This summer, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) released the fifth printing of their pamphlet "Survivors Manual: A manual written by and for people living in control units." There were some good additions to the pamphlet, such as an excerpt from Bonnie Kerness's presentation from the STOPMAX Conference, some of which is featured in the documentary "Unlock the Box"; and a summary written by Bonnie of her years of experience working with and witnessing prisoners in isolation.
Because MIM(Prisons) stands for justice and equality for all humyn-kind, in direct opposition to the capitalist-imperialist power structure, many of our comrades are targeted for placement in control units. This greatly minimizes their ability to organize others, communicate with comrades on the outside, and maintain a healthy mind and body. Others are targeted for isolation simply for attempting to learn the history of their people or help others with their legal work. So clearly, much of the information contained in this pamphlet is invaluable to our readership who are constantly threatened with, or are currently facing, time in the hole.
The AFSC is a liberal progressive group, and there is some information in this pamphlet that we think is quite bad advice for our readers. At least one article says to avoid the prisoncrats if at all possible. The authors' purported goal is to get to general population or released, and to maintain some form of happiness. If the goal were to get to general population or released in order to be a more effective revolutionary organizer, of course we would agree.
We don't advocate people go out looking for trouble, and we need to choose our battles wisely. But for prisoner activists, filing grievances on staff misconduct and unhealthy conditions is a primary method we use to defend ourselves and our fellow prisoners. Unfortunately, oftentimes these grievances lead to repression from the pigs. But we would not advocate that people shy away from this important work for the sole individualistic reason of self-preservation and happiness. The individualist approach is the bourgeois approach; in other words it's the approach that allows the bourgeoisie to win. Only by coming together can we protect each other and ourselves with real certainty.
We are going to add this manual to our list of literature we distribute, but will only distribute a portion of it. We chose to not include the individualistic content above, and other content suffering from liberalism in one form or another: defeatist poetry; dating tips; and strategical advice that is in conflict with our lines on security. We left out other pieces due to redundancy. Of the content we did leave in, much of it we think is great advice that we would recommend everyone in isolation pick up for their own self-care. But do not take inclusion in this modified pamphlet as a 100% endorsement of each article; we did leave some content that we hold minor disagreement with.
We greatly appreciate Prison Watch Project of the American Friends Service Committee for compiling and distributing this guide to the wider prisoner audience. But in order to make it relevant to our work as revolutionary activists, we have selected the portions that we find useful. To contact the AFSC or Bonnie Kerness for the full version and other resources, write to:
Bonnie Kerness Coordinator, Prison Watch Project American Friends Service Committee 89 Market Street, 6th Floor Newark, NJ 07102 [email protected]
Recently comrades at Anti-Imperialism.com have brought up the question of how First Worldism sets back the revolutionary movement within the oppressor nation itself.(1) When anti-imperialists begin banging their heads against walls of cops, it seems a good time to consider this question.
Over the Amerikan KKKolumbus Day weekend, a series of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist demonstrations were organized on the west coast. Judging by the turnout and support, there is not a big anti-colonial movement in the United $tates. This is no surprise, for it is the most powerful imperialist country in the world.
One anti-colonial march in San Francisco was dwarfed by the crowds of consumers, shopping on a Sunday afternoon. The organizers showed little interest in reaching out to the shoppers, and more in smashing symbols of wealth and exploitation. An hour pre-march rally seemed hardly noticed by the shopping masses. And the march itself lasted only a few blocks before violent clashes with police left 22 people arrested. A significant loss from a crowd of maybe 150 who had just begun to unveil its message.
The lack of interest in reaching out to the shoppers may reflect a correct analysis among the protestors that those people had no interest in or alliance with the message of their march. But if so this line was not put out publicly in literature or banners. We will argue here that doing so would have done more to promote divisions among the pro-imperialist camp, whereas the tactics of the day instead have helped consolidate those forces in recent years.
Last fall, thousands and thousands of Amerikans, primarily youth, rallied to the call to Occupy Wall Street, which evolved into Occupy Everywhere — a rather frightening slogan for the youth of the number one imperial power to take up. More progressive, and often more experienced, poles in the movement steered things in an anti-occupation/anti-colonial direction. But somehow this wasn't as appealing to the Amerikan youth as rallying for more jobs, free schooling and better interest rates on loans. If we eliminate the flow of wealth from the neo-colonies, the people in this country will lose their high paying jobs and easy lines of credit.
Despite this self-evident truth, there is still not a strong voice drawing a clear line between those who benefit from imperialism and those who suffer from it.
In practice we see lines being drawn, as the more radical messages seem to accompany some tactics that trigger anger from the Amerikan "middle class." There continues to be backlash in some instances of calling those who vandalize property "terrorists" while telling them to target bank windows rather than their nice neighborhood. We have little interest in the petty bourgeois debate over what is okay to smash, but this whole debate serves as a convenient excuse for the Amerikan left to ally with the imperialist state. What needs to be challenged is the idea that the Amerikan "middle class" somehow deserves more than everyone else in the world and therefore is not the enemy like those evil bankers.
Interestingly, the bourgeoisie gets away with attacking those who act against the interests of the "middle class" as "outside agitators" and "spoiled white kids." This name calling serves as a distraction from the issues being demonstrated around. Of course there will be anti-colonial struggle in white faces in a white country. To argue otherwise is to breed confusion.
While we believe there is more anti-imperialist potential here in the United $tates than those who showed up this weekend, particularly among the internal semi-colonies who were sparsely represented at these events, the dominant ideology of this country is pro-middle class, which is pro-imperialism. Even the most radical Black organizations out here will say that "white people are exploited too." Yet the truth is the complete opposite: Black people aren't exploited either in this country. The sooner we all start being accountable for what we have, the sooner we can take a realistic approach to what we can do about it.
We need a strong line that says, yes, the petty bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy in this country are the enemy of the world's people. Just as MIM has always attacked identity politics, this does not mean that petty bourgeois people cannot be anti-imperialists. We welcome and honor those Amerikans who choose to stand with the exploited peoples of the Third World. But let's make it clear that doing so requires opposing your own class interests.
After we draw that line, maybe we can think of ways to actually attack the interests of the exploiter classes, rather than just attack their symbols. Boots Riley, Oakland rapper and activist, has criticized the tactics of vandalism for alienating the majority in the city.(2) There is some truth in what he wrote in that we should not be helping the petty bourgeoisie unite with the imperialist state in opposition to anti-colonial voices, at least not without making significant gains somewhere else. Instead, we should be driving wedges between the various class alliances of our enemies, creating cracks in the system that make a little more room for the oppressed to move and organize. And perhaps ironically, pointing out the unity of the material interests of almost everyone in this country with imperialism can contribute to creating these cracks among those who have subjective moral objections to living off the suffering of others.
We do not believe that moralizing will "wake up" the Amerikan people and end this system of exploitation. We recognize there is no winning the majority in this country. So it is a question of recruiting the minority that care or suffer greatly under this system and promoting disunity among the rest. Finding effective tactics for either is our challenge.
Before we split the anti-imperialist camp over what we should do after the revolution (where we differ with the anarchist majority at this weekend's events), let's split with those who will organize and fight for the deepening exploitation of the Third World to feed the over-consumptive, privileged lifestyles in the imperialist countries. And let us be honest with our fellow exploiters, breaking the illusions of an alliance between First World social democracy and the interests of the exploited and oppressed. The one cannot exist without the other. The clearer we are about that, the more Amerikans are forced to make the choice between committing daily violence through their privilege and becoming a virus within the matrix.
Both fliers are double sided featuring the 5 principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. The first one is two fliers per 8.5"x11" piece of paper and is recruiting students to volunteer with us. The other is just the 5 pts and is four fliers per 8.5"x11" paper as quarter sheets.
This issue is going to production on the heels of the first countrywide action engaged in by a yet-unknown number of members of the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP), representing many political, religious and lumpen organizations and hailing from the prison systems of Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, New York, California, Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and the Federal system. Initially called for by UFPP signatory SAMAEL, MIM(Prisons) promoted the call for the Day of Solidarity on September 9 in our last issue of Under Lock & Key as something we felt embodied what the united front is about. In this issue we summarize what we know so far, but we expect to learn more in the coming weeks and will continue to report on this important action.
For our part, MIM(Prisons) made a strong effort back in July to directly contact all other prison rights organizations and activists on the outside to let them know about the Day of Solidarity. We also promoted it generally online and handed out fliers with the five principles of the UFPP on them at many events related to prisons and peace on the streets. Other media outlets that promoted the call included the San Francisco BayView Newspaper, anti-imperialism.com and NorthBay Uprising Radio (89.5 KZCT in Vallejo, CA), which did an extensive interview with a comrade about the day of solidarity, the united front and the prison struggle in general. Other articles in this issue discuss some of the repression faced by prisoners and MIM(Prisons) leading up to the action.
