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 -
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...
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Staff | Truthout 25 Nov 2013 Hits:251 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...
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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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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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Funding extension for SNAP allowed to expire as lawmakers weigh further cuts to the program for families in need
U.S. lawmakers will allow the essential food aid program Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to lose $5 billion in funding when a stimulus boost ends on Friday.
The massive blow to the program means that the roughly 47 million people with food stamp assistance—that's one in every seven Americans, 49 percent of whom are children—will have their monthly assistance gouged.
As Colorlines reports, "The total cuts will amount to about a five percent reduction...
Jacob Chamberlain | Common Dreams 03 Nov 2013 Hits:192 ESJ Articles
Research shows the much-maligned aid to the poor buys broad economic and public health gains.
In September, just two days after a Census Bureau report showed that food stamps helped keep 4 million Americans out of poverty last year, the US House of Representatives approved a $39 billion cut to the program (known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) over the next decade.
The House proposal, now being negotiated along with smaller, yet still significant, Senate cuts of $4 billion, would result in 3.8 million people being removed from food stamps in 2014,...
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Rev. Al Sharpton | Huffington Post 28 Oct 2013 Hits:189 ESJ Articles
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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Ryan called entitlement spending "the nation's biggest challenge" in his op-ed.
In one release, targeting...
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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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On October 3, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and demonstrators hold hands on Capitol Hill to form a human chain against chained...
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After years of protests, numerous failed Congressional bills and dozens of lawsuits, black farmers began receiving payment for their grievances last week. Nearly three years ago President Obama signed the bill authorizing compensation for discrimination in farm lending at the hands of the United States Department of Agriculture.
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John Boyd | Huffington Post 01 Oct 2013 Hits:339 ESJ Articles
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes in June 2011, no one needed a Richter scale to know it was a Big One. In throwing out a mammoth lawsuit by women employees who claimed that they’d been systematically underpaid and underpromoted by the world’s biggest corporation, the ruling upended decades of employment discrimination law and raised serious barriers to future large-scale discrimination cases of every kind.
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Nina Martin | ProPublica 30 Sep 2013 Hits:513 ESJ Articles
In 1934, as U.S. banks were dropping like flies, Congress approved the Federal Credit Union Act that gave federal backing—and nonprofit status—to cooperatives to fill the void left by the collapsing banking system. It was collective action at its fundamental best.
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Scott Martelle | TruthDig 30 Sep 2013 Hits:730 ESJ Articles
On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.
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Daniel Kovalik | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 18 Sep 2013 Hits:772 ESJ Articles
At a time of great political division in our country President Obama has found a remarkable way to unite Americans of all political persuasions -- conservatives, progressives and moderates. With a loud and clear voice, the overwhelming majority of the American people, across the political spectrum, are saying NO to another war in the Middle East -- Syria's bloody and complicated civil war.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders | Huffington Post 13 Sep 2013 Hits:312 ESJ Articles
With all the attention on President Barack Obama’s primetime Syria address, there has been little or no mention of another primetime televised presidential address on another urgent national crisis exactly two years ago this week. That topic was unemployment.
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Rep. Frederica Wilson and Rep. John Conyers | CNN 13 Sep 2013 Hits:544 ESJ Articles
I've worked at fast-food restaurants in North Carolina for the past 15 years. I've spent more hours at Church's Chicken, McDonald's and now Burger King than I can remember. I work hard – I never miss a shift and always arrive on time. But today, I'm going on strike.
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Willetta Dukes | The Guardian 29 Aug 2013 Hits:324 ESJ Articles
The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced on Thursday that they would treat legal same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual marriages for federal tax purposes.
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Only a fraction of eligible borrowers are using programs that will let them reduce their monthly student-loan payments. The White House wants to change that.
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On May 31st, president Barack Obama strolled into the bright sunlight of the Rose Garden, covered from head to toe in the slime and ooze of the Benghazi and IRS…
U.S. Representative Marlin Stutzman said, "Most people will agree that if you are an able bodied adult without any kids you should find your way off food stamps." That depends…
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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 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...
Listen to the call for updates on the Trans Pacific Partnership, Robin Hood Tax, Equal Rights Amendment, and other campaigns this team is working on. Also there are state reports and local actions.
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,...
Guest speaker Justin Zorn, Legislative Director to Rep. Frederica Wilson (FL-12). will discuss Rep. Wilson2019s American Jobs Act of 2013, H.R. 2821. As America approaches the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,...
Guest speaker Lacey Kohlmoos, Senior Field Organizer for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, updates us on Fast Track and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), new developments and revelations regarding the talks on the TPP, plus ways in which...