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Under Lock & Key

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[Organizing] [ULK Issue 16]
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Congress Report 2010

MIM(Prisons) held our first official congress in July of 2010 to clarify our priorities, renew our common commitment, and push our work forward. We reviewed work in key areas, discussed successes and failures and debated resolutions on new directions for the coming year. For the most part this congress focused on strategic and tactical priorities and the best way to advance our work. But these priorities are based in political line, and discussions of that line and the priorities it requires were a key component of the congress. Proposals related to new political line were also raised and those that were controversial were put on the table for study and debate in future discussions.

Distribution

The production and distribution of revolutionary materials to a potentially revolutionary class that is systematically denied educational materials is central to our work as a cell. Keeping Under Lock & Key as a regular publication reaching U.$. prisoners and maintaining other correspondence with prisoners topped our list of priorities. We also gave relatively high priority to our website, the second major leg of our distribution work.

Despite a number of small improvements and a consistent publication schedule, our distribution of Under Lock & Key slightly declined over the last year and a half. While the production and quality of ULK falls in our lap, we see its expansion as a responsibility falling largely on United Struggle from Within (USW). We encourage other comrades to make pledges to increase our subscribers behind bars as our comrade in the Black Order Revolutionary Organization has.

In order to reduce costs we have changed our policies so that new subscribers only get our introductory letter and one issue of ULK. To get more than that you must write us again confirming receipt or censorship of those items. Similarly, we are requiring our regular subscribers to tell us exactly what mail they have received, and when, each time they write us. If we can't confirm you are receiving our mail we will stop sending it. By saving costs where we cannot confirm our effectiveness we will be able to expand our distribution to a larger subscriber base.

Over the last couple years we have seen a steady increase in the number of letters we have sent to prisoners. This is indicative of the expansion of our various smaller projects (other than ULK) with prisoners who are active participants in the movement. While readership online may be comparable (based on our limited statistics), the amount of work we see being done per reader from our paper literature is far greater.

Worldwide Web

Adding the etext.org MIM archive to our website greatly increased our content and eventually led to serious increases in readers. Yet we are still only getting around a sixth as many page views as they were getting in 2002. MIM had the most widely read Amerikan, self-described communist website at that time. This goes to show the damage done by political repression and privatization of the worldwide web.

Original content that MIM(Prisons) has added to the web that attracts the most attention is our censorship work and other services we provide to prisoners and their supporters. Many of our readers are utilizing our information to maintain better communication with their loved ones and to try to get information on what's going on behind closed doors and barbed wire fences.

Items that are in demand that we need to improve are Spanish language material, artwork and cutting edge cultural reviews. We are dedicated to making all three more prominent on our website, but we need help from our comrades to keep producing great anti-imperialist art, to provide insightful reviews of movies and music that our readers might be interested in and to translate and edit materials into Spanish. Online readers will see improvements to the site in coming months.

While many are following the corporate bandwagons of Facebook and Twitter, we are interested in recent battles over net neutrality (the premise that the interests of the powerful can't allow certain online content to get priority access to the public). Some have a theory of putting technology in command and worshipping the oppressors' institutions and petty bourgeois trends, rather than building independent institutions of the oppressed with politics in command. As examples, Facebook, Twitter and Google all have direct relationships with the state department. How could these ever become serious tools for revolution? The real question is, how can we build serious tools for revolution in cyberspace?

Censorship

Distribution of literature to prisoners comes with the ongoing problem of censorship faced by MIM(Prisons) and our comrades behind bars. Our annual censorship report details the changes and accomplishments of the past year.

Most of the prisoners on the ULK mailing list are not letting us know what mail they receive from us, making censorship very difficult to track. It's possible the mail is not getting through but it's just as likely that these subscribers are just not telling us about what they got. We also have a lot of prisoners write once and then never write again. To better focus where we spend money, and to improve our tracking of censorship, we are changing our policies as described above.

Correspondence

In the first six months of 2010 about a third of our mail came from repeat writers - prisoners who are in relatively regular contact. This is an increase from 2009, and we should push to continue to increase this percentage. While it is great that we get so much interest from new comrades, it is important that we engage our regular contacts in study and work. We recognize that as long as our materials are being read and, even better, shared then we are accomplishing our goal of building public opinion. Yet, while most subscribers may be passive learners at this stage, we see our task as a cell as facilitating the organization of prisoners, including the development of cadre level skills. Several specific congress proposals related to this work were passed and we hope to see increased engagement from our newer comrades behind bars in the coming year.

