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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Workshop Recap: Occupy 4 Prisoners

In response to the call for actions on Monday the 20th, and the call for book launches for Love and Struggle, we organized an Occupy for Prisoners workshop last Friday. Our goal was to create context and recruit people to participate in Monday's action. 

We ended up with a pretty low turn out, very few Occupy Columbus people came out, so it ended up being a small group having a real and in-depth discussion inspired by the words and voices of Ohio prisoners. It was probably more personal and meaningful than if there had been a crowd of people. We started with Kate reading an excerpt of Bomani’s Crime and Punnishment, Becca reading some key ideas Greg Curry sent her, then a phonecall from Hasan. Bringing a voice from death row into the room is always a sobering and intense experience. You can see people trying to imagine Hasan on the other end of the phone, in his cell. There's a unique connection that comes with realizing you'd never imagined or thought about it before. Then we had a group discussion about Lucasville and about how repression of the occupy movement is similar to and different from repression of regular “criminals” and prisoners.

Next we read a few impressions on the Occupy Movement from Kate’s penpal at FCI Elkton, and Sean Swain’s statement to Occupy Columbus. This inspired a longer discussion about how occupy can better do outreach to affected communities, to the whole of the 99% and whether you’re better off building deep relationships with a few people or building shallow relationships with many. Then Brother Kalifa spoke about his experience of incarceration. He compared his relationship with Hasan to army buddies back from Nam, except Hasan is still trapped there.  Like the phone call, Kalifa’s presence gave the evening a real weight and impact.

We had gone well over time when discussion with Kalifa slowed down to a point where it could be interrupted. So, we decided to skip the 30 minute video (David Gilbert’s “A Lifetime of Struggle” interview) and promised to post a link to it on the RedBird website. We chose this video, rather than sharing ideas from David’s correspondence with Ben, because sharing his history and background might counter america’s radical amnesia. We encounter “occupy” as a sudden unexpected explosion, a weird fluke, when really, it’s an extension of the anti-globalization movement, which developed from anti-apartied and anti-nuke campaigns, which continued traditions from the civil rights and anti-war struggles (which David Gilbert participated in). Those struggles have their roots in the labor struggles that preceded them. When we connect with and learn from people like David, we fight against this cultural amnesia and take strength and lessons from the past. If we could pick up where they left off, rather than starting over again every decade or so, we’d have a much better chance of winning.

Overall the workshop wasn’t the rally and recruitment for a big action on Monday we had hoped for, and we didn’t sell any books, but I think it was productive anyway. If you want to pick up a copy of Love and Struggle by David Gilbert or Lucasville by Staughten Lynd, we'll be selling them whenever we table, including next Wednesday's Prisoner Art Show

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