Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Georgia Prison Strike Update

From: "Political Prisoner News" ppnews@freedomarchives.org
Date: Fri, January 14, 2011

From: David Slavin mailto:dhslavi@emory.edu
Sent: Thu, Jan 13, 2011 10:40 pm

The PRISON STRIKE has ended in 7 Georgia prisons but organizing is
ongoing. All 54,000 Georgia inmates work for "Prison
Industries": not a private corporation but the wholly owned
subsidiary of the Department of Corrections. In effect, PI employs
more workers than Delta Airlines, Coca Cola, Home Depot or any of the
largest corporate employers in the state. Inmates are the largest
single workforce in Georgia. THEY ARE PAID NO WAGES. To anyone who
is familiar with Doug Blackmon's _Slavery By Another Name_, this
forced convict labor system should come as no surprise. It is part
of the "New Jim Crow" mass incarceration system that reincarnates the
Old Jim Crow in the first half of the 20th century.
This action by the inmates was a STRIKE, not a riot or a protest. It
was an action by workers TO WITHHOLD THEIR LABOR by refusing to leave
their cells. The risks they have taken are enormous. Refusal to
work gets you a "Disciplinary Report" which can affect parole and
your "privileges" in prison. The demands they presented were for
WAGES and WORKING CONDITIONS (which in their case of course includes
living conditions). Since the work stoppage involved THOUSANDS OF
INMATES, it is probably the largest strike / labor action in Georgia
in decades. Moreover, the inmates have firmly taken a stand of
interracial solidarity, particularly crucial in Georgia where more
than 1/3 of the inmates are white.

The importance of this interracial strike cannot be
overestimated. These men are taking a stand against conditions that
violate human rights. Five years ago at a forum on Abu Ghraib held
in Atlanta, someone who then worked for the Southern Conference on
Human Rights (speaking for herself, not the SCHR) remarked that the
methods of Abu Ghraib had their origins in practices common in
Southern prisons. If this observation raises skepticism, see the
photos in Blackmon's book showing "stress positions" very similar to
those in the photos from Iraq.

The inmates' resistance brings to mind Michelle Alexander's book The
New Jim Crow, a book that this summer we studied at UUCA. The vast
majority of those in prison have been targets of a 30-year policy of
white supremacist, mass incarceration. Under cover of "the drug war"
and mass felony convictions, a bi-partisan consensus emerged with the
objective result of re-establishing second class citizenship status
for most non-whites in the US -- the New Jim Crow.
Georgia has 54,225 male state prison inmates, according to
dcor.state.ga.us/GDC/OffenderStatistics/jsp/ : 33,689 Black [61.1%]
and 19,459 white [35.9%] with the remaining 4% Hispanics, "Indians",
Asians. Inmates' age distribution is fairly evenly divided, with
2-3% of the population in each year of age from 19 to 50 years
old. There are 3579 women in Georgia prisons: women are 6.6% and men
are 93.4% of the total. Women are not broken down by race. So far
as I know, women inmates are [not yet] involved in the strike.

Figures compiled by the Sentencing Project show that in 2007 Blacks
accounted for 900,000 of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in state
prisons, six times the incarceration rate of whites. One in six
Black men is in the system at any time. Moreover, higher proportions
of whites are locked up in local jails (44%) than in state prisons
(33%), and jails tend to be short term sentences. The highest
disproportions in prison populations are in Northeastern and
Midwestern states. In Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia [as Georgia's
Corrections figures attest], however, the proportion of whites in
prison [not jail] is around 33%, much higher than in other parts of
the US. Theodore William Allen, author of The Invention of the
White Race, points out that where racial inequality has been most
extreme, in the South, whites are the worst off. The greater the gap
between the white and Black worker, the less able white workers are
to defend themselves as workers. The role racial privilege plays in
the social control of white working people, as well as Black,
suggests why incarceration rates of whites are highest in the Deep South.

Working class interracial solidarity anywhere, anytime is of historic
significance, and according to Bruce Dixon's report, it is being
realized in this movement of inmates. The prison population is of
course quintessentially working class, and these workers have
launched a strike for wages and improvement of "working
conditions." They have established interracial solidarity. The
political consequences of their actions could shift politics in
Georgia and far beyond the state; thus the strike deserves solidarity
from every corner.

The inmate demands recall those of Black Reconstruction: education,
wages, decent food and medical care, the right to be in touch with
their families, and a chance at a decent life once they are released
by learning employable skills. In this struggle may lie "the kernel
and meaning of the labor movement" to use the phrase WEB DuBois used
to characterize Black Reconstruction:
"The South, after the war, presented the greatest opportunity for a
real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely
to see for many decades. Yet the labor movement, with but few
exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the
intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and
Reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the
United States"
[WEB DuBois _Black Reconstruction_ c. 1935; Atheneum edition 1962 p.
353 Ch. IX The Price of Disaster]

Although there have been inquiries from my friends around the country
and demonstrations in several cities, so far white progressives in
Atlanta and Georgia have taken few steps to support this strike. If
we continue to ignore the "kernel and meaning" of the progressive
movement in our own backyard, we risk losing any relevancy we might
have. Especially egregious is the loss of opportunity to support a
movement based on working class interracial solidarity.

As was the case in Iran, the cell phone has been used brilliantly as
a tactical means to communicate with each other and the outside
world. When I was on the faculty of Villanova in 1992, I taught
college courses in a prison outside Philadelphia (Eastern
Pennsylvania Correctional Facility, Graterford PA) under a university
program. I learned first hand from my students the feeling of being
cut off from society. As one of them told me, "we feel like we're
buried alive in here." Cell phone contact has been crucial, but
it's a slender thread. Bootleg phones acquired from the guards can
easily be discovered and confiscated, with disciplinary action taken
against both sides to prevent recurrence. Inmates need to
establish their human right to contact with their families and the
rest of the outside world.

The greatest danger right now is that the protest strike be cut off
from unions and other progressive forces in Georgia and the rest of
the country. The article by Bruce Dixon lists the phone numbers of
the prisons where the protest is taking place. Dixon urges everyone
to call the prison wardens' offices and tell whoever answers that
you've read the protest demands and believe they should be
implemented in the best interests of everyone associated with the
prison system. Inform them that you will be following events
closely and expect the inmates to be treated with respect and not
subjected to intimidation, discipline, or violence.

Other possible avenues of contact: The Office of Ombudsman of
prisons, is a service set up to handle complaints from prisoners'
families. Phone is 404 657 7588 email
This suggestion comes from me alone, but sending an email to this address
would require no follow up and hence would not interfere with the
needs of families. Directly communicate with Commissioner Brian
Owens from an email send box at the website
http://www.dcor.state.ga.us "About GDC" on the
home page tool bar, pull down "Contact Us"

Last Sunday, I spoke to Valerie Porter, one of the contacts for the
prisoners in Americus GA, who told me a support group has been
formed called "The Coalition to Respect Prisoners' Rights." This
group, led by families of inmates, Elaine Brown [former national
secretary of the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s], head of
Georgia NAACP, Nation of Islam minister and several others, met with
the governor's representative on Sunday 19 Dec at 3:30 PM. I've
asked someone who attended the meeting to come to the Humanists
meeting and update us on what has transpired since.

Please familiarize yourself with the inmates' demands and read the
Black Agenda Report article by Bruce Dixon
The most crucial support we can give is any action which prevents the
prison authorities from cutting these inmates off from the outside world.
in solidarity,


"Statement of Solidarity with Georgia Prisoner Strike"

hosted on the web by our free online petition service, at:


No comments: