On September 26, prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison will resume their indefinite hunger strike after 2 months of hiatus, during which they negotiated with the state. The strike began on July 1, sweeping across California, and was put on hold by organizers on July 21, after 3 full weeks of fasting. Multiple prisoner negotiators from Pelican Bay have confirmed that Scott Kernan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised the 5 demands would be met, but that they needed 2 to 3 weeks to comply. That window of time has long since passed, and comrades are gearing up for what promises to be a longer stretch with no food.
In a statement from one strike leader announcing the September 26 restart, he stated:
I appreciate the time and love you all have given to us and you can believe that we will not yield until justice is achieved. We went into this trying to save lives, if possible, but we see now that there will have to be casualties on our side and we all know that power concedes to no one without demands.(1)
On August 23, state legislator Tom Ammiano headed a hearing on conditions in California's SHUs and on the validation process that gets people placed there. It echoed previous hearings that did not stop torture in the SHU. He promised he would push the issue further than it has gone in the past, but like the reforms given by the CDCR, this is too little too late as comrades who have faced decades in these torture cells take this struggle to the next level.
The Truth About the Negotiations
The strike didn't end over some beanies and calendars. Letters that came from the leaders after the message was sent that the strike ended were very clear that they were only giving the state time to meet their demands before they would restart the food strike. Those in D-Corridor and other SHU prisoners aren't done yet.
The initial story that came out of limited communications between the inside and outside negotiation teams was that the strike had ended, period, in return for beanies, calendars, proctored exams and a promise to investigate the major complaints of the strikers. The extreme limits put on the outside negotiation team, who were only granted access to the strikers on a couple brief occasions, allowed the state to control how the negotiations were portrayed. As a result, many across the state were let down by the misleading reports that first came out, because the strikers had pledged to strike until all 5 demands were met.
It has since come to light that Scott Kernan circulated a fake version of the five demands,(2) and that prisoners received notices that they had broken the rules by organizing against the abuse that they face and that they will face "progressive discipline" in the future for similar actions. The latter contradicts CDCR Spokeswoman Terry Thorton who stated on record, "There are no punitive measures for inmates refusing to eat."(3) In typical repressive fashion, the state responds to complaints of torture committed by state employees with outlawing any form of protest by the victims. It just goes to show that their efforts to maintain "security" have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with social control.
It's also important to note that the best public offer coming from the state right now is that they might move away from gang affiliation charges and focus on actual rule violations as justification for throwing someone into a torture chamber. Within U.$. prisons the First Amendment is generally ignored and any form of expression or organizing not sanctioned by the state is considered against the rules. But even this reform has been on the table for a long time with no action. According to the 2004 Castillo court decision, which took 8 years to litigate, the CDCR committed to providing logical justification that evidence used to put someone into SHU was criminal in nature. Yet nothing has changed, as the lead attorney on the case, Charles Carbone, asserted at the August 23 hearing.
As Carbone pointed out, with exasperation, we already went through the whole song and dance of having hearings around the SHU with Senator Gloria Romero and the United Front to Abolish the SHU years ago. Another testifier at this year's hearing made testimony in the 70s and 80s about the detrimental effects of isolation, but they still went on to build Pelican Bay State Prison. It is clear that the state sees the SHU as an important tool of social control and cares nothing for the destruction they cause to oppressed people.
Scott Kernan was very clear at the hearing that the CDCR would continue with the debriefing process, using confidential informants, and that they will not allow prisoners to appeal secret evidence used against them. He also said gang validations will likely continue to bring indeterminate SHU sentences. Kernan did not stick around for the public comments, and remaining CDCR staff were not given an opportunity to respond when a public commenter asked when the 5 demands would be put down in writing, after Kernan promised it would only take 2 to 3 weeks.
Lessons in Organizing
Through this process we are all learning how to organize in our conditions and what limits we face.
One of the successes of the California hunger strike was the demonstration of United Front to the masses, which inspired many to the possibilities of prison-based organizing. We do not know the details of how groups coordinated on the inside around the strike, but we do know that many groups would not be willing to sacrifice their independence to others, and yet they worked together. This example should be followed by those on the outside. We need to recognize the strength that comes in uniting all who can be united at any given time on the most pressing issues that we face. Coalition organizing strategies have held back support by not allowing a diversity of voices to come out in unity in support of the hunger strike.
Having outside pressure during a food strike is crucial to ensuring that the state just does not let prisoners die, as they are more than willing to do if there isn't too much noise about it. Outside organizations also played an important role in spreading word about the hunger strike that was initiated by some of the most isolated people in the whole state. But, ultimately, the state controls our communication with prisoners. Despite all the work put in by the coalition to develop an outside negotiation team, the only role the state allowed them to play was to announce when the strike had ended and ensure that everyone knew to stop. The state realized that a memo from the CDCR was not going to be convincing. Other than this, the negotiation team was not allowed any access to the prisoner negotiators.
In ULK 21, we made it sound like the strike was over for beanies, calendars and proctors and some empty promises of change. This was the information coming from the outside negotiating team and the best information anyone seemed to have. Frustration with the outcome immediately started coming in and we fear that disillusionment may have followed. But this is what the SHU is designed for. This is why SHU inmates can't call people on the outside. This is why the press is not allowed in California prisons. Misinformation would be much harder to spread otherwise. So overcoming these barriers is part of what we need to learn here.
