisoners, strategies for fighting white supremacy, concrete ways that supporters can link up and show solidarity, and visions of a world without prisons. We hope you’ll enjoy it - and we hope even more that you’ll be inspired to take action, on September 9th and beyond.
INTERVIEW WITH AZZURRA FROM IWOC
The Ex-Worker: We’re speaking today with Azzurra from the IWOC in Austin, Texas. Azzura, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Azzurra: Thank you so much for having me, it’s truly an honor.
The Ex-Worker: Can you start off by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about the IWOC?
Azzurra: Sure. So I am an associate professor of philosophy at the local community college, and I’m also the media co-chair for the IWOC, which is the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. And I’m a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, as an educational worker.
The Ex-Worker: How did you come to get involved with the September 9th strike campaign?
Azzurra: Well, the long answer for that is that I activated during Occupy, and I started doing jail release support for members of Occupy Austin who were getting arrested as part of civil disobedience. And after eviction, when we lost our encampment to 60 riot cops, I started writing to prisoners from the Occupy movement, and from there I began writing to prisoners of other liberatory struggles. So for the last four years I’ve been writing to a lot of prisoners, and after becoming a member of the IWW and hearing about the strike that began in Texas in April, I saw this as a really important part of the prison abolition struggle. I eventually went on to co-found an organization called Prison Abolition Prisoner Solidarity, which is one of the many organizations that is coming under the IWOC umbrella. So it just seemed like a really good fit to go ahead and become more involved with IWOC, because the prisoner strike was one of the tactics that we saw as being really effective towards the work that we were already doing, and we just wanted to support it in any way we could.
The Ex-Worker: Can you give us some background history of prisoner organizing that has led up to this campaign?
Azzurra: Sure. So I would encourage listeners to check out a zine that was put together by the Houston IWOC that talks about the history of prisoner rebellion since 2008. Obviously that’s a long and illustrious history. I’m sure that many of your listeners are already familiar with the Attica uprising. But the reality of the situation is that prisoners in the United States and all over the world have a history of work stoppages, of hunger strikes, of prison takeovers, yard takeovers. And the decision to have the strike go national on the 45th anniversary of Attica I think really speaks to the fact that we have this idea that conditions in prisons have massively improved in the last 45 years. And the reality of the situation is that we have a larger percentage of people incarcerated in the United States now than we did 45 years ago; that prison conditions may have changed slightly in some ways, but in a lot of ways have worsened; we have a higher proportion of people who are being held in “administrative segregation,” or solitary confinement; and that this is really the time to start pushing back against it. I think especially with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s really been a focus on the fact that this is a extremely racialized problem, and that’s part of the reason why the catch phrase for the September 9th strike is “End Prison Slavery”. It’s to recognize the fact that the 14th amendment didn’t abolish slavery; it just made it the case that you could enslave somebody if it was the result of having committed a crime. And we know that the people that are being incarcerated for crimes are overwhelmingly people of color and people who are poor, who can’t afford representation.
So all of these elements are coming to play, in terms of saying, OK, when would be a good day for the strike to go national? Obviously we’re currently in the middle of Black August, which also has a really strong history of prison resistance. But September 9th was seen as really being a galvanizing movement - you know, a lot of people, even in pop culture, remember Attica.
The Ex-Worker: What are some of the major issues or struggles that connect prisoners around the US that folks are hoping to highlight through the strike?
Azzurra: I think the first thing that we need to remember is that most prisoners are forced to work and do not receive a wage, or when they do receive a wage, it is cents to the hour. Especially in Texas, but nationwide, they’re often dangled this carrot of “good time release.” So they’re basically told, oh, if you show up to your job, then every day that you work counts as two days or three days against your eventual release date. The reality of the situation is that these hours and days are not being accredited, and often they can be stolen from prisoners with just silly things. So for example, a former incarcerated worker was telling me that they went out and picked up trash all day on the side of the road. and then the guards showed up with a bag of McDonald’s. And they ate the hamburger, and then afterwards were told, oh, this is your good time pay for today, you don’t get your good time accreditation - after they had already eaten the hamburger. So you have prisoners who have worked for decades and really have received no compensation.
As an aside, this is also an issue for workers on the other side of the razor wire, because it means that you have workers that are engaged in industrial applications - say, making clothes, or paper, or furniture - that can be stamped as “Made in the United States,” but are not having to have a minimum wage applied to them. So obviously that means that they can underbid industrial workers on the outside of the razor wire. And you as a good consumer are trying to say, oh, I’m only trying to make things that were made in the US, but you might be buying things that were made from prison labor.
So I think that is something that unites workers who are incarcerated. (By that I mean people who are in general population.) For many prisoners, though, the reality is that they’re being held in long term solitary confinement. Workers who are in long term solitary confinement generally are not able to work and hence are not able to get good time compensation. but they also don’t have access to rehabilitation. It’s very difficult for them go to, for example, go to an AA meeting or sign up for classes or do anything to show that they’re doing a good job and hence would be eligible for probation or parole. So that’s really an issue. And ending long term solitary confinement is a problem that I think every prisoner is concerned with, because the threat of being put in solitary confinement is often the reason why workers who are incarcerated are unwilling to go on strike, because they know that that is the ultimate punishment that can be set against them.
Issues relating to access to medical care are also huge. So for example, in Texas, prisoners are required to pay 100 dollars of co-payment in order to be able to see a doctor. If you’re getting paid ten cents an hour or not at all, it becomes really, really difficult for you to see a doctor, just because you’re not going to be able to afford it. Often prisoners have a very difficult time getting access to medical care. Guards will just throw away their requests for medical care, for example. Or they won’t be able to be seen by a doctor who’s independent from the prison. Or they’ll be denied care on the basis of money or delays. So for example, Hepatitis C is rampant in prisons, because of the concentration of the population that you have. So when you imagine thousands of men or women who are being held in a very small space, that makes it very easy for Hepatitis C and other diseases to spread. In addition, you don’t have access to condoms even though we know that sex occurs behind the razor wire, whether that’s consensual or whether it’s rape. So that’s another way that Hepatitis C can spread. You have issues relating to fights breaking out and not necessarily having them cleaned up properly afterwards or getting access to adequate medical care. Then things that the prisoner themselves might be technically responsible for, like stick and poke tattoos, needle sharing, things of that nature. So you have tons and tons of people with Hepatitis C. But most states do not treat prisoners for Hepatitis C immediately; they wait until the prisoner’s Hepatitis C has progressed to a point where it’s life threatening, and in certain cases - like I’m sure many of your listeners have been following along with Mumia Abu Jamal’s struggle for Hepatits C treatment - even then it’s denied. So access to adequate medical care is obviously an issue.
To a certain extent this varies state by state, but in Texas for example, we have a huge problem of units not having any air conditioning. So right now in Austin, Texas, the heat index is 116. We have units that are an hour and a half away from here that don’t have any air conditioning in general population. Some units don’t have any air conditioning at all. So imagine that you’re being asked to work in the kitchen, and the heat index outside is 116; there are no windows; there’s no way to get any air in except for maybe a fan; and you’re trying to work washing dishes. What are those conditions going to be like for you? Is that something you could sustain doing eight hours a day, every day?
