Since my arrival at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP) in July 2013 I've had to file numerous 602 appeals just to be able to utilize my two hour a week constitutional right to use the prison law library. At KVSP they like to run a very oppressive program, or I should say lack of program, and keep everybody on lockdown 24 hours a day, even on the general population and non-discipline yards. This was done all under the guise of "safety & security." Their stratagem is that we can't file any complaints on them if we don't have access to legal forms.
For the more creative prisoners, we've been able to bypass their little games and still file 602s and habeas corpus writs in our attempts to inform the outside world of the illegal practices here at the prison.
One of our writs must have struck a nerve because on 10 April at 4am, the prison's "Institutional Gang Investigators" AKA the goon squad, raided our building in full riot gear, and confiscated everyone's paperwork (books, family/legal letters, and writing materials) all in the name of "safety & security." It has been over two weeks now and the warden has given no word on exactly when we will be given access to our legal/personal documents.
Even though the majority of us have already bypassed their little blockade and have filed writs or found ways of informing our lawyers and family on the outside, these things take time. So here we sit on lockdown, with very limited access to the courts and family, awaiting relief or a full blown revolution to kick off. And although it is my personal belief that the latter will happen at some point, I also feel that it's going to take a whole lot more hard work in order to open up the eyes and ears of our fellow brothers and sisters around the world, before we all as a whole, can shout "stop!" and really have the means to add weight to our words.
Until then keep up the faith and hard work. Stay strong! This current system is at the breaking point. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
MIM(Prisons) adds: We agree with this comrade that we have a lot of work to do to educate our brothers and sisters before we are ready to kick off the revolution. In the meantime we need to do what s/he is doing: the day to day work of exposing the abuse and brutality of the imperialist system and organizing others. We all have a responsibility to educate others however we can, whether that's by writing articles for ULK, talking to others on our block or yard, organizing a study group, teaching someone to read, or whatever else you can do to use your skills and talents to advance the struggle. Don't just sit back and read about it, get involved!
Expansion Cell Blocks (ECB) were designed to hold two prisoners in order to increase unit capacity. But Texas officials have labeled ECB as high security in an attempt to negate the facts and distort the actual security level of the ECB.
In order to justify this use of ECB, in spite of staff shortages and unlawful conditions, the authorities create a hostile environment which conforms to their false reality. Prisoners are agitated to commit acts of violence, create disturbances, or become aggressive, so that the ECB takes on an air of a high security prisoner housing area where sanctions and restrictions are necessary. Sanctions and restrictions enable the ECB to be operated even without the staff they are short. Constant lockdown cameras have been installed to document everything. This expense must be justified. The staff creates incidents for the technology to record. Restrictions begin. Policy becomes practice.
Lights are turned on every time count is taken, food is delivered, or staff feel it is necessary. Prisoners are required to regularly produce ID and are disturbed to the point they are deprived of REM sleep. Cell searches are performed irregularly during the day and throughout the night. A heightened state of anxiety and stress is created. People kept under high levels of stress are known to snap or break.
In addition to this high stress level, prisoners at ECB are provoked by staff. Most lack the capacity to respond to chaos in a rational manner thereby perpetrating the myth of high security and enabling the authorities to further control and empower themselves.
There is a systematic campaign of psychological warfare being waged against prisoners in control units. The evidence proves sensory deprivations experienced in isolation produces extreme states of mind, impulsiveness and irrational behaviors. Statistics show a decline in mental health in prisoners confined to solitary confinement for years. Without stimulation our minds and bodies begin to break down and decay.
Prisoners are conditioned through a system of punishments and indifference to view all forms of resistance as futile. Requests aren't answered. Responses are purposely vague or misleading. Policy is interpreted to undermine prisoner autonomy. The authorities use every tactic available to promote complete dependency of the prisoner and to ensure despondency is total.
All the while the public is being told prisoners are being provided with forms of rehabilitation and that support is given to those who desire to make modifications to their mentality.
Facilities designed to house 1200 prisoners are used to house 600. Prisoners in control units, Ad-Seg or high security do not receive good time, parole or work time. Their sentences are only discharged at their maximum release date. The result is requiring more money to provide for more prisoners and more staff to control them. The goal of the prison staff is achieved.
MIM(Prisons) adds: These long-term isolation cells are a common tool of oppression in the Amerikan criminal injustice system. And we have plenty of evidence of the detrimental effect of this isolation on humyns. Get involved in the campaign to shut down control units to resist this repression in Texas and across the country.
The Texa$ Board of Criminal (in)Justice implemented new prisoner Correspondence Rules on 1 October 2013 restricting indigent prisoners to 5 one-ounce domestic letters per month. The previous policy allowed 5 letters per week. This is a clear attack on prisoners' access to the outside world, and in particular impacts politically active prisoners who use the mail to expose the brutality and abuse going on behind bars in Texas. In response to this new policy United Struggle from Within initiated a grievance campaign, organizing prisoners to appeal this restriction. Below are several new updates to the campaign:
Successful Grievance Against Limits on Legal Mail
From Hughes Unit: "I won my grievance due to interference from the department law library which deals with offenders who are indigent. They were saying five letters a month for everything and they were trying to stop my legal mail from going out to the courts. There is no limit on legal mail! They were also trying only to give us supplies like 25 sheets of paper, one pen, five envelopes a month. But an indigent offender who is doing legal work can have this once a week, and mail out as much legal work he or she wants."
