Philadelphia Marchers Demand Education, Not Incarceration
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.
Demonstrators 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.”
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.
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 Dying) The 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.