We honor Black Panther Herman Wallace, who died on October 4, 2013 after spending 41 years in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison for allegedly killing a prison guard. These charges were always suspect, and on October 1 a U.S. District Chief Judge agreed and overturned his conviction, ordering his immediate release. Despite the State of Louisiana's attempt to block the release, Wallace was able to spend the last two and half days of his life out of prison with family and friends.
The fact that Wallace had only days to live was well-known and likely played into his release. On the same day of the decision, his close comrades, Robert King (released in 2001) and Albert Woodfox (still in solitary confinement) were able to visit him due to his dire condition.(1) Together they made up the Angola 3, three of the longest to spend time in solitary confinement. Woodfox is in his 41st year in a control unit and is still locked up.
On 7 October 2013, the U.N. special rapporteur Juan E. Mendez called for the release of Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement, saying his isolation amounts to torture. Once again, the U.N. went on record stating that "the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law."(2)
The movement to free the Angola 3 has been championed by a dedicated group and echoed by supporters of political prisoners for decades. And the three, who formed a strong prison chapter of the Black Panther Party before being put in isolation, have continued to stay politically sharp and struggle for the rights of oppressed people. Robert King has been dedicated to not just supporting his two close friends, but opposing the Amerikan criminal injustice system.
While we recognize their indominable spirits, and the pleasure Wallace must have felt in his last few days, the tragedy of wasted lives in U.$. torture chambers remains unacceptable. These men, who became dedicated revolutionaries because of the adversities they faced, were prevented from fully acting on those aims by a system that intentionally framed and isolated them for political reasons. The state wants to brand activists like the Angola 3 as "cop killers" when in reality they were dedicated to a life of serving the people. They were individuals who could have transformed the destiny of New Afrika, and supported the liberation of all oppressed people from imperialism. Instead, Wallace was tortured by Amerika for four decades, until he was within days of death.
The case of Herman Wallace epitomizes the politics behind the United $tates's sanitized version of torture, in what is the largest mass incarceration experiment in the history of humynkind. And while it may be easier for some to support a Black Panther framed for killing a cop than to support a Crip accused of being a "shot caller," we must recognize the continuity between them. Otherwise we only spend our time on the individual cases, without addressing the system. We respect the work of the Angola 3 Coalition and groups like it. On the other hand, we should not be satisfied with victories like the release of Herman Wallace 2.5 days before he dies. We celebrate the organizing that has reached international attention in California in recent years, where prisoners of all backgrounds in long-term isolation have stood together to attack its very existence. While even that is just one piece of the system that must be addressed, we can best pose a real challenge to this systematic use of torture that is used by the Amerikan oppressor to control those who might challenge their hegemony over the world by organizing all those affected by it.
Humyn health is perhaps the most basic measure of oppression that we have. More than economic exploitation, humyn health measures the degree to which the basic survival needs of people are being met. Looking at the conditions of health in U.$. prisons, as well as reservations, barrios and ghettos across the United $tates, does not paint a favorable picture of imperialism and its ability to provide for humyn needs, not to mention even worse conditions across the Third World. Given this, health becomes an issue that we can rally the oppressed around to both serve the people and oppose imperialism.
We've been pushing this very issue in United Struggle from Within (USW) circles in California for some months, in some cases leading to state repression. With the recently suspended mass hunger strike in that state, a rash of deaths in Texas and the usual array of abuses across U.$. prisons, we thought this was an opportune time to focus an issue of ULK on health struggles.
Health was a central theme in the California hunger strike where prisoners began to pass out from lack of food and other complications. Bill "Guero" Sell died after a approximately two weeks on hunger strike. The state says it was suicide, but however he died, the SHU was the cause of death. One San Quentin prisoner's kidneys shut down, and many complained of the lack of medical monitoring and the aloofness of medical staff. We have been sending regular updates to comrades in California about what has been going on over the last two months. For those who want to see more reporting in ULK, send in your donations to help reach the goal of $250 to add 4 pages to a future issue.
