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“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”—Karl Marx
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Statement in Support of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike

Since July 1st 2011, hundreds of prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU), joined by thousands more in over a third of California’s state prisons and in other prisons across the country, have been on an indefinite hunger strike demanding an end to the horrendous conditions they face languishing for years (some for decades) in isolation and sensory deprivation – conditions that violate international standards against torture. These courageous brothers have joined together to demand an end to the widespread, systematic policies of torture and human rights abuses that affect prisoners not just in Pelican Bay or California but are integral to the functioning of the world’s largest system of mass incarceration.

I know personally the horrors that these brothers are facing. Like too many others locked down in the hellholes of America’s prison system, I was caught up in survival in the street life as a youth and sentenced to serve many years in prison as a teenager. After being given an indeterminate period of segregation in prison, through intense study and resistance to the increasingly repressive conditions, I began to develop an understanding of the dynamics of this exploitative capitalist-imperialist system, and since my release have dedicated my life to serving the people in the struggle to emancipate all of humanity from the oppressive relations of class society.

My experience is shared by millions. With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. 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. 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. And there are more women incarcerated in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world.

The systematic use of torture constitutes a crime against humanity under international law. As the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum describes, “[crimes against humanity] are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority.” Long-term segregation in the U.S. prison system is just such a systematic practice of torture. As Dr. Atul Gawande, who documented torture in U.S. prisons, said in his March 2009 article Hellhole in The New Yorker: “In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement—on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.’

The courageous example of these prisoners coming together, across racial and other dividing lines fostered by those in power, 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 U.S. 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 humanity.

 

Circulate information on the prisoner’s demands and developments in the hunger strike, spread the information at Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website and more news and updates from Revolution newspaper.

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Support the Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay!

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.

Joining the Pelican Bay prisoners in their hunger strike are prisoners at Corcoran SHU, another hellhole known for the brutal and degrading conditions that the “greatest and freest country in the world” imposes on those ensnared within its inhuman clutches, including prison guards forcing prisoners to fight against each other in “gladiator fights” that the guards would bet on.

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.

Examples include:

  • 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.

 

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A Birthday Wish for A Radically Different Future… and Culture

Dear Friends,

I’m trying something different this year: this Sunday, May 15th, is my birthday. Most of you, probably even those who are my closest friends, don’t even know that, because its usually one of the hardest days of the year for me, and I try to just survive through the day without anyone know it or having to confront it publicly. But I’ve decided to try to change that this year.

Despite the very difficult political prosecution and imprisonment I’ve faced this last year, I’ve actually met and had the opportunity to get to know many of you – and many of you more deeply – through the course of the struggle to defeat this political prosecution I’m facing (and in case you’ve somehow missed that little detail of my recent life, check out more info about it at my defense committee’s website, www.dropthecharges.net). I’m constantly amazed at how many wonderful relationships I have developed through the course of this battle. And even more broadly, I’m amazed at the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met in the course of being engaged in the revolutionary struggle to bring into being a liberated future for all humanity that my life has been dedicated to since my release from prison a mere four-and-a-half years ago.

Although your friendship and support is far more precious to me than anything I could ever asked for, I’ve probably never asked you for a birthday gift. This year, aside from probably for the first time welcoming your warm birthday regards, I’m asking that you help my friends in the band Outernational fund their debut album.

With a sound that busts straight through the drab and degrading commodified cultural confines that encircle us on all sides, Outernational inspires with a liberating vision of a whole other future for humanity – “No borders or banks, no wars or tanks, no nations!” Kick-ass righteous revolutionary future rock that shakes the foundation of this oppressive system we live under. If you dream of a radically different way of living and you don’t wanna hear the same old sound, then you need to check out and support Outernational.

As Miles Solay, vocalist for Outernational, said recently: “We need a whole new culture that doesn’t degrade people or put women down, but shows a whole other way we could live. An inspiring culture that lifts people’s sights and their hope to change the world.”

Outernational is funding their debut album through Kickstarter:

“We are thrilled to announce the recording of OUTERNATIONAL’S DEBUT FULL LENGTH ALBUM!  Basic tracking is underway and 13 new songs are in progress for  Outernational’s first LP and declaration to the world.  Teaming up with the band on this important new recording are drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), co-producer Tom Morello, and engineer Jim Scott.

This album is being driven by a radical vision for the future: a world without borders, a new hope for young people, and a rejuvenated spirit of resistance and creation in these dark days of 2011. There’s no other band like Outernational and no other record like this being made now.  We are making revolutionary culture, songs and art for a new generation of kids, bands, dreamers and trouble-makers.  And to do it, WE NEED YOU.

$20,000 needs to be raised in 4 weeks to finish the record and we are relying on you to make sure this happens.  Kickstarter is ‘all or nothing’ and we will only be funded if we reach 100% of the goal.  Rewards for your pledges include vinyls and artwork, clothing designed by the band, and even autographed instruments used in the recording!  But the number one reward for your support is Outernational itself – enabling this band to step out in 2011.”