One prisoner from Allred wrote Step 1 and Step 2 grievances requesting additional stamps. Because of his need to use his 5 indigent mail stamps to pursue legal research this prisoner was unable to write to family and friends and so requested additional stamps from the Warden. The first request prior to the grievances stated "I need to mail 5 more letters this month using indigent [mail]. ... This unit law library is giving me the run around having me write and ask everybody under the sun. They don't know about the 83rd Legislature House Bill 634 by Farias of Texas. It's the holidays, I need extra 5 letters this month." The response from the Warden: "That doesn't meet any legal requirement and I don't have the authority to allow you extra postage for that." Responses to his grievances following up on the Warden's denial included denying the Step 1 for "excessive attachments." The attachments were copies of his initial attempts to resolve the issue without filing a grievance.
Based on the victory from the prisoner in Hughes Unit, we encourage prisoners to appeal their access to stamps for legal mail separately from the restriction on personal mail.
Restrictions on Receipt of Stationary
A comrade in Eastham Unit reported: "Each year the big wigs running Texas prisons decide on what to take from the prisoners next. This year it involves indigent mail and stationary sent in from the outside. Prisoners who have no money on their trust fund account are able to receive supplies (paper, pen, envelopes) and send out letters through the indigent mail. Before this March prisoners could send out five letters a week, now it's just five letters a month... What's worse is that we're charged for indigent mail services. Whenever we get money on our account, the cost for every letter mailed and each supply is deducted.
"Prior to March our friends and family could have stationary from an outside store sent to us. This was eliminated, and now our only option is purchasing stationary from commissary, and paying their prices. Like any oppressor, TDCJ enjoys coming up with new ideas and ways to make life more difficult for their captors. There's strength in numbers. The more of us who write grievances, send letters to state politicians, and get the word out to our family and friends, the better chance we have of telling our oppressors that we're not going to take this lying down."
This comrade is right on about the strength in numbers. We have a number of prisoners across the state working on this campaign to end the restrictions on correspondence in Texas, and we've come up with a few key steps for prisoners and supporters to take.
Some jailhouse lawyers have created guides to fighting this injustice as well as a broader grievance guide for Texas, and we are seeing an influx of prisoners requesting these resources. We look forward to the results of this growing activism in this state with the largest prison population and one of the highest incarceration rates in the country.
For this indigent mail campaign in particular, we have a sample step 1 grievance for prisoners to use as well as a sample step 2 grievance for those whose step 1 is rejected. Write to us for a copy of the indigent mail campaign guide.
There are times when i get frustrated at those who just don't get it. What seems like it is crystal clear to me is not grasped by so many. But remember this is what separates levels of consciousness. We have to remember most of us were knuckleheads at one time; at least i was. And i'm sure those wiser than me were stressed out about me as well. We don't have to like it, but we do have to understand it if we ever seek to change it. I must know that what i understand and grasp may not be the same for others, but people develop consciously at different rates, even two cellmates will not be totally on the same level.
A protracted struggle is not simply performing and being victorious, rather it is a long drawn out struggle. It does not matter what one is struggling for. If i am trying to get better health care or healthier food to eat and i am up against a medical corporation or a prison policy that prevents me from getting what i want, it will be a struggle. We are not talking about just filing a grievance or refusing to go back in my cell, we are talking about possibly YEARS of struggle.
One of the things a protracted struggle means is that it will be long and rough. Not only that but it is a stop and go struggle where, in between efforts for human rights when there is "down time," the people use this time to sharpen up educationally and learn more about the human rights they are shooting for by studying similar historical struggles. A protracted struggle then is struggle first in the physical realm THEN in the ideological realm so that the people are struggling - preparing - struggling.
Disarray and disfunction are signs of a lack of political education and nothing more. This is why there is a great important necessity for political education and building cadre. The lack of cadre in any group, prison or organization will be the difference between obtaining human rights or settling for a bigger variety of cookies on commissary; of the revolution moving closer to reality or being extinguished.
Mao spoke of cadre and summed it up as follows:
"In order to guarantee that our party and country do not change their color, we must not only have a correct line and correct policies but must train and bring up millions of successors who will carry on the cause of proletarian revolution.