In at least two Texas prisons we have comrades organizing around the murders of prisoners by staff abuse and neglect, the most basic health campaign. In Texas we also have positive examples of organizing sports as a way to bring people together and improve health. Meanwhile comrades in more restrictive conditions in one California prison were punished for organizing group exercise, calling it "Security Threat Group activity."
The manipulation of people through chemical substances is another common health theme. Many comrades are being denied medications they depend on and facing life-threatening conditions. At the same time oppressed communities fight the use of recreational drugs to oppress their people as seen in the struggle of the Oglala Lakotah. The exposure of this form of low-intensity chemical warfare right here in North America is particularly relevant at a time when the blood-thirsty imperialists have been ramping up for an invasion of Syria based on unsubstantiated claims of chemical weapons use by the government there.
From rotten potatoes in Massachussetts, to inadequate servings in Nevada and people forced to rely on vending machines in Florida, basic nutrition is denied to people in a country where 40% of food is wasted. Recently, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported that greenhouse gases from global food waste is more than the emissions of any single country except China or the United $tates.(1) Water, another vital resource, is also used to produce all this wasted food. From U.$. prisoners, to the global countryside where malnutrition leads to thousands of deaths daily, to the environmental services that all of humynity depend on, the capitalist profit system has failed to serve humyn need.
We can look to the barefoot doctors in revolutionary China, or the mobile health units of the Black Panther Party or the Young Lords Party as examples of serving the people's basic health needs in a revolutionary context. The Chinese also took a completely different approach to mental illness, which bourgeois society does more to cause than to remedy. Materially, the capitalist economic system can produce enough for everyone, but cannot provide it to them. It's a system that uses the denial of basic health as a form of social control, because if it did not the system would be overthrown. Rather than begging the oppressor for a little relief, let's implement real solutions to these problems.
As a mail-based prisoner support organization, the ability to get our mail in to our comrades and subscribers is an essential part of our ability to organize. If we can't get mail in, we can't help lead the anti-imperialist struggle behind bars. We are under no illusion that we'll ever be free from censorship; if our enemy hates us, we're probably doing something right! But the U.$. Constitution and our humynist morality support our insistence on fighting censorship as much as possible so that we can have as big of an impact on the international revolutionary movement as we can.
Often times our subscribers don't even know how much censorship they persynally are experiencing, let alone what's going on around the country. Our annual censorship report gives our subscribers an idea of how much political repression we're facing overall.
This year we started recording our mail in more detail, and removed a lot of flaws in how the data is aggregated (although it's not perfect!). At the bottom of the chart, "% Unconfirmed" tells you how accurate the snapshot is for that reporting year; the lower number the better, because a lower percent of unconfirmed mail means we actually know what happened to more of the mail we've sent in. Unconfirmed mail not only covers up censorship in cases where the prisoner never got the mail but we haven't been made aware of it; it also may exaggerate the level of censorship we're actually facing in a particular facility or state where our mail is actually getting in to some people but they haven't told us. Of course we know the content of our literature is not held in high regard by most prison staff, so assuming we're being censored when we aren't sure what is going on is probably more accurate than not.
A facility is considered to be banning our literature for that reporting year if they have censored two or more items, and no items have been confirmed as received. An entire state is considered to be banning our literature if they have censored any mail, and no mail has been reported as received. Another note on the chart: it is only a snapshot of what is going on with our mail. A facility might be banning us in the same state where we also had victories, or a complete statewide ban may only actually affect a few subscribers (plus the potential new subscribers we might gain if our lit wasn't censored).
To improve our data on the level of censorship we're experiencing, you may receive a list from us of mail we've sent you, asking you to confirm receipt or censorship of each item. This list is called an Unconfirmed Mail Form (UMF). We recommend everyone keep a log of all your mail, incoming and outgoing, with dates received/sent, from/to who, and contents. That way if your mail with us, or anyone, is tampered with, you are one step ahead of the game. And if you get a UMF, you will be able to fill it out accurately rather than guessing. But do not wait to receive a UMF to tell us what you've gotten! When you write to us, you should always tell us what you've gotten from us since the last time you wrote. That will save time and money so we can send in more books and literature.