We need to learn to build protracted and sustainable battles. There are no quick fixes, and prisoners can't rely on the mainstream press or outside organizations to come in and rescue them. Recently, Pelican Bay censored MIM(Prisons)'s study pack on organizational structure. They recognize the importance of such information for prisoners to really get organized and exert their rights. As much as they want to label us a "security threat group" for doing it, MIM(Prisons) continues to struggle for our right to support prison-based organizing. For it is the prisoners who have the drive and determination to make the changes that need to be made to end this oppressive system.
El 26 de septiembre, los presos en Pelican Bay State Prison volverá a su huelga de hambre indefinida después de 2 meses de receso, durante el cual negoció con el Estado. La huelga se inició el 1 de julio, barriendo a través de California, y se dejó en suspenso por los organizadores el 21 de julio. Negociadores de presos múltiples de Pelican Bay han confirmado que Scott Kernan del Departamento de Correcciones y Rehabilitación de California (CDCR) prometió que las 5 demandas serían satisfechas, pero que necestiban 2-3 semanas par cumplir. Esta ventana de tiempo ha pasado hace tiempo, y los compañeros se están preparando para lo que promete ser un tramo más largo sin comida.
En el 23 de agosto, el legislador Tom Ammiano encabezó una audiencia sobre las condiciones de los SHU de California y el proceso de la validación que se coloca la gente allá. Se hizo un eco de audiencias previas que no paró la tortura en el SHU, pero prometió que empujara el tema más que había ido en el pasado.
La huelga no terminó sobre algunos gorritos y calendarios. Las cartas que vinieron de los líderes después de la mensaje que la huelga terminó eran muy claras que sólo daban el estado tiempo para cumplir con sus demandas antes de que recomenzarían la huelga de hambre.
Necesitamos aprender construir las batallas prolongadas y sostenibles. No hay ningunos soluciones rápidos, y los presos no pueden fiar en la prensa y las organizaciones ajenos para salvarles. Recientemente, Pelican Bay censuró el paquete de estudiar de MIM(Prisons) sobre la estructura organizacional. Reconocen la importancia de tal información para los preso realmente organizarse y ejercer sus derechos. Por tanto que quieren clasificarnos como un grupo de amenaza a la seguridad por hacerlo, MIM(Prisons) continua luchar por nuestro derecho a apoyar a la organización basada en la prisión. Porque son los presos que tienen la motivación y la determinación hacer los cambios que deben hacerse para terminar este sistema opresivo.
Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther by Marshall "Eddie" Conway and Dominique Stevenson AK Press, 2011 674-A 23rd Street Oakland, CA 94612
This short autobiography by political prisoner Marshall (Eddie) Conway is not so much a story about the Baltimore Black Panthers as it is a brief history of prison-based organizing in the state of Maryland. Having spent almost all of his adult life in prison after being framed for killing a cop in 1970, this makes sense.
Panthers, Popularity and the Pigs
Knowing first-hand the extent of repression that was put on the Black Panther Party from a very early stage, the biggest lesson we get from the early years of Conway's political life are about how to recruit and organize in a country that is crawling with pigs. He points out that of the 295 actions that COINTELPRO took against Black Power groups from 1967 to 1971; 233 targeted the Panthers.(p.51) He later points out that while Muhammed Speaks was regularly allowed in prisons, The Black Panther had to be smuggled in.(p.98)
As the state clearly recognized the Maoism of the Black Panthers as much more effective in the fight for Black liberation than other movements at the time, they had agents planted in the organization from day one in Baltimore. One of the founding members in Baltimore, and the highest ranking Panther in the state, was exposed as an agent of the National Security Agency, while others worked for the FBI or local police.(p.48) Conway identifies the Panthers' rapid growth as a prime cause for its rapid demise, both due to infiltration and other contradictions between members that just had not been trained ideologically.(p.54) MIM(Prisons) takes it a step further in promoting an organizational structure where our effectiveness is not determined by the allegiances of our allies, but only by our work and the political line that guides it.
Despite the seriousness with which he addresses his decades of dedicated organizing work, Conway expresses regret for putting his desire to free his people above his family. There is no doubt that oppression creates contradictions between someone’s ability to support their family directly and the system that prevents them from doing so. MIM(Prisons) is sympathetic with the young Conway, who put fighting the system first. Perhaps the most applicable lesson to take from this is for young comrades to seriously consider family planning and how that fits into one's overall plans as a revolutionary. It is just a reality that having an active/demanding family life is not conducive to changing the system.
This account of organizing in Maryland prisons is one example that famous events like the Attica uprising were part of a widespread upsurge in prison-based organizing across the country at the time. In a turning point for the prison movement, in 1971 Maryland prisoners began organizing the uniquely aboveground and legal United Prisoners Labor Union. The union quickly gained much broader support among the population than even the organizers expected.
