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Update on #OperationPUSH in Florida Prisons

By IWOC - It's Going Down, January 19, 2018

Photo from @IWW_IWOC, features banner that was put up at solidarity demonstration at facility where two ex-prison Florida guards who were found guilty of belonging to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and were plotting to kill a black inmate after his release. 

It’s been a hard silence for the past 5 days since Operation PUSH launched a statewide prisoner strike in the FL Department of Corrections prison system (FDOC or FDC) coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.

Information from prisoners is coming in at a much slower pace than people on the outside had anticipated, but reports are slowly and steadily making their way through the walls, despite many obstacles.

Thus far, we’ve heard from prisoners that there has been active participation or repression of some sort in the following prisons: Santa Rosa, Jackson, Gulf, Hamilton, Avon Park, Franklin, Holmes, Everglades, Reception and Medical Center at Lake Butler, Liberty, Lowell, Columbia, Florida State Prison, Suwannee, Calhoun, and Martin. (The list is growing by the day.)

Strike Repression

A common theme among report backs is the attempt by the DOC to sever communication in order to create the perception of inactivity and break the spirits of those participating in the strike. Key contacts inside have reported being threatened by administration with harsher retaliation if correspondence with advocacy groups such as Fight Toxic Prisons and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee continues.

According to prisoner reports, some facilities have shut off state phone service as of Tuesday, January 16. A Security Threat Group (STG) investigator employed at a prison in the panhandle confirmed that multiple prisons across the state were placed on lockdown in preparation for the strike. Shakedowns have occurred where independent means of communication were confiscated and their alleged owners/users were thrown in solitary confinement.

We’ve heard reports that widespread investigations are occurring for anyone who has received or sent mail to organizations offering support on the outside and certain individuals are being labelled a “security threat” for doing so which can result in heightened custody levels, which means a loss of privileges, and continued harassment by the STG unit. One prisoner was told, “As long as you communicate with these people you’re always going to be labelled a security threat and you’re always going to be put under investigation.”

Given the past two years of prisoner organizing in Florida, it’s understandable that there is an expectation to hear of something distinct on the inside marking the start of the strike.

Inmates Launch Month-Long Strike to Protest 'Slavery Conditions' in Florida Prisons

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, January 14, 2018

Inmates in Florida's prisons launched a month-long strike on Monday in protest of the state's use of "modern day slavery" within its correctional facilities.

In a statement released by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, one of several advocacy groups supporting the movement, the state's prisoners urged the prison population to refuse all work assignments during the strike:

We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances...Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.

African-Americans make up about a third of Florida's prison population, despite accounting for only about 17 percent of the state's overall population. Calling their movement Operation Push, after Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1970s campaign to improve the economic status of African-Americans, the state's inmates are fighting against the Department of Corrections' price-gouging practices and Florida's elimination of parole as well as its use of unpaid labor by prisoners.

Florida is one of five states that offers no payment to inmates for their work—from washing prison uniforms and cooking meals to completing maintenance work and serving on cleanup crews after Hurricane Irma hit the state last September.

"There's a word for that, it's called slavery," Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told the Guardian. "Some states might say they pay 10 cents a day, or 15 cents an hour, or whatever, but here they make it pretty clear they don't pay prisoners anything, they're not going to, and prisoners are totally enslaved at every level."

On top of receiving no compensation for their work, inmates—and their families—have to come up with money to afford food and other items sold in prisons.

"We can no longer allow the state to take advantage of our families' hard earned money by over-charging us," wrote the inmates in their statement. "Take for example: one case of soup on the street cost $4.00. It costs us $17.00 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It's not just us that they’re taking from. It's our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of."

Black Lives Matter, several local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Florida State University's NAACP chapter are among more than 100 groups that have announced their support for the movement. Many of the groups planned to hold a rally with inmates' friends and families at the state's Department of Corrections on Tuesday.

Florida Gears-Up to Offer Solidarity to #OperationPush

By staff - It's Going Down,

On January 15th, prisoners in Florida are set to take action against prison slavery across the state.