Facilities banning all our mail in the last reporting year:
Colorado - Arkansas Valley State Prison
Connecticut - Northern Correctional Institution and Northern Supermax this is the second consecutive year in Northern Supermax
Florida - Suwanee Annex
Illinois - Menard Correctional Center (two years in a row)
Michigan - Gus Harrison Correctional Facility
South Carolina - Leiber Correctional Institution
Utah - Central Utah Correctional Facility
Virginia - Hampton Roads Regional Jail (two years in a row)
Wisconsin - Green Bay Correctional Institution and Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution
Facilities banning ULK in the last reporting year:
Connecticut - MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution Reason: "Rejected publication per the Media Review Board"
Florida - Franklin Correctional Institution Reason: MIM investigated as Security Threat Group
Florida - Jackson Correctional Institution No reason given
Illinois - Menard Correctional Center Reasons: "Threat to safety and security"
Michigan - G Robert Correctional Facility No reason given
New York - Riverview Correctional Facility Reasons: "Incites disobedience, describes gang activity"
North Carolina - Marion Correctional Institution Reasons: "MIM Distributors on disapproved publication list," "encourages insurrection"
North Carolina - Warren Correctional Institution Reason: "On ban list"
Pennsylvania - State Correctional Institution Waymart Reasons: "Unauthorized enclosure" and no reason given
Wisconsin - Wisconsin Secure Program Facility No reason given
Florida is also attempting to classify Under Lock & Key as a "Security Threat Group," which would likely make all mail from MIM Distributors banned as gang-related, and subject anyone in possession of mail from us to disciplinary action. We have not received an update on this process since April. We do know that for a couple years Florida was a booming United Struggle from Within state, and some of our more active comrades have recently asked to be removed from our mailing list for fear of repression. We aren't sure whether the administration is threatening parole eligibility or physical abuse, or other forms of torture such as solitary confinement; or if they've already gone ahead and beaten the shit out of these comrades to get them to stop talking to us. Yet we've seen this enough times to know that something like that is going on. It's incredible the lengths Amerikans will go to to keep someone who's already locked up in prison from doing something as innocuous as reading a newsletter, participating in a study group, and talking to other humyn beings.
A popular reason for citing censorship in Nevada has been "Per AR 750... Address labels are unauthorized." Our guess is that this policy of the Nevada Department of Corrections would not hold up in court as being reasonably related to penological interests and the safety of the institution. A subscriber in Nevada who has been missing mail due to this rule should take on this struggle in a lawsuit! Another comrade in that state reported that prison officials have admitted ULK is not banned, but now they are resorting to "unofficial censorship" by simply throwing out incoming and outgoing mail. This is another reason why it's important to track your correspondence.
Victories and Struggles
Appealing censorship and filing grievances can lead to small but significant victories. The victories in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and on the Federal level are attributed solely to prisoners filing appeals of the censorship, without any supporting letters from MIM Distributors. Of course not all appeals will be granted, and we don't expect to ever be completely free of censorship from the state. But we encourage everyone to at least attempt to appeal all censorship of their mail. Send us copies of your documents and we can publicize and track them on our website www.prisoncensorship.info.
In the last year we've focused much energy on fighting censorship in Missouri and North Carolina. In Missouri we've met some success with letter writing, but in North Carolina it has been a different story. After a surge in USW activity in North Carolina, every issue of Under Lock & Key has been placed on their ban list for over 3 years straight. Upon appeal, not only do North Carolina prisoncrats tend to simply uphold the decision of the lower level with no explanation, but when asked to explain how their "independent" review process works, we are given no response. When we filed a public records request with the state, the only documents they had to demonstrate that the independent review process existed was a stack of the original censorship notifications, further putting into question the existence of the "review process." We have comrades working on this case in North Carolina who could benefit greatly from some additional legal assistance.
