Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
On Thursday, July 21, prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) were about to enter the fourth week of their hunger strike, demanding an end to the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement. Hundreds of prisoners in other prisons had joined them in solidarity, refusing food. That morning, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued a press release saying the strike was over. And later that night, Marilyn McMahon from California Prison Focus reported that she and Carol Strickman, an attorney working with the mediation team representing the hunger strikers, had spoken with four of the hunger strike leaders who were eating again. McMahon said the prisoners had "extended their deeply heartfelt thanks to all their supporters outside" and "they emphasized that that support was responsible for their wins and their safety from retaliation. Above all, they hammered home the message: This is just the beginning!"
The heroic struggle of prisoners from the most brutal hellholes of the U.S. prison system is an extremely significant and extraordinary development. These prisoners have set a courageous example and inspired people all over the world.
Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), a coalition based in the Bay Area committed to amplifying the voices of and supporting the hunger strikers, listed some of the gains of the hunger strike:
"While the CDCR vigorously dehumanizes prisoners, and refused to negotiate, saying ('we don't negotiate with prisoners'), they were effectively forced into offering an agreement to make changes; this historic strike has demanded everyone who is against torture in any way to recognize prisoners as human beings, to act on their beliefs that no one should ever be tortured; ...widened and intensified international scrutiny into prison conditions and policies in California, and around the United States, as well as solidarity in intervening in CDCR 'business as usual'; ...(re)inspired prisoners to work together in struggling for their humanity to be recognized; ...proven to family members, former prisoners, advocates, lawyers, faith-based and religious groups, medical professionals, and community members and organizations that we can and need to continue to work together better in the struggle to change the conditions we live in, and to transform the devastation and disappearance prisons cause in our communities; ...re-invigorated rigorous and collective prisoner-led resistance in the U.S. ["It's Not Over!" posted July 22, 2011 at http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/]
The press release from the CDCR reflected what has been the attitude of prison officials toward this hunger strike from the very beginning—that prisoners in the SHU are the "worst of the worst" and deserve what they get. The statement repeated the lie the CDCR has used to try to invalidate the prisoners' demands: "This strike was ordered by prison gang leaders, individuals responsible for terrible crimes against Californians..."
The CDCR press release also implied there is going to be retribution—that they are going to punish the prisoners for daring to demand they be treated like human beings. It said: "We will now seek to stabilize operations for all inmates and continue our work to improve the safety and security of our prison system statewide." Many prisoners have talked about how, on a daily basis, prison officials and guards exact retribution for all kinds of things they consider "uncooperative behavior." For example, there are the "cell extractions," where gangs of guards in full riot gear violently force a prisoner out of his cell, hog-tie and beat him—for something as minor as not returning a food tray or yelling at a guard. Already there has been a report from family members that Pelican Bay is on lockdown and visits are being denied. This underscores the importance of people on the outside monitoring the situation and making sure there is no retribution for the hunger strike.
This hunger strike has shone a light on the inhumane crimes being carried out by prison officials. The CDCR—and the system these prisons are a part of—do not like this, do not want this to continue, and need to crush the solidarity and organization the prisoners accomplished around their demands. This is the context for prison officials now saying they are going to "stabilize operations" and "improve the security and safety of our prison system statewide."
And think about this: Many prisoners who end up in long-term solitary confinement were convicted of nonviolent crimes like drug possession and then ended up in the SHU simply because they were "validated" as a gang member. This could be based simply on a guard's say-so or another prisoner being "debriefed"—that is, "validating" another prisoner in order to get out of the SHU himself. In fact, an end to "debriefing" has been one of the prisoners' key demands.
Because prison officials have declared that this hunger strike was organized by gangs, they could now "validate" those who participated in the strike for even more punishment. And on this basis, hunger strikers who were not in the SHU could now be validated for participating in the strike—and put in the SHU.
The CDCR press release says the prisoners stopped the strike after "they better understood CDCR's plans, developed since January, to review and change some policies regarding SHU housing and gang management. These changes, to date, include providing cold-weather caps, wall calendars and some educational opportunities for SHU inmates."
Prison officials are not speaking to the overall inhumane conditions of long-term solitary confinement in the SHU. This press release does not say anything about reviewing, let alone changing, conditions where prisoners are kept in windowless cells with no human contact for 23 hours a day. It does not say anything about the fact that prisoners in the SHU are subjected to conditions that experts have said cause serious psychological disorders.
A statement posted at the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website said: "One thing is absolutely clear: the five core demands have not been met. Long-term solitary confinement is still being used as torture. Supporters everywhere must amplify the prisoners voices even more fiercely than before. The goal of supporting the hunger strike was not to make sure prisoners continue to starve, rather to support the prisoners in winning their demands to change conditions of imprisonment. This struggle is not over."
"We all realize that it took over 20 yrs of state sponsored torture and discrimination for us (prisoners) to come together and challenge this system under one Banner; that of liberty and justice, and that if we don't hold our ground and win this fight, not only will that keep the chains on us, but more importantly, it will allow future generations to remain forever enslaved to this injustice as well. So for this purpose we remain committed to see this through until the bitter end."
From a hunger striker at Pelican Bay Prison, writing to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
The struggle does continue. The hunger strike shined a light on an absolutely intolerable, inhumane situation. It has built awareness and support among many different kinds of people. In cities around the country, people held press conferences and rallies in support of the hunger strike. And many statements of support were written, from legal, religious, and community organizations, family members, actors, prominent intellectuals, and others. Many people took a clear stand that NO human being, no matter what they have done, should be tortured, should be subjected to this kind of long-term solitary confinement.
The day after the strike ended at Pelican Bay, the L.A. Times reported that "California corrections officials acknowledged more than 500 inmates continue to refuse meals at three other state prisons." So it is important to find out what is happening with other prisoners who have been on the hunger strike. And there is a real need to find out the medical condition of all the prisoners who participated in the strike.
Especially as it became clear that some of the hunger strikers were in a medical crisis, many people on the outside saw this was a life-and-death situation and recognized the urgency of supporting the prisoners' demands. This has been extremely important—and must be built off and developed even further into a mass, determined movement to put an END to these prison torture chambers.
The fact is: tens of thousands of prisoners are being held in the kind of barbarous conditions that the prisoners at Pelican Bay have so courageously rebelled against. These prisoners are dying a slow, horrible death. The fact is: a life-and-death situation exists for these prisoners every day. And it is in the interests of those who oppose injustice and oppression to wage a determined fight to put an end to this. Whatever the outcome of any particular battle in this struggle to put an end to the torture going on in U.S. prisons, the challenge from the prisoners to people on the outside remains. We cannot stand to the side, it is up to us not only to continue but to build this struggle even further. An important factor in whether or not prison officials are forced to give any concessions to the prisoners will be the level of outside support for the prisoners, including the degree to which this grows and spreads awareness of this struggle more broadly in society, among all kinds of people.
The hunger strikers—by asserting their humanity, by demanding that they be treated like human beings—have issued a challenge to people on the outside, to assert their own humanity by continuing the fight against the crimes against humanity being carried out in prisons throughout the USA. The support that has been built around this hunger strike is a good beginning. But it is only a beginning—many, many more people need to join this fight.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
The courageous struggle of the prisoners at Pelican Bay should make many more people sit up and take notice and ask—and find the answers to—some important questions about the U.S. prison system.
Why does the U.S., which has 5% of the world's population, have 25% of its prisoners?
Why has the number of prisoners in the U.S. gone from half a million in 1980 to over 2.3 million in the last three decades?
Why are so many of those incarcerated in the U.S. people of color?
And why does the U.S. routinely carry out torture in its prisons?
The truth of the matter—and the bigger context for the inhumane conditions in maximum security units like the Pelican Bay Prison SHU—is that this system, with its police, laws, courts, and prisons is using mass incarceration to enforce oppressive economic and social relations, especially in terms of the systematic subjugation of Black people as a people. And I really encourage people to read the special Revolution issue on prisons, "From the Hellholes of Incarceration to a Future of Emancipation," which provides a deep analysis of mass incarceration in the United States.
This system of U.S. capitalism, from its very inception, has, in large part, been built on and developed by carrying out the most brutal oppression of Native Americans, Black people and other people of color.
This oppression has been woven into the whole fabric of U.S. society, from the days of slavery until today. It has been and is an integral part of the economic and social structure in this country. White supremacy has and continues to maintain Black people in a subjugated position in every aspect of society. And all this has created, and today still maintains a "master class" of white people and a "pariah class" of Black people.
In this way, the systematic oppression of Black and other people of color has been, and continues to be, part of the very glue that holds U.S. society together—even as it has gone through different changes and been enforced in different ways. The outright ownership of Black people under slavery gave way to Jim Crow segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror. And now we have what has been called "the new Jim Crow" of police brutality and murder and the mass incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Black people.
The subjugation of Black people is a pillar of this system—a part of the economic and social relations in society, and white supremacy is a key element in the dominant ideology. And this is why this system cannot get rid of the oppression of Black people—because to do so would mean tearing up and undermining the whole economic, social and ideological/culture basis of U.S. society.
Why has there been such a drastic increase in the U.S. prison population? This has never been in response to crime—crime rates have actually gone down over the last three decades. This has been about control and suppression. It started in response to the mass upsurges among Black people in the '60s—which shook the system and had a huge impact throughout society. At the same time, globalization and de-industrialization had devastated the inner cities and millions of Black people, especially the youth, who could no longer be profitably employed, were seen by this system as an unwanted, volatile "surplus" that had to be controlled. Concessions from the system, like programs that were supposed to address poverty and inequality, were being snatched back, leading to further impoverishment.
As the special Revolution issue on the oppression of Black people said, "Two things were at work: the needs of capital, which continued to gain advantage from racist discrimination and ghetto-ization of millions of African-Americans; and the necessity of the capitalists to not disrupt—and in fact to reassert and reinforce with a vengeance—the social glue of white supremacy—the ways in which the lie of the 'master class' were so integral to so many people's understanding of 'being American.'" ("The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need.")
U.S. imperialism needed the subjugation of Black people more than ever, but could no longer do this in the naked, openly racist forms it had in the old Jim Crow. It is in this context that in 1969, H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon's top assistant, wrote in his diary that "[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to." It is in this context that the "war on drugs" was launched—which has been the biggest factor behind the exponential rise in mass incarceration.
Why are prisoners routinely tortured in U.S. prisons? The kind of extreme torture being carried out in places like the Pelican Bay SHU is a function of the whole way this system has criminalized, demonized and dehumanized a whole section of society. It has to do with repressing those who this system fears; those this system sees have the potential to rise up against their conditions of oppression in a way that would really challenge their rule. The kind of torture being carried out in the Pelican Bay SHU serves as a brutal way to control those in prison. And it has a broader effect of mass terror against Black people throughout society.
The terror carried out by KKK lynch mobs in the South meant that any Black person had to walk in fear. Today, police brutality and murder, the practice of racial profiling and random "stop and frisk"; and mass incarceration targeting Black people and all the terror that entails—means that today any Black person has to walk in fear.
Today, mass incarceration is the leading edge of the oppression of Black people. This continues to have a devastating impact on those who are imprisoned: Many lives are ruined; many youth are literally thrown away, their potential wasted. It is almost impossible for those this system has branded a "felon" to make any kind of life for themselves if they ever get out of prison. Having a criminal record means you will face legal discrimination in things like employment and housing for the rest of your life. All this is not only horrible for the individuals involved—it is a terrible thing for society. And all this has a broader devastating effect on mothers, fathers, spouses, children, and other loved ones; on the Black community as a whole. The "war on drugs"—and all it means in terms of taking away the rights and ability of Black people to get jobs, decent housing, etc.—is a way to continue the oppression of Black people, but with the veneer and appearance of equality.
The United States goes around claiming it is the "leader of the free world" and protector of democracy and human rights. But the prisoners' hunger strike has objectively exposed the complete illegitimacy and hypocrisy of this system. This system is responsible for the torture of prisoners. The very needs and workings of this system have led to the mass incarceration of so many Black and Latino people. And getting rid of this system is the only way we can get to a whole different kind of society where there will no longer be the living hell of mass incarceration and the people as a whole can be truly liberated.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Over the next six weeks, there are some significant summer concerts and festivals where tens and tens of thousands of youth will converge. This will be an important and exciting opportunity to connect them with the BAsics.
Someone who picked up BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian at a local festival said, "This is something my generation needs."
They went on, "To say the least, I wish I had had a copy of BAsics in high school so that I could counter the bullshit being taught to me. I didn't have that opportunity, but there are millions of students today who need to hear the voice of Bob Avakian so they can join the fight. BAsics presents an essential challenge to all that is oppressive and intolerant. It paints not only a picture of a new world, but it leaves room for innovation and growth, as a communist future will have, as Bob Avakian says, 'a solid core with a lot of elasticity.'"
Being at the upcoming shows with BAsics and a very radical, revolutionary presence is a chance to connect with some of those millions of students, to introduce them to Bob Avakian, the movement for revolution he is leading, and the whole different society that this revolution is aiming to bring into being. It's a chance for them to connect, to subscribe to Revolution newspaper (via print or online), to pick up copies of BAsics for themselves and their friends, to buy one for a prisoner, to check out Avakian's memoir and to get the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).
Many of the musicians who are performing are doing work that's up against the status quo and they attract young fans who are sick of the degrading culture, consumerism, and passivity towards this system's crimes. We shouldn't underestimate the active yearning for a whole other way, even as most of these youth have never seriously considered the potential for real revolution, or have been told it's not possible or desirable. These festivals are a chance for people to hear their favorite band, to step out of the day-to-day, have fun, dance and meet others of like minds. They'll draw forward a range of youth—from the suburbs, immigrants, some youth among the basic masses, high school and college age.
There are all kinds of ways to have a big impact, and we should be learning a lot as we go—both about how to have the biggest impact but also about the mood and concerns of the young people in attendance. We should find forms that embody a sense of radical revolt against a revolting culture, that are lively and compelling, and involve volunteers and others who are new to the revolution themselves. This should be part of creating a real buzz, impacting the whole scene with posters and palm cards, quotes from BAsics and the BA image card, and snaking through the crowd with a chant or big signs. Try read-ins of BAsics, bring a smartphone to show people clips of BAsics readings on YouTube (youtube.com/knowthebasics1) or clips of BA's Revolution talk (youtube.com/revolutiontalk). Film some people there reading quotes. Try different things—a big sign held above someone's head, "Ask me about the BAsics of revolution and communism." Last year, someone went out to a festival with a big sign, "Ask me about a world without rape," and drew forward a lot of appreciation and controversy.
We should sell a lot of books and copies of Revolution newspaper. And get a lot of people's contact information to get back with them right away.
The forms of outreach will have a lot to do with the character of the show, and the freedom we have inside... whether Revolution Books has a table inside or out, whether some of the revolutionaries can get tickets to be inside or decide it's better to do outreach on the outside or both. Get creative and solicit ideas from others, including artists, students... Are there other kinds of materials that could be gotten out or forms that could be used? Other kinds of visuals?
The plans should be radically simple, very bold, and lots of fun.
As part of your plans:
When going to concerts and festivals, take palm cards with quotations from BAsics on one side and how to order the book on the other. Go to revcom.us/basics, click on the Production/Distribution tab, and download the artwork for palm cards for professional printing.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
From a reader in the San Francisco Bay Area:
Editors' note: The YouTube video "SFPD Ruthlessly Shoots and Kills Unarmed 19yr old Man over $2 Bus Fare" documents in horrific detail the police murder of Kenneth Harding on July 16. It has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. As the video begins, shots are heard and the camera focuses in on Kenneth Harding lying on the sidewalk with three police officers pointing guns at him. There is a small pool of blood beneath him which grows much larger as the video continues. People are yelling at the police, "What did you shoot him for, man? He was running away." Another person is yelling, "Where was his gun?" You see a cop with a machine gun order people back. More people from the community are coming from across the street and you hear angry voices, "Fuck tha police!" A cop approaches Kenneth, with gun drawn, as Kenneth lies on the ground. The cop rolls Kenneth on his side and handcuffs him. People are yelling, "Call an ambulance!" The following correspondence describes the reaction of people in San Francisco to this outrageous police murder.
On Saturday, July 16, at 4 in the afternoon—in broad daylight in front of many witnesses—the San Francisco police shot down Kenneth Harding, a 19-year-old Black man, in the predominantly Black and Latino Bayview-Hunters Point district of San Francisco. In the neck. While he was running away from a bust for supposedly evading his bus fare. This execution was witnessed by many people, including people who videotaped what went down, and outrage exploded right then and there.
This was the second murder by police in San Francisco in less than two weeks. On the evening of July 3 two Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cops shot and killed Charles Hill with three rounds to his chest. This killing has also led to significant outrage and protest.
On TV coverage and Internet video you can see some of the mood of the masses—while the young man is struggling to get up. It was reported that people were throwing bottles at the police. Almost NONE of the masses are buying the police story that this was self-defense on their part. As of now, police have still not produced the gun they claim the victim had. It seemed like a constant chant from the people in the video clip: "Where's the gun? Where's the gun?"
That evening Revolution readers and members of the Revolution Club, Bay Area, went to the area where this happened and talked to people. Here's some of what we learned.
The SFPD routinely sweat people for their bus transfers, and something caused the victim to run when cops approached him. He was chased for less than 40 yards, from reports we have seen, and most witnesses agree that 10 shots were fired. No one noticed the victim fire back, or have a gun. Almost immediately there was a massive police presence (one person said "too many cops to count"). This was followed by SWAT teams which patrolled the neighborhood with machine guns. People were constantly saying "Where's the gun" as well as "Fuck the police," while pushing back against the cops.
Our crew got out on Saturday, four hours after the shooting. People told us, "We've had enough of this constant police presence," and "we have a constant boot on our back." And, "I knew something like this was going to happen."
We had the paper out there that day and people reacted positively to the back page (the Three Strikes quote from Bob Avakian), and that this incident is part of the new Jim Crow.
Another point of anger is that the cops visibly did not come to the victim's aid in any way, for example to stop the bleeding. Several people told our crew that the ONLY presence of the police was for crowd control; or to search for a gun; and NOT to attend to Kenneth Harding's wounds.
Third and Palou in San Francisco, the corner where the murder happened, is full of masses both young and old, regular denizens, and these people are seeing themselves as the possible victims in this incident. Some people told a Revolution Club member that if someone is stopped by police in the neighborhood, people bring out their cell phone cameras, etc.
This incident happened very close to the doors of the San Francisco BayView newspaper, which serves the African-American community, and which, together with activists called a press conference for Monday, July 18 under the slogan ENOUGH IS ENOUGH; NO MORE STOLEN LIVES!
