Why prisons and prisoners must matter to the Occupy movement


Danny Glover speaks this past weekend at Occupy LA. Watch the video below to hear him cry out, “You represent those brothers in jail who are on strike,” to loud and long applause. – Photo: YouTube supreme227

By Michael Novick

Prisons and the millions who are imprisoned are a critical issue in this society for the 1 percent and for the 99 percent. They must be a vital area of concern for the Occupy Wall Street movement and especially here in Occupy LA. Here’s why:

Social control

Dostoyevsky said that you can best understand a society by looking inside its prisons. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have 5 percent of the global population and 25 percent of all the prisoners.

Prisons expose the brutal violence at the base of social control, the iron fist hidden by the velvet glove of elections and by the weapons of mass distraction. After the mass rebellions of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the 1 percent made a conscious decision to de-industrialize the U.S. and drive poor people from the inner city to the outskirts of the cities, as in Latin America and Africa, or into the concentration camps.

Prison populations shot up from under 200,000 to over 2,600,000 and still rising. Millions more are in and out of jail or under custodial control by the parole and probation systems. This has resulted in painful and massive destabilization of communities, especially communities of color, and affected millions more in families disrupted by having members imprisoned and moved far away.


Because most Black families have loved ones in prison, this young man at Occupy Wall Street probably has prisoners in mind in his call for “Love.” But because prisoners are entombed and deliberately hidden from public view, other Americans will not get his message without the mass education about mass imprisonment that the Occupy movement can provide.

The police may be making nice today with us, but they function to criminalize people and send them to prison.

Here’s the other 1 percent: One percent of all adults in the United States are in prison or jail right now!

Prisons for profit

Prisons and the war on crime were the leading edge of the wedge of privatization and reactionary corporate control of electoral politics. “War on crime” became the code word for racism, and tough-on-crime politics and politicians were used to break support for social liberation, human needs programs and civil rights.

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the right wing legislative think tank that has been writing state by state legislation attacking unions and migrant rights, cut its teeth supporting prison privatization. Prison privatization and using prison construction and supply contracts to tap public funding for private corporations set the pattern now being used to privatize schools, social services and even military and covert operations.

Political prisoners

COINTELPRO, the FBI Counter Intelligence Program, was a domestic counter-insurgency war strategy directed against the blossoming social, political and economic liberation movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Black Panthers and other Black freedom organizations, the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, Young Lords, SDS, Asian and other effective dissident, serve-the-people groups were criminalized and attacked.

Many are still locked down 30 or 40 years later for their uncompromising resistance. This setback allowed the government and the corporations to strengthen their control over the rest of us, cut back on the social safety net and begin mass incarceration.

They’re still doing it today, with the Black Riders Liberation Party, Carlos Montes, the “Green Scare” etc.

Exposing the duopoly

Democrats and Republicans alike have been totally sold out to the prison-industrial complex. The California prison guards union, CCPOA, is the biggest political donor and lobbyist in this state and calls the shots.

The California prison guards union, CCPOA, is the biggest political donor and lobbyist in this state and calls the shots.

A couple of years ago, under Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislative leader Fabian Nunez, the legislature passed overnight and without debate a bill adding 59,000 MORE prison “beds” in the state with the largest prison population.


Kanye West paid a visit to Occupy Wall Street. Will Black celebrities and others in the know ensure that prisons and prisoners matter to the Occupy movement? – Photo: AFP/Getty Images

While Jerry Brown was pushing his austerity budget cuts, he cut a backroom deal with CCPOA to sweeten their retirement package with a multi-million dollar bonus that he slipped into the state budget.

Model of resistance

The prisons are becoming schools of revolutionary social transformation. Thousands of prisoners are on hunger strike right now in California against the brutal and torturous conditions of the “security housing units,” isolation units designed to break people down and keep the lid on all the prisoners by creating prisons within a prison.

The prisons are becoming schools of revolutionary social transformation.

The SHU prisoners’ example of inter-racial solidarity and putting their bodies on the line challenges all of us to our best efforts.

What we can do

Act in solidarity with the prisoners’ resistance, reach out to their families, connect the Occupy movement to those communities in struggle, educate ourselves about Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Assata Shakur and other political prisoners and exiles.

Join the weekly hunger strike solidarity rallies Thursday at 5 p.m. at Bauchet and Vignes streets near the Twin Towers county jail. Los Angeles has the largest jail system of any city in the world!

Check out www.thejerichomovement.com for information on the amnesty movement and opposition to the prison-industrial complex.

At Occupy LA, support the unprecedented prisoner hunger strike to stop torture in the California SHUs!

Following 20 days in July when 6,600 prisoners in California participated in a hunger strike to stop torture in the Security Housing Units (SHUs) at Pelican Bay and other state prisons, over 11,800 prisoners resumed the hunger strike in at least 13 California state prisons beginning Sept. 26. Oct. 13 will mark day Day 18! This extraordinary, historic action and upsurge of prisoners is the one of the most important since Attica 40 years ago.


Danny Glover gets acquainted with the folks living in Occupy LA’s tent city at LA City Hall Saturday, Oct. 8.

Courageously, in the face of threats of disciplinary sanctions by prison officials – including the threat of being thrown into solitary confinement if a prisoner in the “general population” dares take part in the strike – an unprecedented number of prisoners have become even more united in their demands to end the inhumane, barbaric torture of long-term solitary confinement in the SHUs.

Think about everything that makes you human … that keeps you physically and mentally alive … that connects you with the world and other people … that gives you a reason to live, to love, to learn and think. All this is what the SHU tries to extinguish.

In the SHU you’re locked up in a small, windowless concrete cell 23 hours a day, with minimum human contact and maximum sensory deprivation. Human rights groups in the U.S. and internationally have documented the inhumane conditions – these are crimes against humanity. And the fact is tens of thousands of prisoners across the U.S. are being held in the kind of barbarous conditions the prisoners at Pelican Bay and other state prisons have so courageously rebelled against.

At Occupy LA – and everywhere – we have a moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners’ demands and the urgency of the situation. A determined movement outside the walls of prison is urgently needed to expose and demand an end to these high-tech torture chambers called SHUs.

At Occupy LA – and everywhere – we have a moral responsibility to speak out. A determined movement outside the walls of prison is urgently needed to expose and demand an end to these high-tech torture chambers called SHUs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s