Philadelphia Marchers Demand Education, Not Incarceration


Philadelphia Marchers Demand Education, Not Incarceration

Jay Leslie

On Saturday, May 25,  a march and rally  organized by  Decarcerate PA ,and community allies, marked the beginning of a 113  mile march to  Pennsylvania’s capital of Harrisburg.   A demonstration of more than 250 activists  spoke out for a People’s Budget and against a  prison budget and austerity. Decarcerate PA is a  diverse grassroots movement that includes former prisoners, community activists, and students.

Rally speakers railed against mass incarceration and the prison plantation complex.  Several speakers made the connection between the issue of mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow system  that robs former prisoners of their rights and dignity.  Speakers pointed across the street to the Municipal  Services Building,  where on May 17 , a jobs fair for ex-prisoners was suddenly cancelled.  More than 3000 formerly incarcerated citizens showed up looking for work, instead of the  anticipated 1000. Unprepared city administrators promised to reschedule the jobs fair quickly but now the  event is postponed until  mid-summer. This, of course, exposes the  fallacy of the common misconception that returning prisoners don’t want to work.

decar3Demonstrators stepped off from Philadelphia’s Love Park, circled City Hall, and marched to the Art  Museum steps .  After a short rally at the museum, the march to Harrisburg.  left to the cheers and applause of fellow marchers. Along the 10 day march route, participants will educate communities about the issue of mass incarceration.

Decarcerate, PA calls for stopping prison construction, reducing prison populations and reinvestment in communities — in ways that help former prisoners  reconnect with the community. This must include restoring voting rights and ending job discrimination against returning citizens.  At a time where the right-wing administration of  Governor Corbett is slashing public education and other programs, the state is increasing the budget for prison construction.

There are more than 2.2 million (2010) prisoners in state and federal prisons, and an additional 5 million adults (2009) either on probation or parole. In all, more than 7 million adults are under some form of incarceration or correctional control (prison, jail, probation or parole) in the US. There are  more than 70,000 youth in “juvenile detention” and almost three quarters of a million in county jails.  The majority of county prisoners nationwide are awaiting trial in jail, unable to  make bail because of poverty. Over the past 30 years, prison populations in Pennsylvania  have increased by 500 percent to  more than 51,000.

Mass incarceration is the result of an overall attack on the  gains of the  Civil  Rights  struggle disguised as a so-called war on drugs.  The war of drugs has militarized police forces, undermined civil liberties and turned communities of color  into occupied  territories. The vast majority of prisoners  are Black and Latino/a.  The fact that  so-called felons are stripped of the rights of everyday “citizens”  results  in a  new version of the old Jim Crow system that typified  the old South.  According to Michelle Alexander, author of the book, The New JIm Crow,  Mass Incarceration in the  Age of Colorblindness:

“So many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again once you have been branded a felon.”

School-to-Prison-Illustrationmaking connections

In a period of austerity, privatization, and a generalized attack on the living standards of working people; the question of mass incarceration is critically important.  While we  build movements against austerity and in defense of the  working class  we have to understand the links between mass incarceration and the one-sided  class  war being waged against working people. Racism and white supremacy  stand as  the primary obstacles to working class unity and the class consciousness  of the class as a whole.

Mass incarceration helps deepen racial divisions amongst workers  and to  decrease  the strength of Black and Latino/a workers, who so often have played an advanced role in the US class struggle. *  The recent bipartisan move in the US Senate to slash  SNAP (food stamp) eligibility for  “ex-felons”  is another divide and rule tactic by the bosses and allows the continued demonization of former prisoners.  Capitalism is incapable of  creating enough jobs for all and the ruling class  exploits every opportunity to divide  workers against one another.  This failure of capitalism also means the ruling rich will increasingly resort to repressive measures and incarceration to  victimize working people.

As we continue to build movements against austerity and  to demand  a public works  jobs program to address the economic crisis; we must  include  demands to end mass incarceration, and understand that the demand for jobs is meaningless without  ending job discrimination against the formerly incarcerated.  When we say jobs for all, we have to include all workers.

The movement against the prison industrial complex has to remain independent of the two political parties of the ruling class.  Neither Republicans or Democrats are reliable allies in the fight for social change. A strategy of united mass action is the best way to build our power and reignite the labor and civil rights movements.

decar2What to do now

There are several things you can do now to support the  March to Harrisburg.   First, contribute to Decarcerate PA  to help provide marchers  with necessary supplies. Second, you can join the marchers in Harrisburg on June 3** to  let legislators and Governor  Corbett know that we demand a People’s’ Budget and the revitalization  of our communities. You can also get involved with the movement against. mass incarceration.  Philadelphians can contact Decarcerate and ask what they can do to get  help out. — if there are no groups doing this work in your community, start one.

* Black workers played a critical role in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and have often played an advanced, or vanguard, role in the US class struggle.  Another example is the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement/League of Revolutionary Black Workers, which challenged the auto industry bosses and the racism of the United Auto Workers. (DRUM and the LRBW are the subject of the book, Detroit, I Do Mind DyingThe de-industrialization of northern and midwestern cities, with factories moving to either the non-union South, or overseas, destroyed hundreds of thousands of previously unionized jobs.

**In Pittsburgh,  Fed Up!/Human Rights Coalition is organizing local activists to go to Harrisburg on the 3rd.

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