[ Hundreds of demonstrators march through Downtown Oakland on September 10, 2016 in solidarity with the nationwide prison strike. The prisoner work stoppage was organized to begin on September 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica Uprising. ]
Over 300 People Take the Streets to Target Corporations Profiting from Prison Slavery
On September 10, 2016 in Oakland, CA, over 300 people took part in a march, rally, and demonstration in solidarity with the ongoing Prison Strike happening across US prisons, jails, and detention facilities. People gathered at 1 PM at Latham Square in Downtown Oakland and held banners, signs, and red and black flags. Several speakers addressed the crowd, the first, a formerly incarcerated member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), gave a speech discussing the cause of the strike, the need for class solidarity, and the revolutionary potential of these events moving beyond making just demands. From the speech:
45 years ago yesterday was the anniversary of the Attica Uprising. Over a thousand prisoners rose up against their captors two weeks after guards executed George Jackson in San Quentin who was an outspoken black revolutionary that called for prisoners to be unionized ... A major point we want to address here is that slavery never ended in this country. It says so in the 13th amendment, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.” Instead of private ownership of slaves the State now has control and calls them prisoners.
Some prisoners have a list of demands while the original call calls for all prisoners to "go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.” We have a saying, “It’s the fights themselves, like the drill of an army, that prepares the workers for even great victories and success.” So while prisoners may negotiate for a specific end to this strike let it be clear this is a revolutionary movement.
We should use this day and this strike as a stepping stone to continued collective direct actions against the state and white supremacy. Solidarity amongst all members of the working class, both inside and out of prison, into a general strike could rid us of capitalism and build a society based on our interests ... whose goal is to see smoke rise from the ashes of every empty state and federal prison, every immigrant and juvenile detention center, in the whole country ...
The next speaker, a Black Lives Matter organizer from Illinois spoke about the history and impact of the Attica Uprising and put the strike in a context of the ongoing black liberation movement. Next up, a local attorney and organizer discussed the Prison Hunger-Strike in California a few years back against solitary confinement.
After the last speaker had finished, recordings from two members of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), recorded specially for the demonstration in Oakland were played for the crowd. The voices were none other than Melvin Ray and Kinetick Justice, two of the founders and main organizers of FAM.
[ See the video by John Reimann. ]
Grabbing banners, flags, and signs, people then took to the streets and marched through the downtown to several corporations that profit from prison labor. The first was AT&T, and a local speaker discussed how starting in the 1990s, the company began laying off large amounts of unionized workers (members of CWA union) and 'replacing' them with prison slaves.
In many ways, this cuts to the heart of the matter in regards to white supremacy and its use as a blinder to white workers through a cross-class relationship with elites. By supporting a “law and order” agenda that sees incarceration as a solution to unemployment, poverty, and the loss of jobs, workers of all colors have been shooting themselves in the foot and ensuring that jobs are taken from them and wages stay low.
Not surprisingly, in this election, both poor black people and immigrants are presented as the central threat to working and middle-class white workers. Calls for more police and prisons are promoted as a remedy to crime (which is constantly dropping) as well as mass protest and rioting against the police. Trump promotes the idea of building an even (more) massive wall with Mexico and the Democrats have already been busy carrying out mass deportations which ensure that migrant workers remain too afraid to organize. These policies have lead to the growth of prisons as a means of containment and a new plantation system that generates massive amounts of profit. The social impact of this reality is deafening: as millions of people in the US are now incarcerated or locked within probation, parole, house arrest, or in a detention facility.
The march then continued to UPS, where more statements were read. Graffiti and stickers also started to go up at the storefronts of these businesses. The march then headed to Bank of America, where the role of the financial giant was discussed over the sound system and a statement from the Free Alabama Movement was also played. Large amounts of graffiti messages went up on the windows of the bank, the ATM was rendered useless, the sign was broken to read ‘Ban America,’ and several windows were broken. During this time the crowd remained very calm, police had kept their distance, and streets in front of the bank remained blocked for about 20 minutes. A mother with her family who wanted to leave when the crowd converged around the bank was given a path and allowed to safely exist. A person in all black with a mask helped clear a path and stated calmly to the kids who looked out the window as their mother drove past, “Remember what you see here today,” while giving a raised fist.
