As the famed French philosopher and social critic Michel Foucault once observed, “Where there is power, there is resistance.” Always. Even when it’s outlawed, perhaps especially so.
According to the Independent’s Emily Shugerman, “Inmates [sic] in the US are not allowed to organize, form unions, or even congregate in large groups.” Nevertheless, this week, men and women incarcerated in US prisons declared a nationwide strike—reckoned as the largest such strike in US history.
- “Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.”
- “An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.”
- “The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.”
- “The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.”
- “An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.”
- “An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.”
- “No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.”
- “State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.”
- “Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.”
- “The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!”
Incarcerated men and women in 17 states are participating in the strike, which launched on August 21st, “the 47th anniversary of the death of the prominent Black Panther member, George Jackson, who was shot as he tried to escape in the prison yard of San Quentin in California”—and is slated to last through September 9th—“the 47th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion in upstate New York.”
Though the strike is in response to the prison riot earlier this year on April 15th at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina that left seven incarcerated people dead, the goal is the eradication of the inhumane conditions that lead to that deadly riot and the reinstatement of political rights.
Prisoners have no constitutional rights. The 13th Amendment “banned slavery and involuntary servitude, with one vital exception: ‘as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.’” In what is a $2 billion industry, incarcerated workers like those in Louisiana can earn as little as four cents an hour. This has led to growing exploitation, as profit-seeking incentivizes the imprisonment and forced labor of mostly poor people.
The strike has four components:
- Work Strikes: “Prisoners will not report to assigned jobs. Each place of detention will determine how long its strike will last. Some of these strikes may translate into a local list of demands designed to improve conditions and reduce harm within the prison.”
- Sit-ins: “In certain prisons, men and women will engage in peaceful sit-in protests.”
- Boycotts: “All spending should be halted. We ask those outside the walls not to make financial judgments for those inside. Men and women on the inside will inform you if they are participating in this boycott. We support the call of Free Alabama Movement Campaign to ‘Redistribute the Pain’ 2018 as Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun, formerly known as Melvin Ray has laid out (with the exception of refusing visitation). See these principles described here.”
- Hunger Strikes: “Men and women shall refuse to eat.”
Shugerman notes that, “according to organizers, the protest is already larger than its 2016 predecessor, [‘the first ever nationwide prison strike,’] which affected an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 inmates [sic].”
According to Shugerman, “More than 100 outside groups have endorsed the strike, including chapters of Black Lives Matter, the Democratic Socialists of America and activists groups at Harvard and Princeton.”
Brooke Terpstra, “a spokesperson for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), an outside group helping to publicize the strike,” says organizers used cellphones to host conference calls from inside their cells and broadcast their message on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. They also organized via