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Under Lock & Key

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[Abuse] [Campaigns] [Control Units] [Hunger Strike] [Medical Care]
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Hunger Striker Dies in Corcoran

billy sell rip
Original art by Billy Sell of the torture cell
he died in at Corcoran State Prison.
On Monday, 22 July 2013, 32-year-old Billy "Guero" Sell died in his cell in the Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison. Prisoners near him reported that he had been requesting medical attention while on hunger strike, but his requests were ignored.(1)

MIM(Prisons) has joined the many organizations and individuals who are demanding that the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) address the medical needs of prisoners throughout the hunger strike. These people are hired as public servants, and yet they allow people to suffer and die by denying basic medical care. We don't know what the cause of Billy Sell's death was, but we know a number of comrades who have known conditions that are not being addressed during the hunger strike. While those on strike are not getting the state-mandated medical checks.

In our years of experience advocating for U.$. prisoners, it has not been uncommon for Amerikans to say "let them rot" or even become belligerent towards us for something as benign as handing out a flier. It is no surprise then, that our comrades are reporting similar attitudes from the staff who are overseeing their well-being in California prisons.

This kind of oppression is exactly what the current prison movement needs to combat. There is a social force opposing the lumpen of the oppressed nations. And the only way to stop this abuse is for the lumpen of the oppressed nations to organize as a counter force, which means organizing in a different way than they have been in recent decades. Ensuring prisoner health requires survival programs organized by the oppressed populations themselves. These are rights that prisoners supposedly have in this country. But as we know, no rights are guaranteed unless you fight for them.

As the strike in California passes the 20-day mark, the tens of thousands of people who have completed their solidarity strikes need to be building more long-term institutions - study groups, health campaigns, legal assistance clinics, etc. These are the first steps towards building independent institutions of the oppressed, which are necessary because the existing institutions of the state will kill us.

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[MIM(Prisons)]
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ULK Reader Survey Summary

As of the MIM(Prisons) July congress we had received reader surveys back from 5.6% of our subscribers over the last 3 issues. The survey is printed in this issue of ULK and if you have not yet responded, please take the time to do so. It asks for some basic persynal information and also for feedback on the content of ULK. Our goal is to assess who is reading ULK and what we can do to improve the content. So far, the survey respondents overall represent a distribution of prisoners in line with the general prison population, with a few exceptions consistent with the focus of our work. We will be looking at that information in more detail in the future but for this article we want to summarize the feedback on ULK content.

In response to our question about what people like best about ULK, the most popular response (27%) was "all of it!" We appreciate the enthusiasm of our readers. More specific responses that were popular included a lot of support for the unity demonstrated by ULK articles (10%), the stories about other prisoner's work and organizing (9%), and the prisoner participation in writing ULK (4%). There was also a lot of appreciation for state-specific rules, legal information and reporting (6%). Thirteen percent of survey respondents liked best the core mission of ULK (which people described as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, internationalism, reporting the truth, or just "the mission"). In addition we saw responses in support of book reviews, culture, Spanish, country-wide and world news reporting, and general education.

In response to the question about what our readers would like to see more of in ULK, the most popular response (11%) was requesting state-specific information (every prisoner wants more information on their own state). We can only increase the content about your state if you take action and write about what's going on there. We rely on our readers for all of the state-specific reporting in ULK. So this is a response we hope comes from comrades who are sitting down now to write articles for the next issue.

There were also a lot of requests for resource lists (9%) and legal information (9%). This is not part of our core mission for Under Lock & Key. We do run the Prisoner's Legal Clinic to help fight key legal battles, such as the censorship of political material. But MIM(Prisons) core mission is to build the anti-imperialist prison movement, and so we prioritize communist political organizing. We do not have the labor or funding to provide general resource lists and legal assistance in addition to our core work. We know there are not many groups out there doing this, but resource lists and legal assistance will ultimately only provide band-aids to a fundamentally broken system of imperialism. And anti-imperialist organizing is even more scarce in prisons than legal and resource work.

The only other area of significant interest from a number of prisoners was around historical political theory. We had requests for more information on communist history, Maoist theory, and Black Panther Party history (10% total). Additional suggestions from readers for specific areas of expansion included: art, control units, current events, international news, poetry, practical organizing information, Spanish, U.$. government reporting, and issues faced by the elderly, wimmin and LGBTQ prisoners. Lastly, a general request for more ULK was echoed by several respondents without any specific areas of focus.

A few prisoners responded to some of the survey questions requesting that ULK be "less racial", and "stop generalizing whites as oppressors" while one respondent liked "your hate against white people." These responses represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the MIM(Prisons) political line around nation. We do not hate white people, we hate the imperialist system which kills, tortures and oppresses the majority of the world's people for the wealth and enjoyment of the minority. We are scientists and we see clearly that in the United $tates the white nation is part of the minority of imperialist allies leading global oppression. But we also can see that the majority of the people in Russia before the revolution in 1917 who were oppressed were "white." It is not skin color that determines people's status as oppressor or oppressed. However, because of national oppression in the world today, we do see whole nations of people oppressed as a group by other nations. The white nation in the U.$. is part an oppressor group, and there are many oppressed nations in the Third World. From an economic perspective, the other nations within U.$. borders are also part of the oppressors (New Afrikans, [email protected], etc.), but these groups also face national oppression and so have some interest in anti-imperialism. It's a complex system, that requires careful analysis and cannot be boiled down to race or hate against white people. We hope these readers will engage with us further for study to understand our position.

This article referenced in:
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[Organizing] [MIM(Prisons)] [United Struggle from Within] [ULK Issue 33]
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MIM(Prisons) 2013 Congress Summary

MIM(Prisons) recently concluded our annual Congress, where our membership came together to realign our strategic orientation to continually improve our productivity and effectiveness supporting the anti-imperialist struggle behind bars. This report is to give our readers a better idea of how MIM(Prisons) supports their struggles, and our plans for the upcoming year.

