Dedicated to Anthony Wagner, Iraq veteran who opposed and spoke out against the wars and occupations for empire. Anthony passed away just hours after marching on Wall Street with other veterans in support of Scott Olsen on November 3, 2011.
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I have found it difficult to write, as Anthony and I were good friends and spent many hours together, including all-nighters working on the video for the March 19th protest on the anniversary of the Iraq war, watching movies and documentaries on Netflix, struggling with the trauma and pain this system inflicted on so many of us, and kicking it deeply about resistance and revolution and the possibility of a future where people all across the world could live lives worthy of human beings.
I last saw Anthony on October 15th, the global day of protests for the Occupy Movement. It was the first time I had seen him in person in a while, since I had been involved in organizing things around the California prison hunger strike and working on my appeal, and the first time I had been out in the streets in a major demonstration since before my political prosecution, trial and imprisonment in the Cook County Jail last year. We both were amazed at how much had changed in the world since we last saw each other a few months earlier in the summer, and how inspiring it was to be able to be out in the streets in the mix of this profoundly exciting upsurge of resistance around major faultline contradictions that hold so much potential for liberation.
I’m proud to say that my last memory of being with Anthony was standing in the streets with him on that global day of occupation, and the night when the first tents when up at Occupy Chicago, standing with people all across the globe in determined struggle for a liberated future for all humanity.
I hope to be able to write more soon, it has been difficult… But as we here in Chicago have reflected and remembered about Anthony’s life, and as Sunsara Taylor beautifully voiced (in her statement here), what his life was about serves as a living example that millions of people should learn deeply from. In the hours before his passing, Anthony was marching on Wall Street with other veterans, refusing to be soldiers for this monstrous system and instead joining in the struggle against the crimes and injustices inflicted by this system, along with the massive outpouring of people who are stepping onto the stage of history in righteous rebellion, filled with hope and determination for a better world…
January 1, 2011: Police shoot and kill Tory Davis…
January 7, 2011: Police shoot Darius Penix, 27-years old. Shot at 16 times, killing him at a traffic stop…
June 7, 2011: Police shoot Flint Farmer numerous times, killing him while he holds a cellphone…
July 25, 2011: Police shoot 13-year-old Jimmell Cannon four times…
October 5, 2011: Amit A. Patel is chased into Lake Michigan by police. He died a few hours later. Age 31…
Names and stories from the list of 57 people shot and/or killed by the Chicago police this year ring out in a striking indictment of these crimes of the system, reverberating off City Hall and the State of Illinois building.
As people streamed into the plaza and the stage was being set up, the electricity of the day began to course through the air. Revolutionary music from Outernational and conscious hip-hop thundered off the skyscrapers overlooking the plaza. Curious bystanders and tourist were drawn into the growing scene of resistance, as protesters unfurled Stolen Lives banners and posters condemning police brutality and murder, and passing out flyers with the faces of victims of police murder.
October 22 Chicago organizer reads a statement from Flint Farmer's father.
Once the rally started, a statement from Flint Farmer’s father was read to the crowd of 100 people of all different backgrounds gathered to demand an end to police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation. Family members of victims of police brutality and murder, young folks from Occupy Chicago and Occupy the Hood, people who were outraged by the execution of Troy Davis, as well as college and high school students stood shoulder-to-shoulder to demand that this must stop.
Gregory Koger, a former prisoner who spent many years in solitary confinement and who has been involved in the movement for revolution since his release from prison, condemned the historically unprecedented explosion of racist mass incarceration in the U.S. and the spoke about the courageous example of the prisoners on hunger strike in California (see below).
Gregory Koger, revolutionary former prisoner who spent many years in solitary confinement, speaks at October 22 Chicago.
After the Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party on the Occasion of October 22, 2011 was read, others spoke out. Relatives of Jose Diaz, killed by Berwyn police, spoke; one relative said that “even though it was 11 years ago, it feels like yesterday.” Jamia Smith, the teenage sister of Devon Lee Pitts—who was killed by a police officer driving drunk—brought the crowd to tears as she read a poem with the lines, “even as I write this, I still feel you around, my big brother, my guardian angel,” with tears of sadness running down her face. Mark Clements, a survivor of police torture and activist with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty who spent 28 years in prison on a wrongful conviction, condemned the legal lynching of Troy Davis and led the chant, “Remember Troy Davis!” Occupy Chicago voted at their General Assembly to attend and send a representative speaker to stand in solidarity with O22, who said, “We have to end the suffering. It has to stop now!”