While Conway notes that the young organizers on the streets often found partying more important than political work, he discusses deeper contradictions within the imprisoned lumpen class. At this time, illegal drugs were becoming a plague that prison activists could not find easy solutions to. While organizing the union, a new youth gang arose whose interest in free enterprise led them to work openly with the administration in "anti-communist" agitation among the population. As many gangs have become more entrenched in the drug economy (and other capitalist ambitions) competition has heightened the drive to conquer markets. The contradiction between the interests of criminal LOs and progressive lumpen organization is heightened today, with the criminal element being the dominant aspect of that contradiction.
Rather than outright repression, the easiest way for the guards to work against the union was to get less disciplined recruits to act out in violence. This point stresses the need for resolving contradictions among the masses before going up against the oppressor in such an open way. Education work among the masses to stress the strategy of organized action over individual fights with guards became an important task for union leaders.
Of course, the state could not allow such peacemaking to continue and the union was soon made illegal; leaders faced isolation and transfers. This eventually led us to where we are today where any form of prisoner organizing is effectively outlawed in most places and labeled Security Threat Group activity, in complete violation of the First Amendment right to association. There's a reason Amerikans allow the labor aristocracy to unionize and not the imprisoned lumpen. A year after the union was crushed, an escape attempt led to a riot in which the full destructive potential of the prison population was unleashed because there was no political leadership to guide the masses. That's exactly what the state wanted.
As a comrade in prison, intrigue is constantly being used against you by the state and you must takes steps to protect yourself. Conway tells a story about how one little act of kindness and his affiliation with the righteous Black Panthers probably saved his life. One major weakness of most LOs today is that they are rarely free of elements engaged in anti-people activity. As long as this is the case it will be easy for the state to set up fights and hits at will. Only through disciplined codes of conduct, that serve the people at all times, can such problems be avoided.
Many of the things Conway and his comrades did in the 1970s would seem impossible in U.$. prisons today. The government began aggressively using prisons as a tool of social control during that period of broad unrest in the United $nakes. Soon the state learned it had to ramp up the level of control it had within its prisons. This informed the history of the U.$. prison system over the last few decades. And with the vast resources of the U.$. empire, high tech repression came with a willing and well-paid army of repressers to run the quickly expanding system.
It is almost amazing to read Conway's story of Black guards, one-by-one, coming over to the side of the prisoners in a standoff with prison guards.(p.81) We don't know of anything like that happening today. As oppressed nationals of the labor aristocracy class have become commonplace in the U.$. injustice bureaucracy, we see national consciousness overcome by integrationism.
Also unlike today, where prisoners usually have to give any money they can scrape together to pay for their own imprisonment (ie. pay guards' salaries), profits from commissary in Maryland actually used to go to a fund to benefit prisoners and the communities they come from. But Conway tells of how the drug mob worked with the administration to eat up those funds, using some of it to sponsor a party for the warden himself!
The prison activists responded to this by setting up their own fund to support programs in Baltimore. That is true independent action, highlighting the importance of the fifth principle of the United Front for Peace. While all drug dealers are in essence working for the U.$. imperialists, this is even more true for those in prison who rely directly on state officials for the smooth operation of their business. Money is not decisive in the struggle for liberation; it is humyn resources: a politically conscious population that decides whether we succeed or we fail.
This review skims some of the main lessons from this book, but we recommend you read it for yourself for a more thorough study. It is both an inspiring and sobering history of U.$. prison organizing in the recent past. It is up to today's prisoners to learn from that past and write the next chapters in this story of struggle that will continue until imperialism is destroyed.
Millionaire popstar/rapper Soulja Boy stepped out of line in his latest video, and was reprimanded by Amerikan hip hop fans this week for his lack of patriotism. Under pressure he quickly apologized and took up the Demoncratic Party line claiming that he was only criticizing the two long wars, implying that the U.$. economy would somehow be better if the U.$. wasn't exerting control over the economies of the Middle East thru military occupation. This is what he originally said in the song Let's Be Real:
Fuck the FBI and the Army troops fighting for what? Bitch, be your own man.
While this was just a couple lines out of tons of bullshit he's spit, they're pretty strong words. Not known for being politically outspoken, there's no doubt his inspiration comes from the countless radical/nationalist MCs who came before him and influenced his thoughts and rhymes. He even outdid his adversary Ice-T who said "fuck the FBI," but never fuck the troops. The troops ain't nothing but the police for oppressed people in other countries; the CIA abroad is the FBI at home. Fuck oppression! Fuck 'em all!
While it was good to hear someone like Soulja Boy put out such strong anti-imperialist words, especially with all the 9/11 talk these days, it was discouraging to see the response and who's responding. There have been multiple diss songs and videos made in response to Soulja Boy, by hip hop artists in the military, at least some of which are from oppressed nations. The response wasn't just strong and swift, it came from his own fans and more generally from fans of hip hop music. In Under Lock & Key issue 10 we questioned whether hip hop was still a culture that represented the oppressed, and when you see these videos you really have to doubt it.
One Black male MC sports a shirt reading "America the Beautiful." His politics echo those of the white militias made up of ex-military people that are very critical of the government, but have much love for the country and respect for the troops and the privileges they fight for us to have. All of the artists seem to find that requisite "hardness," that is so integral to the gangsta rap persona, in their identity as U.$. soldiers. One threatens to waterboard Soulja Boy and pull out his finger nails.
