Three weeks from today, on July 23, 2013, a court hearing has been set where the State will move forward with their attempt to put me back in jail for documenting a political statement opposing censorship at the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) with an iPhone – a “crime” for which I received a 300 day jail sentence. Further details of our nearly four-year-long struggle against this political prosecution are available on my defense committee’s website: www.dropthecharges.net
Being under imminent threat of days, months, years of vicious, violent repression at the hands of the State within their timeless tombs clarifies the mind. Uncertainty coalesces into preparation and determination. Instantly the mind shifts to political battle mode, recognizing keenly that one is directly on the front lines of the class struggle – a gravedigger of the bourgeoisie. That you are being called on to reaffirm boldly – and in starkly visceral terms – your commitment to standing with the wretched of the earth, and of your dedication to struggling with them towards the liberation and emancipation of all humanity.
On July 23, 2013, I will attend the court hearing and my legal team will challenge this baseless political prosecution and outrageous sentence. However, I am fully prepared for the State to lock me up. This will be happening as hundreds of prisoners being tortured and held in indefinite detention without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike, and during the National Prison Hunger Strike called by prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU – which is set to begin on July 8, 2013.
I am prepared to follow their courageous example and join them on the National Prison Hunger Strike for as long as the State intends to hold me captive along with the millions of others entombed within the United States’ criminal system of mass incarceration. I will spend every day that I’m held captive working with other prisoners to take up the call for the National Prison Hunger Strike and to step forward as the powerful force for revolution that we have the tremendous potential to become.
I know personally the hopeless life far too many of the youth are caught up in – and I know the horrors of spending many years in solitary confinement. As a teenager, my family lost our home and I got involved in a street organization (aka “gang”) to survive on the streets. After being sent to an adult maximum security prison at the age of seventeen, I became increasingly politically conscious in the midst of spending over six years straight in solitary confinement – conditions that amount to torture under international law.
Since my release from prison nearly seven years ago, my life has been dedicated to opposing and bringing to an end the crimes and injustices of this capitalist-imperialist system. I’ve been in street protests, abortion clinic defenses, human chains defending parents sitting-in to oppose their children’s schools being shut down. I’ve debated and discussed the prospects of and necessity for revolution and a radically different world from prison yards and street corners to universities and high schools.
I firmly believe another world is possible – a world drastically different than the current oppressive and exploitative capitalist system of private appropriation of the vast wealth produced by billions of people globally. This completely outmoded and unnecessary system is enforced by brutal police terror and a court and prison system unparalleled in the history of human society domestically, and by bloody imperialist military force abroad.
The world does not have to be like this! Collectively, we can dismantle these oppressive institutions and bring into being a world without nations or borders, a world of voluntary economic, political and social structures devoted to meeting human needs and unleashing humanity to express its highest potential – a communist world.
Getting to that world will take revolution – nothing less. I would encourage anyone seriously grappling with how to end the injustices of this system and transform the world to check out the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live. In this talkBob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, gets deeply into the historic roots of the development of this oppressive system and the strategy for how we could make a revolution and unleash those who are counted as nothing by the rulers of this system to transform themselves as they transform the world in the interests of all humanity.
And that is what this political prosecution has actually been all about. Those who rule this system do not want those of us born into life at the bottom of society – that this system has absolutely no future for – to recognize our revolutionary potential. They do not want people from other backgrounds and social strata to see that those most demonized and degraded by the rulers of this sytem can become the backbone of a movement to radically transform all of society. And they will use any means they feel necessary to crush the potential of those most oppressed from stepping forward.
I call on you to stand with the prisoners being tortured in the dungeons of this criminal capitalist system. One way you can do that is by signing the EMERGENCY CALL! JOIN US IN STOPPING TORTURE IN U.S. PRISONS! statement being circulated by The Stop Mass Incarceration Network and donating to have the statement published in the Los Angeles Times. You can sign the Close Guantanamo Now statement being circulated by The World Can’t Wait to support the men on hunger strike in Guantanamo. There are many other bold and creative actions we must develop to support the hunger strikes and to end the torture being committed upon tens of thousands of men, women and children by the rulers of the United States. And I ask that you stand with me in the final stages of opposing this political prosecution, including coming out to the court date on July 23rd.
