Writing Prisoners

The Internationalist Prison Books Collective (IPBC) puts together a poster every month with information about political prisoners (PPs) and prisoners of war (POWs) incarcerated in the United States, along with their addresses whose birthdays are that month.
In April last year I was able to participate in a PP’s birthday party at the Dry River Radical Resource Center, an Infoshop located in the Dunbar Spring neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona where we made cards for all the prisoners on the IPBC poster, snacked, took pictures to send along and smashed a piñata. It was a great deal of fun!
Without a doubt, I think the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is one of the flashpoints of class struggle and internal colonialism in the States, and that sending birthday cards to PPs and POWS is the least people who
can should be doing.

After leaving Tucson to work on a farm in Iowa I made a point of continuing to write PPs and POWs using the IPBC poster as both a resource for current contact information and for news on the contemporary struggle against the PIC. My correspondence with prisoners has been both very informative and inspiring!

 
This year, using the Political Prisoner Birthday Party model I picked up in Tucson, I helped start the Riverside Anarchist Birthday Brigade (In Defiance-RABBID) at the Blood Orange Infoshop in Riverside, California.   On the first Saturdays of January and February we converged at the Infoshop to make cards, write letters and talk politics.  The first party was hastily thrown together as I had just arrived in town, but the second one had a theme where we all wore red and black, decked out the space, had plenty of snacks and took pictures to send along with the cards.  We also had plenty of relevant reading materials courtesy of South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross (S Chi ABC) who donated ‘zines to help us get started.  We discussed fundraisers to pay for materials and send money to prisoners, as well as doing on going support work for specific prisoners.

Since leaving Riverside, sadly, since the comrades there who were committed to forwarding me my prisoner correspondence have flaked out on me and not followed up, even though repeatedly asked one of them to, I have lost track of my other prisoners I was writing.  This is very frustrating for a plurality of reasons.  But at the same time, I wouldn’t have taken the political direction that I have, which has led me away from there if it wasn’t for the correspondence in the first place.  Though I started out mostly trying to support those who have struggled for justice in the past and have paid such a heavy price, I was also looking for political direction and have found a great deal of it.

One of the most fascinating things I recently learned about Hamas while reading a book about them called Hamas:  From Resistance to Government by Paola Caridi is that prisoners are considered on of Hamas’s four major constituencies, and most be consulted with for every major dicision the organization makes.  I think any group struggling for liberation in the U$ must also.

Find the IPBC poster at prisonbooks.infoPrisonactivist.org and zinelibrary.info are two other great resources for writing to PPs and POWs. If you haven’t written prisoners before, you may want to check out the great article, Tips On Writing To A Prisoner at prisonerlife.com/tips.cfm.  Here’s the very basics:
•    You have to put a prisoner’s number on the first line so your letter
gets to them.
•    Include a return address on you letter, but if you don’t know the
prisoner it may be best to use a PO Box or other neutral address.
•    Guards may read your letter.  Avoid discussing sensitive topics or
details of a court case if a prisoner is awaiting trial / sentencing.
•    Don’t make promises you can’t keep:  being is prison is isolating and
getting let down can be devastating.  If you’re not looking for a romantic
relationship, be clear about your intentions right from the start.
•    Prisoners are no better or worse than anyone else. Some are flawed so
exercise the same caution you would writing to anyone else you don’t know.
•     Be careful about accepting collect calls from prison — they are
absurdly expensive.

Detroit: I Do Mind Dying

A Study In Urban Revolution Foreword by Manning Marable, by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, 2012 Haymarket Books, Third Edition.  Written for POCO!

This is the most comprehensive account I know of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and like minded organizations both in Detroit and around the U$ in the 1960s and ’70s.  In Manning Marable’s Foreword, other groups such as militant Black autoworkers from New Jersey in the United Black Brothers and Black steelworkers in Maryland organized as the Shipyard Workers for Job Equality from the 1960s and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists from the 1970s are mentioned, followed by the story of the launch of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) by militant participants in a 1968 wildcat strike in Detroit against the Dodge Main plant, and the spread of other Revolutionary Union Movement groups not only in Detroit, but also with autoworkers in California and Maryland, and steelworkers in Alabama.  Marable goes on to describe the Detroit-based RUMs forming the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and its 1970 split.

The Preface to the Third Edition gives 2012 statistics of Detroit, dispels the myth that the League had simply been an out growth of the 1967 Great Rebellion in Detroit by explaining the core members’ pre-Rebellion activism, and gives United Auto Workers (UAW) 2012 statistics in relation to their standing in the 1970s.