The fact is, the pro-U.$. troops lyrics aren't that far from a typical gangsta rap song. The United $tates is the biggest gangster in the world, so that makes sense. The boys in blue are the biggest gang on U.$. streets. So we see gangsta rap too often reflecting and reinforcing the ideology of the oppressor, rather than challenging it.
In other Soulja Boy news, he is supposedly working on a remake of the film Juice, where he will play the role of Bishop, originally played by Tupac Shakur. On September 13, we commemorate not just the fallen soldiers of the Attica uprising 40 years ago, but it is also the 15th anniversary of the death of self-proclaimed thug and rapper 2pac. Pac was unique in keeping his music both gangsta and for the people; a fine line most can't seem to walk, and perhaps impossible today when gangsta rap is mostly a caricature. Unlike Soulja Boy, Tupac never apologized for shit, and he said some things that got people riled up. There is little doubt that his real connection to oppressed people in Amerikkka lead to his untimely death.(1)
While Soulja Boy's three lines don't compare to Tupac's legacy, in those lines we may have seen him connecting to the oppressive conditions he grew up in — a glimmer of truth. While the U.$. military is disproportionately Black (18% of military vs. 11% of general population), it is also disproportionately middle income.(2) The poorest 20% of the U.$. population was the most under-represented income group in the U.$. military in 1999 and 2003.(3)
Since the Vietnam war, Blacks have increased their over-representation in the U.$. military from a factor of 1.14 to 1.40.(2) This shows the effects of integration without providing Black youth with quite the same opportunities as their white counterparts. The increase in Black military recruits seems to correspond with an overall bourgeoisification of the Black nation. Not only were there fewer Blacks (per capita) in Vietnam than Iraq and Afghanistan, but Black power and linking it to the struggle of the Vietnamese against U.$. imperialism was widespread, and fragging of white officers and even all out fighting between Blacks and whites on bases was not uncommon.
As the Black nation becomes more bourgeois, the pressure to Amerikanize increases for Blacks of all socio-economic standings. To the poor and oppressed who see no hope in U.$. imperialism, we echo Soulja Boy's words, "Bitch, be your own man!"
[The following is a compilation of reporting and analysis from MIM, MIM(Prisons) and USW comrades to commemorate the Attica uprising.]
This week, September 9 - 13 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the Attica uprising where over 1200 prisoners acted as one, organized as a collective and occupied Attica Correctional Facility in New York State. The uprising ended in what a state commission described as "the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War", "[w]ith the exception of the Indian massacres in the late nineteenth century[.]"
In 1991, MIM Notes ran a special supplement to commemorate the 20th anniversary, which documented that historic event and its legacy. That same year, prisoners in New York, New Jersey and Maryland boycotted all programming on September 13 to "give honor to the martyrs and warriors who suffered, and are still suffering, under the suppression of the American prison system."
The demands of the Attica prisoners in 1971 included things such as allowing New York prisoners to be politically active without intimidation or reprisals, an end to all censorship of mail and media, more educational and work opportunities that pay minimum wage, and release without parole conditions. In addition to these righteous demands, the prisoners connected their struggle to that of the people of the Third World. From History Condemns Prison Reform by MC11:
The Attica prisoners in 1971 were not asking for the sort of reforms liberals then and now are so anxious to implement in order to make themselves feel better. The Attica prisoners recognized the criminal justice system as a powerful weapon in the arsenal of the capitalist class, and they wanted to turn that weapon on their oppressors.
"We have discovered... the frustration of negotiating with a political system bent on genocide," the prisoners wrote in a statement smuggled out during the week following the massacre.
"Killings are being committed not only in VietNam, but in Bengla Desh, Africa and South America. Is it not so that our Declaration of Independence provides that when a government oppresses the people, they have a right to abolish it and create a new government? And we at 'Attica' and all revolutionaries across the nation are exercising that right! The time is now that all third world people acknowledge the true oppressor and expose him to the world!!"(1)
In the lead article of the MIM Notes supplement, a prisoner mentions that Attica marked the rise of a strong prison movement during the early 1970s. In the last year we've seen strikes in Georgia and California where thousands of prisoners participated across many prisons. Yet, it seems the prison movement has a steeper mountain to climb to get to the point that the struggle reached in those days.
Looking back on Attica and those past rebellions, one sees the start and finish of a period where the contradiction between prisoners and the state was at the forefront. The struggle during that period led to some progress on the side of prisoners in the form of temporary rights, concessions and free world support for captives. But more importantly, we saw collective organization on a mass scale throughout the U.$. prison system that united prisoners around their common suffering and abuse. This unity and struggle pushed the state back some. At the same time, it also led the state to develop a plan for permanent long-term isolation prisons, as well as policies that push psychotropic drugs on prisoners while programming is once again taken away, reinforcing the futility of prison reform. Even when the state faces significant resistance these days, it comes in the form of lawsuits in their courts, and hunger strikes where they control communications and negotiations very tightly. We're still in the stage of playing their game by their rules.