With Hope and Determination for a Liberated World for All Humanity,
A court hearing has been set for July 23, 2013, where the State will move to put Gregory Koger in jail to serve the remainder of his 300 day sentence for peacefully videotaping a statement against censorship at a public meeting of the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) on Sunday, November 1, 2009.
July 23, 2013 at 1:30PM
Cook County Courthouse – Courtroom 104
5600 Old Orchard Rd Skokie, IL
Neither the Court nor the Cook County State’s Attorney has responded to the Post-Conviction Relief Petition that Gregory’s legal team filed in March. This Petition exposed the lies at the heart of the false charges against him and provides documentary evidence (suppressed by the judge at trial) of the perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct that laid the basis for his conviction – and demands that his wrongful conviction and outrageous sentence be overturned. For more details, see www.dropthecharges.net
In his youth, Gregory spent years in solitary confinement while in prison. He transformed himself and has dedicated his life since his release to opposing injustice and struggling for a liberated world for all humanity. Gregory’s legal team will vigorously oppose any attempt to put him back in jail.
We call on you to come out to stand with Gregory and demand:
A major element missing from the media reporting on this is the fact that there had been a significant ideological change within the leadership of the GD’s and specifically its Chairman Larry Hoover, beginning in the late-1970’s/early-1980’s. The main thrust of this transformation was a move toward mobilizing the organization towards electoral politics, explicitly following the example of the original Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, who was a member of an Irish street gang known as the Hamburg Athletic Club.
Daley was a 17-year-old member of the gang during the notorious “Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” an extremely disingenuous characterization of what in reality consisted of mobs of whites viciously attaching Black folks, some of whom defended themselves. These racist white supremacist attacks occurred not just in Chicago, but in more than three dozen cities across the country in the summer of 1919.
Several important factors contributed to these white supremacist attacks. They occurred in the aftermath of World War I and the victory of the Russian Revolution, led by V.I. Lenin, which established the first socialist state. And they occurred in the midsts of tremendous changes in the U.S. economic base, particularly in relation to Black folks, with reverberating effects throughout the social and political superstructure of society.
Briefly, as global capitalism increasingly moved into the stage of imperialism, and as mechanization began to replace the need for slaves or former slaves working the land as sharecroppers, Black folks began the Great Migration to the north in search of factory jobs and an escape from the horrific racism, lynch mob terror and Jim Crow laws of the south.
The “Race Riots” of 1919 took place in the mix of these developments, along with labor struggles breaking out amongst workers across the country. President Woodrow Wilson stated one of the greatest fears of the ruling class in a private meeting in March 1919: “[T]he American Negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America.” 1
Crushing the Leadership of Growth & Development
Daley’s rise to power out of the street gangs offered an example of a potential path to political, economic and social power to the leadership of the GDs. Larry Hoover led the organization in transforming itself from Gangster Disciples to Growth & Development, and laid out a Blueprint – a vision of how they sought to overcome the shared oppression of the Brothers of the Struggle. This happened in the aftermath of the 1960s, the ebbing of the revolutionary movement, and the specifics of the political repression and assassination of revolutionaries in the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary groups. The films Bastards of the Party and Crips and Bloods: Made In America get into some of the history of this phenomena in California among gangs there – especially the dire impact of the concentrated repressive efforts of the ruling class against revolutionary forces.
By the early 1990s, the GD’s – as Growth & Development – were mobilizing thousands of youth in the projects through 21st Century VOTE, and running candidates for Alderman. Additionally, Growth & Development was involved in the nationwide gang truces of the early 1990s in the aftermath of the LA Rebellion. (See Former Chicago Gang Members and 21st Century Vote – Democracy Now! 3/19/1996).
But the rulers of this system were not about to allow the GDs – or any of the other street organizations – to follow the same path to political power as Daley. By the mid-1990s, federal prosecutors had brought charges against the alleged leadership of the GDs, and buried them in federal prison. Larry Hoover was put in the notorious federal ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado – living under conditions that meet the international definition of torture, that over 80,000 prisoners across the U.S are held under and that prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU have called for a National Prison Hunger Strike beginning on July 8, 2013.