Jamia Smith, the teenage sister of Devon Lee Pitts who was killed by a police officer driving drunk, speaks with Mark Clements and other family members who lost loved ones to police murder.
The rally concluded with a member of the People’s Neighborhood Patrol reading their founding Proclamation and calling on people to join the patrols. Several people signed up.
The crowd defiantly marched out of the plaza, chanting “Egypt, Wall Street, Pelican Bay –We refuse to live this way!” This spirit was heightened musically by a raucous anarchist brass band. The march grew as it snaked through the Saturday afternoon crowds on State Street. A banner with pictures of people killed by Chicago police stretched across the sidewalk side by side with a banner of Troy Davis brought to the rally by students from Columbia College. People stepped aside to let the protesters through, with many smiling widely that this question was being addressed and some even joining chants including “Indict, convict, send the killer cops to jail—The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” After moving through the crowded streets of the Chicago Loop, they marched into the occupation surrounding the Federal Reserve Bank building, mingling in with the chanting, drumming scene at Occupy Chicago.
The raucous anarchist brass band energizes the crowd as they march.
Marching Against Police Chiefs
The Chicago Ad Hoc Committee for Oct 22nd, joining with World Can’t Wait and the Midwest Anti-War Mobilization, called for protesters to reconvene at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Gala taking place at the Chicago Hilton later that evening. This was part of the IACP convention, a convention of police commanders who order murder, torture and rape. Their members include 20,000 commanders of police forces that rain brutality and terror down on civilians from Saudi Arabia to London, England, where police brutality helped spark major uprisings this spring.
As the time to reconvene approached, a “mic check” was called at the HQ of Occupy Chicago and the crowd was challenged to join a march down to the Hilton. About 30 people marched out of the HQ bound for the IACP gala, chanting “Cairo, London, Chicago—Police brutality has got to go!” to the accompaniment of the anarchist brass band.
Once the march arrived at the Hilton, the march had grown in numbers and it was greeted by police lines and barriers. Protestors responded creatively to the police repression by positioning themselves on the other three corners and a determined and defiant protest ensued, denouncing the IACP in English and Spanish.
The October 22nd action concluded with the IACP protesters marching up Michigan Avenue to Grant Park, where they greeted thousands of people marching in to occupy the park; later that night 130 Occupy Chicago protesters were arrested while attempting to establish a permanent occupation at the park.
A banner of Stolen Lives held by family members who lost loved ones to Chicago police murder stand shoulder-to-shoulder with protesters condemning police brutality around the world outside the International Association of Chiefs of Police gala.
Former Prisoner Gregory Koger Speaks at October 22nd Rally
The following is the text of Gregory Koger’s speech at the Chicago O22 rally:
I’m here to speak about the criminalization of a generation: there’s been an explosion of mass incarceration since the early 1970s, historically unprecedented in the history of the world.
The U.S. has 5% of world population – 25% of worlds prisoners. More women are incarcerated here than anywhere else in the world.
Nearly 2.5 million men, women & children in are prison and close to 8 million are ensnared within the inhuman clutches of the so called “criminal justice system” today.
The rate of incarceration for Black males is over five times higher than 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.
Joining in with the upsurge of resistance sweeping the globe, in July thousands of prisoners in California—led by prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU—went on hunger strike to demand an end to the torture & inhumane treatment they face.
Within days, over 6,500 prisoners in one-third of California prisons joined the hunger strike.
After three weeks they temporarily came off hunger strike, and then resumed the hunger strike on September 26. Within days, nearly 12,000 prisoners were on hunger strike.
The CDC retaliated: they banned prisoner’s lawyers, withheld mail and visits, and threatened to place prisoners on hunger strike in administrative seg.
At the end of last week, they temporarily came off again. Prisoners have stated that though they are willing to die rather than face these conditions of torture, they do not want to die. They know that it will take people on outside to force the government to meet their demands, and that will not happen in the time they can remain on hunger strike and live to see those changes.