Protests against the police killing of Kenneth Harding broke out on Saturday night at 1 am at 16th and Valencia in San Francisco's Mission District, among the artist crowd in that neighborhood. Police arrested dozens of them.
We went to the rally at Third and Oakdale at 11 am. There was a lot of press. I arrived with papers and a display with Oscar Grant and Brownie Polk with the quote "these days must be gone and they can be ... the whole damn system is guilty" ... and this display caught a lot of attention. I talked not only about Brownie but the current issue of the paper, as well as the back page about the new Jim Crow.
Before the rally, a woman approached me and said how she was harassed by the police after she witnessed the police killing in the '90s of a Samoan boy with a squirt gun in Potrero Hill. The cops openly threatened her to the point where she had to leave the state temporarily.
Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the BayView, spoke via a bullhorn about the outrage and the need to resist these crimes. Then other victims of police murder spoke bitterness, including Lois Drake (mother of Raheim Brown, killed by the Oakland Police Department near Skyline), Anita Wells, Mesha Irizarry, whose son was shot and killed by the SFPD, and others.
There IS a lot of anger in the Bayview. As one person said, the murder was "bound to happen." What purpose is served in having the police search people's bus transfers except to down-press the people?
Some of us went to the Bayview Hunters Point Opera House where there was a town hall meeting over the shooting. This meeting was called by Rev. Grays of the Double Rock Baptist Church and the Dollar Store across the street. They invited the police. There were 400 very angry people in a building meant to hold about 300. (Astoundingly, I saw a TV news report later from Amber Lee where she interviewed a couple of people who were pro-police and none of the protesters! If you had been there, you would have realized how skewed the TV news presented the meeting! Nevertheless, they did report accurately that the crowd would not let SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr speak!)
We held up the banner from Stolen Lives, while I was simultaneously selling the paper. There were a few people who were hostile... one man threw down the Revolution paper when he saw it was about Pelican Bay saying "This has nothing to do with this here. I don't care about this!"
HOWEVER, we also got a LOT of positive response, including a boy about 12 years old who passed out about 100 copies of the Message and Call from the RCP, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." Lots of locals took pictures of the banner and the mother of a young man killed by the SFPD also held it with us.
Inside, the reverend who organized the meeting said, "We've had enough of our young people dying in the street. My own son was gunned down, so I know what I'm talking about. This city needs to pay attention to giving our youth jobs ... I see these jobs going to outsiders ... we need to get with Jesus." Then he tried to bring up Police Chief Suhr, who just matter-of-factly claimed that the cops were firing in self-defense. He was booed down, with people calling him "killer" and other names. Rev. Grays tried to calm things down with "let him speak"; but it didn't work.
Some of the things people said:
"Why you gotta kill a man for $2?"
One man said poignantly, "I don't do nothing wrong, but I get criminalized every day."
"Why you gotta bring machine guns around where children are?" This was both in response to the fact that on the day of the shooting, cops fired up to 10 shots at a running man 4:30 in the afternoon ... and in the following crowd control; they brought out machine guns to intimidate the masses.
"I don't think this is over yet." "Come on, he was executed over a fare evasion." There really is a sentiment of "enough is enough."
A speakout was held on Saturday, July 23 by friends of Revolution and representatives of the October 22nd Coalition. The anger of the people continues, as well as the constant intimidation by police. Some spoke bitterly about being criminalized. One poet said he's stopped whenever he's walking with more than two friends. We closed with a reading from BAsics 3:16, which we had been passing out in addition to a leaflet.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
End-of-Year Conversation with Black High School Students
As school was winding down this spring, I had a chance for some long discussions with three young Black men who were about to graduate from an all-Black inner-city high school. I have known them for a number of years and have talked to them at times about a variety of political (and other) things. But this was different. They can't stand the world they live in, are extremely bored with school and extremely anxious about their future. So instead of going to school they came searching for honest talk about why things are this way and what they should do with their lives.
I saw them every day for a week which led to wide-ranging discussions on all kinds of topics, but with a common thread being how fucked up the world is and how urgently it needs to be changed. Here I can't do justice to the breadth and richness of all we talked about or capture all the funny shit that made us laugh. But I did want to convey some things that really have stayed with me.
These young people basically hate most of their life. They describe school as a combination of boring and bullshit. I asked them what percent of their time are they bored. One of them said 50% and another one said 75%. That is why they are constantly playing with their cell phones. At another point they talked about what they are taught in school is so much bullshit. One of them in particular has been reading Revolution online and he was saying how all his history classes teach the youth lies about what the U.S. is really about and they do not teach them the real history of what the U.S. has done. I had pulled out the issue of Revolution on "U.S. #1 Terrorist" (#232, May 15, 2011) and they were looking at the centerfold. He was pointing to the pictures and saying yes this is what the U.S. really does, while the other two were shocked to see the picture of Abu Ghraib and to read about what the police did to Aiyana Stanley-Jones. It was like they knew they were being taught bullshit, but they didn't know it was this bad. I said, yeah, and there is a whole list of countries the U.S. has invaded on a back page (p. 10 of #232). And they were like "a whole list—wow—people need to know this."
Another thread was the frustration they feel trying to talk to other students. A big part of their friendship is based on the fact that they think about things. One watches the Discovery channel and he wants to talk about things he learns. But they all described how, as they have gone through high school, they have found that they just don't have either the patience or interest to engage in what most of the other students talk about—buying clothes, personal gossip, getting wasted or gang-banging. The Revolution reader said that he got so frustrated when he would try to talk to other young people about things like starvation in Africa and they would just shine him on—he said that they were acting like the people in Africa weren't even human beings.
But while school is bad, leaving school is worse. This was one of the most painful things to hear them talk about. They described the constant fear and anxiety of having to be looking over your shoulder all the time to see if someone was going to try and fuck with you. They talked about the gang scene and how it has gotten worse over the period of their lives. One kid talked about his dad saying that when he was coming up, if the gangs were going to have a shootout, they first made sure all the kids were taken inside before things jumped off. Plus a lot of the violence back then was with fists and knives. But now they said things are just crazy. With most of the top gang leaders locked up, there is widespread anarchy among the gangs and any gang-banger or wannabe can try to grab some creds by shooting somebody whenever he wants.
Then the conversation turned to the police and how they are constantly messing with the youth. One of them, who had been shocked at the story about the murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, asked "is it true that nothing happened to those police, that nothing ever happens to the police?" The other two immediately said of course it's true. One of them then told about how he has an arrest record for simply walking home from the drugstore with three friends on a snowy night last winter. The cops stopped them and demanded ID. He didn't have any, but he told them they hadn't done anything wrong and were just walking home from the store. So would they just let them continue on their way. The cop did not like being talked to that way and cuffed them all and took them to jail where they were locked up overnight. He hadn't done anything wrong and now he had a criminal record and was on a "gang-affiliated" list—based on there being four of them walking together.
And then they talked about how people are basically trapped inside their homes. Anywhere you try to go to get off the streets costs a ton of money. If you are over 17, it costs $20 to play basketball at the Y. It used to be free to go up to an observation area on a skyscraper downtown. Now it costs $17. You have to go a long way to find a theater and they are extremely expensive. The only place they have found in the whole city where they can go and relax is at some of the big public spaces downtown. So this is where they go whenever they have free time.
And they are acutely aware that this system has no future for them. They talked about going to college and how it seems like a cruel joke to them. You have to pay all this money and go into debt and then there will probably not be a job for you—or at least not one that you would really want. And then all that debt is like a constant chain around your neck. But on the other hand, what other choice is there besides going to college. They know that there are no jobs for young men like them other than minimum wage shit jobs—if they can get one of those. One of them told about going to interview for a retail job in a mall—a job for which he was by far the most qualified—but not getting it because his clothes were not as nice as the other applicants'. He said it is like you "have to get a job in order to get a job"—meaning you had to first get money to dress right before you could even be considered for a job that paid little more than minimum wage. Plus all three of them have talents—one wants to do stuff with video filming—and they would really like to do something with their lives that has value and would make a difference. So this too is extremely painful to them—the realization that they, as human beings, really have no value in this society.
So the need for a revolution to completely change this whole system was a point to which we continually returned. On one hand they are seeing this with growing clarity, but this stand is in opposition in a number of ways to religious ideas that they also hold. One of the richest and recurring themes in our discussions was comparing and contrasting religion and science. It is interesting that all three of them come from a religious background and are themselves wrangling with religion as a framework for explaining the world. One of them is more locked in this framework than the other two, but all of them are open to having their thinking challenged. On one hand this religious framework has been part of what has kept them from getting drawn into "street life" and has provided a focus on "bigger questions" in their lives. And it also helps them get through their lives—even in some funny ways. One of them described how he had recently lost a 30-day bus pass he had just bought. It cost a lot of money and he was just so mad at himself for losing it—he was throwing stuff on the floor. Then he said that he had this flash that this was just the devil testing him, and somehow that helped calm him down and realize that he had to just deal with it and not get totally depressed. We all laughed about it when he told the story, but it reveals something about the draw of religion for people whose lives are constantly teetering right on the edge—and the appeal of a whole variety of "the end of the world" scenarios that have a lot of currency among people they know.
I kept stressing the importance of looking at things from a scientific point of view—because that is what actually explains why things happen. Early on, one of them asked if I believed in god and I said no. But two days later he came back to this and said: "Are you an atheist? I thought when you said you didn't believe in god meant that you were just into a different religion." So it took awhile for it to really sink in where I was coming from. But meantime we had talked about all kinds of examples of scientific vs. religious explanations of things. A big one was evolution. And here is a searing indictment of their education—two of the three of them did not know how evolution worked. So I explained this and we talked about how it was not just "humans descended from monkey" but rather was a whole explanation for how all life has developed on earth. Then we got onto the big bang. They kept raising isn't there still someplace for god in all this—how about before the big bang? So we talked about why would you assume that just because something was unknown this is proof that there is a god.
This was a theme we would pick up from one day to the next. At one point I asked them if they saw a relationship between the pull of religion and the feeling of hopelessness that so many people have about the world they live in. I contrasted that to the scientific method that, in a broad sense, you could describe as hopeful. It is a problem-solving approach to the world—not that all science is immediately based on solving particular problems. But understanding the world does open up new pathways about how it can be changed. Plus science itself is also a source of awe and wonder. This led to a lot more back and forth which they all said that they really liked—even though we didn't agree on everything, we were listening to and respecting each other—with the mutual respect being extremely important to them.
Where the question of religion got sharpest was around how they looked at women. We got off into this because they said that they didn't understand why the movie Precious was such a big deal. They had seen it and said that it just showed shit that they were all quite familiar with. Then one of them said that he didn't get why—according to him—it was more popular with white people than with Black people. I raised the question of whether it was connected to how Black men viewed their relationships with women. One of the three brought up the biblical explanation of original sin in the Garden of Eden and how Eve was responsible for this. It is interesting that while all three knew this biblical reference well, none of them remembered what the apple stood for. And when I reminded them that it was knowledge, this stirred the pot even more because they pride themselves on wanting to know things. And they also know something of what the bible actually says about how women should be treated who do things like have sex out of wedlock—which they don't agree with at all. Then the question of women's right to abortion came up. One argued that "you are destroying a life that could be a great one." I raised "what about the woman's life?" and asked them if they would want their lives turned upside down (which they all understood was what pregnancy meant) just because of some "oops?" The Revolution reader said he upheld the right to abortion and went on to point out that the most likely thing for a child born to a mother who doesn't want it is that the kid's life will be miserable and so will the mother's. So we went around on this for a while—including how all those "unused" sperm and eggs that men and women are continually spinning off also contain the potential for life, so why not allow women to decide when are the times that are best to bring that potential into reality. And by the end of this, the one who argued abortion is "destroying a life" was saying, "I'm hearing what you are saying about abortion."
I made the point here that I thought the question at the root of this whole discussion was whether they as Black men wanted to end a lot of the oppression they face, but when it came to women they just wanted in on being the "head of the household." This made them all stop and think—in part because of the logic of what I was saying, but I also think because they saw that I cared just as deeply about ending the oppression of women as I did about all the other horrors this system rains down on people—including the oppression of Black people that we had talked so much about.
At one point one of them said, well I heard this expert say that the Bible is 70% true and 30% false. So I said, "That's great, how do you know whether you are reading the 70% or the 30%?" And this got us off in a whole discussion of "salad bar" Christianity where you just picked the parts you liked and ignored the rest. What kind of "word of god" is that? But one point I continually came back to was that there are many religious people whose beliefs lead them to fight against injustice and that was a good thing. I said that the yardstick with people should be whether they are fighting to end oppression, and the role of their religious beliefs should be judged on that basis. But I also said that this is a real contradiction because to change the world you have to understand it—and here you ultimately do run into conflict with religion. They all said that they thought this was the right way to look at it—changing the world is the key thing.
One of them said early on in our discussions that he felt like he was from Mars because of the things he cared about were so different from most of the other students. And one theme of our discussions had to do with whether there were any other youth that felt and thought the way they did. On a later day I brought the issue of Revolution with the article about the Cornel West/Carl Dix Dialogue at UCLA. They were amazed—especially that 1,000 people came out to hear it. And then they read the comments by people as they left. Two in particular struck them. First was the one saying that we came to college expecting to hear stuff like this, but that's not what we get—this led to another round of how what they teach in school is such bullshit. And then the quote by the young kid who said that most of the time you go around not knowing if other people think like you do—and then you come here and see so many like minds—and how empowering that is. And this was right to the point we had been talking to—yes, there are others out there like them who are also agonizing over the future. The challenge is to find the ways to bring them together—and this is what the revolutionaries are attempting to do right now.
I showed them the May 1st copy of Revolution that had the quote from BA about why people come to the U.S.—because the U.S. has fucked up the rest of the world worse. The Revolution reader read this out loud and said "Yes! That is so true." There was also an ad for BAsics in the paper and I was explaining what the book was—a lot of quotes like that (and some longer essays) around the key questions involved in making a revolution. This got them all excited about the idea of taking quotes like the one they had read and putting them up around the neighborhood so others would see them and so they could get into discussions with people about this stuff and find out more who was coming from where. One of them had told me awhile back that he really liked the idea of putting up revolutionary posters that told the truth around the community. So at one point after we talked for a while about what a difference doing stuff like this could make, he asked me: "Do you think it would piss people off if we did stuff like this?" I thought a minute and said, "If you did it well, yes it probably would piss off certain powerful people." I was wondering if he was worried about taking chances. But he responded with, "Great, that's what I want to do—piss those people off!" And the other two chimed in with yeah, me too. And in this part of the discussion the Revolution reader, who has been reading Revolution online, said that he has been showing stuff to his dad. And his dad has read it and said that he really likes it because it is telling the truth, and he encouraged his son to "go for it" with this stuff. This whole part of the discussion left me with a deeper appreciation of how these youth see boldly taking out the truth about the world as a key part of fighting to change it.
Finally, all three of them made a point a number of times about how much they valued being able to sit down and have the kind of discussions we were having. And they contrasted it with the world they had to go back into as soon as they left where we were sitting—and how much they hated going back to that other world. I told them that I felt the same way about our discussions and I thought that this was just a small taste of the kind of world a revolution could bring into being.
The kind of society this revolution aims to bring into being has great appeal to them. They all hate the ways races are separated off and all the stupid stereotypes different people have of each other which they are coming to understand are the product of how this system plays people. They see people as human beings first and value knowing people of different races. They also would very much like to see the walls broken down between men and women so they too would basically relate to each other as people, not as sex objects. But this is a tough one in their world. One of them told how he has a number of girls that are his friends, but he can not keep those friendships and have a girlfriend because there was no way the girlfriend would ever believe that he was not sexually involved with the other girls. And this weighed heavily on him.
In here somewhere I told them about how in the 1960s one of the radical new shoots was the tendency for groups of young men and women to become friends and hang out together so people of different genders really got to know each other as people. This totally blew their minds and led to one of them talking about the problem today of when you do develop a relationship with a girl, you really don't know her at first. Getting together is mainly based on physical attraction. So you can be deep into a relationship before you discover that you and your partner think entirely differently on very important questions. This got us into a whole discussion of morality and how important it is for building relationships that can be relied on. We read the quote from BAsics about how principles only mean something when you are up against real challenges. This really resonated with them.
So there is certainly a mood among the three of them that the world is really fucked up and something needs to be done, and in some way they want to and need to be part of this. At the end of our last discussion, I asked them to think about whether they would like to meet some of these revolutionaries because if they did I might be able to help make that happen. They all said that they would definitely think about it—but they also indicated that they would probably say yes.
Determination decides who makes it out of the ghetto—now there is a tired old cliché, at its worst, on every level. This is like looking at millions of people being put through a meatgrinder and instead of focusing on the fact that the great majority are chewed to pieces, concentrating instead on the few who slip through in one piece and then on top of it all, using this to say that "the meatgrinder works"!
Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:11
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
A determining focal point in the battle for abortion rights and the lives of women begins July 31 in Germantown, Maryland. One of the most courageous and prominent abortion providers in the country is being targeted by one of the most hateful, fascistic, anti-woman groups in the country. Anyone who cares about the future for women needs to be there or find a way to support those who will be.
Dr. LeRoy Carhart is a hero. He provides abortions. As simple as that may sound—and as simple as that ought to be—this means that every day for more than two decades he has risked his life for the lives of women. He's been threatened. He's been stalked. His family has been harassed—even receiving calls "informing" them of his murder. Once, his farm was burned to the ground.
But that is not all.
Two years ago Dr. George Tiller, a fellow abortion provider, colleague and good friend of Dr. Carhart's, was assassinated while attending church. In the face of this devastating loss, LeRoy Carhart stepped up even more. He expanded his practice. He opened new clinics. He spoke boldly to the national media. He not only performs, but has taken responsibility for training others in performing, some of the most complex and life-saving abortion procedures for women late into troubled pregnancies.
For all this, he has been targeted as "Enemy # 1" by the very forces responsible for Dr. Tiller's death. From July 31 through August 7, Operation Rescue will be bringing anti-abortion fanatics from across the country to hound and endanger Dr. Carhart, his staff, and the women he serves.
Operation Rescue is an organization of woman-hating, evolution-denying, theocratic, Christian fascists. They oppose all abortions. As in: even in cases of rape, incest or the life of the woman. They oppose all birth control. As in: they not only oppose pre-marital sex, they also oppose marital sex that is not aimed at procreation. And for more than two decades they have systematically targeted, prosecuted, waged character assassination against, and whipped up an atmosphere that has led to the actual assassination of some of the most selfless and heroic abortion providers in the country.
