So I was reading a pretty interesting article, The New Black Power. Good piece on some of the young Black folks putting in work for liberation in Chicago. Got down to this paragraph, and really started thinking about everything that’s been going on since George Zimmerman was acquitted for gunning down Trayvon Martin in July 2013:
But what happened the second day wasn’t part of the plan: George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. The young activists held hands as they watched the TV reports. Some wept.
The tension that had built up found its outlet in that verdict. It was, Carruthers says, “a moment of collective trauma, but also a moment of collective clarity.” That night, half of the participants hit the streets to protest, while the rest stayed behind to write what would become the group’s first public statement. (The New Black Power, Chicago magazine March 2016)
I had spent most of that week keeping up with the trial and preparing for the almost-inevitable protest we would have to have when there was no justice for Trayvon. It was a warm July summer weekend, and I was preparing to be sent back to jail to finish serving a 300 day sentence for a fabricated political prosecution based on video recording a political statement on an iPhone at the “Ethical Humanist” Society of Chicago. I was there in part to record any police brutality and instead became thesubject of police brutality and a political prosecution. That is another story for another time. But after appealing the case up to the Illinois Supreme Court, my appeal was rejected without any of my substantive legal claims being addressed. I also had a warrant out for my arrest for missing an alleged court hearing on said case which was never sent to my attorney. Another surreal side story I’ll omit at this time.
So this entire time that I’m participating in organizing these protests, I have a warrant, I’m preparing to “turn myself in” at the next court hearing on July 23, 2013. Turning oneself in was never something I saw as a noble act, nor did I intend to smugly submit to injustice based on knowing that I was being completely set up. There was nothing that I liked or felt good with about “turning myself in” – except for the agenda of struggle I set for myself to be part of during my time locked up.
I go to my court hearing on July 23rd, accompanied by 30 or 40 friends, comrades and supporters. I began the hunger strike the previous night just before midnight, after a small piece of baklava and my traditional libations of a blunt and a 40oz of Olde English 800. After a few perfunctory words from the judge, I’m taken out of the back of the courtroom in handcuffs into the bullpens in the bowels of the courthouse to be processed and sent on a bus back to Cook County Jail.
I spent two weeks on hunger strike in Cook County Jail in support of the California prison hunger strike that summer. The next summer I’d appear in newspapers and night vision green video returning tear gas to militarized pigs moving on us with APCs and assault rifles, standing with the people of Ferguson.
I’m trying to process and write about all of this, while living with way too many years in solitary confinement particularly but really, prison period. Fighting a 4 year long political prosecution where I was sent back to jail didn’t help in many ways, even though we did a tremendous amount taking on that case and won – hands down – politically even if I lost legally.
Shit has been really hard for the last year or so. In some ways I’ve made some important steps, in my personal life and in my writing. But in a lot of ways I struggle to even make it from day to day. I just gotta keep putting in work on the writing, on fighting to survive, on fighting this system… I got a few stories I need to tell yet.
James Kilgore is a writer, an educator, and a social justice activist who teaches and works at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He spent six years in prison, during which time he drafted his three published novels. He is the author of Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time (The New Press). He currently lives with his family in Urbana, Illinois.
Bill Ayers is University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (retired), member of the executive committee of the Faculty Senate and founder of both the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, taught courses in interpretive and qualitative research, oral history, creative non-fiction, urban school change, and teaching and the modern predicament. A graduate of the University of Michigan, the Bank Street College of Education, Bennington College, and Teachers College, Columbia University, Ayers has written extensively about social justice, democracy and education, the cultural contexts of schooling, and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical, and political enterprise. He is a past vice-president of the curriculum studies division of the American Educational Research Association.