Multiple subscribers in Illinois have volunteered to assist MIM(Prisons) in fighting censorship in that state, and one has two lawsuits pending on this issue. While ULK is not getting in at all in some facilities in the state, some of our subscriber-volunteers are able to receive ULK and copies of the censor documentation. Also they are intimately familiar with the mail rules and appeal procedures in their state. Although it is a slower process for volunteers on theinside working via mail, this has been a very beneficial campaign, and one that anyone with legal knowledge can contribute to in their own state. MIM(Prisons) facilitates a Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC) to help jailhouse lawyers plug into projects that will push forward the collective legal knowledge and experience of the anti-imperialist movement behind bars. Write in to get involved! Any lawyer or law student who is interested in helping prisoners push forward these anti-censorship lawsuits should contact us.
According to the Collective's statement, they have suspended their strike in response to a pledge by state legislators Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock and Tom Hayden to hold a legislative hearing into conditions in the Security Housing Units (SHU) and the debriefing process. MIM(Prisons) is not optimistic of the outcome of such hearings. Ammiano held a hearing in August 2011 in response to the first of three mass hunger strikes around this struggle, and nothing changed, leading to the second hunger strike that October. Back in 2003, our comrades as part of the United Front to Abolish the SHU attended a legislative hearing on the conditions in the California SHU and the validation process. They published an article entitled, "CA senate hearings on the SHU: we can't reform torture." Ten years later, little has changed. These hearings keep happening, but they are little more than pacifying talks by those in power. The facts have been out there, the state has known what is going on in these torture cells. So what is the difference now? And how can we actually change things?
CDCR Done Addressing Problems
Before we look at how we can change things, let's further dispel any illusions that the CDCR or the state of California is going to be the source of this change. In the latest iteration of the strike, an additional 40 demands were drafted around smaller issues and widely circulated to supplement the 5 core demands. On 26 August 2013, the CDCR released a point-by-point response to the demands of those who have been on hunger strike since July 8. The announcement by the CDCR cites a 5 June 2013 memo that allegedly addresses many of these supplemental demands. Others are listed as being non-issues or non-negotiable.
This CDCR announcement implies that we should not have hopes for negotiations or actions towards real change from CDCR. The Criminal Injustice System will not reform itself; we must force this change.
The Struggle Against Torture Continues
At first glance, the fact that this struggle has been waging for decades with little headway (especially in California) can be discouraging. However, our assessment of conditions in the imperialist countries teaches us that right now struggle against oppression must take the form of long legal battles, despite claims by the censors that we promote lawlessness. Sporadic rebellions with lots of energy, but little planning or longevity, do not usually create change and the conditions for armed struggle do not exist in the United $tates. We are therefore in strategic unity with the leaders who have emerged to sue the state, while unleashing wave after wave of peaceful demonstrations of ever increasing intensity. All of us involved have focused on agitation to shape public opinion and promote peace and unity among prisoners, and then using those successes to apply pressure to the representatives of the state. These are all examples of legal forms of struggle that can be applied within a revolutionary framework. Lawyers and reformists who can apply constant pressure in state-run forums play a helpful role. But make no mistake, prisoners play the decisive role, as the strikes are demonstrating.
Control units came to be and rose to prominence in the same period that incarceration boomed in this country. As a result, in the last few decades the imprisoned lumpen have been a rising force in the United $tates. Within the class we call the First World lumpen, it is in prisons where we see the most stark evidence of this emerging and growing class, as well as the most brutal responses from Amerikans and the state to oppose that class.
In California prisons in the last three years we've seen that with each successive hunger strike, participation has more than doubled. Just think what the next phase will look like when the CDCR fails to end torture once again! And as a product of this rising force in prisons, support on the outside has rallied bigger each time as well. As we said, this outside support is important, but secondary to the rising imprisoned lumpen.
Over 30,000 prisoners, one-fifth of the population in California, participated in this latest demonstration against torture. Many who didn't strike the whole time wrote to us that they, and those with them, were on stand-by to start up again. These grouplets standing by should be the basis for developing cadre. The 30,000 plus prisoners should be the mass base, and should expand with further struggle and education.