Despite the demonization and dehumanizing portrayal, the majority of prisoners are locked up for non-violent drug offenses as part of “war on drugs,” which began in the early 1970s but expanded exponentially in the 1980s. And the “war on drugs” was a strategy for the ruling class to impose a “counterinsurgency before insurgency” because they fear the power of the people rising up to challenge the crimes and injustices of this system.
They saw the power of the people in the 1960s, but because people didn’t make a revolution out of the upsurge of the 1960s, the ruling class was determined to crush any potential liberating movement of the people from developing again.
Despite their attempts, even in the depths of the most horrendous conditions of oppression such as the hellholes of America’s prisons, people have a vast potential to transform themselves as they transform the world and join in becoming emancipators of humanity.
Like millions of others, I was one of those youth that this system has cast off. My family lost our home when I was a teenager, I got involved with a street organization to survive on the streets, and by the time I was 17 years old I was serving a 20 year sentence in an adult maximum security prison. Like too many other youth, this system offered me no better purpose and no greater fate than crime and punishment, a future of living and dying for nothing.
Once I got to prison, I soon started to question what brought me—and all the other people there with me—to prison, and soon began to develop an understanding of the historical and social forces that led all of us to the hellholes of America’s prison system.
Within a short period of time, I was given an indeterminate period of segregation—solitary confinement—and it was in the midst of those brutally isolating conditions of torture that I became politically conscious.
And since my release from prison a few years ago, my life has been firmly dedicated to the movement for revolution and the struggle against the crimes of this system and for a liberated future for all humanity.
O22 is a day for people of all different backgrounds to get in the streets and stand together shoulder-to-shoulder with those who live under the boot and the gun of police brutality and repression—and those languishing in the hellholes of Americas prisons—and demand that all of this must stop! People of conscience everywhere should take inspiration from the courageous example of the prisoners on hunger strike and recognize the moral responsibility to join together to rise up to take action to stop these horrendous injustices.
All of us have a moral responsibility to stand up for the basic rights and humanity of those held behind bars, and build a determined movement outside prison walls demanding CDCR grant the prisoners’ just demands and immediately halt its retaliation against hunger strikers.
Prisoners’ Five Core Demands:
1. End to group punishment and administrative abuse.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
3. Comply with Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.
4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.
5. Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status prisoners.
Taking inspiration from the courageous actions of the California prison hunger strikers, who came together across racial and other dividing lines from within the depths of the most dehumanizing and degrading conditions, and recognizing the moral imperative to take urgent action commensurate with their heroic stand, I took the lead in organizing a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike & Torture in U.S. Prisons, held in Chicago on August 4, 2011. Sponsored by the Chicago and Evanston Chapters of the World Can’t Wait and the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, and endorsed by the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Forum brought together a broad range of people deeply concerned about and actively involved in opposing torture in U.S. prisons.
After opening the Forum with a discussion of the background of the hunger strike and the prisoners demands, including situating the prisoner’s actions in the context of the explosion of mass incarceration in the U.S., several panelist spoke.
Alan Mills is the Legal Director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, which has been engaged in litigation to change conditions at Tamms, Illinois’ supermax prison which was directly modeled on Pelican Bay, since the day it opened. He began by describing the massive increase in the prison population in the U.S. since the 1970s, with the United State’s current prison population of nearly 2.5 million literally off the charts – an incarceration rate never seen in the history of the world. He explained that the prison population in the U.S. is not linked to the crime rate: the crime rate has dropped since the 1990s, while the prison population has continued to explode. As one stunning example of the racist nature of the system of mass incarceration imposed by the rulers of the U.S., he compared the rate of incarceration of adult Black males in the U.S. and apartheid South Africa, a regime universally condemned as one of the most racist in the history of the world. The U.S. currently incarcerates adult Black men at a rate that is over five times higher than apartheid South Africa!
What are people in prison for? Contrary to what many might believe, Mr. Mills explained that, “people in prison are not there because of murder, rape and mayhem. People are in prison because of drugs. That’s what happened in the mid-70s – people didn’t go out and start killing more people, the federal government followed by the state governments cracked down on people who possess drugs and they all went to prison… Not surprisingly, it’s also not racially neutral. Whites use drugs, just like everybody else – whites don’t go to prison… If police concentrated the same resources on college campuses as they concentrate in public housing projects, you’d have a lot more young white college-educated men in prison.”