To my brothers and sisters locked down behind the walls:
One important dynamic that developed during the historic uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, that began last August after the police execution of 18-year-old Michael Brown for “walking while Black” was that brothers and sisters who the morning before were into it with each other in rivalries between different street organizations and other conflicts, courageously and defiantly stood together in the face of racist pigs desperately trying to repress the rebellion. The world watched the people of Ferguson stand boldly and unrelentingly in the face of old-school Jim Crow tactics like threatening people with snarling, vicious police dogs straining on leashes held by white cops, to the New Jim Crow-era tactics of armored assault vehicles with snipers atop aiming down their sights at women and children holding hand-lettered “Justice for Mike Brown” posters, body-armor and desert-camo-clad SWAT teams with assault rifles and no ID tags, and the flash-bangs and tear gas of advancing police blockades attempting to push the overwhelmingly Black protesters out of the streets — their utterly failed attempts to get people to “go away” and get this rebellion off the streets and out of the view of the world.
In the face of all of that — and I was there personally on those front lines in those first days, in that tears gas with the people of Ferguson — many, many young brothers and sisters who live every day with the boot of these racist pigs on their necks for the first time saw and experienced the power of standing collectively against the real enemy — the police, the armed enforcers of this whole racist, oppressive system. Blue, red, Crips, Bloods, GDs, Vice Lords, Folks, People — it didn’t matter what organization they represented, or who they rode with — what mattered was that for the first time in way too damn long the people refused to accept another police murder of another Black youth, and the daily repression of police-state New Jim Crow America.
And those of us who have spent time behind the walls, many of us have had similar experiences when we are locked down with brothers and sisters who are in different street organizations, or of difference races. We’ve had the chance to stand together and put those differences aside in the face of our real enemy. Many of you, I’m sure, know of (and some of you, like myself, took part in and/or supported) the California prison hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. Tens of thousands of prisoners, of all different racial backgrounds, from many different street organizations, came together and put their lives on the line to demand an end to the torture of solitary confinement and demand humane treatment. In fact, the lead organizers of the California prison hunger strike collectively issued an Agreement to End Hostilities in August 2012, in which they called on brothers and sisters locked up across California — as well as on the streets — to put aside their differences and direct the struggle towards the oppressors running this system.
These examples show the power and potential of what we can collectively accomplish when we stand together and recognize who our real enemies are. And look, we know the youth are far too often engaged in rivalries and violence against each other, all of us locked on the bottom of this society, fighting over crumbs or for a little respect. Many of us have been caught up in and been part of that ourselves, myself included. This must be transformed, we must be part of transforming ourselves, and the world.
I’ve been through that struggle myself. I was never no “big time shot caller” or anything, but during my time in prison — particularly during the years I did in solitary confinement — I began to see how all the shit we were going through to try to survive on the bottom of this society was part of how this capitalist system operates. And through a lot of study and struggle, in which this newspaper (Revolution) was very integral, I came out of prison and got involved in the movement for revolution. Because nothing short of revolution is going to end this — the world doesn’t have to be like this and can be radically different.
But you don’t have to be a revolutionary to see and know that if we put aside our differences, especially those of us in street organizations, we can be a powerful force in the struggle to push back the New Jim Crow, the pigs fucking with and trying to lock us up every day, murdering Black and brown youth every fucking day.
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has called for April 14 to be a nationwide day of shutting this system down, to take forward and heighten the struggle that kicked off in Ferguson and spread nationwide through the end of the year. An important component to that would be for those youth and O.G.’s and others in street organizations to make a formal call for nationwide cessation of hostilities with each other and to take up being part of the struggle against the New Jim Crow. So we are calling on those of you locked down to take this up. Write to us — and to everyone you know on the streets, as well — and give us your thinking on this. I know you have been watching and reading and keeping keenly abreast of the historic uprising that has been going down nationwide since Ferguson kicked it off in August. Many of us have been in the streets a lot, and one shortcoming has been getting the voices of the brothers and sisters behind the walls into the mix of this. A nationwide Call for a Cessation of Hostilities between street organizations could play a monumental role in taking this struggle to a higher level.