That's right. According to the Washington Post, just months before Dr. David Gunn was assassinated by an anti-abortion fanatic, "an old-fashioned 'wanted' poster of Gunn was distributed at a rally for Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry," complete with a home phone number and photo of Dr. Gunn. In 1992 Operation Rescue targeted the clinic of Dr. Barnett Slepian. Later, Dr. Slepian was assassinated in his own home by a fanatic who had traveled with Operation Rescue for years. In 1991, Operation Rescue declared a "Summer of Mercy" and brought thousands of anti-abortion fanatics to blockade Dr. Tiller's clinic, demonize his person, and create an intimidating anti-woman spectacle in the national media for weeks. Just months after Dr. Tiller was assassinated, Operation Rescue began making efforts to purchase his clinic as the site of their new headquarters!
This is the shameful and murderous history that Operation Rescue is invoking as they gear up for their "Summer of Mercy 2.0" at Dr. Carhart's new clinic in Germantown, Maryland.
Why do they do all this? Not because they give a rat's ass about the so-called "life of the fetus." They do this because they are driven by the biblical mandate that women have babies—lots and lots of babies—and obediently submit to men.
According to the Bible, everything evil that has ever happened is because Eve tempted Adam into eating the "forbidden fruit." Not only that, there was a "special curse" brought down on women. Here it is in 1 Timothy 2:11-15: "Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty."
It is this total submission of women to men that Operation Rescue is dead set on. As Dr. Carhart himself pointed out during an interview I conducted with him earlier this year, "Most women today don't want to be a second class citizen. They want to enjoy all the rights and privileges that the world has to offer. I think the very thrust of the anti-[abortion movement] is to deny women those very rights. Abortion is a vehicle they are using to do much greater damage."
The only "good" thing that can be said about Operation Rescue is that they clarify the issue. The movement against abortion has never been about anything but forcing women to submit to men and have babies against their will. This is true of the Christian fascists in—or seeking—political office, from Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin to Sam Brownback and Tom Coburn. This is true of those who have introduced the largest onslaught of legislative restrictions on the federal and state level in history over just the past few months—from mandatory ultra-sounds, to requiring women to undergo "counseling" at Christian fundamentalist "clinics," to imprisoning women whose newborns do not survive! (Yes, you read that right: several states are currently prosecuting women for the natural deaths of their newborn babies. www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/24/america-pregnant-women-murder-charges)
And this is a truth that is being lied about or covered over by all those—most significantly prominent Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but also much of the pro-choice movement leadership—who are refusing to call out this fascist woman-hating for what it is. As the World Can't Wait so aptly put it several years ago, "This whole idea of putting our hopes and energies into 'leaders' who tell us to seek common ground with fascists and religious fanatics is proving every day to be a disaster, and actually serves to demobilize people."
If women are to be free they need the right to decide for themselves when and whether to have children. They need abortion on demand and without apology. They need fully scientific sex-education. They need birth control available without shame or stigma. These things are not "tragic" or "unfortunate." They are tremendously liberating—and they are long overdue!
All of this is essential not only for women, but for humanity as a whole—for how can anyone be free when half of us are enslaved?
The future of abortion rights, the lives of women and of the safety of heroes like Dr. LeRoy Carhart cannot be left to politicians or law enforcement or "someone out there who isn't me." It is time—long past time—for all those who care about women to confront the fact that the future will hinge on what each of us will do.
From July 31 to August 7 World Can't Wait and others are organizing a Summer of Trust to be a strong abortion rights presence countering Operation Rescue and standing up for the lives of women. I add my voice to theirs in calling on you to BE THERE in the streets to show your support. If you cannot be there, reach deep into your bank account and make a donation to this effort commensurate with your concern for the future.
For more information on the Summer of Trust: www.abortionmorality.net/?p=34
Send checks or money orders, payable to "World Can't Wait" (Summer of Trust in the memo) to:
World Can't Wait
305 West Broadway #185
New York, NY 10013
Listen to my interview with Dr. LeRoy Carhart, Carole Joffe (author of Dispatches From the Abortion Wars: The Cost of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us), Merle Hoffman (President and Founder of Choices Women's Medical Center), and Debra Sweet (National Director, World Can't Wait), here: www.equaltimeforfreethought.org/2011/01/22/show-375-the-morality-of-abortion/
Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution newspaper and sits on the Advisory Board of The World Can't Wait.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Revolution is a serious matter. It is not something to be played at.
Exactly because revolution means bringing to an end the power held by the capitalist-imperialists over the lives of billions, those who hold that power will oppose it in every way they can—via direct representatives of the state and working with other "freelance" operatives. There will also be organized reactionary forces who uphold the system and are threatened by the possibility of revolutionary change—they too will actively work against revolution and revolutionary organizations. This is to be expected. Revolution will bring counter-revolution. But then there is another type of counter-revolution—people who emerge from within the camp of opposition to the present order and pose as revolutionaries, but whose sole, or essential, purpose and reason for existence is to destroy genuine revolutionary organizations and revolutionary leaders—leadership that is necessary if there is to be a revolution.
To be clear, then, counter-revolution means active opposition to revolution, with the intent to destroy the revolution, revolutionary group, or individual.
Those serious about making revolution must set and insist on standards for the revolutionary movement that favor revolution and oppose all forms of counter-revolution.
There is a very important distinction that must be made between struggle, even sharp struggle, carried out in a principled way over differences in line and approach as opposed to wrecking activity which is objectively counter-revolutionary. Carrying out principled struggle is very different from efforts centered on spreading lies, innuendos, provocations which not only do not bring clarity but are designed to spread confusion and derail revolution—and can only benefit the state.
In the world today, revolution led by communists is both desperately needed and as yet still too rare. Different communist parties who have taken responsibility for making revolution in the particular countries they work in have to distinguish between the friends and the enemies of the revolution. In making revolution there is real importance to bending every effort to forge the broadest unity on a principled basis as these parties carry out struggle to determine what line, what road, what course of action can lead to freeing the people from the very real shackles this system has trapped them in.
There are and will be differences among the communists over how to sum up the previous experience of socialist revolution, what lessons to draw from that, how to go forward in the next stage, how to analyze the conditions for revolution and what strategy to follow. And there will be differences and principled struggle between communists and others who disagree that communism is the road forward, but who still wish to see radical or progressive social change and/or to resist the attacks of the ruling classes. There needs to be a lot of debate and ferment over these questions now and in the future.
This kind of principled struggle, which at times may include sharp polemics over ideology and line—polemics aimed at getting at the heart of disagreements over what is the real problem and solution—is a key element of making revolution. This is a necessary part of understanding the reality that we are dealing with and working to change; it's important for drawing the masses into the process of determining how to go forward toward revolution and the emancipation of humanity—and steering clear of false paths. And genuine revolutionary communists who are trying to lead humanity to get to communism will seek to learn even from those who are in opposition to the goals and direction that communists are leading society, both from the insights and valid, or even partially valid, criticisms that those in opposition may have and, at times, through learning from their negative example. In this sort of criticism, the following standard should be applied: If people have disagreements on the level of line they should take on the best representation of the line they are criticizing, based on what groups and individuals publish about their views, and then state their differences as clearly and sharply as possible.
So principled struggle over line and even basic principles that, in reality, can make the difference between revolution and defeat in one form or another is very important and essential. And it is also qualitatively different from the kind of wrecking work done by those forces who in the name of revolution make it their business to traffic in anti-communism, and encourage animosity directed at communists and especially communist leaders who are insisting that the world can and must be radically changed—and are dedicating their lives to that end. Those who speculate on and foment differences, putting themselves forward as the voice of so-called "authoritative information" regarding matters that they either know nothing about or consciously distort, not only do not contribute to achieving clarity on line and the path forward—they aid the efforts of enemies of the revolution to isolate and attack revolutionary leadership.
The world of cyberspace has made it all the more possible for vicious attacks on revolutionary organizations and leadership to circulate and find a foothold. While there are many positive things that have been made possible with the Internet—like the ability of people all over the world to have access to information and the thinking of people today as well as from the past, and the ability to communicate with speed all over the globe—there are also very dangerous trends that have come with this new freedom. For example, anyone with a computer can make up whatever "truth" they want, can write fantasies and string things together and then send them all over the world. They can establish themselves as a so-called authority and drop their poison on all kinds of websites, blogs and listservs—it's all bytes of data equally available, equally valid. There are the direct agencies of the government, imperialist oriented think tanks—from left to right—and various freelance reactionaries who make it their business to troll the Internet for tidbits they can utilize in order to oppose revolutionary forces. And note well that in the 1960s the government—even without the ease of the Internet—took such "information" and speculation and literally destroyed lives, as they worked to disrupt and destroy revolutionary organizations. Lessons paid in blood led to a broad understanding at that time, among those seeking change, of the need for high standards.
The whole culture these days is shaped way too much by tabloid voyeurism, made up of superficiality plus "narratives"—my personal story, my personal reality, "the more sensational the better." We live in a culture which makes hounding and exposing the lives of prominent cultural and political figures a national pastime; unfortunately this same mentality also has been taken up by people playing at revolution. We get National Enquirer sensationalism in the "movement" fired by personal careerists who build themselves up by posturing as "those in the know"—which fosters a climate where people think it is OK to publish and broadcast lies about people, to ask about people's whereabouts, to speculate and gossip about the role of different individuals, and try to provoke people into responding to this level of discourse.
All this may be disconcerting to people who are new to the revolutionary movement. Why would people who claim to be for revolution act in such a way? Unfortunately this type of counter-revolutionary activity is an inevitable part of making revolution—but that does not mean it should be excused, or shrugged off. While not getting pulled off course or disoriented, we have to be clear that this kind of thing does real damage, providing a climate where the forces of the state in power can bring down vicious repression on the revolution. This is one way you can tell the difference between people who are raising, even sharply, principled differences with revolutionaries, on the one hand, and counter-revolutionaries on the other. Rather than dedicating their efforts toward bringing forward any kind of revolutionary line, program or strategy, their sole unifying feature is to attack and tear down revolutionary leadership. These are life and death matters which affect the lives of millions. Serious revolutionary movements have to raise their standards and learn to reject and have nothing to do with anyone who carries out these kinds of counter-revolutionary activities.
All those who want to see the end of the rule of the monsters who run this country and wreak havoc all over the globe need to draw clear lines of distinction between honest, principled struggle over line and program and the wrecking activities of those who can only take pleasure in vilifying and tearing down the only party that the masses have, the only party in the U.S. that is determined to stick to the principles of communism and to make that liberating vision a material force in society—something that people who yearn and hope for a radically different and better world can work toward, with leadership that knows how to go there.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
From a reader:
By 1945, World War 2 had devastated Europe and the Pacific. More than 20 million people in the Soviet Union alone had been killed in this war. On February 13, 1945, U.S. allies firebombed the German city of Dresden, 135,000 people were killed. Then on August 6, a U.S. Air Force plane dropped the world's first nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. They killed an estimated 140,000 people. Three days later they dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people.
Between 1945 and 2002, around 100,000 nuclear bombs were built. Today, according to the Obama administration, the U.S. nuclear arsenal holds over 5,000 weapons. The U.S. continues to expand and maintain its power in the world by threatening to use these weapons.
Why is the impact of the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not seared into our minds today?
In New York City a small but very powerful exhibit of photos gives a cold, hard glimpse into this horror: "Hiroshima Ground Zero 1945" at the International Center of Photography (ICP). This exhibit not only shows photos never before made public of the nuclear terror rained down on the people of Japan and a sense of the threat that this arsenal holds today, but the story of how this exhibit came about gives an idea, at least in part, as to how and why this outrage is just not a part of our consciousness today.
On exhibit are the once-classified postcard-size prints of photos of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Physical Damage Division, the group of 1,150 military personnel and civilians, including photographers, sent to record the destruction. You can see from the notes made by those involved that the purpose of this survey was to evaluate the destruction of the blast and determine what kind of structures and materials could withstand a nuclear holocaust and apply this to developing policies for constructing bomb shelters, promoting suburbanization and improving construction materials and practices to better ensure the survival of the U.S. in a nuclear war.
The photos show the annihilation of Hiroshima, flattened out with the wrecks of just a few twisted structures left as far as the eye can see; most of it is just indistinguishable rubble. It takes a while to realize what is missing. People. It was a huge city, but you don't see anyone. The captions from the photos tell only the story of what is useful to the imperialists: "Honkara Grammar School. Looking south along corridor of third story showing portal construction and buckling of panel wall. Note cracking of roof panel. Also destruction of combustable floor, partitions and content by fire." Content. That would mean books, chairs...and children. There are a few photos that hint at what this means to people. One, a schoolboy's jacket on a chair. Others, ghostly shadows burned onto a wall, the imprint of the rubber soles of someone's shoes that kept the asphalt on that spot of a bridge from burning, no other hint of the person.
After these cities were destroyed, the U.S. government confiscated all photos of what happened and restricted their circulation. No images were to be published "which might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquillity." It was years before Life magazine published a few photos. The photos shown in this exhibit are part of a collection of 700 that had been held by Robert L. Corsbie, an executive officer of the Physical Damage Division who died in a house fire in 1967. They were left in a basement for over 40 years before being acquired by the ICP in 2006.
What has become clear is that unleashing nuclear warfare on Japan was not, as touted, some kind of supreme act of mercy to end the war in the Pacific once and for all. It was a cold, calculated, murderous move to claim position of world superpower. From the very beginning it was an experiment on how to continue waging war:
After visiting the show, my friend from Japan and I were talking about the nightmare unfolding around the Fukushima nuclear reactors leaking radiation caused by the recent earthquake in Japan. One would think, after the devastation of the war and the generations of Japanese suffering from the horrible effects of radioactive contamination, that there would be some real expertise in dealing with such disasters, but the legacy of the strategy of confiscating and suppressing knowledge of this destructive power, including medical treatment records, continues this bloody history.
The exhibit is at 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd St., New York, NY, on view through August 28. The website for the exhibit includes many of the photos: icp.org/museum/exhibitions/hiroshima-ground-zero-1945.
Recently I was reading an essay called "Disarming Images" about an exhibit of art for nuclear disarmament which was held in the early 1980s. And I noticed that the author of this essay points out that according to the dictionary, Webster's Third International Dictionary, the name "bikini" given to the bathing suit comes from comparing "the effects of a scantily clad woman to the effects of an atomic bomb." When you think about this, and you think about the horrendous death, destruction, mutilation and suffering alive before dying that was caused by the atomic bombs that the U.S. dropped on Japan, and what would result from the much more powerful nuclear weapons these monsters have today—when you think about all that, and you think about the reasons for naming the bikini after all that, and what kind of view of women this promotes—do you need any other proof about how sick this system is, and how sick is the dominant culture it produces and promotes?
Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:17
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Pelican Bay Hunger Striker:
Pelican Bay, Corridor D
Im writing to let you know that i received BAsics and am very greatful that you were able to send me a copy, thank you.
However, as you are aware, here at Pelican Bay State Prison we are currently on our 14th day of hunger strike and retaining information becomes more difficult by the day so i havent yet had the opportunity to sit down and thoroughly study BAsics yet. But from what i have read i can already tell you that it is an excellent introduction to revolutionary philosophy and principles and very much look forward to studying it as soon we are victorious in our current struggle against discrimination, torture and oppression here in the bowel's of Pelican Bay State Prison.
I noticed that in the last 2 papers we received, #s 237-238, that you printed stories about our struggle and the h.s., and like to give you a brief update.
First and foremost the spirit of the struggle remains high and our commitment to breaking these chains of oppression undetered. Morale is high across the board and the unity intact. We all realize that it took over 20 yrs of state sponsored torture and discrimination for us (prisoners) to come together and challenge this system under one Banner; that of liberty and justice, and that if we don't hold our ground and win this fight, not only will that keep the chains on us, but more importantly, it will allow future generations to remain forever enslaved to this injustice as well. So for this purpose we remain committed to see this through until the bitter end. Nobody wants to die but should we meet the final consequence of our actions in this struggle for justice then we are prepared to do so.
Most of us have already lost 20+ lbs, a few prisoners have become sick and their bodies began to reject water. Others had heart rates of 150, and still others had blood sugar levels so low that they should've been in coma's. Yet with the physical conditions of strikers rapidly declining the medical staff is doing as little as possible. Basically, they tell us to eat, if we decline they rarely treat anyone, mostly they just send us back to our cell, to die really.
Most of the k9s and medical staff are hostile toward us, making comments like "have a nice funeral" and "oh, well, if you want to kill yourself that's up to you." There are a few sympathetic guards and medical staff but most are angry that we had the "audacity" to challenge their system and they could care less if we live or die.
The next couple weeks will be critical, strikers conditions will worsen and alot of us will become bedridden and close to death. There are attorneys visiting our corrdinators and the "suits" and getting starting to get involved but it doesn't seem we are very close to an agreement. Thats why public support and awareness is vital and i hope Revolution will continue to print updates and support us in this struggle.
Like i said, morale is high despite the efforts of CDC and the mass media to undermine this struggle. We remain committed and united in this stand and are determined to remain as such until we break free of these chains, one way or another.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
July 19, 2011
I was happy to hear that people took BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian to the American Library Association conference in New Orleans and I welcomed the call for people to take BAsics to librarians in their areas. I've been talking to librarians in this city about BAsics and would like to share some of my experience.
One way to reach a lot of people with BAsics is through the library and our past experience with librarians convinced us that they would want to know about this book and could play an important role in promoting it. So we decided to take BAsics to librarians.
I work in a city that has a big public library system with many branches. The city library has a centralized ordering system and it's difficult for branch librarians to get books that are not on the "monthly order sheet" so my first step was to get BAsics onto the order sheet. I set up an appointment to talk to the head librarian of the main branch about BAsics, why the library should add it to its collection and make it available to the branches as well. This public library already carries Bob Avakian's memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond, Away With All Gods, and the Revolution Talk DVD in its collection. The head librarian believes libraries should make books available to the public from all points of view, across the whole political spectrum, about every topic under the sun, and from all kinds of writers. From that perspective he welcomed the conversation and the recommendation to carry BAsics. He noted that the library carries other books by Avakian and said it was "a no-brainer" to add BAsics to the library collection. He did not have the authority to put BAsics on the monthly order sheet for the branches but just the fact that he was adding it to the central collection carried some weight and we were successful in getting it listed on the order sheet. The fact that a major city library is carrying this book also makes librarians in other public libraries in the area sit up and take notice.