Then you have issues of double and triple celling, which is sometimes referred to as “overcrowding.” And I want to make it very clear that when we’re talking about overcrowding, we’re always talking about it from an abolitionist perspective, or at least I am. So I’m not interested in seeing more prisons being built, but I am interested in seeing community programs, restorative justice programs, rehabilitative programs, so that we’re not double and triple celling people. But the reality of the situation is that cells that were meant to hold one person or two people often hold three or four. Especially in administrative segregation situations, the prisoner is technically supposed to be held on their own, but will actually end up being double celled. In the case of political prisoners or politicized prisoners or anarchist prisoners, sometimes guards will go out of their way to put an anarchist in with a white supremacist, knowing that that’s somebody who’s going to fight. So issues of overcrowding are obviously a pretty massive problem.
The Ex-Worker: Tell us about how have you been able to connect with other folks inside and out to organize towards the September 9th strike.
Azzurra: It’s true that there are intense barriers to communication, but I think there’s something to be said about the power of the human spirit and love and connection. So obviously in terms of communicating, it’s done by letter most often, or in my case postcard, usually. I’m really fond of the Flikshop app. It makes it very easy to send postcards to prisoners, and really cheap too. Visits are very important; phone calls when that’s an option; for people who are being held in administrative segregation they don’t normally have access to phone calls. Sometimes through JPay you can send videos and things like that.
But I think it’s important to remember that when you’re in a situation where you’re in a cell that’s six feet by nine feet, you can’t see the outside - maybe you can’t even see the guy who’s across from you. When you get a letter, the sense of connection that you get from that is profound. And so I can tell you that some of the prisoners with whom I’ve been corresponding for years have become very close friends. And that’s important when you’re organizing because in some cases there’s a delay and you can’t necessarily ask a prisoner, what is your stance on this particular issue? You just need to act. And when you’ve had a close relationship with somebody, you don’t necessarily have to ask what’s their position on this particular issue. So for example, right after the first set of strikes happened in Texas, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the TDCJ rolled out a new handbook for prisoners and one of the things that they said was that prisoners were no longer allowed to have social media accounts. Now please keep in mind that prisoners don’t have access to Twitter or Facebook on their own. but what does happen is that supporters on the outside will run Twitter or Facebook accounts in support of a prisoner. So I was asked to speak about that as a person who runs most of the social media for Xinachtli Alvaro Luna Hernandez, a Chicano anarchist that many of your listeners are familiar with (and he does thank you for wishing him a happy birthday every year). And so there was a question of, OK, if I go and give an interview, and I mention Free Alvaro Now’s Twitter account,and the fact that we’re obviously going to continue being live, there’s a chance that he could get a 90 day disciplinary ticket for that. I didn’t have a chance to write to him and ask what do you want me to do? And if I had, I actually would have put him in more danger. But I know Xinachtli, and I know that if he gets a 90 day disciplinary ticket because I’m making sure that his words are getting out, that he’s going to take that hit and do it with a smile. So building those kinds of relationships is really important.
That having being said though, just postcard blasts can be really successful and really effective. So one of the things that PAPS has been doing in conjunction with IWOC is just sending postcards to every prisoner that is a member of IWOC to make sure that they’re getting mail. And that helps to build connection and make sure that there’s communication going across the razor wire. And then finally, people who have media access are really important, because through the use of media mail they can sometimes have less censored conversations with prisoners and gain greater access.
The final thing that I would mention that people who are currently free but are formerly incarcerated workers are really an important part of the movement, because they understand prison conditions and what prisoners want, but they also have the freedom to act on it really be able to do something about it. You know, it’s a little strange sometimes being an activist who has never been incarcerated. It’s a little bit like I’m a person who’s never had sex but has talked to people who have had sex and I’m coming to you and saying this is what sex is like, when I haven’t had that experience. And so what it’s important to build relationships is so that you can speak on people’s behalf - not because you’re trying to appropriate their voice, but because often it’s not possible to get their voice out in any other way. So part of the amplification and part of the raising of awareness that we have to do is speaking on their behalf. So how do you do that authentically? The answer is, the closer the connection you have with individual prisoners, the easier that becomes.
The Ex-Worker: Obviously there are intense limitations on the kinds of tactics folks inside can use in their struggles. And we also know that that gives rise to incredible creativity in terms of the kinds of tactics that people use to resist. What kinds of tactics have incarcerated workers been using recently, and what might we expect in September?
Azzurra: I think I’ll just speak generally and not refer any specific resistance. Things that you can see are obviously work stoppages. that can be a rolling work stoppage - so you might have one day that you lay it down. Work slowdowns can be very effective: so you still show up to work, but you just work more slowly than you otherwise would. Engaging in sabotage, and that can take a wide variety of forms. So for example, you might have an entire block that coordinates to flush all their toilets all at once. And that can put a really heavy strain on the sewage system for the prison. And then if the workers who are supposed to fix the plumbing are also on your side, you can make sure that that’s slowed down for quite some time.
Hunger strikes are very common. And I think it’s really important to understand that when prisoners work stop, they are expecting to most likely also go on hunger strike. So if you take over a yard; right like let’s say that you’re supposed to go out to pick fruit, and you decide that you’re not going to, and you’re going to lay it down in that yard and you’re going to stay in that yard for the next three weeks. The guards are not going to bring you food while that’s happening; they’re not going to bring you water. You’re probably going to have to build latrines outside in order to have any sort of sanitation. Other prisoners are going to have to bring you water; they’re probably not going to be able to smuggle you food. So sort of by definition, a work stoppage has the possibility of a hunger strike occurring. I mean, you can see greater escalation of tactics from that.
It’s really important for people to recognize that part of why work stoppage is important is that it creates a revolutionary space that allows for prisoners to radicalize each other. So one thing that happens is that - let’s say that you engage in a really beautiful action of sabotage. But if the prisoners around you are insufficiently radicalized, what’s going to happen is that other prisoners are going to come and fix the sabotage you just engaged in, and then that doesn’t get us anywhere. So part of why work stoppages are so important is that they create this revolutionary space in which then people can have these conversations about their own experiences, and come to understand those experiences in a way that overcomes the initial lens of internalized oppression. So most prisoners, even ones that have been a little radicalized, still think that it’s their fault that they’re incarcerated. I did something wrong, I broke the law, hence I’m incarcerated. And it’s difficult to then flip that switch and say, no, I’m here because of economic conditions, such that the 1% or the people in power, however you want to phrase it, benefit from my incarceration. And although I may have engaged in wrong action, my incarceration is more accurately ascribed to this overall system.
So to bring a parallel to Occupy, for example. We know that people’s homes were being foreclosed on because of predatory lending practices. But it was extremely difficult to find homeowners who were losing their homes but were willing to have those homes be occupied and were willing to resist against the foreclosure, because people had such an internalized deep sense of shame, they didn’t want their neighbors to know that their homes were being foreclosed on and they couldn’t make their payments - even though they understood that the conditions that led them to not be able to make those payments were not their fault.
So part of the reason why work stoppages are so important is that, just like occupation, they create that space, that community so that people can be able to talk to each other and come to understand: OK,yeah, I sold drugs. Why was I selling drugs? Because I lived in the barrio and I didn’t have any other options. And pharmaceutical companies are selling drugs that are killing people and causing even worse damages than what I did. But they’re free and they’re making tons of money, and I’m incarcerated here, making even more money for them. OK, so yes, I broke the law. But were those laws written in the interest of the community? No. Who is benefiting from my incarceration? Only those who have a profit motive in the system of incarceration, not the community as a whole. OK, now when a prisoner engaged in sabotage, I understand why that’s occurring. And I understand why it’s important for me not to then go in and undo that work. But that’s a process, right all of us are constantly overcoming and undoing our own systems of internalized oppression. And it’s no different for prisoners. Just because they’re closer to the boot heel of fascism doesn’t mean that they always magically have a better understanding of the systems of oppression that are around them.