Mr. Mills then went on to describe the horrendous conditions in California and Illinois prisons, supermax and SHU conditions in particular. He showed photographs of “group therapy” in California SHU, where prisoners sit inside phone-booth size cages: “This is mental health treatment in California. They put you in these little cages, and this is called ‘group therapy.’ The therapist out there gave up, he said ‘I can’t treat men like this,’ so he brings a guitar in… and plays, at least gives them some music to listen to during therapy session. That’s mental health treatment in California. They’re the luck ones. If you try to commit suicide in California you get moved to a suicide bed, but there aren’t enough of them, so you sit there in these cages, for hours and hours and hours and sometimes days. And in at least one case… someone died in there. Standing in a pool of urine and vomit and blood, when he sliced his arm waiting for a suicide bed in a cage.”
After further describing the conditions in Tamms, he talked about receiving video tape as part of their legal case challenging the conditions there; the tape recorded the cellblock, and they timed the number of minutes that a prisoner actually spends talking to someone at their cell door. The average prisoner got about 45 seconds a day of “face-to-face” contact with someone, through their cell door.
Professor Stephen Eisenman spoke next, with a presentation called “Tamms Supermax and Solitary Confinement: A Ten Point Indictment.” Professor Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, the author of several books including The Abu Ghraib Effect, and a prison reform activist with Tamms Year Ten who regularly publishes criticisms of the ‘penal state.
Professor Eisenman began by recounting the history of the use of solitary confinement in the U.S, which was rarely used as punishment until the opening of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia in 1829 and has been rarely used ever since – except for the last 25 years. Prisoners in Eastern State were kept in small cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour out for solitary exercise in an adjoining yard. Meals were served through a slot in the cell door, and there was no possibility of physical or even visual contact with other prisoners – whenever prisoners left their cell they were hooded. A similar, though somewhat less severe, regime was developed at the same time at Auburn Prison in New York.
But, as Professor Eisenman described, “The efficacy and morality of solitary confinement was soon challenged. Within a few years of opening, Eastern State was condemned by prison reformers for increasing recidivism rate and causing prisoners to become insane. Inhumane conditions become subject of international notoriety.” And by the end of the 1800s, even the U.S. Supreme Court condemned the use of solitary confinement. Until Alcatraz D Block opened in 1934, solitary confinement remained very rare, and even very rarely used in Alcatraz until it closed in 1963. Between 1963 and 1983, no federal prison had solitary confinement as its main operative function. Then in 1983, the federal prison at Marion, Illinois established a permanent lockdown and six years later the first supermax prison opened at Pelican Bay.
He went on to document that international law and U.N. treaties consider long-term solitary confinement and sensory deprivation to be forms of torture or “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” He documented that solitary confinement is prohibited by numerous U.N conventions. After reading one U.N. prohibition against medical or scientific experimentation without the preconsent of people involved, Professor Eisenman made the observation, “We really are conducting long-term experimentation of solitary confinement, of isolation, the kind of experimentation that we tend to associate with Nazi doctors, or with horror movies…”
In closing, Professor Eisenman poignantly pronounced: “The weight of history, the judgment of courts, the testimony of physicians and psychiatrists and the determination of international law all argue for the elimination of long-term solitary confinement and supermax prisons. How much longer will the state and federal government uphold them? How much longer will this violation of human rights and reason continue? States as different as Maine and Mississippi have made major strides in reducing the use of long-term solitary confinement. My organization… Tamms Year Ten has succeed in pressuring the IDOC, the Illinois Department of Corrections, to reduce their supermax population by between 1/4 and 1/3rd, and to obtain finally the prisoners rights to make telephone calls… But the basic armature of isolation at Tamms and in other supermax prisons such as Pelican Bay remains almost 200 years after it was shown at Eastern State penitentiary to be cruel and useless.”
The next panelist was Dr. Antonio Martinez, a psychologist with the Institute for Survivors of Human Rights Abuses and co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture, who has lectured about the trauma and consequences of torture and abuse throughout the world.