Correspondence

Although we are not able to respond personally to every letter we receive, we have a lot of mail going out to prisoners including bi-monthly ULK, form letters addressing frequently asked questions, study group and campaign mailings, and books, magazines and study packs. On average we are sending out at least one piece of mail for every letter we receive. In addition to our correspondence through the mail with prisoners, the writings from Under Lock & Key are on our website www.prisoncensorship.info. Traffic to the news on our website has doubled this year!

One way that we track our success in expanding influence inside Amerikan prisons is by counting subscribers to Under Lock & Key. We know that most copies are read by many people, but the number of subscribers is a good indicator of our influence and growth from year to year. We want to see our subscriber list grow so that we can ensure each issue reaches as many people as possible. This is a key tactic to spread revolutionary education and build the anti-imperialist movement.

Since the formation of MIM(Prisons) we have seen a steady increase in our numbers of ULK subscribers, but this year that trend reversed. Between our last annual congress in July 2012 and the congress this year, our readership is down by about 17%. After continuously increasing our number of subscribers for years, we may have finally hit a ceiling. In the last year, MIM(Prisons) volunteers have not made any significant changes to the way we work with prisoners. We write more on how to overcome this challenge below.

United Struggle from Within

A large part of our discussion at Congress was centered around our support for the anti-imperialist mass organization for former and current prisoners, United Struggle from Within (USW). Where MIM(Prisons) can't physically do necessary organizing work, USW is our feet on the ground. This section outlines some of the successes and progress of USW, as well as deficits where there needs to be improvement.

Compared to our USW membership statistics from Congress 2012, USW appears to be getting larger and more stable. This is a huge advance. The struggle to liberate people of the world from capitalism and imperialism can't just be taken up when it sounds fun or exciting, or when you have the spare time. The more comrades inside who understand this, and make a long-term commitment to doing as much as they can to liberate the most oppressed people in the world, the better off we will all be in the long run. We encourage those who have dabbled in USW work to keep up your commitment, and continually check page 12 of Under Lock & Key for ways to plug in. If you've already gotten ten people to send out grievance petitions, why not get ten more, or try to push it to the next level? If you've already got a local study group going, why not send us a report on how you did it so others have a better idea how to start one up in their conditions? To be considered an active USW member, you have to have put in some kind of USW-related work in the last year. This is the most lax yet reasonable requirement possible, and shouldn't be difficult for people to adhere to on a long-term basis as long as they have a genuine interest in ending oppression for everyone worldwide.

Developing Leadership

USW Leaders are those who are not only participating in the campaigns organized by others, but come up with ideas for how to push the struggle forward where they're at, and organize others to do so. Even one individual taking on a leadership role increases the anti-imperialist struggle exponentially in that state or facility. A USW Leader makes incredibly significant contributions to our overall work, and we provide as much support for them as we can. The pages of Under Lock & Key are a good place to look for ideas on what campaigns to push where you're at, but a great USW Leader also analyzes their conditions and shapes campaigns as needed to have the most success among their organizing base.

Increasing Subscribers

For a couple years we have been tracking how new subscribers are referred to us. In a change from past years, this year active recruiting by prisoners has led more people to sign up for Under Lock & Key than ads or MIM(Prisons) work. Even referrals that came from MIM(Prisons) work is catalyzed by someone signing up for our newsletter or engaging with us on some level. Without the efforts of prisoners, we can't get literature into a facility.

While the proportion of referrals from prisoners did increase, our overall level of new subscribers went down. We know that most of our new subscribers find us through other prisoners, either from a copy of ULK that you have passed around or from a recommendation you make personally to them to get in touch with us. This means that you, our readers and supporters, have a big hand in determining how many people get to read Under Lock & Key. We call on you to step up your work in this area. This is an easy but critical way that you can contribute to building the anti-imperialist movement against the criminal injustice system. You should pass your copy of ULK around, leave it in the day room, or put it on the library cart or wherever you can so that others might pick it up. You can write to us for extra copies of ULK if you want to distribute them in your prison. If you send us names of people who tell you they are interested in a subscription, we will add them to the mailing list. Spread the word however you can. After all, the six-month subscription is free to prisoners!

On our end, we have contacted every prisoner resource guide we know of and asked them to tell their subscribers about the work we do. If you know a resource guide or newsletter that we are not listed in, please write to them and ask them to add us! In Pennsylvania a USW comrade gave our information to the Graterfriends newsletter, and we received a major spike in new subscribers from that one plug alone. Now Pennsylvania is getting more access to this important political perspective.

ULK Sustainers

This year as part of our work with United Struggle from Within we initiated a ULK Sustainers group. A ULK Sustainer is someone who recognizes the importance of this newsletter and puts their money where their mouth is. One copy of Under Lock & Key costs about $1 to print and mail. To cover your issue of ULK you could pledge to send in $1 per issue. To cover your issue and one other persyn's, you would send in $2 per issue. If you want to sign up to be a Sustainer, just tell us and we'll send you more info. You can always send us donations without committing to a pledge, but if you want to send checks the easiest way is to become a ULK Sustainer.

The past couple months have been spent developing the structure of the Sustainers arm of USW, and at Congress we were able to establish a concrete financial goal: More ULK! According to the Reader Survey we have been collecting for the past couple issues, there is a high demand for more Under Lock & Key content. From now on, whatever financial contributions we receive that aren't for something else specific (purchasing literature, study group payment, etc.) will go into the Sustainers fund. When we have enough money donated, whether in stamps or checks, we will run 4 extra pages in Under Lock & Key. It should cost about $250 to reach this goal, each issue. We will determine the content of these extra pages based on what people requested in the Reader Surveys, or if you send a donation you can even help determine the content by telling us what you want to see more of.

Campaigns

One big campaign USW has been pushing since 2010 is the Petition for the Proper Handling of Grievances, which is currently available for use in eleven states. Comrades in California and Texas have been pushing this campaign forward into the courts and to those outside the prison walls. We've been reporting on the ongoing successes, challenges, and tactical approaches of these campaigns in the pages of ULK as we learn of them. The states currently participating in this campaign are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas.

Another campaign that is taking off with renewed energy this summer is for the end to long-term isolation. This campaign has been one we've focused on since our founding, and look forward to its development in the coming months.

Education Behind Bars

An ongoing goal of USW has been to expand prisoner-coordinated study groups. This year we are aware of more active prisoner-led study groups behind bars than at this time last Congress. Yet we still don't have an idea of how active they are, and our influence on these study groups is minimal.

MIM(Prisons) can't provide all the political education that's needed through our mail-based study groups, and some people can't participate in our study groups due to censorship. Therefore, we are going to be making a more conscious effort to support prisoner-led study groups by sending literature, soliciting reports, and engaging in political dialogue with the groups. If you run or work with a study group inside, let us know and we can plug you in for free study materials and political guidance.

USW comrades will still need to take on the task of finding people to study with and making sure you stay engaged. We recommend you aim to have weekly study group meetings if possible. Our comrades behind bars need to take the leadership here, but we can help.(1)

Advances in Available Literature

For the most part, our glossary of compiled political terms is ready for distribution. Other study packs we have made available in the last year are study questions for Fundamentals of Political Economy by Shanghai Press, Fundamental Political Line of MIM(Prisons), and a study pack made by Rashid of the NABPP-PC, Historical & Dialectical Materialism.

We are also pleased to announce that the salient chapter of our forthcoming book on the lumpen class in the United $tates is out in draft format. It has taken a lot of work and time to get this chapter together, and we look forward to the feedback we receive. Our goal is to print the rest of the book next year.

We have also made progress expanding our library and reducing our costs to reproduce important historical texts for our Free Books to Prisoners Program.

Spanish Development

In 2010 we set a goal of improving our Spanish language material. Our translators and Spanish editors are an invaluable part of that goal and we thank them for every Spanish article in every issue of Under Lock & Key. Within the year we plan to release the book [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, which was primarily authored by comrades of the United Struggle from Within. This book is written in English, but has acute relevance for many of our Spanish-speaking comrades in prison and out. Comrades hope to begin work on a Spanish translation once it is complete.

Since 2010, we have compiled Spanish literature packs, which include Que es el MIM? and Teoría del MIM 1: Los Proletarios Blancos? as well as old copies of the newspaper Notas Rojas.

Recently, USW comrades translated the entire magazine MIM Theory 10: Labor Aristocracy into Spanish, and we will soon have it available on our website for distribution. It is a raw translation, and has not been edited, but we hope someone who is fluent in Spanish and revolutionary theory will clean it up.

Prisoners Legal Clinic

The Prisoners Legal Clinic (PLC) is a legal-resource-compiling group that focuses on legal battles that push forward our overall strategy of building independent institutions to overthrow imperialism in favor of the world's oppressed majority. If you have legal experience and want to contribute to this aspect of our struggle, write us to plug in.

MIM(Prisons) does not have the legal resources or education to generate comprehensive legal information, especially compared to the liberal-"left" organizations such as California Prison Focus or Columbia Human Rights Law Review. But we do attempt to fill in the gaps where we think their help guides are potentially lacking. In the last year we have cleaned up and published online three help guides, which we also distribute to our subscribers behind bars: "Access to Courts." "Isolation in Texas," and "Grievances and Exhaustion."

Besides identifying deficits in existing resources, another area the PLC can grow is where our PLC contributors themselves see areas of the law to exploit for our own purposes. One contributor, from the American Prisoners Association (APA), submitted a pamphlet to us titled "You, Prison Officials, and Contract Law." In this pamphlet, APA outlines their theory on how to use contract law to defend the rights of prisoners, including defending against violations of grievance procedures. We are distributing this pamphlet as part of our Free Books for Prisoners Program, and encourage other PLC contributors to look it over, put it into action if they think it is sound, and tell us how it worked out.

Moving Forward

In the coming year we will focus on finishing a number of large projects that have been in the works. As we do so, we ask USW comrades to continue to expand our work in the ways described above. If we can achieve both sets of goals that we have laid out, we anticipate great success in our movement going forward.

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[Control Units] [Campaigns] [Hunger Strike] [California] [ULK Issue 33]
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Week 2: Reports from CA Activists on Strike

july 8th hunger strike for humyn rights in CA prisons

The last week has seen unprecedented participation in the campaign to end torture in the form of long-term isolation in U.$. prisons. California is ground zero, where the state has reported at least 30,000 (20% of the prison population) in two-thirds of the state's prisons have participated in the strike and over 12,400 refused 9 consecutive meals. They said 2,300 skipped work or prison classes on July 8.(1) While we don't have much info on actions in other states, solidarity statements have been circulating from prisoners around the country. Meanwhile, street activism in the urban centers of the state have been hard to avoid, as have reports on Pacifica radio. Public officials, religious leaders, Palestinian political prisoners(2), a labor union and many humyn rights groups have championed the cause. To mark week 2, activists are trying to get 30,000 on the outside to call governor Jerry Brown to demand that California prisons abide by international law and stop this brutal treatment of prisoners.

