Category Archives: Gulf States

Uniting With Comrades: Our Decision to Become a Kasama Collective

 

[Originally posted to thefirecollective.org]

After careful study and consideration, our collective, the FIRE Collective, has decided to formally affiliate ourselves with the Kasama Project. Kasama is a communist network in the US dedicated to a revolutionary reconception of communism. Further, we have decided to announce ourselves as a Kasama Collective.

In September of 2009, a group of us in Houston, Texas formed an independent communist collective, The FIRE Collective (standing for Fight Imperialism, Rethink and Experiment).

In both the US and around the world, we saw there was a process of refounding the communist movement that was both deeply necessary and at a beginning. This included a process of reconceiving the communist project, and we wanted to make our own contributions to that process together with our comrades.

We have been engaged in study and struggle for over a year. We’ve grown in numbers, developed our understanding of revolutionary theory and history, and forged a higher degree of political unity.

Revolution is not only a local exercise. It requires the strategic thinking, study, and coordinated practice of comrades throughout the country (and ultimately the world). The work of reconceiving cannot be confined to a locality, but rather it needs forms that can give expression to its fearless journey to places still unexplored, and questions unsettled. We believe there needs to be a combination of our local contributions to theory and practice with that which is developing on the national plane.

For these reasons, we are excited to join with the work the Kasama network has been engaged in, and contributing to charting an uncharted course to a communist future. Other similar collectives have also started to form as part of Kasama’s network, and we look forward to sharing theory and practice, learning from one another as we move.

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This is My Life… Where is Our Future?

[Originally posted to kasamaproject.org]

by Rosa Harris

Rosa Harris, photo: Monte

I live confined to this housing project, surrounded by bone-hard poverty and everything it brings with it.

If our car is broken, we are literally pinned down. We can’t get out – not to doctors, not to meet political comrades.

But there is something deeper about the hole we are trapped in… My son thinks of little other than getting out. And he isn’t thinking so much about getting “the people” out – but of getting away from the people.

My mind has always dreamed of a better world,  but my daily experience  is here, in a place where you just can’t romanticize “the oppressed.” Up close, people are often caught up in some terrible stuff. It’s not just the capitalists  who live in a dog-eat-dog world, it’s us too. The dominant ideas of an epoch become dominant ideas among the people themselves.

I’m not going to apologize again for my  moods and my conflicted thoughts — even though I feel I need to. The other day something happened that made me feel very ashamed and hurt.

Mary, one of my few friends here in this project is a crack user. Her daughter is a prostitute. And her son recently got out of prison.

I’ve never understood completely what the word “lumpen” means in our communist language – but these are part of a broken section of the people. Desperate. And at times, using each other… badly. And yet, she is one of my only friends here. And what does that say about me, and my life?

I should tell the whole story I suppose. I know you won’t blame me.

Mary brought her son by. To meet me, she said.

My boy friend was getting ready to take me to the store and we were practically out the door. I walked into the kitchen and Mary handed me a  sack in each hand – each small, wrapped in cellophane. I looked at what they were and tried to put them back into her hands. She kept pressing them toward me.

I don’t know why she was trying to hand them to me in the first place. I could tell she was cracked out. Was she wanting to hide it in my place?

I said “I got to go to the bathroom” – just to get out of the situation.

I didn’t want to out to my boyfriend that they had brought this shit into our apartment. We don’t use it. We don’t want it around. And he doesn’t want me hanging with Mary.  I’m always covering for my friend when she does stupid stuff like that when she’s cracking out on me. Mary had stolen my laptop once – which is one of the few things of value I own– my connection to the world. But then we got it back afterwards.

I went to the store, came back and went to her place to let her know that this had not been ok..

Her son and daughter showed up and confronted me. They said they wanted “their money.” Even though I don’t use that shit, even though I was angry they had brought it over, even though I hadn’t bought anything. He was threatening me. And made me go to the ATM with them. They were desperate for quick cash, and the whole thing was an excuse. It was theft.

I’ve known the daughter for a long time, and she never treated me this way before. My friend Mary watched this, saying nothing. She didn’t stand up for me, or call him off. I couldn’t believe this was happening. It felt like being raped  — like I’m watching myself and my life, and my pain happening outside me — powerless.

I feel like an idiot for not just outing them in front of my boy friend – cuz it meant he was not there standing with me. I feel like an idiot for staying friends with them even though they had hurt me before.  But I’m just so alone at times.

But suddenly I was “going” with them to the ATM, and giving them all my remaining money – a few hundred dollars. Everything.

I need people, and these women were among my the only friends – and yet  they turned on me, and ripped me off. Something that happens every day here, among the people.

It is so hard and desperate here. My kid gets threatened and arrives home breathing hard. He talks of things he’s seen, and things he fears. He thinks of arming himself (which terrifies me) or simply act invisible… or somehow getting out.

It took me a few days to even tell my boy friend because I was afraid of what he would say. He turned out to be very understanding, but still said “You shouldn’t hang out with people like that” — which puts blame on me again.

I have the horrible feeling I should be blamed. Now I am also out a friend and my money. But don’t we also lose our hope — piece by piece?

And part of me knows, of course, where the blame belongs. There is a system that put us here. There is a hopelessness we are all injected with. There are circuits of empire that bring the drugs here, and run the prisons (which are just training camps for brutalization and mutual torture).

But often that system feels far away. And that blame feels very abstract. And our immediate oppressors are so often each other… as we claw each other, and brutalize each other in our despair and madness.

I even wonder why I use “we” here. I don’t claw anyone. I don’t brutalize anyone. We divide up, don’t we, once again, into victims, abusers and indifferent observers. We live in a time when, here a least, there is so little solidarity or glimpse of a bigger picture. Here  people are often broken, and it is hard to imagine where the unity or vision could come for changing anything.

My son said “The people here are so fucked up, they don’t deserve communism and would mess it up if they had it.”

I don’t believe that, of course. I never have. But I just want to share, honestly, how from here everything just feels so bleak sometimes. How do we show up here, as communists, and change people’s choice, and change the people themselves?

Are these really the people that can become the rulers of society? And how do we help that happen?

This has been a hard moment, and right now the whole world seems dark to me. And, the money thing really bothers me. I’m lucky its December – the food pantries give away a lot of food during the holidays.

And I have you, my comrades, around the world: I have your ear, and I have whatever we manage to create together.

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Filed under class struggle, Communism, Gulf States, housing, Public housing, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, The Left, Theory, Uncategorized, United States, Women, workers

Atlanta Georgia: Rally to Defend Dissent, Support Julian Assange & Celebrate WikiLeaks

Activists in Georgia stand up for the right to dissent, while challenging the stereotype that Southerners are politically passive and reactionary.

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Filed under Anti-Imperialism, Anti-War, Censorship, Georgia, Gulf States, Human Rights, Imperialism, Solidarity, Southern United States, Uncategorized, United States, Wikileaks

No Demolition! Hands Off Iberville! (New Orleans)

David Gilmore, the federally-imposed-administrator of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, want to make life even more miserable for working class New Orleanians by demolishing the Iberville Public Housing development. To add insult to injury they have given the contract to greedy developer Pres Kabacoff, who drove hundreds of poor families from St. Thomas and still, a decade later, has not built the 100 off site apartment he promised.  But, to carry out their crime, HANO, Landrieu, and Kabacoff need a multi-million dollar grant from the Department of Housing Urban Development. Join us Saturday, December 18 as we demand:

·         No to a HUD Choice Neighborhood grant to demolish Iberville

·         Yes to a massive public works program to rebuild Public Housing, Schools, Hospitals and Infrastructure

Press Conference, Rally and March

Saturday, December 18

12 Noon

Meet on neutral ground, corner of St Louis and Basin St.