All that said, the primary focus of the day was the organizing of prisoners. To facilitate this we distributed updates to everyone involved about the plans of other groups participating, similar to what we did during the California strikes. One story we distributed from New York was from a handwritten kite a comrade passed to another brother at his facility: "Bro. - Please pay close attention to the article 'Call for Solidarity Demonstration September 9' on page 3. Let me know what you think. I've decided to fast on Sept 9th." The response was written on the same paper: "Yes I will fast on that day, it looks better when we all go to chow but we just don't eat. Thanks for that information." (This was what the 800 Attica comrades did on that day in 1971 in honor of George Jackson's murder.) The original organizers got this report and adjusted their own plans to go to chow and dispose of meals as outlined in their cheat sheet (see "Solidarity and Peace Demonstration Builds, Guards Retaliate"). This cheat sheet was passed on to the comrades in Florida whose report appears below, who also adopted the tactic:
On 9 September 2012, at Everglades Correctional Institution in Florida, individual members of The Blood Nation honored the soldiers of Attica by doing one or more of the following: fasting, boycotting the canteen/commissary, accepting chow hall trays and dumping them, and explaining why. Also participating individually were one or more members of the following groups (in alphabetical order): Black Gangsta Disciples, Crip Nation, Insane Gangsta Disciples, Almighty Latin King Queen Nation, Nation of Islam, Spanish Cobras, Shi'a Muslim Community, and Sufi Community. My apologies to anyone I missed. It was a small step at a spot with no history of unity, but even a single drop of water in a dry glass makes it wet. Respect to those who made the sacrifice, those who joined us midday, and those who expressed interest the day after. I'm as human as anyone, but let's TRY to remember who the enemy is!
Good work comrades! Seems like organizations in Florida are open to solidarity as another comrade from that state reports: "Being that today is September 9 and a day of solidarity and peace, all sorts of nations (organizations) got together here in the rec yard and had a jailhouse BBQ and lived in peace just for the day here at Cross City, Florida."
Many of our supporters are suffering in long-term isolation, so the opportunity for mass organizing is greatly limited. A report from Missouri read:
Today is September 9, 2012. My comrade (my celly) and I are participating in the mass stoppage of work and fast for our comrades who fell in Attica. Although we are in Ad-Seg we have chosen to sacrifice: no food, no [petty stuff], no arguing out the door, only working out four times for one hour each time, reading, studying and talking politics. For me fasting is something I do once a month, but today is the first time I've worked out during my fast. My comrade is pushing me and I'm not stopping. From midnight to midnight is how we're moving.
This white comrade also reported that he received ULK 27 announcing the Day of Solidarity, while his Black comrade's was censored. They report this is a common form of discrimination in Missouri.
Another great success occurred in Nevada where SAMAEL led the organizing of a good cross-section of prisoners representing about 30% of the population. Even if we get no other reports on the September 9 action, we'd say it was a success just from these examples. But we know from the list of states above that the day had much broader participation.
The progress represented by prisoners across the country acting in solidarity as a class took place in the context of the many other strikes and mass actions prisoners have led in the past year or more that have built off of each other as cipactli writes about in "Prisoner Uprisings Foretell Growing Movement". This progress is exciting on the subjective level. And we can look at periods of mass uprising to see what happens when times are "exciting." They tend to be crazy as well. People are confused, trying to figure things out and the enemy is working hard to confuse them more and divide them. So it is of the utmost importance that as the new prison movement emerges that we take time to study questions of security and correct leadership.
There is the question of security at the individual level, and how we judge someone by putting politics in command, as discussed by PTT in relation to Richard Aoki. In the belly of the beast, where there is so much wealth and privilege, security at the group level is very tied up with our class analysis. As our Nevada comrade points out in "Fighting Enemies in the Prison Movement", most people in this country will actively support imperialism without directly getting a paycheck for it, and this is true for a portion of the prison population as well.
