I'm excited for the upcoming issue about successful recruiting techniques. I can contribute 2 ideas concerning this. What's been useful for me is to always make it obvious I don't seek to impose my personal belief or philosophies upon others. I only offer them for examination, evaluation, and possible use! Which is something I've noticed you all practice. Also, since you continually point out how you are open to and accepting of criticism.
The second is more rare, I think, and perhaps not a method to be used by everyone, but I know it does work for some! There's a documentary called "Punks Not Dead" and in it Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day is discussing how everything he knows about politics was learned through punk rock, not boring school teachers. How in order for something to commit to his memory it's better if it's in some kind of offensive fashion. A little twisted or demented, humorous in a "sick" sort of way, and I can relate to that!
MIM(Prisons) responds: Culture, including music from punk to rap and even some country, helps make politics relatable and is a great approach for educating folks. We publish art and poetry in part to reach different groups of people and offer another way for people to pick up revolutionary ideas. And we aspire to include more infographics in ULK, and also eventually run video channels and radio shows. Ideally there should be musicians making revolutionary music, film makers producing revolutionary films, and many other genres of contributors. If you've got skills in these areas, step up and get involved, we need your contributions!
The Amerikkkan government views our power of enlightenment as immeasurably more dangerous than their wars, and will stop at nothing to try and suppress it. Just a point to ponder as I kick off this letter and something most of us already know but can never be overstated enough.
Back in the horrific segregation unit (that I was housed in for almost 6 months) I had the pleasure of witnessing this: I ended the year by composing a 30-page letter to you and also by putting every copy of ULK in my possession into circulation. Overnight the other captives' conversation transformed from mostly useless chatter into inspired pro-active resistance-fueled talk. They would approach my cell door, timidly, in hopes of receiving more. I'll never forget the hungry look in their eyes and the lesson I learned in this.
Perhaps I've overextended my assumption of the-ones-inside's awareness of the inner-workings to the Prison Industrial Complex. It baffles me how blind so many remain to it even while stationed in the very center of it. So I understand better now the need, in most cases, of beginning at square one, then perhaps setting a slower pace than I've practiced in the past in the goal of enlightenment. Although the combined effort of my methods and your printed words did seem to move things along rather quickly.
Maybe you recall how, as I was composing the year-end letter to you, I had the pleasure to overhear prisoners discussing if it's realistic and possible to succeed in fighting back against the system. With 2-against-1 deciding that it is. Then the one who didn't believe so shouting for grievance forms. While the sadistic and beyond-lazy unit manager looked on and listened in with a pained and disappointed look on his face. This was only days after I'd passed ULK 65 along.
After this I quickly distributed everything anti-establishment in my possession. By New Years Day everything I had was passed along. Throwing shit on prisoners by other prisoners was a common and daily occurrence, but by the 3rd a loud-mouthed and worthless nurse was covered and the next day a C.O. While I don't endorse the act of propelling excrement missiles, if it must be done then at least let pigs roll in it!
That same day I received a note from a prisoner terrified he would suffer a seizure and die while in the seg unit due to the criminally inadequate medical staff and the deliberate indifference displayed by the C.O.s. While writing my response to him, a mail clerk delivered to me a brand new Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook so I sent him my used one along with my response and of course your address. The next morning a prisoner in seg is found dead. A month to the day of my relaunch of medical grievances which had been postponed by my having to document 6 months worth of obvious retaliation from the pigs.
By January 7, previously apathetic prisoners are demanding grievances and statement forms while I'm circulating the grievance petition and the next morning I transfer to my current location. An extremely cushy prison set up which I'm thankful to be at. But at the same time I'm overwhelmed with feelings of survival guilt for the ones left behind there, and all of the fucked up prisons. I am rather stoked about how I'm not completely cut off from current events any longer since I'm free from the sensory deprivation torture chamber and will be able to prepare essays about recent news now. Like this border wall nonsense with the true purpose to provide a physical manifestation for the racial resentment found inside many of those in Trump's base. I'd advise the idiot in chief to remember the humpty dumpty nursery rhyme.
In the lengthy year-end letter I'd written how I planned to share my history with the grievance process to demonstrate how the petition arrived right on time and almost seemed pre-planned. It's definitely a game changer and I can never thank you enough. If you are interested in viewing that, I'll be more than glad to send it in the future. Right now I want to go over my history with ULK so far and also request any extra issues available to learn from and circulate.