The Ex-Worker: One of the major focuses of the campaign has been challenging white supremacy and its significance to the whole system of policing and prisons in the US. We know that both outside and especially inside the prison walls, the folks in power use race as a wedge to divide folks who might otherwise organize together. How are prisoners inside and their supporters challenging white supremacy and racial divisions in your organizing?
Azzurra: So one answer is to say that we’re not doing enough, or we would have overcome prison racism already. But here are some things that we can do and should continue to do. First of all, for those who are on the inside, organizing with white gangs is an operational reality. For example, when Xinachtli Alvaro Luna Hernandez helped lead a work stoppage at a cell unit in 1978, at the time, work gangs and pods were racially segregated. So in order to successfully work stop, the white groups had to come on board. So for those of us who are on the outside, that’s something that we’re going to have to accept, that our comrades who are on the inside are going to have to do this. For anarchists who are on the inside, they can play a really important role in helping white prisoners from joining Aryan gangs for protection by creating alternate groups for those prisoners to clique up with. So if you’re a prisoner and you know that you can ride in the anarchist car, you don’t have to ride in the Aryan car just to avoid getting raped, just to avoid getting jumped every night. And that’s something that our comrades need to be doing and they need to be doing more of, is to create these alternate groups, whether they’re multiracial or for white prisoners to join up, so that they know that they can have protection without necessarily having to become part of a white supremacist group.
Now for those of us who are on the outside, I think we need to check ourselves before we judge what prisoners do to survive, and understand that this is a divide-and-conquer, racialized environment that many of us just don’t understand. If you find yourself writing to a white supremacist - so let’s say for the sake of argument that you are doing IWOC work, and you get a letter from somebody that is requesting information on how do I join the prisoner strike? and then you begin a correspondence with this person, and they sign a letter “White power,” or something like that. I would urge you to take this as an opportunity for conversion. When you have a continuing cooperative relationship with someone, then you can use that relationship to get that person to understand the inherent inconsistency of white supremacy. So I suggest that we all immediately go and read Rashid Johnson’s 2006 article “On the Questions of Race and Racism: Revolutionary National Liberation and Building the United Front Against Imperialism”, which is available at rashidmod.com. He does an excellent job of breaking down the historical capital roots of racism.
As I said earlier, part of why strikes are so important is that when workers are laying it down, it creates that revolutionary space that allows people to have certain conversations. So white prisoners who are currently suffering from a false sense of superiority, perhaps to overcome their own internalized insecurities that may ultimately be rooted in class oppression, may come to have a relationship with Chicano and black prisoners, and really come to look up to them and realize, hey, this is someone who’s really taking a stance. I look up to and respect this person. OK, that makes it harder for me to now be a white supremacist.
So as a quick example, when Xinachtli Alvaro was moved to Allred, none of the prisoners there knew him. And then one day, a friend of his from the 1970s magically turned up to be one of his neighbors, And he started telling all of the other prisoners in ad seg, do you know who this guy is? and telling them all these stories of the things that Xinachtli Alvaro had done. And out of nowhere, [they started] on their way to the showers - because he happened at the time to be right next to the shower, to nod to him and give recognition. Now, is that undoing prison racism? It’s a step towards undoing prison racism. And I think that we always have to look at it in terms of taking that opportunity.
But it’s also important for us to understand that undoing the prison industrial complex is a key component to undoing anti-black racism in this country. Because so many African-Americans, and specifically so many African-American men are being incarcerated at rates that are completely and utterly disproportionate to the crimes that are being committed. That’s due to the war on drugs, that’s due to these policing systems that are completely racist and racialized. So of course we need to focus on the fact that cops are disproportionately killing black people. But we have to remember that part of how cops are disproportionately killing black people is by incarcerating them and having them die in prison.
So as we engage in this struggle we need to remember look, when prisoners come out, they’re going to come out more racist than when they came in. so what are we going to do to be an influence in their lives to help check that. Even for prisoners who are already radicalized, they may end up having some inadvertent racism that ends up being part of their experience. So it’s really important for those of us who are on the outside to constantly be checking against that. Maybe that’s by sending in anti-racist literature. Maybe that’s if a prisoner uses language that you find uncomfortable, explaining to them why you find it uncomfortable. For those of us who have white privilege and we do find ourselves in conversation with someone who’s a white supremacist, obviously that’s a difficult situation to handle. Some people may say, OK, I’m just not comfortable having a conversation with this type of prisoner; I’m going to move on to supporting somebody else. That’s certainly your choice, and I respect that choice. But I also would invite some of us who do have the privilege of doing this to have those really tough conversations with people, and say wait a minute: why are you judging someone on the basis of their birth, or on the basis of the group to which they belong, instead of really judging that person on the basis of their actions and their character? Now, what can I do to help you see that there’s an entire system of oppression that is predicated on making sure that you’re not cooperating with that person, so that the powers that be remain in power?
The Ex-Worker: And of course, this is always the most important question: What can our listeners on the outside do to participate and show solidarity with the folks who are going on strike?
Azzurra: Absolutely. So for those listeners who are abroad, let me start with you. I would love - love love love - to see “END PRISON SLAVERY” protests in front of every US embassy in the world on September 9th. So for those of you who are thinking, I’m too far away, I can’t support: you have a unique opportunity. Do you have a consulate? Do you have an embassy? Engage in some demonstrations.
If you are in the United States, if you’re near your state organization that oversees prisons, please consider engaging in physical acts of civil disobedience. And it doesn’t have to be September 9th; I think people have this idea that this is a national day of struggle, and that on September 10th, we’re all going to pack up and go home. And the reality of the situation is that this strike is probably going to last for months. So there are plenty of opportunities for people to show solidarity, whether that’s banner drops, flyering, noise demonstrations at units, or other acts of solidarity in units that you know are going to be striking - I think that’s really important.
And you know, sometimes just having conversations with people around you about prison conditions in order to humanize the experience that can be really important. When speaking to your more liberal friends, it may be helpful to keep in mind that the prisoner’s living conditions are also the guard’s working conditions. And I know that most listeners at this point are going to say, “Fuck the police! All cops are bastards, all COs are bastards; why do I care about their conditions?” But you may find yourself speaking to someone who is a family member of a guard. And it can be helpful to point out that when a prison has no air conditioning and it’s a 116 degree heat index, the guards are also in a situation of not having air conditioning. If there’s black mold in a unit, the guards are also being exposed to that. And some guards are even starting to realize that long term solitary confinement is against their interests, because it increases the likelihood of them being attacked. So obviously this is a tactic that not everyone is going to engage in. but you might want to consider when speaking to your more liberal or even Republican friends - some of you may know some Trump supporters- that you can talk about these issues not just from the perspective of harming prisoners because some people just may not be in a place where they’re interested in listening to that. but they might be more open to talking about it in terms of how this is negatively impacting guards.
If you’re interested in joining the IWOC media team, please get in touch with me. We would love to have more people on local media. You know, write a letter to the editor asking them to talk about the prisoner strike. Go to your local radio station and see if you can get them to give you five minutes to talk.
Another really important thing to do is for listeners that are members of unions that are not the Industrial Workers of the World but other unions, you can go to your local or your state union and ask them to endorse the strike. So if you’re part of the IBEW; as an electrical worker, your work may be getting underbid by prison labor. So you have your own selfish interests for having your local pass a resolution standing in solidarity with prisoners and prison workers, as well as a human rights incentive for doing that.
