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Speeches by Critical Resistance Activists

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This weekend, a major conference took place at the University of California, Berkeley. It was called Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison-Industrial Complex.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

Today, we’re going to be bringing you the second part of our two-day series on the Critical Resistance conference that took place this last weekend in Berkeley, California, at the University of California. More than 2,000 people, some say 3,000 people, went to this conference, which shows the growing grassroots movement around prisons in this country, this at a time when prison building is at an all-time high, even when violent crime is going down around the country. These were some of the issues that were raised at the conference.

Yesterday, we brought you the speech of Angela Davis. She was one of the chief organizers of the conference. The University of California professor who teaches history of consciousness and is a former Black Panther has made the issues of prison her life work. But there were a number of other people who were at the conference, people who have been organizing around prisons for many years. And we’re going to be playing a few of those speeches today.

After that, we’re going to be talking about what’s happening in Germany with the upset election that’s led to the victory of a Social Democrat. And now this week he will be organizing with the Green Party to form a coalition government. What does this mean, this so-called green-red coalition. We’ll be speaking with Martin Lee, who’s the co-founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and is also author of a book on the emergence of fascism in Europe. It’s called The Beast Reawakens.

But for right now we go to that conference that happened in California this weekend. And we’re going to bring you a short speech by Mike Davis — Mike Davis, a MacArthur fellow, Mike Davis, who has written extensively about California and national politics, speaking at Critical Resistance.

MIKE DAVIS: I’ll be very brief. Our brother Daniel Lee Anders, release date year 2024. for organizing the largest inmate insurrection in the modern history of Arizona, has asked me to convey to you his love and best wishes for this conference.

I brought a piece of my driveway along. The Romans claim to have invented concrete, plaster of Paris and gravel. And when I was a child growing up in California in the 1950s, this is what the California dream was made out of. This is the substance of it. You know, great dams, new highways, schools, hospitals everywhere — and for a lot of Californians, and if not all, unionized good jobs.

Now I look at concrete, and it seems like something rather sinister. There’s too much of the stink of claustrophobia and human oppression and slavery about it. And you can’t go anywhere in California these days, in rural California, in the deserts, in the cotton fields, or even in the redwoods, without seeing the gray prison walls looming up on the horizon.

And they really look like warehouses. And when I was doing a story for The Nation magazine at Calipatria prison in Imperial County, one of the administrators turned to me, and he said, “Yeah, warehouses.” He says, “What we actually are” — and he said it with a sneer — “we’re human landfills.”

To appreciate the real inhumanity and brutality at what’s been done in California, you have to read the literature of what’s called the “new penology.” Yeah, this is the theoretical literature that lays behind the construction of vast prison systems. And what you find is penologists don’t talk anymore about rehabilitation. But they also don’t talk about punishment anymore. The key word is immobilizing the strategic age cohorts — in other words, warehousing Americans whose ancestors for 400 years, you know, labored to build this country in the cotton fields and the factories, but because their labor is no longer necessary to the economy, we warehouse them instead.

Although the cost of this warehousing — the cost of this warehousing is the price of that California I grew up in, because it doesn’t exist anymore. Each of those prisons is a school or a hospital that will never be built. And this California gulag archipelago is more of a direct threat and immediate danger, more of a hazard to the health of people of California than the San Andreas Fault.

Now, no society since Nazi Germany has built so many prisons in such a short period of time. Upton Sinclair, the great California radical and socialist author, once said in the 1930s — he says, “You know, if fascism ever comes to the United States, it’ll come in California first.”

We need to ask the question: Who’s responsible for this? The easiest answer is to say Pete Wilson, Dan Lungren, Deukmejian. But I’m afraid the real answer is a little more complicated, because this gulag archipelago is simply the greatest bipartisan public works program of the last generation. It was built by the spineless Democrats as much as it was built by malicious Republicans. It was built by Willie Brown, not having the courage of his convictions that three strikes was an utter disaster for California, not lifting a finger to oppose it.

According to a study that RAND did a few years ago, in a single 10-year period, the California Legislature passed over a thousand individual acts of legislation either creating new penalties or stiffening penalties that already exist. And this was simply without precedent in the history of the United States.

So, let me end by just saying, “What do you do when you have these gray concrete walls? How do you knock a concrete wall down?” Well, the answer is you need a hammer. And you’re the hammer. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Mike Davis speaking at the Critical Resistance conference at the University of California at Berkeley this weekend.