Sponsor: Hands Off Iberville.  For more information call 504-520-9521

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Filed under African Americans, austerity measures, budget cuts, class struggle, Demonstration Announcements, Event Announcement, Gulf States, housing, Human Rights, Louisiana, National Oppression, New Orleans, Public housing, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, Uncategorized, United States, Upcoming Events, workers

Wikileaks Rally at CNN Center (Atlanta, Georgia)

Time: Wednesday, December 15 · 5:00pm – 6:30pm

Location: CNN Center, corner of Centennial Olympic Park Dr. and Marietta St. , ATL, GA

Defend Julian Assange and the right to dissent! Information about global, imperialist, governmental corruption has been disclosed from diplomatic cables leaked to the public by WikiLeaks. This information brings new light to the war abroad, and at home. On September 24th, the homes of seven activists and an anti-war office were simultaneously raided by the FBI. In total, fourteen activists from Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan …have been handed subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury. These activists and many others came together to organize the 2008 anti-war marches during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

These are attacks on dissent in general, and free speech in particular and it is our duty to respond!

We will be meeting at the corner of Centennial and Marietta St. in front of the CNN center.

At 5:30, there will be a public reading of selected WikiLeaks cables.

Let’s show em who’s boss (we are). Be there!

EL PUEBLO UNIDO JAMAS SERA VENCIDO.
THE PEOPLE UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED.

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Filed under Event Announcement, Georgia, Gulf States, Human Rights, Imperialism, other announcements, Solidarity, Southern United States, Technology, Uncategorized, United States, Upcoming Events, Wikileaks

GA Prisoner Strike Continues a Second Day, Corporate Media Mostly Ignores Them, Corrections Officials Decline Comment

[Originally posted to blackagendareport.com, Saturday, September 11, 2010]

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

The peaceful strike begun by inmates of several Georgia state prisons continued for a second day on Friday, according to family members of some of the participants. Copyrighted news stories by AP, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and local TV stations in Macon and Atlanta quote state corrections who say several institutions were placed on lockdown beginning Thursday in anticipation of the inmate protest, on the initiative of wardens of those prisons.

GA Prisoner Strike Continues a Second Day, Corporate Media Mostly Ignores Them, Corrections Officials Decline Comment

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Offices of the wardens at Hay’s, Macon State, Telfair, and Augusta state all referred our inquiries to the Department of Corrections public affairs officer, who so far has declined to return our repeated calls.

The prisoner strike in Georgia is unique, sources among inmates and their families say, because it includes not just black prisoners, but Latinos and whites too, a departure from the usual sharp racial divisions that exist behind prison walls. Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with violence and intimidation. Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut the prisoners’ hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of prison operations.

As of Friday, inmates at several prisons say they are committed to continuing the strike. “We are going to ride it,” the inmate press release quotes one, “till the wheels fall off. We want our human rights.”

The peaceful inmate strike is being led from within the prison. Some of those thought to be its leaders have been placed under close confinement.

The nine specific demands made by Georgia’s striking prisoners in two press releases pointedly reflect many of the systemic failures of the U.S. regime of mass incarceration, and the utter disconnection of U.S. prisons from any notions of protecting or serving the public interest. Prisoners are demanding, in their own words, decent living conditions, adequate medical care and nutrition, educational and self-improvement opportunities, just parole decisions, just parole decisions, an end to cruel and unusual punishments, and better access to their families.

It’s a fact that Georgia prisons skimp on medical care and nutrition behind the walls, and that in Georgia’s prisons recreational facilities are non-existent, and there are no educational programs available beyond GED, with the exception of a single program that trains inmates to be Baptist ministers. Inmates know that upon their release they will have no more education than they did when they went in, and will be legally excluded from Pell Grants and most kinds of educational assistance, they and their families potentially locked into a disadvantaged economic status for life.

Despite the single biggest predictor of successful reintegration into society being sustained contact with family and community, Georgia’s prison

authorities make visits and family contact needlessly difficult and expensive. Georgia no longer allows families to send funds via US postal money orders to inmates. It requires families to send money through J-Pay, a private company that rakes off nearly ten percent of all transfers. Telephone conversations between Georgia prisoners and their families are also a profit centers for another prison contractor, Global Tel-Link which extracts about $55 a month for a weekly 15 minute phone call from cash-strapped families. It’s hard to imagine why the state cannot operate reliable payment and phone systems for inmates and their families with public employees at lower cost, except that this would put contractors, who probably make hefty contributions to local politicians out of business.