This time last year I had the good fortune of coming across ULK 60. I signed up for a subscription and received 61. I got 62 on June 11th and after fucking up the audit the next day an angered and cowardly unit manager removed it from my back pocket and destroyed it before placing me outdoors until medical had to treat me for dehydration. The next issue was covered in shit thrown by prisoners who were weak-minded enough to be enticed by the pigs in hopes of thwarting the continuation of my 1983 Civil Action claim. Fuck, the interruptions won't stop — it sure is easier to write in seg! I will come up with a way to remain better focused in the next one comrades. In the meantime I will continue on to service to others, defending the oppressed, and self-sacrifice geared towards meeting the goals towards greater good.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Thanks for sharing this great example of the potential impact of sharing political literature with others. Not only was this comrade engaged by coming across Under Lock & Key but then ey went on to engage others by sharing ULK. It's always inspiring when we get to see the positive results of our organizing work. Spreading around ULK is a great way to have an impact. If you want to get extra copies for distribution write in to let us know.
The third goal of the expanded newspaper [from the ULK 64Make ULK Monthly article] states, "Broader distribution of anti-imperialist information." Furthermore, in the "who should be part of this expansion?" section of the article MIM(Prisons) states that "we will continue to publish articles from individuals who share our anti-imperialist agenda though perhaps are not Maoists."
I believe that the third goal can be achieved by practicing the above quote. The ULK subscription rate would increase by allowing "outsiders" to publish material within the publication (such as anarchists). This increase in subscribers would also increase the number of art and article submissions to ULK, as well as donations.
Let us remember that Marx agreed with Proudhon and other anarchists in regard to the necessity for the proletariat to abolish the state. It is only by abolishing the state that we can create a class-less society (since the state is the manifestation of class antagonisms). The dividing line between communists and anarchists is not the abolition of the state, but the process in which the state should be abolished. Because there are many similarities between communist and anarchist ideologies both ULK and its readers would benefit greatly from the inclusion of anarchist commentary (besides, MIM(prisons) can always comment on an anarchist article to correct it if necessary.)
MIM(Prisons) responds: MIM(Prisons) welcomes anarchist writers to submit to ULK. This writer is correct that our areas of disagreement are limited to the strategy to getting to classless society, but we agree on our ultimate goal of society with no groups of people having power over other groups. And there is a lot to agree on in the struggle along the way.
However, the new ULK in the works will still be a Maoist newsletter, meaning that all writings will pass through a Maoist editorial staff that will either edit or respond to any writings that disagree with the basic tenants of Maoism depending on the position of the author. We do think our readers benefit from seeing debates, but we want to focus on debates that push our movement and our unity forward. We share this comrade's idea that expanding the contributors to this publication will also expand our distribution. We invite potential contributors to get in touch.
Arguably the hardest aspect of organizing (especially revolutionary organizing) is building consciousness. Not specifically of the subject matter (i.e., anti-capitalist/imperialist, socialism, equality, prisoner struggle) but of their role in the larger picture and its influence on their lives. Such consciousness leads to meaningful action. Due to this, it is the most rewarding of political objectives. It is also the most difficult to cultivate.
In pursuit of building consciousness, revolutionaries face many obstacles. A predominant, recurring obstacle is expanding peoples' perspective beyond their individual material concerns. A person's material interests constitute primary motivation for activism against and contributing to capitalism. In the Third World we see stringent struggles against capitalism. The opposite is equally true within capitalist societies. Material interests/motivations are inextricably welded to an individual's perspective of, and instinct for, self-preservation. This leads to a spectacular (depending on your ideological bent) narrowing down of alternatives, options and ultimately choices. A non-conducive situation for First World revolutionary organizing.
Our natural inclination is to allow self-preservation to impulse our actions once fear or a threat exceeds acceptable levels. People react as basic as scared animals in danger. Due to social evolution, our responses are more complex and advanced, more involved, what one can call a "social" self-preservation instinct. Similar to the brain shutting down because of excessive stress or trauma, emerging consciousness among First Worlders regresses when one's standard of living is threatened. Breaking First World attachment to physical/material comforts (possessions, commodities, thing-centrism) is first imperative to any revolutionary organizing, in particular; and wider political consciousness, in general.
A great amount of time, energy and attention must be given to shattering these real constraints. Class suicide among First World activists is the end result of such efforts. Through a patient, methodical process of expansive efforts (educational of real costs of capitalism/imperialism), diligence in those efforts and demonstrating the feasibility of alternative means (non-capitalistic), an organizer can make a meaningful contribution to supplanting capitalism.
