Thanks to all who have written to Joshua over the last week! Thanks to the communities support, letters and call in’s Josh was finally delivered a stack of letters of support from around the world that prison officials were prior confiscating! Prison officials have also loosened their restrictions on Josh’s outing mail and so we have his latest article here! Although Josh is still in solitary confinement, your notes of encouragement and solidarity have made his time a whole lot more easy!
Strike the Clause
by Joshua Cartrette
Regarding “A Treatise to End Mass Incarceration” by fellow worker Sergio M. Hyland (The Incarcerated Worker, Issue 5), Sergio makes a good case for pursuing legislative measures in our struggle against incarceration under capitalism.
As an anarchist I hold a pretty rigid “zero participation” line. Zero participationism is an easy way to sum up the principles laid out by Mikhail Bakunin and the anarchists of the First International. What it means is that we reject participation in governmental processes on all levels. Anarchism has traditionally concerned itself with “social” revolution as opposed to “political” revolution which is more the business of communism. History shows that political measures often end in “protectionism” where the oppressed and the oppressor synthesize their conflict into some new type of mutually inclusive, interdependent social institution. This has a foul taste for the anarchist because it is our business not to reform or replace authoritative structures, but to eradicate them. Reform measures, like legislative appeals, though may seem to sometimes amend in our favor, actually end up working against us in the long run. And further, appealing to bureaucracy not only serves to validate the assumed authority of said bureaucracy, but ultimately incorporates our movement into the existing governmental apparatuses that got us here in the first place. Needless to say, this type of method is counter-revolutionary.
Obviously though, simply refusing to participate in governmental machinery alone would be pointless. This is why the anarchist takes proactive measures against government by building, joining, developing our own alternative egalitarian social structures. The IWW and IWOC are perfect examples.
Having given a brief explanation of zero participationism, I must say that I find comrade Sergio’s treatise a little frustrating. But my personal proclivities aside, all things considered, fellow worker Sergio has it correctly. We can also accept that, as zero participationism is a set of general principles the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is not a general social institution. Our traditional methodologies tend to break down just this side of the wall, which is how our troubles came to be in the first place. We have no real footing inside to apply the same historically tested and tried strategies, tactivs, etc. that we’ve developed in the context of general society. The reason for this is , as Sergio points out, the punishment clause in the 13th Amendment. If we eliminate the clause, that will be the single stroke which will bring the entire PIC to its knees, where in which we can then begin to effectively applying anarcho-syndicalist formulas that transcend the walls.
If this is true- which it is- the question then is, what is the most effective way in making it happen. I’m thinking of the California strikes of 2011 and 2013. I followed and participated in the dialogues around these events and in the aftermath there were talks of creating a Political Action Committee (PAC) which would be funded by incarcerated people, our families, and advocates adn which would then lobby on our behalf. The idea was met with positive attitudes but no real support crystalized behind it and there are a few reasons why: A) Incarcerated people notoriously broke. It’s a weekly fucking crisis just to get our coffee, envelopes, and toothpaste, and then we’re being asked to throw our money into bureaucracy? Good luck! B) There was no clear outline of how the PAC would work, who would run it, or even what a PAC actually is. C) There was no clear cut goal, no defined legal target regarding a PAC. D) And it was all relegated to the context of a single state. It was a provocative theory, just not practicable.
But the timing and structure of that situation was different than this one. And so perhaps the question should be revised. Should we create a PAC? Is creating a PAC even a realistic possibility in our current context?
The punishment clause, by all means, is a reasonable thing to rescind. It legalizes slavery for fucks sake! But I think everyone on both sides of the argument has a fair grasp of the implications of it happening. It would ultimately lead to utter disaster for a major part of our established economy. A lot of very rich political hobnobs would find their $10,000 suits soaked in sweat and I believe that very small, very reasonable constitutional rescission would change the entire shape of this so-called “nation”. In other words, it’s a good idea, which means there will be a lot of resistance.
