Each time the 100-strong crowd assembled for the national Occupy for Prisoners day roared below the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago on Monday evening, the lights in a couple of windows would flicker on and off - prisoners up above, responding to the chants of "build schools, not prisons" and "we're with you, brothers and sisters."
"I can only imagine how excited they might have been to see that there are people in the free world that are concerned about them." said Christan Bufford, an organizer for juvenile justice with the Southwest Youth Collaborative. "When you are in there [detention], you feel like you are the only person in the world."
Bufford would know - he spent four months in the Illinois Youth Department of Corrected at the age of 16 after an aggravated gun charge and a probation violation. The statistics on mass incarceration for juveniles are bleak. For the more than 93,000 young people in the juvenile justice system in 2008, about 80 percent went on to have contact with the adult criminal justice system, found the MacArthur Foundation.
And the stigma that comes with being part of the juvenile justice system is constant, says Bufford. "Even if it is supposed to go away when you are 17, all you hear is 'this will follow you forever, [you've] messed up your life,'" said Bufford. "The juvenile justice system is not the solution, we really need to be focusing on restorative community based alternatives."
Juvenile justice was one part of the criminal justice system (or injustice system, as some activists call it) that was highlighted in Chicago's Occupy for Prisoners event on Monday, February 20. Eighteen other cities around the country came together as well to bring attention to the plight of a section of the 99 percent - prisoners.
In the United States, more than 2.2 million people sit behind bars, according to the Justice Policy Institute. Some of the most oft-cited statistics are that more people are incarcerated today than in China or Stalin's Russia, giving America the dubious honor of being the largest jailer.
But behind the shocking statistics are harsh sentencing laws and lucrative contracts for private prison firms that continue to drive the mass incarceration system, say the protesters at Occupy for Prisons, and they are calling for a fundamental change to the system.
"Softer sheets and fluffier pillows will not do for change," said Yasmin Nair, an academic and writer in Chicago, with the group Gender Just. "Prison has become a way to increase systemic injustice."
The protests call for an end to a variety of ills that activists see in the system: three strikes bills, which mandate the harshest prison term for anyone with three criminal convictions; solitary confinement; overcrowding; the death penalty; jail time for drug offenses; adult sentencing for children; and for-profit prisons, among other issues.
"In several different places around the country, Occupiers have organically taken up this work," said Brit Schulte, an activists with Occupy Chicago and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Occupy's movement against injustice in the banking system, and the massive profits of corporations, are exactly what Occupy for Prisoners is pushing for, said Schulte.
Wells Fargo, a target of Occupy events in the past, has heavily invested in the private prison industry and owns 3.5 million shares in the second-largest private prison operator in the country, GEO Group, as Truthout previously reported.
Meanwhile, prisons make "enormous amounts of profit off the backs of black and brown people in our country," said Schulte. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the maximum wage for prisoners working at UNICOR, the federal agency that employs prisoners, is $1.15 an hour. The minimum wage for prisoners is $0.23.
The current prison population falls sharply along racial lines - African-Americans only make up 12 percent of the US population, while they make up about 40 percent of the prison population.
In fact, "there are more African Americans under correctional control today - in prison or jail, on probation or parole - than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began," points out Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness."
"The New Jim Crows" calls out these racial disparities as a modern-day counterpart to the old Jim Crow laws, arguing that the prison system and the difficulty for felons to find jobs or get public aid disenfranchise the black community much the same way that segregation laws did before they were abolished in 1965.
The book itself calls for a human rights movement to end the new Jim Crow, and Schulte says that the Occupy for Prisoners day was only the start of a spike in this movement. "We are in a very special place right now with this movement, because it's just getting going," said Schulte.
The National Prison Divestment Campaign was launched less than a year ago, to pressure corporations to divest from private prisons, and, so far, the United Methodist Church Board of Pension and Health Benefits has withdrawn nearly $1 million in stocks from the two largest private prison companies, GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America.
Occupy for Prisoners itself was sparked by an article Kevin Cooper, a death row prisoner in California, called "Occupy Death Row."
And last summer, prisoners at Pelican Bay State's Secure Housing Unit went on a three-week hunger strike for demands, including that staff stop using food as punishment, "adequate natural sunlight", one photo a year, and brought the plight of prisoners to national attention.
"When we set out to do these demonstrations," said Schulte, "we didn't want to just call for better conditions, but also give voice to the people that have been affected by this system."
Link to original Truthout Report
Economic and Social Justice -
According to the stock market, the U.K. economy is in a boom. Not just any old boom, but a historic one. On 28 October 2013, the FTSE 100 index hit 6,734, breaching the level achieved at the height of the economic boom before the 2008 global financial crisis (that was 6,730, recorded in October 2007).
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All eyes are on Chattanooga, Tenn. as 1,500 Volkswagen workers file into voting booths this week to determine whether they will be represented by the United Auto Workers.
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Where have all the Democrats gone?
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In yet another constitutional rejection of mandatory drug testing, a federal judge this week struck down Florida’s program to require drug testing of all applicants for public assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The ruling makes permanent an earlier ruling that blocked the program, and reinforces many other court rulings that drug tests targeting particular populations are unconstitutional if they are not specifically tailored to protect public safety or another state interest.
