Over the last year working people along with our brothers and sisters behind prison walls have won some important victories against the propertied rulers who look to restrict our rights and make us pay for the deepening economic, political and moral crisis of capitalism.
In November, Florida’s Amendment 4 passed overwhelmingly, restoring voting rights to well over a million former prisoners who have completed their parole. Workers in Kentucky, Iowa and other states where the laws restrict prisoners’ right to vote are organizing to build on this victory.
Opposition to death penalty executions in the U.S. — which is the epitome of “cruel and unusual punishment” — continues to grow, and the number of executions to decline.
We celebrate the release of former Black Panthers Herman Bell and Robert Seth Hayes, after more than 40 years in prison; of father and son Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, framed for standing up to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; and of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan, after the frame-up case against them for standing up to government attempts to confiscate their cattle was tossed out.
Our class also won fights against prison censorship, from defeating the most recent attempt by Florida authorities to keep the Militant out of prisons there, to attempts to restrict access to books in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, as well as in federal prisons.
The total number of people in the U.S. prison system continues its slight decline, the trend since 2008. But over 90 percent of those locked up were strong-armed into signing plea bargains under threat of draconian sentences.
Despite the small decline the capitalist rulers in the U.S. still have the distinction of presiding over the highest incarceration rate in the world, with nearly 2.2 million behind bars and 4.6 million on parole or probation.
Working people in city and countryside are all too familiar with the cops, courts and prisons of the rulers’ so-called criminal justice system. They are all part of the rulers’ arsenal used to intimidate the working class from struggle, and to foster divisions among us. It falls disproportionately on Blacks, who make up some 34 percent of those convicted of felonies, even though African-Americans are just 13 percent of the country’s population.
We call for the release of all remaining Black Panthers who are in prison, including Ed Poindexter in Nebraska and Jalil Muntaqim in New York; of Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist framed on murder charges and cruelly imprisoned for decades far from his family; and Mumia Abu-Jamal who was railroaded into jail in Pennsylvania in 1982 and has had to fight to get the medical care he needs. And of all class-struggle and political prisoners worldwide, like Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov framed up and imprisoned in Moscow’s gulag.
The rulers and their meritocratic state bureaucracies look at all workers as “outlaws.”
The working class is the future of humanity. As Malcolm X explained from his experiences behind bars, the key for us isn’t our oppression, but to recognize our self-worth. In struggle we can be transformed, throwing off the self-image the rulers impose on us, and conquer the capacity to wrest political power out of their hands.
To be able to organize effectively and intelligently we need to learn the lessons and history of past working-class struggles. This is key to building a working-class party and movement that can change the miserable conditions created by capitalism.
We invite workers behind bars to get a subscription to the Militant and order books from Pathfinder Press, invaluable tools in advancing ourselves and our participation in the class battles unfolding today.