They need to reach $20,000 of funding before May 15th – so I’m personally asking that you help ensure that they reach that goal. Plus you can get some really cool gifts from the band for donating. But most importantly, you’ll be helping ensure that music with purpose and a radical and revolutionary culture and vision for the future has the chance to break out into society, lift people’s sights and inspire the world.

I hope you’ll contribute, and I deeply thank you for your friendship and support.

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Karl Rove – War Criminal!

May 28th Rove Chicago Theater

On Thursday, May 28th, the National Day of Resistance to U.S Torture, World Can’t Wait and others held protests across the country. We were out at the Chicago Theater demanding that Karl Rove be prosecuted for his war crimes.

War criminals must be confronted and opposed whenever they show their face in public. We were out in force, with banners, signs, huge versions of Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib series of paintings, orange jumpsuits and black hoods and the latest issue of Revolution newspaper challenging people to stand up and oppose torture and other war crimes being committed in their names. The police forced us to shut off our sound system after it was said that it could be heard all the way inside the Chicago Theater, so after that we chanted nearly non-stop for an end to torture and the prosecution of war criminals like Karl Rove and all the others in the former Bush regime and the current Obama regime.

May 28th National Day of Resistance to US Torture Chicago

Several comrades made it inside the theater and unfurled a large orange banner reading “Torture=War Crime – Prosecute” and shouted “Torture is a war crime! Prosecute war criminals! Rove is a war criminal!” during the program. After they were forced out of the theater, two other comrades confronted Rove during the event inside the theater, yelling “Waterboarding is torture! You’re a war criminal!”

May 28th banner from inside Chicago Theater

Many people thanked us for being out there, a few even tried to justify the use of torture, but no one there could turn a blind eye to reality and say that they don’t know that people have been and continue to be tortured by the U.S. government in their names. Silence equals complicity. Demand prosecution of war criminals! Demand an end to torture, indefinite detention, rendition, warrantless surveillance, and wars for empire!

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The Modern Art of Torture

A torturous tableau of naked, bloodied and bound prisoners writhing in agony on the floor of a cell at Abu Ghraib prison hangs from the neck of a hooded figure in an orange jumpsuit—this is how world-renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib series of paintings made their debut at the opening ceremony of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. Organized by the Chicago Chapter of The World Can’t Wait, Botero’s acclaimed works—which most major art museums in America, including the Art Institute of Chicago, refused to show—displayed on the streets of Chicago viscerally encapsulated the horrific crimes committed by the U.S. in furtherance of its imperialist agenda of global domination and the urgent need for people in this country to stand up and oppose these crimes.

WCW Art Institute of Chicago Botero Demo painting

Calling on people in the streets to refuse to allow the perpetrators and architects of torture in the Bush regime to remain unpunished for their crimes against humanity—and to stop the continuation of torture and escalation of war for empire under Obama—we struggled with people over the mic not to turn a blind eye to the torture being committed in their names. As I stood in an orange jumpsuit I explained to them that many of those being held and tortured for years by the U.S. government were simply out walking on the streets of cities around the world just like they were, when they were snatched off the street, a black hood shoved over their head, chained, and put on an airplane to Guantánamo or some unknown black site.

We took up the challenge put forth in Revolution newspaper (The Torture Memos) to “challenge people and wage sharp struggle with those who have been silent or indifferent to not turn their heads away when confronted with the horrible reality of what their government is responsible for.” I reminded people of the complicity of the German people to the crimes of the Nazis, and urged them not to be “Good Americans” and to confront and oppose these monstrous crimes that have been—and continue to be—committed in furtherance of U.S. imperialism. And I thought of my comrades still caged in the hellholes of the American prison system, and that tens of thousands of people right within this country are being subjected to the same kinds of torture that the ruling class of the U.S. has been exporting across the globe.

The world does not have to be this way! Humanity needs revolution and communism, and we must stand up and take up the challenge to emancipate humanity and get beyond all oppressive and exploitive relations and ideas.

Stand up on May 28th – National Day of Resistance to U.S. Torture

WCW Art Institute of Chicago Botero Demo sign

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Stop Thinking Like An American, Start Thinking About Humanity

As Barack Obama was being sworn in as the new leader of American imperialism, some comrades and I were in Chicago challenging people to consider what it is that Obama really represents, and to stop thinking like Americans and start thinking about humanity.

Stop Thinking Like An American, Start Thinking About Humanity -Michigan Ave. Chicago

We started the day hanging a banner over the Eisenhower Expressway, catching people’s attention on their drive into the city. A number of people honked their horns and waved and gave the thumbs-up, and a few people on the overpass even stopped in the middle of the street to ask about the sign and what it meant. One woman who stopped her car in the middle of the street and talked to me agreed that Obama’s silent complicity in the weeks-long Israeli massacre in Gaza and his plan to send tens of thousands of more troops into Afghanistan were serious concerns of hers, and she took a copy of Revolution newspaper to dig more deeply into exactly what this system is that Obama is now leading (See The Promise of Change, The Rules of The System… And the Real Revolution We Need).

