Friday, September 09, 2011

From Attica to Pelican Bay: Tear Down the Walls!

EDITORIAL From Attica to Pelican Bay – Tear down the walls!

Published Sep 7, 2011 7:32 PM

On July 1, hundreds of prisoners at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California went on a hunger strike for their right to be treated like human beings within inhumane conditions.

Their demands were basic and immediate: an end to group punishment and administrative abuse; the abolition of the “debriefing” policy and modification of active/inactive gang status criteria; that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation comply with recommendations regarding long-term solitary confinement; adequate and nutritious food; and the expansion of programming, correspondence and other privileges for indefinite security housing unit-status prisoners.

Soon afterwards, upward of 6,000 prisoners at 11 other so-called correctional facilities joined the hunger strike. National and international support actions for the hunger strike spread like wildfire, putting pressure on prison authorities to come to the bargaining table, just as workers force bosses to the table over a union contract. With some of the hunger strikers facing death, on July 20 the prisoners temporarily called off the strike after prison authorities agreed to ongoing mediation. The prisoners stated that they reserved the right to resume the hunger strike if the prison authorities did not meet their criteria.

The PBSP prisoners have decided they will resume their hunger strike on Sept. 26 following a disappointing meeting Aug. 18 with California Undersecretary Scott Kernan. PBSP inmate Mutupe Duguma, aka James Crawford, explained on the PrisonMovement Webblog why the hunger strike will be continued: “This is the only way to expose to the world how racist prison guards and officials have utilized policy in order to torture us. And we have the material to expose them because many of us suffer from serious medical conditions or a lack of medical treatment, which we inherited right here in SHU.”

Thousands of prisoners throughout Georgia had carried out a week-long jobs action strike in December. Prisoners of all nationalities and religions stayed in their cells to protest intolerable conditions. These prisoners are paid slave wages by some of the biggest corporations in the world, like JCPenney, Best Western Hotels, Honda, Chevron, IBM, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret and Boeing. Many prisoners in Georgia and elsewhere are paid less than 50 cents an hour to work in call centers, a global phenomenon resting upon capitalist restructuring for superprofits.

These prisoners in Georgia and California are carrying forth the legacy of the heroic Attica rebellion, which occurred 40 years ago in upstate New York. Hundreds of Black, Latino and white prisoners forged an unbreakable bond of unity when they took prison guards hostage as a necessary tactic to force prison officials to the bargaining table. These prisoners captured world attention in their quest for justice and self-determination. Their rebellion was sparked by the cowardly assassination of George Jackson, a revolutionary prison leader and Black Panther Party member, in San Quentin prison on Aug. 21, 1971.

Many of the demands of the Attica brothers were outright revolutionary, a reflection of the upsurge of the national liberation movements at home and abroad. One demand was to have prisoners recognized as workers, with the right to a living wage with decent working conditions, the right to have unions and not to work more than eight hours a day. Another demand was the right to amnesty for the Attica prisoners and political asylum in the socialist countries of Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Attica rebellion was drowned in blood by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s National Guard, who killed 39 prisoners and nine of the hostages in retaking the prison. Hundreds of prisoners were forced to crawl naked on the ground as they were beaten by guards.

What do the Attica rebellion and the prison strikes in Georgia and California have in common? Prisoners are among the most exploited and repressed workers and are hidden from the rest of society. Having lost their freedom of movement, prisoners are forced to find other means to have their voices heard.

As the global capitalist economic crisis worsens and jobs disappear, the jail and prison population inside the U.S. will swell with even larger numbers of desperate oppressed workers, now close to 3 million. In the interest of building the broadest class solidarity the progressive movement must support the demands and tactics of prisoners, who are an integral sector of the working class. The prisons are the crime! To rebel is justified! Long live the spirit of Attica!

ATTICA REBELLION: Unity & courage vs. Rockefeller’s machine guns

Published Sep 7, 2011 9:09 PM

This Sept. 13 is the 40th anniversary of the Attica massacre, which followed a rebellion by 1,000 prisoners against horrendous conditions in that New York state prison. Below is a slightly abridged version of an article in the Workers World of Sept. 17, 1971. It was part of an eight-page supplement to the newspaper written by members of the Prisoners Solidarity Committee.