Not everyone is in support of the strike. In typical pig fashion, Amerikkkans are flooding mainstream reporting of the strike with comments condemning the prisoners to suffer and die. One comrade in the Pelican Bay State Prison Short Corridor, where the thrust for recent resistance originated, reported guards saying,

"The bosses are redirecting us because of y'all's hunger strike and work stoppage and making us stay extra hours, so you guys have nothing coming!"(3)

The official word from CDCR is similarly discouraging. In an interview, spokespersyn Terry Thornton asserted that the CDCR does not believe that they are using solitary confinement. This conflicts with our surveys of prisoners, who report over 14,000 being held in conditions of long-term isolation in California. When asked about the debriefing process Thornton dis-ingeniously asserted that "none of these units are used for punishment." The CDCR also feels that "these reforms [the step down program] address every single demand made in 2011."(4) It seems the CDCR is the only entity to believe such nonsense.

Below are some other early reports we've received so far as we are going to print.


From a statement from another Pelican Bay comrade:

...As I prepare for this peaceful protest I know that I am forced to deprive my body of sustenance and endure possible harm, but this is necessary. It is as necessary as someone anywhere in the Third World who steps on the battlefield in order to fight the super parasite. This persyn does this because if this persyn don't do it no one else will. Yes there is support out in society from so many who see our oppression as the oppression of many throughout the world who stand with us, but any sort of change will ultimately come from prisoners ourselves who must raise awareness to the shameful conditions we face...

and more recently,

Today is the third day of the strike and everyone in my pod are participating for various different reasons. The morale and spirts are strong, i feel a little light-headed but i'm as determined asever and will continue. From what we gather we will start getting weighed in the next couple of days and we also expect our property to be inventoried. We hear on the loud speaker about "staff training" so e expect harrassment. Today we were asked, "Do you have food? Are you willing to relinquish it?" and told, "If it's found tomorrow you will not be counted as being on a hunger strike no more."


San Quentin update:

The San Quentin death row SHU (or Adjustment Center) always has it's 102 cells filled and there is always a higher percentage of Blacks and Latinos than whites or other nationalities. At least 25 are on hunger strike. We are filing group appeals. I for one will not be giving in to the pigs no matter what, and thank you for all the help.


from Corcoran State Prison:

I am participating in the ongoing demonstration with full intentions of ending this extreme corrupt treatment that we are constantly subjected to.

There are many around me who plan on making our voices heard. There is word of COs and medical staff who intend to disregard the proper procedure. That and the health of my associates is what I intend on recording step by step, making it public.

This struggle is for just cause and is intended to bring our humanitarian needs up to standard. We all know the system is blind to righteous modernism and will continue to end our lives as quick as it is to step on a bug. We must unite to bring back peace and order.

I submit this with the utmost admiration and respect, we look forward to all input and assistance.


Folsom State Prison:


Everyone who's aware of New and Old Folsom's history would be aware of the fact that there was once a time when the men behind these walls would stand together in solidarity if there was an occasion we were experiencing a common transgression brought on by prison administration. That era in solidarity has been dead for some time at New Folsom, but on July 8, 2013, it was as if that moment finally arrived. All affiliates, and races, once again at New Folsom on every yard, and every building, stood together in solidarity for a common cause! All prisoners at New Folsom once again joined together July 8 of this year to begin the "2013 Hunger/Work strike", all except for the prisoners who never stood for nothing a day in their life. Prisoners everywhere should only hope that this new change will be the beginning of a new era at a once vibrant, political shifting institution, and no matter what, July 8, 2013 will be remembered in history as "The Rise Again of a Once Political Empire."


Day 1 at Pleasant Valley State Prison:

I want to report that over here on A-yard at Pleasant Valley there is only one participant, me. And from what I'm finding out through the channels is that there is a good handful more doing their thing on the other yards. I don't know exact count, but B yard, I'm told, has about 7 or 8.

We are SNY. And I want to express to the comrades that this classification carries no weight or import when it comes to these acts of unity. One sergeant came to my door this morning and asked me why I was participating. After I told him he said "But you're SNY - that's active stuff going on." He even stated that he's going to submit a psych referral because it's odd that out of all 5 housing units, there is only me. I'm not tooting my own horn, I just want it known that although we're few, nevertheless we are here!

I only have one request: that there be direct correspondence with the known participants of this action, updates so that we are constantly aware of any progress or changes or news that is of substance and import to what's happening.

This morning they walked me to the clinic to take my vitals, check my weight, etc. As we know I'll be going every day. Hopefully others will come aboard, especially those I've been "witnessing" to. Hopefully they'll see my example.


Day 4 at Calipatria State Prison:

This is the fourth day of our hunger strike/work stoppage here in Calipatria mainline. Almost the whole yard participated. A couple of prisoners in my building headed off to work to go and do the pigs' bidding and undermine our efforts. However, the show of solidarity between all races is encouraging, especially between Blacks and Mexicans.

As you know there's a long history of conflict between these two groups in California prisons. Only a week after I got to this prison, less than a year ago, there was a racial riot between the two. Now they're standing together in righteous protest.

Before this began, CDCR officials started circulating their threats by way of an "Advisement of Expectations" outlining their latest repressive policies which aim to expand validation, making it extremely easy to target just about any prisoner for long-term isolation. When I read this document it was obvious that this was all an attempt to break our solidarity with prisoners in the SHU.

CDCR hopes to divide prisoners in the SHU by allowing some to escape those torture chambers while making it clear that it has no intention of even considering others for release. They also hoped to paralyze mainline prisoners with fear by letting us know that they can snatch any one of us off the line at any time and throw us in the SHU for the next five years. Needless to say, this hasn't worked. Our level of consciousness and commitment has been growing here in the mainline with every hunger strike.

MIM(Prisons) number one priority in supporting the current actions in California will be to provide regular updates to prisoners as we did in the previous waves of action. Meanwhile we encourage our outside readers and supporters to make phone calls, write letters and spread our articles on this important struggle.