The System Has No Future for the Youth – The Revolution Does
Like many other youth who this system has no future for, I was attracted to becoming a GD in part because of the political ideology of Growth & Development. For example, while I was in Cook County Jail serving part of my 300 day sentence for holding an iPhone at the “Ethical” Humanist Society, one brother put it this way: “When I joined the GDs, they had me thinking I was joining the Black Panthers.” The political and ideological line coming out of the transformation of the GDs is fundamentally capitalism for oppressed nationalities and taking up bourgeoise electoral politics; however, something extremely important that should not be dismissed is that there is an underlying ethos of struggle against the economic and social conditions imposed by the system – especially national oppression.
That can – and increasingly needs to – lead to a radical rupture with capitalist ideas and thinking, and these youth – and even the older brothers – have the potential to become the backbone of a revolutionary force to transform society in the interest of all humanity. I’m a living example of that. And we must stand with these brothers and sisters against any fascist attacks by the rulers of this system, while struggling with them to become revolutionaries and emancipators of humanity.
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, gets into this deeply in his recent talk, BA Speaks: Revolution – Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live, in the section: A Revolutionary Situation… The Role of the Youth… & How to Work Today So That There Is A Revolutionary Force When That Time Comes:
“The revolution has a future for the youth. For the masses of youth in this country and throughout the world, this system has no future for them but the revolution does. A revolution and a future in which these youth can and must have a decisive and increasingly conscious role. People tell us that these youth, especially these youth who are on the bottom being stepped on and beaten down every day, have been reduced to conditions where they could not any longer rise up to play this revolutionary role. But this is not true. People need to think about how hard many of these youth have tried to get out of the conditions they’re in and get to some place where they could do something much better. This too gets not only forgotten but consciously covered up.
Right now in the California prisons, the people who carried out self-sacrificing hunger strikes have made a call for peace among people of the different races in the prisons. We should understand how tremendously significant and difficult this is. How much is going up against it, both among the masses spontaneously but also for the workings of the authorities and how much they’ll try to undercut and sabotage all this. This needs a lot of support and needs to be popularized.
People need to know about it, they need to support people who have been condemned and cast aside as less than human and the ‘worst of the worst’ when they reach for something lofty like this. But from the perspective of understanding all that I have been talking about and for those who do understand this, we need to work to make this part of building a movement for revolution. We need to approach everything in that way and from that framework, even while uniting with other people who have not yet been won to that position or are coming from different perspectives.
Or think – let’s go back again to the LA Rebellion. Sometimes it’s forgotten – and we need to not forget – how hard so many of the people caught up in a lot of bad shit tried to break out of that at that time. From the first night of the rebellion to sometime in its aftermath, there was the graffiti on the wall in LA on the first night of the Rebellion: ‘Blacks and Mexicans together tonight.’ Think about what that signified and how significant that was. And then in the aftermath of the Rebellion you had all these attempts at forging unity, overcoming these deep divisions among the people that had grown over years with bitter antagonism. There were unity picnics. There were attempts at unity conferences all around the country. The police would attack the unity picnics.
I remember seeing a picture at that time of two young guys, one a Blood and one a Crip, shortly after the Rebellion with their arms around each other. Do we understand the significance of that and how much that means? These are youth who from a very early age are taught that they count for nothing and deserve nothing but a boot up their ass and a bullet in their brain – or a long time in jail. And so you have nothing and you are told to expect nothing. And so you try to get something by carving out a little space on a street in a neighborhood that doesn’t belong to you, doesn’t really mean anything but it’s all that you can feel that you can plant yourself in and find some meaning and purpose in. And then there are other people two blocks away – whether you’re Mexicans and in your rival gangs, or Black in your rival gangs, or Vietnamese or whatever – people two blocks away just like you. But if they come in the little territory that you staked out your hood, the rules are they’re slippin’ and you gotta shoot them. You shoot them, so then they have to come back and kill you and your family and your friends. And on and on it goes, back and forth for years and years. People kept like in cages.
And here they took the step, after all these years of this bitter experience of friends and loved ones being killed on both sides back and forth, and the meaning of their putting their arms around each other and trying to forge something different… But the system wouldn’t have it and couldn’t have it. They attacked the unity picnics time and again. But more than that the program that these people – that these youth and others, the O.G.’S in the gangs and whatever – tried to come up with was a program for reform, for entrepreneurialism that couldn’t work under this system. There was no room for it.
