“It is not necessary for crows to become eagles.”
–Sitting Bull, 1888
In prior communications, I urged Occupy to consider the inclusion of prisoners into any plan moving forward and made some general arguments regarding the potential for such a plan, and to a lesser degree I argued the moral imperative for including prisoners into a movement that in its slogans professed to represent the 99%. Assuming my arguments were as persuasive to you as they seemed to be to me, I now undertake to present one view as to how such a relationship between Occupy and prisoners could develop, and what that collaboration could look like.
It must be noted, however, before I begin, that as soon as my writings were posted and at least one subsequent response from an Occupy group quoted my prior communication, my mail to and from the prison became seriously delayed. It would appear that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is not only monitoring my mail, but the agents who do so need to improve their reading skills; my mail has been delayed up to 45 days and the words in the letters do not exceed four syllables. This speaks to two things: (1) The enemy is afraid of the ideas I’m espousing, and that’s just another reason to undertake them, and (2) the federal government needs to develop a reading program for their agents.
Perhaps someone out there can mail “Hooked on Phonics” to me so the F.B.I. can gain its benefits. Perhaps include a note to the F.B.I. letting them know to take their time with that one.
At any rate, I firmly believe that collaboration between Occupy and prisoners has the same kind of potential as Derrick Jensen’s proposal for collaboration between Occupy and groups supporting ecological defense. Of course, in my thinking, it would be best to select “all of the above,” and have Occupy inextricably integrated with prisoners and the Earth Liberation Front.
In this communication, I provide my view on how a collaboration between Occupy and prisoners could work. By this view, Occupiers and prisoners begin a dialogue for purposes of developing a prisoner resistance manual or manuals, and then distribute those manuals to prisoners. This, then, gives prisoners the tools for organizing resistance cells, developing strategies and tactics for long-term resistance, preparing for repression, informing the larger prison population, and expanding resistance activities to other prisons.
Whether relying upon relationships with prisoners that already exist or else consciously developing new relationships, Occupiers could propose to prisoners that they begin the process of formulating a comprehensive resistance manual that would include methods for organizing and for developing strategies and tactics. Occupiers’ contribution would be to ensure that the organizing is both non-hierarchic and consensus-based, but largely the brainstorming would be conducted by the prisoners.
It may be a good idea to develop two manuals—one that is very dense in terms of information, and a second that is more of a comic-book companion that addresses only the larger, general points. This makes it possible to reach a broader audience.
It then becomes the responsibility of the Occupiers to develop a strategy for delivering this resistance manual to prisoners. I won’t present possible methods here, as that would also alert the authorities. Suffice to say, you have a number of readily available options.
Once prisoners get a copy of the manual, they can begin small group organizing—cells, guerrilla columns, tribes. They decide what strategies and tactics to employ, from sabotage to political violence to all-out takeovers of prisons. They develop a plan for printing up flyers or newsletters or other methods for reaching out to the larger prison population, keeping them informed of events and framing the conflict. The prisoners also prepare for repression and possible even draft in-the-event letters directed to Occupiers, just in case the prisoner resister is captured, so that Occupiers and outside supporters could immediately undertake a defense strategy through phone calls, letters, and protests. Outside supporters can make repression of prisoners very difficult for the prison system, particularly if prisoners who are captured in the course of resistance maintain no communication with their captors and continue complete noncooperation. Their plight could also be made easier by prior planning to deliver messages and necessities to segregated prisoner resisters, re-doubling resistance actions and demanding their release back to population, and possibly even smuggling vitamins and food to prisoner resisters who are hunger-striking.
In this context, Occupiers could greatly facilitate resistance. Armed with the right information, Occupiers could call as a prisoner-resister’s counsel, another as a newspaper reporter, and a third as a representative from Amnesty International or the American Red Cross concerned for the prisoner’s health and well-being. Occupiers could call the prison, the central office of prisons, senators, representatives, and media, causing a firestorm of activity and distraction for the prison complex.
Prisoners with resistance experience who are transferred to other prisons could immediately get in contact with Occupiers and then plant the seeds for new resistance cells.
