Smash Prisons to Liberate our Imaginations: AAD Statement of Solidarity with Operation PUSH

In December 2017, prisoners in Florida announced their plan to carry out a month-long strike, beginning on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 15th, 2018). Their main demands are an end to unpaid labor, an end to outrageously high canteen prices, and the reintroduction of parole incentives to lifers and those with extremely long sentences. In addition to these demands they are protesting prison overcrowding and officer brutality, prisoners’ exposure to harmful environmental conditions, Florida’s refusal to honor a moratorium on state executions, and the lack of voting rights to prisoners with criminal convictions.

Alliance Against Displacement (AAD) holds up Operation PUSH as a prisoner-led rebellion against brutal, dehumanizing prison conditions. Some specific prison conditions are particular to Florida prisons, but more important for all of us is that Operation Push is fighting the dehumanizing processes of criminalization that undergird and stabilize capitalism and colonialism by disposing of those who are dangerously outside North American civil society. Criminalization is a method by which the state identifies certain populations as disposable. Criminalization is a state organized intervention in public consciousness, using legal processes that claim to be race and class blind to reinforce white supremacist, colonial, and capitalist hierarchies of whose lives are socially valued and whose are social waste.

According to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), there are strike activities in 17 Florida prisons as part of Operation PUSH. Communication from inside prisons are infrequent due to the Department of Corrections’ repressive efforts, which include putting entire prisons on lockdown and shutting off state phone services. Prisoners who correspond with prison justice organizations have been labelled “security threats” and put in solitary confinement. In the context of an already notoriously brutal and violent prison system, prisoners who organize or who are suspected of organizing face increased repression and torture.

In Florida, Black, Latinx, and mentally ill prisoners are disproportionately beaten, gassed, tortured, and killed by officers. In addition, prisoners work inside prisons, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, maintaining the facilities, and growing food. Outside of the prisons, incarcerated laborers work in ā€œcommunity work squads,ā€ providing free labor to state offices. In 2017, community work squads worked over 3.15 million hours without wages, “saving” the state more than $38 million in payroll expenses.

Alliance Against Displacement (AAD) fights to end frameworks of disposability that dehumanize Indigenous, poor, working-class, and racialized people. We see prisons, supportive housing, and homeless encampments as similarly marginalized, extra-civic spaces where people are treated like human waste. These spaces mark the bodies in them as exploitable and disposable, ensuring that they remain shut out from mainstream society through state-sanctioned neglect and murder. Prisons are part of a sophisticated system of containment and control that includes the foster care system, which surveils and monitors Indigenous families and then breaks them apart by kidnapping their children, as well as supportive housing, psychiatric facilities, and residential schools and reserves. Just as prison guards protect the walls that hold prisoners apart from their homes and families, so do police officers, doctors, and MCFD social workers enforce invisible walls that ensure the punishment, and isolation of criminalized communities.

We hope that solidarity from outside Florida adds strength to the struggle because Operation PUSH has to fight on two fronts – against the direct repressive power of the Florida prison system, and against dominant ideas and cultures that dehumanize prisoners and demand that prisoners perform social respectability. In having to appeal to public sentiment in order to push for reforms, prisoners face the limits of what the public believes possible. The fight to abolish prisons expands what we believe is possible, through collective action and people power. We support Operation PUSH as part of our movement against the criminalization of poor and colonized social groups because we reject the weak, liberal sensibility that declares that prisons should be more humane, but continue to exist, just as we reject the sensibility that the colonial and capitalist foundations of our society can be gradually reformed. Whether in Florida or Canada, poor, working-class, homeless, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, who are criminalized by racist and classist “justice” systems, constantly find their radical appeals contorted by frameworks of respectability. We reject the moralizing forces that constrict our visions for a truly just society, and stand in solidarity with all of Operation PUSH’s specific demands, as well as its underlying imperative to abolish prisons, police, and poverty.