And so it didn’t go anywhere and many went back to the old ways and youth coming up fell back and, you know were sort of channeled into those ways. But they tried so hard! And so genuinely heroically. And the problem is that under this system there’s no basis for overcoming these kind of divisions. But in striving for and building a movement for revolution there is the basis – and this is what we have to be fighting for: to bring forward the full potential of these and other youth and other sections of oppressed people, men and women, to be the backbone and driving force, and win them through a lot of struggle to be that backbone and driving force of this revolution. [Applause]
And where this happens, when they do make this great leap to becoming part of the revolution – and yes, it is a great leap – then among others in the communities they come from and much more broadly among other sections of society as well, people have to be rallied in different ways and forms to encourage and back up these youth who take this great step of joining the ranks of the revolution. So that they can not only continue to get more and more deeply involved themselves but can play a key part in bringing forward many others. We need to find whatever the forms are to give life and expression to this. We need to find the forms for people who are not going to be on the front lines actively out there fighting the power but are contributing to the revolution and can contribute in many ways to back up these youth. To say in ways that have meaning: we are proud of our youth when they step forward into the ranks of the revolution. We need to even develop ceremonies that express this. We need to develop a collective culture that gives life and meaning to this. And there’s much sentiment out there that can be tapped in this direction.
Everybody wants the youth to do better. Even the churchgoing ladies: ‘[Sighing], these boys out here they ain’t doing anything good. They need to do something better. They need to get to Jesus.’ Well no they don’t need to get to Jesus – they need to get with the revolution. But even the churchgoing ladies can be appreciative of this – and this is not just in one community or among one section of society, but much more broadly. And this is a way that we can implement what’s talked about in that Strategy Statement (A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: ON THE STRATEGY FOR REVOLUTION), of developing growing cores of people that constitute relatively small numbers now – dozens here, but then become hundreds and the thousands as we put it in that statement that are actively and openly with the revolution and are influencing millions, among all different sections of the people. And being prepared and preparing themselves to get to the point where they can lead those millions when a revolutionary situation has been brought into being through the workings of this system itself and the ongoing conscious and consistent work of revolutionaries, and people are looking for leadership that has an actual program and has the actual orientation and determination to fight through to actually bring about a radical change.”
1 McWhirter, Cameron, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (NY: Henry Holt, 2011), p. 56
Three years ago I was arrested for attempting to document a political statement opposing censorship by Sunsara Taylor at the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC). What began as a brief but principled statement opposing the censorship of her long-scheduled talk and an invitation for those who wanted to hear her talk to join us at the home of a now-former member of the EHSC was rapidly transformed by powers in the ruling class into a three-year-long political and legal battle against a political prosecution and 300 day jail sentence for non-violent misdemeanors.
Leading figures within the EHSC joined forces with the police and prosecutors to press fabricated criminal charges based on false statements – statements which changed dramatically after the video I recorded of what actually transpired was turned over to the prosecutor the day before my trial. You can read their claims in the police report – as well as public statements sent out to the atheist/humanist blogosphere – and watch the video of what actually occurred for yourself:
After numerous pronouncements declaring that there is “nothing political” about this prosecution, in the first paragraphs of the Appellate Court ruling Sunsara Taylor is described as a “self-avowed” communist – a description that was not allowed by the judge in the original trial and appeared nowhere in the trial record of proceedings in open court. The Courts have tried to have it both ways – refusing to allow us to raise the extremely relevant political nature of the trial, while themselves signaling the political nature of my arrest and the charges. In the final move by the prosecution, when they filed a motion to have me sent immediately back to jail, they included the completely irrelevant – but highly political – information that I had once asked the Court for permission to travel out of state for matters relating to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund.
A Criminal System of Injustice
Many people who have heard about this case look at the severity of the reaction of the State and think, “Well, there must be something more to this story…” There absolutely is something about this case that the rulers of this system know has tremendous potential to shake this rotten and unjust system to its core – and that is not someone standing silently holding an iPhone attempting to record a political statement, although preventing Sunsara from speaking and her statement from being documented was what precipitated this case.