I then went out to talk to individual branch librarians about why they should order BAsics and put it in their branch collections. I put together a packet that changed over time as more materials on BAsics came out but generally included an issue of Revolution, a poster size "You Can't Change The World If You Don't Know the BAsics," the review by Herb Boyd, and comments on BA and BAsics from artists, writers, prisoners and others. I wanted librarians to know that this book is part of a movement for revolution that we are building and that is growing.
I spoke to the librarians about Bob Avakian and about what's concentrated in the book. I opened the book and had them read a quote or two. And I talked about the people who needed to read/hear these quotes. Many of the librarians I spoke with are worried about what they see around them; they want to see young people more politically active and thinking critically about the world. That desire to move young people seemed to be the main reason they wanted to order BAsics. As I talked with one librarian, a high school volunteer came by. The cover of BAsics caught his eye. I turned to him and said, "I'm trying to persuade your librarian to order this book. What do you think?" He looked at the book, the table of contents, flipped through the pages and read some quotes and declared, "I would read this book." That sealed the deal for the librarian. A few librarians offered to hold discussions of BAsics in the library. One librarian who works in a poor Black neighborhood where unemployment is very high, missed the deadline to order BAsics from the central order sheet so she bought BAsics on the spot for her library.
The packet also helps because librarians have very limited funds and have to pick and choose what books to carry, so reading what other people think about the book makes a difference... and it helps them to have materials that can persuade their higher-ups that this is a book worth buying.
When you talk to your librarian tell them they can get BAsics and many other books by Bob Avakian through Baker & Taylor. It is the nation's largest distributor of books to libraries and other institutions.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
The following letter from a prisoner was forwarded by the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
Postmark: 27 JUN 2011
Prisoner's Revolutionary Literature Fund. (Respect and love for our leader Bob Avakian)
Thank you for receiving this letter, With-in the past month I was sent a copy of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. I Am Writing to Report that the book was a instant success in the Restorative justice class that I teach! For the past 2 weeks my student's have been passing the book around and wrangling over the statement's of power Bob Avakian made to trance-form the People for Revolution. When asked to take the word "BAsics" and scientifically transmute it into acronym's related to what they've learned, this is what they said:
Bob Avakian Says Injustice Can Stop
Bob Avakian Says I Can Soar
Bob Avakian Says Imperialism Cant Survive
Bob Avakian Says I Can Serve
Bob Avakian Says I Can Speak
Bob Avakian Says Independence Can Start
BAsics Are Samples I Can Study
Bob Avakian Says I Can Succeed
I am very proud of my student's and the creative energy they put into completeing this task. I think what they've done is equally as unique as the book. And the last task I gave them was to give life to the book by spreading it's core message amongst the inmate population of 2,000 prisoners. There is no doubt that our leader is leading. Bob Avakian is the truth! We are with you 100%, In the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America we trust! Learn the basics—join the struggle, become a part of the change.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
From A World to Win News Service
June 27, 2011. A World to Win News Service. "Homeless—Jobless—Futureless—Fearless," "Our dreams can't fit in your ballot boxes," "System Error—Message from the Spanish Revolution"—these are some of the slogans of the "Indignados" ("The Outraged") movement that has swept Spain since May 15 and is continuing in various forms today. On June 25 hundreds of people set out on foot in sweltering heat from Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia, Cadiz and other cities in marches expected to converge on Madrid in July. Following are condensed excerpts from a report on the tumultuous first two weeks when the members of a young generation once considered politically indifferent and inert first forced their way onto the political stage. They have launched an intense debate previously almost forbidden by "common sense," not to mention the country's power structure, including the main left and right parties, about the desirability, possibility and modalities of radical change.
This movement shares some features with the likewise unexpected revolt in the Arab countries, which helped inspire it, most notably an often fearless rejection of the status quo coupled with the idea that democratic reforms may be able to bring about basic change without a revolutionary seizure of power. The author, Sofía Corral, identifies with and attempts to convey what she considers the main thrust of this movement. Her reportage is a contribution to the necessary process of a more critical analysis and conversation with this very important, contradictory and welcome phenomenon. The report originally appeared on the Web site of the Movimiento Popular Revolucionario (Revolutionary People's Movement) of Mexico (mpr-mexico.blogspot.com), which reminds readers that the author's views are her own.
In March, a new slogan began going around on the Net and especially the social networks: "Real democracy now!" At the same time some people in Salamanca organized State of Unrest, a group that disassociated itself from political ideologies, parties and trade unions. Its discourse, influenced by "Another world is possible" sentiments, was radically anti-system. No more than 20 people attended the first half a dozen meetings in this city.
Sunday, May 15
A call went out for the first demonstration. There were no leaflets or posters; everything was done on Facebook and Twitter. About 15,000 people went out into the streets in at least 50 Spanish cities. At that point, we were aware that a lot of people knew about the call, but we had no idea how many would actually come out. Not even the initiators were sure that people would go over from virtual to real activism.
In the Puerta del Sol [Madrid's main square, a traditional site for demonstrations], a multitude of about 25,000 appeared. By the end of the day, people all over Spain had heard about what was happening in the capital and more demonstrations were announced.
The protesters agreed to camp out in the plaza indefinitely and organize from there.
Monday, May 16
The movement called 15-M (15 May Movement) or Real Democracy Now! or Spanish Revolution [in English] began to take shape. People in the camp agreed on minimum logistical principles for how the occupation should function. This was the inception of the mass meetings and the kind of thinking that would emerge later. The mainstream media tried to hide this phenomenon that was beginning to speak for itself. Concepts circulated on the Net: revolution, crisis, system.
Tuesday, May 17
Other cities began to join 15-M. The media was forced to concede some more serious coverage. People began to organize meals and shelter. Thanks to connections between cities, the forms of activism were reproduced simultaneously, as if by giant mirrors. Initially there had been no plan to continue occupying public squares, but too much strength was accumulating to stop now.
Wednesday, May 18
Arguing that political activity is forbidden on the eve of elections, the authorities declared the camp illegal and tried to clear out the demonstrators in Madrid. Some people were beaten and their details were recorded, with the idea that they would be issued fines for "public disturbance." The same happened in the Plaza del Carmen in Granada. But people refused to abandon the camps.
Thursday, May 19
Protests began breaking out in front of Spanish embassies in other countries, such as Portugal. In Salamanca, we saw that in addition to the six cops who had been in front of the nearby government building since the beginning, now there were two police vans. The police said that they wouldn't intervene "as long as the youth don't start an altercation."
Friday, May 20
The elections were almost upon us (May 22) and tensions between the two main parties became very sharp. The 15-M movement was growing, now joined by people in Alicante, Santa Cruz, Malaga and Burgos, among other cities. The occupied public squares became the site of both artistic and political activities, and a wide variety of people came. In Salamanca, mass assemblies and commission meetings began to take place non-stop. The debates mixed questions of what to do next and what is to be done strategically. We knew that the Electoral Board had declared our sit-ins illegal, but there were no visible threats to move us out, so we relaxed.
We decided: not to ask for a permit to extend our occupation, to take down the tents for legal reasons, and to gather up all our foodstuffs and shelter material and keep them in the Youth House until May 23, the day after the elections. [But they didn't leave the square.]
Saturday, May 21
We received news of fresh protests and in some cases clashes in Pamplona and Cuenca in Spain, and Amsterdam, New York and Santo Domingo. The existing demonstrations got bigger. Amid the tense electoral climate we put forward the slogan "We're thinking"—this is how we described what the multitudes would be doing in the 24 hours before the citizens' right to decide would be snatched away by the electoral process designed to divide the parliamentary pie between the parties. In Salamanca we founded the Commission for the Safety of the Assembly.
Sunday, May 22
The big day had arrived. The media talked about nothing but the elections. For the 15-M, this was the decisive moment to decide our political identity and stance. In this context, giving up would mean surrendering to voting, its campaigns and power. Staying in the streets would mean radicalizing the discourse and broadening the target to include not only the corrupt electoral system but the decadent and unjust economic system that is its father. The Commissions continued their work. More than ever, the movement showed that the underdogs don't need politicians and elections to organize themselves. The coordination between the camp in the Plaza del Sol in Madrid and the Salamanca camp became richer than ever.
New slogans in the Sol: A more rational political organization of the country. Reconcile family life and working life. Drop the charges against the arrested comrades.
Monday, May 23
More and more we wondered, what was going to happen now that the elections were over? The debates reflected this uncertainty, but also the necessity to make a leap to new actions. The Sol demonstration began to be Webcast live around the clock. Within two days this Web TV site had five million visitors, the same number as that of unemployed people in Spain. News reports said that the rightist parties won the elections. The media now shamelessly wallowed in the results of the electoral swindle. We knew that there would be grave social consequences if we didn't make a new rupture with the electoral system.
Tuesday, May 24
The assembly in Salamanca agreed to put out an information sheet about the people in jail, to discuss holding concerts, to give control to the assembly, to discuss how to mobilize the unemployed. A message to the unemployed was read. It was decided to hold a non-violent demonstration in the city's central Plaza Mayor.
Meanwhile, in Madrid's Plaza del Sol, the main topic became how to go out to the neighborhoods, the de-penalization of squats, subsidized housing for youth, guaranteeing the public health system, freedom of education and the abolition of the Bologna Plan (a Europe-wide initiative involving the privatization of education).
Wednesday, May 25
It was decided to hold a march leaving from the Plaza Mayor on Sunday at 6 pm in unity with protests in other cities that day. The Barcelona occupation was growing bigger and bigger. Any passer-by could tell that people in the Plaça Catalunya were getting better organized every day. Everyone was busily working together like thousands of worker ants. They set up army tents, tables, photocopy machines, portable toilets, vegetable gardens and solar energy panels. Giant screens projected the images of all the speakers at the assemblies. The kitchen was open 24/7. There was also a library, a reading area and continuous Net access for the 700 people camped out and the 2,000 visitors every day. Meetings of the unemployed and home mortgage victims were held.
Thursday, May 26
People decided that the protest's original 16-point manifesto was too broad for everyone to agree to. Instead, a three-point minimum consensus was adopted:
1) Electoral legislation reform. The current system favors the two-party system and their alternating control of the government. We demand an electoral law that guarantees the equality of every vote, independently of which party you opt for and in which region you vote.
2) Participatory democracy. Democracy should not consist of giving full authority to a legislature. Citizens should be able to take part in making decisions that have a major impact on their future.
3) Zero tolerance for corruption, and political and financial transparency. We proclaim that the corruption perpetrated by the political parties has reached an intolerable level. Therefore we demand more transparency regarding political parties and institutions, and the guaranteeing of a fundamental separation of state powers.
We left the plaza to inform people in the neighborhoods. People in San José across the river were glad to see us.
Friday, May 27
The police violently dispersed the Barcelona camp. The news immediately reached the camps in other cities. In every province people decided to suspend all planned activities and instead demonstrate in support of the Indignados in Catalunya. There a lady carrying a sheet of paper with slogans written on it stepped in front of a police vehicle to stop it. Protests tried to protect each other from club-wielding cops. The Catalan regional government argued that it emptied the camp for sanitary reasons. People replied, "There were no riots until the riot police came." Campers stood in front of and stopped the rubbish trucks, because the mass meeting had agreed on self-management of everything in the camps, including cleaning. When the people get organized they don't need trucks nor politicians nor bosses. Cleaning can't be considered more important than people's safety, and yet the Catalan police charged the people. In Salamanca we decided that we would demonstrate at 7 pm to show our rejection of the repressive forces of the state. We would carry flowers and observe three minutes of silence in solidarity with the comrades who were beaten.
Saturday, May 28
We've heard that people were seriously wounded when the police broke up the camp in Barcelona. Some people have visible bruises from police clubs and rubber bullets. The assembly there called for the camp to be rebuilt, and within a few hours the Plaça Catalunya was reoccupied. The people overwhelmed the regional police and stayed put, frustrating a second attempt to break up the camp.
Sunday, May 29
Today, implementing the decisions of previous mass meetings, we went out into the streets again to demand our right to occupy public squares. We put forward our three-point minimum program. We felt that the police were likely to attack again, since the Electoral Board had again declared the camps illegal the week before and the police had tried to break up camps all over Spain. But these are the adversities that social forces would have to confront. Things are constantly getting more tense and there are increasing obstacles to overcome if we want to persist in seeking radical change. There will be more reports to come.
The 16-point manifesto
1) Change the electoral laws so that party lists are open to all to vote on in every constituency. Parliamentary seats should be proportional to the number of votes received.
2) Respect the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, namely the right to decent housing and the amendment of the mortgage law so that homes are turned over to the occupants and unpaid debts are cancelled, free and universal health care, free circulation of persons and the strengthening of public, secular education.
3) Abolish unjust and discriminatory laws and measures, such as the Bologna Plan and the European Space for Higher Education, the Citizenship Law and the Sinde Law [restricting downloading on the Net].
4) Tax legislation reforms in favor of those with the lowest incomes, a reform of inheritance taxes. Implement the Tobin Tax on international financial transactions and eliminate tax havens.
5) Reform working conditions for the political class to abolish their lifetime salaries. Political programs and proposals should have a binding character.
6) We reject and condemn corruption. The electoral code should prohibit the inclusion on electoral lists of any candidate who is not clean and free of corruption charges or convictions.
7) Various measures concerning banking and financial markets to ensure compliance with Article 128 of the Constitution, which stipulates that "the country's entire wealth in whatever form and no matter who owns it is subordinated to the common good." Reduce the power of the IMF and the European Central Bank. Immediate nationalization of any banking entity that has had to be bailed out by the government. More robust safeguards on financial corporations and transactions so as to avoid abuses of any kind.
8) A real separation of Church and State, as called for by Article 16 of the Constitution.
9) Participatory and direct democracy in which citizens play an active role. People's access to the media, which should be ethical and truthful.
10) A real regularization of labor laws and state oversight of compliance.
11) Shut down all nuclear power plants and encourage renewable and free energy sources.
12) Take back privatized, formerly publicly-owned companies.
13) A real separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state.
14) Reduce military spending, immediately shut down arms factories and establish a better oversight over the State armed forces and security organs. As a non-violent movement we believe in "No to war."
15) The restoration of Spain's historic memory and the founding principles of the struggle for democracy in our state.
16) Complete transparency regarding the bank accounts and financing of the political parties as a way to control political corruption.
[Before the May 22 elections the Socialists had argued that the occupations were counter-productive because they would facilitate an electoral victory by the right. The youth stayed in the streets anyway. Here the author argues that the "party-ocracy" of the Popular Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party has been defeated because even adding up the votes for both, they still represent a minority of the electorate, and the number of people who didn't vote or cast blank or spoiled ballots is larger than the number of voters for either party.]
The political and ideological characteristics of this phenomenon
Over the last few days a great deal has been said about what's happening with these camps and the virtual/real movement. It has been said that this is an autonomist [self-management] movement, an example of collective intelligence, a class revolution, a libertarian social coordination, a fashion phenomenon, a geek plot or a hacker conspiracy. What's interesting is that none of these descriptions totally excludes the others. People, interests and world outlooks (ideologies) are in motion and change. What's happening with the broad spectrum of opinion in the camps is the same thing that's happening with mentalities in general: people cross over, change their minds, come to a consensus, organize themselves and activate themselves. The identities, if there are any, go from ecologists to feminists and anarchists, etc.
People feel like they're taking part in historically far-reaching events (and they are), that they are the protagonists in a phenomenon in a special place and time, when it's urgent to make the best possible decisions and not make any mistakes, taking advantage of the strength we have accumulated, a time when people do what they say they'll do, building the future of the movement and the political life of individuals and cities.... Some people say to themselves, "I'm not doing this any more," while others keep repeating, "Let's make a revolution"...
An analysis of the radicality of this movement would be relevant if it focused on the division that really does exist between those of us who seek a change in the electoral system and those seeking to change a system that has no name. This is an effort at collectivity on a grand scale by a sector of society that has been seriously affected and enraged by the recent economic crises, non-conformists with no future. It's also an act of becoming conscious of and appropriating a cruel reality that many people, out of indifference or discomfort, did not dare to recognize or confront before. It's the multitudinous explosion of deep-down thinking that has been gestating in silent solitary discontent, by people who now see the need to connect with many others among the silenced discontented. It's a leap from solitary non-conformity to rebellion with the strength of unity...
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Revolution Interviews Raymond Lotta:
Posted August 1, 2011
Revolution: Raymond, we're speaking just as President Obama and congressional leaders on the Democratic and Republican sides have reached a tentative agreement that would cut trillions of dollars in federal spending in the next ten years. Congress will soon vote on raising the debt ceiling. There are many important questions to get into, but let's start with some basics. What is the debt ceiling?
Raymond Lotta: The debt ceiling is the limit imposed on how much money the federal government can borrow to finance its existing spending obligations. Such spending includes military expenditures, programs like Medicaid and Medicare, government administration and salaries, and repayment of principal and interest on debt held by investors in U.S. Treasury securities. Raising the debt ceiling allows the government to borrow more money. When the government spends more than it takes in as revenues, the difference is the deficit.
The national debt is over $14 trillion. This is the debt accumulated to underwrite past budgetary deficits.
The debt ceiling is raised when the government runs out of funding to meet its obligations. If the government is not able to pay creditors, then you have a default.
Revolution: Why is government debt so large?
Lotta: Three factors are driving the huge run-up in government debt of the last few years.
The first is the severe contraction of the economy in 2008-09. The slowdown in economic activity led to a steep decline in government revenues. And continuing sluggishness of the economy has lowered the amount of taxes the government collects and increased the amount of money the government spends on things like extensions on unemployment benefits, food stamps, and so forth.
Second, the tax cuts adopted under Bush in 2001 and 2003 put limits on the amount of taxes the government can take in.
Third, America's imperial wars of conquest in Afghanistan and Iraq have swelled the deficit. In the last decade, the U.S. spent over $1 trillion on these wars. The military occupation of Afghanistan, as it widened under Obama, costs about $2 billion a month.
Military expenditure is one of the "dirty little secrets" of this fiscal crisis. It doesn't get talked about. Nor its real scale. If we take the 2012 budget, plus supplemental funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military outlays amount to about $700 billion. But this is not an accurate picture of military-security expenditure. It's really much higher, about $1.2 trillion, or close to 40 percent of the budget, when you factor in things like CIA and National Security Agency expenditures, nuclear weapons research by the Department of Energy, payment on debt from past wars and weapons systems. All this to maintain U.S. dominance over the planet.
And just as the debt and budget debate was beginning to heat up in Congress, Obama opened a new military front—in Libya.