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For many years the American Right -- and many of the most powerful elements of corporate and Wall Street elite -- have conducted a war on public employees.
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Barbie Izquierdo, a low-income mother of two small children, is a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a Philadelphia group of moms dedicated to ending hunger and poverty for their children and for families nationwide. About a month ago while she was waiting in line at a supermarket, she overheard two families trying to make purchases with their food stamps debit card. A computer glitch had temporarily shut down the system; these families and their children of all ages had to leave the store empty-handed. Barbie had to be a witness...
Deborah Weinstein | Huffington Post 26 Nov 2013 Hits:340 ESJ Articles
Authors of new report warn food donations not enough as six million threatened with worsened hunger
'Tis the season to give, the saying goes.
Yet all of the charitable food donations in the United States this year combined would not make a dent in proposed cuts to food subsidy programs that threaten at least six million people with worsened hunger.
So said researchers with the Bread for the World Institute in an interview with The Guardian published Monday.
“Virtually every church, synagogue and mosque in the country is now gathering up food and distributing,...
Sarah Lazare | Common Dreams 26 Nov 2013 Hits:378 ESJ Articles
A key dispute in the TPP negotiations is the patents on pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures. Long patents inflate the profits of the pharmaceutical industry by not allowing less expensive generic drugs on the market. This means that people around the world will not be able to afford critical, often life-saving, drugs and medical procedures. It also means that countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand that have national health care systems will see the cost of healthcare rise to a breaking point, undermining some of the best health systems...
Staff | Truthout 25 Nov 2013 Hits:460 ESJ Articles
This piece is a follow-up to Linda's first post, "This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense":
At this point, enough people are asking that I will tell you about myself, because I am getting a lot of the same questions. I was raised middle class, by a factory worker and a teacher. They are my grandparents, and they are Mom and Dad. But I was given to them after I had lived with an overwhelmed mother and a father away in the Navy, and Mom has always been...
Linda Tirado | Huffington Post 25 Nov 2013 Hits:2076 ESJ Articles
The Senate passed historic gay rights legislation Thursday to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, another victory for the gay rights movement that has been gaining favor in the courts and electoral politics.
Senators voted 64 to 32 to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
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Ed O'Keefe | Washington Post 07 Nov 2013 Hits:489 ESJ Articles
Does it make any difference that families receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps) will have less to spend on food this month? Starting November 1, a family of four will lose $36 per month; or $29 for a three-person family. The loss of $30-$36 per month is a big deal to families living right on the edge. Even before this month's reduction, families often ran out of food. We know this not only from the people that run food banks and food pantries, who see longer lines at the end of...
Deborah Weinstein | Huffington Post 06 Nov 2013 Hits:635 ESJ Articles
After more than 200 advocates of the "Robin Hood tax" marched up Constitution Ave. here today to the Longworth House Office Building, lawmakers heard the vice president of the European Parliament, Ani Podimata, describe a solution for raising hundreds of billions of dollars a year - a tiny tax on financial speculation now being implemented across Europe.
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John Wojcik | People's World 05 Nov 2013 Hits:526 ESJ Articles
Funding extension for SNAP allowed to expire as lawmakers weigh further cuts to the program for families in need
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Jacob Chamberlain | Common Dreams 03 Nov 2013 Hits:405 ESJ Articles
Research shows the much-maligned aid to the poor buys broad economic and public health gains.
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It’s early on Friday morning and the union hall is packed with people waiting to see Bernie Sanders. Mostly gray-haired retirees fill the first few rows while unionists, college students and activists, including some veterans of the Occupy movement, are scattered toward the back of the modestly-sized room. They’re here for a town hall meeting that’s been billed “The Fight for Economic Justice.”
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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is shifting the focus of the shutdown debate onto seniors in a new attack that hammers more than 60 House Republicans for "throw[ing] our seniors under the bus."
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In a rally on Thursday, Congress’s left flank linked arms against using safety-net programs as bargaining chips.
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PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:
Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.
Listen to our coalition partners at National Nurses United (NNU) speak on the Robin Hood Tax campaign. Bill Gallagher, the Robin Hood Tax Campaign Coordinator for NNU, and Sheilah Garland Political Organizer for Illinois and Missouri with NNOC/NNU,...
Listen to Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works and PDA coalition partner, discuss the upcoming battle to protect our Social Security and how we are putting the attackers on the defensive.
Listen to guest Zachary Schechter-Steinberg, the Senior Economic Advisor for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, discuss the push for a Chained CPI regarding Social Security. Included is the conversation: how to put...
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Guest speaker, Trey Hawkins, Vice Presdient of Political Affairs at Credit Union National Association, Inc. (CUNA) speaks with us about the difference between banks and credit unions, as well as why and how US credit unions are coming under...
Discussion in relation to recommending the endorsement of the American Jobs Act of 2013, HR 2821, introduced by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D) (FL-24), what actions we will be taking to head off Fast Track of the Trans Pacific Partnership, plus,...