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[Culture] [Europe]
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Movie Review: Les Misérables

Les Miserable
Les Misérables
2012

This is a movie version of the famous Broadway musical championing the poor in early 19th century France. The plot centers on a prisoner, locked up for stealing some bread to save his sister's son, who served 18 years for this "crime." Jean Valjean is unable to make a life for himself after finally being released from prison, and is persecuted by the specter of parole for the rest of his life. He sometimes seems to be on the path to leading a selfless life, helping others, something he decides to do after divine intervention from the Church. But ultimately we find Valjean pursuing capitalist success due to his individualist beliefs, presumably learned from the Church that helped endow him with faith in life.

The French class struggle against monarchy and feudalism features prominently in the movie, featuring a young man who is inspired to fight for the people, but who is then distracted by his love for a girl he has seen only once. This girl is under the care of the former-prisoner, Valjean, who took her in as an act of charity. The revolutionary youth contemplates abandoning the revolutionary cause for love, but when the girl disappears he decides he has nothing to live for and so may as well fight for revolution. This is not a particularly inspiring message for revolutionaries: we should not be making decisions about devoting our lives to the people only as a last resort when our first choice of romance becomes unobtainable.

Valjean ends up in a position where he decides the fate of his former prison-master, now a policeman, the man who has been pursuing him ever since he broke parole. And he frees the man, in what we take as an act of religious good will. The policeman later catches up with the prisoner and lets him go free in return. This whole series of events, along with the early intervention of the Church in Valjean's decisions create a major subplot in the movie devoted to an individualist debate over morals.

As for the French revolutionaries, they are a caricature of activists, with a fervently devoted leader, a key participant stuck in the debate over politics vs. love, and one young kid who nobly stands up for the people. This is a cruel minimization of the ideals of the class struggle, which was led by the then progressive emerging bourgeois class, but included the masses of workers and peasants in opposing the continued rule of the monarchy following the French Revolution. The young man in love with the former-prisoner's daughter is saved, for love, while other revolutionaries are killed. The saved revolutionary easily leaves the struggle and his fallen comrades behind when given the woman of his dreams.

Ultimately the message of this movie is that loving an individual and having pure Church-supported morals, is the liberation of people. Inspirational visions of the struggle as a success at the end revive all the dead people, as if history can be changed with just a bit of love and individualism.

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[Campaigns] [Control Units] [Pelican Bay State Prison] [California]
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30,000 Spark California Hunger Strike

9 July 2013 - Yesterday the third in a series of hunger strikes in California prisons began after months of preparation and many more months of attempts to negotiate with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to meet basic humyn rights. According to the CDCR, around 30,000 prisoners refused food on the first day, indicating this will likely be the largest show of unity in action that California prisoners have ever made. That's about 20% of the state prison population and is more than twice the number of people that the CDCR reported participating in the second round of the hunger strike in 2011, demonstrating the success of the last two years of campaigning around the mutual interests of prisoners in demanding humane conditions.

According to the LA Times:

Inmates in two-thirds of the state's 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.(1)

We expect the numbers not going to work to increase, as a diversity of tactics was promoted depending on one's situation, with indefinite hunger strike being taken up by the most dedicated and most abused prisoners. While the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective has pledged to strike until their original five core demands are met, the last year has allowed prisoners to adapt the demands to address the most pressing concerns where they are at.

While we have no official reports yet, comrades in other states have also pledged to participate in the demonstration. We will post those reports as they come in.

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[Control Units] [Hunger Strike]
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Yasiin Bey force-fed like a Guantanamo prisoner

yasiin bey force fed crying
Click the image above to watch/download the video of Yasiin Bey being forcefed.

Today prisoners across California are beginning round 3 of their strike against Security Housing Unit torture. It is fitting that a video has been circulating today featuring Yasiin Bey (rapper and actor formerly known as Mos Def) undergoing the same force-feeding procedure that U.$. prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been facing for months, and that California prisoners will likely be facing in the near future.

Hats off to Bey for being willing to do this to expose the torture that the United $tates is putting people through every day.

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[Campaigns] [Gang Validation] [California] [ULK Issue 33]
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USW Health Campaign Brings STG Violations

In recent months the idea of developing a collective health campaign has been tossed around within United Struggle from Within in California. This was to build on and expand on the long-standing agreement to end hostilities by developing more peaceful activities that would help prisoners see each others' commonality. It also came in response to the proposed new Security Threat Group policies that greatly expand repression in California prisons and serve to isolate and divide.

In a piece supporting this health campaign, Cipactli wrote in part,

"Exercise is another aspect that needs to be taken seriously by all revolutionaries, exercise is so important that the state has targeted it and labels it STG activity. They will validate you and send you to solitary confinement for decades for doing push ups with a comrade. This is how much they see exercise as a threat, because it strengthens us as humyn beings and it is a weapon we use to combat the effects of prison life. The state seeks to strip us of any forms of resistance, anything we draw strength from hinders their project of instilling a sense of helplessness in all prisoners so that we go along with their oppression and never dare to resist the oppressor.

As revolutionary prisoners we need to develop methods of exercise to keep our bodies in top shape. This helps us not only physically, but science tells us that there is a connection between our physical health and our mental health. Exercise prevents not only disease but also depression, stress, anxiety and anger. Our world in these dungeons is filled with all this negativity which harms us just like the bullets and batons even though we often cannot see this damage in its physical form but we react to it in negative ways, so exercise helps us keep this stuff in check. These emotions will not go away but exercise helps us better deal with them without them overpowering our lives.

