Report from Milwaukee about an action to spread awareness about the August 21st prison strike.
This is a reportback from local abolitionists in Milwaukee organizing support for the upcoming national prison strike. Before we get into our action, let’s remind ourselves of the context this action takes place in. Those of us in the so-called United States learned in school that slavery was abolished in the 1860s. Some of us grow up to learn that the truth is far more insidious. The 13th amendment, which “abolished” slavery, states that slavery shall not exist “except as punishment for a crime.” Slavery wasn’t abolished, it was reformed. Prisoners are forced to work for little to no money, while the prison industrial complex makes a few powerful people extremely wealthy.
Prisoners have been protesting against conditions and forced labor across the country and the state, but their plight is ignored because it occurs in the isolation of confinement. Prisoner organizers have called for a strike action from August 21st until September 9th of 2018. They issued a list of ten demands, including voting rights for prisoners, ending slavery in all its forms, and sentencing & conditions reform that “recognize[s] the humanity of imprisoned men and women.” Prisoner organizers choose August 21- September 9 because those dates memorialize a period of struggle from 1971 that started with George Jackson’s assassination in Soledad Prison and ended with the Attica Uprising.
Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code has the highest incarceration rate for black men in the world. Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the so-called United States. The demands of the organizers in prison who called for the strike coincide with the work of local abolitionists here, and when these demands are met, they will greatly improve the lives of community members targeted by the prison system. This is why we have decided to support the prison strike.
While this action was entirely legal and fairly low risk, we chose to organize in an affinity group model. Individuals in our group have a variety of organizational affiliations, but we came together with a common goal and an understanding of security culture built around consent and mutual respect. These informal groups build our capacity for future organizing and build our own experiences. We also had a lot of fun. For those who want to learn more about the affinity group model, see https://plainwordsbloomington.noblogs.org/post/2017/06/02/an-introduction-to-the-affinity-group/
We seek to organize mass support of the upcoming prison strike from individuals, affinity groups, and local organizations. To this end we have called for general assemblies, the first of which will be July 9 and July 18 at 5:30PM in Garden Park at the corner of Locust and Bremen in Milwaukee. These assemblies will serve to bring individuals, affinity groups, and organizations together to share ideas and build support. We claim no authority over others and no authority will be vested in these assemblies – while we hope to find common ground that we all can use to organize support for the organizers in prison, we also support and celebrate a diversity of tactics. We call on all anarchists, abolitionists, and people who seek to abolish slavery to organize support of the upcoming strike.
You may be asking yourself “Why Balloons?” There are a couple of reasons. In planning this action, we started with the goal of building awareness and inviting the community to our general assembly. Our strategy was to do so in a way that would draw a lot of attention. Large numbers of people from impacted communities come to the lakefront for the 4th of July, these were the people we found it strategic to reach. The tactic of floating our message and walking with it was chosen for two reasons. One was that it allowed us to pass out fliers and talk to people. This is, after all, the most important part of organizing. The second reason was that it was fun. Our society seeks to oppress us at every turn and the emotional toll of organizing against oppression can drive even the most dedicated to burnout, so we believe that we should find creative ways to enjoy the work we do. This keeps our movement sustainable, creative, and gives us some good laughs.
The banner was twenty feet in length. We taped together a series of wooden dowels across the top to keep it from folding in the wind. Unfortunately, this structure was not quite rigid enough, so we recommend anyone considering a similar action to make sure the top of the banner is sufficiently rigid. With some adjustments to balloon placement, we were able to keep our banner readable. We floated it at one end of the beach, 25 feet off the ground, and walked along the beach.
Balloons of this size are difficult to find on short notice before a holiday, so our color choices were limited. If you want to do this with e.g. red and black balloons, be sure to order them in advance!
Walking along the beach, we talked to hundreds of people about the upcoming strike. Many were already on board with the idea that the carceral system serves as modern day slavery, but had never thought there was anything they could do about it. This tends to be a theme in our organizing. Affected people know the problems are there, it is not a problem of awareness. The problem is that people have been conditioned to believe there is nothing they can do about it. This is where our work as anarchists begins.
At the south end of the beach was the Milwaukee Police Department’s mobile command center. They take over a parking lot between the beach and another park for holidays, setting up a temporary base of operations while they harass the citizens on the beach. We anticipated more resistance from the police than we got, but luckily the community had organized large numbers of decentralized cop-watchers and the pigs knew they were there. Every time they came near us, bystanders who we didn’t even know walked over and started filming. We set up just North of the cops for about an hour, telling people about the strike, and they just stared at us unable to do anything about it.
All of us walked away safely. The banner was tied down to a volleyball net on the beach and stayed there for hours. We came back later and took it down (might as well use it again). We handed out the giant balloons to kids on the beach. If you have never given a child a comically sized helium balloon before, I highly recommend it. I’m not sure it’s possible to see a person happier than a child with a giant balloon.
Unfortunately, actions like this one are expensive to implement. Since we are still waiting for that imaginary check from George Soros, we are asking for donations to help us cover the cost of this action and support the next one. Money can be sent by paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We conclude this report back by reminding everyone of the call for general assemblies on July 9 and July 18, at 5:30 PM in Garden Park – at the corner of Locust and Bremen in the Riverwest neighborhood. We also call on people in all cities to take action in support of the strike. As we demonstrated here – you can take actions that generate a lot of support, and have quite a bit of fun doing it. Get creative! Where can you get a banner to? What billboards can you improve? What could your affinity group do with some wheatpaste?
Some anarchists from Milwaukee.