Dr. Martinez expressed his visceral reaction to the exposure of the inhumanity of the torturous conditions of isolation that tens of thousands of prisoners languish under in the U.S.: “I’m appalled. I have heard so many stories of torture around the world, and when you hear these kind of things happening right here in the United States, not that I am surprised, but it’s in your own context, yes? I wonder how, what this makes you feel, as a person living in this context…”
He went on to further describe some of the feelings that the Forum had brought out: “One is the reaffirmation of normality in us, and the Other, that is the sick, the ‘bad person,’ reinforcing that we are ok, and they are totally wrong. That we are the repository of total virtue and they are the scourge of humanity, and because of that they don’t deserve treatment as a human being. That’s one response that probably at some level we all feel because we are human and we have that kind of reaction, especially if we have been victims of a crime at one moment… The reaction of attacking the Other, and by attacking the Other losing our own humanity.
The other reaction I have every time that I talk about this – and thats why I sometimes I do this as a sense of duty. I don’t enjoy this at all because every time that I talk about this topic and I have to first face seeing how human beings can be so cruel to human beings just to maintain a society of privilege. Because this is not in isolation, we have a very political context to why this happens in this society and it doesn’t happen in the Pygmy people, for example, that doesn’t own anything and don’t have a sense of private property.”
Speaking to the broader impact of the use of torture, he explained that one of its major effects is to instill fear in the population, to keep people from stepping forward and challenging those in power. He recounted an experience he had when he was invited by Amnesty International to give a healing workshop for women of Atenco. In May 2006, the peasant women of Atenco, Mexico had an agreement with the municipal authorities to allow them to sell flowers in the market square. However, when they arrived on the morning of May3rd, masses of police were arrayed and waiting to stop them. They staged a protest where the police killed two people (including a 14-year-old boy) and injured many more. In the next few days, more protests were held, and the police reacted with a campaign of beatings, house raids and indiscriminate detention. Of the hundreds of people detained, dozens of women suffered beatings, rapes and sexual assaults at the hands of the police while detained.
On his way to Mexico to give the healing workshop, Dr. Martinez was detained by security, who held him in a room and claimed that a person with his name was an “international terrorist” and that they had to “check to make sure it wasn’t him.” They held him for over half an hour in isolation and then came back and told him they would have to keep a copy of his passport. And this had a real effect on him: “It was difficult for me to denounce the things I wanted to denounce. I had to stop and had to remember what I was, what was my center, my heart, what was the center of my humanity and decided: other people are taking bigger risks than me and I need to take these risks and say what I came here to say. But it really choked me up, really.”
That fear and control is exactly what torture is used for: “And that’s what all these things are about, it’s about social control. It’s about a society – and you know this, I’m just repeating – it’s about a society that needs to control the Other and to let people know that they are under control. Because 2% of the population that owns 80% of the resources want to maintain business as usual. That’s what it’s all about. In the last moment, that’s what it’s all about – about social control.”
Dr. Martinez then went on to compare the use of torture in U.S. prisons to experiences of torture in other countries: “What I hear here is very similar to what I hear about the torture chambers in Guatemala, in Colombia, in Chile. Actually in Chile, Pinochet was more humane. They allowed people to be among others, they allowed some music, they allowed some type of interaction and they allowed more generous visits. And that was Pinochet. So what does that say about us as a society where all these things are the rule and not the exception? …It reflects a very increasing trend to what I call, because I haven’t found a better name, friendly fascism. With a smiley face. Where we have two United States: one that is for all of us ‘law abiding citizens’ with certain economic status; and another one for what it calls the ‘dangerous classes,’ the classes that need to be controlled, the classes that have to be measured and observed. And where unfortunately psychology – my profession that sometimes I hate, to be a psychologist – but psychologists are a big, big part of it. Because just as part of our existence we contribute to this mess by creating an illusion that social problems are individual problems, yes?”
In describing the effects of isolation and solitary confinement, Dr. Martinez explained: “All human experience is contextual. We know that we are human because we interact with other humans. If that is broke, it has broken the most essential part of what it means to be a social person. Being a human is to be social. So what they are doing in these prisons is breaking, breaking the individual to the point that some of them will be very difficult to return. They would be better if they tortured them physically and they killed them rather than to do that to another human being. And then a percentage of them will return to society eventually and then we all will pay for that crime that they are doing. This is criminal, the situation, and in any international court would be a criminal act what they are doing there.”