And I just cannot underscore enough: please write letters. And if you’re not already writing to prisoners, write to prisoners. If you’re writing to prisoners, write to more prisoners. Even if it’s just sending a quick postcard, and you don’t necessarily include a return address. The fact that the prison is getting mail is going to immediately boost their morale, which is really important. But in addition, it does make a difference to how guards treat prisoners. For prisoners who are engaged in work stoppage, getting mail is protection. If guards know that you are getting tons of mail, and that people therefore, if you write back to them, are going to care for you, that gives you a modicum of protection.
It’s really important for people to be checking the IWOC website, iwoc.noblogs.org, or other websites in order to see when there are urgent calls for actions. So for example, if we know that there has been gassing or beating at a unit, we may need you to call the proper authorities. And if 20 people call, that’s not going to get a reaction. If 2,000 people call, that’s going to get a reaction. And that’s something that can happen anywhere. You can make a phone call, write a letter, and really be engaged in raising awareness within these institutions of power themselves. Because they’re not going to change unless we demand that they change, and that’s going to require numbers.
When you’re engaged in work stoppage on this side of the razor wire you’re concerned about getting fired; you may possibly be concerned about maybe getting arrested if you’re engaged in acts of civil disobedience. You’re not worried about starving; you’re not worried about getting beaten; you’re not worried about getting gassed. We’ve had reports, for example, of guards shutting down water and electricity from 6 AM to midnight and then gassing entire pods, so that the prisoners don’t have any way of cleaning the chemical agents off themselves. We’ve had reports of beatings occurring. So it’s really important to understand that people are putting their bodies and their lives on the line in order to change these conditions. And they’re doing it because these conditions are conditions of modern day slavery, and this is the only option that is left to them, is to engage in a national strike in order to get enough of us involved in this struggle so that we can begin to change these systems of oppression.
I wanted to read a brief portion from a letter that was received from IWOC member, hacktivist, and avid CrimethInc. podcast follower Jeremy Hammond. He writes, “I am back in SHU again for real this time, though I have not received a ‘shot’ yet (SIS investigation). The warden personally told me it was ‘communication issues’ - me encouraging rebellion and criminal activities - and that I’ll be here for a while.” So we need to remember that the people who are organizing in the strike - they may not have even work stopped yet - are immediately threatened with long term solitary confinement. And prisoners know it. So when that happens, when the leaders of our strike movement are thrown in long term solitary confinement, when they’re gassed, when they’re beaten, when they may even be killed: what are we as a community going to do to rise up and speak out to anybody who will listen, and everybody who will listen, and even those who won’t listen. but need to listen, in order to make sure that their sacrifices are not in vain? That’s the question that I want every single one of your listeners to think about. What am I personally going to do in order to make sure that what the people are doing on the inside is not for nothing? Because if we don’t do it, realistically they can set entire units on fire, and they’ll just call in the National Guard and it’ll be like nothing happened… unless we have a broad and strong movement on the outside that makes people care.
The Ex-Worker: And to wrap up, we always want to make sure that, even as we’re focused on the specifics of how to do support and what resistance is looking like, we also want to make sure that we stay connected to the broader vision of liberation. So can you share part of your vision for what a freer world beyond our current prison society might look like?
Azzurra: Sure. So I think it’s important to sort of have some categories. You have one category of crime which is basically the criminalization of poverty. OK, that’s easy: we need a different economic system. If we distribute resources in terms of need, then those crimes will just not occur anymore. Then we have crimes against the person. Those most likely, even if we had an anarcho-communist revolution (or even a socialist revolution) are still going to exist. Unfortunately there will probably still be rape, there will still be assault. But we can create alternate systems of resolution for dealing with those problems, And those are going to have to be varied; they may have to be on a case by case basis. I don’t expect that that’s going to be a one-size-fits-all answer. I think that’s part of the problem with the prison industrial complex is that we have this idea: OK, you’ve committed this crime, now we’re going to treat you like this type of criminal. Well, you may have different reasons for committing that crime than the person in the cell next to you. And what healing and resolution and transformation is going to look like for you may be extremely different.
And we really need to look at it from the perspective of the person that has engaged in the offense probably also needs healing. First we need to focus on the person against whom the so-called crime - the offense, the violence, however you want to put it - has been committed: what do we do to make sure that that person is safe, is able to heal, is able to go on with the rest of their life? Priority one. Priority two, what do we do to get the person that committed the offense to be healed? So if we can come at this problem from a place of empathy and compassion (which, for the record, is not easy) then we can start to think: OK, this person who hurt me, what can I do - or maybe someone else is going to have to do this for me, but what can we as a community do to get them the healing that they need from the traumas that they suffered so that they don’t have to do this again?
I am really interested in systems of restorative justice and transformative justice, specifically in relation to sexual assault. I think sometimes when we talk about restorative justice, we think of it in terms of, oh, if somebody broke a window, they should have to make a new window or fix the window. Whereas when we’re talking about more violent crime, that can be a far more difficult conversation. I wouldn’t send my rapists to prison. Obviously it’s taken… it’s been a process to get to that. But to realize that to incarcerate that person would just change the population of victims that they would have at their disposal, and would ultimately mean that they would come out more likely to re-offend, because they haven’t gotten the tools that they need in order to heal and change. So I’m interested in seeing systems of community resolution, where maybe we require someone to engage in intense therapy, and once they’ve gotten the help that they need, perhaps they go out and they raise awareness about active consent and enthusiastic consent with other people, in order to make sure that whatever caused them to engage in this kind of violence in the first place is something that they don’t do any more, but that they also take an active role in the community to make sure that other people don’t do that. I think that that’s far more likely to end sexual assault than incarcerating people.
I think we really need to reconsider our economic system. Many crimes are really crimes of poverty, and the criminalization of poverty. I mean, obviously I want to see us switch to a gift economy, and I want to see the corresponding system of government to be sustainable anarchism and cooperative systems of complex mutual aid. And I think that that would obviously fix the need to have prisons. But in the mean time we need to be really thinking about nonviolent conflict resolution and nonviolent communication. We need to not call the cops when things happen. you know, we need to have systems in place .It’s really easy to say don’t call the cops; it’s more difficult to say, ok, when you find yourself in this situation, what is your concrete plan for resolving this problem instead of calling the police? What are you going to do? but we really need to be thinking in terms of creating alternate systems of conflict resolution.
There’s a really great article by Nils Christie called Conflicts as Property. It’s from the 1970s. But in it, what he basically says is that the government has appropriated our conflicts. And in some ways - this isn’t his language, it’s mine - they’ve infantilized us. They’ve made it be the case that when I have a conflict with you, instead of me coming to you and resolving that conflict, I go and get the teacher - or I go and get a police officer. And now that conflict is no longer mine; it belongs to the state. And I am deprived of the opportunity to grow from resolving that conflict directly. And ultimately I’m not going to feel safe, because once that person is “put away” in that system, where they’re supposed to be out of sight, out of mind, I am not going to feel comfortable that this person has learned the lesson that they’re supposed to learn. Unfortunately the lesson that people learn through incarceration is don’t get caught. Maybe they learn the lesson what I did was wrong; what they don’t learn is what should I have done instead? So we really need to focus on what would systems of rehabilitation look like? And I have zero interest in creating hospitals that look like prisons. A gulag by any other name is still a gulag. So if we’re going to call them mental health hospitals, and they’re being run under a prison model, then that’s not prison abolition. but we need to create alternative systems of care.
The Ex-Worker: Great! Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Azzurra: Thank you! It was absolutely all my pleasure.
