August 21 may see the largest anti-slavery event in modern history
Two years ago, on the anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising, the nation witnessed the largest prison strike in U.S. history.
“This is a call to action against slavery in America,” organizers wrote in an announcement that for weeks circulated inside and outside prisons nationwide, and that sums up the strikers’ primary demand: an end to free prison labor...
Prisoners in 24 states and 40 to 50 prisons pledged to join the strike, and as of Tuesday, prisoners in at least 11 states and 20 prisons continued the protest, according to outside supporters in Alabama.
“There are probably 20,000 prisoners on strike right now, at least, which is the biggest prison strike in history, but the information is really sketchy and spotty,” said Ben Turk, who works on “in-reach” to prisons for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World union helping to coordinate the inmate-led initiative from the outside.
What's that you say? You didn't notice?
That's OK, because you are going to get another chance. Except this time it's going to be a lot bigger.
The trigger for this strike was a deadly prison riot.
Since the April 15 uprising at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, during which three housing units erupted into total chaos, creating what prison officials called a "mass casualty incident," problems stemming from the state's penal system have not abated. Seven inmates were killed and more than 20 were injured on that day, making the event the most violent in a US prison in a quarter of a century.
LISTEN: Inmate at Lee Correctional, which saw deadliest prison uprising in 25yrs, speaks about forced "gladiator matches" set up by guards that escalated into this 'mass casualty incident.' He says guards "watched the bodies pile up" from outside a fence https://t.co/05MJ7XqO4N pic.twitter.com/2IfRe8n3s4
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) April 30, 2018
Prison guards waited four hours to intervene.
South Carolina corrections department director Bryan Stirling claims the specific cause of the riot was cell phones.
Prisoner advocacy groups pointed out that without cell phones, the grisly details of South Carolina’s riot wouldn’t be known to the public.
It's not just the size of the strike, it's the reasons for it.
The action will involve work stoppages, sit-ins and a boycott of purchases from prison stores. The prisoners are demanding improved living conditions and an end to unpaid labor, as well as progressive sentencing reform and access to rehabilitation programs.
Organizers say they derived their boycott tactics from the Redistribute the Pain campaign, a plan put forward by the prisoners’ rights group Free Alabama Movement earlier this year. That campaign declares that “our goal is to remove the assets and monetary gain from those who practice slavery, especially those in the U.S. and their allies.”
“It is time that we take a new look and what is taking place across our nation in our prisons,” reads the April 24 statement from prisoners. “Not only is it important for us to take a look, but we must also take in consideration that for years we have neglected what is actually taking place.”