A good exercise regime is from forty five minutes to an hour, this is usually done from four to six days a week. I have found burpies and calisthenics to be the most fulfilling. Our bodies need to sweat in order to flush out the toxins and many times push ups just won't do it. California prisons no longer have weights so in the holes and SHUs people mostly do burpies. This tradition, which many Cali prisoners are not aware of, came from George Jackson and his comrades who developed exercise regimes utilizing burpies and calisthenics. At the time, in the 60s and 70s, prisoners were not exercising in this way as these were military style exercise regimes. Comrade George was a step ahead in identifying the inter-connection between a strong body and mind. The early 80s saw Chicano prisoners from Northern Cali develop this same exercise regime, and the late 90s saw Chicano prisoners from Southern Cali along with white prisoners soon follow this tradition that started with Black prisoners. This is good that prisoners exercise, it is a positive thing, but now the state is using it against us so we must find ways to combat this.

One way to fight the STG labeling of exercise is for all prisoners to work out together. If all prisoners work out at once it can no longer be seen as STG activity. I believe this is a positive step forward for a united front, however I don't think the state will thus be prevented from labeling group exercise STG activity, just as all prisoners of all nationalities participate in hunger strikes yet it is still seen as STG activity. But prisoners working out together would also be an unprecedented step forward. Since most group exercise are done in the hole and most holes consist of cages side-by-side, I can see a future exercise regime consisting of each cage calling out an exercise, regardless of what nation or sub-group one belongs to, and everyone exercising together. In the SHU we can't see no one, as everyone is in an individual cell. Some people work out and some don't so this is a little more difficult. If you find yourself in a hole and people are in individual cages, one is free to jump in and participate with those exercising but the ideal is to have everyone participate. This is something to work on and begin discussing, by working out together it does not mean we are one car, it does not mean you're joining another nation or LO, it's simply exercise. If we can starve together why not sweat together?

Today's prisons are no longer like the prisons of our grandfathers, conditions have changed and we must find ways to change with these times. If we are to ever regain things like trailer visits for lifers, weights, parole dates for lifers, and all the rest, we must be more in sync. If we want the 'end to hostilities' to really last than we need to do more, we need to implement methods which reinforce such policies as an 'End to Hostilities' and group exercise involving all nationalities and subgroups reinforce this."

Some righteous comrades in Calipatria State Prison took up the task of developing exercise programs that included all prisoners. They ended up receiving rules violations, as one comrade reported:

"The correctional sergeant who wrote up the rules violation report doesn't even bother to check to see if we're all in fact 'Southern' Hispanics, she just makes a blanket accusation and the Disciplinary Hearing Officer who heard the rules violation report takes the sergeant's report at face value and finds us all guilty. We are appealing our write-ups, but this is what can happen if others follow the tactical advice given in the USW Health Campaign letter."

This is a fair warning, but this is true for anyone who tries to stand up for prisoners' rights from behind bars. Even doing so from the outside results in repression in the form of censorship, and occasionally worse. So we do not put forth these ideas lightly and this is just one tactic. But it is in line with our strategic goal, which is currently to develop peace between different groups within the prison populations. Without pushing towards that goal, conditions for prisoners will only continue to worsen.

The people oppressing others for exercising are state employees who are supposed to be accountable to the law. Every issue of Under Lock & Key contains just a few examples of the illegal and unjust things that they are doing. The potential for abuse in prisons is well-known and it is a struggle to hold the abusers accountable. Our struggle right now is often just to get these people to follow their own laws, which forbid torture and cruel and unusual punishment, and their own mandates which claim to promote rehabilitation.

It is our job as an independent advocate for prisoners of the United $tates to challenge the legitimacy and legality of new policies that restrict the rights of prisoners. With the current trajectory in the CDCR, it seems that anyone who isn't sitting in their room by themselves watching TV will soon be considered a security threat. This department of "Corrections and Rehabilitation" is more and more becoming an Orwellian nightmare. Despite what they may think, everything they say or do is not state-sanctioned. Of course, we also know that much of what they do that is state-sanctions still is not right in the eyes of the oppressed masses and all who believe in justice.

This controversy regarding exercise is just one petty example of what we are trying to prevent with the draft goals that MIM(Prisons) published leading up to the demonstrations in July. The final point of that list is:

"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 idea that exercising can be against the rules or laws is just plain unacceptable. The same is true for any action that a prisoner takes to improve the health of hself or others around h. We continue to promote these tactics of the USW Health Campaign as part of the larger effort to maintain the end to hostilities among groups of prisoners.

The end to hostilities is at the heart of this stage of our work. It is what we have been promoting with the United Front for Peace in Prisons, which was based in our assessment that the principal contradiction our movement faces today is internal to the prisoner population itself. It would be virtually impossible to progress without resolving that contradiction. At the same time, breaking down these barriers requires uniting around common concerns as prisoners in California have been doing for the last couple years. The effort for peace and the effort for humyn rights in prisons reinforce each other.

We've just received word from Pelican Bay affirming the plan to go without food or work until the five core demands are met. Many within Corcoran have asserted their plan to participate again. And San Quentin's Adjustment Center has organized their own list of demands and will be participating in full this time around. Some populations facing less harsh conditions are opting to just stop work until the demands are met. Last time many prisons participated to varying degrees, and we expect similar support this time around. But comrades should think strategically about where they are based. You probably know by now whether there is a base for indefinite striking where you are. Such a path should not be taken lightly. The prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have passed day 150 on their strike and they have not gotten anything from the state but force-feeding and abuse in response. While the response to a hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay is likely to be different from a response to a strike in California, any hunger strike will have to last a long time and gain a lot of public support to get the desired results.