THE CHOPPING BLOCK: CAPTIVE NATION, BY DAN BERGER
Clara: The nationwide prisoner strike we’ve discussed this episode has been scheduled to kick off on September 9th, the 45th anniversary of the Attica rebellion, a massive 1971 prison revolt in upstate New York. But where did the Attica rebellion come from? What’s the history of radical prisoner organizing in the US? Organizers have released posters promoting the strike that read, “Strike a Blow Against White Supremacy”. What’s the connection between the history of slavery, racial oppression, and contemporary mass incarceration? These are urgent questions for us to confront as we try to figure out how to support today’s prison rebels. So with this in mind, we turn today to a new book that chronicles the history of an early generation of prison radicals and looks at their role within the broader black freedom struggle. On the Chopping Block for this episode, we’ll discuss Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era by Dan Berger, released in paperback in early 2016 by University of North Carolina Press.
Alanis: Dan Berger has been active in radical social movements for many years, with a particular focus on prisoner solidarity. Before writing this book, he had previously published Outlaws in America, a history of the Weather Underground and The Struggle Within on political prisoners and social movements in the US, as well as editing a collection called The Hidden 1970s on US radicalism during that decade, among various other writings. These days he’s a professor at the University of Washington at Bothell, outside of Seattle. As he describes in the preface to Captive Nation, he began writing to political prisoners while in high school, defying his parents’ prohibitions by renting a private mailbox to receive replies. While in college, he visited Veronza Bowers in federal prison in Georgia, and began studying histories of radical social movements with incarcerated participants as some of his primary teachers. This book emerges from many years of research and shared struggle with former participants in the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, and a variety of other social struggles, both within and outside the prison walls. Some of the characters who appear in the book or as interview sources in the footnotes are folks we’ve discussed on the Ex-Worker, whose birthdays we acknowledge at the conclusion of each episode.
Captive Nation focuses on black prison organizing in the civil rights era, highlighting the significance of the prison within struggles for racial justice from the 1950s through the 1970s. The first two chapters retell the history of the civil rights movement in the South and the urban Black Power revolt in the cities of the North and West. In some ways, these are fairly conventional accounts, focusing on well-known movement celebrities from Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks to Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton. However, he specifically focuses on how these struggles emerged in relation to incarceration (or, more precisely, confinement, the term Berger uses to illustrate the continuity between different forms of black unfreedom in the United States). For these movements, the jail and the prison offered both a literal site of struggle and movement-building as well as a powerful symbol of white America’s continuing racist domination of black communities. Reassessing these movements through the lens of confinement shifts our understanding of the history of the black freedom struggle and sets the stage for the emergence of powerful and nationally prominent organizing by black prisoners.
Chapter Three focuses on the life and death of George Jackson, a black prison rebel in California who remains a hero to generations of prisoners to this day. Jackson was initially convicted of driving the getaway car for a gas station robbery and sentenced to a term of one year to life, his freedom subject to the whims of a racist parole board. He quickly became radicalized in prison, participated in the Black Panther Party, resisted prison guards and administrators with disciplined ferocity, and gained increasing notoriety across the prison system and beyond. During his years in prison, he authored Soledad Brother, a collection of his letters from prison that became a best-seller and remains in print to this day, as well as Blood In My Eye, which focuses more on revolutionary and military strategy was published just after his death. Berger frames the context of national politics, shifts in the penal system, and burgeoning social movements that led to Jackson’s emergence as a prominent literary and political figure and a left-wing cause celebre. As 1971 unfolded, Jackson continued to write and give interviews, responded to the legal case against him and two other inmates, and attracted international attention. The chapter culminates in a detailed account of his death in the so-called “half hour revolution” in San Quentin, during which he escaped from the solitary confinement unit only to be shot down by guards in the yard.
Chapter Four, “The Pedagogy of the Prison,” traces the immediate aftermath of Jackson’s death, from his funeral and the investigation into his death to his broader cultural and political impact. Chapter Five, “Slavery and Race-Making on Trial,” follows the legal cases of Angela Davis, the San Quentin 6, and Ruchell Magee, who survived the 1970 Marin County Courthouse rebellion (and who is still locked up in California today, 45 years later). Berger comments on how the courtroom spectacles and popular discussions of the cases emphasized the continuity of many features of racialized slavery into the 20th century through prisons and the legal system. The final chapter charts the emergence of New Afrikan prison nationalism, underground guerrilla groups, radical prisoner publications, the political prisoner commemoration holiday Black August, and the decline of the previous generation of black prison radicals.
Captive Nation covers a lot of ground and serves several purposes. On one level, it functions essentially as a political biography of George Jackson. The first two chapters set up the evolution of civil rights and Black Power organizing in relation to confinement to frame his emergence as a public figure, while third chapter tells the story of his life and death directly and the final three chapters deal with various aspects of his legacy. On another level, the book is a revisionist history of the black freedom struggle through the lens of incarceration, with prison both as the organizing metaphor and a literal location of resistance. To a certain extent it’s an intellectual history of black prisoner radicalism, as well as a social history of shifts in American attitudes towards race and the prison in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Berger also details the various responses of state and federal legislatures, prison administrations, and legal and judicial bodies to the spreading black prisoner uprising. He argues that the seeds of today’s mass incarceration were sown in these efforts to clamp down on rebellious inmates like George Jackson and those he inspired, focusing particularly on the state of California, so Captive Nation also serves as a pre-history of our contemporary prison regime.
And finally, and to me perhaps most compellingly, it’s a meditation on the idea of freedom as revealed through the words and deeds of those who were most confined. Black prison intellectuals constituted “a nation captive but not contained,” in Berger’s evocative phrase; he often points out the paradoxical nature of how through the civil rights movement the jail or prison cell became the site of freedom, rather than its negation. Black radicals in prison, subject to every form of arbitrary restriction and wanton brutality the state could devise, illuminated more clearly than ever the persistent defiance and vitality of the human spirit. By celebrating civil disobedience and filling southern jails, then amplifying the voices of current and former prisoners as they drew connections between their incarceration and the experience of all black people in America, the black freedom struggle revealed, as Berger puts it, how “the best place to know freedom was where it was most elusive” (23).
At many moments throughout the book, Berger pauses to discuss the gender politics of civil rights, black power, and prisoner movements. On the one hand, it’s positive that he challenges what he perceives as the male dominance of multi-gender movements and the patriarchal perspectives adopted by many militants in the single-sex prison environment. However, his treatment of gender within the overall narrative leaves much to be desired. For one, it tends to focus on rather moralistic name-calling rather than a considered evaluation of what these militants had to say about gender and the context that framed it. For example, he describes George Jackson’s politics as “hypermasculine” and full of “macho posturing,” while Jonathan Jackson’s raid on the Marin County Courthouse is described as “hypermasculine.” These labels don’t tell us much about what they actually thought about gender, how effective their tactics were, or how they related to feminism or other perspectives on gender politics in circulation at the time. He refers to the civil rights movement as relying on the unappreciated labor of women, while beginning Chapter One with a description of Ella Baker’s dramatic intervention at the 1964 Democratic National Convention; I assume he doesn’t expect us to believe that Baker or her collaborators failed to appreciate women’s labor or contributions? And although Berger criticizes male domination within prisoner struggles, he devotes virtually no coverage at all to rebellious female prisoners, who also staged demonstrations, riots, and strikes at their facilities during the period he covers in the book. An exception to this insufficient treatment of gender comes in his quite nuanced discussion of Angela Davis and the gendered dimensions of her trial in Chapter 5, which deserves commendation. Still, hopefully future accounts will take a bit more time to analyze the gender politics of black prisoner struggles on their own terms, and to draw lessons we can learn from them for contemporary struggles.