"In the final analysis, the question of training successors for the revolutionary cause of the proletariat is one of whether or not there will be people who can carry on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary cause started by the older generation of proletarian revolutionaries, whether or not the leadership of our party and state will remain in the hands of proletarian revolutionaries, whether or not our descendents will continue to march along the correct road laid down by Marxism-Leninism, or, in other words, whether or not we can successfully prevent the emergence of Kruschev's revisionism in China. In short, it is an extremely important question, a matter of life and death for our party and our country. It is a question of fundamental importance to the proletarian revolutionary cause for a hundred, a thousand, nay ten thousand years. Basing themselves on the changes in the Soviet Union, the imperialist prophets are pinning their hopes of "peaceful evolution" on the third or fourth generation of the Chinese party. We must shatter these imperialist prophecies. From our highest organizations down to the grass-roots, we must everywhere give constant attention to the training and upbringing of sucessors to the revolutionary cause."(1)
Here Mao is referring to how a bourgeoisie arose within the Bolshevik Party, taking the Soviet Union down the revisionist road after Stalin's death. The younger generations, not having a deep enough understanding of revolutionary science allowed such preposterous ideas as a peaceful evolution from capitalism to communism to be promoted and accepted as guiding principles. Mao's solution to this was the Cultural Revolution, which advanced socialism to its furthest stage of development to date. It is not good enough for the wise, the vets, the double O.G.s to be up on game as far as what it means to come together in peace and struggling for human rights. It's important that the young buck must also be educated on the importance of peace and the United Front for Peace in Prisons. Young people must be taught why human rights are important and what ways to acquire human rights.
What many forget is education comes in many forms, conversing with someone about social justice can be just as effective as passing a political newsletter down the tier. Sharing an article one tailored for a specific bunch can be just as effective as giving a fiery speech on the tier and, well, doing all of the above is good too. Without one studying him/herself one is unable to learn ways to improve one's environment and instead is left in a chaotic atmosphere which never moves forward.
Educating those who never listened to anyone in their life is no walk in the park. I get this. The thing is i know it must be done.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This essay is a good introduction to the focus of this issue of Under Lock & Key, which is an update on the theory and practice of building the United Front for Peace in Prisons. Cipactli gives us some good theory to chew on here, but we would not go so far as to say that problems in the movement are "signs of a lack of political education and nothing more." While every prisoner is oppressed by the same state, there are contradictions within the imprisoned lumpen that contribute to disorder and conflict. Some of these contradictions may not be resolved by education. These contradictions must be recognized, it must be determined whether or not they are contradictions among the people and they must be pushed to resolution. Hashing this out is a big part of the process of building an effective united front. These are tasks that we are working with USW leaders to take on in addition to outreach and education work. At the same time these tasks will serve to train and develop leaders within USW.
I want to first send an encouraging word to the brother who exposed a glimpse of our struggle here at Georgia State Prison. I can honestly say that the author of the stand up article in the March/April 2014 Under Lock & Key has inspired me to go harder.
As of this moment I am the head representative of the United Nation Against The Machine (UNATM) movement. The UNATM promotes unity, peace, and education amongst the various social groups within the system. The goal is to cease fire against one another and unite in our struggle against the oppressive pigs. We all have a common goal which should be freedom and we all have a common enemy which is the oppressive injustice system. There is no excuse for us to continue laying down when the bully approaches. We still have rights and we still are human beings who deserve better.
I want those in the segregation unit to know that you are not alone and as a fellow comrade/soulja in this struggle I pledge loyalty. I pledge to educate and decrease the illiteracy rate that confines our fellow brothers in an enslaved mind. I pledge to challenge the unchallenged. I pledge to finally put the pig head on the platter for all its wrong doing. We are our own machine that will stop at nothing to obtain true justice. I encourage all the souljas in this struggle to remain strong for we will see better days.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We are encouraged to see the growing activism in Georgia and in particular the conscious comrades building unity and peace in that state. We have reached out to this comrade to suggest that UNATM consider joining the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) as their goals line up with this effort. Specifically, the first three UFPP principles are peace, unity and growth. Through this United Front we can bring together different groups and individuals to fight our common enemy in the criminal injustice system.
I'm writing in regards to an article that appeared in issue 37 of ULK titled [url=https://www.prisoncensorship.info/article/fighting-for-useful-legal-counsel-in-arizona/"Fighting for Useful Legal Counsel in Arizona." The author of this article outlined their legal strategy to help prisoners receive legal counsel in the very early stages of their cases. The writer stated that he had filed a Writ of Certiorari asking the court to resolve the issue of the constitutional question left open in Martinez V. Ryan, 623 F.3d 731, 132S.CT1309(1023) of
"whether a defendant in a state criminal case has a Federal Constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at initial review collateral proceedings specifically with respect to his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim."
The case that the writer cited in his article was from the district court, but this particular case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court (Martinez v. Ryan 132 S. Ct 1309), and was decided favorably.
There are two other cases that I know of that deal with this same issue after Martinez, both of which were decided favorably. One was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and the other by the 8th Circuit. Both cases expand upon the ruling in Martinez and may be useful to the Arizona comrade or anyone going through the motions of trying to get their case back in court on an ineffective assistance claim. The cases are Trevino v. Thaler 133 S.Ct.1911 and Sasser v. Hobbs Nos. 02-3103, 11-3346.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The state sets the rules and then doesn't allow those accused of breaking the rules to effectively defend themselves within the injustice system. This is all part of the system of national oppression in this country; it's no coincidence that effective legal counsel is denied to those accused of breaking Amerikkka's laws.
We appreciate this comrade sharing h legal knowledge with others via the pages of ULK, and a lot of times this is the only way prisoners expand their legal arsenal. The author of the original article in ULK 37 said it took h eleven years to exhaust the remedies within Arizona state courts. Undoubtedly much of this time was spent translating legalese, and trying to figure out which motions to file when and where, with much trial and error along the way. With the assistance of a competent lawyer these speedbumps would be easily leveled.
