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Our own political action committee can expand the prisoners’ rights movement

December 26, 2013

by Jose Villarreal

I was pleased to read about the current talk of creating a political action committee (PAC) for prisoners. There was a time when I despised the whole oppressor political apparatus, but I was lucky enough to have comrades who explained that there is nothing wrong with being involved in local politics because these are the ways that we can transform our communities at the current stage in our struggle.

'End the Torture' by Jose Villarreal
Drawing in pen and pastel by Jose Villarreal
Local politics, we should remember, is how we got the three strikes law modified. It will be how we get long-term solitary confinement overturned as well as abolishing the death penalty. Now, of course, we will never totally liberate the people through the ballot box, but in this stage we need to chip away with small reforms that will move us closer to more substantial forms of struggle and self-determination in the future.

Any efforts taken in the political realm will, of course, be coupled with other efforts here at the prison level – and this is necessary. We can’t expect external efforts – outside activists, PAC, legislature etc. – to bring us to victory on their own any more than we can expect internal efforts – prison strikes, appeals etc. – to bring us to victory on their own accord.

Each effort or phenomenon, both internal and external, relies on the other, and only in unity can we be brought to victory in our efforts. So in this aspect, a PAC should be viewed as one such tool in our activist tool box which will help move us forward and begin to reclaim all the things that have been taken from prisoners in the past decades.

I believe a PAC is a great idea and displays the natural evolution of the prison movement for human rights.

I can see a PAC being useful not just for shaping current and future laws but to help shape public opinion in our future hunger strikes, work strikes or boycotts. At the same time, I think much more can be done as well to supplement any possible PAC.

When I think of the hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013 and the numbers of participants and outside support, we obviously made history but did not get CDCR to comply with the five demands. We know the state bends to pressure, so this pressure was not enough. As good as it was, we needed more.

Thirty thousand people is a huge number, and we had outside activists at the front lines and some family members out in society getting involved, but still the state did not comply. So I think about how we can get more support in order to tip the scale and ensure the next round that the state does comply.

As I previously said, I believe a PAC is necessary at this stage, but while we create and build the PAC we should also be looking to mobilize in other areas as well. During the hunger strikes, I thought what if the barrios and the hoods throughout California were working in active support of our hunger strike and five demands. Wouldn’t this tip the scale in our favor? I thought, just in San Jose, where I was born and raised, if the barrios were activated to support our hunger strike, what a difference this would make, not to mention every barrio and hood in California.

I can see a PAC being useful not just for shaping current and future laws but to help shape public opinion in our future hunger strikes, work strikes or boycotts.

There is so much that can be done with future barrio action committees (BAC) or hood action committees (HAC); entire areas can be mobilized in our communities at the grassroots level where most of us prisoners come from. The people from these oppressed communities are out natural resources, so when we seek to create change and mobilize our people, we should start within our communities because this is where people’s power will flourish.

The neighborhoods we all come from have all the sustenance we need to grow as a human rights movement. From the little homie on the corner to the professional in the office, if these sectors can be mobilized, we will tip the scale next round.

During the hunger strikes, I thought what if the barrios and the hoods throughout California were working in active support of our hunger strike and five demands. Wouldn’t this tip the scale in our favor?

Some of the things these neighborhood committees can take up to support a future peaceful protest or ongoing struggle for the five demands is going door to door educating and mobilizing the neighborhood about state repression and how our communities are targets, creating leaflets and other literature while organizing marches in support of prison human rights efforts, creating newsletters, newspapers and websites dedicated to our prison rights and five demands, raising money to support our efforts for justice.

We want to educate our people and get our youth involved in our efforts, because prisons will continue to exist for some time and thus prison oppression and torture will exist with it in some form, so we should begin today to build our base of support. Our future generations will need these bases in their struggles to survive in these dungeons.

If we had well-developed bases of support when we initiated the strikes, we could have mobilized California in ways unseen in the history of U.S. activism. Peaceful protests could have spilled out to the social media, schools could have walked out of class, a day without work or spending no money, freeways shut down, etc. all over California.

Our youth are very creative and passionate. There are so many possibilities to gain more support in us reaching these five demands and beyond. And the longer the state takes in granting our demands, the more we will learn, educate and organize to strengthen our peaceful protest movement.

We’ve got to remember and learn from history and what it took to get the oppressor nation to budge. During the Civil Rights Movement, it didn’t just take those being oppressed to act in civil disobedience; it took people across all nationalities to act. It took politicization of oppressed people to be mobilized in self-defense groups. It took class collaboration with many sectors from lumpen to petty bourgeois. Even religious groups were mobilized to make the empire budge. The freedom riders and the uprisings in Black ghettos added to the momentum, but no single effort in itself made the movement successful.

If we had well-developed bases of support when we initiated the strikes, we could have mobilized California in ways unseen in the history of U.S. activism.

The U.S. war on Vietnam saw the same outcome. At the time, Chicanos were 6 percent of the U.S. population but were 20 percent of the U.S. military deaths in Vietnam. This led to the Chicano Moratorium, which was Chicanos protesting the war in the thousands by marches and other efforts.

But many people refused to go to Vietnam from all nationalities and many boycotted the draft. Political parties, religious folks, even many celebrities were voicing their disgust with the U.S. war on Vietnam. Muhammad Ali was very vocally against it, and still others took more provocative actions. College campuses erupted in protest.

When the settler state was dismantled in apartheid South Africa, it wasn’t only the people of Azania struggling. Rather it was also people around the world struggling with them in many ways.

The longer the state takes in granting our demands, the more we will learn, educate and organize to strengthen our peaceful protest movement.

My point is we will not be successful if our struggle for human rights in these dungeons stays confined to just prisoners struggling. We can’t even resort to only relying on outside activists. Instead, the only way to bring the pressure on the state that we need to obtain our five demands will be by expanding the prisoners’ rights movement. This expansion should include a PAC, BAC and HAC for victory.

The only way to bring the pressure on the state that we need to obtain our five demands will be by expanding the prisoners’ rights movement.

I wanted to contribute to throwing some ideas out there to kick around. Only by speaking up and adding to the realm of ideas can new conversations and new ideas come forth. Once more, I look forward to the PAC cause. I got five on it.

Send our brother some love and light: Jose Villarreal, H-84098, PBSP SHU, C11-106, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

 

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