SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — The largest prison strike in U.S. history has only been going for about a week, but there’s an incredible chance you’ve never heard about it. For months, inmates at dozens of prisons across the country have been using smuggled cellphones, social media pages, and the network of allies on the outside to organize themselves. The effort culminated in a mass refusal to report to prison jobs on September 9, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising.
“This is a call to action against slavery in America,” organizers wrote in an announcement that for weeks circulated inside and outside prisons nationwide, and that sums up the strikers’ primary demand: an end to free prison labor. “Forty-five years after Attica, the waves of change are returning to America’s prisons. This September we hope to coordinate and generalize these protests, to build them into a single tidal shift that the American prison system cannot ignore or withstand.”
Since the end of last week, details have begun find their way to surface, but organizers and supporters have no doubt the scale of the action is unprecedented, though their assessment is difficult to verify and some corrections departments denied reports of strike-related activities in their states.
Prisoners in 24 states and 40 to 50 prisons pledged to join the strike, and as of Tuesday, prisoners in at least 11 states and 20 prisons continued the protest, according to outside supporters in Alabama.
“There are probably 20,000 prisoners on strike right now, at least, which is the biggest prison strike in history, but the information is really sketchy and spotty,” said Ben Turk, who works on “in-reach” to prisons for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World union helping to coordinate the inmate-led initiative from the outside.
The movement remains largely ignored by the outside, despite the fact a series of rallies have been held domestically and abroad.
“The strike has been pulled off, but we’re not quite breaking through to getting mainstream media,” he said. “I talk to people who aren’t in that milieu and aren’t seeing it on their social media, and they’ll be like, ‘We didn’t hear about it, there’s nothing about it anywhere.’”
Bad news for the strikers, who rely most on the public awareness to mitigate retaliation by prison officials. A week into the strike, a couple of groups were providing updates on the action, which organizers say will carry on indefinitely, as well as outside demonstrations of solidarity.
The withholding of information is largely due to prison officials’ ample discretion in the details they choose to disclose. As the strikes began, reports emerged of several facilities being put on lockdown, some preemptively, but the only way for outsiders to get updates would be to call each facility and ask, usually getting no explanation about the reasons for a lockdown. Reports also emerged claiming that prison leaders in Virginia, Ohio, California, and South Carolina were put in solitary confinement as a result of the strike, according to the Alabama supporters.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections said that prisons there had resumed normal operations after several hundred inmates staged protests and work stoppages at four facilities. The spokesperson added that several inmates identified in the disturbances were transferred to other regional institutions and will be disciplined “in accordance with procedure.”