Growth and Challenges: Summing Up MIM(Prisons) 2015 Congress
MIM(Prisons)'s 2015 congress was marked by some major successes and growth in our work over the past year. We reached our goal from 2013 of doubling Under Lock & Key subscribers; helped write and edit Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán; and we took up the Strugglen Artists Association project and collected and distributed some great art both behind bars and on the streets. We have continued to support and build prisoner education, running both beginner and advanced correspondence study groups, sending in many political magazines and books, and supporting more than 30 prisoner-led study groups. Our focus in the coming year will be in building on these successes: printing and distributing the Chican@ Power book, expanding prisoner-led study groups, and building more United Struggle from Within (USW)-led campaigns.
All of this project-based work remains focused on our primary goal: serving the oppressed in prisons within the United $tates, while working from the vantage point of the Third World proletariat. We recognize that imperialism is the number one enemy of the majority of the world's people, and we are fighting from within the belly of the beast in the advanced stage of imperialism, where the majority of the people living within U.$. borders have been bought off with the spoils of capitalist profits. This petty-bourgeois population does not support our revolutionary organizing, and we cannot rely on them for the finances or labor needed to keep this struggle moving forward. So we focus our public opinion building on prisoners, who have a lot to gain from an end to Amerikkkan imperialism.
Growth and Finances
Over the past year we have seen a 70% growth in our Under Lock & Key (ULK) subscribers. But with this success comes the new challenge of paying for the increased printing and mailing costs. The overall cost to send out ULK is up 60% in July 2015 compared with July 2014. Subscriber funding of ULK increased by 64% over the same period, a very good trend, but all of that money went towards the cost of the 4 extra pages we printed in issues 39, 42, and the forthcoming ULK 46.
While we were able to print three issues of ULK with 4 extra pages of content, thanks to the funding from comrades behind bars, we will no longer be able to use donations for that purpose. Instead we need to focus all donations on the costs of printing and mailing to our greatly expanded distribution list. We want to see ULK expanded to 20 pages every issue, and we know readers are hungry for these additional pages, but first we will need to greatly expand funding for the publication. To answer the immediate need for more reading material, we offer activists behind bars lots of extra revolutionary lit to study in exchange for any sort of work they can contribute to the struggle. Ultimately this shift is necessary to continue to expand the reach of ULK as our subscriber list continues to grow. It was a difficult decision to stop printing the extra content, but we are doing it to prevent cutting down ULK content even more in the long term.
We need your help to keep up with new subscriptions! At the current rate of donations, prisoner funding for ULK covers only 4% of costs (printing a 16 page publication). In addition to spreading the word, sharing your ULK with others, and encouraging everyone to get their own subscription, we need donations of stamps and checks. We are setting a goal of funding 10% of each issue from subscriber donations. This is an aggressive goal based on our history, but we are confident that it is possible. To put it in perspective, we would meet the 10% funding goal if 1 in 5 subscribers sent in just one stamp a year! (Tell us if you want to send a check so we can send you instructions.)
In 2013 we initiated the Strategic Confidence section in Under Lock & Key. When this section was launched our editor wrote:
"One important piece of our strategic orientation is the strategic confidence we have from our global class analysis. Basically, our analysis says that the vast majority of the world's people, a solid 80%, will benefit materially from an end to imperialism. This is why we believe anti-imperialism is destined for success. Subjectively, this can be important to keep in mind in an environment surrounded by class enemies or by those with bourgeois consciousness. ... One way i plan to expand the international connections we make is to have a section in each issue to print news snippets on events from the Third World that demonstrate determined resistance and a broad class consciousness that is opposed to imperialism. We hope that our readers find inspiration in this information that you probably aren't getting from other news sources."
In the course of writing these articles we realized that including information highlighting struggles in other parts of the world without going into details and analysis of the situation leads us towards opportunism. It is easy to put out information about people taking actions against their government, but if we fail to investigate the underlying situation in those countries we can end up supporting imperialism rather than national liberation. A good example of this is our article on Burkina Faso printed in ULK 41.(1) While we uphold the people's protests against exploitation and oppression, we can't superficially uphold their President's push into exile only to be replaced by a military leader. The situation is too complex to be summed up in a couple sentences, as it was in our Strategic Confidence feature as we prepared to go to print. Fortunately we caught this error and expanded the article before publication.
To correct this error we are re-orienting the international content in ULK to include at least one internationally-focused article in each issue, which includes more depth of analysis about the situation/region. In these international articles we will favor topics that lend themselves to strategic confidence by highlighting resistance struggles against imperialism. It should also be noted that the international content in ULK was of higher quantity and quality over the previous year largely thanks to a number of United Struggle from Within writers. So we call on their continued efforts to help us meet this goal.
United Struggle from Within
This year we saw tremendous growth in our Texas subscribers, many of whom learned about MIM(Prisons) through the Texas Activist Pack that was created by comrades behind bars. The Texas Activist Pack was put together to help prisoners in that state fight a variety of abuses including the medical co-pay, the indigent mail restrictions and the baseless denials of grievances. This shows us that concretely addressing prisoners' day-to-day struggles is an important way to expand our audience while getting vital organizing tools into the hands of folks who need them. People who get in touch for these resources are staying active with MIM(Prisons) at almost the same rate as those who write directly to get ULK or otherwise get involved in our work.
We want to take this lesson from Texas and apply it to other states by working with USW comrades to build activism packs specific to the needs of prisoners in each state. This will require knowledge about the local struggles and challenges, and work to create resources to help address these problems. In some states like Florida this might be focused on censorship as one of the biggest problems we are fighting there, while in Georgia we know the tier system is a problem that overshadows the lives of everyone locked up in that state. However, we want to be careful not to assume that the biggest problem in a state is the one that we can target with activism packs. These should be potentially winnable battles, around which, through education and distribution of resources, we can have a real impact on the lives of our comrades. Get in touch with us if you have ideas about or can help create a campaign for your state.