On September 9th, 1971 the Attica Correctional Facility in the State of New York exploded in rebellion. Less than two weeks after the killing of imprisoned black revolutionary George Jackson inmates attempted to free a fellow inmate from his cell after reports that he was being tortured. When guards realized that prisoners had successfully come to the aid of their fellow inmate they attempted to collectively punish the prisoners. Instead of being punished the prisoners revolted. Almost 1,500 inmates in Cell Block D rebelled and seized control over the Attica Correctional Facility several months after they had formally submitted a 27-point manifesto to the prison administration and the media with a list of demands for prison reforms and an end to racism and brutality against prisoners.
At the time of the uprising, there were 2,300 inmates living in a facility built for 1,600. Though over 60 percent of inmates were Black and Latino the prison was completely run by white guards and employees, many of whom were openly racist..Prisoners were only allowed one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. Their mail was heavily censored to cut out anything involving prisons and prisoners’ rights. The medical neglect within the facility was criminal. Guards often pitted inmates against each other to incite racial violence.Inmates also labored for 40 cents a day, assembling mattresses, shoes and license plates.
The level of unity that developed among prisoners was nearly unprecedented. There were four days of negotiations, until then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered state police to take back control of the prison by brutal force. When the uprising was over, at least 39 people were dead, hundreds were left maimed and wounded and the prisoners left were subjected to extreme brutality and torture. Those who were considered leaders, the prisoner negotiators, spokesmen and security men, were singled out for prolonged abuse. The example of the Attica prisoners uniting and standing up for their rights and dignity in the face of such intense repression inspired and electrified people around the world.
The Attica prison uprising was by no means an isolated or spontaneous clash. It came as a revolutionary mood swept through Black and Latino communities and other progressive sectors of the population in the United States.By September 1971, the Civil Rights movement had transformed itself into a movement for national liberation among the Black, Puerto Rican and Chicano populations.Starting in 1964, rebellions swept urban areas throughout the United States. Major insurrections took place in Rochester, Harlem, Watts, Newark, Detroit and other cities. When Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered in 1968 more than 120 cities went up in flames as young people battled police, National Guard units and state troopers.Revolutionary organizations like the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party were militantly organizing in urban communities. Millions of people were protesting the Vietnam War and joining the women’s and LGBT liberation movements.
This revolutionary mood in the community sank deep roots within the prisoner population too. The Attica prisoners were reading revolutionary newspapers. They were studying Marx and Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Kwame Nkrumah, and Franz Fanon and reading socialist, communist and revolutionary nationalist newspapers.Prisoners were staging uprisings all over the country, not just in Attica, New York. The rebellions were extensions of the national liberation struggles happening all over the United States.
Attica Blues - Archie Shepp
Today September 9th on the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion, prisoners across the United States will begin a strike that will be a general work stoppage against prison slavery. In short, prisoners will refuse to work; they will refuse to keep the prisons running by their own labors. Prisoners are striking not just for better conditions or changes in parole rules, but against prison slavery. Prisoners state that under the 13th Amendment which abolished racial slavery, at the same time it allowed human beings to be worked for free or next to nothing as long as they were prisoners. Prisoners see the current system of prison slavery to thus be a continuation of racial slavery, which is a system that generates billions of dollars in profits each year for major corporations in key industries such as fossil fuels, fast food, banking, and the US military.
Due to all of these factors, at the present time round 1 in 100 American adults is locked behind bars, and many more are on probation, parole, house arrest, or in immigrant detention facilities. While African-Americans, Native, Latino, and poor whites make up the bulk of the prison population, black, brown, and red convicts make up much a higher percentage of inmates than their white counter-parts. For instance, there are currently more African-American people locked within the prison industrial complex than were held in racialized slavery prior to the American civil war in the 1860s. It is in this climate in the footsteps of their predecessors at Attica that today's prison rebels have organized themselves to carry out the strike.
45 years after Attica the cruel mass incarceration system in the USA that is still inherently merciless and immoral and must continue to be exposed.A radical vision for change behind bars is still urgently needed, and it was powerfully captured in the Manifesto of Demands read out by LD Barkley, one of the leaders of the Attica rebellion who was killed along with 38 others when the prison was violently re-taken:
We are men! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States.
What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed...We call upon all the conscientious citizens of America to assist us in putting an end to this situation that threatens not only our lives, but each and every citizen as well.