By Uhuru B. Rowe
October 3, 2017
“We believe that as presently practiced, mass incarceration under the guise of a war on crime or a war on drugs is actually a war on the working class. Through such a guise, an important fact is often forgotten and hidden in plain sight; the overwhelming majority of individuals who are sent to prison are members of the working class.”– Industrial Workers Organizing Committee
January 20, 1995 will mark my 23rd year of incarceration. For the last two years I have been building the foundation for a prison-based political organization called the Free Virginia Movement (FVM). The idea for the FVM was inspired by the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), which is a similar organization founded and run by incarcerated freedom fighters in the Alabama prison system, in solidarity with their free-world allies, as a political vehicle to resist inhumane prison conditions and the racist criminal injustice system.
Like the FAM, the FVM stands for revolutionary solidarity will ALL people, whether incarcerated or free, fighting for freedom, justice, equality, and even their right of self-determination, because we know and understand that the prison struggle is part of a worldwide struggle being waged by the poor, oppressed, and exploited people on the earth.
For example, in Point Number 11 of the FVM manifesto, which is in solidarity with the “Fight for 15” movement, we demand the enactment of a state law which raises the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour to $15/hour because we recognize that minimum (slave) wage earners, most of whom are women of color, are having a hard time providing for themselves and their family with the basic necessities of life which creates the conditions by which one may feel compelled to engage in black market criminal activities in order supplement their low income. This social condition feeds into the hands of prisoncrats who have an economic interest in perpetuating mass incarceration and the criminalization of poor people, many of whom are people of color, in order to exploit and socially control that portion of the population deemed undesirables.
This Point shows the intersecting nature of the struggles of incarcerated and working class people. And realizing that we have similar struggles, what if we began to organize ourselves so that on every Labor Day, incarcerated people will engage in peaceful nonviolent protests in class solidarity with working class people in their fight for better working conditions and a $15 minimum wage?? And what if on every September 9th (the designated day for prison activism in commemoration of the Attica prison rebellion on September 9, 1971), working class teachers, janitors, fast food workers, factory workers, and even prison guards (most of whom are underpaid, overworked, under appreciated, and paycheck away from poverty and prison themselves) walked off their jobs and picketed and marched in solidarity with the struggles of incarcerated people in their resistance to inhumane prison conditions and a corporate legal system where only wealthy people get justice?? Such a united class struggle will cripple this racist, exploitative, capitalist system and the demands we seek will surely come overnight.
Such Unitary Conduct (which had been dubbed the wage-slave/cage-slave alliance), which will surely get the attention of the corporate owning class and prisoncrats, is exactly the kind of alliance the FAM, the FVM, and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union are trying to build!
We in the FVM, FAM, and the IWW/IWOC believe that our organizations and movement-building capabilities will be more effective in resisting the oppression, economic exploitation, and the mass incarceration and criminalization of our communities once incarcerated and working class people unite for our own common good. We are all disposable people within a capitalist patriarchal system which values profit over human lives, and which discards us into prisons and jails when it has no more profitable use for us. And in order to overcome our shared-oppression and exploitation, incarcerated people and working class citizens must unite, organize, build power, and mobilize to force change!