According to Fight Toxic Prisons:

[T]hese prisoners plan to initiate a work stoppage or “laydown” beginning Monday, January 15th, coinciding with MLK Day, in nonviolent protest of conditions in FL prisons. They are calling it Operation PUSH.

Their primary demands are clear and concise: end prison slavery, stop price gouging, and fully return parole. They believe these issues have directly created the overcrowding that is responsible for the deplorable conditions in Florida prisons.

Their statement also raises other major issues that need to be grappled with, including the death penalty, voting rights and environmental health conditions.

Prisoners themselves have also issued a statement about their reasons for organizing the action:

We are currently forming a network agency within D.O.C. We are asking all prisoners within the Department of Corrections to take a stand by laying down starting January 15, 2018, until the injustice we see facing prisoners within the Florida system is resolved.

We are calling on all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page. We will be taking a stand for:

1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates

Along with these primary demands, we are also expressing our support for the following goals:

• Stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history.
• Expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler).
• Honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row.
• Restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.

Also, Haitian prisoners in Florida have issued a statement in support of Operation PUSH, both the Final Straw and Kine Line have released interviews with organizers involved with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) about supporting the strike, and IGD’s Bloc Party was able to conduct an interview with an incarcerated organizer, which you can read here.

Where Non-Profits Fear to Go: Report From Florida

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, September 25, 2017

The following is a report back for a relief trip to the Florida Keys made possible by the work of numerous folks involved with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR). The immense amount of support and solidarity provided for those in need exists through the collaboration of various communities to come together in times of crisis. This represents the perspective and response of anarchist comrades, yet there are a number of different political orientations for those involved with MADR. As the predatory nature of the State continues to benefit from disasters such as these, we feel it is crucial to give space to anti-state and anti-authoritarian voices in order to continue to remind us in the storm after the storm, who the true enemy is.

On 9/18 Monday morning at 3 AM a group of 9 folks left “The Hub” (5107 N. Central Ave.) in Tampa to drive to the Florida Keys with a 12 ft truck loaded with food, water, and other necessities, as the U.S. Highway 1 checkpoint established in Florida City after Hurricane Irma, was to be terminated Tuesday at 7:30 AM. Although police stated that only residents, business owners, disaster workers and supply vehicles with proper identification would be allowed to enter until further notice.

It had been a week since residents who were able to leave had evacuated and they were just now returning to their homes, or what was left of them. The hurricane’s last minute shift to the western coast of Florida put the Florida Keys (especially the Middle Keys such as Marathon, and Lower Keys; Big Key Pine, Little Torch Key, and Key West) directly in the storm’s path, as it made landfall on Sunday, September 10th.

In order to provide much needed aid to those neglected by the Red Cross and FEMA, we drove with a van full of medical supplies and a 12 ft moving truck filled with food, water, and other necessities to the poorest areas. Yet, before we even entered, there were a number of other obstacles in our way constructed by the State and the non-profit industrial complex looking to take advantage of successes in autonomous organizing and the opportunities that disaster provides. The immense amount of supplies that have been collected at “The Hub” in the past couple weeks was made possible through the long-standing connections between various radical communities and the donation of the space from the St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Living Autonomy: Anarchists Organize Relief Efforts in Florida

By Rigole Rise - It's Going Down, September 20, 2017

Recently we spoke with Dezeray about her organizing with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR) in the weeks since Hurricane Irma and how spaces such as the hub in Tampa are crucial sites for building solidarity and stability during times of crisis. They’ve had an overwhelming amount of support from the local community, especially those who have realized the practice of mutual aid is a part of the work of anarchist, anti-fascist, and anti-racist struggles. The Reverend Dr. Russell Meyer from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Tampa—the church that has provided the building now known as “the hub,”—noted during a sermon following Hurricane Irma, “a week ago these people were known as Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Terrorists. Have you ever seen a terrorist show up to a child with Pedialyte in their hand?”

