By Gainesville IWOC
On August 21, prisoners from groups including Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) indicated that dozens of facilities in at least 17 states have initiated actions based on a common set of 10 demands, covering basic human rights issues such as fair access to the vote, the court system, paid labor, parole opportunities and real rehabilitative programing, rather than the current system of warehousing people indefinitely.
The focused days of action are anticipated to continue until September 9. The chosen dates signify a remembrance of prisoner activist George Jackson’s assassination and the Attica uprising, which occurred respectively in 1971, the first event sparking the other.
Since the time of the Attica uprising, the U.S. prison population has increased by around 700 percent – well over 2 million people locked up today, significantly outpacing an increase in population and crime.
This month’s strike plan is the latest in a string of prisoner-led initiatives to apply pressure on the political system that birthed the epidemic of mass incarceration.
In September of 2016, Florida prisoners kicked off what became the largest coordinated effort by prisoners to push back against the criminal justice system.
Though the momentum had been building in recent years through a series of protests, work stoppages and hunger strikes occurring in other states, including Texas, Alabama, Georgia and California, Florida prisons were propelled into the spotlight.
On September 7 of that year, hundreds of prisoners in Holmes C.I., one of the many remote panhandle facilities, experienced a massive revolt. The FL Department of Corrections (FDOC) called it a “large-scale disturbance” and attempted to deny any connection to an organized protest. By the end of the week, 10 other facilities reported disturbances, and the connection to the nationwide strike became undeniable.
Organizations including the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and Gainesville IWOC established communications with hundreds of prisoners through letter-writing campaigns and published reports on the protests, the conditions that led to them and the repression that participants faced as a result. In the following years, Florida prisoners built on this work, announcing Operation PUSH on MLK Day and a call to action for Juneteenth 2018.
At the time of Iguana’s publication, detailed news of strike activity is only beginning to trickle out, but reports of sit-in protests and retaliatory lockdowns are already coming out of Florida prisons, along with prisons in an estimated 17 other states.
As momentum builds around the strike, students nationally are also beginning to discuss a solidarity strike, or student walk out, in various states if the prisoners’ demands are not being addressed by state and federal agencies.
Due to retaliation faced by prisoners involved in organizing, many prisoners choose to remain anonymous. Likewise, family and friends of prisoners have found that retaliation has also occurred as a result of their advocacy on the outside. For example, family members who spoke up against Florida DOC’s proposed visitation cuts earlier this year found that their loved ones faced interrogations, harassment and even forced transfers to other facilities as a result of the public hearings, demonstrations and social media activism they engaged in.
A student activist, requesting to remain unnamed, provided the following statement in regards to prison strike solidarity walk-out plans in Gainesville and Tallahassee:
“If Julie Jones doesn’t agree to meet with our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who are locked up and are demanding basic human rights, such as pay for their work, reinstatement of parole, and an end to price gouging at commissary, then we will call students to also go on strike and not attend school or stage walkouts … As students made quite clear following the uprisings in response to the Parkland shooting, a new youth movement is building and it will not be restrained to a single issue. This whole system has to change from racist gun violence to prison profiteering and voter suppression. Our communities will not stand for it anymore.”
Follow Gainesville IWOC on Facebook for updates on the strike and upcoming solidarity events.