Consider what results are possible where you are. Solidarity fasting for shorter periods can serve as agitational work to build unity and awareness. But we need to work on more long-term projects as well, like the health programs suggested here that can build solidarity in action at a basic level. It is not a crime to support each other in pursuing healthy lifestyles in a very unhealthy environment. And there are many other programs that can be developed around education, literacy and study groups and whatever other needs the people have where you are. Now is the time to do it, while spirits are rising and prisoners are looking for a way to be involved.

As always, let us know what is going on where you are. We will send you updates as we get information. So stay in touch and take care of each other.


Below is the statement from the four main representatives of the Short Corridor Collective as reported by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition:

The principal prisoner representatives from the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement does hereby present public notice that our nonviolent peaceful protest of our subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long term solitary confinement will resume on July 8, 2013, consisting of a hunger strike/work stoppage of indefinite duration until CDCR signs a legally binding agreement meeting our demands, the heart of which mandates an end to long-term solitary confinement (as well as additional major reforms). Our decision does not come lightly. For the past (2) years we've patiently kept an open dialogue with state officials, attempting to hold them to their promise to implement meaningful reforms, responsive to our demands. For the past seven months we have repeatedly pointed out CDCR's failure to honor their word — and we have explained in detail the ways in which they've acted in bad faith and what they need to do to avoid the resumption of our protest action.

On June 19, 2013, we participated in a mediation session ordered by the Judge in our class action lawsuit, which unfortunately did not result in CDCR officials agreeing to settle the case on acceptable terms. While the mediation process will likely continue, it is clear to us that we must be prepared to renew our political non-violent protest on July 8th to stop torture in the SHUs and Ad-Segs of CDCR.

Thus we are presently out of alternative options for achieving the long overdue reform to this system and, specifically, an end to state-sanctioned torture, and now we have to put our lives on the line via indefinite hunger strike to force CDCR to do what's right.

We are certain that we will prevail.... the only questions being: How many will die starvation-related deaths before state officials sign the agreement?

The world is watching!

Onward in Struggle and Solidarity.

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[Middle East] [Elections] [ULK Issue 33]
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Egypt Protests Demonstrate Power and Perils of Mass Protests

mubarak morsi the same
After a year under the elected rule of President Mohamed Morsi, in June and July the Egyptian people once again took to the streets to protest a government that was not serving their interests. Back in 2011 the Egyptian people successfully took down Hosni Mubarak and forced the country's first elections for President. As we wrote at that time in ULK 19: "The Egyptian people forced President Mubarak out of the country, but accepted his replacement with the Supreme Council of the Military — essentially one military dictatorship was replaced by another. One of the key members of this Council is [Omar] Sueliman, the CIA point man in the country and head of the Egyptian general intelligence service. He ran secret prisons for the United $tates and persynally participated in the torturing of those prisoners." But the Egyptian people were not fooled, and they rightfully took to the streets to force further change this summer. Still, we do not see clear proletarian leadership of the protests, and instead the U.$.-funded military is again stepping in to claim the mantle and pretend to represent the people.

Morsi is widely considered "Egypt's first democratically elected president." Prior to the elections in 2012 the country was led by an elected parliament and an unelected President, Hosni Mubarak, a former general who took power after the assassination of his predecessor in 1981. But it's important to consider what "democratically elected" really means. Democratic elections presume that the people in a country have the ability to participate freely, without coercion, and that all candidates have equal access to the voting population. Most elections in the world today do not actually represent democracy. In many countries dominated by Amerikan imperialism, there are elections, but we do not call these democratic, because it is not possible for candidates without lots of money and the backing of one imperialist interest or another to win. When democracy gets out of imperialist control and an anti-imperialist candidate does participate and win, they better have military power to back them up or they will be quickly murdered or removed by military force (see "Allende in Chile" or "Lumumba in the Congo"). We should not just assume that people participating in a balloting exercise represents democracy for the people.

There are some key political reasons why Morsi won the presidential election in 2012. Representing the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi was well educated and spent several years getting a doctorate in the United $tates and teaching at University in the 1980s. He is certainly not one of the 40% of the Egyptian population living on less than $2 a day.(1) The Muslim Brotherhood has long been a well organized activist group, which despite being banned by the government from participating in Parliamentary elections was allowed to organize on the streets as a counterforce to progressive anti-imperialist parties that faced complete repression.(2) Demonstrating the advantage it had over other banned organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood put together the most effective electoral campaign after Mubarak fell. It is telling that the runoff in the presidential election was between Morsi and Ahmed Shafiz, the prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, and the vote was close. Essentially the election was between a representative of the status quo that had just been overthrown, and a candidate who promised to be different but represented a conservative religious organization.

The military has once again stepped in to the vacuum created by the mass protests demanding the removal of President Morsi, pretending to be defending the interests of the people. This position by the military is no surprise after Morsi, in August, stripped the military of any say in legislation and dismissed his defense minister. The military selected the leader of the Supreme Constitutional Court to serve as interim president after Morsi stepped down. Morsi still enjoys significant support among the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who continue to take to the streets to demand that he be freed from military prison and returned to power.

The Egyptian military actually has a long history of institutional power. In 1981, after Mubarak took power, the military expanded with the help of Amerikan aid. This aid came as a sort of bribe, as up until the 1977 peace accord Egypt had been attempting to lead an Arab resistance to Israel's occupation of Palestine, a cause the people of Egypt continue to support to this day. Since then the military has remained one of the top receivers of U.$. military aid, second only to Israel itself, until 2001 when Afghanistan became the largest. The armed forces in Egypt used this economic power to take up significant economic endeavors entering into private business with factories, hotels and valuable real estate.(3) It is clever leadership that allows the military to divorce itself from failed leadership of Egypt time and again while acting behind the scenes to ensure that only those individuals they support, who will carry out their will, gain the presidency. This is not a democracy. And the leadership of the armed forces will continue to serve their Amerikan masters, not the will of the people, as General el-Sisi is once again claiming.

