Endorse the Sept 9th Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Work Stoppage and Protest!

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Prisoners across the US have called for and are planning a nationally coordinated work stoppage and protest on September 9th. Read the call to action here.

This action deserves and would benefit greatly from robust outside support. If you are engaged in any kind of work against mass incarceration, whether as an individual or organization, please consider supporting the strike.

Send your endorsements and pledges of support to PrisonerResistance@gmail.com and we will publish them on this site and make sure you’re getting updates about ways to make good on that pledge.

If you have concerns or misgivings, please check out the frequently asked questions below, or contact us and we’d be happy to discuss it with you or your organization. Thank you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Sept 9th?
Why 2016?
Who is calling for the strike?
Why does the language refer to prison slavery?
This action has the potential to put incarcerated persons in extremely dangerous situations if it isn’t well-backed and thought through. What about the danger?
What about demands, tactics and strategies?
How many / which prisoners are on board with the strike?

Who is coordinating outside support for this effort?
What is IWOC, how did it start?
What kind of support is needed?
ny other questions or concerns?

Why Sept 9th?

September 9th 2016 is the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion. Attica, as America’s most notorious prisoner uprising has symbolic value for all prisoners. It occurred during a time of great prisoner resistance and agitation in this country. That spirit of resistance has returned in recent years and the demands of prisoners today are much the same as the demands of prisoners back then. Other dates were considered, but were rejected because they may resonate only with certain racial groups or identities within prison. Attica is almost universally recognized as an inspiring symbol of prisoner resistance.

Why 2016?

We have been working hard to build support for years. Meanwhile, prisoners have been demonstrating committed resistance and escalating their struggles. The plan to call for a national strike solidified in late 2015. The date and language was pretty much finalized in mid march of 2016. Then the Holman rebellions happened, then the Texas work stoppage announcement came out. The time is now because decentralized prisoners know it intuitively and have already moved to action.

This year is also an election year and a few major candidates have begun paying lip-service to mass incarceration reform. America is finally talking about prison again, and it is important that the voices of the prisoners be included. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow has been perhaps the most-heard voice on prison issues in recent years. Her contributions are valuable, but a legal scholar married to a prosecutor is naturally going to have a very different perspective than the people who’ve been targeted and held captive by the US prison system.

For example, there is a bipartisan coalition forming on mass incarceration which includes detestable conservatives like the Koch brothers, Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton, who will address prison according to the priority and timeline of fiscal concerns and political expediency. They may reduce prison populations, but will supplement it with more affordable and effective forms of coercion and institutional violence against the same communities the prison system currently targets. Further left activists and politicians, like Bernie Sanders tend to talk about side issues, like private prisons, as though that is the entirety of the problem (its not). Prisoners’ perspective is needed to actually understand and undo the White Supremacist and classist system of mass incarceration that suffocates so many in America today.

The September 9th mobilization will throw whichever prisons it touches into crisis. This will not only insert prisoner’s voices into the national discussion on mass incarceration, it will exert their leverage to force change according to their priorities, concerns and time line.


Who is calling for the strike?

Prisoners in Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Virginia and elsewhere. Outside supporters helped with communication across prison fences and state borders to draft the actual call, but the effort is entirely led by prisoners. We understand the risks to prisoners for withholding their labor and we do not lead, coerce, cajole, or encourage them to do anything. Many of the prisoners involved prefer to remain anonymous (as do many outside supporters) rather than sticking their necks out as leaders, but members of the Free Alabama Movement and Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan in Ohio have publicly discussed their involvement in the initial planning.


Why does the language refer to prison slavery?

Because prison labor is slavery. From the call out, “Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states ‘neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.’ Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished.”

The Free Alabama Movement spearheaded the rhetorical position around slavery. See their Let the Crops Rot in the Fields strategy outline for examples and analysis. This framing resonates with many prisoners across the country, but especially in the southeast. Texas prisoners also describe their labor in terms of slavery in their call to action for the April 4th work stoppage. Even the US government itself recognizes convict labor as slavery, hypocritically detaining the import of products made by prisoners in China, while turning a blind eye to what occurs regularly in domestic prisons.
Prisoners in other states concerns vary. This is why the September 9th action is often described as a “work stoppage and protest.” The leaders want prisoners in other states to organize around what is relevant to their situations and conditions of confinement.

Labor exploitation is not the only concern for prisoners, and many do not mobilize around the kinds of demands The Free Alabama Movement have issued. There are many organizing around the use of violence, harassment, and solitary confinement, around medical neglect, food safety and quality, long sentences, unjust punishments, and the very concept of prison, police and control. The drafters of the strike call welcome all struggles based on uniting prisoners against their captors and recognize the importance of each location or participant determining their own terms and demands of their engagement with the coordinated action.


This action has the potential to put incarcerated persons in extremely dangerous situations if it isn’t well-backed and thought through. What about the danger?

Prisoners are in the greatest danger when they are not supported. There have been a series of collective mobilizations already this year. Prisoners are often moved to defend themselves in ways that increase risk of retaliation, sometimes collectively sometimes individually. The Sept 9th strike is not an effort to provoke prisoners who are safe and passive, it is an effort to coordinate actively resisting prisoners so that their actions occur together, gaining the advantage of national attention and robust outside support.

Prisoners in Texas announced and conducted the April work stoppage before hearing about the Sept 9th call. Michigan prisoners have been engaged in frequent mass food protests for months prior to the call being public. Wisconsin solitary confinement prisoners are refusing food in June despite WI DOC’s effective censorship of mail that includes “incendiary language” as tame as the word “petition” let alone any mention of Sept 9th. By endorsing the call, you would not be leading prisoners into danger, you would be catching up with them and having their backs.

The call is out there, is being heard enthusiastically, and many prisoners are going to do it. Your endorsement today and active support in September could go a long way to limiting the violence of the authorities in response to prisoner action. If your concern is for prisoners’ safety, the right thing to do is to endorse the strike.


What about demands, tactics and strategies?

The prisoners calling for the strike recognize that folks in different states, facilities and security levels struggle on very different terrain. Conditions of confinement, primary grievances, and levels of outside support vary greatly. They call for each group of striking prisoners to draft their own demands based on their own needs and assessment of their conditions.

The September 9th call is for a work stoppage because withholding labor provides the economic leverage necessary to stop the system and to win the demands, but the organizers respect that not every prisoner is in a position to participate safely on that level and they hope to see a wide variety of protest tactics – from food strikes like prisoners in Michigan have been engaged in, to commissary boycotts, hunger strikes, mass grievance floods or more symbolic protests.

A major tactical concern to prisoners organizing something like this is the question of outside support. From the call: “A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside.” Your endorsement and active demonstration of support help prisoners determine and choose their types of involvement.

Between now and September 9th, there are many opportunities for solidarity actions on the outside. Protests supporting a prisoners anywhere open opportunities to show how many people we are able to mobilize to what type of action in each region. There will also specific days when people can mobilize. Prisoners will then have an idea of what outside support in their state looks like and can choose their level of participation accordingly.

How many / what prisoners are on board for September 9th?

This is obviously an unpredictable number and a very difficult question to answer. Here are a couple ways we can try:

In terms of precedent, there were enough prisoners participating in the Texas work stoppage in April to shut down 7 facilities for at least a short time and a few remained on lockdown for most of the month of April. For the May Day work stoppage in Alabama, Holman Correctional was shut down for the entire week, and five other facilities were on board for at least a day or two. They planned to hold out longer, but achieved their primary short term goal on the second day, and were undermined by ADOC coercing work release prisoners into scabbing against the strike. Michigan meal refusals (not full hunger strikes, but collective boycotts of particular meals to demonstrate unity) included very high participation in three different facilities and also appear to have pre-empted any notice about the nationally coordination for September.
In January of 2014, the first and larger Free Alabama Movement work stoppage had been discussed for a while, but it wasn’t until prisoners in Holman started the strike and held it for a few days before it spread to the other maximum security joints in the state, eventually shutting down much of ADOC. Similarly, the California hunger strikes rose like tidal waves out of the short corridor SHU unit at Pelican Bay, the first strike in 2011 involved a few thousand prisoners, and the follow up in 2013 reached 60,000 prisoners in a rolling hunger strike – that is a hunger strike where some people participate for a few days or a week, and then go off, while others refused food for the entire 60 day period. Regardless of what turn out we predict right now, it might be that September 9th participation doesn’t actually peak until days or weeks after, as the initial groups inspire others.

In terms of raw numbers, IWOC has signed up more than 700 prisoners, some version of the strike announcement or the Sept 9th date has gone out in magazines and newspapers with prisoner subscription levels in the tens of thousands, each copy of which is often passed around and read by a dozen people. This type of newsletter inreach was essential to the success of the California hunger strikes. People knew about the hunger strikes there well before they occurred (especially the second round of them) so they got on board quickly at that time. The same is occurring on an uneven scale across the country today. IWOC, ABC and other uncompromising support organizations or projects have been sending mass mailings and navigating mailroom censorship policies for months.
It is impossible to know exactly how successful this spread of information on the inside as been. It is, by necessity as well as design, a very decentralized effort. Censorship in prison mailrooms is rampant, arbitrary and unpredictable. Staff often cross constitutional or official policy thresholds. These censorship policies are not completely perfect or efficient. Many letters do get through and new contacts are being established every day.

In terms of support, visible demonstrations of outside support let the prisoners know that people have their back and enable them to participate with less fear of retaliation. We expect strike participation to be uneven across the country, and strongest in the places where either prisoners have already gained national attention with large scale actions, or where outside activists have demonstrated robust support. The turn out for such protests has grown considerably. People are demonstrating support and representing hard across the country. Here is a feed of support actions, and here is a list of dates we expect to see more mobilizations happen. If you or your organization is active in these places, please link up with groups doing this work. If you’re active in a place that doesn’t yet have a lot going on, please share your activities with us by emailing SPR at prisonerresistance@gmail.com and we will get you in touch with anyone else in your vicinity who does the same.



Who is coordinating outside support for this effort?

Outside support is decentralized. A loose network of prisoner support groups have been doing in-reach to prisoners, spreading the word through letter writing, prisoner newsletters, visits and phone calls and well as out-reach to support communities. The Free Alabama Movement, the IWW and participants in last year’s North American Anarchist Black Cross conference started the efforts off, but The Ordinary People’s Society, The National Lawyers Guild, and multiple Freedom Movements (Free Virginia Movement, Free Ohio Movement) have either endorsed the call or participated in support work, along with many other prisoner support groups, projects and individuals across the country.

Organizations and individuals are encouraged to endorse and pledge support for the strike. Here are a couple of examples of endorsements (NLG and IWW) if you would like to see language others have used.


What is IWOC, how did it start?

IWOC is a committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It stands for Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. IWOC has been gathering outside support since the beginning of 2014. It provides support to the prisoners who are withholding their labor or otherwise resisting abuse, slavery, or torture.

IWOC started when members of the Free Alabama Movement contacted Lee Wood, author of the book Prison Slavery**. Lee recommended that they contact the IWW. There were some conference calls and they decided that instead of treating this like a one-off workplace campaign, they would form a standing committee in the IWW and see this work through.

IWW membership is now available for free to all prisoners in the world, however, membership is in no way a requirement to appeal to IWOC for support. There are currently functioning chapters in 14 states in the US and many individuals and groups in the process of getting oriented, as well as branches growing in the UK.

IWOC is actively expanding membership, building branches, collecting donations, and hiring organizers. They are committed to not only supporting the strike, but building strong prisoner labor organizing that will continue past September 9th.

What kind of support is needed?

There are a number of ways to support the September 9th strike.
1. Spread the word, build the network. There are many resources, articles and interviews available on SPR sending these to your contacts on either side of the prison fences can go a long way to inspiring and coordinating organizing. There are also groups planning regional convergences / conference calls / actions. Email us at PrisonerResistance@gmail.com and we’d be happy to connect you with others in your region who are organizing.
2. Direct action following prisoners’ lead. Communicating across prison barriers can be very difficult, but it is possible, contact us for suggestions. The most important component of this action is that it is focused on self-empowered moves that interrupt the routine functioning and maintenance of correctional facilities, rather than on court cases, policy shifts and other professionalized slow processes that occur on the landscape and timelines of the very people who built and maintained these facilities in the first place. Prisoners have called for rallies and demonstrations at the prisons whenever there is action happening inside. Demonstrating at central offices or the headquarters and storefronts of companies that profit from prison labor, or any highly visible public place are also encouraged. Here are some dates and events leading up to and following after September 9th you could mobilize around.
3. Support organizations that are already plugged in. On this page you can find a list of groups doing this support work, including their websites. Making donations to these organizations or volunteering your time to them will help them cover postage and travel costs, and any other work that they do.

Any other questions or concerns?

Please do not hesitate to contact us through PrisonerResistance@gmail.com we would love to answer your questions and enhance this document. Thank you!