Besides being big business, prisons are public policy. The U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, but accounts for almost a quarter of its prisoners. African Americans are one eighth this nation’s population, but make up almost half the locked down. The nation’s prison population increased more than 450% in a generation beginning about 1981. It wasn’t about crime rates, because those went up, and then back down. It wasn’t about rates of drug use, since African Americans have the same rates of drug use as whites and Latinos. Since the 1980s, the nation has undertaken a well-documented policy of mass incarceration, focused primarily though not exclusively on African Americans. The good news is that public policies are ultimately the responsibility of the public to alter, to change or do do away with. America’s policy of mass incarceration is overdue for real and sustained public scrutiny. A movement has to be built on both sides of the walls that will demand an end to the prison industry and to the American policy of mass incarceration. That movement will have to be outside the Republican and Democratic parties. Both are responsible for building this system, and both rely on it to sustain their careers. The best Democrats could do on the 100 to 1 crack to powder cocaine disparity this year, with a black president in the White House and thumping majorities in the House and Senate was to reduce it to 18 to 1, and then only by lengthening the sentences for powder cocaine. On this issue, Democrats and Republicans are part of the problem, not the solution.

As this article goes to print Saturday morning, it’s not known whether the strike will continue a third day. With prison officials not talking, and corporate media ignoring prisoners not just this week but every day, outlets like Black Agenda Report and the web site upon which you’re reading this are among the chief means inmates and their families have of communicating with the public. The prisoners are asking the public to continue to call the Georgia Department of Corrections, and the individual prisons listed below to express concern for the welfare of the prisoners.

Prison is about corruption, power and isolation. You can help break the isolation by calling the wardens’ offices at the following prisons. Prisons, naturally , are open Saturdays and Sundays too.

Macon State Prison is 478-472-3900.   Hays State Prison is at (706) 857-0400
Telfair State prison is 229-868-7721 Baldwin State Prison is at (478) 445- 5218
Valdosta State Prison is 229-333-7900 Smith State Prison is at (912) 654-5000
The Georgia Department of Corrections is at http://www.dcor.state.ga.us and their phone number is 478-992-5246

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Georgia, Gulf States, Human Rights, National Oppression, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoners, prisons, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, strike, Uncategorized, United States

The Incarceration Capital of the US

By Jordan Flaherty

 [Originally posted to the Huffington Post November 9, 2010]

 

A struggle over the size of New Orleans’ jail could define the city’s future

New Orleans’ criminal justice system is at a crossroads. A new mayor and police chief say they want to make major changes, and the police department is facing lawsuits and federal investigations that may profoundly change the department. But a simultaneous, and less publicized, struggle is being waged and the results will likely define the city’s justice system for a generation: the city’s jail, damaged in Katrina, needs to be replaced. City leaders must now decide how big the new institution will be.

At first, it seemed like an expansion of OPP was inevitable. This is a city with one of the highest rates of violent crime in the US, and politicians rarely lose votes by calling for more jail cells. But in a city that has led the nation in incarceration, residents across race and class lines are questioning fundamental assumptions about what works in criminal justice.

With 3,500 beds in a city of about 350,000 residents, Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) is already the largest per capita county jail of any major US city. Sheriff Marlin Gusman, the elected official with oversight over the jail, has submitted plans for an even larger complex. A broad coalition is seeking to take the city in a different direction. They want a smaller facility, and they are demanding that the money that would be spent on a larger jail be diverted to alternatives to incarceration, like drug treatment programs and mental health facilities. With two public hearings on the issue scheduled for this week, the battle is heating up.

