The War on Terror, Mass Incarceration in the U.S.A., and Another World Is Possible – by Angela Davis

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Angela Davis speaks:

“In Wisconsin black people constitute 4 or 5% of the state’s population and about 50% of the imprisoned population. Our criminal justice system sends increasing numbers of people to prison by first robbing them of housing, health care, education, and welfare, and then punishing them when they participate in underground economies. What should we think about a system that will, on the one hand, sacrifice social services, human compassion, housing and decent schools, mental health care and jobs, while on the other hand developing an ever larger and ever more profitable prison system that subjects ever larger numbers of people to daily regimes of coercion and abuse? The violent regimes inside prisons are located on a continuum of repression that includes state-sanctioned killing of civilians.” (The Meaning of Freedom, p. 62)

“It cannot be denied that immigration is on the rise. In many cases, however, people are compelled to leave their home countries because U.S. corporations have economically undermined local economies through ‘free trade’ agreements, structural adjustment, and the influence of such international financial institutions as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Rather than characterize ‘immigration’ as the source of the current crisis, it is more accurate to say that it is the homelessness of global capital that is responsible for so many of the problems people are experiencing throughout the world. Many transnational corporations that used to be required to comply with a modicum of rules and regulations in the nation-states where they are headquartered have found ways to evade prohibitions against cruel, dehumanizing, and exploitative labor practices. They are now free to do virtually anything in the name of maximizing profits. 50% of all of the garments purchased in the U.S. are made abroad by women and girls in Asia and Latin America. Many immigrant women from those regions who come to this country hoping to find work do so because they can no longer make a living in their home countries. Their native economies have been dislocated by global corporations. But what do they find here in the United States? More sweatshops.” (p. 64)

free_angela_button“Our impoverished popular imagination is responsible for the lack of or sparsity of conversations on minimizing prisons and emphasizing decarceration as opposed to increased incarceration. Particularly since resources that could fund services designed to help prevent people from engaging in the behavior that leads to prison are being used instead to build and operate prisons. Precisely the resources we need in order to prevent people from going to prison are being devoured by the prison system. This means that the prison reproduces the conditions of its own expansion, creating a syndrome of self-perpetuation.” (p. 67)

“The global war on drugs is responsible for the soaring numbers of people behind bars – and for the fact that throughout the world there is a disproportionate number of people of color and people from the global South in prison. (…) The drug war and the war on terror are linked to the global expansion of the prison. Let us remember that the prison is a historical system of punishment. In other worlds, it has not always been a part of human history; therefore, we should not take this institution for granted, or consider it a permanent and unavoidable fixture of our society. The prison as punishment emerged around the time of industrial capitalism, and it continues to have a particular affinity with capitalism. (…) Globalization has not only created devastating conditions for people in the global South, it has created impoverished and incarcerated communities in the United States and elsewhere in the global North. ” (p. 82)

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“Why, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, have we allowed our government to pursue unilateral policies and practices of global war? (…) Increasingly, freedom and democracy are envisioned by the government as exportable commodities, commodities that can be sold or imposed upon entire populations whose resistances are aggressively suppressed by the military. The so-called global war on terror was devised as a direct response to the September 11 attacks. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush swiftly transformed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon into occasions to misuse and manipulate collective grief, thereby reducing this grief to a national desire for vengeance. (…) It seems to me the most obvious subversion of the healing process occurred when the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq, and now potentially Iran. All in the name of the human beings who died on September 11. Bloodshed and belligerence in the name of freedom and democracy!…

Bush had the opportunity to rehearse this strategy of vengeance and death on a smaller scale before he moved into the White House. As governor of Texas, he not only lauded capital punishment, he presided over more executions – 152 to be precise – than any other governor in the history of the United States of America.