A key element of raising the level of political understanding and providing study opportunities to our comrades behind bars is the MIM(Prisons)-led introductory study group. This study group gains a lot of interest but for both logistical difficulties (censorship, moving, lack of stamps) as well as loss of political interest, we see a steep decline in participants over the course of each study session. To provide more frequent opportunities for study to new folks, and as a pre-requisite to the more serious introductory study group, MIM(Prisons) will start all new comrades in a shorter introduction study group (Intro Level 1) which will last two sessions and run approximately every 3 months. Successful completion of this study group will be required for admission into the more comprehensive, year-long Intro Level 2 class.

United Struggle from Within (USW)

United Struggle from Within (USW) is a MIM(Prisons)-led mass organization for U.$. prisoners. USW is explicitly anti-imperialist in leading campaigns on behalf of U.$. prisoners in alliance with national liberation struggles in North America and around the world.

This year, MIM(Prisons) opened a separate forum for USW leaders to develop the organization and strategize on campaigns. This was a step forward in the re-establishment of USW as an independent organization (following the dissolution of the Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika). The campaigns leaders develop will be advertised in each issue of ULK for rank-and-file USW comrades to keep abreast of progress and how to get involved. If necessary, MIM(Prisons) will send out notices to affected comrades regarding campaigns that are moving at a pace that is too fast for ULK. Comrades who want to receive such notices need to write to MIM(Prisons) to join USW.

The campaign to get grievances heard in California is one campaign that is resonating loudly, both there and in other states that have adopted similar campaigns. This is a great example of a campaign that was initiated by USW and promoted through regular articles in ULK. We believe that those in charge of prisoners should be held to the highest standards of conduct, as was done in socialist China, because of the extreme amount of power they have over other people. In contrast to socialist prisons and work camps in China, abuse is a daily occurrence in U.$. prisons. Therefore the grievance struggle is strategically correct in that it gives the state a chance to clearly take a position for or against this rampant abuse, which informs the prison masses as to what forms of struggle are necessary to achieve humane conditions.

Also related to USW, there is a ULK writing group, which is open to comrades who have completed the introductory study courses and are involved in writing projects with MIM(Prisons). At the congress we affirmed our commitment that USW should be producing short summary articles for Under Lock & Key reflecting struggles within the ULK writing group. Comrades have already seen the ideas from the study group reflected in the pages of ULK over the last year.

Prisoner Legal Clinic

MIM(Prisons) rarely has access to legal advice from experienced lawyers on the outside. In 2009 the Prisoner Legal Clinic (PLC) was formalized as another facet of USW for prisoners interested or experienced in legal issues. The basic goals of the PLC are to push our anti-censorship and anti-repression work forward, while also offering members a space to discuss specifics of their legal work. Members of the PLC write legal articles for ULK and contributed greatly to the legal strategy issue of ULK, issue 13.

If you are an active member of the PLC, you should expect an updated letter from us two or three times per year detailing our current projects and comrades' questions/suggestions. Members of the PLC should also be contributing legal articles for ULK.

Release Program

At our congress, MIM(Prisons) reaffirmed our commitment to the Prisoner Re-Lease on Life Program. We recognize that our resources to advance this program are limited, and we have learned some valuable lessons over the past year through our work with released prisoners. We need to work more aggressively with prisoners scheduled to get out within a year, making it clear what resources are available and helping them do the research necessary to hit the streets as safely as possible. Prisoners with upcoming releases should contact our newly appointed release coordinator for more info.

United Front for Peace in Prisons

MIM(Prisons) is working on a United Front for Peace in Prisons with leaders of a number of progressive-minded organizations behind bars. The principal contradiction facing the imprisoned lumpen today is the prisoner-on-prisoner violence and conflicts that prevent any progressive work from happening. The United Front project is developing a statement of unity that groups and individuals can sign to join. This statement has been in progress for a long time, partly because we are trying to develop unity with a number of groups before we finalize it. If you are involved in any kind of peace or unity project where you are, please get in touch so that you can have input on this very important project.

Related work with a number of more advanced organizations will also result in the production of a book on the lumpen within the United $tates. Over the next year MIM(Prisons) will be printing draft chapters of this book to be distributed as pamphlets for comment from lumpen organizations and fraternal groups. The feedback will be incorporated into the final printing of the book which is targeted for 2011.

This book will advance our analysis of the class and national contradictions in the belly of the beast and how we can best utilize them in the interests of the oppressed masses of the world. It will serve as a survival guide for the lumpen, recognizing the necessity of internationalism to overcome the number one enemy of humynity: imperialism.

Conclusion

MIM(Prisons) plans to hold congress annually and we welcome submissions of proposals for new areas of priority as well as new political line from our comrades in United Struggle from Within and other United Front organizations. We also look forward to feedback on our work over the coming year so that we can continually improve and advance the struggle.

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