One thing that sets communists apart from other revolutionary trends is our stress on the importance of correct ideological leadership. Putting politics in command can guide us in dealing with all challenges we face, not just security. We recognize that the truth will come from mass struggle, but that it will not always be recognized by the masses when they see it because everyone needs to learn to think in a scientific way first. In order to pick the best leadership, we must all be well-studied to think scientifically about both history and our current conditions. As we point out to the comrade who suspects we might be CIA, you should be able to judge the correctness of ULK and to struggle with us where you think we are wrong to decide whether the risk of subscribing is worth it.
Our comrade in BORO puts the September 9 Day of Solidarity in this context well when s/he writes: "Through the lens of a dialectical-materialist, we must see history as a never-ending stream of past events that gave and constantly give birth to present realities. This chain of historical events is constantly moving us forward into the ocean of endless possibilities. We must use this view of a 'living history' as a source of defining who we are and the direction we're heading as a people." (See "Black August and Bloody September: Stand Up and Remember on September 9.")
This September protest wasn't just to spend a day sitting quietly honoring the past; it was a time to learn from the past and apply lessons to address our current conditions. The day was a success, but it was only one step in developing a class-conscious prison movement that can change conditions. In the coming weeks, we look forward to hearing of more successes and accomplishments that organizers achieved on September 9.
15 September 2012 — Tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities and slums across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe and Australia have demonstrated in recent days in response to a film made in the United $tates attacking the Prophet Muhammad. Protests primarily targeted U.$. embassies and other symbols of imperialism including an Amerikan school, a KFC restaurant, and a UN camp.(1) The latter was one of many locations where authorities shot at protestors with live ammunition. Many have died so far. Some common unifying symbolism of these actions has been burning of Amerikan flags and chants of "Death to Amerika!"
The first protest that got the world's attention was in Libya, where U.$.-backed forces recently overthrew the decades-old government there. Timed to occur on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United $tates by Al Qaeda, rebels grabbed headlines by laying siege to the embassy, killing as many as a dozen people, including the new U.$. ambassador. Since then protestors have attacked imperialist embassies in Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan without firearms.
While incumbent U.$. President Barack Obama has been making plenty of mention of his role in the assassination of Al-Qaeda's former leader Osama bin Laden in campaign speeches, hundreds of protestors in Kuwait chanted outside the U.$. embassy, "Obama, we are all Osama." Osama's vision of a Pan-Islamic resistance to U.$. occupations and economic interference in the Muslim world has reached new heights this week.
The Amerikan media has tried to play it off as a small group of trouble makers protesting, while Amerikans are shocked that they can be blamed for a fringe movie they have never seen and think is a piece of crap. At the same time, Amerikans seem very willing to condemn the protestors as ignorant, violent, low-lifes — just as the movie in question portrayed Muslims. But the trigger of these protests is far less important than the history of U.$. relations to the people involved. The most violent reactions occurred in countries that have all been under recent bombing attacks by the U.$. military, two of them for many years now, and the other had their whole government overthrown. Cocky Amerikans won't recognize that the ambassador was targeted as the highest level representative of the U.$. puppet master in Libya.
MIM has held for some time that Muslim organizations have done more to fight imperialism in recent years in most of the world than communists have.(2) And while there are plenty of ways communists could theoretically be doing a better job, they are not. As materialists we must accept and work with the people and conditions we are given. And we do not hesitate to recognize that Islam has brought us the biggest internationalist demonstration of anti-imperialism we've seen in some time.
North Carolina's so-called Department of Public Safety has joined a number of state agencies in openly sabotaging efforts to prevent prisoners from fighting in their facilities.
MIM(Prisons) and our readers in North Carolina have received multiple notices of censorship of Under Lock & Key 27, most of them citing page 3, which contained the Call for Solidarity Demonstration on September 9. In their doublespeak, they justify this with reasons such as that it promotes "violence, disorder, insurrection or terrorist/gang activities" and that it "encourages insurrection and disorder." This was in reference to a call for 24 hours with no eating, working or fighting, where prisoners only engaged in solidarity actions and networking to build peace.
Many other states censored Under Lock & Key 27 for threatening the security of the institution (including New York, California, Wisconsin, and Illinois). Wisconsin Department of Corrections later claimed that ULK 27 "teaches or advocates violence and presents a clear and present danger to institutional security." So there you have it. Prisoners coming together, for whatever cause, is a security threat to them. Making it clear what they are trying to secure, which is the prevention of the self-determination of the oppressed nation lumpen. This has nothing to do with the persynal safety of humyn beings, which the Call for September 9 was clear in promoting.