Send your letters right away to:
Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
1321 N. Milwaukee #407
Chicago, IL 60622
Originally published in the March 2, 2015 edition of Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Furthering the Movement to Stop Mass Incarceration
Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro – Ballroom Salon B – C
2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, with an additional 5 million under the control of the criminal “in”justice system on probation and parole. Over 30,000 are in immigration detention centers, and Obama has deported a record 2 million immigrants. As Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, courthouse doors are closed to systemic legal challenges to the racial inequality which has lead to more than 50% of the prison population being people of color.
This will not stop without a mass movement that demands an end to mass incarceration and the criminalization of Black and Latino youth. In this panel, former prisoners and others intimately familiar with the broader social consequences of mass incarceration will lead a discussion on how to turn around what is now two generations living under the injustice of mass incarceration. We will call for a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October 2014, initiated by Dr. Cornel West and Carl Dix, co-founders of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
Gregory Koger – Revolutionary communist activist with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN). Gregory just returned from spending most of the last month on the front lines of the Ferguson rebellion in response to the police execution of Michael Brown. A member of the National Lawyers Guild, paralegal and former jailhouse lawyer, Gregory spent 11 years in prison, including over 6 years straight in solitary confinement, where he transformed himself from a gang member to a revolutionary. Since his release from prison has dedicated his life to ending the injustices of capitalism. He has spoken from cellblocks to universities about need to build a mass movement to end mass incarceration as part of the struggle for a liberated world for all humanity. Deeply inspired by the California prison hunger strike, Gregory organized a Chicago Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons in August 2011. During the 30,000-strong resumption of the hunger strike in July 2013, he spoke on NPR and other radio stations in support of the brothers and sisters on hunger strike, and he spent two weeks on hunger strike in solidarity while locked down in Cook County Jail serving a 300-day sentence for recording a political statement on an iPhone. He is currently the Plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the decades-old policy of banning all newspapers in Cook County Jail (Koger v. Dart).
Mark Lewis Taylor – Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Writer, teacher, scholar and activist, Mark Lewis Taylor is a theologian in the vein of engaged thinkers who trace and analyze liberating spirit – the spirit of decolonizing political practices, wherein re-membered collective suffering of the earth and its oppressed peoples can become “specters,” material forces for multidimensional revolutionary change. In addition to being the author of several books, he is the founder of “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” a group of teachers from all levels of education, organizing since 1995 for a new trial on behalf of Abu-Jamal, a journalist on Pennsylvania’s death row for 30 years. Activist movements achieved a victory in 2011, securing Abu-Jamal’s transfer from death row to general population. Nevertheless, the struggle to free him from prison continues, as many join in support of Desmond Tutu’s demand for his “immediate release.”
Brian Orozco – NLG member and practicing lawyer who has worked with prisoners and their families in California and Illinois and will speak to police/prison guard brutality, what the prisoners and their family members have been doing to protest their own conditions, and why massive resistance is needed to end the torture of solitary confinement and other atrocities. And why the NLG needs to be part of the Month of Resistance.
For 2 generations, Black and Latina/Latino youth in the U.S. have been shipped off to prison in numbers never before seen anywhere in the world at any time. More than 2 million people, of all nationalities languish in prison — ten times the number 50 years ago. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population! More than 60% of those in U.S. prisons are Black or Latina/o. 32% of Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are in prison or on parole or probation on any given day. More than 80,000 people in prison are held in solitary confinement under conditions that fit the international definition of torture.
The incarceration of women has increased by 800% over the last 30 years. They, along with those whose sexual orientation is not “mainstream” or who are gender non-conforming — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex prisoners — face extremely harsh and abusive treatment in prison, including widespread rape. Alongside this has risen a massive program of criminally prosecuting undocumented immigrants, essentially hidden from public view. As a result of the devastation of their homelands, these immigrants have been driven to this country to work without papers, and today they are being criminalized. The US chastises other countries for human rights violations, yet it enmeshes the lives of tens of millions of people in its criminal “injustice” system. The courts, cops, prisons and La Migra all play a part in enforcing mass incarceration. There are genocidal aspects and a genocidal logic to this program, and it has been gathering momentum. All this is intolerable, and, if it isn’t stopped, it will get much worse!
