My students, coworkers, and I have been closely following developments in the California prisons. There have been several hunger strikes over the past few years, and because prisoners’ demands have not been met, they are going to resume a state-wide hunger strike on Monday, July 8th. They are also planning a labor strike that will disrupt the functioning of the prisons. The leadership of all of the racial groups in the CA prisons, including the gangs, have declared an end to hostilities among inmates, so that they can unite in the strike.
3. EDUCATION: Provide relevant and specialized educational programs to all res- idents even after they have graduated from High School. These could include cos- metology, music/multimedia production, library access, law training, culinary arts, and more. There are plenty of rooms that are currently not being used for anything but storage. They should be used.
My students were deeply moved by this when we discussed it this week. Many of them have been incarcerated, or have loved ones who are currently behind bars. They were impressed to see youth taking the lead, even under such difficult circumstances.
A number of students were saying “if all the races can unite inside, why can’t we do it here on the outside?” Others were saying that it is easier to organize in prisons then it is in schools and neighborhoods because out here we are not forced together, there are too many distractions, and it’s easier for the system to turn different racial groups, gangs, and neighborhoods against each other to break solidarity.
Some students also argued that if the prisoners’ demands are met, then people might actually try to go to prison because they will be receiving better education and social services on the inside then their communities have access to here on the outside. Other students replied that none of this compensates for a person’s freedom being taken away, and that prison is still terrible and noone would go there willingly.
In any case, everyone agreed that our committees should have full access to education on the outside, and everyone was inspired by the fact that the prisoners are demanding education. Some students said that that people will be more likely to fight back against cuts to our schools if prisoners win access to quality education. Instead of saying “why can they have it if we can’t?”, people might say “they are fighting for it, and so should we”.
In any case, these questions highlight the importance of building a movement on the outside to support these strikes in the prisons and to also add our own demands.
To prevent the kind of dynamics my students warned against, we should demand immediate access to quality, relevant, creative education for everyone both inside and outside of prisons. We should also demand an end to the school to prison pipeline that pushes youth of color into prison, and an eventual end to youth incarceration period, rerouting funding for incarceration into community-based support and educational alternatives for everyone.
There will be a solidarity rally Monday the 8th in Seattle at noon, at the King County Jail to support the prison strikers’ demands.
Teachers might also want to ask ourselves: if prisoners can get together and strike, why can’t we? With all of the corporate ed. deform/ privatization agendas being shoved down our throats, we can hardly teach anymore. Instead of trying to retire, shift careers, or grit our teeth and bear it, what if we came together and took collective action? In many ways, the prisoners are at the forefront of the U.S. labor movement; they are some of the most controlled, repressed, and exploited workers in the country, whose conditions are basically slave labor. And yet, they still rise. That should be an inspiration to all of us. Especially when at least one prisoner (long time political prisoner Mumia Abul Jamal) is rooting for us in our struggles against the daily disrespect we are facing in this age of corporate privatization.