It was just two years ago, on 17 September 2009 that United Struggle from Within comrade Amare (Ra'd) Selton died in Attica. Selton was a regular contributor to Under Lock & Key and MIM-led study groups, and often ended up in confrontations with prison guards. We do not know the exact circumstances surrounding his death, but MIM(Prisons) holds the State of New York responsible. He is one of many comrades who have disappeared after being sent to Attica in recent years, indicating the legacy of repression that has not lessened.
In MIM Notes, MC67 interviewed Akil Aljundi, one of the Attica Brothers that filed suit (and eventually won) against the State of New York following the murder of 32 of his comrades and 10 hostages, and the brutalization and denial of medical care to hundreds of others. MC67 concludes by asking what lessons should be drawn from the Attica uprising, to which Aljundi responds:
"Never trust the state. Always be prepared to look for the worst to happen. Be firm in your demands. Be clear in your objectives. But also realize that the state can be vicious."
Henry Park, a revolutionary leader and member of the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM), died on May 17 2011. His death is a loss to the communist movement. We take this opportunity to remember MIM's important contributions to revolutionary thought.
MIM was an underground party, whose members were careful about anonymity and security and so did not identify themselves publicly by name. Henry Park went public with his identity several years ago in an attempt to defend himself from significant repression by the Amerikan government. He did this after MIM broke into cells and the central organization ceased to exist. The article Maoism Around Us discusses this question of cell structure in more detail and explains that MIM(Prisons) built itself on the legacy of the MIM Prison Ministry.
After the dissolution of the central MIM organization, Park continued to write prolifically and uphold the original MIM at the etext.org hosted website. As efforts to silence him grew, the etext.org domain was shut down without explanation after hosting radical writings for about a decade. This was a serious blow to the spread of Maoist theory and analysis on the internet. In 2007, "Among all self-labeled 'communist' organizations in the world, MIM [was] second, behind only the People's Daily in China [in internet readers]." This remains a lesson for those who are afraid to draw hard political lines in the sand in fear of losing recruits. MIM never claimed to be bigger than other "communist" groups in the United $tates, only to have much more influence than them.
Henry Park, along with the other members of MIM, was in the vanguard starting back in the 1980s in correctly identifying the labor aristocracy in imperialist countries as fundamentally counter revolutionary, and doing the difficult work of spreading this unpopular position which was rejected by so many revisionist parties falsely claiming the mantel of communism. MIM also correctly identified China after Mao's death and the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin as state capitalist countries, no longer on the revolutionary path, while so many other self-proclaimed communists continued to follow these countries down the path of capitalist degeneration. Park published some important research on both countries' regression to capitalism that are available on our resources page. Along with the view that the Chinese Cultural Revolution was the furthest advance towards communism in humyn history, these principles were the foundation of MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal points.
There are some who will falsely claim the legacy of Henry Park or who will attack him with persynal or ad hominem claims, now that he is not alive to defend himself. We encourage all revolutionaries to carefully study tough theoretical questions for themselves rather than just taking the word of an individual or organization. One of the reasons MIM did not use names was to avoid a cult of persynality that so often arises around public figures, leading followers to avoid doing the important work of studying theory, instead just taking the word of the individual on trust. This cult also exists within organizations where members accept the word of their party rather than thinking critically. Even with MIM's semi-underground, anonymous approach, Henry Park was brought into the light by recurring persynal attacks on his character. One of the things MIM taught so many of us so well was how not to think in pre-scientific ways, where rumors, subjective feelings and individuals are more important to people than the concrete outcome of your actions on the group level.
Park's life is notable for his unending commitment to fighting for the rights of the world's people, even at great persynal sacrifice in the face of state repression. Many who take up revolutionary struggle in their youth give it up when they gain some bourgeois comforts, trading revolutionary organizing for a well paying job and a nice house. Park never wavered in his work for the people, and in his vision of a communist world where no group of people would have the power to oppress others. Mao Zedong said "To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai." Park's death is weightier than Mount Tai and his work lives on through the continued application of MIM Thought.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the second remake of the original Planet of the Apes movie series. It is an origins story, replacing the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes story which was fourth in the original five part series. Conquest was released in 1972 and depicted a storyline clearly intended to parallel the Black liberation movement that had just peaked in the United $tates at that time, but with an actual successful revolution. Conquest and the final part of the original series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, presented clearly revolutionary themes. Even the first couple movies of the original series did more to challenge white nationalism than this recent remake. This difference is due to the stage of struggle in the United $tates at the time.
Today, the first movie (released in 1968) is easily dismissed by the oppressor nation as a commentary on the "distant" past of slavery, rather than what were modern social injustices. When that film was redone in 2001, it did not live up to its predecessor's social relevance. Based on that disappointment, we expected a stronger effort to dilute the origins story for another hollywood blockbuster. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Rise actually maintained the revolutionary origins story, and even linked it to the modern prison struggle in relevant ways.
This movie probably won't be making the rounds in too many prisons due to the blatant themes of prisoners educating themselves and building unity to escape their abusive conditions. But there's nothing to learn from this movie that one couldn't get easily, and of course more usefully, from picking up any issue of Under Lock & Key.
Rise was pretty formulaic in story and form. It contains lots of fast battle scenes and loud music, and followed the predictable story line with flat characters. There were plenty of quotes from the original movie series thrown in as well as recognizable character names.