The Introduction to the First Edition gives more background information on the city of Detroit, which was the fifth largest city in the U$ at the time, in 1975.  Sources for the book are explained, which included both original materials and extensive interviews.

James Johnson:  A Prologue follows with the story of a Black auto worker who shot two foremen and a jobsetter, killing two of them, after being fired earlier that day in 1970.  His attorney, Kenneth Cockrel, was in the Executive Committee of the League and successfully defended him.

Chapter one is largely about the Inner City Voice (ICV), a Detroit Black newspaper started by veterans of such organizations as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the all Black Freedom Now Party, UHURU, Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) amongst others, and went to print in October 1967.  Monthly printings for the next year averaged 10,000 copies!  The ICV group went on to change to DRUM after the 4,000 strong 1968 wildcat.

Chapter two describes Chrysler business statistics, models, engineering, working conditions and union affairs to set the context for the work of DRUM.

Chapter three starts off with statistics of Wayne State University, where revolutionaries from ICV and DRUM went on to take over the school paper, the South End, which had a daily run of 18,000 and had a payroll!

The initial formation of a local Black Panther Party chapter by the ICV and DRUM membership is also covered, as is local oppression of the Republic of New Africa, and their fighting back.

Chapter four outlines the spread of various RUMs and the formation of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in depth.  Different people, ideas and campaigns are outlined, especially the League’s involvement with the Black Economic Development Conference (BEDC) which had a great deal to do with bringing James Forman of SNCC into the league’s fold.

Chapter five deals largely with working conditions and how race was involved at the Chrysler Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle plant, and the work of the Eldon Revolutionary Union Movement (ELRUM).

Chapter six is largely about the making of a documentary about the League, Finally Got the News, with the Newsreel Collective, and not only how it fit into Detroit’s culture of music and art, but also the League’s special attention to the arts produced by its own membership.

Chapter seven deals with the Black Workers Congress (BWC) which was an attempt to spread the League’s model into a national organization.  The organization’s split is also covered.

Chapter eight backtracks to the Great Rebellion, and continues to backtrack in Michigan history to its beginnings in the slave-free Northwest Territory to give proper historical context to understand both racism and the Black struggle for freedom there.  The chapter is largely about a Detroit police crack squad called Stop Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS) which operated with such ruthlessness that even at one point some of its members shot four deputies and got away with it, in an incident which went on to be known as the Rochester Street Massacre in 1972.

Chapter nine is largely about the election of Marxist Justin Ravitz Judge of Recorder’s Court, and how it fit into Cockrel and his comrades’ election strategy.

Chapter ten begins with the rundown of wildcat strikes that shut down three Chrysler plants in the summer of ’73.  It goes on the describe the radical white movement’s turn towards labor from academia, and the ’73 contract negotiations between Chrysler and the UAW.  Progressive litigation in regard to race and other labor struggles are descried along with urban renewal in Detroit.

Chapter eleven is an add on about thirty years later from the Second Edition.  The roots of the League are reiterated, as the state of capitalism and union struggles in the 1990s U$, and how urban renewal played out in Detroit is described.

There’s also an added on twelfth chapter with the biographical updates of four different people to represent the ongoing legacy of DRUM.