More and more people of all different backgrounds are becoming aware of, and beginning to stand up in opposing, the historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration in the United States, which proclaims itself the “greatest and freest country in the world” without the least sense of irony. The sheer number of people subjected to the dehumanizing and degrading violence of the State through its injustice system is difficult to wrap your mind around. Nearly 2.4 million men, women and children are in prison at any moment. As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has pointed out, more Black folks are in prison or under the control of the “justice” system than there were slaves just before the Civil War. There are five times the number of Black men incarcerated in the U.S. than in apartheid South Africa, where a white supremacist colonial regime subjugated the indigenous Black population for decades and is universally considered one of the most racist regimes in the history of the world. Hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino youth in New York City alone are fucked with by the police every year under “stop-and-frisk.” Whole families – including young children – who come here from around the world seeking a better future due to the depredations of U.S. imperialism on their home countries are criminalized and locked up in immigration prisons.
From deep within the belly of this monstrous imperialist beast, from the bowels of the torture units and the concrete and steel prison-tombs springing up across the prairies and plains of this country, brothers and sisters that this system has cast off as worthless are beginning to understand the historical and social forces that led them to the point of being locked within these hellholes, and beginning to see the pathway to a radically different future for all humanity. Prison cells designed to destroy human beings are being transformed into universities of revolution, where the tremendous potential of the wretched of the earth is beginning to be unleashed, and prisoners are one of the powerful sections of people beginning to transform themselves into emancipators of humanity.
That potential — and that reality — is the core of what is driving forward my political prosecution and their demands to put me back in jail. Because I am one of those wretched of the earth that this system has no future for. I got involved in a street organization to survive on the streets as a teenager after my family lost our home, and I was serving a long sentence in an adult maximum security prison by the time I was seventeen years old. I began to question what brought me and everyone else locked down in those hellholes to be there. And as conditions became increasingly repressive and more inhumane, I was placed into an indeterminate period of segregation – solitary confinement – where I was confronted with surviving for years in a living tomb until my release.
It was there, in those many years of torture that I spent in total isolation from human contact surrounded by crushing State violence on a daily basis, that I regained my humanity through the course of resisting those conditions and beginning to study and understand the world. Among other things I was studying, I began to receive revolutionary literature from the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, including a donated subscription to Revolution newspaper. And Revolution presented to me a real analysis of the historical development and functioning of this monstrous capitalist system, a serious strategy for organizing and making a revolution to sweep this system away, and a viable framework in Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism for actually running society after a revolution: to increasingly break down the divisions of class society as people struggle together to create a whole different way of life in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction, in all parts of the world, can throw off the chains of tradition, rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced or even fully imagined – a communist world.
My thinking and understanding of course did not change overnight. Both before and after my release from prison, I struggled with many questions – from individuality and leadership to the oppression of women—and comrades struggled with me—in making the radical ruptures to becoming a communist. But through the course of that struggle and being involved in many different realms of revolutionary work in building the movement for revolution, I’ve dedicated my life to serving the people and being an emancipator of humanity.
From oppressed communities under the gun of constant police brutality and repression, to standing with immigrants against demonization and deportation, from discussions in classrooms in high schools and universities to defending clinics and women’s right to abortion, from protesting torture and war crimes to demanding liberation for the LGBTQ community – I’m constantly amazed and inspired by all of the places I’ve been and people I’ve met and gotten to know while engaged in revolutionary work throughout the course of the few years I’ve been out of prison.
Political Repression for Serving the People
That is how I came to be at the EHSC on the morning of November 1, 2009, to document Sunsara’s statement and then record her talk at the off-site location, as I had done without incident the previous day at the same EHSC auditorium. And that is what this prosecution is really about. As Revolution wrote previously, in an article on my sentencing hearing while I was in Cook County Jail:
“Should a whole section of society (there are over 2 million people incarcerated right now in American prisons) be denied the right to participate in the full range of lawful social and political activity by mere virtue of being former prisoners, because the state will use prior criminal convictions to justify political persecution? A message is being sent to intimidate millions of others at the bottom of society, ‘Don’t even think about raising your head, participating in political activity or protest, much less taking up revolutionary politics, this is what we will do to you.’ We cannot allow this message to stand.
“The ‘public safety’ is hardly threatened by former prisoners stepping forward to take up the big social and political questions of the day, including those who become revolutionary emancipators of humanity. THAT is the life Gregory has chosen, not a ‘path of violence,’ as the judge asserted. THAT is what is ‘volatile,’ and threatening to their system, not Gregory picking up an iPhone.” (Judge Slams Videographer with 300 Days in Jail: FREE GREGORY!)
