Commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion Friday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m., 518 Valencia St., San Francisco – featuring ‘Attica,’ the restored 1974 film
by David Johnson, Willie Sundiata Tate and Luis Talamantez of the San Quentin Six
We have just finished commemorating the 40th anniversary of the assassination of our beloved Comrade George Jackson. Not forgotten by us was the horrific massacre perpetrated by the state of New York at Attica.
At the time, we were in the adjustment center at San Quentin mourning our loss and recovering from the brutality inflicted upon us in the aftermath of the Aug. 21 incident when the state murdered our comrade. In spite of our isolation – we were denied access to newspapers, magazines and radio reports – death row prisoners who were housed above us and who had access to these media used the air vents and pumped-out toilets to convey the news of the Attica Rebellion to us.
The news of the rebellion gave our spirits a much needed lift. To know that the struggle continues to secure the basic human right to be treated as a human being, regardless of the transgressions we may have committed in such a dysfunctional society, reinforced our determination to remain strong in the face of unmitigated terrorism. We had no other choice even in our most fearful moments.
A uniform, badge and gun give no one the right to treat us less than human beings. To know that in the course of your struggle you express solidarity by honoring Comrade George served to reinforce our resolve.
We knew all too well the nature of the system those comrades were challenging. We had witnessed first-hand how they respond when confronted: first, in 1970 at the Marin County courthouse and secondly, on August the 21st . They made it clear to us that we were at war. Yet, we held out hopes that a just and peaceful resolution could be reached at Attica.
No words can express the pain we felt upon hearing the news of the murderous assault and brutality unleashed by the state of New York on the comrades at Attica. Another painful reminder of the violent and vicious extremes this government will go to in order to repress those who oppose it.
A uniform, badge and gun give no one the right to treat us less than human beings.
At this point I want to offer some historical background to show how interconnected our struggles are. It corresponds to one of the many premises advanced by the Comrade: “Our goal is to build a movement, a united front in this struggle that, regardless of the repression brought to bear, will not be suppressed.”
In 1970 while confined in San Quentin’s segregation unit known as B section, a collective was formed consisting of representatives from all the races. As a part of that collective, we set about the task of drafting a document outlining certain demands regarding our legal and human rights which would be presented to the prison administration – a document that all prisoners could unite behind and support.
Once all the prisoners in B section got behind it we tore up our cells breaking the toilets and beds off the wall rendering our cells unlivable. We were issued buckets to replace the toilets. A judge condemned B section, which meant no prisoner could be placed in B section for any prison rule violation.
This document was sent to the mainline at San Quentin and set the stage for a general work strike. Our document became known as a manifesto. To break the strike, the prison started sending prisoners from San Quentin to Folsom prison. Our document was smuggled to Folsom and became a rallying point to start a general work strike at Folsom.
Our document became known as the “Folsom Prison Manifesto.” We were honored that the comrades at Attica thought highly enough of our document that the “Attica Declaration” mirrored many of the same demands.
On the 40th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion those same demands are still valid and worth fighting for and defending today. We will never forget the courage and sacrifices of those comrades.
Bob Marley once said: “Every man gotta right / To decide his own destiny / And in this judgment / There is no partiality.”
We fought for it then and we must fight for it today.
David Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Willie Sundiata Tate (email@example.com) and Luis Bato Talamantez (firstname.lastname@example.org), along with Hugo Pinell, Johnny Spain and Fleeta Drumgo, comprised the San Quentin Six, who were accused of participating in the Aug. 21, 1971, alleged escape attempt that left six people dead, including George Jackson. Forty years later, Hugo Pinell remains in solitary confinement in the SHU at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison, despite strong support from activists and Amnesty International.
Attica Prison Rebellion 40th anniversary
Prison unrest in the United States hit a boiling point on Sept. 9, 1971, when inmates at Attica State Prison after months of protesting inhumane living conditions rebelled, seizing part of the prison and taking 35 hostages. The uprising was met with a military attack and the murder of 43 people after New York State troopers assaulted the prisoners. “Attica,” released three years later, is an investigation of the rebellion and its aftermath, piecing together documentary footage of the occupation and ensuing assault.
What happened at Attica and this film are especially significant today as prisoners from Georgia, Ohio, California and other states fight for their human rights in the face of increased imprisonment and the brutality and torture of long-term solitary confinement.
The 40th anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion will be commemorated Friday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m., at 518 Valencia St., San Francisco, in an event featuring “Attica,” the restored 1974 film, and a panel, composed of Azadeh Zohrabi of the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal, Dennis Cunningham, one of the original Attica attorneys, and Manuel La Fontaine of All of Us or None, who will connect the dots to Georgia, Ohio and California prison strikes
The commemoration is sponsored by the Freedom Archives and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. They request a $10 donation – $5 for youth – but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
“Attica,” a 97-minute docudrama produced by Louis Rudolph as a made-for-television movie for ABC originally aired March 3, 1980. It was nominated for five Emmy Awards and won the Emmy for Outstanding Direction of a Television Special. The film is an eloquent condensation and gripping re-creation of events leading up to and during the inmate rebellion at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York State in September of 1971, which climaxed in the worst instance of Americans slaughtering other Americans since the Civil War. The cast included Charles Durning, Morgan Freeman, George Grizzard, David Harris, Roger Mosley and Anthony Zerbe. Directed by Marvin Chomsky from a script by James Henerson, it was based on the book “A Time to Die” by New York Times correspondent Tom Wicker, who was present during the uprising, having been requested by the inmates to be a member of the civilian arbitrating committee.