Imperialist war militates against freedom and democracy, yet freedom and democracy are repeatedly invoked by the purveyors of global war. Precisely those forces that presume to make the world safe for freedom and democracy are now spreading war and torture and capitalist exploitation around the globe. The Bush government represents its project as a global offensive against terrorism, but the conduct of this offensive has generated practices of state violence and state terrorism in comparison to which its targets pale…

Estimates range from 500.000 to 700.000 so far – some people say that one million… – people that have been killed during the war in Iraq. Why can’t we even have a national conversation about that?”

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“What is most distressing to those of us who believe in a democratic future is the tendency to equate democracy with capitalism. Capitalist democracy should be recognized as the oxymoron that it is. The two orders are fundamentally incompatible, especially considering the contemporary transformations of capitalism under the impact of globalization. But there are those who cannot tell the difference between the two. In no historical era can the freedom of the market serve as an acceptable model of democracy for those who do not possess the means – the capital – to take advantage of the freedom of the market.

The most convincing contemporary evidence against the equation of capitalism and democracy can be discovered in the fact that many institutions with a profoundly democratic impulse have been dismantled under the pressure exerted by international financial agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the global South, structural adjustment has unleashed a juggernaut of privatization of public services that used to be available to masses of people, such as education and health care. These are services that no society should deny its members, services we all should be able to claim by virtue of our humanity. Conservative demands to privatize Social Security in the United States further reveal the reign of profits for the few over the rights of the many.

Another world is possible, and despite the hegemony of forces that promote inequality, hierarchy, possessive individualism, and contempt for humanity, I believe that together we can work to create the conditions for radical social transformation.”

ANGELA DAVIS,
The Meaning of Freedom 
City Lights Books
San Franciso, California, 2012.

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MTTW

Mountains That Take Wing
(2009. 97 min. Color.)

A WMM (Women Make Movies) release:
orders@wmm.com and http://www.wmm.com.

“This film, co-directed by C.A. Griffith & H.L.T. Quan, is a “Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation”. Internationally renowned scholar, professor and writer Angela Davis and 89-year-old grassroots organizer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Yuri Kochiyama share intimate conversations about personal histories and influences that shaped them and their shared experiences in some of the most important social movements in 20th century United States. The film’s unique format honors the scope and depth of their knowledge on topics ranging from Jim Crow laws and Japanese internment camps, to Civil Rights, anti-war, women’s and gay liberation movements, to today’s campaigns for political prisoners and prison reform. These insights, recorded over the span of 13 years, offer critical lessons about community activism and tremendous hope for the future of social justice.”

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Other great videos:

Angela Davis in “The Meaning of Freedom” (With art by Shepard Fairey and music by Fugees, M. Fanti and Arrested Development)

Power

Art by Shepard Fairey

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Angela Davis

ANGELA DAVIS in The Meaning of Freedom.


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“Beware of those leaders and theorists who eloquently rage against white supremacy but identify black gay men and lesbians as evil incarnate. Beware of those leaders who call upon us to protect our young black men but will beat their wives and abuse their children and will not support a woman’s right to reproductive autonomy. Beware of those leaders! And beware of those who call for the salvation of black males but will not support the rights of Caribbean, Central American, and Asian immigrants, or who think that struggles in Chiapas or in Northern Ireland are unrelated to black freedom! Beware of those leaders!

Regardless of how effectively (or inneffectively) veteran activists are able to engage with the issues of our times, there is clearly a paucity of young voices associated with black political leadership. The relative invisibility of youth leadership is a crucial example of this crisis in contemporary black social movements. On the other hand, within black popular culture, youth are, for better or for worse, helping to shape the political vision of their contemporaries. Many young black performers are absolutely brilliant. Not only are they musically dazzing, they are also trying to put forth anti-racist and anti-capitalist critiques. I’m thinking, for example, about Nefertiti, Arrested Development, The Fugees, and Michael Franti…”

Listen to Fugee’s The Score (Full Album)

Download Arrested Development’s album 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…  

Michael Fanti’s albums for download in one single torrent

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“There are already one million in prison in the United States. This does not include the 500.000 in city and county jails, the 600.000 on parole, and the 3 million people on probation. It also does not include the 60.000 young people in juvenile facilities, which is to say, there are presently more than FIVE MILLION people either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation… Not only is the duration of imprisonment drastically extended, it is rendered more repressive than ever. Within some state prison systems, weights have even been banned. Having spent time in several jails myself, I know how important it is to exercise the body as well as the mind. The barring of higher education and weight sets implies the creation of an incarcerated society of people who are worth little  more than trash to the dominant culture.