If you're reading this and still wondering, "what is it that MIM(Prisons) thinks we should do exactly?" — it's the same things we've been promoting for years. Focus on educating and organizing, while taking on winnable battles against the injustice system. Fighting to shut down the control units is important, but it is only one battle in a much larger struggle that requires a strong and organized anti-imperialist movement. We run our own study programs and support prisoner-run study groups on the inside. We provide Under Lock & Key as a forum for agitating and organizing among the imprisoned lumpen country-wide. We have study materials on building cadre organizations, concepts of line, strategy and tactics and the basics of historical and dialectical materialism. Each of these topics are key for leaders to understand.
Organizing means working and studying every day. In addition to the topics above, you can study more practical skills that can be used to serve the people such as legal skills, healthy living skills and how to better communicate through writing and the spoken word. Prisoners are surrounded by potential comrades who can't even read! We need Serve the People literacy programs. Combining these practical trainings with the political study and trainings promoted above will allow leaders to both attract new people with things they can relate to, while providing guidance that illuminates the reality of our greater society.
Principled organizing builds trust and dedication, which are two thing that comrades often report being in short supply in U.$. prisons. Principled organizing is how we can overcome these shortcomings. It is not an easy, nor a quick solution. The opponent we face is strong, so only by studying it closely and battling strategically will we be able to overcome it.
Whatever other tactics comrades on the inside decide to take to continue this struggle against torture, the need for building, organizing, and educating is constant and at the strategic level. Without that the movement does not strengthen or advance. If you're taking up this work, we want to hear from you and we want to support you in your efforts.
The Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) recently stepped in(1) to defend Turning the Tide against our USW comrade's critiques.(2) We can appreciate the greater clarity and honesty in Rashid's piece compared to Michael Novick's, but still cannot forgive him for getting the first question of importance to communists wrong: who are our friends and who are our enemies? Like Jose Maria Sison and Bob Avakian, Rashid has long been exposed to MIM line and writing, and many attempts to struggle with him have been made. It does great damage to the International Communist Movement when these people become icons of "Maoism" in many peoples' eyes, while promoting chauvinistic lines on the role of the oppressor nations under imperialism.
Rashid opens his piece with the most common strawpersyn argument of the revisionists, that the MIM line is wrong because Marx and Lenin never abandoned organizing among Europeans and Amerikans. Rashid needs to be more specific if he's claiming there are groups that are refusing to work with white people or moving to the Third World to organize. While our work mostly targets prisoners, we target prisoners of all nationalities, and similarly our street work is not very nation-specific. The question we would ask instead of "should we organize Amerikans?", is, "what is going to achieve communism faster, organizing rich people around demands for more money, or organizing them around ideas of collective responsibility for equal distribution of humyn needs and ecological sustainability?"
Rashid's third paragraph includes some numbers and math and at first glance i thought it might have some concrete analysis. But alas, the numbers appear just for show as they are a) made up numbers, and b) reflecting the most simple calculation that Marx teaches us to define surplus value. To counter Rashid's empty numbers, let us repeat our most basic math example here. If Amerikans are exploited, then to end exploitation would mean they need to get paid more money. Dividing the global GDP by the number of full-time laborers gives an equitable distribution of income of around $10,000 per persyn per year.(3) To be fair, in Rashid's article he addresses this and quotes Marx to say that we cannot have an equitable distribution of income. In that quote from Wages, Price and Profit Marx was writing about capitalism, which is inherently exploitative. Our goal is communism, or "from each according to her ability, to each according to her need." But we're not there yet, Rashid might argue. OK fine, let's take Rashid's hypothetical McDonald's worker making $58 per 8 hour workday. If we assume 5 days a week and 50 weeks a year we get $14,500 per year. According to the World Bank, half of the world's people make less than $1,225 per year.(4) That report also showed that about 10% of Amerikans are in the world's richest 1% and that almost half of the richest 1% are Amerikans. So Rashid wants to argue that under capitalism it is just that the lowest paid Amerikans earn over 10 times more than half of the world's population because their labor is worth that much more? How is that? What Marx was talking about in Wages, Price and Profit was scientific: a strong persyn might be twice as productive as a weak one, or a specially trained persyn might add more value than an unskilled persyn. So Rashid wants to use this to justify paying anyone who was birthed as a U.$. citizen 10 to 25 times, or more, the average global rate of pay? We have no idea how Rashid justifies this disparity except through crass Amerikan chauvinism.
