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RELATOS ZAPATISTAS Jan.2011 show “Vibrations: In and Around the Prison-Industrial Complex”

by Relatos Zapatistas (relatoszapatistas [at]
“Vibrations: In and Around the Prison-Industrial Complex” (2 hour audio mp3)
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“Vibrations: In and Around the Prison-Industrial Complex”

From December 9-15, a prison strike took place in the state of Georgia, which would eventually paralyze work at 11 different prisons across the state. According to Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther and prison advocate, the action brought together the “otherwise opposing gangs” of black, latino, white, Christian, and Muslim prisoners in solidarity, resulting in the biggest prison strike in U.S. history. What made such a large-scale and decentralized action possible were contraband cell phones, acquired illegally from prison guards, which allowed prisoners to use text messages and discrete conversations to coordinate themselves.

Telephones work by capturing, transforming, and amplifying vibrations. Two cans connected by a piece of string convert the voice at one end into a particular frequency or energy that carries the information it encodes to the other end. Cell phones are a little bit different because they’re digital instead of analog, which means that sound vibrations are converted into a digital code instead of frequencies and then transmitted along with other bits of data, like text messages. But even the arrival of a text message to a cell phone on silent mode is often marked by vibration. These vibrations, both signs and carriers of information and energy, are the topic of today’s show. We’re interested not in romanticizing the power of technology but in understanding vibrations as a source of political possibility—the capacity of such tiny waves to, if magnified sufficiently, provoke political earthquakes.

In a way, communities are vibrations too, an everyday music made up of the many voices, movements, and struggles of those who inhabit them. Part of the strength of communities—both inside and around the prison walls—are the unexpected harmonies that emerge from what are at times even the most discordant sounds. In contrast, the state is interested in modulating these vibrations, making them orderly and organized, if not homogeneous. Dull. Easy to apprehend and to manage.

On today’s show, we jump from the prison strike in Georgia to the Humboldt County Correctional facility in northern California, where Martin Cotton was beaten to death by police and prison guards, from an education project at San Quentin here to the extension of gang injunctions to Fruitvale in order to in effect extend the reach of the prison archipelago outside prison walls.

Finally, we remember the Zapatista uprising that took place on January 1, 1994—17 years ago from yesterday—which sent shock waves through the Mexican political system. But if the initial uprising was a shock wave, la otra campaña has perhaps generated a more dispersed, generalized, and constant humming that at times may fade into the background but is not captured by the descriptions of failure or even silence that are common in the corporate media.
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