We’re now going to turn to Juan Lopez, who is a Puerto Rican activist, active on the issue of prisons. And when he begins, he’ll start off by talking about someone in the audience that others mentioned, as well. When Angela Davis spoke at this plenary session, she, too, said that she could not begin without recognizing the presence of Rafael Cancel Miranda. He was a — he is a Puerto Rican nationalist who spent 19 years in prison. He was part of the group of Puerto Rican nationalists who in 1954 shot up Congress. And that is how Juan Lopez begins his speech

JUAN LOPEZ: ¡Que viva Puerto Rico libre! Thank you. Before I begin, because obviously we do have a very tight time element here, I want to acknowledge the presence of one of Puerto Rico’s greatest living heroes, a man who spent a quarter of a century in prison: Rafael Cancel Miranda.

By the way, those of you who may doubt the idea that the simplest form of struggle can sometimes have incredible significance, all you have to do is study what many of us have done in the Puerto Rican independence movement in terms of the Puerto Rican political prisoners. And when we see that Rafael Cancel Miranda and the nationalists of the ’50s were put away — in the case of Oscar Collazo, for life — and that the U.S. government was forced, ultimately, to let them free unconditionally, it definitely says to us that whatever we do, whatever we do, and sometimes the smallest things — today, we were talking to Rafael about the letters that young people in our school began to write to him in 1971 and ’72, and that out of those letters came an entire movement to free the Puerto Rican nationalists, that ended in their release, unconditional release, in 1979. So, I want to say to you here gathered today that it is important to keep the struggle, in whatever forms, alive and to be consistent and to be resilient.

Twenty-two years ago, I was called before a grand jury, as were called — many other Puerto Ricans have been called over the years to testify. And we refused. And I went to prison. And I spent eight months in prison. And today, 22 years later, the FBI and the U.S. attorney in Chicago have convened two grand juries to try to put us away again. And obviously, to us, this is part — comes with the territory. So we are not afraid. But what is incredible is that a grand jury has been convened to investigate the work of a community that decided to turn an inner-city high school, Clemente High School, into a model academy and was willing to put resources to prevent it from becoming an empty chamber to the prisons, because that’s what most of the inner-city high schools in the United States are. They are about preparing our youth for prisons.

And I want to read to you a little excerpt from the Chicago Sun-Times about this investigation. And it says Miller, who is the special counsel who has done an investigation through the state Legislature, that has less than a year and a half with six full-time state police — he says that the FBI has now given them a subpoena to turn over their findings. Miller said state police found — found, categorically, that the Puerto Rican independence movement infiltrated Clemente’s local school council and used between $500,000 — before it was a million, now they put $500,000 — to $1 million of Chapter One funds from 1992 to '96 to subsidize political activities geared to the release of 15 convicted Puerto Rican terrorists in U.S. prisons. The money was used to hire dozens of artists and two curriculum — two curriculum consultants and to pay for cultural immersion student trips and stipend to 700 parents. This is what this grand jury is about. And that's what they hope to put people in jail for.

But I want to say something — I had a little bit — something a little bit more formal. But I want to suggest to you something very important for you to think about.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to hear what it is that Jose Lopez says it’s important to think about, when we come back after stations identify themselves. Jose Lopez, speaking this weekend at the Critical Resistance conference at University of California, Berkeley. And by the way, if you’d like a copy of today’s program, you can order it from the Pacific Archives at 1-800-735-0230. That’s 1-800-735-0230. After we hear from Jose Lopez, we’re going to talk about international politics. We’ll be talking about what’s happening in Germany with the victory there of a Social Democrat. You’re listening to Pacific Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, The Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with the speech of Jose Lopez, a Puerto Rican activist, who spoke this weekend at the Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison-Industrial Complex conference that took place at the University of California. About 3,000 people attended. Jose Lopez.

JOSE LOPEZ: And that is that today, this year, we — it is the 30th anniversary of the issuance of the Kerner Commission Report. And that report is extremely important, because that report was the product of the commission that was convened by President Johnson to study the causes of urban uprisings in the ’60s. And out of that report comes a two-pronged strategy, a strategy aim that, to me, is clearly a counterinsurgency — and let me underline — a counterinsurgency operation modeled after that which was developed and has been developing in England through the writings particularly of two military experts, Kitson, Colonel Kitson, and Eveleigh, used against the Irish movement. And this is primarily aimed at preventing what they consider is a state of permanent insurgency. What they concluded was that in the ’60s, you had developed in the inner cities of America a state of permanent insurgency, and therefore, the state had to respond with a policy, a strategy of permanent repression.

And so, when we look at America’s prisons, and when we look at America’s cities, let me suggest to you that we’re looking at is that in terms of America’s cities, we are looking at Bantustans. And why do I say this? In 1948, the South African government developed the apartheid system, and in its Constitution created Bantustans, actually states for the Black people. But they were not just states for Black people. These were pockets, islands, isolated from each other —— in a sea of whiteness, islands of Blackness. And the idea was to be able to contain the Black population of South Africa. That’s what the Bantustans were about.