Criminal justice experts and community leaders are speaking in support of a smaller jail. This is an issue that has allowed the religious foundation Baptist Community Ministries and prison abolition organizers from Critical Resistance to find common ground. The online activist group ColorOfChange.org also recently joined in the conversation, with an appeal that has generated hundreds of emails to the mayor and city council. “In all the work we’ve been doing on criminal justice reform, this is definitely a pivotal moment,” says Rosana Cruz, the associate director of VOTE, an organization that seeks to build power and civic engagement for formerly incarcerated people. “We’re finally getting local and state government to think about public safety from a perspective of real safety, not an incarceration perspective.”

The OPP Reform Coalition, a pre-Katrina alliance that has recently been revitalized, has led the campaign. In September, when it seemed like the prison expansion was proceeding without public debate, they took out a full-page ad in the city’s daily paper listing other things that the money spent on OPP could be spent on. The ad featured an assortment of New Orleanians – including musicians, local politicians, community leaders, and members of the cast and crew of the HBO show Treme. The diverse assembly of public figures not only signed the ad, but also helped pay for it, donating $22.39 each, the amount that the jail currently charges the city for every prisoner. In the aftermath of the ad, attention turned to a working group formed by the mayor to address the issue. That body is expected to make its recommendations this month.

Incarceration Industry

Orleans Parish Prison is a giant complex in Midcity New Orleans, made up of several buildings spread across a dozen blocks employing nearly a thousand nonunion workers. The city jail is a small empire under the absolute control of the city Sheriff, who can use jail employees for election campaigns, and send out prisoners to work for local businesses. The majority of the metropolitan area’s mental health facilities are also located within the jail, meaning that for many who have mental health issues, the jail is their only option for treatment.

Louisiana’s incarceration rate is by far the highest in the world – more than ten times higher than most European countries, and twenty times higher than Japan. Pre-Katrina, OPP had 7,200 beds. In a city with a population of about 465,000, this came to about one bed for every sixty-five city residents. Neighboring Jefferson Parish has 100,000 more people than Orleans Parish, and has only 900 beds. Caddo Parish – in the northeast of the state – has more violent crime, but still imprisons far less people. If OPP had the same number of beds as the national average of one for every 388 residents, the jail’s capacity would shrink to about 850.

Aside from its size, OPP is unique in other ways. Under the terms of a lawsuit over prison conditions filed in 1969, the jail’s budget is based on a per-diem paid by the city for every inmate in prison. The more people locked in OPP, the higher the funding Sheriff Gusman has at his disposal. “Our current funding structure is creating a perverse incentive to lock more people up,” explains Dana Kaplan, the director of Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a criminal justice advocacy organization and member of the OPP Reform Coalition.

The institution of OPP is also exceptional in that it is a county jail and a state prison combined into one entity. About 2,700 people in the jail are mostly pre-trial detainees – the majority being held for drug possession, traffic violations, public drunkenness, or other nonviolent offenses – and are legally innocent. An additional eight hundred people are state prisoners who have been convicted in court, who may spend years or even decades at OPP.

Almost 60,000 people passed through OPP in the last twelve months, a staggering figure for a city of this size. The average length of stay was 20 days. The largest portion of pre-trial prisoners in the jail are there for nonviolent, municipal offenses that even under conservative standards should not warrant jail time, including 20,000 arrests this year for traffic violations. “New Orleans is basically the incarceration capital of the world,” says Kaplan. “You’re hard-pressed to find a resident of New Orleans – especially in poor communities – that hasn’t had their lives disrupted in some way by this institution.”

An article by journalist Ethan Brown in one of the city’s weekly papers noted, “thanks to the profound misallocation of law enforcement resources in New Orleans, you’re more likely to end up in Orleans Parish Prison for a traffic offense than for armed robbery or murder.” Ultimately, this struggle over the size of the jail is also about the city’s incarceration priorities. If the city builds a larger jail, it will have to keep filling it with tens of thousands of people. If a smaller facility is built, it will change who is arrested in the city, and how long they spend behind bars.