My dedication to exposing and opposing the crimes of this system, as part of building a movement for revolution to get rid of this system, is the real reason why they have pursued this political prosecution for three years and are now trying to put me back in jail. It will be a real defeat, and a real injustice, if they are able to do that. These outrages happened in a political prosecution in my case – however, they happen on a daily basis to millions of people herded through the courts into the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration.
Support Grows and Needs to Spread
Our struggle to defeat these charges has been a small part of the broader struggle against this oppressive system that inflicts monumental suffering on the people, here and around the world. Thousands of people from all different class and social backgrounds, from across the country and around the world, have stood with me through the course of this battle. Many who don’t agree with some or even most of my political views have opposed this vindictive prosecution. All of their support has been tremendously important and I’ve personally found it deeply moving. My defense committee has hosted numerous public discussions about the broader issues concentrated in this case, including speakers such as Bill Ayers and Cindy Sheehan. And this struggle is not over! We are calling on people to sign on to and spread the Not One More Day In Jail for Gregory Koger statement – which you can sign at dropthecharges.net.
Sometime within the next couple weeks, the court will set a hearing date where they will try to send me back to jail. We will let people know when that hearing is, and call on you to come out to that hearing and demonstration afterward, if you are able. We will continue to wage a legal and political offensive against these outrageous charges, and put this system – and the real criminals in the ruling class who preside over it – on trial.
Gravediggers of This System
I want to close by sharing a few words from two letters to Revolution newspaper from those who are still locked down in the dungeons who are also becoming emancipators of humanity:
“I was glad that the paper updated us on the predicament with Gregory Koger, by filling everybody in on the details of his case, all the way from the beginning up to this point. After seeing how they played the comrade, I’m even more determined to be about THIS when I get out. They do shit like that to deter muthafuckas like me, but it REALLY only fuels muthafuckas like me all the more so. I’ve been a rebellious dude my WHOLE LIFE, as I’ve related to you before. The difference between that being the case my WHOLE LIFE… and NOW, is that NOW I finally been able to put a circle around THAT THING, I’ve really been shitty at my WHOLE LIFE: CAPITALIST – IMPERIALISM and its whole decadent superstructure.”
“As I conclude these thoughts of mine as I reside in a solitary cell myself, I just want to reiterate how important it is for as many of us as possible to reach out to Gregory in some fashion in order to show our solidarity with him in a meaningful way… By the time he finishes those 300 days in the county jail or wherever he’s being held at, he should be able to leave those gates, knowing he did the right thing by leaving prison and choosing to dedicate his life to what this Party and this movement is all about. Conversely, we should send an unequivocal message to the bourgeois state, that they can’t indirectly squelch our determination by using legal repression; because in the end, we rally behind ours, and if we do happen to emerge from the repressive arm of its legal juggernaut, it only ends up magnifying our resolve, individually and collectively.”
Like these brothers and comrades, and many more behind the walls and on the streets, my life will continue to be dedicated to making revolution and emancipating humanity, whether I’m talking with students in inner-city high schools who face police brutality and repression every day, university students from more privileged backgrounds who are beginning to learn about how this system operates, or whether I am in jail learning from and organizing with other brothers locked down there. I will continue to be part of building this movement to end all of these injustices and bring forth a world where everybody can live a life worthy of human beings and flourish in ways undreamed of under this capitalist system – a communist world.
Promo to raise funds for ‘Occasioned by BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World.’ A film about a cultural event where people felt a door opened to the potential for a whole new world… a different way to think, feel and be. Contribute to this film, help this take further flight.
A broad coalition of prisoners at California’s notorious Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit) supermax prison today began an indefinite hunger strike to protest against and demand an end to the inhumane conditions of isolation and sensory deprivation that violate international human rights standards against torture that they endure on a daily basis.
As the recent article The Living Hell in Pelican Bay Prison by Li Onesto in Revolution newspaper documented, “Mass incarceration in this country is about locking up a whole section of society—especially poor Black and Latino men—to whom this system offers no future. Prisons in the U.S. are aimed at punishment—degrading, dehumanizing, and breaking people. And the SHU at Pelican Bay is a model in doing exactly that.”
The United States has the largest prison population in the world – with only 5% of the world’s population, it holds one-fourth of all prisoners in the world within its unrivaled and historically unparalleled racist dungeons. As Michelle Alexander has documented in her vital recent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, there are more Black folks in jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in this country just before the Civil War (listen to audio of her discussing the key points from her book here). And the United States has a higher rate of incarceration for Black men than apartheid South Africa, a regime universally considered one of the most racist in the history of the world.