The federal deficit of the U.S. is now about 9 to 10 percent of the gross domestic product... which is about three times the average of the last 30 years.
Revolution: So these are the main drivers of the debt. But then there's the whole debate going on.
Lotta: People look at this in a certain way, and people have a lot of misconceptions. It's no accident. The media, politicians, and so-called experts have framed this in a certain way—and many people have gotten sucked in. I'm talking about the idea that there's a selfish "partisan divide" in Washington that has to be bridged for "greater good of the country." I'm talking about the mantra from Obama that everyone has to equally sacrifice for the greater good of the country, and that the wealthy have to pay their fair share of taxes—and this populism had a certain appeal for a while. There's the chauvinist declaration that it would be awful to "America's standing" if it defaulted on its debt.
All these notions are either not true at all or don't really get to the essence of what's really going on here. People don't really understand what the Republicans and Democrats agree and disagree on and what they are fighting over. And I have to make it clear right at the outset that this "compromise" agreement that they came up with—was a compromise between two programs that were BOTH not in the interests of the people.
Revolution: So what is the essence of what is going on?
Lotta: The struggle over the debt ceiling is an expression of deep problems confronting U.S. imperialism. I am speaking of the effects of the crisis in the world economy... an international economic environment in flux... and real budgetary constraints and contradictions bound up with the vast accumulation of government and private debt.
At the same time, powerful ruling class forces have used the specter of default to continue and intensify an unprecedented attack on government social spending on things like education and health and so-called entitlement programs, like Social Security. They are seizing on this moment to ratchet up an ideological offensive aimed at rallying public opinion around the idea that "government is living beyond its means," that social spending has gotten out of control, the reactionary argument that we all have to stop making demands on government, that government shouldn't be giving "handouts" to those who don't deserve them, and who are living off the government.
Revolution: The theme of belt-tightening and sacrifice looms large.
Lotta: Sacrifice? When nearly 1 in 6 workers is unemployed, under-employed, or has given up looking for work because jobs are so few... when the average duration of unemployment is now longer than at any time since the end of World War 2.
Sacrifice? The Pew Foundation just released a study on what happened in the 2005-2009 period to the wealth of U.S. households—as measured in homes, cars, savings, and so forth. Black, Latino and other people of color were hit hardest. The net worth of Latino households fell by a staggering 66 percent, and that of African-Americans fell by 53 percent. One-third of Latino and Black families have zero wealth.
The bulk of this wealth loss is the result of the collapse of housing values and the subprime mortgage crisis. Millions of people were lured into seemingly affordable loans. And millions of people wound up defaulting. Mortgage loans tapped into the savings and future earnings of millions of people. The loans were then bundled into exotic financial instruments and sold on global markets.
Here we see the workings of the market. A basic human need, housing, was turned into an object of investment and speculation. And then it came crashing down. Millions of homes are empty—because it's more important for banks to assert their property rights than for people to have housing.
25 million people were looking for full-time work last month. 8-10 million households face foreclosure. Income inequality between white households and Black and Latino households stands at its highest levels in decades. And to now demand of people that they sacrifice to rescue a system that destroys livelihoods, that perpetuates and widens social inequality... it's obscene. Of course, all of this packaged as everyone "doing their share."
Revolution: Clearly, the operating assumption in the debt ceiling debate, and especially now as it appears that a deal has been struck, is that government programs dealing with health, education, housing, and so forth must be slashed.
Lotta: For weeks and weeks we've heard about debt and deadlines. Yet through it all, an entire section of the population has been left out of the discourse: the poor and the unemployed. It's as though, for the ruling class, the word poverty has been expunged from the English language. The number of jobless workers has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But, to quote the title of a July 9 New York Times article by Catherine Rampell, "somehow, the unemployed have become invisible."
The way things developed, Obama has become the leading champion of fiscal austerity, of huge cutbacks in government spending on social programs. On the bogus high moral ground of "bipartisan compromise," he put before the Republicans a deficit-cutting plan that would add one dollar of new taxes for every four dollars of budget cuts.
Revolution: What about the agreement reached on July 31?
Lotta: From what I've read so far in the press, it seems that the tentative deal will cut three trillion dollars in domestic spending over the next ten years. This includes what's spent by federal agencies. It includes different types of social spending and its early effects will impact education, public housing, mass transit, environmental protection, and the Medicaid program. And then a new wave of cuts will be phased in after the 2012 election.
Revolution: A lot of this will hit the poor very hard.
Lotta: You're right. And let's consider the consequences. In late June the American Journal of Public Health published the results of a very revealing study. It quantified how many deaths are caused by poverty, low levels of education, and other social factors in the U.S. It found that in the sample year of 2000, 176,000 deaths were due to racial segregation and 133,000 deaths were due to individual poverty. These are unnecessary deaths. We're talking about the conditions of housing and work; we're talking about inferior access to health screening, to quality health care; and the inability to get health insurance.
And now with this new debt reduction plan, Medicare and Medicaid cuts are in the offing. What kind of system puts human lives on the chopping block of fiscal austerity? This is the logic of capital. This system cannot act in the interests of the people. It can't because it operates according to the rule of profit above all else.
So there is a move to drastically restructure government spending. People think that Obama has sold out to or caved in to the Republicans. But there is a bipartisan consensus about the need for cuts, even as they have disagreements over how to do this.
Revolution: But we've seen such acrimonious debate over cuts and the debt ceiling.
Lotta: There is a section of the ruling class—mainly right-wing Republicans—who want to go further. They want to dissolve any semblance of a state that engages in spending on social programs. It has very little to do with deficits. I mean Bush raised the debt ceiling seven different times. But getting further into debt wasn't a big deal for these Republicans when it came to financing the U.S.'s wars for greater empire, it was acceptable to push off the revenue loss of the Bush tax cuts into the future by incurring more debt.
Their bristling at "big government" is ideological. It's an attack on the very idea that society has any kind of organized responsibility to the well-being of the people. It is institutionalized callousness: "if you're unemployed, it's your fault;" "no health care, that's your problem."
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece last week that concentrated some of the aspects of the ideological assault being waged by conservative forces. It argued that the issue is not just Obama...the problem goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and this so-called "culture of entitlement" and "re-distributionism." And they're arguing that now's the time to settle accounts. The Tea Party gives this a veneer of grass-roots outrage at "government excess."
Bob Avakian's analysis of the "pyramid of power" in the U.S. really sheds a lot of light on what is happening here. You have a situation where the U.S. ruling class is sharply divided at top—again, approximating the Democrats and Republicans. That section of the ruling class roughly corresponding to the Republicans has been on the offensive and moving society in an increasingly fascistic direction. The Democrats sharply differ with Republicans on some of the particulars of how to maintain U.S. global domination and how to maintain "social order at home." But they don't differ on whether to do that... that they have basic agreement on.
This dynamic is at play in ruling class infighting over how to handle the debt. There's intense struggle, with political and ideological agendas as big factors. The Republicans have had the initiative, and they continue to hold it in this debt battle.
Revolution: How do you see the relationship between the ideological assault and the underlying economics of the budgetary crisis?
Lotta: Here I must point out that most progressive and radical critiques are arguing that this whole debt crisis has just been manufactured as a way to push political-ideological agendas. I think this is wrong. It's more complicated than that... but more fundamentally, there IS a global economic crisis which is the larger backdrop to all this.
What is really going on here is that there is a real crisis which is interacting with, and further fueling, an ideological assault bound up with establishing new norms of social control and repression.
It would be wrong to conclude that ruling-class concern over deficits and debt is simply political manipulation. There are real imperatives for capital to cut costs and enhance competitiveness. There are real constraints on expansive government spending. This has to do with capitalism's "rules of the game." This is a system of production for profit based on the exploitation of wage labor. This is a system of competitive accumulation in which the great powers seek advantage and dominance on a global playing field.
Revolution: So let's get deeper into the political economy.
Lotta: We have to step back and put this fiscal emergency in global perspective, and trace the development of the larger global economic crisis.
In late 2008, the private-financial core of U.S. imperialism, I'm talking here about the large transnational banks, was facing collapse. These banks were suffering huge losses on unsustainable loans, they couldn't raise capital, and they were unwilling to lend to others. I can't get into all of this now, but this was an expression of the anarchy of capitalism. You had these banks creating ever-more complex financial instruments to make profits and push risks on to others. Again this was the rules of capitalism at play here and for an analysis of this I would encourage people to look at an article I wrote back in October 2008, "Financial Hurricane Batters World Capitalism: System Failure and the Need for Revolution."
This turbulence threatened to spread and to undermine the global financial system. The U.S. imperialist state as the guardian of the interests of capital stepped in quickly. The Federal Reserve injected huge amounts of capital into the banking system. The state became a creditor, making low-interest loans to the banks. It encouraged mergers and consolidation at the top tiers of the private banking sector. It made it possible for Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America to profitably incorporate, buy out, the assets of failed or failing banks.
There's a strategic dimension here. The U.S. banking system, with its extensive and deep credit markets, and the dollar, which is the main currency in the world economy, are linchpins of U.S. imperial hegemony in the world capitalist system. At the same time, the U.S. faces new challenges, like the emergence of the European Union as a more consolidated bloc, and China as a potential rival.
By 2009, this situation entered a second phase. The financial crisis had developed into a generalized economic downturn affecting the entire world economy. This was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The volume of trade between countries fell sharply. World industrial output fell. The U.S. economy slowed down. You had GM facing bankruptcy. Unemployment shot up.
In response, the Obama administration undertook a spending program that involved government expenditures on goods and services, various infrastructure and energy projects, tax credits, unemployment extensions, and some financial assistance to the states. This was meant to stimulate major growth but it didn't.
Revolution: So this is a complicated picture involving economic developments and conscious policy, informed by ideological and political agendas.
Lotta: The enormity of the financial crisis has continued to pose new challenges to imperialist policymakers. The measures that have been taken have produced new strains on government finance. A big challenge for the ruling class now is to work down debt in a way that does not cause major disruptions to the world economy. It's a very unstable situation. And how the U.S. manages and finances government debt will have big effects on the world economy.
There is the state of the world economy—the fact that it has not recovered from the financial crisis and steep downturn in 2008-09. There are intense competitive pressures in the world economy.
In relation to this deficit battle, people ask, why can't the corporations be taxed more? Well, in the midst of crisis, taxes on huge capitalist corporations that are a key part of the U.S economy and U.S. economic growth can cut in to their ability to gain competitive position and advantage in the global struggle for markets, for new technologies, and their ability to buy out other firms.
But more is going on. This is a world economy in transition; major realignments are taking place in the world economy. This is a huge topic and to get a fuller background and analysis of this, I would encourage people to read the 4-part series I wrote, "Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry." But here I can provide some of the basic contours of this situation.
As the financial-economic crisis hit, China emerged as the second largest economy in the world. It will soon overtake the U.S. as the world's largest manufacturer. China is now the single largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt. Its export earnings, based on super-exploited labor in vast industrial zones, have been recycled into U.S. financial markets. China now has increasing leverage in the world economy.
If China and other large holders of U.S. Treasury debt sense instability and begin to shift out of dollar-based securities into other currencies and investment instruments, this would put enormous pressures on the dollar. It could set off a major flight from the dollar. If foreign creditors saw dangers in holding U.S. long-term debt, the U.S. would have to borrow on a shorter time frame. And this would make the U.S. more vulnerable to financial upheavals and uncertainties.
As I said, the international role of the dollar gives the U.S. enormous advantage and sway in the world economy. At this juncture, no other currency is able to replace the dollar as the world's key currency. But the position of the U.S. dollar is eroding. It faces new competitive threats.
All of this constricts the maneuvering room of U.S. imperialism, while conditioning policy responses and intra-ruling class debate.
What began as a banking crisis has morphed into a long-term government debt crisis in the U.S. and other Western capitalist economies. And the world economy remains in deep economic trouble.
The U.S. imperialists face a major contradiction. They are saddled with huge and mounting debts. The U.S. economy is not growing. Historically, one of the ways this has been dealt with is by increasing government spending with the goal of stimulating the economy. But this results in higher deficits and government debt.
Revolution: We've covered a lot of ground. Do you see more people becoming disaffected with Obama, among those who have been supporting him? And will there be more openness to fundamental change?
Lotta: Over the last year, there has been a growing sense of bitterness and betrayal. I think this budget episode is leading to more of that feeling.This sentiment runs deep among a growing section of people. And it counts for something in the current atmosphere. But where will this go?
This underscores the importance of what Bob Avakian has been bringing forward, that there is no permanent necessity to existing conditions. Things do not have to be this way. The Revolutionary Communist Party has recently published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). It sets forth an inspiring vision and concrete measures for building a new society. This is a socialist society. This would be an economic system NOT based on exploitation and profit but on meeting the needs of the people, overcoming the great social inequalities of society, protecting the planet, and contributing to the advance of the world revolution. A society aiming for the final goal of a communist world, where human beings everywhere would be free of exploitation and oppression and destructive antagonistic conflicts, where human beings could be fit to be caretakers of this planet.
This vision can play a tremendously powerful ideological role on the current terrain. Projecting this vision is a crucial part of building a movement for revolution that can bring such a new society into being.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted August 3, 2011
The Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition has reported that "to the best of our (limited) knowledge no prisoners are on hunger strike now." The following was posted on August 3, 2011 at the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website:
We received a letter from Todd Ashker, one of the hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay, dated July 24th, 2011. He says the hunger strikers are giving the CDCR a temporary respite, a grace period of 2-3 weeks from July 20th, an opportunity for the CDCR's top administrators to come up with some substantive changes in response to their five core demands. If the CDCR does not follow through, prisoners at Pelican Bay plan to go back on hunger strike. Todd writes:
"It's very important that our supporters know where we stand, and that CDCR knows that we're not going to go for any B.S. We remain as serious about our stand now as we were at the start, and mean what we said regarding an indefinite hunger strike peaceful protest until our demands are met. I repeat–we're simply giving CDCR a brief grace period in response to their request for the opportunity to get [it] right in a timely fashion! We'll see where things stand soon enough!"
We have also received information from prisoners at other prisons. Many prisoners are just now receiving letters sharing updates on the strike from July 15th. However, supporters outside prison have received confirmation that prisoners across the state are no longer refusing food since the leaders at Pelican Bay agreed to the CDCR's offer on July 20th. According to prisoners who were striking at Centinela, the majority of hunger strikers work in the prison's kitchen and lost their jobs for participating in the strike. Many prisoners who were coming up for review by the parole board are now worried their participation and support of the strike will result in denied parole.
These updates from Pelican Bay and Centinela mean the legislative hearing coming up on August 23rd is incredibly important, and a serious opportunity for outside supporters to apply pressure on the CDCR and state legislature to make substantial changes. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity and hunger strike supporters throughout California are calling for a statewide mobilization to Sacramento for the Legislative Hearing, and for supporters everywhere to continue supporting the strike. Click here to hear more ways people can support the strike and statewide mobilization to Sacramento.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted August 3, 2011
An important op-ed piece about the prisoner hunger strike at Pelican Bay Prison appeared in the New York Times on July 17 2011—titled Barbarous Confinement, by Colin Dayan. Read this excerpt and then click here to read the whole commentary.
Solitary confinement has been transmuted from an occasional tool of discipline into a widespread form of preventive detention. The Supreme Court, over the last two decades, has whittled steadily away at the rights of inmates, surrendering to prison administrators virtually all control over what is done to those held in "administrative segregation." Since it is not defined as punishment for a crime, it does not fall under "cruel and unusual punishment," the reasoning goes...
Officials at Pelican Bay, in Northern California, claim that those incarcerated in the Security Housing Unit are "the worst of the worst." Yet often it is the most vulnerable, especially the mentally ill, not the most violent, who end up in indefinite isolation. Placement is haphazard and arbitrary; it focuses on those perceived as troublemakers or simply disliked by correctional officers and, most of all, alleged gang members. Often, the decisions are not based on evidence. And before the inmates are released from the barbarity of 22-hour-a-day isolation into normal prison conditions (themselves shameful) they are often expected to "debrief," or spill the beans on other gang members.
Colin Dayan, a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, is the author of "The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons."
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
A Visit to Corcoran
We received the following correspondence:
At a July 21 meeting at Revolution Books to discuss and build support for the prisoners hunger strike we heard that the prisoners at Pelican Bay had announced the end of the hunger strike. People discussed the difference the strike had made by calling the attention of the world to the inhumane conditions inside America's prisons. We talked about the need to further the struggle, to build on the opening that had been created by the hunger strikers' courageous action. One idea was to go to prisons that had been centers of resistance. We had heard that some prisoners were still on hunger strike at Corcoran prison, where SHU prisoners had early on issued a statement in support of the 5 core demands and the hunger strike initiated by prisoners at Pelican Bay. We had also heard that 17 people on hunger strike at Pelican Bay had been moved to Corcoran only days before. We wanted to show our support and to talk with families of prisoners to get a better understanding of the situation at Corcoran.
Six of us drove to the prison on Sunday, leaving early in the morning in order to be there during the visiting times. Our group included an activist with World Can't Wait, two people from Revolution Books, and an aspiring filmmaker who is researching prisons in America and who supported the strike. Also making the trip were two relatives of Pelican Bay prisoners who had been part of the hunger strike.
Corcoran is located in the Central Valley of California, and in July this means it is HOT. The bare and dusty landscape outside the prison is a big contrast to Pelican Bay's forested setting but the prison itself has a familiar look: concrete buildings, guard towers, fences and barbed wire.
As the temperature rose, we stood with a banner that read: "We Support the Prisoners and Their 5 Demands! Prisoners are Human Beings!" We also had a sign: "From Pelican Bay to Guantánamo Bay – No Torture – Not In Our Name." The family members going in and out of the prison waved or gave us the thumbs up sign, clearly glad we were there, slowing down to read the banner, some of them honking. And while many correctional officers passed us averting their eyes, with some giving us a thumbs down sign, it was interesting that a significant number of people who were probably prison employees waved, smiled and gave us a thumbs up when they saw us standing there and read our signs.
As they had at Pelican Bay State Prison, police and correctional officers drove up and unsuccessfully tried to question us about who we were, saying they had heard reports we were "wandering" or "migrating" down the road. They asked us if we were part of the same group that had apparently stood in front of the prison a couple weeks ago. We assured them that there are people like us all over the state. They stayed awhile, as did a black SUV that parked a little ways away, but they did not tell us to leave.
