Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Critical Resistance Fights to Abolish Prisons

Critical Resistance fights to abolish prisons

By Gloria Rubac
Oakland, Calif.
Published Oct 10, 2008 11:28 PM

At a massive, well-organized and politically radical conference called CR10, some 3,000 prison abolitionists from coast to coast gathered in Oakland, Calif., for three days of reflecting, strategizing, collaborating and organizing around abolishing the prison-industrial complex (PIC).

The conference was held on the 10th anniversary of the founding of Critical Resistance, an organization formed in 1998 to launch a movement to eliminate prisons, detention, policing and surveillance used by the PIC to “solve” problems brought on by poverty, racism, homelessness and sex and gender oppression.

CR10 included hundreds of workshops, a film series, performances, meetings, strategy sessions, regional meetings and cultural expressions from dance to drama, from spoken word to drumming.

The atmosphere in the opening plenary session was electric as it opened with Native drumming. Then the Welfare Poets brought the house down with their sharp-edged hip-hop dedicated to Hassan Shakur, unjustly executed in Texas in 2006. From San Francisco 8 member Hank Jones to former political prisoner Linda Evans to INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence leader Andrea Smith to Palestinian-American poet and activist Suheir Hammad, the speakers set the high political tone for the weekend.

A standing ovation followed Miss Major, an elder, African American, formerly incarcerated transgender activist of 35 years, who spoke of her love and concern and activism for transgender women of color locked in U.S. prisons.

The evening ended with Angela Davis igniting the crowd when she called for an end to prisons in the United States. She was swarmed afterward, particularly by youth of color who wanted photos and autographs from a hero that they had read about and admired and were now meeting in person.

During the entire conference the California Prison Focus and the Prison Activist Resource Center had thousands of letters from prisoners and a space where participants would read, answer and process prisoners’ mail.

A striking character of the conference was the large number of youth, people of color and lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people who not only attended CR10 in large numbers but who led and participated in workshops, plenary sessions, security and entertainment.

At a workshop called “Live from Death Row,” Barbara Becnel mesmerized the large crowd by telling her story of friendship with California death row prisoner Stanley Tookie Williams until she witnessed his execution in 2005. She has just released a documentary on Williams entitled “TRIBUTE: Stanley Tookie Williams, 1953-2005.”

A death row prisoner from San Quentin called in live via telephone to the workshop and spoke to the crowd.

Family members, journalists and activists involved in the Jena Six case did a workshop organized by Jesse Muhammad with the Final Call newspaper.

The Jericho Movement, which is holding activities at the United Nations in New York the weekend of October 10-12, ran a workshop on political prisoners along with the National Boricua Human Rights Network.

Actors read parts from a new and graphic drama called “Lucasville: the Untold Story of a Prison Uprising,” which exposed how the state of Ohio framed up five innocent men and put them on death row after a 1993 prison uprising.

Ramona Africa of the Move Organization and Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal held a workshop on Abu-Jamal. They later held a community meeting at the New Black World, a West Oakland social club, which featured Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. of the Prisoners of Consciousness Committee and Julia Wright, journalist, activist and daughter of author Richard Wright, as well as music by the Welfare Poets.

There were several workshops on long-term isolation in prison, which is usually referred to with expressions like solitary confinement, Special Housing Units, supermaximum prisons, and supersegregation by different departments of correction but which the men and women who have to live under these conditions call “torture.”

From the Angola 3 to the San Francisco 8, from Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier to the Puerto Rican independentistas, political prisoners were discussed all throughout the conference. A taped message from political prisoner Sundiata Acoli, driven underground by Cointelpro and one of the three Black Liberation Army members ambushed by state police on the New Jersey turnpike in 1973, was part of the closing plenary.

In a workshop on Cointelpro, Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney told the standing-room-only crowd, “Our government has been wrong since the founding of our country. ... This government would stoop to the lowest level possible to achieve their goals. Through Cointelpro, a heinous U.S. government program, they would destroy families by locking people up, they would kill, they would incarcerate. They do this with the help of the corporations and the media, from the New York Times to the New Orleans Times Picayune. This needs an open hearing!”

The three days invigorated, educated and inspired the thousands of activists attending to carry on the struggle from county jails, to ICE detention centers, to state and federal and military prisons.

As Ramona Africa told a crowd: “Do whatever you can for Mumia and for all prisoners. Victory is never giving in. We must think strong and be strong. We will win!”
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