Who is benefiting from these ominous new developments? There is already something of a boom in the prison construction industry. New architectural trends that recapitulate old ideas about incarceration such as Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon have produced the need to build new jails and prisons – both public and private prisons. And there is the dimension of the profit drive, with its own exploitative, racist component. It’s also important to recognize that the steadily growing trend of privatization of U.S. jails and prisons is equally menacing… We therefore ask: How many more black bodies will be sacrified on the altar of law and order?

The prison system as a whole serves as an apparatus of racist and political repression… the fact that virtually everyone behind bars was (and is) poor and that a disproportionate number of them were black and Latino led us [the activists] to think about the more comprehensive impact of punishment on communities of color and poor communities in general. How many rich people are in prison? Perhaps a few here and there, many of whom reside in what we call country club prisons. But the vast majority of prisoners are poor people. A disproportionate number of those poor people were and continue to be people of color, people of African descent, Latinos, and Native Americans.

Some of you may know that the most likely people to go to prison in this country today are young African American men. In 1991, the Sentencing Project released a report indicating that 1 in 4 of all young black men between the ages of 18 and 24 were incarcerated in the United States. 25% is an astonishing figure. That was in 1991. A few years later, the Sentencing Project released a follow-up report revealing that within 3 or 4 years, the percentage had soared to over 32%. In other words, approximately one-third of all young black men in this country are either in prison or directly under the supervision and control of the criminal justice system. Something is clearly wrong.”

 (pg. 25, 27 and 38)

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“When a child’s life is forever  arrested by one of the gunshots that are heard so frequently in poor black and Latino communities, parents, teachers, and friends parede in demonstrations bearing signs with the slogan ‘STOP THE VIOLENCE.’ Those who live with the daily violence associated with drug trafficking and increasing use of dangerous weapons by youth are certainly in need of immediate solutions to these problems. But the decades-old law-and-order solutions will hardly bring peace to poor black and Latino communities. Why is there such a paucity of alternatives? Why the readiness to take on a discourse and entertain policies and ideological strategies that are so laden with racism?

Ideological racism has begun to lead a secluded existence. It sequesters itself, for example, within the concept of crime. (…) I, for one, am of the opinion that we will have to renounce jails and prisons as the normal and unquestioned approaches to such social problems as drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and illiteracy. (…) When abolitionists raise the possibility of living without prisons, a common reaction is fear – fear provoked by the prospect of criminals pouring out of prisons and returning to communities where they may violently assault people and their property. It is true that abolitionists want to dismantle structures of imprisonment, but not without a process that calls for building alternative institutions. It is not necessary to address the drug problem, for example, within the criminal justice system. It needs to be separated from the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation is not possible within the jail and prison system.

We have to learn how to analyze and resist racism even in contexts where people who are targets and victims of racism commit acts of harm against others. Law-and-order discourse is racist, the existing system of punishment has been deeply defined by historical racism. Police, courts, and prisons are dramatic examples of institutional racism. Yet this is not to suggest that people of color who commits acts of violence against other human beings are therefore innocent. This is true of brothers and sisters out in the streets as well as those in the high-end suites… A victim of racism can also be a perpetrator of sexism. And indeed, a victim of racism can be a perpetrator of racism as well. Victimization can no longer be permitted to function as a halo of innocence.”

