From Behind Bars: "Go All In" in the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration
The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund received the following letter from a prisoner in the Midwest:
April 10th, Tuesday 2012
To Whom This May Concern,
I'm writing to respond to the March 25th, 2012, article in the paper (NO. 263) titled "Raise the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration to a New Level." This particular article and call comes at no better time than NOW; and I fully attach my unconditional support behind it. I'm not sure how many readers are fully cognizant of the historic importance of this determined campaign by the Party to "go all in" (to use a poker expression for a moment), but I am. By writing this letter to the Revolution, it's my hope that others will come to recognize the same significance of this stage in our development of a movement for revolution and why it's necessary to make this particular issue a principal focal point as we ultimately strive to resolve the FUNDMENTAL CONTRADICTION of this decadent system: where "[y]ou have highly socialized production, but very privatized appropriation by a small class of people called capitalists." (BAsics 3:5) As that particular quote goes on to state:
But in that contradiction lies the basis for the overthrow of the system, as that class that carries out socialized production becomes conscious of this contradiction and of all of its consequences, and rises up and rallies its allies, as it is led by a vanguard party that brings it the consciousness to do this, and it eventually overthrows the system and resolves this contradiction through a whole long complex process whereby, step by step, it socializes the appropriation of what is socially produced and distributes it increasingly according to the needs of the people, not according to the dictates of the accumulation of private capital. (p.75)While the above quote illustrates what's ultimately the fundamental contradiction of this system and how it will ultimately be resolved, there's always two or more contradictions at any given time that's always driving the resolution and/or mitigation of this fundamental contradiction forward which we refer to as the principle contradiction—which itself varies according to the changing objective conditions in society at any given moment. BA touches on this in his statement on "Some Principles for Building a Movement for Revolution" in which he states in part:
At every point, we must be searching out the key concentrations of social contradictions and the methods and forms which can strengthen the political consciousness of the masses, as well as their fighting capacity and organization in carrying out political resistance against the crimes of this system; which can increasingly bring the necessity, and the possibility, of a radically different world to life for growing numbers of people; and which can strengthen the understanding and determination of the advanced, revolutionary-minded masses in particular to take up our strategic objectives not merely as far-off and essentially abstract goals (or ideals) but as things to be actively striven for and built toward.This statement is not found in every Revolution paper just because it sounds good or because it's a "great ideal," but it's in every one because there's a real material basis to that statement, since it reflects the ever-changing dynamics in society itself as new contradictions take front stage while older ones are either resolved or partially mitigated.
To return to the Party's call to "Raise the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration to a New Level," is comparable in many ways to the '50's and '60's being a time when the social movements in this country were struggling to put an end to the Old Jim Crow racial caste system in America. The main difference between what some of those movements represented such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headed by Martin Luther King and movements like the Black Panther Party, was that while the former saw the resolution of this contradiction through a reformist lens, the latter saw it only being resolved through revolution. Of the two orientations, the RCP represents the latter strategy as well today, as it confronts "The New Jim Crow" system which Michelle Alexander eloquently sheds light upon in her book of the same name.
Due to the unfortunate circumstances of the modern-day lynching of Trayvon Martin, I see not only a historic parallel between the lynching of Emmet Till back in 1955, but I also see how it embodies the social awakening to action, which Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat to a white man in that same year (1955) caused. Both this incident and the Party's call to abolition the New Jim Crow—which its announcement to "Raise the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration to New Level" really represents—are a part of the same principle contradiction at this given time. As Michelle Alexander explains in her book The New Jim Crow to even "look like" a criminal (as Trayvon Martin was racially profiled as being)—which nine times out of ten, is code word for being young, Black or Latino, and male—is enough to forever be marginalized or even murdered under this New Jim Crow Era that thrives off of the so-called "War on Drugs" and its policy of mass incarceration. Without analyzing the Trayvon Martin incident from under this lens, it's impossible to fully apprehend the racial dynamics at play (consciously or unconsciously) which caused Zimmerman to only see a "suspicious person" (read: criminal) underneath that hoodie that day.
Today a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or a black person living "free" in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow. Those released from prison or parole can be stopped and searched by the police for any reason—or no reason at all—and returned to prison for the most minor of infractions, such as failing to attend a meeting with a parole officer. Even when released from the system's formal control, the stigma of criminality lingers. Police supervision, monitoring, and harassment are facts of life not only for all those labeled criminals, but for all those who "look like" criminals. Lynch mobs may be long gone, but the threat of police violence is ever present. A wrong move or sudden gesture could mean massive retaliation by the police. A wallet could be mistaken for a gun. The "whites only" signs may be gone, but new signs have gone up—notices placed in job applications, rental agreements, loan applications, forms for welfare benefits, school applications, and petitions for licenses, informing the general public that "felons" are not wanted here. A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind—discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service. Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote. ([The New Jim Crow] p. 141—my emphasis)
Although George Zimmerman may have only been a wanna-be "Robo Cop," again the fact remains that the "suspiciousness" that Zimmerman saw in Trayvon, was the type of "suspiciousness" that every Black and Latino youth or young adult faces every day within this New Jim [Crow] Era. The only way to uproot this predicament is to continually "Raise the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration to a New Level," with the ultimate aim to "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution."
With that said, I believe that as we strive to develop and build this campaign against mass incarceration, that we should utilize this important book by Michelle Alexander as an integral teaching tool and rallying point. I think every Revolution bookstore, for instance, should dedicate at least a day each week to discuss and engage it in the same way that BAsics or the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) is. I believe such an approach will deepen and widen the campaign to stop mass incarceration with an informed commitment—something of which I'm sure Carl Dix has already begun to do as he presses ahead with this facet of the movement; and I applaud him for doing so. I just believe this needs to be repeated and deepen on a wider scale, if it hasn't already.
Lastly, I would also suggest trying to enlist Michelle Alexander herself at one of these talks or conferences, while taping it and using it as an informative D.V.D. for the overall movement. I really believe giving her a platform and a wider audience to appeal to will be key in bridging the gap and forming alliances between various social movements, that's placed stopping mass incarceration as an agenda and focal point.
I'm going to close now, but I just want to convey how inspired I am as I've watched the grassroots activism that has been unleashed of lately, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the social movement in the making behind the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. There's no doubt in my mind, that the confluence of these two movements—along with the campaign to end mass incarceration—has the potential of ushering in a new level of political consciousness and activism that will ultimately end in the proletariat finally resolving the FUNDAMENTAL CONTRADICTION of this decadent system, which I spoke to earlier. It's with this ultimate objective in mind, that gives me a real "audacity of hope" this election season, since I've been able to see for the first time "a real change I can believe in"—and not one that's nothing, but a bourgeois democratic illusion.
Again, I hope this letter helps enable others to see the historic importance of the RCP's call to "Raise the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration to a New Level." It's really the principal contradiction at this given moment, that we can't afford to overlook and [not] confront.