The concepts of the nation and nationalism appear throughout the book, never as a central focus but as a recurring theme. However, since Berger never defines what exactly he means by nationalism, it’s hard to evaluate his claims about it. For example, he labels the Southern civil rights movement as “protonationalist,” for upholding a “nationalistic commitment to racial unity” (30). On the surface, this seems hard to sustain, since most public currents of the movement were explicitly integrationist, drew on the language of America and the Constitution, and specifically rejected separatism or Nation of Islam-style nationalist discourses. He also claims that nationalism was a form of thought or organizing “organic to” the prison environment (9). That’s an intriguing idea, but it seems to naturalize nationalism, which strikes me as super dangerous; is white nationalism also “organic to” the prison environment? Most incarcerated writers I’ve read have argued that prison guards and officials promote racial differences as a strategy to keep prisoners divided, which would certainly challenge the notion that racial nationalism is “organic.” After describing black prison organizing as nationalist throughout most of the book, in his concluding sentence he envisions a world “defined by something greater than captivity, something more meaningful than nationality.” I assume then that Berger wants us to see nationalism as a tragic force, understandable but ultimately necessary to transcend; if so, what does that tell us about how we should relate to so-called revolutionary nationalism today, whether of the state-based or non-state ethnic varieties? I would love to see Berger approach the concept of nation with the careful nuance and insight with which he approaches captivity and confinement in Captive Nation.
In the Epilogue, he continues to explore the meaning of freedom as articulated in and around these black prisoner struggles. He contrasts freedom with violence (what he sees as the basis of the US state and social order historically and today) and freedom through violence (more militant notions of redemption through armed resistance, inspired by Fanon and such) against freedom from violence, which he argues constitutes the major core of the freedom dreamed by the social movements that inspire him. Personally, I don’t think “violence” is a useful category of analysis, historically or politically; I’d rather focus on what we oppose, what we envision, and how we propose to get there, rather than whether or how these visions involve “violence.” He concludes the Epilogue by arguing that social movements today should care, chronicle, and coalesce - i.e., develop and sustain long-term structures of mutual support within social movements, prioritize crafting and sharing our stories, and overcome the divisions imposed by the state and prison authorities in broad-based organizing coalitions. Certainly I agree, but I’d hoped for some more dynamic lessons after sifting through decades of radical prisoner struggle. Perhaps this wasn’t his aim with the book, but I’d like to hear from him or others about what direct implications this history has for our understandings of the anti-police and prisoner rebellions spreading around the US today. How do the racial politics of black or New Afrikan-led prisoner organizing connect to the identity politics of today? How can we recognize the racial specificity of police violence and mass incarceration, the so-called New Jim Crow, while not overlooking the primary economic and social control functions of the criminal legal system that cut across racial lines?
Or how about this: one of the things that struck me most about the early chapters was how the civil rights and Black Power movements provided a framework in which the stigma of incarceration was transformed. Going to jail became, for a time, not a shameful secret but a badge of honor or a sign of authentic commitment. One of the state’s major successes in this era has been re-inscribing shame and secrecy onto the prison experience. What would it take for us to unmake this stigma once again? What kinds of social conditions, movement infrastructure, or activist discourses could transform broader cultural attitudes around incarceration to empower and amplify prisoner resistance?
These are just some of the questions swimming around in my head after reading Captive Nation. It’s available from an academic publisher, UNC Press, which unfortunately means it’s pricey. Pick one up if you can, or check it out of the library, and supplement it with some writings from the time by George Jackson - we’ve got links posted on our website - or by other radical prisoners. (Oh, and when you’re done with them, mail ’em in to a prisoner, through a books to prisoners group or on your own).
Captive Nation documents a critical moment in American history when prison abolition and social revolution did not seem like distant impossible dreams. Radicals today seeking to make sense of the rise of mass incarceration as well as the history of prison rebellion should study this and other texts for inspiration and lessons.
Alanis: And now we want to share just a bit of listener feedback. We’ve got a bit of a backlog, as you might imagine, so we’ll just share a couple of tidbits and more in the episodes to come. First, we want to share a message from Jennifer Gann, a prisoner in California who’s writing in response to Episode 45, our 2015 year in review.
Clara: Dear Alanis and Clara,
Rebel greetings from behind enemy lines in Kern Valley State Prison! I’ve really enjoyed receiving a full transcript of recent episodes of the Ex-Worker! First and foremost, I’m glad to hear of the early release of Eric McDavid and comrades Amelie, Fallon and Carlos in Mexico. This does not mean there is any kind of truce or “ceasefire” while the environment continues to be destroyed on a mass scale, and the Mexican government has yet failed to account for the “disappearance” of 43 radical students who presumably were killed by government forces.
Secondly, I want to express my personal affinity and solidarity to all CCF comrades, to Monica and Francisco, and to our loved one Tamara Sol! A clenched fist salute!
Finally, a very personal thanks and heartfelt gratitude to the Ex-Worker for acknowledging the queer and trans aspect of the struggle against patriarchy and imperialism. To my sisters in struggle CeCe McDonald who I traded correspondence with through the Trans Youth Support Network (TYSN) in Minnesota and Niara Burton, Marius Mason, and Chelsea Manning, all of whom brought attention to the struggle of trans prison rebels in one way or another.
As for my own case, I continue to appeal my case for a sentence reduction under California Prop. 36 “Three Strikes Reform.” My comrades Sass and Nadja have organized an online fundraiser toward legally advocating for my transfer to a women’s facility and eventually my release. Go to babygirlgann.noblogs.org or email email@example.com. I would greatly appreciate if you would broadcast this info to give impetus to my campaign.
Thank you my lovely sisters in struggle. Stay fierce and fabulous. :) For total liberation! Love and rage, Jennifer
Alanis: Greetings to Jennifer from all of us! Thanks so much for writing in. We’ve got the info on her case and support campaign posted on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast. For those of you who are interested in queer and trans prisoner support, there are a lot of resources we’d encourage you to check out. The group Black and Pink, formed in Boston but with chapters around the country, conducts a penpal program along with advocacy and education efforts; you can check out more at BlackAndPink.org. The Trans Prisoner Day of Action and Solidarity, which first took place this year on January 22nd, was initiated by Green Scare prisoner Marius Mason; you can learn more at TransPrisoners.net. Also, in a past episode we announced a forthcoming publication called Unstoppable, focusing on the writings of incarcerated women and trans and gender variant prisoners; the first issue was released this spring, and you can find it at unstoppable.noblogs.org.
Clara: Obviously that’s just scratching the surface. If you’ve got other projects you’d like us to share regarding queer and trans prisoner support, drop us a line to podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com and we’ll share ’em. And don’t forget to check out Jennifer’s case; the links and her mailing address are on our website.
Alanis: Speaking of trans prisoners, we got another appeal for solidarity from across the Atlantic, about a comrade incarcerated in Paris.
Clara: Kara Wild creates beauty wherever she goes. She is a comrade, an adventurer, an artist, an anarchist and an earth first!er. She is currently caged in solitary confinement in a men’s jail in Paris for her alleged involvement in protests against draconian labor reforms and police repression.
Since March 2016, thousands of people have gathered and joined forces in France to oppose the new labor reform “and its World”, during weekly demonstrations, actions and wild cat marches. They were systematically repressed by the French riot police, as well as by its judicial system. On May 18th, police unions decided to call for an “anti-police hatred” gathering on Place de la République, which was the symbolic and tactical meeting place for the movement against the reform and more specifically for the “Nuit Debout” occupation that started on March 31st. People who occupied the plaza were forced to exit.