Every visiting family member who stopped their car told us about the hell that their family was going through. One man said that his son had been 16 when he was arrested and that he was tried as an adult, given a 50 years to life sentence, and sent directly to the Corcoran SHU. "Before this happened, I never knew places like this existed." His son is now 20 years old. "I come here to visit every week," said his father, who had been talking with prison activist groups in Los Angeles. Two women stopped their car and explained that their family member was mildly retarded. He was put in the SHU when he refused orders by a guard to go back inside a cell with a guy who had molested him. They said his condition was deteriorating since he had been in the SHU where he is treated like an animal: even the hour of exercise takes place in a small cage. Another woman told us that she came to visit two relatives, both men were in the Corcoran SHU. A woman stopped who was on a visit from another countryand said she had not been approved to see her nephew but drove her sister to the prison that morning hoping to learn more. Having seen the prison, even from the outside, and hearing about the SHU, she was outraged, and joined us behind the banner in the hot sun.
Some family members were only vaguely aware of the hunger strike, while others spoke with pride about it and their loved ones inside. We heard different things from different people, perhaps because communication is not easy in the SHU: one said that the prisoners knew the strike was over. Another said that people in the SHU were still striking, another that that people had been striking and had stopped, but might begin again on August 1. People we talked to appreciated that we had come and were particularly moved that the family of Pelican Bay strikers had come.
We made sure everyone who stopped got Revolution newspaper and a card about the book BAsics, and we exchanged phone numbers to stay in touch. Everyone wanted to know when the next demonstration or protest would be, and what they could do to end the inhumane conditions, to stop the prisons from putting people in the hole indefinitely.
We had talked about all of this among ourselves, on the way down to the prison, and on the way back. The man who wanted to make a film said that he had not heard of the SHU until the strike, he had not know that people could be "condemned to a coffin"... permanently. Questions about revolution, communism and Bob Avakian came up. We started to discuss why there is a need and real prospects for revolution, and how fighting mass incarceration and torture in the SHU was part of building a movement for revolution. We also discussed that this revolution would not only abolish the current prison system, but make possible a whole different kind of life for the people, including those who are now stuck in America's dungeons. We also talked about what kinds of things that need to happen next in this struggle, now that the prisoners have gotten people's attention.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted August 1, 2011
Today, August 1, actions in many different cities were held as part of an International Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers.
After the prisoner hunger strike ended at Pelican Bay State Prison on July 20, representatives of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike leaders released a statement that said:
"We're counting on all of our outside supporters to continue to collectively support us and to carry on with shining light on our resistance in here. This is the right time for change in these prisons and the movement is growing across the land! Without the peoples' support outside, we cannot be successful! All support, no matter the size, or content, comes together as a powerful force. We've already brought more mainstream exposure about these CDCR-SHU's than ever before and our time for real change to this system is now!" (See the whole statement here: http://revcom.us/a/241/7-27_short_corridor_collective_statement-en.html.)
And as the San Francisco World Can't Wait chapter wrote: "What is now most CRUCIAL: TO KEEP UP THE SUPPORT OUTSIDE. Only if the authorities see ongoing public support—grassroots and prominent, numbers, different organizations, a diversity of voices all backing the prisoners—is there any real chance of winning the changes these people have risked their lives for. The dynamic between what the prisoners are doing inside, and strong outside support, is key to the world knowing about their situation, and their resistance."
Check back for coverage of the August 1 International Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers, ongoing news and analysis of the important struggle against the inhumanity of solitary confinement and the whole issue of mass incarceration in the USA.
To read all Revolution coverage of the prisoner hunger strike go to: revcom.us/s/pelicanbay-hungerstrike-en.html.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
From Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website:
Posted August 1, 2011
The following was posted on August 1, 2011 at the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website:
Hunger Strike Supporters everywhere are gearing up for the legislative hearings to begin on August 23rd in Sacramento, CA by holding lead-up events in the weeks before the 23rd.
Today supporters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and New York are holding rallies and speak-outs as part of a national day in support of the hunger strike, asking for all five core demands to be met, and for no retaliation against any and all prisoners who participated in the strike.
Supporters are also continuing to show support by participating in rolling fasts, writing letters to legislators, and words of encouragement and support to prisoners. Last week, more than 150 religious communities of Roman Catholic nuns mailed in letters of support of the prisoners' requests to the governor of CA. The communities ranges from the Congregation of St. Joseph to the Loretto Sisters to the Sisters of Mercy. Each religious community represents from 100-18,000 nuns nationally and internationally. These representatives say: "We are with each of the prisoners and their supporters and loved ones in this struggle and extend our prayers of love, peace and support."
Tactics of extreme isolation, social deprivation and torturous conditions are used throughout the US. [At least 60 super-maximum security prisons are operated in 44 states of the US]. People locked up throughout all prisons continuously resist repression and torture everyday, often working together in forms of both spontaneous and well-organized massive resistance.
Days within the Hunger Strike in CA ending, the Department of Corrections in Indiana put all the state prisons on lock-down in response to a stabbing no doubt instigated by guards. Prisoners in Indiana's SHU joined together in resistance once the prison administration cut off all electricity and water in the prisons. Supporters are calling for an emergency call-in day today & tomorrow in solidarity with the Wabash protesters.
As we approach the 40th Anniversary of the Attica Rebellion this September, we're reminded of the decades before us of prisoners working together across prison-manufactured racial divisions, resisting brutal conditions of isolation, torture and imprisonment. We're reminded of the long and tireless fight for humanity to be recognized. The hunger strike that started at Pelican Bay and swept across CA's prisons system has rejuvenated years and years of anti-prison and human rights' work throughout the US and internationally, galvanizing support and collaboration inside and outside prison walls.
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
The following was posted at Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity on July 27:
After hunger strike leaders reached an agreement last week with the CDCR to end the hunger strike that swept across California's prison system, prisoners have started to transition to eating food again. However this transition is both brutal and confusing.
After not eating for four weeks, it is very hard to begin eating solid food again right away, so many prisoners are in need of more medical care than the prisons can provide. Medical staff at the prisons were already overwhelmed by general conditions of overcrowding in the state's prisons, and even further overwhelmed by this massive protest. While the medical staff supposedly need to follow certain protocols assisting hunger strikers' transition to eating solid food, provision of basic medical care is exhausted, unreliable and ineffective.
Family members and supporters are anxiously waiting confirmation on whether or not prisoners are continuing the strike at other prisons. When the hunger strike spread to at least 13 prisons, and at least 6,600 people across the state were participating, it was clear that prisoners joining were doing so in solidarity with the demands from Pelican Bay due to the brutal conditions they are held in resembling the conditions of Pelican Bay. For instance, prisoners at Calipatria have explained that they joined the hunger strike specifically in protest of the torturous formal and informal policies of group punishment, gang validation and debriefing—practices also imposed at Calipatria. Prisoners at Calipatria are now transitioning to eating food again, according to family members of prisoners participating in the hunger strike.
There has been some mention of prisoners at Corcoran and Tehachapi continuing the strike to expose specific issues at these particular institutions, but supporters do not have confirmation, such as how many prisoners are still refusing food and for what specific reasons or demands [In the early days of the hunger strike, prisoners at the SHU in Corcoran released this statement explaining why they were in solidarity with the demands from Pelican Bay, but we have not heard of other specifics beside medical updates since]
Outside community organizations that correspond with prisoners are scurrying to send in updates on the strike and confirming the agreement between the strike leaders at Pelican Bay and the CDCR, but since the CDCR relies heavily on denying mail as a tool of isolation and political repression, supporters are unsure if their messages are getting through.
As mentioned yesterday, the hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay released a written statement providing some explanation for their reasoning behind accepting the CDCR's deal. Their concerns include not wanting fellow prisoners to die. At least 17 hunger strikers at Pelican Bay, including 3 of the 11 leaders, were transferred to Corcoran for supposed medical reasons, however the CDCR failed to mention that Corcoran got clearance to begin forced-feeding days before hunger strike leaders accepted the CDCR's offer, a clear threat of what could happen to the leadership and their comrades if they did not agree to the CDCR's terms.
While the concessions may seem too small to claim a victory, it's important for people outside prison to understand the weight for prisoners who have been held in the SHU for decades of now being able to stay a little warmer, and to be able to keep track of time since they have no windows and the fluorescent lights are on 24 hours of every day. More so, worldwide support and momentous courage of thousands of prisoners to risk their lives effectively pressured the CDCR to sit at the same table and look prisoners in the face and offer a deal, after refusing to negotiate for weeks and insisting prisoners are less-than human.
Yesterday, dozens of supporters gathered on a continental conference call in support of the hunger strike, and discussed how to move forward now and keep pressure on the CDCR to implement the necessary changes brought to the world's attention by the strike.
One focus of the conference call became mobilizing for the legislative hearings on August 23rd, a hearing on the SHU at Pelican Bay that will be held by the Public Safety Committee of the CA State Assembly in Sacramento. Many supporters are focusing on coordinating (inter)national days of action leading up to the legislative hearing periodically throughout the next few weeks. If you are interested in coordinating an action in a city or town near you in coordination with events in other cities, please contact us and we'll get you in touch with other supporters organizing days of action. Read notes from the conference call here.
World Can't Wait is calling for an International Day of Action on Monday, August 1st. Click here for more information.
As we work to consolidate a growing movement against solitary confinement, torture and all violence, we need to support all prisoners and political leaders locked up in prisons, jails and detention centers internationally. In the next few days, make sure to support Leonard Peltier, who has been locked up for more than 30 years and is currently in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania, by calling and emailing prison officials and demand that Leonard Peltier be immediately released from solitary and returned to the general population at USP-Lewisburg. Click here for contact information
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
The following was posted at the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity website on July 27, 2011:
The Short Corridor Collective, representatives of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike leaders, released a statement explaining their reasoning behind accepting the CDCR's offer and ending the hunger strike:
Written Statement by Short Corridor Collective (a small representative of the Hunger Strike Leaders at Pelican Bay)
On July 1, 2011, a collective group of PBSP-SHU inmates composed of all races began an indefinite hunger strike as a means of peacefully protesting 20-40 years of human rights violations. The offenses against us rose to the level of both physical and mental torture—for example, the coercing of SHU inmates into becoming known informants for the state and thereby placing those prisoners, and possibly their families outside of prison, at serious risk of danger in response to being known to have informed on and caused harm to other inmates via informing on them. The decision to strike was not made on a whim. It came about in response to years of subjection to progressively more primitive conditions and decades of isolation, sensory deprivation and total lack of normal human contact, with no end in sight. This reality, coupled with our prior ineffective collective filing of thousands of inmate grievances and hundreds of court actions to challenge such blatantly illegal policies and practices (as more fully detailed and supported by case law, in our formal complaint available online here) led to our conclusion that a peaceful protest via hunger strike was our only available avenue to expose what's really been going on here in CDCR-SHU prisons and to force meaningful change.
We ended the hunger strike the evening of July 20, 2011, on the basis of CDCR's top level administrators' interactions with our team of mediators, as well as with us directly, wherein they agreed to accede to a few small requests immediately, as a tangible good faith gesture in support of their assurance that all of our other issues will receive real attention, with meaningful changes being implemented over time. They made it clear: such changes would not happen over night, nor would they be made in response to a hunger strike going on.
Many inmates across the state heard about our protest and rose to the occasion in a solid show of support and solidarity, as did thousands of people around the world! Many inmates put their health and lives on the line; many came close to death and experienced medical emergencies. All acted for the collective cause and recognized the great potential for forcing change on the use of SHU units across the country.
With this support in mind, a core group of us was committed to taking the hunger strike to the death, if necessary, to force the changes sought. Naturally, though, we hoped it would not come to that!
On July 20, 2011, several top CDCR administrators sat across the table from us and made assurances that they are in the process of making meaningful changes right now, and will make affecting change a priority in the future, while providing regular updates and engaging in additional dialogue. And, we know they're being forced to restructure the entire CDCR system in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's Plata ruling, which deals with reduction of inmate population.
Thus, our collective decision was to end the hunger strike, on basis of their good faith gesture with a few small things and to give them the opportunity to make good on their assurances, e.g. an end to human rights abuses and torture. This decision drew from our view that we have been successful in exposing CDCR's illegal policies and practices to the world!
And, when it's all said and done, there comes a point where you have to give an entity the opportunity to perform their end of an agreement and the bottom line is this: CDCR could have signed off on a piece of paper, granting all of our demands and telling us, "you'll all be cut loose to the general population prison in six months." Then, six months later, tell us, "we've reconsidered and it's not happening." So, we'll see soon enough where CDCR is really coming from. More important is the fact that while the hunger strike is over, the resistance/struggle to end our subjection to (SHU) human rights violations and torture is just beginning!
We've drawn the line on this and should CDCR fail to carry out meaningful changes in a timely fashion, then we will initiate a class action suit and additional types of peaceful protest. We will not stop until the CDCR ends the illegal policies and practices at SHU!
We're counting on all of our outside supporters to continue to collectively support us and to carry on with shining light on our resistance in here. This is the right time for change in these prisons and the movement is growing across the land! Without the peoples' support outside, we cannot be successful! All support, no matter the size, or content, comes together as a powerful force. We've already brought more mainstream exposure about these CDCR-SHU's than ever before and our time for real change to this system is now! As for CDCR's propaganda—that the hunger strike was initiated and ordered by gang members and the fact that up to 6,600 inmates participated in 13 prisons across the state demonstrates the gangs' influence, which is why they're in SHU in the first place—our response is, (1) CDCR has never responded to our formal complaint, wherein we state, many of us have been in SHU 10-40 years, just based on a CDCR gang label, based on claims by confidential inmate informants; we have never been found guilty of committing an illegal gang-related act! Meanwhile, tens of thousands of other inmates whom CDCR has also labeled as gang affiliates are allowed in the general population of prisons! And, (2) the other inmates who participated did so based on their own recognition of, and decision to resist and protest, their similar conditions! All of our public statements about the PBSP-SHU protest clearly stated it was voluntary and those whose age and/or medical issues were an issue, should not participate! If PBSP-SHU inmates had the influence over the gang affiliates in CDCR prisons, as their propaganda claims, there wouldn't have been tens of thousands of inmates participating in the hunger strike (by CDCR's own statistics, their system is composed of approximately 70% gang affiliates—that's 70% of more than 140,000 inmates!)
The protest and resistance is not about gangs. It's all about a collective effort to end the torture in these SHUs and we hope it sill serve as an example to all inmates: there's real power in collective peaceful protest actions.
Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, Louis Powell.
Written July 22nd, 2011
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted July 26, 2011
Since the prison hunger strike ended at Pelican Bay State Prison on July 21, there have been reports that prisoners at other prisons remain on a hunger strike. It is important to monitor the status of these prisoners, there is a real need to find out the medical condition of all the prisoners who participated in the strike, and people must demand that there be no retaliation to any of the participants in this courageous hunger strike. (See "Prisoners at Pelican Bay End Hunger Strike... The Struggle Against the Inhumanity of Solitary Confinement Continues.")
On July 22, the L.A. Times reported that: "California corrections officials acknowledged more than 500 inmates continue to refuse meals at three other state prisons. More than 400 inmates remain on hunger strike at the California State Prison in Corcoran, more than 100 at the California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi and about 29 at Calipatria State Prison, said prison spokeswoman Terry Thornton."
On Monday, July 25, organizers from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity wrote:
"Thousands of prisoners across California have been on hunger strike for nearly 4 weeks now in protest against the use of solitary confinement following a call by prisoners in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU). Though the prisoners in Pelican Bay have ended their protest following a number of apparent concessions by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), prisoners in at least three other California state prisons, CCI Tehachapi, Corcoran and Calipatria, continue to refuse food.
"The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition has called for all outside supporters to continue pressure on the Prison and State authorities to keep to their promises and to continue negotiating with the prisoners and their representatives. This is essential given the hostile CDCR statement announcing the end of the Pelican Bay hunger strike, where they rehearse the same lies about the protests being 'ordered by prison gang leaders' and adding that hunger strikes 'are a dangerous and ineffective way for prisoners to attempt to negotiate.' This statement deliberately ignored the Tehachapi, Corcoran and Calipatria hunger strikers and carried an implied threat of retribution against those who have taken part in the protests so far."
These prisoners are heroically taking a stand, in the most isolated, inhumane conditions, to refuse to be treated like animals. Because of this, a light is being shined on the torture and inhumanity going on behind these prison walls. And people on the outside have the moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners' demands. There continues to be a need for rallies, press conferences, letters to prison officials and the governor of California, and statements of support for the prisoners' demands. People from many different walks of life must demand an end to the inhumanity of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
As a statement from prisoners in Corcoran prison put it:
"It is important for all to know Pelican Bay is not alone in this struggle and the broader the participation and support for this hunger strike and other such efforts, the greater the potential that our sacrifice now will mean a more humane world for us in the future."
Stayed tuned to revcom.us for updates.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted July 26, 2011
We received the following call:
In support and respect for the courageous prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons all around California, whose July 2011 hunger strike challenged the inhumane conditions of the Security Housing Units [the SHU] and inspired the support of people far and wide—we now call on people of conscience everywhere across the U.S. and beyond, to join in an International Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers on Monday, August 1, 2011.
The Hunger Strikers achieved real success: the conditions of systematic abuse and torture in the SHU—and widespread thru the prison system—were dragged into the light of day. Their original five core demands have now been acknowledged—although not yet met—by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which promised to consider them. On Monday, August 1 many diverse people and organizations will publicly speak out and act in support of these demands. Prisoners must gain the human rights and civil rights demanded by their very humanity—and by ours outside the prison walls too, wherever we may be.
We insist there must be NO RETALIATION by the authorities against individual prisoners, groups of prisoners, prisoners' family members or attorneys or other advocates, in the wake of the Hunger Strike. (And we will be paying attention.)
Let us show on August 1 that the prisoners do not stand alone, through our demonstrations, rallies, religious services, fasts, call-the-governor-days, art and music, taking to the airwaves thru talk show and other call-ins, and many other public, visual, and creative expressions.
Send word of your plans to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow news and information at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.
Wherever you are, make August 1, a Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers, a day that counts.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
July 25, Sacramento, California
Posted July 26, 2011
From a reader:
For the second Monday in a row, prisoners' families, ex-prisoners and activists converged on Sacramento, determined to step up the fight around the five core demands of the courageous hunger strikers. People were determined to continue to fight for the prisoners, their demands, and an end to their isolation and torture. Heeding the words from the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike leadership who declared that "This is only the first quarter of the game," those present were full of determination and fighting spirit to take the battle broader and higher.