This empty rhetoric is not Marxism. It is ironic how today people will use this basic formulation for surplus value from Marx to claim people of such vastly different living conditions are in the same class. No one else in the world looks at the conditions in the United $tates and Haiti and thinks, "these countries should really unite to address their common plight." It is only pseudo-Marxists and anarchists who read a little Marx who can come up with such crap.
Rashid later establishes commonality across nations with the definition, "The proletariat simply is one who must sell her labor power to survive, which is as true for the Amerikan worker as it is for one in Haiti." We prefer Marx's definition that the proletariat are those who have nothing to lose but their chains. According to Rashid, we should determine whether someone is exploited based on different measuring sticks depending on what country they live in. Apparently, in the United $tates you must have a $20,000 car, a $200,000 home and hand-held computers for every family member over 5 in order "to survive." Whereas in other countries electricity and clean water are optional. More chauvinism.
Rashid continues discussing class definitions,
"For instance, if there's no [Euro-Amerikan] ('white') proletariat in the US, then there's also no New Afrikan/Black one. If a EA working in McDonalds isn't a proletarian, then neither is one of color. If there's no New Afrikan proletariat, then there's no New Afrikan lumpen proletariat either ("lumpen" literally means "broken"—if they were never of the proletariat, they could not become a 'broken' proletariat)."
Lumpen is usually translated as "rag." Even in the United $tates we have a population of people who live in rags, who have very little to lose. However, we completely agree with Rashid's logic here. And that is why MIM(Prisons) started using the term "First World lumpen" to distinguish from "lumpenproletariat." There is little connection between the lumpen in this country and a real proletariat, with the exceptions being within migrant populations and some second generation youth who form a bridge between Third World proletariat, First World semi-proletariat and First World lumpen classes. Rashid continues,
"Yet the VLA [vulgar labor aristocracy] proponents recognize New Afrikan prisoners as 'lumpen' who are potentially revolutionary. Which begs the question, why aren't they doing work within the oppressed New Afrikan communities where they're less apt to be censored, if indeed they compose a lumpen sector?"
This is directed at us, so we will answer: historical experience and limited resources. As our readers should know, we struggle to do the things we do to support prisoner education programs and organizing work. We do not have the resources right now to do any serious organizing outside of prisons. And we made the conscious decision of how we can best use our resources in no small part due to historical experience of our movement. In other words we go where there is interest in revolutionary politics. The margins, the weakest links in the system, that is where you focus your energy. Within the lumpen class, the imprisoned lumpen have a unique relationship to the system that results in a strong contradiction with that system. The imprisoned population could also be considered 100% lumpen, whereas less than 20% of the New Afrikan nation is lumpen, the rest being among various bourgeois classes, including the labor aristocracy.
"And if the lumpen can be redeemed, why not EA [Euro-Amerikan] workers?"
Again, look at history. Read J. Sakai's Settlers and read about the Black Panther Party. Today, look at the growing prison system and the regular murder of New Afrikan and other oppressed nation youth by the pigs. Look at where the contradictions and oppression are.
The only really interesting thing about this piece is that Rashid has further drawn a line between the MIM camp and the slew of anarchist and crypto-Trotskyist organizations who are still confused about where wealth comes from. They think people sitting at computers typing keys are exploited, and Rashid accuses our line of requiring "surplus value falling from the sky!" We already told you where the high wages in the imperialist countries came from, Rashid, the Third World proletariat! That is why the average Amerikan makes 25 times the average humyn, and why all Amerikans are in the top 13% in income globally. As the revisionists like to remind us, wealth disparity just keeps getting greater and greater under capitalism. The labor aristocracy today is like nothing that V.I. Lenin ever could have witnessed. We must learn from the methods of Marx and Lenin, not dogmatically repeat their analysis from previous eras to appease Amerikans.
19 August 2013 - Today, a federal court approved the force-feeding of people who are on hunger strike in California prisons to protest torture in the form of long-term isolation and group punishment. The force-feeding itself is considered torture by many, including those who have been on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay since February and have been suffering through force-feeding for months.