The good aspects of Rise were also simple, but surprisingly relevant. The strongest positive message we saw in this film was the need for self-determination and the struggle against integrationism. Caesar, a chimpanzee, and the hero of the story, refuses an opportunity given by his former benefactor to leave prison and return to the humyn world. In a few days or weeks Caesar develops an affinity for his fellow imprisoned apes, which trumps his many years living with humyns. He turns his back to Dr. Rodman and stays in prison to continue building and organizing with fellow apes. This is a very relevant point to the imprisoned population, especially in a day when the oppressed nations have reached high levels of integration into Amerika. With people shuffling in and out of prison and jail, it is easy to choose an Amerikan identity over that of the oppressed. We also see many who work tirelessly to get themselves out of prison, without ever joining the larger prison movement. Caesar is clear that alone apes are weak, but together they can be strong. This is a very simple yet relevant refrain to our current situation in the prison movement today.
An orangutan responds to Caesar's comments on unity by saying that apes are dumb, not unlike what many prisoners who write MIM(Prisons) say about their peers. The solution to this in the film, and the material origin of apes taking over humyn society, is in a virus produced by a bioengineering project. This allows ape brains to develop intelligence that they never could before. In real life, the imprisoned and oppressed do not face a material disadvantage in intelligence, but are set back by the oppressor's conditioning through both the carrot and the stick. In real life the ALZ 112 and ALZ 113 viruses from the film are instead Marxism-Leninism-Maoism: the tool that can give the oppressed the intellectual material they need to organize effectively.
As part of his organizing efforts, Caesar allies with a silverback (dominant) chimpanzee and puts him in a position of leading the group in sharing and developing a group consciousness, without the silverback really understanding at first. It was a good lesson in leadership within a United Front and how we might work with those who are recognized as leaders for their dominant roles within the group, but don't yet possess the leadership skills and revolutionary understanding to lead the oppressed down the road of liberation.
Just like in U.$. prisons, the apes educate each other in secret because they know that they will be targeted for special repression if seen. The interactions between the imprisoned apes and humyn captors is crude, accurately reflecting the basic relations in U.$. prisons for humyns today. In this way, Rise could play a small role in building consciousness among viewers that would make them more likely to be sympathetic of prison resistances such as those organized across California and Georgia in recent months. While the majority of the audience will find itself rooting for the apes while watching this film, in real life most will follow their own self-interests in the situation and root for the state in repressing any group that challenges the status quo.
The role of Buck the gorilla gives us an important lesson in revolutionary suicide. In the final battle scene that takes place on the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, he takes a bullet for Caesar just before taking down the last humyns left standing who threatened the lives of other apes in the battle. He recognizes the unique capabilities of both himself and of Caesar and puts the interests of the ape liberation struggle above his own life to guide his actions. At this stage in the struggle we are not engaged in protracted war, but revolutionary sacrifice is still relevant to how we decide to spend our time and organize our lives, and even in peaceful struggles lives are sometimes taken by the oppressor. Buck's revolutionary suicide is an example of a sacrifice that had to be made in order for the ape struggle to continue.
In the end of the film, Dr. Rodman again plays the role of liberal integrationist asking Caesar to come back and live with him, saying "this is not the way." Caesar speaks a full phrase for the first time and says "Caesar is home" referring to the population of just-liberated apes taking up residence in the forest. Of course, in real life the consciousness of the oppressed internal semi-colonies leans much more heavily in the direction of integration than Caesar, who has actual biological differences from the humyn species. In the movie, differences between apes and humyns had just begun to weaken, whereas the socially imposed differences between the oppressed and oppressor nations inside the United $tates have eroded over many decades. Even if Caesar tried to integrate, he could never live the lifestyle of a humyn, in contrast to the large proportion of the internal semi-colonies that enjoy the comforts of imperialist exploitation.
MIM(Prisons) held a congress in June where we addressed some important theoretical and practical questions for our organizing. We began congress with some study and discussion on the principal contradiction as applied to our work fighting the criminal injustice system. This discussion led to some clarifications and unity as well as an agreement to do more study to develop a position paper on this subject. The congress itself was left with the unifying understanding that the principal task overall is to create public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed to seize power. All congress discussion strove to apply this principal task.
A discussion of finances and goals led to a re-affirmation that Under Lock & Key is our most important organizing tool. That thought informed discussions about potentially expanding the size and frequency of ULK and tradeoffs with producing and/or mailing other revolutionary literature in to prisoners. With limited time and money, it's important that we make the best use of our resources by carefully considering these decisions.
We changed the distribution policy for ULK this year, sending new people only one sample issue before removing them from the mailing list if we do not hear back from them saying that they want to stay on. This led to an artificial drop in people on our mailing list, and our theory at the time of developing this new policy was that these people were mostly not receiving ULK and/or not interested in it. However, we've had a decline in the rate of new subscribers in the past year that we think might be associated with this changed policy. To test out this theory, we will be re-instating the policy of allowing all people to stay on our mailing list for 6 months before they get cut off if we have not heard from them.