People subjected to these forms of torture struggle with so much internal fear, depression and other symptoms that one of the most debilitating effects of isolation and solitary confinement is that it serves to make it even more difficult for people to organize for social change.
The use of torture has wide-reaching effects, including on those who participate in torture, as Dr. Martinez recounted: “We have to think that these people are working there 8 hours, sometimes overtime 10 hours. What it does to the mind of a guard having to do all these cruel things to these prisoners… One of the fundamental positions of this system, this monstrous system that we live in, is that there’s a separation between work and family. That what happens at work doesn’t have anything to do with your family. But we know that that’s a myth, that you cannot be going around being a crocodile in your business trying to eat everybody alive, treating other people like objects not as subjects, and suddenly you enter into the reality of the space of your house and you turn into this sweet angel of compassion and love. So what does this type of treatment do to the guards but [also] the families of the guards? What does it do also to society? What does it do to the children of these prisoners that are not able to have human contact with their father or their mother?”
In closing, Dr. Martinez tied together the haunting effects of torture: “So in reality all these parts that look isolated there, it filters down into the fabric of society that we are constructing every day. And in reality I don’t want to be part of that society because it is a society that is based on the oppression of the Other, on fascist oppression, on the use of force, on the use of intimidation. I don’t know what else to say. Because it is appalling that this type of thing is happening and we still can call ourselves a democracy. It’s acting against our own interests to do this type of thing. And it really will create harder criminals and people without hope, and communities without hope, because this filters down. Torture in Latin America was always a secret, a secret that everybody knows, and this type of behavior, that is also torture, is a secret that in order to work as it is intended to work has to leak out. This is not by chance that we know about these things, because part of this type of behavior in these prisons is to create social control over us right here.”
The final panelist, Laurie Jo Reynolds, organizer of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots campaign to end the use of long-term isolation at Tamms, spoke about her work in organizing against torture. She highlighted a prominent art campaign where they used mud-stencils proclaiming “Tamms is Torture” and “End Torture in Illinois” on sidewalks and walls across the city to expose the use of torture. She discussed the work they’ve done in bringing out the humanity of the men suffering torture in Tamms, including mounting more than 50 educational, artistic and cultural events about the use of isolation and segregation in Illinois prisons. She also described the work they’ve done in pushing for legal reform of the prison system through the legislative process.
In closing the Forum, I reiterated the heroic example that the hunger strikers have provided us, including their protest being the basis for organizing the Forum, and the exposure they’ve brought to the pervasive and systematic use of long-term isolation as torture in U.S. Prisons. People have a moral responsibility to act both in support of the hunger strikers, including ensuring that their demands are met and that they do not suffer retaliation for their peaceful political protest, as well as to take actions that are commensurate with the risk and the stand that the prisoners have taken coming together on the hunger strike to end the use of torture in U.S. prisons.
In the wake of the assassination of courageous abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church on May 31, anti-women forces have now declared Dr. LeRoy Carhart “target number one.” Several of these organizations called for a mobilization on August 28 – 29 to shut down Dr. Carhart’s clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska. Over 100 women and men traveled from 16 states to defend Dr. Carhart, his clinic, patients and staff from these patriarchal misogynists who want to keep women enslaved and subservient. Those who came to support and defend the clinic outnumbered the reactionary anti-women protesters by more than 2 to 1 – one of the largest pro-choice clinic defense mobilizations in years.
After outnumbering the dozen or so (if that) anti-‘s who showed up on Friday, we got out to the clinic at 5am to defend it on Saturday, the main day that Operation Rescue had called for their action. After lining the sidewalk in front of the clinic for a couple hours, cops moved in, spray painted lines down the middle of the street, and forced us to move from the front of the clinic to give all of the public sidewalk and street to the anti-‘s – threatening to jail anyone who crossed the spray painted lines. Shortly after this, a large group of cops in riot gear emerged from a public school parking lot, though they never came across the street to the clinic.
After hearing about this outrageous bullshit, Dr. Carhart invited us onto the clinic property to defend it. We lined the edges of the property wearing his “Trust Women” shirts, with our backs to the anti-‘s. When they tried to shout down and videotape the patients, we drowned them out with chants of “Welcome! Welcome! This clinic stays open!”
