Prisonerz Call for a National Strike on the Anniversary of Attica
by neal shirley
In Alabama and Texas, prisoners have enacted multiple strikes and uprisings over the last few weeks. Now they are calling for a national prison strike on the anniversary of the Attica Prison Riot.
Since the last Prisons are for Burning column, things have seriously heated up. On the night of Friday, March 11th, hundreds of prisoners took over the general population portion of Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama. Viewpoints from the prisoners varied: One described conditions of overcrowding, sending out pictures to accompany the description. Another prisoner said, “It has nothing to do with overcrowding, but with the practice of locking folks up for profit, control and subjugation.”
As that prisoner relayed via social media, “Things here are tense but festive. The CO and warden was stabbed… Fires were set, people got control of two cubicles, bust windows. The riot team came, shot gas, locked down, searched the dorms. Five have been shipped and two put in lockup.” Another prisoner stated simply, “We’re tired of this shit, there’s only one way to deal with it: tear the prison down.”
Though authorities regained control the following day, a second riot took place at Holman Prison early the following Monday morning involving up to 70 inmates. That morning prisoners built barricades and reportedly broke into other areas of the facility. Holman Prison has been a hotbed of organized prisoner activity, with the Free Alabama Movement operating out of the facility as well as anarchist prisoner-author Michael Kimble.
On the morning of April 4th “rolling strikes” began in multiple Texas prisons, with one unit already being put on lockdown by their administration at 9:30 am. Inspired by a growing wave of prison strikes in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, and California, these prisoners are part of the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), the first widespread effort for union recognition among prisoners in decades, with over 750 members in prisons across the country. According to a statement on the IWOC website, the strikes were not officially reported as such, but were concealed as administrative lockdowns – a de-escalation tactic commonly used by prisons and their wardens. Prison administrations had been aware of and worried about the strike. Tellingly, one administration had asked prisoners weeks in advance “to write instructions on how to run the washing machines and industry equipment so that an alternative workforce [could] take over the functioning of the prison.”
But it appears this is only the beginning. Prisoners in these states and many others have coordinated and released a call for a national prison strike on September 9th, 2016, the 45-year anniversary of the Attica Rebellion.
In their call, the prisoners declare, “On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.”
They continue, “To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside … When we stand up and refuse on September 9th, 2016, we need to know our friends, families and allies on the outside will have our backs. This spring and summer will be seasons of organizing, of spreading the word, building the networks of solidarity and showing that we’re serious and what we’re capable of.”
That is the absolute truth; for this to be anything like a success, us on the outside will need to pull out all the stops. A strike of this kind would be absolutely historic, and it’ll probably take all kind of folks to help prisoners pull it off. We can help spread the word in our own social networks and in any publications that cross prison walls, write with prisoners about how they want to plug in, stage noise demos and smaller actions as lead-ups to September. Every tactic we’ve tried out and every relationship we’ve built in the last two years of anti-police actions could play a role in this effort.
The connection between fighting back against the police and the struggle against prison is fairly obvious. As the prisoners who put out this call note, “Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities, is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution – as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to – but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.”
Up until now, the fierce resistance going on behind bars has received nothing like the attention or solidarity it is owed in comparison with the riots and protests in cities like Ferguson, Baltimore, and beyond. In September 2016, that will change.