Left.ru ________________________________________________________________________________

Dave Silver

Social Forum, January 11th, 2003  CUNY Graduate Center  New York City

        Sisters, Brothers, Comrades, Friends and Some Liberals,

My two central theses are that a) the freedom of U.S. political prisoners
is on the cutting edge of the of the struggle against racist oppression and
class exploitation and b) that the American empire and domestic mass
incarceration are both strongly tied to the U.S. policy of corporate
globalization.  Like the victims of America’s incarceration regime, the
targets and victims of U.S. foreign policy are very disproportionately
people of color, i.e. non-whites.  Mass domestic incarceration is part of a
vicious policy circle that feeds on itself for a self fulfilling prophecy.
Thus we see that the vehicles of imperial militarism and corporate financial
globalization producing instability, poverty and violence around the world,
which provides endless pretexts for preemptive strikes and regime change.
The Justice Policy Institute reports that from 1980-1997 that while the
number of violent offenders committed to state prisons doubled, the number
of non-violent offenders tripled.  Further, nearly 10% of non-Latino men
25-29 years of age were in prison in the year 2000, compared to 1.1 % of
whites for the same age group.  Institutionalized racism at work.  Thanks to
felony disenfranchisement laws in the U.S. and to racial disparities in the
criminal justice system, a remarkable one and a half million
African-Americans, or 13% of black men do not have the right to vote, which
is approximately seven times the national average.  The connection of
resurgent U.S. imperialism and the prison craze is that the figurehead of
imperial expansion George W. Bush, as governor of Texas came to oversee as
Molly Ivins noted “the largest prison system on planet earth.”

The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a vast system that uses prisons as a
solution to social, political and economic problems.  The PIC depends upon
the oppressive system of racism, classism and sexism.  The U.S. incarcerates
the largest per capita population of any developed country, approaching 2
million people and some 6.5 million people who are presently under some form
of supervision within the criminal justice system.  Since 1980 the number of
women incarcerated in the past 20 years has risen by 400%.

It is not “human nature” to commit wrongdoing we call crime.  What is
considered a crime is determined by the societies we live in.  Since locking
up people in cages does not reduce crime, we must examine the power
relationships that lead society to lock up certain people.   Prisons are
incapable of stopping problems like poverty, racism or drug addiction so we
cannot expect them to stop crime.  Let’s take a closer look at this.

Like the military industrial complex the Prison Industrial Complex  is big
business.  Just as communists were demonized not long ago as a way of
justifying gargantuan military budgets, now the fear of crime and the
demonization of criminals serve a similar ideological purpose to justify the
use of tax dollars for the repression and incarceration of a growing
percentage of our population.  A huge and controlled cheap convict labor
force is used in a variety of manufacturing and service jobs.  Prisoners are
used to book flights for some airlines, Microsoft uses convicts to ship
Windows software and Honda pays a dollar an hour to prison labor in Ohio
that UAW members get $20 dollars for.  In Austin, Texas U.S. Technologies
sold its electronic plant, laying off 150 workers so they could reopen in a
nearby prison paying 1/20th of the salaries paid to former workers.  The
University of Iowa, for instance, purchases furniture from Iowa Prison
Industries produced at slave labor rates.

AT&T, Sprint and MCI are getting into the act, gouging prisoners with
exorbitant phone call rates.  In addition smaller firms such as the
Correctional Communications Corp. dedicated solely to the prison phone
business provide computerized systems equipped with systematic surveillance.
They win government contracts by offering to “kick back” some of the profits
to the government agency awarding the contract.  One of the fastest growing
sectors of the PIC is private correction companies.  The investment firm of
Smith Barney is a part owner of a prison in Florida, while  American Express
and General Electric are heavily invested in private prison construction in
Oklahoma and Tennessee.  While one of the largest private prison owners,
Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) already operates internationally
with more than 48 facilities in 11 states, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom
and Australia.  CCA now controls over 100,000 prison beds nationwide.
As Christian Parenti notes in PIC: Crisis and Control, the supermax prison
at Pelican Bay provides 1500 jobs, an annual payroll of $50 million where
the prison has created work in everything from construction to domestic
violence counseling.  Also cashing in on the action is the huge Ace
Hardware, a private hospital and a 90,000 square foot K-Mart.

According to the California Prison Focus (CPF) that visited over 300 inmates
during eight investigative visits in 2001-2002 found conclusive patters of
abuse of prisoners in the following areas:

A.      Staff and Guard Misconduct
B.      Violent Cell Extraction
C.      Medical Neglect
D.      Inadequate diet and food tampering
E.      Preventable Deaths
F.      Violations of Health and Safety Regulations
G.      Lack of Mental Health Care
H.      Lack of Yard Access
I.      Poor Treatment of disabled Prisoners
J.      Denial of Due Process
K.      Loss and Destruction of Legal Property and Resources
L.      Mail Tampering
M.       Ignoring Prisoners’ Advisory Council

While the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier may be more
familiar there are other Black Freedom Fighters, Puerto Rican Prisoners of
War and white anti-imperialists that require increased solidarity to gain
their freedom.  I’d  like to bring to your attention the struggle of the
Coalition to Free the Angola3 and the Cuban Five.

The Coalition to Free The Angola3 has succeeded in freeing Robert Wilkerson
after 29 years of incarceration. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox who
helped form the first Black Panther Party in 1971 behind the walls were
framed in 1972 for the killing of a guard.  They are now in their 30 th year
in isolation from the general population and have been put into the most
cruel, racist and punishing Camp J.  We ask your solidarity in seeking their
freedom.  I’d like also to mention the case of the Cuban Five.  They are
Cuban men who are in the U.S. for simply defending their country against the
terrorists and Cuban Mafia in Miami.  They were here to gather information
in order to prevent further terrorist attacks on their country.  They have
harmed no one.  They were here to monitor the counter revolutionary
terrorists in groups such as Alpha 66 and Brothers to the Rescue.  Orlando
Bosch, the architect of the blowing up of a Cuban commercial jet liner with
the loss of hundreds of lives roams free in Miami, protected by the Axis of
Evil in Washington.

Sisters and Brothers; The struggle to free all political prisoners and
against the root causes of social crimes produced primarily by poverty and
racism is the flip side of the struggle against U.S. imperialist domination
and robbery of resources for capital accumulation abroad.  We must forge an
independent political movement that unites in one fist against the common
corporate enemy-transnationals and banks- that unite all of the crucial


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