Debra Sweet, National Director of World Can’t Wait, who was instrumental in organizing the clinic defense, made a statement from the clinic parking lot while we were defending it:
Even though the police completely blocked the street in front of and next to the clinic to traffic, they allowed the anti-‘s to drive their fetus porn truck all the way up the blockaded street to the edge of the clinic parking lot. So some of the clinic defenders countered it with a pro-choice truck of our own, made on the spot (Thanks for the pic Colleen!).
There were never more than 50 anti-‘s there, and by noon they had dwindled to a handfull in front of the clinic and near a street corner. We stayed in force to defend the clinic till it closed. World Can’t Wait brought a huge banner reading “Dr. Carhart is a Hero,” and at the end of the day many people signed it to be presented to Dr. Carhart.
At the end of the day, Dr. Carhart waved and thanked us from the clinic door.
Read more about the defense of Dr. Carhart’s clinic here.
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.
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!”
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!
On May 21, World Can’t Wait Chicago held torture workshops at the “We Are Everywhere” Youth Summit at the Multicultural Arts School in Little Village – a high school that was built after fierce struggle in the community, including a group of Latina mothers waging a nineteen-day hunger strike demanding a new school for their children.
We started off the workshops by asking the students: “Are American lives more valuable than the lives of people around the world?” Resoundingly the students responded “no,” though many thought that the reality was that people around the world were treated as if they were worth less. This led directly into the topic of torture. Showing the video I produced for the May 28th National Day of Resistance to U.S. Torture, the students were shocked to see the images from Abu Ghraib, which many of them had not seen before and did not know about.
We then got into the question of how do people like those in the video end up there. Some though that it was because they committed crimes, or did something wrong. In order to show a direct example of how people were really rounded up and ended up in places like Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo, we asked the students if they would point out someone in the room who was in a gang. Some refused to point anyone out, even after being offered $500. But once one of the students was picked out and put into an orange jumpsuit and hood, they quickly named the name of someone else in the workshop, who was also brought before the class and put into a jumpsuit and hood.
We then explained how people like them were rounded up for bounties in Afghanistan, or picked up off the streets, or had the doors of their homes kicked open by soldiers with guns shouting in a language that they couldn’t understand, and placed in these same jumpsuits and hoods. How they were then chained to the floor of a military transport plane in diapers and flown to some unknown destination, while their families had no idea what had happened to them. And once they got off the plane, they would be subjected to various types of torture that the Bush regime ordered committed. We asked if any of the students had heard of waterboarding, and one replied, “Isn’t that like where they drip water on your forehead?” And we explained that unfortunately no, it was far more vicious than that—that people were tied down to a board, a towel placed over their face, and water continuously poured over them till they began to choke, and that medical personnel were standing nearby to cut open their throats and shove a tube into their windpipe to keep them alive for further torture. And nearly 100 people were documented to have died in U.S. custody during the war of terror carried out in the wake of 9/11.
After explaining some of the methods of torture used by the U.S., we had the kids take off their hoods and jumpsuits and explain how that experience made them feel. Most replied that it made them scared and sad. One compared it to feeling like being a slave. And that even that brief experience in a classroom was nothing compared to what people who were actually being tortured experienced. We then went on to discuss what should happened to people who committed torture. At first many of them said that the people who did it should also be tortured. But after discussing if its ever right to torture someone, they thought that the people who ordered and committed torture should be put in jail.
We then discussed the lies that military recruiters use to get people—including high school students like themselves—to join the military, and why it is that the U.S is waging imperialist wars and using torture around the world. Obama has refused to prosecute anyone for these crimes, he has refused to release the torture photos, he continues to keep Guantanamo open and recently expanded Bagram prison facilities, and continues to use military commissions and indefinite detention. We discussed why it is imperative that people get in the streets on May 28th to oppose torture being committed in their names and to demand prosecution of the war criminals in the Bush regime that ordered and carried out torture.
After the workshops, there were a number of great performances by the students, including hip-hop, spoken word, and dance. It was really a great opportunity to talk with the kids, and the teachers at the school were amazing as well. Very inspiring.
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.
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