And I’m suggesting to you that if you study population patterns in U.S. cities — I don’t care what city you take — you will see the same phenomena. And it is the phenomena that the Kerner Commission — the Kerner Commission concluded, was America’s cities are unlike any other city in the world, and that meant America’s cities are cities that, basically, after the suburban explosion, that the white people went to the suburbs, and the cities were left primarily for people of color, that that trend created a very serious situation in the '60s, because it provided a space in which the ghetto became the academy for Black people, for Puerto Ricans, for Mexicans to engage themselves in a process of political dialogue and political action. And that's what the uprisings were all about. When you think about Malcolm, you have to think about Malcolm standing in the corners of Harlem, and not in some university engaging students in intellectual dialogue.

What we have — what we have is that that report concluded that that plan had to be changed — but give me one minute, and I’m sorry — but the trend had to be changed. And the idea was that you would take the Black public — the people of color, the population of the inner city, and actually put them outside of the city and bring back into the city the white population. But you were not just taking people of color to any part. You were taking them to areas that were totally isolated, unimportant, where they would have — in Chicago, for example, the southwestern suburbs. Harvey, Midlothian, that area there is a Black belt, but it has no political power, has no economic power. And that’s the pattern across the United States.

And I am going to say that if America’s cities are becoming America’s Bantustans, then America’s prisons are becoming America’s concentration camps. And there is no doubt that when you look in America’s prisons and you look at the fact that there are one-and-a-half-million people in America’s prisons, and 65 to 70% are people of color, and young people of color, and when you look on the other side, and you see this bell curve, and there are 1.5 million people in higher education, but 80% are white, there’s something really wrong.

And Fyodor — just one second. Dostoevsky, in his book Crime and Punishment, suggests to us that if you want to understand the quality of life of a society, look inside its prisons. Look inside its prisons. Look inside America’s prisons, and you will see America’s internal colonies. You will see the U.S. empire at work.

I want to end with a brief quote, and it’s just for you to think about. Sometimes the largest battles are fought in the smallest battlefields. Sometimes small actions act like sparks, igniting mass movements. Sometimes within a seemingly small, isolated issue, we find a microcosm of the fundamental battles of our day. And sometimes, as with Achilles, that unprotected spot on an otherwise invulnerable enemy turns up in the most unexpected place.

AMY GOODMAN: Jose Lopez of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, speaking this past weekend at the Critical Resistance Conference: Beyond the Prison-Industrial Complex, which took place at the University of California, Berkeley.

And that does wrap up our two days of excerpts of that conference, but it doesn’t wrap up the kind of organizing that’s going on around the country, as, oh, a number of facts and figures are coming out and should be on all of our minds. For example, the largest-growing sector population in the prisons are African American women. The fact that a report just came out last week from the Justice Policy Center in Washington, D.C., that everyone should get a hold of, that looks at the state of populations in prison today, particularly looking at California. It points out that for every African American male who is in college, there are five in the prison system. For every one African American male in college, five African American males in prison. Amazing figure.

So, those are just some of the thoughts. And again, if you’d like to get a copy of some of these excerpts of speeches, you can call the Pacific Archives at 1-800-735-0230. That’s 1-800-735-0230. Before we go to our next segment, where we’re going to be talking about the results of the German election and the possibility of a Social Democrat-Green coalition government in Germany, we wanted to let you know what’s coming up tomorrow on Democracy Now! And we do hope you’ll tune in and tell your friends to tune in for this special documentary that comes out of the trip that we just took to Nigeria.

OGONI MAN: Who killed Abiola?

CROWD: Soldier!

OGONI MAN: For oil money?

CROWD: Soldier!

OGONI MAN: Who killed Saro-Wiwa?

CROWD: Soldier!

OGONI MAN: For oil money?

CROWD: Soldier!

OGONI MAN: Who killed my nation?

CROWD: Soldier!

OGONI MAN: For oil money?

CROWD: Soldier!

ORONTO DOUGLAS: Chevron, just like Shell, uses the military to protect its oil activities.

STEVE LAUTERBACH: The policy for all embassies overseas to support American companies and their operations abroad and to, as far as possible, promote American exports.

ORONTO DOUGLAS: Don’t pollute my water. Don’t destroy our mangrove forest. Don’t devastate our ecology.

They drill. And they kill.

AMY GOODMAN: Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship.

JEREMY SCAHILL: An investigative report produced by Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s tomorrow on Democracy Now!, an hour documentary on the role that Chevron has played, the San Francisco-based oil giant, in the deaths of two Nigerian activists this past May as they protested the oil giant’s presence in the Niger Delta, in their community. We do hope you’ll stay tuned. And because you know we don’t put money into advertising, we hope you’ll tell your friends around the country to listen either to your local community radio station, or you can also listen to Democracy Now! online, for those people who don’t get a chance to hear Democracy Now! on their public radio station.

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