While we know eventually we need to take up arms to liberate ourselves from national oppression in this country, at this stage in our struggle we are only advocating legally permitted campaigns. Like this comrade is attempting to do, setting valuable legal precedent that makes space for revolutionary organizing and defense of the humynity of the most oppressed Amerikan prisoners would be one step in the direction to overthrow the imperialist state. We can facilitate this work by sharing information the most effective approaches with each other.
Comrades who want to contribute to our collective legal knowledge should work with the MIM(Prisons)-led Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC). One of the primary tasks of the PLC is to compile legal knowledge into help guides which MIM(Prisons) then distributes to prison-based activists and jailhouse lawyers. The PLC only focuses on battles that will push our revolutionary struggle forward. Whether it be our efforts to put a complete end to solitary confinement, or simply to have our grievances not thrown in the trash upon receipt, the PLC is for jailhouse lawyers with a strong left lean! Write to MIM(Prisons) for more information.
April 22 - The U.$. Supreme Court upheld a Michigan ban on affirmative action in admission decisions to public universities, a final decision that reinforces national oppression in education from grade school through college. The majority opinion of the court upheld the state law that was enacted by Michigan voters in 2006. In addition to Michigan, seven other states have enacted similar bans: California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire.(1)
The Supreme Court couched their ruling in arguments about upholding democracy: “It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds,” justice Kennedy explained in the majority decision.(1) This faith in the capability of the voters in Amerika is only correct if we seek to reinforce white supremacy. 76% of Michigan's population is white, and Amerikan capitalism promotes individualism and self-interest, so we should expect this population to vote in their own persynal interests, which rest on national oppression. "Decent and rational grounds" cannot be found as the basis for banning a practice of affirmative action that attempts to address the unequal access to educational opportunities offered oppressed nation youth in the United $tates.
As we explained in 2012 when a lower court ruling was issued on this case, bans on affirmative action are fundamentally reactionary in that they preserve white privilege, but overall affirmative action itself has failed oppressed nation youth. Affirmative action does not address the fundamental inequalities faced by oppressed nations within U.$. borders, it's just an attempt to deal with the effects of these inequalities in young adults. As we wrote in that article: "The achievement gap between Black and white children went down between the Brown v Board of Education ruling and the late 1980s. But it started to grow again in the early 1990s. By 2005, in about half the high schools (those with the largest concentration of Blacks and Latinos) in the 100 largest districts in the country less than half the students entering the schools in ninth grade were graduating high school. Between 1993 and 2002 the number of high schools with this problem increased by 75%. These numbers, not surprisingly, coincide with a drop in Black and Latino enrollment in public universities."(1)
The affirmative action debate highlights the ongoing existence of national oppression within U.$. borders. And it underscores the intersection of class and nation, keeping a sizable portion of New Afrikans and Latinos without a high school diploma and unable to take advantage of affirmative action in college admission even where it still exists. This goes back to the way that public education is funded in the United $tates, through property taxes, ensuring that poor neighborhoods will have lower quality education and denying kids from those neighborhoods the opportunities availabile to kids from wealthier neighborhoods. This economic segregation is tied to national segregation, creating a cycle of poverty that reinforces national oppression within this wealthy imperialist country.
The debate over affirmative action at the college level gets at the core of what equality is. Those who demand "blind" admissions practices have to pretend that everyone applying for college admissions had equal opportunities up to the point of college application. And this gives us a chance to challenge people on what many like to call a "color-blind" society. Even looking at the privileged Blacks and Latinos who went to schools good enough to qualify them to apply for college admission, pretending equality is only possible if we ignore all the aspects of oppression that these groups face in the U.$., from overt racial hatred to subtle cultural messages of inferiority. Society sets oppressed nation youth up for failure from birth, with TV and movies portraying criminals as Black and Latino and successful corporate employees as white. These youth are stopped by cops on the streets for the offense of skin color alone, looked at suspiciously in stores, and presumed to be less intelligent in school.
But the real problem is not the privileged Black and Latino students qualified to apply for college admission. These individual students from oppressed nations who are able to achieve enough to apply to colleges that have admissions requirements are a part of the petty bourgeoisie. The reality is very different for the other half of the oppressed nation youth who are tracked right out of college from first grade (or before) and have no chance of even attending a college that has admissions requirements beyond a high school diploma.
Among the students who entered high school in ninth grade, 63% of Latinos, 59% of Blacks and 53% of First Nations graduated high school in 2009. This is compared to 81% of Asians and 79% of whites. Overall the Black-white and Latino-white graduation rate gap narrowed between 1999 and 2009 but is still very large.(2)
This recent court ruling reinforces our belief that we cannot expect Amerika to reform away national oppression, even within U.$. borders where some formerly oppressed nations have been integrated into the oppressor majority. At this point in history, imperialism vs. the oppressed nations is the principal contradiction both globally and within u.s. borders. The dramatic differences in educational access and achievement are just one example of the oppressed/oppressor nation differentials. MIM(Prisons) fights on the side of oppressed nations everywhere for the revolution that will overthrow imperialism end national oppression.
