In a few days, the historical National Prison Strike will come to a close. While several facilities are still seeing collective acts of refusal and rebellion, other facilities may soon switch into full repression mode.
This is a call for those on the outside to get the word out on the strike as much as possible, connect with those on the inside if we are able, and prepare for the next phase of the struggle.
Towards this end, we are presenting two posters for getting up in your area.
“Nothing is more alien to a strike than its end.” – Dauvé
“Right now, we are in a peak cycle. There’s tremendous energy out there, directed against the State. It’s not all focused, but it’s there, and it’s building.” – George Jackson
The prison strike has been a clear success, leading to an avalanche of actions against the prison system on both sides of the walls. It’s vital now to catch our breath, reflect on the events so far, and ensure we act effectively to extend the movement while we have the momentum. The following is a brief survey of the movement and a call to action, laying out steps that outside supporters can take to spread the strike while it’s still underway.
A collective protest at Hyde CI in North Carolina followed a May uprising at Missouri’s Crossroads CF, both advancing the call and demands compiled by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak: the first flush of prison strike activity began to reach us even before the August 21st start date. Now we’re deep in it. Prisoners are participating in the movement from Halifax in Canada, down through Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Texas, New Mexico, and California. ICE detainees launched a hunger strike in solidarity in Tacoma, Washington. Solidarity actions are popping off across North America and the world.
The self-organized activity of the prisoners is of the highest importance. Despite isolation, violence, and constant surveillance, they have coordinated a diversity of mass actions and have insisted their lives must change for the better. By founding the movement on their own capacities, the prisoners are equipping themselves to overcome every hurdle they face, today and in the future. This is an example to everyone in pacified society facing escalating austerity, climate pressures, and racism.
The next most important thing is ensuring their demands are met. The prisoners movement is not symbolic and is not primarily oriented towards “raising awareness.” The prisoners have articulated a complex strategy to withdraw their labor where possible in order to starve the prison machine, and involve other, non-working prisoners on other bases. This movement is already bearing concrete results as Texas has slashed phone call costs and California has scrapped cash bail. A number of neo-Nazi affiliated guards have been fired in Georgia and elsewhere. Media coverage is also important, though, but not primarily in the vague sense of spreading awareness to the general public. The wave of newspaper, TV, and radio coverage in the first week of the strike means that hundreds of thousands of prisoners who had not yet heard about the movement and its demands have now likely heard the inspiring news. We can expect a new wave of spontaneous actions on the inside as prisoners outside of existing networks organize themselves to participate. It is uncertain that we will hear about many of these events, precisely because of their distance from outside supporters.
For this reason, we are now in an important in-between moment as the strike continues to spread inside. The need for build-up actions has passed yet we are not yet at the point when all our energy will need to be directed against repression. Right now, amid all the other activities (like phone zaps), the focus should be on spreading the strike and news about it. Concretely, this means:
- Communicative and agitational actions on the outside. Covering the walls with solidarity and info-posters. Microphone demonstrations and pickets outside of court houses and places of incarceration. Coffee Not Cops events. Banners and projector actions. Presentations and teach-ins. We are releasing a new poster for immediate distribution along with this call, highlighting the actions and risks prisoners have already taken.
- Every effort to spread news of the strike from national media outlets to local media. With USA Today and NPR covering the prison strike, it is now “safe” for local newspapers to carry coverage. It is these medium-sized outlets that most consistently get inside jails and prisons, and securing coverage at this level will best guarantee the second wave described above, and help plant new seeds for coming movements in the years ahead. The nature of inclusion hardly matters. So, if a local demonstration gains coverage, fine. If not, consider writing an op-ed in support of the movement. These can be mild, if that is what’s required to get them printed and thus into local facilities, but they will still be effective if they reference what other prisoners are already doing and the nature of their demands.
- Taking risks to establish new contacts and spread the strike directly on the inside. There is a long list of states either unaffected by the strike or whose prisons are so locked down that word of prisoners’ actions can’t reach the outside, not to mention the Federal BOP. So, please send in news to any facility or system where we haven’t yet heard of strike activity. This will compliment any existing channels of communication or news. Also, given the ample media coverage, it is now much more plausible to send in small packets of printed articles, covering everything from this NFL season to the election to this small matter of the prisoners movement. But, of course, use any method that suits you to unobtrusively get past the censors and reach prisoners. If possible, contact large groups of prisoners, randomly selected, who are thus unlikely to face repression for receiving mail from unknown addresses but who, if the materials reach them, can make decisions for themselves about how to use the information.
If we can continue the three kinds of activity listed above at least through and after the September 9th end date set for the strike, we will radically improve the position of prisoners to continue their rebellion afterwards.
In fact, rumors are swirling that prisoners in certain state systems have even set September 9th as a launch for their own strikes, for reasons which are still unknown to us. At some point in the movement, we will need to switch gears and fight only against the repression of imprisoned organizers, but we will be in a much stronger position to do so if the movement reaches its maximum extension and resonance now.
The costs that some of these organizers will face – the years in solitary, beatings, an end to communication with the outside world – will be much easier to bear for them if they know that the 2018 movement secured real gains for prisoners as a whole, undermined the prison machine, and sowed seeds for future movements.