Outraged by this provocation, people called for a counter-gathering on Place de la République on the same day, which was cancelled by the police a couple of hours before it was supposed to start. A wildcat march decided to leave from the plaza and happened to cross paths with a police car, which was attacked and set on fire.
Kara was brutally arrested in connection with this incident more than a week later, on May 26th, after another demonstration near Place de la Nation. Despite a distinct lack of evidence, she is being accused of smashing a pole through a police car’s windshield moments before it was set on fire. Her charges are “attempted voluntary manslaughter of a person holding public office, destruction of property, group violence and participating in a masked armed group.”
Kara is among 6 people currently facing charges in connection to this incident. To make matters worse, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is vowing to administer “unrelenting punishment,” in order to set an example and de-mobilize protests.
Her spirits have been mostly good, especially since receiving mail. She really needs monetary support toward her legal expenses. Hats off to the bad ass anti-repression committees in Paris who have supported those swept up in the repression of the movement. Comrades in the U.S. are fundraising for lawyer fees which can be expected to get high as the investigation could take over two years (before even going to a trial). Let your imagination go wild coming up with fundraising opportunities; organize a show, put on a film screening, or set up a kissing booth.
Freedom to all political prisoners! Freedom to all trans prisoners! Freedom to all prisoners!
Alanis: We’ll keep you all posted on any developments we hear about her case or ways to show solidarity.
We also got a message with some more info to supplement our coverage of Rojava and the Kurdish liberation struggle. This listener writes:
Clara: Dear Clara and Alanis,
Thank you for your highly informative and entertaining Ex-Workers’ Podcast #39 The Rojava Revolution, Part II. Since so many analogies are currently being made between the situation in Rojava and that in Spain during the Spanish revolution, I want to call people’s attention to some of the aspects of the earlier struggle that aren’t generally dealt with. These especially include the role of the Comintern, the government of the Soviet Union, and the Communist Parties of the world in the International Brigades.
Alanis: The listener then includes some links to texts about the Spanish Revolution, titled “The International Brigades and the social revolution in Spain, 1936–1939” and News of the Spanish Revolution: Anti-authoritarian Perspectives on the Events.
Clara: The former is a brief article that appeared in Fifth Estate Magazine back in 1996 describing a panel discussion that included four veterans of the Spanish Civil War - three who worked in the Communist-controlled International Brigades, and one anarchist who fought for the revolution. It highlights both the emphasis on authoritarianism and obedience within the ranks of the Communist militias, their betrayals of their own members and allies, and also the fights over how to tell the history of the Spanish Civil War in the aftermath. The latter is a sizeable compilation of accounts from various anti-authoritarian writers and participants in the events, including IWW organizers, “Uncontrollables” from the Iron Column, and a variety of others.
Alanis: We’re living in quite a different world today, geopolitically and ideologically. In this post-Soviet era there’s no Communist superpower to pull the puppet strings of an international force. Semi-secretive communist and socialist sects have tried in the US, and I assume other places, to assume control of the anti-war movement, the Occupy movement in some cities, and various other popular struggles, but they just don’t have the numbers, the legitimacy, or the power to undertake the kinds of cataclysmic betrayals and backstabbings that characterized their role in the Spanish Revolution. Although we know that some Marxist-Leninist and other communist individuals and small groups have joined up with the YPG and YPJ, the militias fighting ISIS in and around Kurdish lands, they don’t seem to be particularly prominent relative to the Kurdish nationalists, anarchists, ex-soldiers from the US and Western Europe, and folks from various other backgrounds and political perspectives. It’s unclear the extent to which the YPG and YPJ’s collaboration with the United States military has influenced their overall strategy or their internal organization. With the very sketchy and limited info we get from the front lines of the struggle against ISIS, as waged both by imperial and regional state powers as well as by international popular forces…
Clara: Insofar as those can really be distinguished…
Alanis: Hmm, fair enough. Anyway, given the limited info we have, we really can’t evaluate what groups or currents are operating behind the scenes to steer the course of the military struggle there. We do have good evidence that the social revolution as described by numerous comrades is pretty robust and decentralized, and likely well insulated against vanguardist subversion. But we do have questions about the international leftist fetishization of the militias - which I think we’ll wait to discuss more in a future episode.
Clara: But thanks to the listener who wrote in to suggest these articles. International solidarity is indeed crucially important, and in some respects our most powerful weapon. But given that, we owe it to ourselves and the world to use it carefully - to keep critically questioning all of the struggles and forces we support and participate in.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Alanis: So that’s that. Before we let you go, we wanna mention a couple of upcoming events. First and foremost, the September 9th prison strike that has been a major focus of this episode is coming up; but remember that for it to be successful, we need to create as much build-up as possible, so don’t wait until then to start pulling together actions.
Clara: Former anarchist political prisoner Eric McDavid is doing a speaking tour in the Northeast, called “Over Ten Years to Talk About.” From the 11th through the 16th of August he’ll be in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, so if you’re up there, don’t miss it. We’ve got a link with the dates and locations posted on our website.
Alanis: Hudson Valley Earth First! is hosting the Susquehanna Regional Climb Camp in southeastern Pennsylvania from August 12th–18th, to share skills about forest defense.
Clara: There are anarchist book fairs coming up in Seattle on August 20th, Stockholm, Sweden on August 27th, in Warsaw, Poland on September 3rd and 4th, and Victoria, so-called British Columbia on September 9th and 10th.
Alanis: In addition to upcoming events, there are lots of other rad anarchist media projects happening, and we want to give a shout out to a few of them in case you’re looking for more stuff to watch or listen to.
Clara: First, there’s a new anarchist video project we wanted to put on your radars, an international collaboration based in Chile called Sur Negro Communications. According to their website, en.surnegro.tv, they are:
Alanis: an international anarchist organization of communication and propaganda dedicated to visualize the social, ecologist, indigenous, labor, student and feminist struggles in their different expressions all around the world as well as the anti-authoritarian practices they apply. “No Borders: Social Struggles across the world” is the name of a web series presenting experiences of social organizations and anti-capitalist resistance in different regions of the world. Its special focus lies on anti-authoritarian practices within social movements. Recorded in 2015 in 12 cities across the U.S. the web series is organized in 11 chapters. Each 30 minute chapter contains interviews with social and political organizations that explain their practices and give detailed insights into the contexts of their social struggles in their city. In addition, each chapter has a music segment presenting musicians involved in their cities’ struggles.
Clara: The first episode in the series, on social struggles in New York City, is available to watch online; we’ve got the link posted on our website.
Alanis: Comrades from Črna luknja (Black Hole), the anarchist radio show based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, have released a show recorded in Thessaloniki, Greece during the Anarchist Meeting of Struggle at the 2016 No Border Camp Thessaloniki in mid-July. It discusses the activities and actions of the No Borders camp and its political context, plus discussions with members of a Greek federation of anarchist collectives. It’s mostly in English, and well worth a listen; check it out via the link on our website.
Clara: The Final Straw continues to turn out excellent audio interviews with anarchists, prison rebels, and other inspiring folks involved in struggles around the world. Recent episodes cover the antifascist demonstration in Sacramento in June, prisoner hunger strikes in Wisconsin, anarchist and anti-fascist prisoners in Russia, and lots more. Visit thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org to read more and download episodes.