Mass incarceration has grown beside the criminalization of whole peoples; a situation in which every African-American or Latina/o is a permanent suspect – treated as guilty until proven innocent by police and racist vigilantes, if they can survive to prove their innocence. This is especially concentrated among the youth, starting with cops in schools, arresting children for things that used to mean a visit to the principal’s office at worse, putting youth on a trajectory from school to prison. Black and Latina/o youth have a target on their backs in this society. Literally tens of millions of lives have been scarred and worse – both the direct victims and their families and communities. People who heroically resisted these and other injustices have been imprisoned, some of them for decades. These political prisoners must be freed.
The malignancy of mass incarceration did not arise from a sudden epidemic of crime. Nor did it result from people making poor personal choices. Instead it arose from cold political calculations made in response to the massive and heroic struggle for the rights of Black and other minority peoples that took place in the 1960’s and 70’s, and in response to the enormous economic and social changes brought about by globalized production. This cancer of mass incarceration has been, from the beginning, nothing but a new Jim Crow in place of the old one. Like the old Jim Crow, it drew on, fed off and reinforced the deep-seated roots of the racism that grew up with slavery. Like the old Jim Crow, it has been, from the beginning, unjustifiable, utterly immoral and thoroughly illegitimate.
This must stop – NOW! Not the next generation, not in ten years, not any time off in some promised future that never seems to come. NOW!
But it will not stop unless and until millions of people, of all nationalities, stand up and say NO MORE, in unmistakable terms. The history of this and every other country shows that without struggle, there can be no positive change; but with struggle this kind of change becomes possible.
It is not enough to oppose this in the privacy of your own conscience or the company of like — minded people. It is not enough to curse this out, but then tell yourself nothing can be done. If you live your life under this threat, you MUST act. If you understand how wrong this is and how much it devastates the lives of so many millions, you MUST act.
NOW is the time to act. People are beginning to awaken and stir. Resistance has begun: Heroic hunger strikes by people in prisons and detention centers and outpourings in response to murders by police and racist vigilantes. Prisoners in solitary confinement in California declared a cessation of racial hostilities as Black, Latino and white prisoners came together to resist the torture of solitary confinement. All this must be taken to a much higher level. We call for a massive Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October of this year; a Month that can impact all of society; one that can open the eyes of millions of people to the need to end this new Jim Crow.
In October, 2014, our resistance to mass incarceration must reverberate across the country and around the world. There must be powerful demonstrations nationwide on October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Throughout October there must be panels and symposiums on campuses and in neighborhoods; major concerts and other cultural expressions; ferment in the faith communities, and more — all aimed at taking the movement to STOP mass incarceration to a much higher level. October, 2014, must be a month that makes clear that thousands and thousands are willing to stand up and speak out today and to awaken and rally forth millions. It must be the beginning of the end of the mass incarceration in the U.S. To that end:
We the undersigned pledge to make October, 2014, as powerful as possible;
We pledge to support resistance to this monstrous system of mass incarceration between now and October; and
We pledge to utilize October as a launching pad to go still further, mobilizing more people until mass incarceration and the criminalization of entire peoples really is NO MORE!
An Appeal to the Brothers and Sisters Locked Down in this Society’s Prisons:
Bear Witness to Torture in U.S. Prisons and to All Law Enforcement Abuse
2.3 million of you are locked away in the dungeons of this society, more people than in any other country in the world! You have been subjected to horrible conditions, and those held in solitary confinement have faced actual torture—arbitrary confinement, isolation and denial of any human contact for weeks, months and even years.
The authorities justify this by calling you “the worst of the worst,” criminal predators who are little more than animals. They say subjecting you to brutal suppression keeps the rest of society safe.
This is not true. The U.S. prison population has leaped by more than 800 percent since 1971 because the authorities have criminalized successive generations of Black and Latino youth. Under the “War on Drugs,” Black men are 10 times more likely than whites to be incarcerated for drug possession, even though Blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate. Women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population, and more women are imprisoned in the U.S. than anywhere else on the planet. Whole families of undocumented immigrants—including young children—languish in immigration prisons as record-breaking numbers of immigrants are locked up.
