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I’m thrilled to share that I will be joining 19 other activists and changemakers for the 2019 Roddenberry Fellowship! Jailhouse Lawyers Speak’s Right2Vote (R2V) Campaign is being recognized for the direct impact on civil rights in the United States. The Roddenberry Fellowship supports 20 activists, organizers, leaders and changemakers who are working to make the U.S. a more inclusive and equitable place to live. Fellows’ projects focus on one of four issues: Civil Rights, Immigration and Refugee Rights, LGBTQIA and Women’s Rights, Environmental Protection.
On Oct. 4, 2015, at the McConnell Ad-Seg Unit located in Beeville, Texas, prisoner Jarvis Dugas, No. 1386881, was preparing for a visit with his mother. Dugas, who is known to his friends as “Homestead,” is a Black man who is mentally handicapped and physically disabled. He walks with a pronounced limp. Dugas’ mother, Regina Strange, is a former employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She is all too familiar with the overt tactics of mistreatment, abuse and degradation associated with the corrupt prison agency and because she knows that, she regularly visits her son Jarvis.
In a time when the trumpets of fascism are blowing loud, those of us who have been on the frontlines need to stand strong – at the back. We can’t lead this fight. We need the energy, the insight, the fresh face and perspectives of the Amani Sawaris to step up. I know she carries an optimism and a vision that us OGs can’t touch. I hope everyone who has known and loved the SF Bay View over its 42-year history will lend their support to Amani and the revitalization of the paper.
Kanye West has never been afraid to speak out even if what he had to say wasn’t in line with popular opinion. Kanye saying slavery was “a choice” offended many people by degrading the lives of the millions of people who suffered for centuries as slaves. Recently, at the White House, Kanye sprinkled some gold gems in with the foolishness, especially his statement about the 13th Amendment, which did not abolish slavery, not in prison. I refuse to reject the help when entertainers like Kanye West join prisoners in advocating for prisoners’ rights.
Few prisoners, if any, at San Quentin State Prison participated in what was reported to be the largest prisoner-led strike in United States history. There are many reasons for these prisoners’ lack of involvement. Most of the men imprisoned at San Quentin were unaware of the strike and the groups involved with it like Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and the Bay Area National Prison Strike Solidarity Committee.
I’d like to send out a clenched fist salute to Amani Sawari of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. I have studied the transcript of Amani’s appearance on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. Amani did an excellent job articulating the reasons for our actions. Amani also had the presence of mind to highlight and accentuate the fact that we, the prisoners across Amerika, seek to be treated as human beings and given meaningful opportunities toward our rehabilitation.
As incarcerated people across the country began a three-week series of protests, a contingent of physicians, health professions students and other allied health professionals expressed their solidarity with the protestors. More than 125 students and healthcare providers signed an open letter endorsing the National Prison Strike, with many participating in local solidarity actions or making phone calls to prisons to show support for the strikers’ demands.
While I was immersed in the National Prison Strike back home, I had no idea how solidarity looked to others who felt trapped outside of the resistance. Some felt unable to connect with the people they desperately wanted to join in fighting for. Some Americans may say, How can I support a prisoner? in the same way that I struggled to connect with Tico Educators – in both cases knowing that their plight is worth fighting for.
Prisoners are rising up in institutions across the country – and now internationally – in protest of the living and working conditions in the prisons. The first week of the strike has just come to an end and we have seen a substantial wave of success. The mainstream media attention on the strike has been monumentally greater than we have ever seen in the past. Along with this, the public narrative towards prisoners has changed dramatically. The public eye is focused on securing and protecting prisoners’ rights. We are also committed to highlighting the injustices that are inherent to our criminal justice system.
A diverse crowd of around 500 mostly young activists turned out for a rally Aug. 25 at San Quentin Prison. Most came from Oakland, many in two chartered buses, but sizable contingents traveled from San José, Santa Cruz and San Francisco as well. Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a key organizer of the rally, along with Prisoners Human Rights Coalition, CA, and many other Bay Area activist groups, including Party for Socialism and Liberation, helped publicize the action. The idea for the strike originated with Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates.
The prisoner strike has been underway for more than 24 hours now. In the first day we got word of actions coming out from the prisons from Halifax, Nova Scotia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, and Folsom Prison in California reported strike action. We saw outside solidarity actions in at least 21 cities around the U.S. and as far abroad as Leipzig, Germany. We saw Palestinian political prisoners give a statement of solidarity from their prisons in occupied Palestine. Those of us who have been coordinating media relations on the outside have been overwhelmed by the number of reporters and outlets who are covering the strike.
This call is for a two-week national strike beginning on Aug. 21, the anniversary of George Jackson’s assassination, and extending until Sept. 9, the anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion in 1971. The call has been taken up inside from coast to coast, and across at least 17 different states. The author of this call, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, is a national collective of incarcerated people who fight for human rights by providing other incarcerated people with access to legal education, resources and assistance.
In the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, the left’s anti-fascist response to defend that community and the death of Heather Heyer, a rally that had been planned and organized over a two-year period by imprisoned people and the grassroots prison advocacy group IAMWE offered a powerful opportunity for those looking to actively confront white supremacy. Their demand is the end of slavery in America – the elimination of the “exception clause” in the 13th Amendment.
The purpose of this press release is to notify prisoners, community organizers and all those who care of the upcoming Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington, D.C., scheduled for Aug. 19, 2017. This is a national effort to bring world attention to the 13th Amendment enslavement clause, its ramifications, and to solidify organizing efforts to amend it. In essence this is an abolitionist movement to abolish legalized enslavement.