Then we headed downtown to Michigan Ave., where huge JumboTrons had been set up for people to watch the inauguration. Again we had the huge banner, and quite a number of people came up to consider just what it meant, and many took pictures of it – though with the exception of a few videographers, photographers, and reporters (including one from a Spanish-language network) all of the corporate media made sure to avoid the sign and the statement it made that was unavoidable to the crowd gathered there. Many people came up to consider the Uncle Bam poster on the back page of Revolution newspaper as well:

Uncle Bam Revolution #153

Stop Thinking Like An American, Start Thinking About Humanity - Obama Inauguration, Michigan Ave. Chicago

Later in the day we went to DePaul University, and put the banner up at the corner of State and Jackson in downtown Chicago. Many people got copies of Revolution newspaper, and there was a lot of struggle and debate with people over Obama and this system.

Especially in this time of crisis for the American imperialist system, a time so dire that Obama had to be brought in by the ruling class as a trump card to suck people into supporting this system and all of its horrors, it is critically necessary that people oppose this system and get down with Revolution. A new face on American imperialism is not going to bring about any change for the better for the people of this world. Barack Obama stood by in silent criminal complicity as the Israeli army massacred over 1,200 Palestinians – the majority of which were civilians – in Gaza. He stood silent as Oscar Grant was executed by a cop on a subway platform on New Year’s Day in Oakland. On the very day of his inauguration 9 Iraqis died, including a mother and child and an elderly man and his daughter in Baghdad; and the day after 34 Iraqis were killed, and 18 bodies were found in a mass grave (See Iraq Body Count).  Afghan villagers reported that 25 civilians, including 5 women, were killed in a U.S. military raid on Obama’s inauguration day as well. And Obama wants to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.

This is not the “change” that humanity needs. What we need is a communist revolution to get rid of the exploitation and oppression inherent in this capitalist system – a revolution that will bring real change and hope to humanity. As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA put it:

“To those who say we should ‘give Obama a chance’—the question is: a chance to do what?

Obama has no problem with this system that causes so much misery and oppression, death and destruction, for so many people throughout the world—he is anxious to take over as head of this system. His problem is that this system is in serious crisis and faces all kinds of heavy challenges.

For those who really want an end to oppression, injustice and unjust war, our problem is this system. Our challenge is to make revolution to get rid of this system and emancipate all of humanity from its horrors.

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“Get in the Streets to Stop Police Terror” Contingent in the Bud Billiken Parade

Recently, the Chicago police have killed 6 people and shot 12 within a period of four weeks. The corporate media in the city remains silent on this outrageous rampage unleashed on the people, instead focusing on the propaganda of the police in relation to youth violence. Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis announced an Iraq-esque militarized “surge” of police in the city to intimidate and terrorize communities, including conducting roll calls in the streets with patrol cars blaring sirens and flashing lights and SWAT teams in full gear. Weis has admitted that his goal is to intimidate the people with a militarized presence: “When people see police officers in uniform like this, it sends a message. I’ll admit they are a little intimidating and they do have more of a military presence, but if that will cause people to disperse an area or maybe not engage in criminal activity, I’m willing to send that message.”

Opposing this murderous rampage and campaign of intimidation and terror by the Chicago police is vitally important. To that end, a contingent marched this weekend in the Bud Billiken Parade, the largest African American parade in the United States.

A huge banner reading “Get in the Streets to Stop Police Terror! Indict – Convict – Jail the Killer Cops” was banned from entering the parade by parade organizers and police. A police sergeant stated that he didn’t want signs exposing and protesting the police shootings to “rile up the crowd.” Above is a picture of the banned sign, and below is a shot of the parade organizers and gang of police that stopped the sign from entering the parade.

Eventually the contingent was allowed to march in the parade, carrying and passing out 15,000 Revolution newspaper broadsheets with the headline “Chicago Cops Shoot 12, Kill 6 in 4 Weeks: Trigger Happy Police… and a Criminal System”, as well as posters of the victims. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the contingent was the only one in the entire parade to have four police ATVs “escorting” it the through the entire parade.

Many people in the parade threw up the fist and chanted along with the contingent calling for the indictment, conviction, and jailing of the killer cops. Others along the parade route were stopped by the police from entering and joining the contingent.

At the end of the parade, it started pouring rain, and people took shelter under a roof of a Citgo gas station. There was a massive police presence there, including numerous police on horses pushing through the crowd and several police wagons. After a period of time, the police announced to the people huddling under the roof to escape the torrential downpour that if they didn’t leave within 5 minutes they would all be leaving in the police wagons…

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