There was a strong contingent from Los Angeles, joining people from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. A woman, after visiting her husband in Calipatria State Prison—as close to Mexico as Pelican Bay is to Oregon—drove with her friends all night to make it to this rally. Another woman, a mother of a Pelican Bay SHU prisoner, has been active in building support in L.A. from the very first day of the Hunger Strike. She spoke powerfully of the importance of the strike and the courage of the prisoners, and called on people to continue building the struggle for all prisoners and all people.
The demonstration was led by huge banners, signs and chants in support of prisoners as human beings. We first surrounded the entrance of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and then headed off to the State Capitol. People spoke of how Governor Brown's silence on the demands and treatment of the prisoners equals complicity with torture—that he could end immediately. A delegation of families and ex-prisoners again met with an aide to the governor. One of the mothers presented an envelope to be delivered to Jerry Brown containing 50 statements from prominent artists, actors, intellectuals and writers, all in support of the prisoners, their five demands and an end to their isolation and torture.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted July 26, 2011
We received the following from a reader who was part of a group of people who went to Pelican Bay State Prison in support of the hunger strikers:
We went out with our banner on Sunday to the gates of Pelican Bay State Prison, located about as far north as you can go in California. The banner read "We Support the Hunger Strikers & Their 5 Demands. CDCR Negotiate Now." We added the words "Day 17." And we set up a card table with copies of Revolution and flyers about the strike and the prisoners' demands and attached a sign inviting families to stop and talk with us a little ways down the road from the prison, a place we thought family visiting prisoners could stop their cars.
A middle-aged white woman who drove in from the side street stopped her car when she saw us. Other people who lived on the street had not been very friendly. She looked hard at a leaflet with the five demands, and with a solemn look on her face told me, "It's horrible, I have seen the SHU. There are cement cells, and their exercise yard is a cement cell too."
A car carrying three Latina women slowed down and backed up to talk with us. When they got out of the car, I saw one of the women was wearing a black T-shirt with big words in silver across the front: I LOVE MY HUSBAND. Her name was P and she was excited we were there and took a picture of our banner. She was glad to be interviewed.
She said, "I have been coming here for 8 years. My husband is part of the indeterminate SHU program. He's done 15 years in the SHU. So he has no pigmentation. His color is completely gone." She looked down at her tanned arm and moved her hand open and closed. "He was about three shades darker than myself, but he doesn't have no pigmentation to his skin. If he does get any light at 'yard time' he immediately gets burnt.... He doesn't remember what grass feels like. What sun is like."
I asked if her husband was part of the hunger strike. She explained that he had been but had started eating because "his vision was already going and he was losing cognitivity. It motivated him to start eating again. But he may go back on soon. There are a lot that [are still not eating]. They lost weight so rapidly. The elasticity in his arms... he pulled his skin and I could see how quickly he had deteriorated. It's really scary. They are courageous men to do what they got to do."
I asked what her husband said to her: "He is worried about us, we drive 16 hours at least to get here. We told him 'there is a lot of people supporting you guys.'"
I asked her about what she was feeling: "The hardest thing is fear. The fear that they would end up dying and no one would care. That was my biggest fear, that there would be many that would die and nobody would care."
I asked her what she felt about the demands: "Everything they are asking for is important. None of us are fighting for their freedom. But sweat suits? Let us buy them for them. Some sunlight? That's free. There is nothing that should not be accommodated."
I asked about the unity between the hunger strikers: "CDC tries to minimize the fact that the strike is going on across racial lines. But it's true and it's powerful. That's a big taboo [in prison]. It's not about gangs. They united for this. That should speak for the power of their belief in their rights."
I asked her what they talked about. "Today before I left I told him, 'I'm going to be the next Oprah and make sure that this is widely known.' He said, 'Do what you got to do.' Family members are coming to see them, just to check on them. We told them they have support out here. So I think they think, OK, it's worth a shot."
She motioned to the other women in her car. "We come faithfully once a month, some of us from San Diego."
She also talked about the demand to stop the policy of forcing prisoners to debrief ["validate" another prisoner as a gang member] to get out of the SHU: "Debriefing is something many won't do. Whatever they say when they debrief, it is taken as fact. If someone debriefs they get removed to another part of the prison to enjoy the sunlight and a phone call. But guess what, they are replaced by the person they just dropped a name on. So the next person gets stuck in the SHU for an indeterminate amount of time. It's a repeated cycle. It's a Catch-22. The people who debrief. That's their choice, but it's a shame because they take somebody else's life. It doesn't have to be anything big. We even get scared to say who we come up with and who they were visiting with because that could be taken as 'associating.'"
Another car drove up and P. said she had to go, we promised to stay in touch and she got back into her car to make the long trip home and to organize a protest in San Diego to support the prisoners.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted July 26, 2011
The following is another correspondence we received from a group of people who went to Pelican Bay State Prison to support the prison hunger strikers and demand that prison officials meet the prisoners' demands. (To read other reports from this trip see: "They are courageous men to do what they got to do." and "From the Gates of Pelican Bay State Prison"):
July 17—The visiting hours were almost over. We set up in a parking lot on the edge of a beautiful forest, down the road from where the Supermax is situated, its concrete bunkers surrounded by barbed wire, an ugly, sprawling compound nestled in the redwood trees. (A bitter irony: Pelican Bay is located in redwood country along the northern coast of California, where the tallest, and some of the most beautiful and majestic trees on earth are to be found. But prisoners can never even glimpse this beauty.) We displayed our banner and set up a small table with Revolution newspaper and a sign that asked people to "talk with us and share your story."
The first car that pulled in to talk was four women who carpool together from Southern California as often as they can. They are Latina, as were most of the women we would meet that day. They wanted to talk before they made the long trip home and they wanted to share their simmering outrage: "They don't get human contact! No phone calls. No sunlight." Another: "My boyfriend has been here since they opened up in '89. I try to come every other weekend. When I first heard about the hunger strike I was concerned for their health and well-being. But I have been concerned for their health and well-being, anyway: for years." They wanted us to know that they strongly supported the strike.
Another car pulled up and two sisters got out, they had been visiting their brother who had been in the SHU for 10 years. One of them said that she just wanted one thing: an end to the isolation, that it is torture. She repeated these words several times while her sister nodded. "They are human. My brother is a human. He's human."
Everyone got a copy of Revolution newspaper and a flyer for the Monday protest at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) headquarters in Sacramento, the state capitol, happening the next day. The women appreciated the level of support and the depth of coverage in Revolution and they were very glad to hear that famous people had been making public statements of support. One woman remarked to her friends that "this is the paper" that had been banned in Pelican Bay, the one that the prisoners had fought to continue receiving.
All the women were very supportive of the strikers and their demands and most had relatives in the SHU who were strike participants. One or two had had to drop out for health reasons, many have diabetes. They told us that some of the men they had visited had been in the Pelican Bay SHU for 24 years, since it first opened. Some of them were in their 40s, 50s and even 60s.
We learned of the strikers' degrading health, how the strike was going inside, what the conditions are in the SHU, and we heard about mistreatment, the lies and manipulations of the guards, prison officials, CDCR. Some recounted how the guards have been taunting the prisoners with food, and telling them no one knows or cares about them, that no one hears them. Most of the women had seen us the day before, and said that the men inside were very glad to hear about us standing in front of the prison with our banner of support. Some of the women were already actively involved in supporting the prisoners, organizing protests and calling the media.
They told us that the guard kiosk at the parking lot entrance had only been put in since the strike began and that they were told by the guards that it was to prevent the media from just driving in. The women told us that they wanted more journalists to write about what was going on in the prisons, and they wanted more people to investigate and to "speak out. To support them. To learn the actual facts before they judge." They said that they wanted people to know that the prisoners inside the SHU, whatever they had done, "are still human beings" and deserve basic rights. "They are our brothers. They're our fathers. They're our family. Treat them like humans. They need to be able to make a phone call. To let them know their family hasn't abandoned them. That they still care."
About 4 more cars pull in to the lot to greet us and share their thoughts with our impromptu revolutionary press center. For over an hour, while one of us held up the banner for the view of passing cars, the other four of us hung out with the 15 women, some with more family members waiting for them in the cars. Some were quieter but as the lots filled, people started smiling, waving and greeting each other and our group with hugs, even laughing. One woman snapped a picture of our banner, saying she will send it to her town's newspaper. Even though their loved ones are going hungry, and they are worried for them, the women clearly feel pride in the actions of the prisoners and draw strength from that. The men are not broken and these women are clearly determined to continue the fight.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted August 1, 2011
Revolution received the following correspondence:
Last week's Revolution (#241, "Cold-Blooded Murder in San Francisco") reported on the police killing of Kenneth Harding who was shot while running away from a $2 bus fare evasion. Many people on the scene were asking why he was shot while he was unarmed. On the YouTube video "SFPD ruthlessly shoots and kills unarmed 19 yr old man over $2 bus fare," you can hear the enraged residents shouting "where's the gun, where's the gun?"
Kenneth was killed on July 16; and NOW on July 28 the police claim to have finally produced the gun that Harding had. The police claim it's the real deal, the ballistics match, and so on, from their own crime lab. At this point we don't know what the actual truth is in terms of what they are saying about this gun. But the police have spun and re-spun this story. And we've seen how the police have done this before—how they lie, change stories, and fabricate evidence on a routine basis in order to maintain a brutal capitalist system, which puts millions of young Black men in Prison.
Since the July 16 killing, the police story has changed so many times; as one young woman put it, "they want to keep you confused." First, 7 hours after the shooting , the police proclaimed that they fired in self-defense. According to the SF Bay Guardian (July 28), when asked why they didn't move quickly to snap up the weapon Kenneth Harding supposedly fired at them, a police spokesman said, "police had to prioritize officer safety" (... keeping their weapons trained on a suspect). Meanwhile, they left Kenneth, who was dying, unattended to for several minutes. No gun (other than the cops' numerous weapons) was recovered at the scene, but a cell phone video soon appeared on the nightly mainstream news showing what appeared to be an object on the ground near the murder site. This object was quickly alleged by both cops and media to be the missing gun, the same one they had put out a reward for finding days before.
Then they supposedly found the gun at the home of a parolee; but then quickly retracted this story. Then a week later they concocted a preposterous story put out by the SF Chronicle that Kenneth Harding committed "suicide" (later, called an "accident"). A "medical examiner" proclaimed that Harding was shot twice ... once in the leg with an unknown caliber, and once in the neck which lodged in his cheek (or head depending on the news source) with a 38-caliber which is not police issue. All of this information is being provided by the police. There is no independent investigation.
So the latest police story is that Kenneth "accidentally shot himself while running." After he'd been shot in the leg "he lurched forward" and "accidentally" shot himself in the neck, according to the new police chief, Greg Suhr. Few among the Bayview residents believe this whole story. As one woman put it, referring to the video gun, "they can do anything with a video. And it's a lot easier than a throw down gun." (And now, police claim the actual new gun presented to the public is the same one seen in the video.)
In the SF BayView newspaper, Davey D comments: "Some people may ask why be so distrustful of San Franciscos finest? Well, as San Francisco filmmaker and Bayview resident Kevin Epps pointed out, SFPD has already lost credibility with the public. Many have forgotten it was just three months ago SFPD was rocked with a scandal that involved dozens of felony cases being dropped because cops were shown on video behaving in unethical manners ranging from falsifying reports, illegally searching suspects, stealing from victims etc. what was shown was believed to be the tip of the iceberg, and as a result a federal investigation was being launched."
Kenneth Harding's mother, Denika Chatman, is in town demanding real answers; while the police control everything from information to autopsies. She said at a press conference, "because of shifting stories, changing allegations and retractions, the truth seems to be far from at hand." She asked that the police give her the "fruits of their investigations." Meanwhile, many residents are demanding the truth, period, with a growing number demanding prosecution of the killer cops.
Nothing seems to be beneath the police including the intimidation of witnesses. Fly Benzo is a community activist in the Bayview who the police attempted to question shortly after the Harding murder. (He was on the scene shortly after.) A couple of days later, he was attending a demonstration in the Mission which went downtown and a number of people were arrested. There were 4 people from the Bayview in the snake march, and Benzo was in the march, although he was not one of the arrestees. On Sat., July 23, he was arrested off the street on vague charges ("threatening an officer?"), which were quickly dropped ... although they held him in jail until late Tues. night. In a press conference following Fly's release, his father said that the police had come to his house threatening to tow his cars during this same time frame. But he added "I'm proud of my son."
The protests have crossed over to the Latino community as well. There have been reports of immigrants evading bus fares who were abused and arrested by police, which eventually would end in deportation. In a recent case, a Latino man Jesus Castro in another Northern California city was filming police abuse, and was subsequently put before deportation proceedings.
The chorus of "enough is enough" needs to be more widespread; and there are plans to broaden the protest to prominent and professional people throughout the city. One of the voices of outrage at a recent community meeting came from a doctor who was shocked that there wasn't the hint of the police aiding a man choking on his blood, when clearing the airway can mean the difference between life and death.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted August 1, 2011
A new documentary film titled The Interrupters opened in New York City on July 28, the first stop on a scheduled theatrical run across the U.S., UK, and Canada. Directed by Steve James (director of Hoop Dreams and other films) and produced by Alex Kotlowitz (author of There Are No Children Here and other books), The Interrupters follows over the course of a year three people who work with the Chicago-based CeaseFire organization. The film focuses on, and will provoke discussion on, the question of violence among the people. We think that the following article, which originally appeared in Revolution #146, October 25, 2008, is an important contribution to that discussion.
* * * * *
Revolution #146, October 25, 2008
Right now, in Black and Latino neighborhoods all over this country, children are being robbed of their childhoods, afraid to go to the corner store or outside to play or to ride the bus to school. Some studies have shown that the number one fear among school children is getting shot. 36 Chicago Public School children have been killed since last September as a result of violence among the people. These shootings come on top of (and are largely used as a justification for) widespread terrorization and brutality on the part of the police, including a recent murderous rampage by the Chicago police who shot 12 people in 4 weeks this summer, 6 fatal and at least 6 shot in the back.
How did we get into this hellish situation where parents watch young children shot down in crossfire, kids grow up haunted by nightmares of gunfire, sure they won't make it past 18? This is a horror for the people—with a feeling of desperation that comes from knowing it's your neighbors, cousins and friends doing this to each other. And it gives rise to a deep despair that this is an endless spiral with no way out.
People from different perspectives are seeking out answers and solutions to this, from research projects to marches to intervention groups. In a New York Times article last May, "Blocking the Transmission of Violence" (5/4/2008), Alex Kotlowitz makes one such argument, likening violence to an epidemic disease plaguing many communities.1 Kotlowitz clearly has great concern for the lives and conditions of the people locked to the bottom of society. But despite his best intentions, his argument concentrates a dangerous logic that reverses cause and effect.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to speak to everything Kotlowitz raises, we want to speak here to his central argument—that stopping the violence among the people is the necessary first step to changing the larger economic and social conditions among the oppressed masses. An underlying assumption in the article is that this can be done without changing the fundamental economic and political relations of society which, as we will go on to show, is the brutal source of this whole situation. This same line of thinking is echoed by many people who hate the ways in which they're forced to live but feel the answer to this is for us to "clean up our own backyard" before there can be any positive change for the communities.
In discussing the position of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin (who, as the founder of the Chicago-based CeaseFire organization, is largely the focus of Kotlowitz' article), Kotlowitz uses an analogy between stopping violence and curing an infectious disease which has a big source in a community's water supply:
"Slutkin says that it makes sense to purify the water supply if—and only if—you acknowledge and treat the epidemic at hand. In other words, antipoverty measures will work only if you treat violence. It would seem intuitive that violence is a result of economic deprivation, but the relationship between the two is not static. People who have little expectation for the future live recklessly. On the other side of the coin, a community in which arguments are settled by gunshots is unlikely to experience economic growth and opportunity."
Kotlowitz himself begins to explore some of the limitations of this argument on one level, but does not go further to examine what is "poisoning the water supply" in the first place. In talking about people who are trying to get out of the logic of gang retribution, he writes, "Leaving town is not an option for most. And for those who have walked away from a shooting...if there are no jobs, or lousy schools, or decrepit housing, what's to keep them from drifting back into their former lives? It's like cholera: you may cure everyone, you may contain the epidemic, but if you don't clean up the water supply, people will soon get sick again."
Kotlowitz does not pose the basic, and necessary question: why are the schools concentrated in the Black and Latino neighborhoods disproportionately "lousy," why is the housing "decrepit," or at this point, nonexistent? And to step even further back, why are Black people concentrated in urban slums in the first place? How did this develop, and what gave rise to a situation where there are now several generations of youth who have been criminalized—killed by the police, killed by each other or warehoused in prisons in the tens and tens of thousands? The violence people commit against each other is the symptom of a larger problem—but if you don't diagnose the problem correctly and if you don't know what caused it, then the treatment you attempt to come up with will actually make it worse.
The oppression of Black people, and other minorities, has been a feature of the development of capitalism in U.S. society from its founding—on the bones of slavery and genocide against Native peoples. After the Civil War and the short period of Reconstruction, instead of being integrated into the larger American society, a wave of terror was unleashed against Black people—they were in the main confined to the plantations in a new form of slavery, and African-American people were formed into an oppressed nation in the south within the larger, dominant Euro-American U.S. In the early 1900s, heavy industry began to greatly expand. In the North, especially with the gearing up for World War 2, the defense industry was booming, creating a demand for labor, while in the South, the mechanization of cotton production (and tobacco before it) made sharecropping less profitable. There was a push and a pull from the South that sent millions of Black people migrating to the North—the push of poverty, Jim Crow racism and KKK terror and the pull of work and hopes for a better life. But while the forms of oppression were different in the North, the fact of the oppression remained. Black workers who were brought into the workforce, on the basis of their oppression as a people, were put into the dirtiest and most dangerous, lowest paying jobs, they were the "last hired" and "first fired." Black people were refused the housing subsidies that white people received to buy suburban homes and even when they had the money were prevented, either by unspoken agreements or straight-up mob violence, from buying homes in "white" neighborhoods. Instead they were shunted—by government policy—into poorly built high rise housing projects in the inner cities. Black people of all classes and strata faced segregation and discrimination everywhere they turned, and Black workers were super-exploited to give the capitalists extra profits.
The effects of all this—along with the situation internationally, where there were uprisings against imperialism and colonial domination and where socialist countries like China posed the prospect of a revolutionary resolution to oppression, and the U.S. was also locked in contention with other powers for a bigger share of the plunder of the formerly colonial world—gave rise here to the earth-shaking revolutionary movement of the 1960s. With this upsurge and especially with the powerful urban rebellions in over 100 U.S. cities, some barriers Black people faced did fall. Black people were brought into some better jobs, affirmative action enabled thousands of Black students to enter college and professional careers, social programs like welfare and early education programs were provided.