The backdrop to this is the way inner cities have been stripped of the employment opportunities needed to survive and raise families, and the educational system has been geared to fail our youth. This has left millions of youth growing up facing futures without hope. The response of the authorities to all this has been unleashing cops to harass and brutalize youth, unleashing the courts and enacting laws and policies to warehouse people in prison and to subject formerly incarcerated people to open discrimination after their release from prison.
All this has enmeshed tens of millions of people in the web of the criminal “injustice” system. It amounts to a slow genocide aimed at Black and Latino people. It is racist and unjust, and it must be stopped!
We call on you to join the efforts to stop it. The world needs to know of the sadistic, systemic horror of long-term solitary confinement, which is enforced on more than 80,000 people in the U.S. prison system. We know that revisiting this can be difficult for those who are facing or have faced these conditions, but the truth must be laid bare for all. All of society needs to know of the racial profiling that sucked you into the pipeline to prison, of the horrific conditions everyone in prison endures and of the open discrimination formerly incarcerated people face after release. You are in a unique position to expose the lying justifications given by the authorities for what they are.
Send these stories to the Bear Witness Project of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Through this you will be opening the eyes of those who are shielded from the real situation in the inner cities and the actual conditions enforced in prison. And letting those caught up in the cycle of going in and out of prison know that what they’re up against are social problems, not individual ones, and that by standing up and resisting them together, we can change the way mass incarceration is looked at in society and contribute to bringing forward a movement that can end it.
Many were inspired by the efforts of prisoners to transform the horrible conditions they are subjected to through hunger strikes in California and other places. The call for racial unity issued by California prisoners and efforts by prisoners to engage and spread radical and revolutionary ideas about what is the problem in society and the world and what needs to be done about them are also inspiring. These heroic efforts need to be made known to all. You telling your stories can help make that happen.
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network and others will make these stories widely accessible. The stories will be posted online, run in print media, and read and spoken about in electronic media. Readings and other events, involving authors, actors, professors and other public figures, will be held to let as many people as possible hear of the horrors mass incarceration and all its consequences inflict on so many.
As people who have been in prison ourselves, we know that when the authorities imprison you, they tell the rest of society you don’t matter. Show that they are wrong. Lift your heads and raise your voices. Let the truth about the slow genocide strangling Black and Latino communities ring out from behind the prison walls and reverberate among all who hate injustice!
Carl Dix, representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party who was imprisoned in the military for refusing to go to Vietnam
Clyde Young, a revolutionary communist who was imprisoned in his youth
Gregory Koger, a revolutionary communist who was imprisoned as a youth and spent many years in solitary confinement.
Mail correspondence to: PRLF 1321 N Milwaukee, #407 Chicago, IL 60622
or Stop Mass Incarceration Network P.O. Box 941, Knickerbocker Station, New York City, NY 10002-0900
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.
Join us for a workshop at the People’s Summit on Prison System Injustices: Racism, Solitary Confinement, and the Detention of Immigrants with Gregory Koger, Mark Clements, Lynne Jackson, and Anthony Rayson
Saturday, May 12th, 11:45am at 500 W. Cermack – Room 715
Mark Clements & Gregory Koger
Mark A. Clements, is a Chicago Police torture victim who spent 28 years inside Illinois prison for a crime that he did not commit. He serves today as Administrator over the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Jail Jon Burge Coalition.
Gregory Koger spent over six years straight in solitary confinement during his eleven years held in Illinois prisons. During his time in solitary confinement, Gregory studied broadly and became increasingly politically conscious and developed as a revolutionary and communist. Since his release, Gregory’s life has been dedicated to struggling against the injustices of this capitalist system and for a radically more liberated world, and he speaks and writes on the horrendous conditions and torture in U.S. prisons, mass incarceration and the criminalization of the youth, as well as the vast potential for those that this system has cast off to transform themselves and the world. He will focus on the historically unprecedented and racist system of mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, situating its development in the historical context of the foundational white supremacy of the United States and the dynamics of capitalism-imperialism.