People are selfish and revolutionary anti-imperialists should remind themselves that their target is the personal element, first and foremost. Even the perfect rally/demonstration, regardless of how correct its politics, will have a difficult time penetrating the calloused minds of those long accustomed to, and blinded by, capitalism. Especially when it concerns prisoners and penal systems/institutions. Most First Worlders simply deem it a necessary evil to preserve society.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Those First Worlders this author refers to are right that the prison system and institutions are a necessary evil to preserve the society as it is. That's the main difference between our prison work and that of many prison abolitionists — we know that we can't get rid of prisons in their current form unless we also get rid of capitalism.
This article brings up real challenges in our work. In ULK, we hope to host an ongoing conversation about ways we can be most effective in accomplishing the tasks this author calls out as most imperative: building consciousness, changing value systems, showing alternatives, etc. Send in your experiences and successes so we can continue learning from each other!
by a North Carolina prisoner February 2019 permalink
I have been fighting for better conditions in my current prison since I got here in June 2017. Tell the prison masses they have to write en masse to their unit managers, warden and director of prisons in their state. It's free!! There is no excuse.
The easiest thing to do, which I did, is to write up your declarations and remonstrations using carbon copy paper. Make 2-3 copies for each block/pod in every unit. Pass them out to comrades in those blocks, so they can encourage/force/persuade the masses to take 15 minutes to recopy and post it out. Done.
The first time I initiated these shots the warden called me to his office for a meeting with him, the unit manager, and assistant warden. He stopped the early counts, the 9 p.m. count, and turning off of phones. This sh!t works. On the second salvo he initiated recreation seven days a week. We are still pounding.
MIM(Prisons) responds: More reasonable hours for count, more contact with the outside world, and more recreation are all related to our anti-imperialist struggle, even though they may seem like petty reforms. Better sleep makes us mentally sharper, for writing, self-control, and creativity. Interaction with the outside world can give us motivation and positive social contact. And exercise (especially outdoors) helps with our physical as well as mental health.
We'd love to analyze a little deeper the benefits of running a campaign like the one described, because it's not just good for changing conditions. The people who are copying the letters and seeing results are at a special place in their recruiting. They might not be ready to initiate a campaign like this, and they might not even identify as part of "the struggle." But they have some interest in this work and are putting in some (albeit relatively small) effort.
At this stage, the best thing we can do for them is help set up "easy wins." They probably aren't dedicated enough to remain committed after a big setback. So asking them to put in a ton of effort for no reward is just not realistically going to inspire them to stay engaged. Whenever we can devise campaigns or activities that give this positive feedback to the people participating, with minimal effort, we should jump on those projects. These folks might not have learned the relationship between working hard and reward, so we can help teach that association. "Without directly experiencing the connection between effort and reward, animals, whether they're rats or people, default to laziness."(1)
Also keep in mind that all is not lost on the folks who are not participating, and are watching the campaign from the sidelines. Like we wrote in our response to "Sack the Sack Lunches," this type of campaign can help spark people's interest, just by witnessing and experiencing the results. Let's not condemn these folks for not participating, and instead let's try harder to inspire them with our successes, and then help them with easy wins when they are ready to participate.
In some states like Texas, where even indigent mail is restricted to 5 letters per month, it's not free to write to these administrators to change conditions. There are plenty of excuses (or reasons) why people can't engage in this type of campaign. Still, whenever possible, we agree that we should be pushing campaigns like these. It just means we have to get more creative in developing them.
I feel inspired by the fact that you decided to use my Liberation Theology article in ULK 65. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to our movement. I will continue to submit articles to you in the future.
The feedback you gave on the article was great. Under the MIM(Prisons) responds section, you agreed with me that Liberation Theology can be a useful revolutionary tool, and that it's good to "try to approach people where they are at." However, you also said that "we should be careful not to mislead them into thinking that we endorse their mysticism. The very belief in a higher power discourages people from believing that they can control the development of their own and all of humanity's future." You also warned against neglecting materialism.
I 100% agree. While I did mention that I was an atheist in the article, I failed to mention that materialism truly is the best world view if you're going for revolution. After all, materialism deals with reality in so far as we humyns are capable of comprehending it. And proper theory leads to proper action which leads to better theory.
But I just like how you do feedback in general. You encourage the people to submit their views and if you ever disagree with or wish to qualify a comrade's ideas, you publicize eir views and then explain why you disagree underneath it. Mao would have it no other way. This is why ey encouraged the people and the intellectuals to think for themselves, because ey knew that because eir method is sound, ey would be able to refute errors on logical grounds without having to lie or undermine the people's freedom, which is what the U.$. power-elite does.