Folsom State Prison in California went so far as to say that ULK 27 was censored for "advocating civil disobedience in prisons." Even this claim is a stretch, unless fasting and not working for a day, a Sunday no less, is disobeying the law in some way. Texas seems to think so, as they censored many copies of ULK 27 with the consistent reason that it "advocates hunger strike and work stoppage." Well we know Texas is big on unpaid labor in their prisons. And we suppose it's not breaking news that peaceful civil disobedience is a crime in the eyes of the state of California.
Despite the more honest justifications given by some state employees in California and Texas, safety and security concerns remain the number one reason given by states to censor MIM(Prisons)'s mail to prisoners. To call these agencies on their bluff, MIM(Prisons) proposes that organizations within the United Front for Peace who are working to build off of September 9 focus on promoting safety in their agitational and organizational work. From the countless painful letters we get from U.$. prisoners who fear for their life everyday in these places, we are pretty sure that working together we can do a better job of creating a safe environment than they can.
Comrades should brainstorm ideas of how to launch a campaign to change the conditions that the state creates that lead to unsafe conditions for prisoners. Often unsafe conditions for prisoners are potentially unsafe for staff as well. Either way, an effective campaign to make prisoners safer should bring around new recruits.
Can we get enough stories of comrades working to help each other out and improve each other's well-being to make ULK 29 an issue focused on creating safer prisons in the U.$? And you artists out there, any ideas on how to promote issues of safety and security that speak to the prison masses?
Let's see what we can do with this. And look out for each other in there.
On August 20, 2012 an article was released alleging that Richard Aoki, a Japanese national and early Black Panther Party (BPP) member, was an FBI informant. This claim was made by journalist and author Seth Rosenfeld, whose book Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power was conveniently released on August 21. On September 7, 2012 Rosenfeld published a follow-up article, with 221 pages of "newly released" FBI documents which he believes further implicate Aoki as an FBI informant.(1)
Let's start with Rosenfeld's political worldview, because we know no journalist is truly unbiased. Rosenfeld's opinion on liberation struggles is revealed in his characterization of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), that Aoki organized in, as a violent student movement.(2) He blames the violence of the 1968-69 strikes of the TWLF on Bay Area college campuses on the strikers themselves, not the pigs. Yet the students did not initiate violence, and in fact were sprayed with so much teargas by the pigs that the trees in Sproul Plaza on the University of California at Berkeley campus were still irritating students' eyes even into the following school year. Coming from this perspective we must question Rosenfeld's assessment of the FBI right off the bat.
Influencing the Party greatly from its beginning, Richard Aoki is most famous for supplying the BPP with their first guns. According to his biography, Aoki helped shape the early ideology of the Panthers through his relationship with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton at Merritt College by suggesting reading material and engaging with them in political debate.(3) Besides his work with the BPP, Richard Aoki also did much organizing and protest work with the Third World Liberation Front via the Asian American Political Alliance. Aoki remained politically active and revolutionary-minded even until his death in 2009. Surprisingly, Rosenfeld is from San Francisco and has been doing research for this book since 1982, yet it wasn't until 2002 or 2003 that he learned of Richard Aoki.
Understandably, Rosenfeld's claim has sparked a lot of debate on the internet and radio as to whether it is true or not. While we are open to the possibility of nearly anyone being an agent of the state, MIM(Prisons) agrees with those who have held out for clear proof before we will consider denouncing Aoki's legacy of the state. Objectively, the current evidence supporting this claim is inconclusive at best. The original article was highly sensational, focusing on vague, chopped up, and misquoted sound-bites of a 2007 interview with Aoki that the author interprets as admissions of guilt. Besides these sound-bites, the only other evidence offered are ambiguous FBI documents, citing Aoki as providing "unique" information not available from any other source, and the testimony of former FBI agents, of whom the only one that supposedly knew Aoki is also dead.(4) Yet none of the documents say what information Aoki supposedly gave the FBI; it has all been redacted.
On the radio program APEX Express, Harvey Dong, a close friend of Richard Aoki, offered the listener a thorough reading of the relevant parts of the FBI documents cited by Rosenfeld (as well as excerpts from Aoki's college term papers).(2) The only information which allegedly came from Aoki in the first set of FBI documents is about Aoki himself and could have been obtained using a wiretap (or informant) on Aoki. Assuming the released FBI documents are real, the set released on September 7 does establish that Aoki was giving information to the FBI from 1961 to 1977, but very little about that relationship is revealed.