By this view, an emphasis has been placed upon prisoners engaged in their own liberatory activity, with Occupiers filling generally a logistical role. This is important, both for resistance to work on the macro scale and for the resistance process to be a transformative one for each resister on the micro scale. Also, this approach does not in any way exclude other actions which could compliment this strategy, including selective extractions, for example. I, for one, have long been puzzled as to why supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal do not take the money they invest in legal counsel and instead purchase automatic weapons and go get him out themselves. The same goes for Leonard Peltier, who should have been liberated long ago.
It should also be noted that this strategy is designed for small-group organizing. Small group organizing is emphasized for several reasons. First, in a penal environment, there is a general lack of trust and a number of divided factions, and it is unrealistic to believe that these groups will unite for an action that requires large numbers for success. Also, it should be remembered that prison is a hyper-repressive situation with informers everywhere, making it necessary to form small, insulated groups for purposes of resistance. This form of resistance then lends itself to sabotage and other acts designed to impede the operation of the larger system. In one sense, this strategy reflects the one employed by the United States government when it de-stabilized the duly-elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980s. As someone who edited military training manuals developed from the Nicaraguan experience, my view of a successful de-stabilization of the prisons (and of the government generally) incorporates many of those strategies and tactics.
A final note should probably be made regarding “illegality.”
The way forward I propose may well be criticized by those who take issue with the potential illegality of the actions I propose. De-stabilizing the prison system is certainly violative of prison rules for the prisoners who undertake such actions, and may be against the law for non-prisoners to promote. If such a plan gained any widespread traction, the federal government would certainly invoke the nebulous rationale of “national security,” and would enforce laws whether they existed or not. So, for those who object to this potential illegality, some thoughts:
We all seek freedom. At the base of the Occupy Movement is a struggle for freedom. But “freedom” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, so to be more precise with language, let me attempt to define what freedom is. Freedom is a lack of regulation. A totally free agent is one who is completely unregulated externally. The more regulated you are, the less free.
I think a cogent argument could be made that we currently live in the most un-free (and therefore most-regulated) society in human history. Nazi Germany nor the Soviet regime had access to technology nor to the immediate means of control that this fascist police state has. You can’t get much more un-free than this. You can’t get much more regulated without the government assigning an agent to every man, woman and child, and then assigning an agent to watch over those agents.
To be free, you have to take away the regulator’s ability to regulate you. You won’t talk the regulator out of his power position. He won’t quit his low-down ways because you present to him a logical argument for your freedom. He’s not going to give you your freedom, your lack of regulation, so if you really want it, you’ll have to take it from him.
If you develop an effective plan for taking back your freedom from the regulator, from the oppressor, from the one who writes the laws and rules, chances are he will declare your efforts to be criminal. So, any real effort to get free is a crime.
To get free, you must commit crimes. Only outlaws can gain their freedom.
From another angle, freedom is a state of being unregulated and therefore beyond law, and an outlaw is, by definition, one who is outside the law. Therefore, a free person is an outlaw, a criminal.
Freedom is a crime.
Each law that is broken is a rejection of regulation, is an expansion of freedom. As both Derrick Jensen and Ward Churchill have pointed out, each violation of the law, whatever it is, becomes a fulcrum that can then be used to make the enemy oppressor/regulator’s system more unmanageable, eating up limited resources and diverting his attention to too many emergent problems at once. It becomes too many proverbial watts for his speakers. The cascade begins, the system falls apart, the tide shifts, the bad guys lose the illusion of power.
If you want freedom, the absence of regulation, then you don’t want the oppressor to maintain his tyranny anywhere. You don’t want him left in control of his prisons. You don’t want the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan, you want it out of North America, off the planet, gone. You want the United States out of the United States. If you leave the oppressor anywhere with any power over anything, then you leave him the potential to muster the power to again regulate you. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, in “Masters of War,” it isn’t enough to kill this beast, but we will have to “stand over (its) grave to make sure that (it’s) dead.”
And for purposes of clarity, I should point out that the true enemy is not just government. Bankers, corporations, top-down institutions that coerce our complicity to their vast crimes are also the enemy and the government is simply the principle management-machine of its affairs, as aptly described by Insurgente Marcos in “The Fourth World War Has Begun.”
At any rate, however you attack those oppressive institutions, you will be an outlaw. You will be a criminal.
Freedom is against the law. Freedom is treason.
To defeat the oppressor, in the words of a Jewish nationalist from a couple millennia ago, we can’t leave one stone stacked on top of another. The whole thing must be torn down, including the prisons.
That might be illegal.
So, make the most of it.
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