Also, I read the book Grit that you sent me. I learned some valuable lessons from it. The main thing I've been able to utilize was the simple chart Duckworth advocates for organizing goals. I've made it a habit to review my own goal chart. My highest goal says "undermine and liberate," which means undermine the imperialists and liberate the oppressed. My low level goals are different throughout the week. Writing this letter to you, comrades, was one of these goals. Every little goal adds up to the top one.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Comrade, you were not the only one glad we printed your piece. Multiple USW comrades wrote us mentioning your article as being useful. We appreciate this comrade's feedback on our feedback, and we're always looking for more info from our subscribers on how we can do our job better. It's a topic we are always reviewing and trying to improve, like any good organizer should! We especially appreciate hearing feedback from people who have contributed to our programs and campaigns.
We all need to be able to learn from constructive criticism, and this ongoing discussion is an example of the criticism/self-criticism process in action. Only by learning from our mistakes (and those of others) will the revolutionaries and the movement continue to grow and move forward. People, and organizations, that dogmatically insist they are always right will quickly stagnate and offer no real hope for the oppressed. And as you can see in the pages of ULK this is a two-way street. It's not just about MIM(Prisons) telling writers where we think they are wrong. It's also about us learning from readers of and writers for ULK. The self-criticism printed in this issue regarding our George Jackson article in ULK 65 is a small example of this.
In the interest of transparency, we want to underline that MIM(Prisons) is the editor of this newspaper. So we choose what letters we respond to, and we often cut parts out of those. We aim to give a platform to the articles that contribute to the ongoing conversations in ULK, and that contribute to anti-imperialist organizing in general. So ULK is not a reflection of what everyone is writing to us about, but it is a reflection of the anti-imperialist organizing going on behind bars.
Editorial power is one reason why we advocate for single-nation organizations to lead their own nations, including having their own ideological platforms such as newspapers. Newspaper editors inherently filter what they think is most important to include and discuss, and our judgement on what is important to all nations could be wrong.
I've always been revolutionary-minded, but it's a struggle here in Bill Clements Unit. Here's one example that happened early last month. I work in the laundry. Well all of us are waiting for them to call for chow (lunch), but all of a sudden the C.O.s running chow forget to feed laundry! So the chow C.O.s tell the laundry C.O. that they are going to give us sack lunches. All of a sudden, this is the sad part, a bunch of my fellow coworkers are going back into the laundry. Well a few of us spoke up saying we've been working and are NOT going to accept a sack lunch. Eventually they opened the chow hall for us. Well I guess this is all for now. Again thank you for all you do.
MIM(Prisons) Texas Coordinator responds: Small incidents like this one might seem inconsequential to many people, like those guys who just went back to laundry when told they were gonna get sack lunches. These are small wins that make a huge impact on people's minds, though. Showing people little successes like this whenever we can helps plant seeds in their consciousness about resisting oppression and standing up for themselves. It was a completely fair argument to make, that the C.O.s made a mistake and should fix it. So rather than get hung up on how sad it is that so many people just were going accept the sack lunches, i think it was really great that so many people got to see what having a backbone looks like in real life. Inevitably, this is what inspires people to grow their own backbones and start standing up for themselves. Thanks for this awesome report.
In hopes of getting a back issue of ULK (preferably issue 53 - with Texas reform updates) I shared ULK 59 with a few others. Most had something to say about the drugs in prison. The best way I can summarize most of the conversations is that thinking is hard and people are reluctant to do it.
Most who I talked to fall into two groups: either they do drugs as a way to escape, which I think is a psychological and environmental problem I can't say much about; or they do them to feel like they are "beating the man." These are the ones that will smoke openly in the dayroom, even if it means the whole building will get locked down. Explaining to them that they aren't beating the man when he's getting paid an obscene amount of money to bring it in isn't effective. Not sure where to go from there.
MIM(Prisons) Texas Coordinator responds: Directly contradicting a belief that someone holds strong enough to put a whole facility on lockdown is unlikely to change their mind, like this comrade has experienced. Peer pressure is often one huge motivator for people, and I'm honestly surprised that the rest of the prisoner population isn't shutting down people smoking in the dayroom, for their own persynal interests of not being on lockdown. A group of people telling someone to stop a behavior is much more impactful than one individual.
On an individual level, there are conversational techniques that are more or less effective, depending on the persyn we're struggling with. In this case, there's one technique that stands out to me to try: asking questions. Instead of coming at the persyn's belief head-on, try to show em the contradictions and illogical thinking in eir plan by asking questions and getting a really deep understanding of eir thinking.
