By Lily Birdt
On August 21, prisoners all across the country launched a strike, with at least 17 states currently participating. The prisoners chose the anniversary of George Jackson’s death as the opening day for the strike. Jackson was an African-American activist who co-founded the Maoist-Marxist Black Guerrilla Family.
Prisoners have stopped working entirely and have been fasting, and will continue do so over the course of 19 days. They have also been holding sit-in protests and marches. It is expected to be the largest prison strike in U.S. history, according to the Washington Post.
The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee stated that they are “demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery,” according to their website.
The Committee has released ten demands, including improvements in the legal system and better living conditions. The prisoners maintain that they are often treated like animals. Some of their goals, therefore, are to have better rehabilitation services, a restored right to vote, more money for their labor, and an end to the racist laws that often lead to their deaths, according to CNN.
The uprising is spearheaded by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a group of incarcerated people in South Carolina who advocate for prisoners’ rights.
These nationwide uprisings would not have happened without the use of concealed cell phones, which allowed the strikers to communicate. Not only that, but supporters and organizations on the outside helped coordinate the protest.
The strike is expected to end on September 9, the anniversary of the Attica Riot, in which seven inmates were stabbed and beaten to death in a deadly prison riot.
Another recent prison strike was in 2016, in which over 24,000 prisoners in 24 states took part in to change the 13th Amendment, according to CNN. Similarly, the goal of the 2016 strike was to end prison labor, in which prisoners are forced to take part in what prisoners are calling modern-day slavery.
The 13th Amendment of the Constitution states that those who are convicted of crimes can be enslaved. Therefore, prisoners can be forced to work for free, and often are. Forced labor in prisons is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Prison strikes themselves are very much illegal. Prisoners are not allowed to congregate in large groups, let alone form unions. There is also a law currently in place that states “encouraging others to refuse to work, or to participate in a work stoppage” is a “High Severity Level Prohibited Act” and the punishment includes solitary confinement up to a year per violation, according to the Washington Post.
Strikes such as these still receive very little mainstream media coverage.