Flagstaff & Northern Arizona Land Struggles

One of the reasons I first came to Flagstaff, Arizona was to teach card weaving, an ancient form of technology for weaving straps, at the Taala Hooghan Infoshop, an indigenous founded collective resource center.  I have been hanging around Infoshops on and off since November of 2002, and have tried to find them as I travel since then.  The second time I had come to Tucson was to volunteer for No More Deaths and to teach a series of card weaving workshops in March and April ’11 at the Dry River Radical Resource Center, an Infoshop that was then located in the Dunbar Spring neighborhood, when a volunteer from the Taala Hooghan, Mark, who was on tour with his bands Let The World Die and Towardis invited me to Flag to share my craft.
I couldn’t go then, but after five months of farming in Iowa, I came back to Arizona via Flag and was able to teach a workshop at the Taala Hooghan.  When I was still in Iowa doing the ground work to return, much to my horror I had found out that the struggle over the San Fransisco Peaks was still going on.  I had first heard of this during my second visit to Tucson in January ’06, when I was able to see The Snow Bowl Effect at Dry River at its first space on St. Mary’s.
According to the website, protectthepeaks.org, “Right now Arizona Snowbowl is expanding development on the San Francisco Peaks by clearcutting 74 acres of rare alpine habitat, with an estimate of approx. 30,000 trees, that is home to threatened species, making new runs and lifts, more parking lots and building a 14.8 mile buried pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons (per season) of wastewater to make artificial snow on 205 acres.
“Snowbowl would be pumping 1.5 million gallons per day, that’s approximately 300,000 flushes from your toilet, storing and spraying this wastewater on a mountain that is held holy by more than 13 Native American tribes.” (1)
A comrade of mine from Protect the Peaks has written to me “they’ve clear-cut all 30,000 acres and are now digging out the 3 square acres for the reclaimed wastewater reservoir and are building the pumphouse. I’m aware that’s what it says on the website, but it hasn’t been updated in awhile, as far as I’m aware.”
Though I came to Flag to teach card weaving, I learned a great deal about the current struggle over the San Francisco Peaks, and came back this year to volunteer for Protect the Peaks. I spent a fair amount of time going door to door talking with people about the Peaks, helped organize a teach-in, attended City Council meetings to support those who spoke out against the use of reclaimed waste water both on the Peaks and in the city, and participated in a couple of demonstrations and a lockdown to defend a tree sit to block construction of the waste water pipeline going to the Peaks.  Originally I was only there to support our comrade doing the tree sit, but after witnessing a couple company goons messing with the life lines that was holding James’s platform in a tree, I volunteered to lockdown to one of the life lines with another comrade to help ensure no one else would mess with it.  This is the sort of networking that I participate in the Infoshop Movement for!
During my first visit to Flag, at the Taala Hooghan I also learned about the land struggle on Black Mesa.  According to the Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS) Collective’s website, “SINCE 1974, federal relocation policy has forced 14,000 Dine’ (Navajo) people from their ancestral homeland in Arizona.
“This genocidal policy was crafted by government agents and energy company representatives in order to gain access to the mineral resources of Black Mesa – billions of tons of coal, uranium and natural gas.
“For over 30 years, traditional Dine’ at Black Mesa have lived in resistance, steadfastly refusing to relocate as strip-mines rip apart their sacred lands and generating plants poison the desert air.” (2)
One of my comrades from the BMIS Collective has told me the number of people who have been displaced is probably much higher, in the tens of thousands.  This year I was also able to go out to Black Mesa to help shear and herd sheep and goats in May, then just to herd again in September. 
One of the other groups that’s very active in town is the Repeal Coalition, which according to their website “is an organization committed to repealing over 60 anti-immigrant laws and bills that have been passed or considered by Arizona politicians in the past few years.”  That “demand the repeal of all laws—federal, state, and local—that degrade and discriminate against undocumented individuals and that deny U.S. citizens their lawful rights.” (3)
At the Taala Hooghan there have been a few different discussion groups going on, that I attend for clarification of thought.  Both to learn and to let people know where I’m coming from with things.  The first such discussion I attended was a Root Beer and Revolution discussion about an upcoming meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in suburban Phoenix, while drinking root beer.  ALEC is a right wing think tank that connects corporations and their model legislation with legislators.  You can learn more about it at alecexposed.org.
This year though, spending far more time in Flagstaff I participated in a number of informal Anartea discussions, pretty much just hanging out and talking politics while drinking tea.  The Root Beer and Revolution discussions, like the one I attended last year more focus, and have been on such subjects as how part of confronting colonialism now is by decolonizing ourselves, and Green Anarchy, Spirituality, and Cultural Appropriation.  Sometimes such discussions can be pretty painful and frustrating, but I think they are critical for people who want to do any kind of political organizing to help people understand each other, and the things we struggle with and against.
I also taught card weaving a couple more times, attended shows, film screenings, and helped prepare and clean up after meals and ate my fair share, especially of the pizza from Dumpster Wars in June when there was a meeting of the Arizona Radical Coalition (ARC) there.  ARC was formed for networking purposes between the three cities that had Infoshops at the time, Tucson, Prescott and Flag; and Phoenix, the sixth most populous city in the U$.  Right now the Taala Hooghan is the only Infoshop in Arizona, but the relationships that have been formed through ARC remain, as do the quarterly meetings held in turn by the four cities.
Also in the same building as the Taala Hooghan Infoshop is Outta Your Backpack Media, which according to their website has since 2004 “has empowered Indigenous youth through free movie making workshops and resource distribution.”  (4)  Though I wasn’t personally involved at all, I enjoyed the films they made and meeting the folks who were.
 
Written for POCO!

