Editorial by Ed Mead
“If we give in the terrorists win.” That is essentially what Secretary Beard told the mediation team. He said there will be no negotiations with prisoners or their outside representatives. I write this on August 4th, just four days before the hunger strike has gone on for a full month.
Things may change between now and the time you read this. And what I am writing here is largely aimed at general population prisoners and their family members and loved ones on the streets. I hope you won’t think me arrogant or presumptuous for suggesting a possible path ahead.
In my editorial comments in the Spring 2012 issue of Prison Focus (#38 at page 26) I said, “The leading SHU prisoners used the metaphor of a football game to describe their struggle. Continuing on with that metaphor, I think we are at half time. HS1 and HS2 were the fi rst two quarters. Everyone can call the score what they like. I call it a draw.” We are no longer at half-time, today we are in the fi nal phase of the third quarter. Even if CDCR were to toss out some face-saving bone or crumbs to striking prisoners, at this point I would nonetheless have to call this quarter a loss.
So the fourth quarter is now looming. I ask myself what I would do if I were in the position of rights conscious prisoners in California? There is some talk of going with what I call the nuclear option. Under this option individual prisoners would starving themselves to death one after the other, with larger scale outside support behind each volunteer. To learn more on this approach read about Bobby Sands and the hunger strike struggle the Irish Republican Army waged. They made many martyrs to the cause, including Bobby Sands himself, but politically it was a failure.
So I suppose I would go for the alternative, which is mass action for the final quarter1 of this struggle. As we all know, the prisons cannot function for long without the labor of prisoners. A state-wide organization or union of prisoners will be required to win this battle. This is the most diffi cult option because it means the consciousness of regular mainline prisoners must be raised, a task that will require patience and time. Social prisoners must become rights conscious, and the rights conscious need to become class conscious. It would seem to me that this would be the task of existing rights and class conscious prisoners, not only in California but everywhere.
I would hold study groups on prisoner’s rights, so all prisoners would understand that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a treaty the constitution says is the “law of the land” (above the constitution), proclaims that all humans have the inherent right to such things as equal protection under the law, freedom of expression, and the freedom to work and form labor unions; to freedom from slavery, forced labor, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and arbitrary arrest or detention; to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being; and to be recognized as a person before the law.
All of these rights are inalienable—just because we are humans—and have as their goal the protection of human dignity and fullest development of the human personality. Again, the right to form labor unions, freedom from slavery, torture, and inhuman treatment. These are fundamental rights—including the right to organize into labor unions.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that under the constitution prisoners do not have the right to unionize. But as I said, international treaties the U.S. is a signatory to is “the law of the land”, and yet not enforceable in the courts. It requires a political struggle in order to gain these rights. These are the lessons prisoners need to understand and internalize, and they will never be able accomplish that until they overcome their bourgeois conditioning and individualism.
As I’ve repeatedly said, you are all slaves of the state, a status legitimized by the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery for all except for those convicted of a crime. You are held in conditions of dependency and irresponsibility, disenfranchised from the basic rights of citizenship such as the right to vote. If there was a segment of today’s society that had a legitimate right to demand some level of justice it is prisoners. The task of advanced prisoners, those with a progressive consciousness, is to educate their less aware counterparts in matters of rights and class.
Back in the day, the late 1960s and up to the mid-1970s there were many major movements; including a drug legalization movement, a gay rights movement, and a prisoners’ movement.
Today, here in Washington, the recreational use of marijuana is legal, as is gay marriage. But what ever happened to the prisoners’ movement? I’ll leave the answer to that question for another day, as this is a new day—a new start.
It may be years before the final quarter of this game is played, but when it comes to fruition it will be with an organized and rights and class conscious body of prisoners, ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their working class brothers and sisters on the streets. They will peacefully withhold their labor, not in one prison, not in one state, but nationally, until the pro-slavery provision of the Thirteenth Amendment is abolished and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is applied to prisoners.
Prisoners have the absolute right to peacefully go on work strikes. If not for the sake of those currently confined, then at least for the sake of generations of prisoners who will follow.
At some point it needs to dawn on prisoners that they are contributing to their own oppression. The longest journey starts with a single step. The starting point in this case is to initiate the peaceful struggle for the immediate implementation of the fi ve core demands, while at the same time educating and raising the consciousness of the other prisoners with whom you’re doing time. This will be a long struggle. Mainline prisoners will need to build cadre.
Yet when all is said and done what I think carries very little weight. Prisoners will do what they do, and so long as they do it peacefully I’ll be here to support them.
Combat bourgeois individualism!
The problem with the football metaphor is that it only gives us four quarters, whereas the struggle for justice will be protracted and may take thousands. ↩