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Setting Goals in California

In 2011, the organizing in California made connections to the plight of prisoners across the country and even globally. As cipactli discusses in h recent article, the demands from the Pelican Bay prisoners have not been met and a new phase of that battle has begun.

The example set by those who went on food strike in California was like Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus. They weren't the first to do it, and they didn't single-handedly change the system, or even significantly reform it. But they did serve as a prime example that continues to inspire those struggling for basic humyn rights behind bars. Since 2011, MIM(Prisons) has been in dialogue with USW leaders in Pelican Bay and across the state about those historic events, and how we can push that struggle forward.

One change that has been proposed by comrades in Pelican Bay this time around is that prisoners develop their own demands locally and hold the CDCR/state to the demands that they think are most pressing. While, ideally we would all unite around one set of demands, we agree with this tactic at this stage. There were many who came out to propose changes to the five core demands for many different reasons. So this approach allows those who had critiques to put their ideas into action.

In practice this means each prison could have their own demands focused on conditions specific to their location, building unity within the prisoner population at that facility. We caution people though that the broader our unity behind core demands the more pressure we can put on the criminal injustice system to make change. As much as possible, prisoners should try to come together around common demands within each prison.

MIM(Prisons) is working to unite United Struggle from Within (USW) in CA around some goals that are strategic for the anti-imperialist prison movement. These are goals that could be won within the realm of bourgeois democracy and will strengthen our cause and more long-term goals.

Please note that neither USW nor the statewide councils are able to operate on the basis of democratic centralism through postal mail. So while this draft incorporates the ideas of the California Council of USW, it is principally authored by MIM(Prisons) and does not/will not necessarily represent a consensus among council members or USW in general. However, the two principal points are points that MIM(Prisons) has long held to be strategically important in expanding the ability of the oppressed to reach the medium-term goals of organizing for self-determination. So we do not believe that they will be very controversial within our circles. We do hope they will push the limits of what is possible more than what has been proposed so far.

If there are already demands in place where you are, we'd encourage you to push for an inclusion of more focus on these goals. If not you may still need to adjust the document below to meet your local conditions for various reasons. But we should all be able to agree on what the major issues are here, and the more we can speak as a united voice with a united mission, the more successful we can be. There is very little in here that is specific to California, so comrades in other states can also use this as a model.

Here are our demands:

  1. An end to torture of all prisoners, including an end to the use of Security Housing Units (SHU) as long-term isolation prisons.

    Basic humyn needs are centered around 1) healthy food and water, 2) fresh air and exercise, 3) clothes and shelter from the elements and 4) social interactions and community with other humyns. It is the SHU's failure to provide for these basic needs that have led people around the world to condemn long-term isolation as torture. Therefore we demand that the following minimum standards be met for all prisoners:

    1. no prisoner should be held in Security Housing Units for longer than 30 days. Rehouse all prisoners currently in SHU to mainline facilities.
    2. interaction with other prisoners every day
    3. time spent outdoors with space and basic equipment for exercise every day
    4. healthy food and clean water every day
    5. proper clothing and climate control
    6. an end to the use of and threat of violence by staff against prisoners who have not made any physical threat to others
    7. access to phone calls and contact visits with family at least once a week
    8. timely and proper health care
    9. ability to engage in productive activities, including correspondence courses and hobby crafts
    10. a meaningful way to grieve any abuses or denial of the above basic rights

  2. Freedom of association.

    As social beings, people in prison will always develop relationships with other prisoners. We believe positive and productive relationships should be encouraged. Currently the CDCR makes it a crime punishable by torture (SHU) to affiliate with certain individuals or organizations. This is contrary to the judiciary's interpretation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We demand that prisoners of the state of California only be punished for violating the law, and that there be:

    1. no punishment based on what books one reads or has in their possession
    2. no punishment for jailhouse lawyering for oneself or for others, for filing grievances or for any challenges to conditions of confinement through legal means
    3. no punishment for what outside organizations one belongs to or corresponds with
    4. no punishment for communicating with other prisoners if not breaking the law
    5. no punishment for tattoos
    6. no punishment for what individuals of the same race/nation/organizational affiliation do unless you as an individual were involved in violating a rule or the law, i.e. no group punishment
    7. no punishment for affiliation with a gang, security threat group, or other organization - in other words a complete end to the gang validation system that punishes people (currently puts people in the SHU for an indeterminate amount of time) based on their affiliation and/or ideology without having broken any rules or laws
The above goals are very similar to the original five core demands. However, you'll notice that they boil down to two main points, an end to torture of prisoners and freedom of association. Until both of these goals are fully achieved, the struggle continues.

Over the coming months, comrades behind bars need to focus on setting goals, setting deadlines, strategizing, studying and networking. The comrades in Pelican Bay are sticking to similar tactics used in the 2011 food strike. But there are other ways to demonstrate for our goals in a peaceful way that is long-lasting and can have great impact, just like Rosa Parks. One comrade last year suggested campaigns that affect the prison staff directly and financially, and there may be other tactics to consider. As the comrades in California have stressed, networking to break down divisions between prisoners must be a focus by implementing the peace protocol across the state. And as USW leaders have reiterated, study is instrumental in raising the consciousness of participants and allies to provide for a stronger base as the struggle advances.

We've heard from comrades in Washington, New Jersey and South Carolina who are organizing their own actions for July 8 or modeled around that struggle. Comrades in North Carolina and Texas have launched peaceful protests of their own in just the last couple months. As we address local conditions and petition institutions at the state level, we build unity around the common demands of the imprisoned lumpen class across the United $tates.

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