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I particularly liked this newsletter by Roger White, Campaign Director, of activist group Critical Resistance. I’ve reproduced parts below.

I especially appreciate White’s reinsertion of slave’s acts of resistance into the historical narrative.

Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued ordering states in the confederacy to release their slaves, Black people in Texas achieved their liberation from chattel bondage. On June 19,1865, General Order Number 3 was read from the Ashton Villa balcony in Galveston, Texas, that demanded that slaveholders free their slaves. That day has become an annual occasion for celebration, reflection, and education about the meaning of freedom and the on-going, universal struggle for liberation from domination.

These questions about the real meaning of freedom are more relevant to the work of abolitionists and those working against the prison industrial complex (PIC) than ever.

Today we struggle with how to stem and reverse the growth of imprisonment, surveillance, and policing. […] In our current work fighting against the construction and expansion of jails and prisons in California and New Orleans, we consistently find that the most durable victories against the PIC take place when the people are active participants in their own liberation. The same resolve that fueled the abolitionists in the state 150 years ago still lives today.

While the history of slave revolt in Texas is less well known, it is why we celebrate Juneteenth today. According to historian James M. Smallwood, “gangs of runaway slaves participated with Indians and Mexicans in a guerrilla-like warfare” against the planter class throughout the 1830’s. Resistance to slavery in Texas included everything from thousands of slave escapees fleeing into Mexico to freedom, to work slowdowns and refusals to submit to the enslavers. This record of resistance counters the popular narrative of a passive Black slave population in Texas that was freed by 2,000 heroic and benevolent Union soldiers on June 19, 1865.

To invoke the language of slavery abolition in calls to end the prison industrial complex may be confusing to some, even perverse to others. ‘What has the struggle to end slavery got to do with 21st century criminals?’ some may ask. For Critical Resistance, however, the inequality between the powerful and the powerless, between the wealthy and the poor are as marked now as ever. Racial bias is in sentencing, in the death penalty, in the drug war; it permeates our criminal justice system.

Critical Resistance is a member-led and member-run grassroots movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. Critical Resistance refers to their form of activism as abolitionism very deliberately:

“We call our vision abolition, drawing, in part from the legacy of the abolition of slavery in the 1800′s. As PIC abolitionists we understand that the prison industrial complex is not a broken system to be fixed. The system, rather, works precisely as it is designed to — to contain, control, and kill those people representing the greatest threats to state power.”

Read more on the logic behind CR’s language here. This brief history of CR’s trajectory will also help in positioning them on the political spectrum, which, is to say the far left.

I’ve been thinking about the absolute necessity of peoples’ power recently — about how it emerged briefly during Occupy and wondering where and how it bubbles since. I’m inspired by protests outside of prisons in solidarity with prisoners and when I hear about groups such as DecarceratePA marching from Philadelphia to the capitol in Harrisburg, I’m inspired and wish I could be with them. Walking (or standing) are distinctly undervalued forms of civil disobedience.

Measuring the successes of Occupy is a tricky proposition. Most people will admit that it shifted the politics of a national debate on economic justice back toward the centre, toward the interests of everyday people. Grassroots activism is achieving that constantly at a local level. I just wanted to celebrate that on this, the anniversary of one of the more progressive steps toward equity in American history. Love our neighbours and fight for them.

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