The fact that the FBI redacts all names of individuals and organizations that Aoki allegedly provided information on makes it impossible to speculate on the nature of his interactions with the Bureau. Rosenfeld's follow-up article pulls many quotes from the 221 pages of documents indicating that Aoki provided valuable information, but any details that might substantiate these statements are redacted or absent. Despite this release of new documents, there is still no information on what intelligence he allegedly gave to the FBI on the BPP or other groups. While we should always be prepared for the possibility that a trusted comrade is an agent, we need to see evidence of harm done to the movement to condemn someone who did so much to advance the cause.
It is very conceivable that the FBI is snitch-jacketing Aoki to discredit his work as a Third Worldist revolutionary activist, discredit the Panthers as pawns of the FBI, and more simply to sell copies of Rosenthal's new book. One of the lessons we learned from the Panthers, and other political movements of the 1960s, is the importance of security. The COINTELPRO attacks on the Panthers led MIM to develop as a semi-underground organization that keeps comrades at arm's length, centering around political, rather than persynal, relationships.
Interestingly, on 20 August the FBI had yet to release about 4,000 pages of documents on Richard Aoki, and was claiming to have no main file on Aoki himself. This cannot be true considering how politically active and outspoken he was. Rosenfeld and others saw the FBI withholding these documents as indicative of Aoki's status as an informant, assuming these were reports given by Aoki.(4) Then supposedly some time between 20 August and 7 September, the FBI released at least 221 pages of documentation just on Richard Aoki. With all the heated debate, we note that the FBI chose a very opportunistic time to release these documents, which causes us to further question their legitimacy. Why would the FBI release documentation that says Aoki didn't provide valuable information? This controversy is feeding right into their agenda to undermine revolutionary activists and movements.
The distrust that has evolved surrounding this claim is classic, and a perfect example of why the BPP often quoted Mao by saying, "No investigation, no right to speak." This Aoki "scandal" should be a reminder of how snitch-jacketing can impact our anti-imperialist movement, and our prison organizing especially. One of the principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons is UNITY,
"WE strive to unite with those facing the same struggles as us for our common interests. To maintain unity we have to keep an open line of networking and communication, and ensure we address any situation with true facts. This is needed because of how the pigs utilize tactics such as rumors, snitches and fake communications to divide and keep division among the oppressed. The pigs see the end of their control within our unity."(5)
This is a lesson we've unfortunately had to learn time and time again. A claim that everyone on SNY or Protective Custody is a snitch, or a rumor on the yard, is not sufficient evidence to call someone out as an agent of the state. Sometimes comrades suggest that we require USW members to submit their files from the Department of Corrections to determine whether they are compromised in any way based on charges, and where they've been housed in the past. They tell us we should ask the state who we should let into USW. Not only is this ridiculous in theory, but we know of at least one case where an informant was given doctored files and released back onto general population to be a Lieutenant in a prominent LO in California. A piece of paper from a government agency should only be considered as one piece of evidence, not the sacrosanct truth.
The state is already putting a lot of energy into making us suspicious of our fellow revolutionaries; we should not make their job any easier. Instead we should be communicating with each other directly if we suspect unprincipled divisions are being fomented. Our struggle is too important to get caught up in rumor mongering and sectarianism.
Even if evidence does eventually come out which proves Aoki was providing the FBI with information that actually helped them attack the liberation struggle, we will still not be devastated. While we don't agree with Fred Ho's subjectivist methodology of defending Aoki overall, we do have unity with his perspective on the consequence of truth in the allegation. "If Aoki was an agent, so what? He surely was a piss-poor one because what he contributed to the movement is enormously greater than anything he could have detracted or derailed."(6) This view is right in line with our view on how to maintain security within the anti-imperialist prison movement; don't give a pig the opportunity to do more damage than good. Distributing information on a need-to-know basis and applying high standards to different levels of membership will help ensure people contribute more to the cause than to the enemy.
In response to the Call for Solidarity Demonstration on September 9 in the recent issue of Under Lock & Key letters are coming in from prisons across the country. The solidarity demonstration is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Attica uprising, and during the 24 hour work and food strike prisoners will focus on building unity and peace among the prison population. This is short notice to organize in the severely restricted conditions found in most prisons, but comrades behind bars are doing what they can, with at least one person pledging to start now to build for next year.