(pg. 29 – 31)

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A Shepard Fairey exhibition

“Black people have been on the forefront of radical and revolutionary movements in this country for several centuries. (…) Not all of us have given up hope for revolutionary change. Not all of us accept the notion of capitalist inevitability based on the collapse of socialism. Socialism of a certain type did not work because of irreconcilable internal contradictions. Its structures have fallen. But to assume that capitalism is triumphant is to use a simplistic boxing-match paradigm. Despite its failure to build lasting democratic sctructures, socialism nevertheless demonstrated its superiority over capitalism on several accounts: the ability to provide free education, low-cost housing, jobs, free child care, free health care, etc. This is precisely what is needed in U.S. black communities… and among poor people in general. Harlem furnishes us with a dramatic example of the future of late capitalism and compelling evidence of the need to reinvigorate socialist democratic theory and practise – for the sake of our sisters and brothers who otherwise will be thrown into the dungeons of the future, and indeed, for the sake of us all.

During the McCarthy era, communism was established as the enemy of the nation and came to be represented as the enemy of the “free world”. During the 1950s, when membership in the Communist Party of U.S.A. was legally criminalized, many members were forced underground and/or were sentenced to many years in prison. In 1969, when I was personally targeted by anti-communist furor, black activists in such organizations as the Black Panther Party were also singled out. As a person who represented both the communist threat and the black revolutionary threat, I became a magnet for many forms of violence… If we can understand how people could be led to fear communism in such a visceral way, it might help us to apprehend the ideological character of the fear of the black criminal today.

The U.S. war in Vietnam lasted as long as it did because it was fueled by a public fear of communism. The government and the media led the public to believe that the Vietnamese were their enemy, as if it were the case that the defeat of the racialized communist enemy in Vietnam would ameliorate U.S. people’s lives and make them feel better about themselves…”

(To know more about the Vietnam war, please watch Peter Davis’ Oscar-winning documentary Hearts and Minds)

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“The connection between the criminalization of young black people and the criminalization of immigrants are not random. In order to understand the structural connections that tie these two forms of criminalization together, we will have to consider the ways in which global capitalism has transformed the world. What we witnessed at the close of the 20th century is the growing power of a circuit of transnational corporations that belong to no particular nation-state, that are not expected to respect the laws of any given nation-state, and that move across borders at will in perpetual search of maximizing profits.

Let me tell you a story about my personal relationship  with one of these transnational corporations – Nike. My first pair of serious running shoes were Nikes. Over the years I became so attached to Nikes that I convinced myself that I could not run without wearing them. But once I learned about the conditions under which these shoes are produced, I could not in good conscience buy another pair of their running shoes. It may be true that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods had multimillion-dollar contracts with Nike, but in Indonesia and Vietnam Nike has been creating working conditions that, in many respects, resemble slavery.

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Not long ago there was an investigation of the Nike factory in Ho Chi Minh City, and it was discovered that the young women who work in Nike’s sweatshops there were paid less than the minimum wage in Vietnam, which is only U$2.50 a day… Consider what you pay for Nikes and the vast differential between the price and the workers’ wages. This differential is the basis for Nike’s rising profits. (…) If you read the entire report, you will be outraged to learn of the abominable treatment endured by the young women and girls who produce the shoes and the apparel we wear. The details of the report include the fact that during an 8-hour shift, workers are able to use the toilet just once, and they are prohibited from drinking water more than twice. There is sexual harrasment, inadequate health care, and excessive overtime… Perhaps we need to discuss the possibility of an organized boycott… but given the global reach of corporations like Nike, we need to think about a global boycott.

Corporations move to developing countries because it is extremely profitable to pay workers U$2.50 a day or less in wages. That’s U$2.50  a day, not U$2.50 a hour, which would still be a pittance. (…) The corporations that have migrated to Mexico, Vietnam, and other Third World countries also often end up wreaking havoc on local economies. They create cash economies that displace subsistence economies and produce artificial unemployment. Overall, the effect of capitalist corporations colonizing Third World countries is one of pauperization. These corporations create poverty as surely as they reap rapacious profits.”

(pg. 44-46)

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meaning

All quotes in this post from…

Angela Y. Davis (1944 – ) 

The Meaning of Freedom
And Other Difficult Dialogues

City Lights Books / Open Media Series
www.citylights.com

San Francisco, California. 2012.