I recently wrote to you inquiring about how I can contribute to the struggle within, possibly by joining forces with USW. A few solid brothers and myself are in accordance with the 5 basic key principles/ideas that the United Front for Peace in Prisons represents. However, at Perry Correctional Institution (where I am currently confined), the consciousness is low amongst the masses due to the oppressor's effective psychological warfare tactics being enforced at all angles (fear, divide & conquer, rewards, isolation, etc.). This specific prison is designed to be the "breaking camp" for prisoners, where they train prisoners to be more "obedient" to further assist the oppressor's aim for control and financial advancement.
There are a lot of prisoner violations that occur at this plantation, but one in particular is the grievance system. South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) has recently implemented a procedure where you must first submit a request form to the appropriate officer/supervisor attempting to informally resolve your issue. The officer is then provided 45 days to respond to your request, which most officers refuse to do. If you are lucky enough to receive a response, then you are given only 5 days, including weekends, to submit your grievance after your request form has been answered. Then to add insult to injury, many grievances are never returned and the grievance officials feign ignorance as to what happened to it.
The grievance process/system within South Carolina Department of Corruption is substandard and blatantly violates prisoners' constitutional rights. I am unsure whether South Carolina is covered by the grievance campaign or not, but we are definitely experiencing similar issues in our grievance process and I would like to join this campaign. Please keep me updated in the decisions or proposals for combatting the grievance system and let me know what is needed of me and my comrades here.
Also, please provide any material available which may assist me in awakening the masses of how to fight against the oppressor and how to unite on a common ground with individuals in different groups. I will strive to become a ULK Field Corespondent for South Carolina in the future, whatever I can do to assist the struggle.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We commend these comrades in South Carolina for coming together around the United Front for Peace principals and doing the work to identify the critical campaign needs in their prison. The grievance campaign is not yet active in South Carolina but we look forward to working with these folks to customize the grievance petition for that state and get the struggle moving forward there. To work on this campaign in your state, write to MIM(Prisons) for a copy of the petition, and if one does not exist for your state you can help by modifying the petition for use there.
This movie is a must-see for any left-leaning persyn looking to kick start a revolution or join a movement for the purpose of societal change. The East is about a subversive underground movement which can best be described as a loose collection of anarchist cells focused on giving the heads of corporations that are responsible for ecological destruction a taste of their own medicine. One reference in the movie describes them as radical cells that started with Earth First! They attack big business, who they see as responsible for much of today's problems in the United $tates. Indeed, they see the principal contradiction in the United $tates as between greedy corporations that will stop at nothing to make a quick buck and the life on planet Earth that they threaten. The ideas portrayed in their propaganda videos are hard-hitting in a way that is true to the First World radical ecology movement in real life.
The potential for the radical ecology movement to be a real force for change in the First World is one reason this movie is powerful. The movie is also aesthetically pleasing on many levels (which means it's fun to watch!) and filled with political content. It has a couple big Hollywood names; none more notable than Ellen Page of Juno fame. This movie speaks mainly to the worries of today's white petty-bourgeois youth growing up in the shadows of climate change, oil spills and other mass pollution, toxic food and medicine and a consumerist society that doesn't seem to care. The characters touch on struggles with their wealth, but ultimately use their privilege to attack their enemies. They criticize Amerikans for their complacency, but see the imperialists as the ones deserving severe criticism. Similar to many radical environmental movements in the real world, there is no explicit class analysis in the movie, but The East seems potentially friendly to both a Third Worldist and a First Worldist perspective. The real positive lessons of this movie however come from its emphasis on security and organization, or lack thereof, within supposed revolutionary groups.
The East focuses on an ex-FBI agent named Jane who goes undercover for Hiller-Brood, a fictional "intelligence firm" that specializes in protecting the interests of imperialist corporations thru espionage. Jane's mission is to attempt to infiltrate The East, a so-called eco-terrorist organization that has been a thorn in the side of McCabe-Grey, a fictional corporation that specializes in producing cutting edge pharmaceuticals. Jane's assignment is to go undercover using the name Sarah, to meet and gain the trust of potential East members that Hiller-Brood has been tailing.
After a night of partying and getting to know some counter-culture types who Sarah thinks might know The East, she decides they are relatively harmless and then sneaks away in the early morning hours to pursue other potential targets, but not before snapping all their pictures and sending them back to Hiller-Brood for file building. From here on out Sarah sets out to meet some other potential targets who are older, more mysterious and hence more promising. After meeting the possible East members and train hopping with their friends, Sarah gets her first taste of pig oppression when they are forced off the train by railroad security and subsequently beaten. It is in the midst of the commotion that Sarah sees the persyn she's been following flash a badge at security - the persyn she's been following is a fed! After being left cuffed to a train Sarah makes a narrow escape from police and is rescued by one of the train-hoppers whose van she jumps into. Once inside of the van Sarah recognizes one of the symbols of The East. Convinced she is now on the right track, Sarah slices her wrist in the hopes that this guy whose van she's in will take her to The East. Her plan works, but not before he runs a quick make on her by dialing the number on her phone marked "mom."
After speaking to another Hiller-Brood agent posing as Sarah's mom, he destroys her phone, blindfolds her and takes her to a secret location in the woods; a dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. As they arrive, Sarah is introduced to "Doc" the group's resident doctor, much to the chagrin of Thumbs the group's only New Afrikan. As she is being treated Sarah discovers that Doc was once a med student. She is then drugged and put to sleep. After waking, Sarah meets Izzy, Ellen Page's character, who views Sarah with a skeptical eye. Izzy gives Sarah a straight-jacket and tells her to wear it if she wants to come down for dinner. Feeling she is now a hostage, and partly out of curiosity, Sarah reluctantly agrees to put on the jacket. Once they enter the dining room, Sarah is surprised to find the rest of the group already assembled at the table and all wearing straight jackets. At the head of the table is Benji, a bearded and eccentric looking man who reveals to Sarah that they know everything about her, her last job as a bank-teller, where she grew up, everything. All aspects of her cover identity unfortunately.
Benji then tells Sarah that she can begin eating whenever she's ready. Not knowing how to eat if she's in a straight jacket Sarah tells Benji that she's a guest and would not feel right if she started before them. To which Benji responds; "You can do what you please, but we prefer to eat after you begin." Confused and uneasy Sarah attempts to eat by slurping the soup directly from the bowl. Everyone stares at Sarah with a look of condemnation. What happens next is a "zen" moment in which everyone takes to eating by having the persyn next to them pick up the spoon with their mouth and feed them. Feeling played, Sarah storms out of the house and into the woods where Benji and company follow her and ask her to come back. Sarah responds, "For what? So you can continue to make fun of me to your followers?" Benji then explains that he doesn't have any followers. He tells her that if she'd only relied on the group, instead of selfishly trying to feed herself then she wouldn't be feeling stupid. Sarah then retorts "Why is it that self-righteousness and resistance movements always go hand in hand?" Yet it is the bourgeois and the Christians who are the most self-righteous of all, imposing their ways on others, forcing the majority to suffer for their own benefit. They criticize the masses with a false sense of superiority, while it is the job of revolutionaries to criticize the oppressor with the basic facts of their oppression. Throughout the movie, it is stressed that everything members of The East do is their own choice, and when they do do things it is organized in collective ways that challenge bourgeois individualism, such as the eating example.
Later that night Sarah is caught spying by Eve, an East member. Sarah is then forced to reveal herself to Eve, but she tells her that she is an active FBI agent, and that The East house is currently under surveillance, and that if she exposes her she'll go to jail. Eve agrees to stay quiet but flees the next day without telling anyone what she knows. The next day The East discovers that Eve has left. This throws the group's next mission into limbo. Sarah explains that she can easily fill Eve's shoes. The group takes a vote and decides to let Sarah in on the "jam" so long as her knowledge of the mission is relegated to her role. Sarah agrees.
The group's mission is to infiltrate a business party hosted by McCabe-Grey. Once inside the party their plan is to slip a supposed anti-malarial drug "Denoxin" into the drinks of some of Amerika's elites who have gathered to celebrate a contract between McCabe-Grey and the U.$. military which will make Denoxin available to Amerikan soldiers serving abroad. Denoxin's side-effects have been linked to various mental and nervous disorders as demonstrated by Doc, who took the drug after his prescription killed his sister. During the celebration the vice president of McCabe-Grey gives a speech in which she touts Denoxin as a miracle drug that will protect men and wimmin in uniform in the mission to protect Third World people from evil dictators and oppressive governments; thereby allowing them to bring "freedom and democracy" to the oppressed masses.
Sarah finds out what The East is up to and attempts to stop it, but it is too late. The East completes their mission and returns to their hideout in the woods. Back at the safe-house Sarah takes to snooping and discovers the real identities of The East members. However, her spying is cut short when they see breaking news that McCabe-Grey's vice president has begun to succumb to Denoxin's side-effects, her life in possible danger. The East panics and decides to disperse and flee back into the relative safety of the city. They all agree that should members decide to continue with the movement they should all return to the safe house in a couple weeks.
Now, back in society, undercover agent Sarah seems uncomfortable in the real world, she is no longer used to the amenities of living in a First World country. She has become accustomed to living in the woods with The East and their communal social values; she is conflicted. Though she feels troubled she returns to Hiller-Brood for debriefing. She gives up the identities of The East and expresses her concerns that another attack will occur. She pleads to have The East house raided before they disappear, but they refuse and send Sarah back for more intelligence gathering.
Sarah re-connects with The East as they are planning the next action. This time around, the mission is to get Hawkstone Energy executives (yet another fictional imperialist corporation) to admit their illegal pollution practices on camera; illegal practices that have contaminated a small town's drinking water. Benji's plan is to rationalize with the bourgeois leaders of Hawkstone into giving up their dangerous exploitation of the earth (kidnapping them and forcing them to listen), but Thumbs disagrees. Thumbs doesn't want to talk with the enemy, he wants action now. He says that these rich types don't ever respond to "intellectual bullshit, they respond to firepower!" After some heated discussion they agree to Benji's original plan where Izzy ends up dead, shot by Hawkstone security.