On the positive side, we have had a big increase in regular writers, and the folks contributing solid, high quality articles and art to Under Lock & Key has gone up. We have also become more selective about which articles/letters get typed for posting on the website and consideration for inclusion in ULK. With an excess of good potential articles, we are focusing on the best submissions and trying to work with writers to improve their articles and writing skills when we don't accept something for publication. We are not as strong in this second area as we would like; more should be done to send comrades responses to their article submissions when they are not making the cut for print. We also need to give people more guidance about what we are and are not looking for to print.
Although MIM(Prisons) focuses on work with prisoners, we know that in order to build public opinion we must also reach people on the outside. Our main tool for this work is our website www.prisoncensorship.info, which was relaunched in January 2011 with a new look and added features to bring in more readers. Our web traffic doubled in the past year and we are seeing a very strong growth in interest in our online work. To this end we are going to do some web-based outreach to continue to expand the voices of our comrades behind bars. This will include putting the many art submissions we receive but can't fit into ULK online for people to see.
Anti-Censorship and PLC
Since our winter congress, we have been focusing our anti-censorship efforts on trying to recruit lawyers on the outside to help us take some select prison administrations to court. This is a slow-going process, and we recently decided to refocus back on writing directly to administrators on behalf of prisoners who can't receive mail from us. This has proven to be a fruitful investment in the past, leading to both victories over censorship, and recruiting new comrades to work with MIM(Prisons) and the United Struggle from Within. For MIM(Prisons)'s 2011 annual censorship report, click here.
In other legal work, many of you know that MIM(Prisons) facilitates a Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC), picking up a project that MIM used to run. This incarnation has been going since November 2009 and has strayed from its original path of working on issues that are intimately related to our anti-imperialist struggle, and had degraded into a more broad legal strategy discussion group with contributors showing limited initiative to pick up tasks outlined by MIM(Prisons). In upcoming PLC mailings we will be refocusing on our goals and tasks, and referring comrades out for general legal discussion. A PLC mailing went out in June 2011, so PLC contributors should let us know if they haven't gotten theirs yet.
MIM(Prisons)-led Study Groups
Last year we separated our introductory study course into two different levels. The first level is short (only two assignments) and studies two articles written by MIM(Prisons). The second level studies more advanced material and lasts much longer (about one year). We have recently recruited advanced USW members as study group responders, which helps relieve MIM(Prisons) to do other work that can only be done by someone on the outside, and is a great task for someone to do who can't run a study group where they're at due to isolation restrictions. We encourage all prisoners, advanced or beginner, to get together and study revolutionary material. You will get so much more out of it than if you just read something once by yourself!
More advanced study group participants have created a number of study guides over the last year, and comrades are actively working to build the MIM(Prisons) glossary, which should be available for distribution in the next year. Study group coordinators have worked to improve structure and set clear schedules and expectations at all levels over the last year.
United Struggle from Within
Of the hundreds of new people we've had requesting to be put on our mailing list in the last year, 50% of them were recruited by people with various levels of activity within United Struggle from Within (USW); 32% wrote in because they had seen some MIM or MIM(Prisons) literature, and 17% were referred by resource guides or non-prisoners, such as lawyers or family members on the outside. This shows that the USW is successfully completing the task of multiplying subscribers to Under Lock & Key as outlined in the USW Intro Letter and the Second Introductory Letter About MIM(Prisons).
Another USW task is to expand the grievance petition campaign that was initiated in California and spread to Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma. MIM(Prisons) was able to post these petitions online in February 2011 so family members and activists on the outside can print them and mail them to their people experiencing grievance issues. In California the campaign came to a head in February 2011, and the CDCR granted the prisoners a partial victory by slightly reforming their grievance process. Comrades in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri are still requesting the grievance campaign from us and are submitting them to administrators. For more information on active USW campaigns, click here.
Several new policies were passed related to working with prison-based organizations and facilitating correspondence between imprisoned groups/individuals.
Policy on Prisoner-to-Prisoner Correspondence
MIM(Prisons) provides Under Lock & Key as a general forum for public discussion of developments within the prison movement.
MIM(Prisons) provides small group forums for specific projects, involving those prisoners who have done work on, or have a special interest in said project. The principle example of this is the ULK Writers group. But our ability to run such groups is limited.
We do not want to hold the key to all work being done in the anti-imperialist prison movement, because this is not good leadership. Good comrades are rare, so it is in our interest that prisoners develop independent networks of communication with those they want to build with. This is also a positive thing in the case that MIM(Prisons) may be repressed or somehow put to an end.
With this in mind, the following is our policy for facilitating such developments without violating the role and purpose of MIM(Prisons) or jeopardizing the greater movement:
If comrades have outside addresses or are allowed to correspond with other prisoners we will forward their info to another prisoner per request of the persyn whose info is being sent ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS. We will make the determination to do this based on the political value of aiding this connection, with careful consideration to the time and money this costs our very resource-limited program. Every piece of mail we send is less stamps and time we have available to send something else.
Comrades who have demonstrated a certain level of ideological unity with MIM(Prisons) may be assigned as theoretical corresponders. They will be sent correspondence from other comrades through us for response. The response will either be printed in ULK or sent privately to the original writer. In either case, neither persyn's identity is revealed to the other.