Lynne Jackson of Albany, NY is a co-founder of Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims). Her involvement with the issue of preemptive prosecution began when two Muslim men in Albany, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, were sentenced to fifteen years in prison after being entrapped by the FBI. In 2010, Lynne organized the campaign for the Albany Common Council to pass the Albany Resolution, which urges the U.S. Justice Department to implement the recommendation of its own Inspector General and establish an independent panel to review the convictions of Muslims who have been preemptively prosecuted to ensure their fair treatment under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. She will focus on pre-trial and post-conviction solitary confinement conditions, as well as their effects on the prisoners, their families, and the community. Case examples will be given in detail, and letters and poems from prisoners describing their experiences will be read.
Anthony Rayson of the South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross will discuss the Crete Detention Center, ICE and the Corrections Corporation of America, as well as his experience with providing literature and zines to prisoners and the importance of letting the voices of prisoners be heard.
Opening remarks by former prisoner Gregory Koger at LaSalle & Jackson on February 20th for the Occupy4prisoners march and rally in Chicago:
Photo courtesy FJJ
Amidst these financial buildings that literally and figuratively concentrate the stark reality of a system that puts the interests of profit over people, where commodities produced collectively by the people all across the world are bought and sold in trading pits and electronic blips on computer screens, and where the wealth of all that labor is wrenched away from the 99%, the people who created it, and into the coffers of the 1% – and the class that rules over society – Occupy Chicago headquarters at LaSalle and Jackson stands in the shadow of a federal prison. The Metropolitan Correctional Center, which we will be marching to momentarily, looms in eerie silence a block away from the Federal Reserve Bank, just beyond the Chicago Board of Trade.
This is emblematic of the omnipresent invisibility of the nearly 2.5 million men, women & children locked down in the hellholes of America’s historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration – and the millions more, mainly youth and people of color, who live under the threat of incarceration or the stigma and discrimination of life branded as a “criminal” or “felon.”
Wall Street and much of the financial district of Manhattan is built on the bones and bodies of slaves, and the first slave market in New York was built at the end of Wall Street. This system was founded on slavery, the extermination of the native peoples and the theft of their land, and the theft of half of Mexico.
Prisons have been integral to enforcing the brutal inhumanity of this system, repressing whole sections of society as well as groups and movements who have risen up in struggle for liberation. After the Civil War, “slavery by another name” was reimposed on Black folks through a Jim Crow system of racist laws that had former slaves arrested for such “crimes” as vagrancy and forced to labor for corporations – and sometimes even forced back to the owners of the plantations from which they were just freed.
When workers began to form unions and struggle against capitalist exploitation, the police and prison cells were waiting. When Black folks in the South began to stand up in determined struggle to demand to be treated as human beings, the police were there – with clubs and dogs and water hoses and jail cells. When broad sections of people rose up in the 1960s, the rulers of this system were profoundly shaken by the power of the people and unleashed wave after wave of repression, including assassinating and imprisoning leaders of the movement. And, as we’ve seen in our time, the coordinated national repression of the Occupy Movement – which we must stand against.
"Free 'em all!" - Occupy4prisoners Chicago formerly incarcerated: (from left) Gregory Koger, Fred Hampton, Jr., Dickey Gaines, and Darby Tillis. Photo courtesy FJJ.
Recognizing and fearing the power of the people, the rulers of this system set out to prevent any liberating movement from developing again. And as they searched for ways to more profitably exploit people in other countries, and took the factories and industrial jobs out of our cities, so began the explosion of mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, with a constant and growing stream of primarily Black and Brown people ripped from their families and intentionally defunded communities into the prison-tombs springing up across the prairies and plains.
Today we stand with thousands of others across the country in support of the bottom 1% of the 99%, locked down in prisons and jail cells and immigration “detention centers” across the country…