Many people, especially among the younger generation, began to see themselves differently in relation to the world. Through struggle, people were trying to figure out how to forge new ways of relating. There was broad unity among many that they weren't going to fight and die for the oppressors, but to bring a whole new future for people all around the world into being. In fact, one of the most inspiring accomplishments of groups like the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party (a revolutionary group based mainly among Puerto Ricans) was the way they got many former gang-bangers out of that life and into making revolution and serving the people, and the ways in which many prisoners (like George Jackson) went over from "criminal-minded" to "revolutionary-minded."
But all of this ran up against limitations. Even the most advanced forces for revolution didn't have a deep enough understanding of what a different future would or should be all about or how a revolution could be fought and won in this country against such a powerful enemy. There was not a leadership with a developed strategy of how to unite the many streams of resistance and radical sentiments politically, culturally, and ideologically into a powerful force behind that revolution. Or with an understanding of how to not just withstand, but advance through the brutal repression that came down with a vengeance from the state—over 20 members of the Black Panther Party (including leaders like Fred Hampton and George Jackson) were assassinated, hundreds of revolutionaries were jailed, the National Guard was called out against the righteous rebellions, students were shot down in the street and the movements broadly were surveilled and harassed. In addition, there were major changes and challenges going on in the revolutionary movement internationally and the global high tide of the '60s was ebbing, which also had a powerful effect. It was in the face of the real limitations in understanding how to meet all these challenges, and of the brutal repression by the ruling class, that the majority of the movement of that time turned away from revolution.
By the early '80s, most of what had been the movement of the '60s had either been crushed, was directionless or co-opted. At the same time, there were tremendous changes going on in the world politically and economically. The revolutionary leadership of China had been overturned in a coup after Mao Tsetung died, and this demoralized and disoriented many who had seen in revolutionary China a source of hope and support. Meanwhile, many jobs were relocated to the suburbs or shipped overseas where people could be exploited even more brutally. The inner cities became economic wastelands. This was a result of both policy (including the conscious decision in many cases to locate jobs away from the now more rebellious and defiant Black workforce) and more fundamentally, the drive of the restless, never-ceasing compulsion on capital to constantly expand or die—to seek out higher rates of profit or go under to competition.
The concessions that had been wrenched through the struggle of the '60s were being reversed—the end of affirmative action, integration to all intents and purposes dead and welfare was soon to be entirely gutted. Today, more than one generation faces conditions where many have never had a job and there is no prospect (through no action of their own) that they ever will. The government flooded the ghettos with drugs which became the main economic life in these neighborhoods, a certain foundation which "set the terms" for all other economic and social activity. At the same time, the so-called "war on drugs" was unleashed, which was nothing but a war on the people—with arrests and imprisonments skyrocketing. 330,000 were in prison in 1970 compared to 2.3 million in prison today. Today, nearly half of the people in prison in America are Black. In fact, the incarceration rate for Black people is the highest in the world.
Understanding all this, it becomes clear that these conditions were not caused by violence among the people. Nor is the violence among the people a "virus"—it is a reaction to conditions of relentless oppression where there seems to be no real hope of change. It is the system, with its dog-eat-dog mentality, that creates and perpetuates these conditions. This whole capitalist-imperialist setup is propelled by an endless drive for profit and more profit, with systematic super-exploitation and the oppression of Black and other oppressed peoples as a key dynamic element. Those two things—the capitalist system at the foundation of this country, and the white supremacy which runs all through this society and has been inextricably interlinked with it since Day One—are what caused the problem, not some make-believe "virus."
And, these conditions don't just "exist" in the air. They are brutally enforced by a whole state apparatus of cops, courts, and prisons. Some people out there tell us the cops are "just another gang." No they're not! Some individual cops may be in gangs, but as an institution, they are the hired enforcers of a whole system of exploitation and oppression.
Step back once again, what comes through is the utter criminality of this system, which keeps people in the inner city penned in and locked down, left to rot and kill each other off, and then to be killed and imprisoned when they walk into this trap.
Kotlowitz' and Slutkin's argument will not make anything better. And even worse, whatever the intent, it justifies and strengthens the hand of an oppressive state with its brutal, murdering police and prisons.
We have two questions we'd like to ask Kotlowitz: First, if every young Black man in a gang in East St. Louis, or Chicago, or Harlem, or Oakland quit their gang affiliation, renounced violence and crime, and showed up at a community college to enroll in a digital design program or a computer networking certification program, what would happen? The simple fact is that there would not be work for the vast majority of them. In fact, a recent study showed that the rate and numbers of Black people in information technology declined relative to eight years ago—not because people were unqualified, but because, according to Gina Billings, president of the National Black Data Processing Association, globalization has led to outsourcing to third world countries, and Black professionals once again found themselves caught in the "last hired, first fired" trap.
So even if you were to suddenly qualify every gang member for a good job, they would only be hired if employing them would be profitable for capital. And those jobs are not out there—not because society doesn't need them, but because they are not profitable. And precisely because the ruling class of capitalists knows this, they do NOT offer training programs, etc. in any serious way because they do not want to raise people's expectations and risk social rebellion when those expectations are not satisfied.
And, second, conversely, what would happen if, after a revolution, with a new socialist economy that was based on transforming conditions to overcome the age-old oppressive divisions of society and meeting the needs of the people, while rendering support to revolution worldwide, society DID offer every young Black person a chance at education and a job with meaning that they could live on? In a revolutionary society, there would be no unemployment because employment would not be based on whether it was profitable for capital; people would immediately be given work, to deal with the many pressing problems facing society. In that totally new society, the violence that people lash out with against each other would rapidly diminish as a whole new ethos and view of one another took root.
Only if we correctly understand the source of the conditions that people find themselves in, which Slutkin and Kotlowitz leave out, can we understand that the relationship between people's conditions, ideas, and actions aren't "static," as Kotlowitz states, and even more fundamentally, that things do not have to be this way! It is in the process of confronting the real problem and radically changing conditions that people can transform qualitatively and in a liberating way.
Under this system, people are forced to live based on "what's in it for me" and they are thrust into competition with others. This is the logic and dynamics of capitalism overall, and gets sharp when people are fighting over crumbs in a situation where every crumb counts. People are forced to hustle to survive, and while there are important examples of the ways in which people come together to help each other, how things are set up with people set against each other works to undermine even that.2
Just like in the larger society, there's a whole culture and outlook bound up with this—"I got to get mine, I got to get what I can get within this." And this logic has a pull and coherence.
A youth from Chicago's south side, who's been agonizing about the violence all around him, has been arguing that it's not just the economic necessity that leads youth to get into the gangs—this is also a deeply felt aspiration.
Yes, many do aspire to not just be part of, but to be on top of this game, and those aspirations are shaped by and confined within the larger material conditions that people are presented with.
The gangs and "the life" is just that—a whole way of life, with economics and morality which infuses whole neighborhoods with a "code of the streets" ethos and outlook. This divides sharply into two because on the one hand, this is a reflection writ small of the larger relations and dog-eat-dog dynamics and morality in society. But it has an "outlaw fuck the world" element—where people desire to be and are seemingly up against the system as a whole.
Within these dynamics, mirroring the dominant capitalist ethos of society, you're prey or a predator—someone takes down one of yours, you have to take down one of theirs. In this gangster logic, if you don't, you haven't stood up for your people and you come out looking weak. The "code of the streets" comes with a "kill or be killed" mentality and a vicious cycle of seemingly never-ending shootings against others in the same conditions as you.
There's also the attraction that you can "be somebody" in a way you can't in any other part of American society. Besides making it in the NBA or in hip-hop (which is about as likely as winning the lottery), how else can you make your mark on the world? One youth on Chicago's west side described "the life" as just another form of "chasing the American dream." They see someone with a nice car and they want it because that's how they can say something about who they are and "what they're worth." Again, reflecting a society where people's value is measured by the commodities they do or don't own.
All this is enforced and maintained a million times in a million ways by the broader culture and the workings of the system. In There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz describes a young kid who gets arrested for nothing except for the fact that he's Black, he goes on to talk about his experience with lawyers and unjust courts and the impact this has on him—"fuck it, they treat me like a criminal, I may as well get something from it too." In the culture, this has been promoted in movies like Superfly in the '70s and then Scarface in the '80s which has an ongoing impact today. Along with this, the promotion of gangsta rap with the message that one should aspire to "get rich or die trying."
This whole way of life and the outlook that comes with it is a trap. Even where people do "make it to the top," this is still only the top of a game that's been given to them by this system, which is at the expense of, and dripping with the blood of others who this system has cast off.
Kotlowitz is correct in saying "[p]eople who have little expectation for the future live recklessly." Now once again, let's ask, what kind of system, what kind of society is it which provides little or no expectation for the future to generations of youth?
There is a way out of all this today—sweeping this system aside once and for all, through revolution and bringing into being a radically different system—socialism on the road to a communist world.
With state power in the hands of the people, society can be reorganized based on meeting the needs and unleashing the creativity and potential of millions of people that is destroyed by the kind of system we live under today. In this new society, the state—rather than being a force for exploitation, oppression, and repression—will back people up in working to solve all kinds of problems, not only for themselves but for all of humanity and as a part of the world revolution. As opposed to the society in which we live, which provides nothing but a hellish future or no future for the youth, in a socialist society, the youth will be a dynamic force for shaping the future. What they think and how they struggle will be valued, learned from, further unleashed...and led, with the aim of continuing to revolutionize all of society and bring a communist world, free of all exploitation and oppression, into being.
This is what is worth living and dying for. But it can only be based on FIGHTING the power, and not "working with it" to somehow keep a lid on things. There is an urgent need right now to bring forward a revolutionary movement which breaks out of the killing confines of the way things are, challenging the terms in the neighborhoods and society more broadly, and with it, leading the masses to forge a revolutionary movement and culture that can actually begin to change the tide.
The enormous potential for this must be wrenched from the horrors of today. The fact that these youth are largely alienated from this system and the whole "American way of life" and the very real sense that there is no future for them—is both part of why we need a revolution to sweep all of this away once and for all, and a critical part of where the basis for that revolution lies. All of these factors that especially young people are responding to—the fact that these youth really have nothing to lose, under this system—are the very same driving forces that could compel them in a whole other direction if that anger, alienation, and rebelliousness were channeled at the source of the problem and tempered and transformed with revolutionary science and a morality of liberation. Such a revolution can only take place when conditions radically change—when all of society is in a profound crisis and a revolutionary people emerge on to the scene, in the millions and tens of millions—but there is urgent work to carry out now, to hasten while awaiting such a situation, working now to bring forward a revolutionary people through waging political battle and carrying out ideological work, and transforming the current unfavorable political polarization in society through struggle.
This means that a minority has to be the first to step forward today. Even a relative handful with substance and revolutionary backbone can have an electrifying effect — not only in a neighborhood but in society overall. And it is in this process—of fighting to change the larger circumstances while learning about the underlying dynamics that gives rise to those circumstances, that people transform themselves.
The leadership, vision, science and organization necessary exists right now in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. This Party came forward through the struggles of the '60s and it persevered in building a revolutionary movement and seeking answers to the vexing questions. Its leader, Bob Avakian, has led the way in "charting the uncharted course" of how to make a revolution in a country like this—and more, he's further developed the scientific theory and liberating vision of communism, deeply summing up the experience of the past, learning from the great achievements of previous revolutions, deeply interrogating their shortcomings and mistakes, and in doing all of this, he's taken communism to a whole new place. And Avakian is leading a Party that is serious about revolution, serious about protecting its leadership, and seriously taking responsibility to lead the masses to make revolution in the real world.
Whether revolution will once again be in the air in this society (and around the world) in the way it needs to be, depends on people taking it up. The time is urgent for people from all walks of life to step forward. To all those who dare to dream of a better world where all of these horrors have been left behind for all of humanity: get down with the revolution, become an emancipator of humanity.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, For Revolution
1. Kotlowitz is well known for his important book, There Are No Children Here, where he exposed the brutal living conditions for youth in Henry Horner Homes, one of the many since demolished housing projects. He wrote with great compassion about what it was like for two young Black children to grow up in these conditions and the ways in which the whole system was set up for these kids to fail—from the schools to the courts. [back]
2. For an inspiring example of where people help each other in brutal conditions, the film Trouble the Water shows how rival gang youth in New Orleans joined together to save people during Katrina, at the risk of their own lives. [back]
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Revolution received the following statement from the Chicago branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
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The Chicago police have shot 42 people this year, almost double the rate of 2010, and brutalized many more. Chicago – home of the first Black president – is gunning down Black and minority youth in the streets. Chicago – host in May 2012 of world leaders for the G8 and NATO – is gunning down Black youth in the streets. The police chief justifies this by painting the victims as thugs who "pull out guns and shoot at police officers... with wanton disregard." This is a bald-faced lie to cover up the extreme brutality and murder of an occupying army let loose on communities of the oppressed. Look at two of the most recent police shootings:
Jimmell Cannon is 13 years old. He just finished 6th grade. You couldn't ask for a nicer kid. One of his teachers told the Chicago Sun Times: "He's a doll. This is a kid who made more improvements in one year than any other student." (7/27/11) On July 26, Jimmell was with family and friends at a birthday party at a west side park when the police rolled up, claiming to respond to "shots being fired in the area." The police claimed that Jimmell ran and aimed a BB gun at them so they shot him 8 times! These cowards shot a child 8 times!
Eyewitnesses said Jimmell never had a BB gun. Plus 2 of the shots hit Jimmell's open hands – one ripping through his palm, the other blowing off a finger – something that could only happen if his hands were in the air as eyewitnesses said. Additional shots tore through his body, including his buttock, which could only happen if his back was turned – hardly a position from which he would have been threatening the police. The evidence completely contradicts the cop's story. 13 years old! Who indeed is shooting with "wanton disregard"? The police!
Three hours earlier on the west side, the police claim that they stopped Joe Banks, 21, and he pulled a gun, so they shot him. Again, nothing but lies. Witnesses tell of cops swarming into the neighborhood. All of a sudden they took out after Joe, who didn't seem to even realize that the cops were after him because he was just trotting along holding up his pants. Witnesses say a cop coasted up on his bicycle behind Joe, pulled out a gun and shot him in the back, barely missing his heart. Cops cuffed him and jumped on his back so hard that they broke 2 of his ribs. There was no gun. The cops then beat and arrested 3 of Joe's family for daring to yell that the police had "done wrong"!
These are not exceptions. Woodlawn, June 2011: JonRynn Avery bled to death in his own bathroom after the police chased him through the plate glass front door of his house. Englewood, June 2011: Flint Farmer was killed in a hail of police bullets; they claimed his cell phone was a gun. The list goes on over the years and across the country. Thousands of stolen lives.
We say NO MORE! "No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that."
(BAsics 1:13 by Bob Avakian, leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party).
People are angry. Many ask why are the police shooting our young people down like animals in the streets? And why are the police never indicted, convicted, and jailed for these crimes?
"The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness." BAsics 1:24
IT IS TIME FOR US TO WAKE UP. The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world ... when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness .... those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.
Get organized for the time when we can sweep away this system once and for all. We have a strategy and the leadership. Read and spread the Message and Call from the Revolutionary Communist Party, "The Revolution We Need ... The Leadership We Have." Read, spread, post Revolution newspaper (revcom.us). Get the book with the essentials of revolution, BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian.
Revolutionary Communist Party, Chicago branch
c/o Revolution Books, 1103 N. Ashland, Chicago, 773-489-0930, email@example.com
Revolution newspaper: revcom.us
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Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
To Revolutionaries... and All Who Hunger for a Better World:
One of the most significant concerts to take place in this country in decades is happening in Los Angeles on July 30th at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. While there have been events where bands have played in support of different causes, there has not been a concert like this—aimed at changing the whole cultural and political terrain among youth in this country.
LA Rising will bring together 6 groups—Rage Against the Machine, Muse, Rise Against, Lauryn Hill, Immortal Technique, and El Gran Silencio—and tens of thousands of their fans. Taken as a whole, these bands have been unmistakably radical in their political content and have reached huge audiences on that basis. Bringing together this combination of bands, and the music they create and the way they'll be presented—with powerful visuals and sound from LA's biggest stage—will be extraordinary.
Expect to see young people from virtually every background: urban, largely Latino immigrant youth, as well as many middle class white youth from the suburbs. The show will be mixing in hip hop, R&B and Rock en Espanol, bringing out Black and Spanish-speaking youth.
Holding up a mirror to the dominant, revolting cultural scene today, this concert is aimed at bringing forward a radically different vision of what music and art should be about—one that is creating favorable new ground for and contributing to the growth of a radical culture of revolt and opposition to everything that is wrong with this society. It is a very good thing for those who want to see a real revolution, and it will be a rich well from which many people can make a serious connection with the movement for revolution.
Readers of REVOLUTION need to be there!—uniting with the sentiments of all those who hate the way things are in the world and are searching for a way out of this mess, and linking them with the only pathway to getting to that better world—communist revolution.
Be a part of this ferment by joining with others to take out BAsics: from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, connecting this generation with Bob Avakian and his vision of communism. Help make it known broadly at this concert why "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics." Imagine hundreds of youth leaving with copies of BAsics, and with copies and bundles of Revolution newspaper, and subscriptions, bringing them into the movement for revolution that we are building.
Look for teams outside of the LA Coliseum wearing revolutionary T-shirts like "This system has no future for the youth...The revolution does," getting out BAsics and Revolution newspaper. Those getting tickets for the concert, look for the banner "A Better World Through Revolution" inside, and be part of connecting these youth with the movement for revolution throughout the afternoon and evening. And have fun doing it!
Whether or not you're planning to go, you can contribute to its success by contributing to the thousands of dollars needed to order and print materials, and by fundraising among your co-workers and friends now. Don't miss out on this tremendous opportunity! To volunteer and to send donations (checks and money orders), contact:
5726 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
"Imagine if we had a society where there was a culture—yes it was lively and full of creativity and energy and yes rhythm and excitement, but at the same time, instead of degrading people, lifted us up. Imagine if it gave us a vision and a reality of what it means to make a whole different society and a whole different kind of world. Imagine if it laid out the problems for people in making this kind of world and challenged them to take up these problems. Imagine if art and culture too—movies, songs, television, and everything—challenged people to think critically, to look at things differently, to see things in a different light, but all pointing toward how can we make a better world." (Bob Avakian, BAsics, 2:8)
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