MIM(Prisons) supports the interests of the masses of Egyptian people as they ally with the interests of the world's majority who are exploited by imperialism. We praise their ongoing activism in taking to the streets when the government is not meeting their needs. But we can learn from history that deposing one figurehead does not make for revolutionary change. Fundamental change will require an overthrow of the entire political institution in Egypt that is dependent on U.$. imperialism. And while President Nasser offered an independent road for Egypt during the anti-colonial era following WWII, true independence requires the full mobilization and participation of the masses in creating a new system based on need and not profit.

It is a truth in humyn history that those with the guns and power will not voluntarily step aside, but they will make cosmetic changes to try to fool the masses into complacency. We call on the Egyptian people, who have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice for the movement, not to be fooled and not to allow electoral politics to drain their momentum. The military is not on your side, and neither are any of the branches of the existing government. Seize the power you have demonstrated in the streets and build for fundamental, revolutionary change to a government that actually serves the people and not the elite.

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[Elections] [New Afrika] [ULK Issue 33]
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Election Begs Question of the Road to Dual Power in New Afrika

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Chokwe Lumumba — lawyer, activist, Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika, and cofounder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) — was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi on 4 June 2013 with 87% of the votes. Accounting for 80% of the population, Jackson is the second Blackest city in the United $tates. Mississippi is the Blackest state with 35% of its voters being New Afrikan.(1)

Even though the rate of white voter turnout was more than twice that of New Afrikans, and some 90% of whites supported the other guy, Lumumba came out victorious.(1) All of these facts support the decision of the MXGM to focus on building a base of power within New Afrika in Jackson, Mississippi. However, elections themselves cannot be a tool for liberation or independence, and the only cases where MIM(Prisons) might promote them would be for tactical victories. This election was part of a strategic plan that MXGM released almost a year ago.

This plan states:

"The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) firmly believes that at this stage in the struggle for Black Liberation that the movement must be firmly committed to building and exercising what we have come to regard as 'dual power' — building autonomous power outside of the realm of the state (i.e. the government) in the form of People's Assemblies and engaging electoral politics on a limited scale with the express intent of building radical voting blocks and electing candidates drawn from the ranks of the Assemblies themselves."(2)

The idea of the oppressed nations building organizations that are independent of and not funded by the state can be a controversial issue in this country. While there is nothing illegal or inherently threatening about organizing independent from the state, Amerikans rely on repression in order to prevent the self-determination of the oppressed nations. If the oppressed nations are to break free from imperialism's choke hold, it will threaten the luxurious lifestyles of the average Joe the plumber who lives off the wealth of oppressed nations abroad. We saw one example of this mentality among Amerikans when recent issues of Under Lock & Key were censored in North Carolina specifically citing as the justification the fifth point of the United Front for Peace in Prisons — Independence.

While "independence" is a fairly broad term used to define a thing in relation to another thing, "dual power" has a much more specific meaning to Marxists. Independence on its own does not constitute the establishment of "dual power." When MXGM uses the term "dual power" they appear to really be talking about parallel strategies of community organizing and electoral politics.

The condition of dual power actually exists when there is an emerging state coming up against an existent, and dying state. This, of course, is the product of class struggle, the motive force of history. In discussing Engels' ideas in defining what state power is, Lenin wrote:

"What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command. ... A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power."(3)

Dual, of course meaning two, would imply that you would have two different political structures with their own police, army and prisons, etc. in order to have dual power. Such a situation would mean that a civil war had begun. When Lenin first coined the term in 1917 he was speaking of the emerging Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies that would seize state power later that same year.(4) Certainly this is not the condition in Mississippi today.

MXGM recognizes their electoral efforts are limited, and considers them one pillar of their strategy of building political power in the region that is separate from their work to build autonomous structures (People's Assemblies).(2) But these People's Assemblies are not parallel to the Soviets in 1917 or the liberated zones in China in 1948 or even the countless regions in the world today where power is held by emerging states (see Palestine, India, Colombia, the Philippines, etc).

Within the context of oppressed nation territory, there is an argument to be made for engaging in electoral politics as a step towards building one's base. While the Lumumba campaign has a clear connection to revolutionary nationalism, it is not based in proletarian ideology. Revolutionary nationalism can come in different class forms. The lack of proletarian ideology leads them to succumb to populism. Populism threatens New Afrikan independence because of the economic pull of U.$. imperialism. With "economic development" as part of his political platform, it seems hard for Lumumba to avoid playing the role of bribing his own people with superprofits won from imperialism. This is one reason it is hard to justify supporting electoral work except to make tactical gains.

The MXGM economic program, the "third pillar" of their Jackson Plan, focuses on cooperative economics and building green economies. Such a strategy does not confront the structure of capitalism, but is a concession to petty bourgeois idealism. As long as capitalism exists people are either exploited or exploiters, so all efforts should be on exposing the need to end that system rather than white-washing it with co-ops and eco-friendly operations. There is no example in history of building new economic systems that effectively challenged capitalism without first establishing true dual power. Therefore if dual power is not feasible in our conditions, these economic strategies become reformist at best. We are better off struggling to maintain our political independence at this stage.

While running for and being elected Mayor limits Chokwe Lumumba politically, the public release of the Jackson-Kush Plan a year prior means that his landslide victory represents a majority of New Afrikans in Jackson who are at least open to the idea that political independence from Amerika is in the interests of their nation. Establishing that fact in the eyes of the New Afrikan masses is one small victory on the road to New Afrikan liberation. But electoral politics are a feeble bridge. The more people rely on it to reach liberation, the sooner it will fall out beneath them. Unless the bridge is strengthened with correct revolutionary theory, it will be doomed to leave the New Afrikan masses on the wrong side of history.

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