Because much of the jail was underwater during Katrina, many of the buildings have either been closed or need massive renovation. By one estimate, the new jail that the sheriff seeks would cost 250 million dollars, much of that to come in reimbursements from FEMA. The sheriff has yet to reveal how much of the construction costs would come from federal dollars, although the state affiliate of the ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the information. Even if most of the construction were paid for by FEMA, as the Sheriff has indicated, the continued upkeep would fall to the city.

Sheriff Gusman did not respond to requests for comment, but he has said, at a meeting of mayor’s task force on the jail, “I’ve always advocated for a smaller facility,” and spoke of being satisfied with 4,200 beds. The plans he has submitted to various planning bodies, however, indicate otherwise.

The Sheriff has issued several conflicting statements and reports about the size of the jail he is seeking, as well as where the funding will come from. A Justice Facilities Master Plan, prepared in collaboration with the Sheriff’s office, called for 8,000 beds, which would give the jail capacity to imprison nearly one of every 40 people currently in the city. A planning document recently prepared by the Sheriff called for 5,800 beds. No plans or public documents issued by his office have called for building a jail smaller than the current facility.

Spotlight on Abuse

With seven reported deaths this year, OPP is under the spotlight for violent and abusive treatment of prisoners. A September 2009 report from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) found, “conditions at OPP violate the constitutional rights of inmates.” The DOJ went on to document “a pattern and practice of unnecessary and inappropriate use of force by OPP correctional officers,” including “several examples where OPP officers openly engaged in abusive and retaliatory conduct, which resulted in serious injuries to prisoners. In some instances, the investigation found, the officers’ conduct was so flagrant it clearly constituted calculated abuse.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people who had not been convicted of any crime were lost in the city’s prison system. Last month a jury awarded two men from Ohio a $650,000 judgment for their treatment after the storm. The men were on a road trip and stopped in New Orleans for a drink on Bourbon Street. They were arrested for public drunkenness and spent a month disappeared in the system, without being allowed even one phone call to their families.

In a city under fiscal crisis, advocates have focused not only on the decades of evidence that mass incarceration has only made people in the city feel less safe, but also on the financial costs of this massive jail. In addition to calling for reforms that would cause less people to be locked up, the reform coalition demands that, “funds dedicated to building a bigger jail must be reallocated to building the infrastructure of a caring community, including recreational, educational, mental health, and affordable housing facilities.” Andrea Slocum, an organizer with Critical Resistance, says that when she talks to city residents, the idea of redirecting money from the prison has wide support. “Parents are crying out, saying where’s the recreation for our children?”

“It’s an exciting time for the city in a lot of ways,” says Michael Jacobson of the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization that has been advising the City, including the Sheriff. Jacobson, who served as correction commissioner for New York City in the mid-90s, managed to reduce the population of New York City’s jail system even in the midst of the mass arrests of the Giuliani administration. He believes similar change is possible in New Orleans. “You can’t create or innovate unless you’re willing to step out and change what you’re doing,” he says. The Vera Institute has received funding from the US Department of Justice for a pre-trial services program that has reduced incarceration in other cities, and they project New Orleans will also be able to see a reduction.

But the drive to build more jail cells is hard to stop, and many barriers remain. Sheriffs in Louisiana have no term limits, and there are few leverages on their influence. Sheriff Gusman was first elected in 2004 and has faced little opposition since then. The previous Criminal Sheriff held the position for 30 years, only leaving when he ran for state Attorney General.

As the debate continues, the Sheriff’s department has already begun construction on a building to hold 400 additional beds. He initially told reporters that he would close other facilities and the new construction would not add up to additional capacity. However, in a letter to the State Bond Commission, he predicted increased revenue from holding additional inmates in the new building.

Advocates believe that the tide is beginning to turn, but the new construction already underway indicates that there is still a lot of work to be done and not much time. “We really need to keep the pressure on and the momentum consistent,” says Rosana Cruz of VOTE. “They’ll shake our hands and make these promises but meanwhile these deals are being made behind closed doors.”

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Gulf States, Human Rights, Louisiana, National Oppression, New Orleans, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoners, Southern United States, Uncategorized, United States