Anarchist Black Cross Network Forms to Fight for Prison Abolition
In November, three collectives — two U.S.-based and one in Europe — came together to issue a proposal for a new Anarchist Black Cross Network. The ABC Network is geared at bringing together collectives, organizers and concerned people to confront the growing repression of dissent, attacks on those incarcerated and raise the issue of prisons’ use as a solution for social problems caused by capitalism and profiteering.
The Anarchist Black Cross movement, known throughout radical history as a prisoner support apparatus, served through the early twentieth century as a means of community defense. In addition to providing direct support to victims of political and social repression, ABC groups tied their support to an analysis that viewed prisons as a brutal manifestation of state power. Both, ABC groups said, needed to be abolished. The new ABC Network proposal argues that, with the massive global buildup of police state, prisons and assaults against resisters, the role of organizers must also be to relate the street movement to the mission of the Anarchist Black Cross.
Unlike some previous initiatives, the ABC Network, as presented in “A New Draft Proposal for an Anarchist Black Cross Network,” must be structured in a way that respects local groups’ autonomy to determine the support work they do; toward local grassroots organizing to build a stronger movement; and against vanguardist tendencies that might exclude prisoners from involvement or support.
Author Christian Parenti argues, in his book “Lockdown America,” that the United States has restructured its economy and criminal justice system in order to save itself from social chaos in the form of political rebellion and the economic crisis in capitalism that occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. The criminal justice system, he states, has been retooled to crush dissent, real and potential, and to cage those who have been pushed through the cracks of economic restructuring.
Today’s American prison population has rocketed to two million captives, an over three hundred percent increase since 1980. The European Union and other nations are seeing an equally startling increase in imprisonment. In all cases, the vast majority in prison are people of color and the indigent. Immigrants and women are among the fastest growing prison populations. In states like California, spending on prisons are far outstripped what’s spent on education. And those facts have created a growing movement in resistance to not just criminalization and incarceration, but to the society which has spawned both.
Parenti links expanding prison populations with initial contact with police, acting in part on zero tolerance/quality of life laws and the “war on drugs.” Civility laws — which, in many cities cover everything from ‘looking suspicious’ to car stereo volumes — accelerate entrance into the criminal justice system. Violations of those laws build up the criminal records of the people most vulnerable under late capitalism, Parenti argues, making them targets for incarceration. They allow a hyper-policing of communities as they criminalize behavior often associated with living in poverty.
These laws are part of the alarming rate of gentrification created by the development of what Parenti calls “theme park” cities. These cities are the playgrounds of young, mostly white urban professionals with surplus incomes who seek ways to entertain themselves. Products of the suburbs, they seek communities nearer their entertainment and professional jobs. They want the thrill of city life without the realities of poverty their lifestyles have created. Thus, gentrification is inextricably linked with policing and prisons.
The new Anarchist Black Cross Network states that, in addition to working around political prisoner campaigns, political education of prisoners, and the support of prison organizers, it’s essential that concerned people deal with the issues affecting “nonpolitical” people and whole communities. As the proposal notes, “What is political about the injustice system, how laws are applied, who goes to jail and how bias factors into that? What is political about the factors that play into ‘crime’ and how sanction is applied? And are we, as revolutionaries, little more than collaborators in genocide if we do not stand up? This understanding is not so much a critique of terms such as ‘political prisoner,’ but of analyzing the politics of prisons, social control, law, sexism, racism and power.”
The ABC Network further argues that prisoner situations as a whole need to be addressed, from political prisoners to prison organizers to those victimized by the criminal justice system. In the past as well as now, groups like the Jericho Movement and the Anarchist Black Cross Federation have only recognized a handful of prisoners as political prisoners and generally do not support prisoners jailed for earth liberation actions, community activism or those outside of traditionally recognized movements or organizations.
The ABC Network has set as one of its initial goals the growth and support of new ABC groups, getting feedback on its network proposal and eventually sponsoring an ABC meeting in North America in 2002. The last North American ABC gathering was in 1994.
To get a free copy of “A New Draft Proposal for an Anarchist Black Cross Network,” you can go online to http://www.anarchistblackcross.org on the Internet or send a self-addressed stamped (first-class) envelope to P.O. Box 667233, Houston, Texas 77266-7233. Deadline for the first round of comments, critiques and suggestions is January 31, 2002, at which point those interested in the network can review and discuss direction.