Upon leaving Bank of America, a squad of riot police arrived and the crowd immediately began chanting, “Celeste Guap!,” leading to a team of loaders who were working to bust up laughing. The chant was in reference to the (at the time) 17 year-old sex worker who exchanged sex for legal protection from the police. The scandal, which has lead to the successive resignation of several police chiefs and grown to include officers in several neighboring cities, was a huge embarrassment for the department which is still reeling from many others, including the sharing of confidential information outside of the department and leaked racial text messages. According to OPD’s own laws, the officers that had sex with Guap committed rape and engaged in human trafficking, which is sickeningly ironic considering OPD’s pride at ‘fighting’ underage sex work and human trafficking, and Oakland’s steadfast attacks on sex workers. For instance several years ago, Oakland made it a law that landlords must evict sex workers. While the Mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf has been predictably quick to attack the ‘frat house culture’ of the OPD, the Oakland City Government was also quick to try and hide the scandal before it could get out to the public.
For anarchists, the scandal has simply illustrated the blatant hypocrisy and corruption within massive government structures and modern police forces. This is not a problem of “bad apples,” but instead, of a system functioning in a way that protects power and privilege for some, and enclosing and curtailing them for others.
Needless to say, respect and confidence in the police is currently at an all time low due to the sex scandal, the tenor of national perception of police in the US, as well as continuous police killings and acts of brutality locally, such as the recent rail-roading of East Oakland resident, Omar Shakir in late July, who was swept up by OPD in a raid on his home after being mistaken for someone who had shot at the police. Police are also very much on edge in regards to the current scandals and are keen to have in place a command structure and established hierarchy.
Soon after the large group left Bank of America, they put this in play, as a snatch squad team went after three individuals and targeted them for arrest, leading to a clash between demonstrators and the police. Soon after, police then loaded the three comrades into vans, but then suddenly had a very hard time leaving the area, as rocks were hurdled towards the vans, clashes broke out with the cops, and the crowd followed the vehicles until it made its way back onto the main road.
It is important to pause here and remember that masking up in a demonstration is not a fail-safe protection from arrest, even if police were not present. We should also keep in mind that the mentality of the police is not always to ‘get the bad guy.’ Meaning, arrests often cut the crowd in half, cause us to stop what we are doing, and also derail the action.
Once the police had left, the crowd then marched back onto a main street, Broadway, and attempted to march to the jail. After finding an open intersection about two blocks from the jail, the crowd stopped, not wanting to engage another line of riot police that had staged a block up, in front of the jail, but still wanting to make some noise for the people inside. Those in the crowd then let off a series of fireworks and chants of "Everyone Hates the Police."
After finishing, the march then headed back to Latham Square where we had begun and passed a collection hat for the comrades who were arrested, raising close to $500. People are also encouraged to donate to the bail fund for the Anti-Repression Committee.
Overall, we felt that the event was a great success and we set out to do what we intended to do. We marched on several corporations and drew lines between their physical buildings and prison slavery. We held the streets from the cops and stood our ground. We hosted speakers and played the words of our comrades inside. We passed out several hundred flyers to the public and talked to many people about the prison strike and why outside workers should support it. Moreover, we again showed that anarchists, prison abolitionists, and anti-capitalists can self-organize, work together, and reach across various organizational lines to build something bigger than ourselves.
We think that today marks a good model and template for the future that we can build upon, as the build up for this mobilization took many forms. It meant organizing informational events, hosting BBQs to have meetings to discuss the strike, and many nights spent getting up posters. It meant writing emails and working with other groups and organizers, and it meant making copies of flyers to hand out and getting out sign up sheets for future events, and connecting with prisoners on the inside to include them on the action. We showed that we can build popular, militant events and also outreach into the community before hand to do so. We can also have rowdy street marches and hand out flyers to the public and talk with people about what we are doing – all at the same time.
We can engage in the street with our surroundings and also give a fuck about fellow human beings stuck in a car while glass is being broken because everyday working people are our potential allies, not our enemies. We aren’t saying that we did it all right, or that there weren’t serious things we need to build on, but we feel that this is a good place to build from.
We were also excited to be in the streets at the same time as so many other comrades across the US and we are excited to see so much happening all around us. It is also refreshing to be acting with so many other comrades we have not been in the streets with for some time, see new faces (or masks), but more over know that this struggle is just starting. What we do today is only the first step in a larger battle. We have plans to meet again, under different conditions, and begin to further organize both ourselves and inside prisons. This is the work that lays ahead.
Fire to the Prisons!
Victory to the Strikers!