Some differences between the Cali situation and IWOC in our favor. Here we can unite nationwide on a single clearly defined goal, as opposed to a call for state policy overhauls. As a nationwide movement we have more potential access to financial and other resource contributions. As sponsored by the IWW we have wider media access to gain public attention. There are a lot of intersections between IWOC and other abolition groups and IWW affiliates, which creates a lot of positive variables as well. I know the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has a lot of common interests and perhaps they, even some of their incarcerated members, could work out the legal acrobatics of creating an effective PAC.
I’m also thinking of when Ben and Jerry- yes the ice cream dudes- attempted to donate something like a million dollars to the occupy movement. If we had a PAC we would have an actual substantiated entity that funds would go to for a very specific purpose. Everything would be nice and legal and official-like so people like Ben and Jerry or Uncle Bob would feel secure in where their money was going.
A PAC is our best bet. And I also think that any wage earning incarcerated people should be required to pay some type of dues, whether it be an actual PAC or IWOC proper. Say 10% of their income, for example, for anyone making over $20 per month. I know our outside rads are determined to carry us, but free rides for some weaken the body in whole. We should do what we can to be materially contributive, not just consumers.
Lastly on all this, we see a lot of different states pushing a lot of different issues in regard to the subjective conditions of their states PIC. Virginia claims they serve more time on their sentence second only to Florida, and get no parole. Here in Oregon we serve a minimum 80%- most of are doing 100% (myself included) and we also have no parole. Other states are prioritizing other issues respective to their various conditions.
The problem here is that when we make our subjective conditions our primary concern it may tend to ineffectualize our potential for a greater unification. Your problems are not mine, so why would I care to join your struggle?
Parole, good time, labor exploitation, rotten food, solitary confinement, etc. those are not the problems. Those are the symptoms, the indicators of a problem. Why should you want parole when the entire system is geared to bring you back inside?
Fact is, we should only be using these conditions to bring attention to their cause. If you break your arm you feel the pain. The pain is not the problem, the broken arm is. The pain is only an indicator of the problem. By taking pain-killers we are not fixing the problem. And in fact we need the pain. The pain is good because it lets us know the exact state we are in.
As we wage our campaigns against the PIC we should make the primary focus the Punishment Clause in the 13th Amendment, while using our adverse environments only to indicate the ways in which incarceration under capitalism/prison slavery manifests itself while that clause exists. When demonstrating or striking we should call for nothing more, nothing less, than to strike the clause. This will also unify our movement and make it cohesive and truly nationwide.
The Oregonian incarcerated worker earns an average of $40 per month to do basically nothing but sit around watching satellite TV, getting fat shoving Twinkies in our faces. Easy time! I could easily do the same-slip into a vegetative state till my date rolls up then shake this shit-show off like a bad dream.
But fuck that! If anyone else is hard-timin’, I’ma hard time it right along with you. The point is this. Why would I want better conditions than anyone else if they can’t have the same? At that point I’m only asking for excess, fucking trash! Table scraps thrown down only to some while others go without. Should I petition our common master so that I might have more than you? Or even an equal measure of scraps to yours? Are not my interests yours simply because those who lord themselves over both of us allot me more “privileges” than they allot you?
This is the game we’ve been drawn into, divide and control. I see your scraps are better than mine, so I fight with my neighbor to have better scraps as well. You, having better scraps than I, fear I might come for yours so you build defenses and isolate.
They have convinced us that this is “human nature”- to fight one another for scraps. But this is a lie. It is not a system built on principles of nature, but rather on deceitful machinations. It is by design. It is a game. And we’ve been drawn into it with a stacked deck.
Upon realizing this, then, if we continue to play the game and make appeals, and position for scraps, we then become complicit, not only in the system itself, but also in the deterioration of our own integrity. Personally I won’t play it. I find it rude and disrespectful and frankly I find it boring. In this thing, as in all things, it’s all of us or none. I want nothing more than I have now, and wouldn’t even mind if they took more that I do have away. I don’t want it. It’s scraps. The only thing I care for is in chopping the legs out from under the psychopaths who toss them down. The only way to do that is to strike that single target as a single force. Strike the clause!