We cannot afford to make the focoist error of taking up armed struggle when the conditions aren't right, as the character of Thumbs attempts to do. Focoism has a long history of failure, getting good revolutionaries killed or locked up in jail. To think that armed actions will always inspire the masses towards revolutionary activity is an ultra-left and deadly, idealist mistake that has left many anti-imperialists either dead or in prison. In this sense The East has a better strategy in that they are primarily trying to stop the most powerful people from doing the damage their corporations are doing, rather than engaging in focoist actions aimed at convincing Amerikans that the corporations need to be stopped. The East may actually end up stopping some corporations, and the individuals leading them, from some of their more destructive practices. But in the end this strategy, like focoism, lacks the big picture perspective that will enable us to put an end to the environmental destruction that is inherent to capitalism. What their strategy lacks is the building of independent institutions of the oppressed that have the power to implement environmentally-friendly production methods while meeting the people's needs. While the movie shows The East building alternative culture within their collective, we must figure out how to go bigger than that to really counter the powerful corporations that are now calling the shots.
When Izzy dies, The East becomes spooked and are thrown into disarray. One member talks of abandoning the movement and Benji tries to get him to stay. Benji tells him that "a revolution is never easy, but that doesn't make it any less important," to which the deserter states, "I would betray the revolution for Izzy, that's the difference between you and me." This is an inherent weakness in petty bourgeois radical movements. When those they care about are threatened they see the comforts of petty bourgeois life as preferable to struggle. This is why the deserter is able to succumb to such individualist ways of thinking. For the proletariat, oppression is a daily reality, and death of a comrade will tend to justify further what they are doing rather than discourage. What we must fully understand however is that the success or failure of any movement does not hinge on the importance of one individual, one man, one womyn or one child; but on the stated aims of that movement and the completion of that goal, and if we stray from those principles then we are just as guilty of betraying the revolution as the deserter in the movie did.
At this point, this cell of The East splits up yet again. Back at Hiller-Brood Sarah discloses the day's events, she reports Izzy's death and claims that The East is in shambles, a perfect time to move in and arrest them all. Her advice is again ignored. She is ordered to go back. She meets with Benji, but this time pleads with him to give up the movement; partly out of her wish to prevent another attack or death, and partly because she has developed romantic feelings for him. Benji refuses and instead convinces her to take part in one last mission. She agrees because she has feelings for him and because she has now been won over to The East's cause.
On the way to the next mission Benji exposes his hand and tells Sarah that he knows she's a spy. He tells her that if she was ever down with the movement or truly had feelings for him, then she'd complete the mission and run away with him. She agrees to help. The mission is to retrieve a flash drive from the offices of Hiller-Brood that contains the names of fifty agents embedded in underground movements all across the world. Benji convinces Sarah that he only wants the list to spy on the spies; but what he really wants is to expose the agents to their organizations. She carries out the mission but when she finds out Benji's true intention she denies having stolen the flash drive. She tries to convince Benji that if they were to obtain the list it'd be better to talk the agents into giving up their careers as spies for the greater good. She argues if they only knew what they were really doing, they'd all turn just as she had. Benji refuses and they part ways. He, back to the underground, and she onto a one womyn awareness campaign.
The movie ends with clips of her talking to what appear to be other Hiller-Brood agents outside of oil refineries and power plants. The take away? Don't work outside the system in order to change it, work alongside it in order to change minds one persyn at a time.
Now let us examine this film from a Maoist perspective: "In the world today, all culture, all literature and all art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. There is in fact no such thing as art for art's sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached or independent of politics." (MIM Theory 13)
This should be our attitude and guiding line when viewing or reviewing art i.e, film, literature, music, etc. Only with this attitude will we be able to see thru the bourgeoisie obfuscation of art. Furthermore; "works of literature and art, as ideological forms are products of the life of a given society." Which means that what we as a society deem to be art can only be pulled from the consciousness of society itself. Art expresses not only individual, but society's wishes, its desires, its anxieties and its perceived problems.
Now we began this review by stating that this movie was aesthetically pleasing and filled with political content. Comrade Mao taught us that the most reactionary art in class society is both high in artistic value and filled with political content. And who's political views was this movie putting forward? The bourgeoisie's of course. But even though it is a bourgeoisie product with bourgeois aims we can still learn something from it that we can apply to our own movement. Hence, we should not totally discard it.
Overall, The East is painted in a very positive light in this film, highlighting the liberatory and egalitarian aspects of the anarchist sub-culture. What we are to take away from this is Sarah benefitted and learned from that experience, but goes on to have her real impact by working among the agents of the imperialists to convince them what they are doing is wrong. The whole premise assumes that people just don't know the destruction that these corporations are doing. While the details are certainly masked from Amerikans, the information is still readily available, and a historical analysis of this country will reveal much deeper roots to reactionary politics of the Amerikan consumer nation. A more damaging storyline that would be justified by this movie, which we see time and time again in real life, is the activist who participates in radical organizing to learn and build cred and then goes on to work within the system as Sarah does when they "grow up." This movie will play well with the radical-curious, who find their life's work in NGOs, non-profits and even government agencies. The good side of this film is that it could lead people to be sympathetic to the cause of radical ecology, despite its praise of reformism. There are also some good practical lessons in this movie.