The decision in California came shortly after we posted a report from a comrade who was denied liquid supplements and collapsed on July 21 in Corcoran State Prison. Many others have collapsed since then, and the state's behavior has made it clear that the health of prisoners has not been a concern of theirs. They apply very strict rules to how they count people as being on "hunger strike," knowing that strikers depend on the state to report their numbers to the public, forcing them to abide by these rules that don't allow for any electrolytes.
The state has consistently used health care as a weapon to manipulate prisoners into submission, rather than act as the custodians of health and safety that they claim to be. Now that strikers are approaching life-threatening conditions, the CDCR is acting to prevent them from exercising one of the strongest forms of protest that they have from within these isolation cells. The attention given to the situation inside California prisons right now is already unprecedented and they fear that if more prisoners die they may lose their power to torture prisoners in the future. The torture is important to them because it is what they believe to be their best tool to prevent the oppressed from fighting their oppression (the injustice system's true purpose). The ongoing hunger strike, decades in the making, has begun to turn the tables on that idea though.
This recent report asserts that 70 of 130 prisoners currently on hunger strike have been going since July 8, 2013. There are a number of groups of prisoners in California who are ready to restart hunger strike in support of the 70 (or more) who are in it for the long haul as the struggle heightens.
In the months leading up to July 8, there was some debate about the return to the hunger strike tactic, particularly as previous attempts were aborted prematurely without any changes from the state. But those first two strikes resonated among the oppressed across the country, and particularly in California where 30,000 prisoners stood up against long-term isolation on July 8, 2013. As we approach 50 days on strike, and repeated assertions from participants that they will not stop for mere promises this time, this struggle is approaching a crucial point. To date, control units have been a fairly effective tool of repression. But if oppression breeds resistance, then even these tools of total control can be overcome. At no other point have we been closer to that goal than we are right now. Those who have and will give their lives for this struggle must not die in vain. Those 30,000 plus prisoners who supported this campaign must take every opportunity over the coming months to build, educate and organize to prepare for the next phase of this struggle. A failure to seize this moment in the prison movement will mean much more suffering for the imprisoned lumpen in the decades to come.
The bourgeoisie seems to be losing the battle for free enterprise against the repressive U.$. government. There can no longer be any commercial email service that does not provide direct access to all its users' information to the U.$. intelligence agencies. We discovered this today when our email server, lavabit.com, was no longer accessible and the owner posted a message stating,
I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations.
The clear implication is that the feds approached him to demand access to the communications on his server. Existing communications were advertised as not accessible to anyone but the user who owns the account. In order to not release any future user info to the feds he shut down the server; a decision surely not taken lightly when people depend on their email for so much of their lives.
All of this comes on the heels of the release of information on the U.$. National Security Agency's (NSA) system of monitoring all electronic communications in the world. Information released makes it clear that all major commercial software companies have provided backdoors to their software and online services to the U.$. government. With the destruction of Lavabit and TorMail, it seems clear that the United $tates has no intention of letting any exceptions to that rule continue. Whistleblower Edward Snowden was known to use lavabit.com for his email, leading many to conclude that Lavabit was a victim of the U.$. hunt for Snowden himself. Others have speculated that the attack on Tor was an attempt to scare people out of the so-called darknet and back into the friendly arms of Google, Microsoft, et al.
While using allegedly secure online services can provide an extra layer of protection, you cannot rely on an unknown party for your security anyway. That is why services with built in PGP encryption, like hushmail.com, are a joke from the get go. Hushmail.com openly works with the Amerikan government already even though they are not a U.$. company. Certainly other nations will attempt to seize the competitive advantage they now have over a business that has long been dominated by U.$. companies. And as we recently said, the positive of all this is a surge in demand and innovation in the realm of computer security.
For now, you cannot email MIM(Prisons); instead, see our contact page. We will be investigating alternative solutions and post them on our announcements and contact page once they are available. If you're still using unencrypted email for political work, get with the times and start studying our security links on our contact page. The last revolutionary generation underestimated the role of COINTELPRO until it was too late. It would be a crime against the people for us to make the same mistake with everything we know today.
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.
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.