A-Zone of our own

(Dis) Connection was “a networking journal for radical collectives and infoshops.” The second issue was written by Chicagoans, and was largely about the Autonomous Zone Infoshop, a collectively run space that operated in the northwest side of Chicago for over ten years in five of its own storefronts and in the back room of another Collective’s space. The words “Left Bank donated $50.00 to assist in our goal of one Uzi per A-Zone member” on the inside cover of the November ‘94 issue instantly sparked my interest. Left Bank Books is a Collectively run, Leftist bookstore in Seattle which has been going since 1973. Successive issues were done in turn by the various cities that had collectives that were part of the project. The other Collectives were also Infoshop/radical community space Collectives that were maintaining storefronts, and thus shared common concerns about interpersonal relationships, gentrification, if paying rent to keep a space going made sense, and what not. I’d only discovered this journal when my comrade, ex-A-Zoner Rachel A., lent me two copies to help with my research for the A-Zone Essay Project. Networking with a radical organization that has been able to keep going for so long is a great opportunity, and journals are a great way to do so for people who can’t make a trip to Seattle or whatever other cities have been able to maintain such long term spaces such as May Day Books which has been going in Minneapolis since 1975.

I would Love to help try to organize a New Connections journal for Punk and/or Collective Houses, Infoshops, and other radical spaces and projects. The fact that we can use the Internet to easily distribute the journal, and allow various Collectives and independent organizers to print an appropriate number of copies and save money on shipping and share the printing costs are just two of the reasons why we can have a similar project now that could go really well. I would like to use a similar format where cities take turns publishing issues to share about the trials and tribulations in the Anti-State of their local movements, without airing too much dirty laundry. Maybe we can have a list serve for that! I would also greatly appreciate input from people who were involved with (Dis) Connection.

Articles in the second issue such as “Against Half-Assed Race and Class Theory and Practice” by Ken Wong, “Gentrifuckation and White Frontier Collectives” and “On Boys In Collectives” were somewhat painful reminders about how many current Leftist activists in general, and participants in the Infoshop Movement in particular are pretty good at re-inventing faulty wheels. Bringing back these past discussions and insights is a large part of the point of that project. When asked to be on a panel about “Zines & Libraries” at Chicago ‘Zine Fest in 2010 when I was doing the research, I made a point in inviting Ken Wong and bringing the two copies of (Dis) Connection with me, and talking about how Wicker Park was still 70% Latin@ at the time the A-Zone was there according to the journal. I brought this up while talking about the current gentrification of Pilsen, for anyone there who still might not be taking it seriously. In the other issue of the journal I was able to check out, #3, Winter 95, one particular article stood out to me, “A-ZONE!? WHAT THE fuck?!?” The article is mostly an analysis of the discussion and its follow up, and a larger one was produced as a pamphlet, Existentialist Blues. I would Love to see a copy, and possibly include it as an appendix to a future edition of the project, or a new one.

In an era of so-called “social networking” websites, these journals were a real charge to get a hold of, and I’m sure I would have read them repeatedly if they were new, and that they would have spurred even more discussions than these old issues have recently. It was also fascinating to see Food Not Bombs in Chicago declared dead forever. There were three different neighborhood chapters going strong when I was reading the journal years later! The death of the Earth First! Movement was also pondered in this 1990s journal, showing how we can often despair when there still is hope. The networking that came formally out of the journal culminated in Active Resistance, a series of events that were held in Chicago in opposition to the Democratic National Convention that met there in 1996. We had an Active Resistance banner hanging on the wall in the main room of the Bucktown space, and the events were the stuff of local legend to me.

I had started the A-Zone Essay Project while volunteering for a space in El Barrio Pilsen, Chicago which had opened to the public as the Sowing Circle in the fall of 2008, and slowly changed to the Lichen Lending Library then La Biblioteca Popular del Barrio by the fall of 2009. I mentioned the A-Zone a great deal in meetings there, and was asked many questions which gave me the idea to put some of the history and lessons learned into print for people not involved with La Biblioteca, but other similar projects. As I’ve traveled the country since then, I’ve shared the ‘zine, The Autonomous Zone Infoshop: The A-Zone & a Decade of Anarchy in Chicago, which came out of the project, with volunteers, collective members and/or hangers-around at such projects as the Dry River Radical Resource Center, the Long Haul Infoshop, and the Taala Hooghan Infoshop. I’ve made a point of making the ‘zine available for free on zinelibrary.info where it can be read online easily or printed out.

Right now I’m mostly involved with the Taala Hooghan Infoshop in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the Collective is currently updating their 2010 DISORIENTATION GUIDE for students, which they’ve made available for free on their website, another great format which I first became familiar with while hanging around the Madison Infoshop in Wisconsin. There has been talk about making a state-wide Disorientation Guide for some time, and after I wrote the first draft of this article, there has been some talk here of making the it the first issue of this journal! If you are interested in supporting this project, I can be reached at alextheweaver at peoplenotprofit dot net.

Last printed by Slingshot! #111.  Max from People Not Profit was the only person to contact me after an earlier version was posted on POCO! and its social media spin offs.  For the time being the project will probably be submerged into their Scene Reports.