That this system offers millions upon millions of youth no better future and no greater fate than crime and punishment, a future of living and dying being shoved through the revolving racist doors of the “justice” system, just one of the many crimes that the rulers of this system perpetrate upon the people of the world, is reason enough to sweep this system from the face of the earth and struggle together to bring into being a radically different and far more liberatory world for not just the people of the United States, but the whole world.
Mass incarceration is one of the key concentrations of social contradiction that not only affects millions of those cast off at the bottom of society but outrages many people from other strata and backgrounds that can serve to awaken and strengthen the political consciousness of the people, bring them forward in resistance to the crimes of this system, and exposing this cruelly oppressive and exploitative system as the outmoded fetter holding back the advancement and liberation of all humanity that capitalism-imperialism is – as part of building a movement for revolution, as Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, concentrated in Some Principles for Building A Movement for Revolution.
And as the recent Supreme Court ruling that conditions in California’s prisons violate Constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment portends, mass incarceration is becoming a faultline that divides the ruling class, and can potentially serve to further break open the possibility of a revolutionary situation developing (see A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party On The Strategy For Revolution for more on the development of a revolutionary situation and the strategy for making revolution).
The courageous example of these prisoners coming together, across racial and other dividing lines inculcated and fostered by those in power to keep people divided, from within the bowels of the most dehumanizing and degrading conditions, and stepping forward to demand an end to the torture and inhumane conditions being forced upon them by the United States government, risking death and retaliation in the process, should inspire and challenge us to support their struggle and step forward to join them – as part of getting rid of this whole damn capitalist system and bringing forward a liberated world for all people.
The brothers in Pelican Bay have agreed on the following five core demands, reprinted in their entirety below:
1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.
2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria –
Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement.
The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
The validation procedure used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employs such criteria as tattoos, readings materials, and associations with other prisoners (which can amount to as little as greeting) to identify gang members.
Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo v. Alameida settlement which restricted the use of photographs to prove association.
3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – CDCR shall implement the findings and recommendations of the US commission on safety and abuse in America’s prisons final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as follows:
End Conditions of Isolation (p. 14) Ensure that prisoners in SHU and Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) have regular meaningful contact and freedom from extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm. (pp. 52-57)
Make Segregation a Last Resort (p. 14). Create a more productive form of confinement in the areas of allowing inmates in SHU and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious, and other productive activities relating to having a sense of being a part of the community.
End Long-Term Solitary Confinement. Release inmates to general prison population who have been warehoused indefinitely in SHU for the last 10 to 40 years (and counting).
Provide SHU Inmates Immediate Meaningful Access to: i) adequate natural sunlight ii) quality health care and treatment, including the mandate of transferring all PBSP- SHU inmates with chronic health care problems to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.
4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food – cease the practice of denying adequate food, and provide a wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals, and allow inmates to purchase additional vitamin supplements.
PBSP staff must cease their use of food as a tool to punish SHU inmates.
Provide a sergeant/lieutenant to independently observe the serving of each meal, and ensure each tray has the complete issue of food on it.
Feed the inmates whose job it is to serve SHU meals with meals that are separate from the pans of food sent from kitchen for SHU meals.
5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.
Expand visiting regarding amount of time and adding one day per week.
Allow one photo per year.
Allow a weekly phone call.
Allow Two (2) annual packages per year. A 30 lb. package based on “item” weight and not packaging and box weight.
Expand canteen and package items allowed. Allow us to have the items in their original packaging [the cost for cosmetics, stationary, envelopes, should not count towards the max draw limit]
More TV channels.
Allow TV/Radio combinations, or TV and small battery operated radio
Allow Hobby Craft Items – art paper, colored pens, small pieces of colored pencils, watercolors, chalk, etc.
Allow sweat suits and watch caps.
Allow wall calendars.
Install pull-up/dip bars on SHU yards.
Allow correspondence courses that require proctored exams.
NOTE: The above examples of programs/privileges are all similar to what is allowed in other Supermax prisons (eg, Federal Florence, Colorado, and Ohio), which supports our position that CDCR-PBSP staff claims that such are a threat to safety and security are exaggerations.