In Nevada we heard: "I have been doing my part on getting as many people as I can to sign up for September 9, 2012. Here at High Desert State Prison they are constantly taking away what little we have and I look forward to sticking it to them. So far I have recruited 20 people just myself in the past couple of weeks from all races. Just imagine how many more by the time our time comes!"
From Missouri we learned of comrades participating and using this opportunity to study this history of the Attica uprising: "I would like to request study material of all sorts for this coming August in solidarity regards. Our mission is to improve self from conditions and we gain understanding through great experiences of this nature, a struggle that's mighty, yet achievable. We'll detail progress in the coming months. September 9th we will partake in our common sights." Another comrade in a Federal prison in Texas has been sharing ULK 27 with others and pledged to fast on September 9.
Organizers like this one from Pennsylvania are eager to hear news from the demonstration in the next issue of Under Lock & Key: "Please make sure I get my next issue [of Under Lock & Key], copy due the week of the solidarity demonstration on Sunday September 9, 2012. From midnight September 8 to midnight September 9 in a show of solidarity I will be strongly participating!" This is a good reminder to all participating that we need reports immediately after the demonstration to make it in to the next issue of ULK.
From the state that had it's own broadly supported food strike last year (starting July 1, 2011), we heard from organizers building for September 9. One California prisoner wrote: "I am in the call for solidarity demonstration September 9, 2012 and I will be fasting on that day, etc. Thank you for all your help and moral support that you have given to me in the last ten years."
Comrades are spreading the word about the September 9 demonstration in any way they can. This person from New York sent us a handwritten kite he passed to another brother at his facility: "Bro. - Please pay close attention to the article 'Call for Solidarity Demonstration September 9' on page 3. Let me know what you think. I've decided to fast on Sept 9th." The response was written on the same paper: "Yes I will fast on that day, it looks better when we all go to chow but we just don't eat. Thanks for that information." This comrade noted that the short lead time on this demonstration will limit his organizing abilities this year, but he's already started to build for 2013.
Update August 26: More comrades in North Carolina have joined the campaign: "The solidarity movement on September 9th is a go for the few conscious comrades behind me. It is definitely a time to remember this historic event that changed the prison system afterwards."
And more prisoners in California are stepping up. One wrote letting us know that he has liver cirrhosis and is not going to make it out alive, but is very much engaged in the struggle for as long as he's able: "I will participate in your September solidarity. I share your publications with other prisoners. Each individual has his own set of beliefs, goals, values, etc., I can only express what I feel is right. I thank you for your moral support represented in Under Lock & Key. Those confined in the SHU lockdowns need all the support your group provides."
Update August 30: A group in Florida is working to pull people together for an act of solidarity on September 9th.
Update September 1: A comrade in Kansas made hand written copies of the call for solidarity demonstration and sent them to 17 prisoners at his facility. At least a few of them agreed to participate in solidarity.
Step Up: Revolution centers around a dance crew called The Mob that is based in a "slum" of Miami, though has recruited members from all over the world. Their "slum" origins are questionable as they all have bodies of professional athletes and dress like models. And while The Mob always has the resources for the most fantastic props for their performances, we never see any signs of poverty or oppressive conditions in their neighborhood, except for almost being displaced by a development project. Like the billboards for this movie suggest, there is a focus on the forbidden love story between Mob co-founder Sean and daughter of the rich developer who threatens to destroy their neighborhood, Emily, throughout the movie.
The story line is mostly a joke as one would expect, since we all came for the crazy dance moves, right? The only semi-interesting line of dialogue in the whole film is when Emily challenges The Mob for not even saying anything in their art. This is particularly interesting juxtaposed to Sean's line throughout the film that The Mob was created so that their voices could be heard in a city where they are "invisible."
On the one hand, Emily's challenge is a valid critique when the leaders of The Mob are clear that they are all about being financially successful through their art from the beginning to the very last line of the film. At the same time, it perpetuates the idea that there is art without a message, which just isn't true.
This critique reflects back on the greater art form that is the film itself. This is apparently a popular genre now, building off the success of TV talent shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent. Many of the performers in the movie are recruited from these shows, and are real-world examples of the success that The Mob is working for. The Step Up series of movies is all about providing the audience with an adrenaline rush with ever-more intense dance moves, soundtracks and visual effects.
It seems that they were pushing up on their limits in creating more extreme dance performances, and they stepped into the realm of protest art for a minute to up the ante with this latest edition of Step Up. In this genre there is often a strong element of competition, which can provide a source of drama and maybe a fight or two to add to the excitement. But this version stepped it up by having a dance crew that went up against the system, sort of.
The Mob actually starts out as a highly trained flash mob, rather than protest art. Instead of using performance art to convey a specific message in a more impactful way, the flash mob is a modern phenomenon that focuses on transforming the moment with no long-term goals or message. Building on Guy Debord's theory of the Society of the Spectacle, some think these disruptions of the spectacle that is the status quo is somehow a revolutionary act. Most just think it's neat and fun. And ultimately that is what The Mob is about, despite their short venture into protesting the destruction of their hood.
In the end the movie abruptly brings you back to the main motivation being financial success, which could have been the producers poking a bit of fun at those who came to see the movie looking for a more subversive message. But at the same time it was true-to-life in the way that dance and music are used in advertising to sell an image of rebellion and being extreme to youth with money to spend. This movie is very much part of that. But that phenomenon is much bigger in the way that oppressed nation culture, especially in the form of hip hop, was taken and sold to white youth as a form of rebellion, then sanitized by the white tastes that then shaped the culture and sold it back to Black youth as something that was supposed to represent them.
It is this aspect of culture that is hinted at in the film when The Mob says they "are everyone" and that they represent the culture of the neighborhood that the developers will destroy with their plans. In reality, the culture presented by The Mob is a very globalized and technologically-centered culture that does not represent one place or one people, but does reflect material wealth, large amounts of leisure time and mobility that is inaccessible to the majority of the world's people. The movie tries to pass this big-money pop culture off as a local scene threatened by big bad corporations. The timing and message was perhaps an attempt to play on the hype around the "99%" movement, who would see these rich kids as the poor.
But it would be wrong to say that the art and culture presented in movies like Step Up is "devoid of content," as implied by Emily's critique. There was a lot of sex and romance culture promotion in this movie, and in the dancing itself. There was a promotion of the art of dance as a big party. And there was the ever-present theme, dating back to Dirty Dancing (and probably before), of the need to break the rules to express yourself. But the source of conflict of this expression in Hollywood movies is usually centered around sexuality and romance. In Step Up: Revolution, fighting the redevelopment project becomes a cause that drives the dancers to break the rules. But even then, the message you are left with is that it is good to push the limits to be cutting edge in order to be successful at marketing yourself. The most radical action of The Mob is scarred as representing the low point and temporary breakup of the group, and it was the only time they actually got in trouble with law enforcement (who were unrealistically absent throughout the movie). It's like the successful politician or non-profit organizer who got arrested once in college for the experience and now has some street cred as a result, but never really represented a challenge to the system. While the term "revolution" has been perpetually overused in marketing, in a way to dilute the power of the word, to use the word in reference to this sort of rebellious behavior is even more insidious. Those who feel like they are doing something radical, when in reality they are part of the system that revolution aims to overthrow, are all too common in the belly of the beast.
This movie takes certain elements of flash mobs and overlaps them with political action in a way to make them seem more radical and powerful than they are. Flash mobs as a phenomenon play into people's desires to be a part of something bigger than themselves and are a combination of youthful rebellion and partying. While sometimes used for political messages as The Mob eventually does, they are generally post-modern forms of expression with no coherent goals or message. The Mob at least has the advantage over your standard flash mob for being well-rehearsed and planned out ahead of time by a dedicated organization, which allows them to easily focus their work on fighting the developers. While they had discipline and hard work, their class interests were what kept them focused on their financial success. The more common flash mob that brings together random people to a location for a party is representative of the same class interests. The post-modern art form takes group action, one of the most powerful tools we have, and makes it inherently individualistic and unconsolidated, making it a spectacle itself. It is much easier to mobilize a mass of petty bourgeois youth to create their own spectacle than it is to exert their power to challenge the system.
While we know this movie wasn't trying to enter into serious political dialogue for solving the world's problems, there are many people holding desires for a better world that end up putting their energy and enthusiasm into self-indulgent dead ends. While dance can be revolutionary, the revolution will not be a dance party. If changing the world was all fun and sexy, don't you think it would have happened by now?