Billionaire Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ended the greatest prisoners’ rebellion in modern times with a massacre. Reflecting the blatant racism that has created the concentration camp system in this country and has led to prisoners’ revolts nationwide, a guard held hostage by rebelling inmates at Attica State Prison emerged from the prison’s main gate free and unharmed with a violent shout of “White power!”

Behind him, within the prison walls, spewed a carnage of blood and bodies, including 28 dead prisoners and hundreds wounded, some fatally. Also dead were nine guards held as hostages — all, according to later autopsies, killed by bullets as 1,000 state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and prison guards armed with shotguns, automatic weapons and nausea gas stormed the prison with guns blazing.

“It resembled the aftermath of a war,” some observers said, and they were right. Attica, with its prisoner population 85 percent Black and Puerto Rican and the high political consciousness and clenched fist salutes displayed during the rebellion, was one more battle in the continuing war for national liberation of the Black and Brown populations in the United States. Few believe that it will be the last.

On Thursday, Sept. 9, over 1,000 prisoners, long abused by the all-white racist guard force, a vicious prison system, and an economic and political dictatorship held over the poor and working class of this country by the rich, rose up to overpower their tormentors. Within minutes, the inmates seized Cell Block D and 32 guards. Then, from a makeshift megaphone, the inmates issued their demands, many of which reflected the high political content of the rebellion.

Political demands raised

“An immediate end to the agitation of race relations by the prison administration of this state,” the prisoners demanded. An end to racial discrimination against Brown and Black prisoners by the parole board; a replacement of the present parole board appointed by Rockefeller with a board elected by the people; the right to prison labor union membership while working in the prison and state and federal minimum wage instead of the present slave labor; constitutional right to legal representation at parole board hearings; “an end to the segregation of prisoners from the mainline population because of their political beliefs”; an end to guard brutality against prisoners; and later the prisoners added their demands for amnesty from criminal prosecution and “speedy and safe transportation out of confinement to any non-imperialist country.”

“Many prisoners believe their labor power is being exploited,” said the declaration of demands, “in order for the state to increase its economic power and to continue to expand its correctional industries (which are million-dollar complexes), yet do not develop working skills acceptable for employment in the outside society, and which do not pay the prisoner more than an average of 40 cents a day. Most prisoners never make more than 50 cents a day. Prisoners who refuse to work for the outrageous scale, or who strike, are punished and segregated without the access to privileges shared by those who work; this is class legislation, class division, and creates hostilities within the prison.”

The prisoners set up a People’s Central Committee which included Black, Puerto Rican and white members, and organized their own typing pool and sound system. As for the hostages, according to Tom Soto of the Prisoners Solidarity Committee who saw them, the guards were well treated, undoubtedly much better than the guards had ever treated the prisoners.

Rockefeller rejects amnesty

Nelson Rockefeller, billionaire governor of New York, disagreed. “To do so [grant amnesty] would undermine the very essence” of American society, he said. From the barbed-wired seclusion of his 3,000-acre private estate at Pocantico Hills, Rockefeller rejected the plea of the mediating committee for him to join the negotiations. Instead, this brother of the head of Chase Manhattan Bank ordered the full mobilization of the National Guard units in western New York to prepare a massacre of Attica’s inmates.

The demands of the inmates were never seriously considered, and the most fundamental of the demands, amnesty, was never considered by the state. To the prisoners, this was crucial as many were in danger of being framed up on murder charges for the death of a sympathetic guard killed by other guards when the rebellion broke out.

Meanwhile, the troop buildup outside the prison continued. Sheriff’s deputies poured in from 13 surrounding counties in their own automobiles, armed with shotguns and 30-30 hunting rifles for “the turkey shoot,” as one racist called it. ...

Under cover of “negotiating,” they were preparing the massacre, as hundreds of National Guard troops were moved into the area on Sunday. Police outside the prison grew increasingly hostile to arriving crowds of prisoners’ supporters and relatives. One state trooper leveled his shotgun at members of the Prisoners Solidarity Committee and growled, “Get out of the roadway or we’ll wipe you out!”

Meanwhile, relatives of prisoners were denied access to the prison grounds by police, although relatives of hostages were allowed in. ... A curfew was also imposed in the town of Attica to prevent angry Black, Brown and white supporters from exercising their right to be at the scene. ...

Yesterday, Monday morning, the state’s mobilization was completed and by 8 a.m. 1,700 troops armed with machine guns, automatic rifles, tear and nausea gas, shotguns and high-pressure hoses were poised for the attack. At 9:45, [Commissioner] Oswald gave the signal for the attack to begin.