Although this has not deterred the actions of neo-Confederate groups such as Save Southern Heritage from standing outside across the street taking pictures, filming, and documenting those who enter the space. In the days following Hurricane Irma Alt-Right 4chan users trolled the MADR hotline by making false rescue reports to take away time and resources from those actually in need. 3% Percenters have tried numerous times to call or show up in the space and say there was an emergency, state multiple people were coming to collect all of the supplies, along with a number of other faulty narratives all trying to disrupt their work because of the power that it holds.

With a visit by Richard Spencer in Gainesville, Florida at the University of Florida set for October 19th, a number of Alt-Right white supremacists have already been discussing on 4chan how they are going to use “Stand Your Ground” laws as an excuse to slaughter anti-fascists and turn it into a bloodbath. It is crucial to see how we can learn from and support projects such as these, as the organizers involved are experiencing repression, threats of physical violence, and doxxing for doing this crucial work and need our solidarity now more than ever.

Autonomy in Tampa, Solidarity in Immokalee: Love Letter to the Future

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, September 17, 2017

Thankfully, Tampa did not get “punched in the face” as much as anticipated. Still, if you are in the Tampa Bay area and need medical assistance or food/water/debris cleanup, or want to act in solidarity with your neighbors, or both! you can come to 5107 N. Central Ave, right next to St. Paul Lutheran Church. We are facilitating debris cleanup crews, providing first aid, engaging in mobile supplies distribution and more. We have cut down trees, removed debris, comforted neighbors, bought life saving medications, cleaned out fridges, put a family that didn’t have one up in a safe home. No Bureaucracy. No red tape. In St Pete, community-based relief efforts are coalescing at St Pete Community Acupuncture.  And similar efforts are underway throughout Florida. If you are coming from out of the area, you are welcome at these locations, but know that Tampa itself is back to “normal” for most of its residents – very far from an apocalyptic atmosphere. But we are using the Tampa convergence center to do relief efforts throughout the state focusing on harder hit, historically marginalized communities, including migrant farmworker and indigenous communities.

The Mutual Aid Disaster Relief convergence center in Tampa is growing by the hour. The first aid station has grown into a wellness center, including acupuncture, trauma counseling, peer support, herbal medics, and other alternative medicine modalities. Local community members know to drop off hurricane supplies that they didn’t need. Community members also know to come here if supplies are needed. And that these supplies can be received with dignity. Here, there are no powerful givers of aid and powerless receivers of aid. We are undermining that dynamic in a process that contributes to the liberation and consciousness-raising of everybody involved. Mobile distros base out of the space, channel their inner Robin Hood, and reach across Florida with supplies, especially to historically marginalized communities. We have funneled over 10 tons of food, water, diapers, and other supplies to hard-hit Immokalee, FL. a migrant farmworker town.

In Immokalee, we are working at the request of and in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights, farmworker justice movement with deep roots in the community. Immokalee expects to be without power for weeks to come and food in the city is scarce. Other needs are self-standing already functional photovoltaic solar arrays, solar generators, other solar equipment, phone battery packs, large tarps, screening for windows, bug spray, mobile kitchens, and medics to staff the first aid station we constructed. In Tampa, we have partnered with Tampa Black Lives Matter, Tampa Food Not Bombs, Love Has No Borders, Islamic Relief, Suncoast Antifa, Tampa DSA, The Refuge, Tampa Bay Dream Defenders, Organize Now, POCA Clinics, Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition, and many other organizations with decades of community organizing experience in the Tampa Bay area to not only effectively and efficiently address the disaster of Irma, but also the ongoing disasters of social and economic inequality. Speaking of which, anti-refugee Floridians who crossed the border into other states to escape disaster: think about what this would be like if we weren’t allowed access to safety. That is a reality for many trying to flee war, natural disaster, and poverty. Borders are violent.