These assignments are to expand the work of MIM(Prisons), and primarily to improve the depth and breadth of our correspondence. Secondarily, this is an important way for our comrades in prison to develop their political line and debate skills, especially those who are in isolation.
We will not serve as a dropbox for third party correspondence. Not only does this set us up for censorship, it takes up limited resources. Theoretical struggle between those not upholding MIM line should be able to be conducted through ULK or within MIM(Prisons)-led study groups. When necessary, one-on-one correspondence with recruits will be assigned to a comrade in MIM(Prisons) or a theoretically advanced USW leader.
Building New Groups Vs. Working with USW and MIM(Prisons)
We only work to build two organizations at this time: MIM(Prisons) and USW. The only organizing group we run for prisoners is the USW leaders group, and even that is mostly done through Under Lock & Key for efficiency and to reach the masses with info on USW work.
We do not think that we, or any other group, serves as the end-all-be-all vanguard organization for North America at this time. There are many roles to be played and more groups to be built. But for security reasons, and this is doubly true in prisons, organizational cells should be primarily location-based. Mass organizations like USW are countrywide because of coordination work through the vanguard organization MIM(Prisons).
Because of security concerns in prisons, and the very stringent restrictions on contact between prisoners, even within the same cell block, MIM(Prisons) encourages those who have unity with our cardinal principles to become USW leaders. We do not recruit prisoners directly into MIM(Prisons) because of the restrictions of the prison system, but we afford these comrades the opportunity to contribute and participate at the level of full comrade in every aspect of organizing work feasible, including encouraging them to help us develop new political line and move forward our organizing strategies.
There are only a few conditions that would merit launching a new prison-based organization:
Comrades launching the organization disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles. If you agree with our cardinal principles, why not work with the established group led by MIM(Prisons): USW? If you think you disagree, it is important to clearly articulate the cardinal principles of your new organization if you hope to organize people around common goals.
A disagreement with MIM(Prisons)'s policy of not recruiting prisoners into MIM(Prisons) while they are behind bars. These comrades may wish to establish a vanguard organization in their location, whose members are subject to democratic centralism and can focus on cell-based organizing.
The case of an LO or other existing mass organization that develops into a revolutionary party and adopts cardinal principles affirming their communist ideology. While we would consider this a very positive development, we caution comrades that this has been tried more than once by the most advanced comrades in an LO, and the limitations of communication with a countrywide group from within prison have always led to insurmountable obstacles in attempts to bring the whole organization together behind communist principles. Further, we maintain that if the members of such a group are not overwhelmingly supporting a move to communist organizing, the advanced elements would be better to leave the group and join or form another, rather than wrecking the existing group from within. The reason we talk about vanguards versus mass organizations is that there are too many contradictions among the masses for everyone to take the leap of forming a scientific communist organization all at once. Existing groups that take up anti-imperialism play a very valuable role in the United Front without becoming communist organizations, often accomplishing things the communists could not.
Comrades who wish to build a new nation-based vanguard. MIM(Prisons) is not a single-nation organization, but we affirm the value of such groups to the revolutionary movement within U.$. borders. However, we caution prisoners looking to form these organizations from scratch that the difficulties in organizing outside of your own prison (or even within your prison when your group is targeted for lock-up in control units, or transfers, and other repression) are significant.
Revolutionary organizations representing different nations, lumpen groups, or regions require self-sufficiency. If comrades trying to launch such organizations continue to fail for lack of resources and support they should be working within USW and MIM(Prisons) on other projects until their conditions change.
USW is a mass organization, and therefore comrades can join USW while maintaining membership in another organization if that organization allows dual membership and that organization does not openly disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles.
On Relations with Prison-Based Organizations
MIM(Prisons) frequently receives statements of support and principles, as well as other contributions of work, from representatives of LOs and other groups that span states. Many of these individuals want their organization name printed with their article. We will always do our best to confirm that those submitting statements can speak for their organizations before we print them in Under Lock & Key or on the web. Part of this process involves observing good consistent work from that organization over a period of time. But we know that there are often organizations that span multiple locations where different political lines arise in different sections of that group. MIM(Prisons) cannot pick representatives for an organization or help with correspondence to get these groups better aligned (beyond what we already do via ULK). Due to the limitations of organizing from behind-bars, we encourage political LOs to consider dividing into location-based cells to ensure each group correctly represents the political line of its members.
For those groups whose material we do print or review, contact info will be printed in ULK when available. The only organizations you can contact via our address are MIM(Prisons) and USW. You may also send United Front for Peace related correspondence to MIM(Prisons). Mail addressed to other organizations but sent to MIM(Prisons) will not be forwarded or returned.
California Prison Focus reported this evening (July 21, 2011) that CDCR claims that the hunger strike in Pelican Bay has ended are true. They report they stopped "in exchange for a major policy review of SHU housing conditions, gang validation process, and debriefing process." While our experience of reviews within the department are universally that nothing happens, the leaders of the strike have nonetheless achieved a great victory in uniting prisoners across California and beyond for the just demands of the oppressed. This is a struggle to learn from and build on.
Presumably prisoners at other prisons (such as Chino, Calipatria, Corcoran, Tehachapi, Folsom, Vally State Prison for Women, San Quentin) are still on food strike unaware of the agreement.