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Just recently I finished studying a book from PM Press by Chris Crass titled Towards Collective Liberation. This was one of the best political/activist books I’ve read, and it has been vital in helping me clarify my political vision and goal for creating liberating and transformative change within myself and the world.

I was not aware how this system of divide-and-control creates and utilizes divisions along the lines of gender (sexism), sexuality (homophobia), ability (elder discrimination), and nationality (anti-immigrant rights) to maintain its ruling-class dominance. This lack of awareness of these systems of oppression along the lines of gender, sexuality, ability, and nationality caused me to be completely numb to and disinterested in any struggles for justice and equality as it relates to gender equality and reproductive rights, LGBT rights, elder rights, and immigrant rights.

Prior to reading Toward Collective Liberation, I would not have come close to embracing any struggles remotely dealing with feminism or LGBT rights, partly out of fear of being viewed by my heterosexual male peers as weak, feminine, or even gay. I now see how such a concern is in and of itself sexist and homophobic in nature and is indicative of my own internalized values of sexist/heterosexist male superiority. All women and LGBT people are human beings deserving of our respect and collective support as they too struggle for equality, basic human rights, and the right to live their lives freely, without hindrance, slander, ridicule or discrimination.

Having been in prison for 20 consecutive years, I bear witness on a daily basis to how these same divide-and-rule tactics manifest themselves even behind these prison walls. The penal system uses behavior modification and psychology against us, especially those politically active prisoners engaged in a protracted struggle against all forms of oppression. Such psychological tactics are inflaming/instigating hatred and violence amongst the different “races”; the use of prisoners who covertly collaborate with the penal administration; treating prisoners who are willing to collaborate with the penal administration in far more lenient/favorable ways than those who are not; using collaborating/informing prisoners to spread rumors detrimental to the character and reputation of natural leaders so they will not be trusted; and most noticeably, the use of Security Housing Units (SHU) and Administrative Segregation (AdSeg) as tools of repression to isolate all prisoners deemed to be influential.

Of course, there are many divisions among prisoners that can clearly be seen in these modern-day gulags:

  1. Division between much older and experienced captives who view younger, less experienced prisoners as reckless, lacking a “code” of ethics, and not willing to listen to instruction; and the younger, less experienced prisoners who view the older captives as washed up, institutionalized, and behind in the times
  2. Division between those who classify themselves as gay/bi-sexual who are resentful towards those classified as heterosexual who openly alienate them; and those classified as heterosexual who look down upon prisoners classified as gay/bi-sexual with disgust and hostility
  3. Divisions between those who are part of religious/cultural organizations such as Christians, Muslims, Rastas, Catholics, Gods and Earths, Atheists, etc.
  4. Divisions between nationalities and even within nationalities
  5. Division between lumpen street organizations who are convinced that it is more “gangsta” to fight each other rather than fight for change in the circumstance or environment, against oppression and exploitation, inhumane living conditions, extortion, substandard food, etc.

And many more.

The “Agreement to End Hostilities” initiated by those courageous brothers of the Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU Short Corridor Collective and the “United Front for Peace in Prisons – Statement of Principles” developed by MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within, and other types of progressive collective moves taking place in various prisons across this Empire, are just glimpses of the type of unity and leverage we can achieve with a multi-national, inter-organizational, cross-gender alliance if we develop a multi-dimensional analysis of how the penal administration utilizes our differences to keep us divided and at each others’ throats instead of working together for our own common good.

What the penal authorities hate most is that after decades of oppressive and inhumane living conditions, the arbitrary use of SHUs, AdSeg, and this “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality, the progressive, revolutionary elements within the various penal colonies will always raise their head. They see within the progressive, revolutionary elements that which will expose and defeat them: the commitment, determination and resolve to oppose and ultimately abolish the criminal injustice system.

At the same time, they can see and feel their own powerlessness, for their power ends at the point when we all come together to lift our heads, take the reigns of our lives into our own hands, throw off the old guard, and collectively struggle to provide new guards for our future security.

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