Alanis: The Resonance Anarchist Audio distro continues to turn out solid audio versions of interesting anarchist and radical texts you’ve always been meaning to get around to reading. I just listened to their versions of “On the Poverty of Student Life” and “Towards the Destruction of Schooling,” which are highly recommended for any former, current, or future students, and I’m totally thrilled to check out this recently translated text by Jean Genet - way to go, y’all! Check ’em out at resonanceaudiodistro.org.
Clara: And our pals at SubMedia keep on raging. Check out their coverage of the RNC and DNC protests, the so-called “war on cops,” and lots of other cool shit at submedia.tv.
Alanis: And finally, last but never least, some prisoner birthdays to share. The month of August is chock full of incarcerated rebel birthdays.
Clara: On August 2nd was Eric King, a Kansas anarchist recently sentenced to ten years for an attack on a politician’s office. Here’s a brief message to supporters he recorded recently:
Eric King: Hi, everyone. I’m here in Grady County, so just saying hello to everyone who has been there for me: all the support team, everyone who’s written any letters or sent books or sent money - thank you. THANK YOU! This transition’s been rough, but we’re getting through it. Also, solidarity with Chelsea Manning; the state’s trying to bury her, so let’s send lots of positive energy that way. And happy birthday to Bill Dunne and Debbie Africa this month. Revolutionary August! So if you wrote me and I haven’t written you back, it’s just bad timing. I wasn’t ducking you, I promise. We’re getting through this. And it would be a lot rougher without everyone. So thank you, thank you anyone who’s offered any of their support. Till next time - bye!
Clara: You can watch the video version by following the link on our website.
Alanis: As Eric mentioned, on the 3rd was Bill Dunne, an anti-authoritarian revolutionary locked up since 1979 for helping attempt to break other radical prisoners out of jail;
Clara: And on the 4th, Debbie Sims Africa of the MOVE 9;
Alanis: On the 8th, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, acupuncturist and Black Panther, accused of robbing banks as part of an underground black liberation group;
Clara: On the 14th, Barrett Brown, a journalist doing time for his role in the StratFor leak connected to Anonymous hacker collective. The award-winning column he writes for The Intercept is really funny, despite the fact that he’s writing it from solitary confinement; you can read it at TheIntercept.com.
Alanis: On the 16th, Hanif Shabazz Bey, one of the anti-colonial rebels of the Virgin Islands Five;
Clara: On the 23rd, Maliki Shakur Latine, former Black Panther and underground revolutionary;
Alanis: Also on the 23rd, Russell “Maroon” Shoats, a Black Panther and lifelong revolutionary who we’re excited to say as of July this year has won his court case against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections challenging his long-term solitary confinement! Congratulations to Maroon, who has been a consistent inspiration for revolutionaries for many, many years. Check out Episode 8 for our review of his book of collected writings titled Maroon the Implacable.
Clara: And on the 31st of August, Ronald Reed, civil rights activist from Minnesota and Black United Front revolutionary.
Alanis: Please take a moment to send these folks a letter or a card some time these months to let them know they’re not forgotten. As Eric’s message made clear, it truly does make a difference.
Clara: And that’s that for this episode of the Ex-Worker! We’ll be back next month, if not sooner - no, really, promise - with some more in-depth analysis of RNC and DNC protests over the years, more updates on the September 9th strike, some discussion of fascism and anti-fascism, and all kinds of stuff. As always we’d love to hear from you, so email us at podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com.
Alanis: And don’t forget to check out all the links, mailing addresses, and miscellaneous notes we’ve got posted along with the full transcript at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Clara: Finally, this episode is dedicated to the Taco Bell cashier in Phenix City, Alabama who refused to serve some cops who came in on her shift, and to the other customer in the store who backed her up. If you’re listening, contact the Ex-Worker and we will offer you free tacos for life.
Alanis: See y’all next time!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
The September 9th National Prison Strike is coming up! To learn more, check out the Support Prisoner Resistance site, in particular the zines Let the Crops Rot in the Fields by the Free Alabama Movement, End Prison Slavery with several articles about emerging prisoner movements, and Incarcerated Workers Take the Lead by Houston IWOC.
In our interview with Azzurra from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, she referred to several texts, campaigns, and other resources, including: the Houston IWOC zine about the history of prisoner rebellion since 2008, the Attica Rebellion, Black August, the Flikshop app for sending postcards to prisoners easily and cheaply, Chicano anarchist political prisoner Xinachtli Alvaro Luna Hernandez and his Twitter account, Mumia Abu Jamal’s struggle for Hepatits C treatment, Rashid Johnson’s article “On the Questions of Race and Racism: Revolutionary National Liberation and Building the United Front Against Imperialism”, checking the IWOC website for ongoing updates, Jeremy’s Hammond’s recent trip to solitary confinement for “encouraging rebellion and criminal activities,” and criminologist Nils Christie’s article Conflicts as Property about how the state has appropriated our conflicts.
On the Chopping Block, we reviewed Dan Berger’s book Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era. It discusses, among many other things, the life, death, and legacy of George Jackson, whose books Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye can be read in full online.
We interviewed Jon Active from Active Distribution in the UK about the Brexit vote. If you want to read more anarchist perspectives on it, check out these articles: “Building an anti-fascist culture post-Brexit” by some folks from the Anti-Raids Network, “On the tragic and the farcical of the British referendum” by the Void Network, and anarchist reflections on Brexit on Reddit.
Please support Kara Wild, a trans anarchist from the US imprisoned in France in connection with recent militant protests in Paris. Here’s a video of her in her former dwelling that she built and squatted in in Chicago. We’ll post more updates on how to direct support her way as soon as we get them.
In our listener feedback section, we shared a message from Jennifer Gann, a radical trans prisoner in California, who is requesting support. Check out her website to learn more about her case, or write to her at:
J. Gann #E23852
P.O. Box 5103
Delano, CA 93216
We also referenced some other queer and/or trans prisoner solidarity links, including Black and Pink, the Trans Prisoner Day of Action and Solidarity, and a publication focusing on the writings of incarcerated women and trans and gender variant prisoners called Unstoppable.
Another listener suggested that folks interested in the struggles in Rojava, and their potential parallels with the Spanish Revolution & Civil War, check out these articles titled “The International Brigades and the social revolution in Spain, 1936–1939” and [“News of the Spanish Revolution: Anti-authoritarian Perspectives on the Events](http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/various-authors-news-of-the-spanish-revolution).”
And if you’re feeling down, just remember that in Phenix City, Alabama, an unnamed Taco Bell employee refused to serve four cops who came in to order food - because they were cops. That’s what we mean by Fight where you stand!
Prisoner birthdays this month:
Eric King # 27090045
Federal Correctional Institution
9595 West Quincy Avenue
Littleton, CO 80123
Bill Dunne #10916–086
3901 Klein Boulevard
Lompoc, California 93436
Debbie Sims Africa #006307
SCI Cambridge Springs
451 Fullerton Avenue
Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania 16403
Dr. Mutulu Shakur #83205–012
Post Office Box 3900
Adelanto, California 92301
Barrett Brown #45047–177
FCI Three Rivers
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 4200
Three Rivers, TX 78071
Hanif Shabazz Bey (Beaumont Gereau) #5161331
Seguro Correctional Center
1252 East Arica Road
Eloy, Arizona 85131
Address envelope to Beaumont Gereau, address card to Hanif
Maliki Shakur Latine # 81-A–4469
Shawangunk Correctional Facility
Post Office Box 700
Wallkill, New York 12589
Russell Maroon Shoatz #AF–3855
P.O. Box 244
Graterford , PA 19426
Ronald Reed #2195311
Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights
5329 Osgood Avenue North
Stillwater, Minnesota 55082–1117