The first lesson to take away from this film is that any movement that is truly working against the interests of the imperialists will simply not be tolerated. The agents of repression are always looking to smash movements of dissent and are constantly working vigorously to infiltrate and spy on us.
Secondly, we must be cautious of who we decide to work with and who we reveal ourselves to. Simply because we meet people who seem to share our political views does not mean they are comrades and thereby privy to our organization's actions or methods of work. Within sub-cultures, having the right look and lifestyle can lead to people putting their guards down for superficial reasons. Sarah demonstrates this, and there are many real-world Sarahs whose stories have been exposed. This essentially breaks down to "better, fewer, but better." And even good comrades can be turned, which we should keep in mind as well. The bourgeoisie and their spies are highly organized and we should be too. A good way of keeping security tight within our organizations is by keeping politics in command. No one who isn't putting in work should know anything about our organizations other than what is published in the pages of Under Lock & Key and the MIM(Prisons) website. Our work should always be geared along the lines of what will be the most effective and will get us the furthest fastest. As such, security within our movement shouldn't be something we study in addition to theory, but should stem directly from it.
Thirdly, we shouldn't necessarily have to like our comrades on a persynal level. Just because we like certain people or have relative unity with them on certain issues doesn't mean we recruit based on popularity. We recruit based on the correctness of one's political line and the type of work done over a period of time. When they were around, the original Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika was the vanguard of the communist movement in the North American continent exactly because they were composed of the communist elite. They didn't get to those positions overnight due to social networking, but because they put in the correct type of work over a sustained period. This is something else we should remember when building and re-building our movements. Thus, if we are serious about taking the socialist road then we must study and work assiduously to learn Marxist philosophy, scientific socialism and Marxist political economy so that we may integrate it into our work and apply the most correct political lines.
In conclusion, we must take art seriously and not cede the cultural wars to the bourgeoisie but must engage them on that level as well. For the bourgeoisie this movie was a hit due to its successful combination of aesthetics and politics. Therefore we must also seek to fuse the political with the artistic. Under Lock & Key already does this to a certain degree as the ULK writers struggle to make it the trenchant arm of the revolution. Right now however, what ULK lacks in artistic value it makes up in political worth, though there is much room for improvement.
Don't work alongside imperialism to change it one persyn at a time. Rather, work directly against it in order to smash it and revolutionize the world.
A new report from Global Witness documents over 900 assassinations of people protecting the environment and rights to land in the last decade.(1) And this is just the ones they could find information on, meaning the real number is higher. Of course, none of those killed were from the First World. The big countries in the report were Brazil (448), Honduras (109), Philippines (67), Peru (58) and Colombia (52). The killers have been prosecuted in only 6 of the 908 cases. The report also suggests that this is a growing phenomenon, which seems plausible given the heightening contradictions between the demands of capitalist production and the capacity of the natural world to maintain the balance of systems that are necessary to sustain life as we know it.
In the past, some have painted environmentalism as a concern of the First World. However, this has never really been true, as it is the most oppressed people who have suffered and struggled against the most extreme man-made disasters. And the threat that their struggles pose to the capitalists' interests is highlighted by this list of assassinations; people who were mostly killed in cold blood, a fate those in the oppressor nations know nothing about.
There is a concentration of murders in the tropical countries, where vast rain forests with some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet are making what could be their final stand. Long a source of natural resources, in recent decades these forests have been leveled at an increasing rate that cannot be sustained. In such cases there is a clear connection between protecting the ecological functioning of a region and the national liberation struggle tied to land. These "untamed" lands are often the homes of peoples who have not fully been assimilated into the global capitalist economy. Often private property and land deeds do not exist in these areas, attracting the brutality of the exploiters. The people struggling to exist on these lands have a completely different perspective on what land ownership and stewardship mean.
Many of the reports of these assassinations can be discouraging, when we see vocal leaders of small indigenous groups gunned down by paid assassins of the capitalists and no one is held accountable. But this war does have two sides. In many of the hotspots in this report there are strong organizations that have mobilized indigenous people to defend their lands. One of those examples has made some headlines recently in the Philippines. The revolutionary forces in the Philippines have called for a ban on logging because it has impoverished the indigenous people and peasantry, making them susceptible to environmental disasters as we saw last November with typhoon Yolanda. The New People's Army (NPA) is exerting dual power in putting this ban into effect by engaging in gun battles and arresting members of the military of the U.$. puppet regime that defend the logging companies.(2) In a separate campaign the NPA recently stormed Apex Mining Company, torching their equipment.(3) This is one of many mining companies they have targeted due to the destruction they wreak on indigenous lands and humyn health. This connection between the struggles of the indigenous people and peasantry, the environment and land is nothing new for the Communist Party of the Philippines as was documented in the decades old film Green Guerrillas.
While most pronounced in the Third World, ecological destruction threatens all humyn life and continues to be a growing rallying point for progressive forces in the First World as well. Maoists must tie this work to a realistic class analysis and link the struggle to protect our environment to the struggle for national liberation of the oppressed. A true revolutionary ecology must engage the workings of a system that has assassinated well over 900 innocent people for trying to protect the world that we all live in.