Two Army helicopters circled over the northeast corner of the 55-acre compound where prisoners were gathered. One dropped canisters of nausea gas onto Cell Block D, while the other swooped down on the men below, firing automatic weapons into the crowd of prisoners, shooting them down in “Vietnam” fashion. The prisoners had no weapons to return the fire but defended themselves as valiantly as they could. Their only means of defense were hand-made weapons. It was a massacre.

Capitalist press lied

Yesterday the capitalist press was full of horror stories of hostages with their throats cut, mutilations and executions. The racist hysteria against the prisoners’ uprising was being carefully fanned. Today the truth came out — the guards were all killed in the same murderous assault by police and national guards as the prisoners.

So far, 28 prisoners and nine hostages were reported killed, hundreds of prisoners wounded. The 28 surviving hostages were taken for treatment to a nearby hospital, while the hundreds of wounded prisoners waited for treatment in a small room in the prison, 8 by 10 feet, the floor covered with blood. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” said one doctor emerging from the prison gate in a blood-stained gown.

... This was not just a prison rebellion, but part of a larger class war going on across the country. This was recognized on a national level as President Nixon personally phoned his congratulations to Gov. Rockefeller.

Prisons around the country stirred with anger. In Baltimore City Jail, the second revolt within a year broke out, and prisoners of Cleveland County Prison also rebelled. ...

Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Report from inside Attica: ‘Ready to die for their just demands’

Published Sep 7, 2011 9:05 PM

This is part of a report about what went on inside Attica Prison during the rebellion written by Tom Soto of the Prisoners Solidarity Committee, who was invited by the prisoners to witness their negotiations with the authorities. Soto’s full report was published in the Workers World of Sept. 17, 1971.

By Tom Soto

There is one scene I’ll never forget. I was leaving the prison for the last time, late Sunday night. As I entered corridor A leading into the liberated area there was a brother whom I happened to know personally standing on security. His arms were folded as he faced 40 machine guns on the administration side. On his shirt he was wearing a PSC [Prisoners Solidarity Committee] button. Today, I don’t know if he is alive.

Another thing I’ll never forget —

a brother whom I rapped with a long time noted the ring on my finger and asked about it. I told him it had been made from an American fighter bomber shot down by Laotian women over Laos. I gave it to him, and he considered it to be a very dear show of solidarity between the PSC and the prisoners and the Indochinese people.

As I left, I knew that I might never see these men again. The atmosphere was filled with tension. There were many hugs and kisses, many goodbyes, many messages to families on the outside. Yet there was also an incredible strength and determination among all the prisoners to fight for their just demands or die in the attempt.

Finally, I’d like to add that the prisoners don’t view themselves as criminals. They know that they — the Black people, the Puerto Rican people, the poor white people — are not “criminals” but oppressed people, driven by poverty. They know that they have been denied jobs; they have families to support; and they know that the only way for poor people to survive, for those with no hope of getting jobs, was through stealing $20 or $100 or $200, in other words, crimes of survival.

They see themselves as victims of a racist society which oppresses and exploits their people. They see the Rockefellers, the Mellons, the big corporations, the banks, those who rob and steal their labor for profit, as the real criminals.

The inmates always told me that they had no intention of killing any of the hostages. They took them because there was no other way to redress their grievances. The guard-hostages were the only thing that stood between the prisoners and sudden death. As it turned out, Rockefeller decided to sacrifice even the guards rather than to give in to the just demands of the prisoners. The blood of all the dead is on his hands.

But one thing the rulers of this country never seem to learn — they think repression, repression and more repression will end the oppressed peoples’ uprisings. In fact, just the opposite is true. The men at Attica were so oppressed, so tortured, so brutally treated that finally they chose to revolt and even die rather than endure life behind those walls any longer. They knew that many would die, yet they chose the dignity of struggle rather than the misery of submission.

The Attica uprising was an historic event. It will live forever in the hearts and minds of the oppressed around the world. If the class solidarity shown there is any indication of the future, the cause of the oppressed and poor cannot fail. No prison rebellion in U.S. history has ever been so politically conscious and so determined. The Prisoners Solidarity Committee felt honored to have been invited by the prisoners to support them and is pledged to continue our work on their behalf.
Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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