So rather than saying "your belief is wrong," we can ask em "how does that work?" and actually try to get em to explain eir reasoning. Building trust by validating what is true about eir perspective ("you're right, we can't just sit around and do nothing") helps open em up to share more. The main goals in this kind of conversation are 1) to underline we're on the same team (us against the pigs), and 2) to try to understand where ey's coming from, and 3) help em come to eir own conclusions about what is wrong about eir thinking, and what ey needs to think about more. This is just one technique to try, and i would love others to write in on what's worked for em in dealing with this kind of problem.
One aspect of organizing that is paramount for recruitment and retention of revolutionaries is comprehending the psychology of the oppressed. Oppressed psychology is not meant to insinuate some distinct or identifiable character flaw, or what not, inherent in those oppressed; nor something which destines us (oppressed) to be the whipping boy of the oppressor. Oppressed psychology denotes how the system influences oppressed nations into believing, accepting and living in adherence to a mentality and mode of existence calculated to promote the greatest benefits for both the oppressor classes and capitalism overall. Just contemplate: what allows us to lash out at others who are equally oppressed, but by and large do little to resist or confront our oppressors?
In prison, this wall (oppressed psyche) expresses itself in no uncertain terms: "This is what we are." "It's what we do, all we can do."(1) It's an acceptance of the lot foisted upon our shoulders. I have identified this as a type of Stockholm Syndrome, where we, the oppressed, validate and reinforce an ideology and mentality detrimental to self-determination.
An oppressed psyche is a crippling inhibitor. First, it dissuades us from considering any meaningful steps toward resistance. For instance, "This is the way things are, have always been," or "Any resistance can only worsen an already bad situation." Second, because we accept it as part of who we are, its loss equals our loss of identity. This is expressed in comments such as "There's nothing else for me in life," or "If not a criminal, then what am I?" Third, it promotes half-measures and depreciation of our value as revolutionaries. We may very well feel nobody will care one iota about what we have to say or think. These, and more, are the serious impediments to scaling the oppressed psyche wall. Indeed, these are monumental obstacles but not insurmountable.
As stated elsewhere, the surest method of overcoming walls is demonstrative action. It is the duty of revolutionary leaders to disseminate among the masses the consciousness of their destiny and their task. This duty translates to practice in "Build, Break, Build." Once we, as organizers and leaders have forged an iron weapon of proper foundations — correct political line, appropriate application of dialectical materialism, and understanding of the struggle — it must be launched at oppressed-psyche walls like a spiked hammer, in order to chip away and break them down. After breaking down the walls, it remains to build up a new revolutionary structure.
There are too many variations in peoples' characteristics, backgrounds, and such to lay down any definitive, universal rule, or guidelines to be followed in the Build, Break, Build process. The only general rule I can acknowledge is: after an initial engagement in "breakage dialogue," organizers should chart their next steps depending on the amount of (or lack of) receptivity they encounter. Also, it is important to recognize people generally treat new concepts with ambivalence at best. A key aspect of the oppressed psyche is to cling to what is familiar, and be cautious of the new, or unknown. To be certain, the oppressed psyche is a formidable wall. Breaking it down may require several attempts, going back over old sections of the wall previously chipped away.
Focus the breakage dialogue on hard questions like those asked in "If Black Lives Matter, Don't Integrate Into Amerika."(2) Or the issues highlighted by the AV Brown Berets in "Mobilize Raza for Independence."(3) The building of revolutionary consciousness and purpose is a duty which demands thoroughness.(4) Like an aggressive cancer, at times you must operate in an old area anew. Walls, such as oppressed psyche, are a cancer degrading the revolutionary movement, inhibiting the masses' consciousness of their role and task, complicating recruitment, and all but precluding retention. In organizing we must recognize walls and be prepared for Build, Break, Build.
I have learned a lot from ULK 63, particularly from an article from a Michigan prisoner on "Challenges and Growth in Recruiting Skills." I myself have always been a passionate orator since my former days as an official of the Moorish Science Temple of America. But as my political consciousness began to rise and I became more of a revolutionary realist, I find that the hellfire and brimstone approach is not always wise.
I have learned that most reasonable men can be persuaded through intellectual dialing based on facts, statistics and logic. Then there are the masses that really don't know what they want but know something must change. I have some good ideas on how to organize some comrades although I must admit my objective is somewhat obscure. I love how this prisoner from Michigan laid out the format of organizing through dialectical materialism, which he later gave a definition of as I would say "a scientific process of trial and error." I love hearing and reading the understandings of others, it raises my own.