Updates from the Sabal Trail Resistance

By Sabal Trail Resistance - Earth First! Journal, February 16, 2017

Over the last month many of you responded to the call Sabal Trail Resistance (STR) put out to mobilize around the Suwannee River pipeline drilling site over the MLK Day weekend. Thousands helped to spread our calls to action, hundreds made the trek out to blockade construction and 48 organizations thus farfrom national to localvowed to lend their support to this effort.

Jan 14 was the largest mobilization to date against Sabal Trail and the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, and despite differences of opinion on strategy and tactics, we presented a unified front against the pipeline pushers that continues to be talked about, as people keep sharing stories, photos and videos from that weekend, a month later.

But successful displays of resistance don’t appear from thin air. Much organizing work goes into building moments like that. For example, in the lead up to the MLK Day weekend events, we:

  • hosted multiple workshops, where over a hundred people got training on the strategic use of direct action;
  • invited a founding organizer from the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota to give talks about the experience of watching the camp grow from ten people to ten thousand;
  • organized group hikes to the drill site;
  • coordinated with lawyers from Southern Legal Council for free speech protection and legal support;
  • assisted with email blasts to the memberships and social media base of large activist networks such as Rising Tide, Power Shift, Greenpeace, 350.org, and Food & Water Watch.
  • generated local/national/int’l media coverage about the pipeline and civil disobedience to stop it (Gainesville Sun, Jacksonville Times Union and Tallahassee Democrat, The Guardian, to name a few, as well as multiple TV stations in the region.);
  • kept a social media buzz about the MLK weekend of action, including the creation of a powerful short video through Nomad’s Land;

written or assisted with articles in multiple independent publications (printed and online), including Earth First! Journal, the Iguana, It’s Going Down and The Fine Print;

  • circulated over 3000 flyers across North/Central Florida; and
  • supported other groups in protests and outreach events all across the state, including the Dec 29 multi-city action and the die-in/banner-hang at the State Capitol.

We mention these things to illustrate the effort that goes into movement organizing. We built from the foundation of over three years of community organizing against this pipeline, and we continue to do so.

Rally at Coleman Prison in Support of Prisoner Strike Amidst Riots and Lockdowns across Florida

By Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons - It's Going Down, September 11, 2016

Activists from across Florida, including GJEP’s own GE Trees campaigner Ruddy Turnstone (who is operating the megaphone in the video below), attended a demonstration Sept. 9, focused on calling attention to the modern-day slavery conditions, rampant abuse and toxic conditions that occur in prisons around the country. The address of FCC Coleman is 846 NE 54th Terrace, in Wildwood, located half-way between Orlando and Tampa.

The event occurred as part of a nationwide strike on Sept. 9, the anniversary of the Attica prison uprising in New York, was initially announced earlier this year by prisoners in various states, including Alabama, Ohio, Virginia, Texas. It is still unknown how many prisons had people participating in the strike, but over 50 events and demonstrations were planned outside prisons in dozens of cities and rural towns across the U.S.

Riots, work refusal and administrative lockdowns of entire facilities in Florida have already been reported. Other state and federal facilities have reported similar situations around the country.

The Coleman prison complex houses over 7,000 prisoners and is home to the largest prison factory in the entire country, primarily producing material goods such as furniture for government agencies nationwide.

Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, has over $34 million in contract obligation coming out of Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities in Florida. This is three times higher than any other state in the country.

These workers are subjected to slave conditions based on the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which exempts prisoners of protection from slavery.

Over the past 10 years, UNICOR facilities have repeatedly been cited for unsafe working conditions and environmental hazards across the nation.

Additionally, FCC Coleman is surrounded by an industrial waste land of rock mines and their water storage pits, which have been known tocontaminate regional water supplies in other areas of the state. Tainted water is a common problem in prisons around the country as well.

“Prisons all over the country are coupled with environmentally hazardous land uses that threaten the health of prisoners and local ecosystems,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer with the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. “There is no way to justify forcing people to live in these conditions.”

The event at Coleman is being organized by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and the Gainesville branch of the IWW labor union.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons aims to develop ties between the environmental movement and the movement against mass incarceration.

The IWW is the only labor union in the country which actively accepts prisoners as members.