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Free speech is a battlefield and the oppressed must unite

September 30, 2017

by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons

Many in this country believe all citizens enjoy the right to free speech. But this is a myth. Free speech is reserved only for those who control the media and other power structures and those who agree with the political establishment. Oppressed nations in particular are regularly denied free speech, especially when that speech involves pointing out what’s wrong with Amerika.

“Pelican Bay Censorship” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, HDSP C2-122, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

Once locked up in U.$. prisons, people further lose their ability to read and communicate freely. We know this all too well, as publishers of the anti-imperialist newsletter, Under Lock & Key, that is mailed out every two months free to prisoners. A few weeks after each mailing we start getting copies returned to us for reasons that range from “threat to security” to “gang material” to specific artwork or articles. That’s when the prisons bother to return them. We know a lot of our mail just gets thrown out, never reaching the prisoners and never being marked as denied.

Many in this country believe all citizens enjoy the right to free speech. But this is a myth. Free speech is reserved only for those who control the media and other power structures and those who agree with the political establishment.

The irony of censorship of publications like the SF Bay View and Under Lock & Key is that both are promoting unity between prisoners. If anything, we are doing more to stop violence and build peace behind bars. The prison administrators and guards are setting up individuals and groups against one another, creating violent conflicts. And then they say that our newsletters are dangerous!

As our movement has always said, there really are no rights, only power struggles. And the rights supposedly guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United $tates are crucial to our ability to do the organizing work that is necessary to change this system. It is for that reason that MIM(Prisons) has always put the struggle against censorship, and for the rights of the oppressed to associate with each other, in the spotlight.

The irony of censorship of publications like the SF Bay View and Under Lock & Key is that both are promoting unity between prisoners. If anything, we are doing more to stop violence and build peace behind bars.

Like the Bay View, we do not have lawyers to take up these battles for us, and we depend on our comrades on the inside who have developed knowledge of the law to take things to the courts most of the time. But we do offer some programs to support jailhouse lawyers and to have your backs.

We have a censorship guide that gives some basic case law and strategies to use when appealing and grieving censorship cases in prison. We have a Prisoners’ Legal Clinic that is made up of jailhouse lawyers who help other prisoners and create resource guides for others to use. And we provide those doing this work with any books and materials we can acquire to help them in that work.

On our website, www.prisoncensorship.info, we host a database of censorship incidents sortable by state, facility and date. You can view appeal letters and victories. We are interested in collaborating with other organizations to compile not just the incidents of censorship, but mail rules, case law and winning strategies.

We regularly publish articles online and in our newsletter highlighting the repressive, discriminatory uses of censorship in U.$. prisons. Finally, we join our comrades in prison in appealing the censorship of our mail.

While at times the battle against censorship seems hopeless, there are many examples of victories out there. And though the majority of appeals are denied, we can use these battles to engage and educate others about how the system works.

In some prisons people who have never even seen our newsletter are organizing others around anti-censorship campaigns for ULK, and our work remains an inspiration to them even when they can’t access it. You too can be an inspiration to others. Be sure to share your appeals with others. Even if you can’t get them to do the work themselves, let them know what you’re doing, what points you’re making and how the administration is responding to you.

Expose the censors for what they are. They are afraid of oppressed people educating themselves, being organized and struggling for their own dignity and humanity.

Expose the censors for what they are. They are afraid of oppressed people educating themselves, being organized and struggling for their own dignity and humanity.

Prisoners can write to MIM(Prisons) at P.O. Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140 to sign up for our free anti-imperialist newsletter. We also offer correspondence study groups, political books to prisoners program and work with organizers on the inside to support strategic campaigns to build the prison movement. Non-prisoners can check out all of our work and read our newsletter at www.prisoncensorship.info.

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