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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Re-asserting the cultural revolution in the National Occupy Movement

Waging and winning the cultural revolution means throwing off oppression by convincing the people that the interests of the ruling 1% are opposite, not identical to those of the 99%

by Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham, Kambui Robinson and Jabari Scott of the NCTT Corcoran Security Housing Unit (SHU)

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Michael Zaharibu Dorrough and his family are not the sort of patriarchal, authoritarian family that prepares children to confuse the interests of the ruling 1 percent with their own interests and to submit to oppression without protest.

Steadfast greetings, brothers and sisters. Our love and solidarity to you all. We felt it appropriate to open this statement with Dr. King’s call, which has been applicable to any given period where injustice is rife. We felt compelled to provide some necessary clarity and context to the struggle taking place.The National Occupy Movement has been magnificent in how it has changed the framework in which the discourse on unequal distribution of wealth must be made. But in order for the movement to develop into the popular movement that it must become to effect permanent and meaningful change, the slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” must become a reality. It is imperative that both Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and Occupy the Hood (OTH) struggle together to form a popular movement.

It is crucial to any lasting progress that we reignite the cultural revolution that was started early in this nation’s history but never fulfilled: John Brown’s revolt, Thomas Dorr’s rebellion, the civil and human rights struggles of the 1950s-‘60s, the armed revolts throughout this nation’s history, including the rebellions in Watts, Oakland (Kambui and Jabari’s hometown), Harlem, Detroit, Cleveland (Zaharibu’s hometown), Chicago (Heshima’s hometown), and Kent State, to name a few.

These struggles laid the foundation for the cultural revolution that the U.S. was in the process of undergoing up until the later 1970s. No society can make the necessary transformation from a capitalist, patriarchal, authoritarian, racist, sexist, homophobic, unjust one to one in which democratic ideals can prevail and fulfilling one’s potential is actually possible and encouraged without undergoing a cultural revolutionary transformation.

We are not talking about what kind of government we want; that can and will occur in time, and you will know when that time comes just as you knew that the time had come to fight this battle. A cultural revolution occurs during the transitional stage in the struggle and consists of people from different cultural – i.e., racial, ethnic, religious – backgrounds and schools of thought varying politically, economically, socially, spiritually, intellectually, educationally and sexually all coming together to realize a vision for the kind of society they want to share and live in. It is quite possibly the crucial step in a society transforming itself. That’s exactly what was underway toward the mid- to late 1970s.

We believe that because of the overall political immaturity of all but a few of the liberation groups at that time, the movement was not able to develop into a cohesive popular movement. As a result, groups were crushed, individuals either went into exile, were assassinated or imprisoned, while a lot of others in the movement were co-opted by the system.

Billions of dollars were spent on social programs during the Johnson administration. Yet most, perhaps all, of these programs no longer exist. The cultural revolution of that time – traditionally called the “social revolution” – was re-characterized as the “sexual revolution” by the ruling class, reduced to a period of time in which citizens engaged in promiscuous sex – nothing more.

It was part of the ruling class’s effort to de-legitimize the efforts made by those brave citizens who dared to struggle! Simultaneously, they were re-enforcing the puritanical component of the authoritarian mass psychology. It was also the intention of the ruling class to re-write the historical record of the period, thus depriving future generations of a historical record to build on.

There is already an understanding of the underlying conditions that are responsible for so much misery, and those conditions have always existed, but what is not as clear is why have so many accepted these conditions for so long? We will try to address that here.

But what must be clear at the outset is change, developing a popular movement, must consist of OWS and OTH forging meaningful coalitions with one another. Coalitions that recognize that this struggle is not a “white” struggle; it is a people’s struggle.

The Occupy Movement is not a “white” struggle; it is a people’s struggle. The middle class must be prepared to take the necessary steps to reach these goals and that includes reaching out to the underclass.

It must be recognized that in order for OWS to mature into a popular movement, the participation of OTH is required. Those citizens within OTH, the leadership, must mobilize with OWS. This is a protracted struggle. The middle class must be prepared to take the necessary steps to reach these goals and that includes reaching out to the underclass and OTH. OTH must see that it is in their interests to reach back and unite in this struggle.

What is a cultural revolution?

But what is it that we are struggling against? Exactly what is a cultural revolution? Why is it necessary, and what does it entail? How can it be waged successfully?

The answer lies in the nature of the struggle of the National Occupy Movement itself, the struggle between the interests of the ruling 1 percent and those of the 99 percent. It is a struggle between ideas that have been imposed on the people as a direct result of the changes in economic modes of production and the people’s unconscious acceptance, support and identification with those ideas and new ideas that reflect these warped artificial psychological structures in favor of those that free them from an exploitive political and economic relationship that serves a wealth elite.

It must be understood that our movement will NOT succeed in effecting a fundamental change in the mass psychological structure which supports this exploitive relationship. This is the core purpose of a cultural revolution, to eradicate unprogressive values, tendencies, sentiments and modes of thought. But before we can expound upon the characteristics of the cultural revolution, we first need to clearly analyze the core impediment to the successful conclusion of attempted cultural revolutions in the past.

The chief obstacle to the realization of progressive social change here has always been the patriarchal authoritarian psychological structure of reactionary men and women in the U.S. These concepts may be complex for those new to them, so we’ll attempt to be as clear and brief as possible.

For most of U.S. capitalist society’s existence, it has brutally exploited the labor, ideas and political will of the vast majority of its population to maintain and expand the wealth, power and privilege of a greedy elite ruling class the movement has identified as the 1 percent. It has been this way for hundreds of years and each time progressive social forces have attempted to cast off this yoke of oppression or move the nation closer to the idealistic sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence, those forces have been repressed, not simply by the ruling 1 percent and its tools, but by vast segments of the oppressed masses themselves.

What causes this illogical contradiction? What prevents the socio-economic situation they’re suffering through from reflecting the psychic structure of the masses? Again and again, throughout the history of progressive social movements, we see the economic and ideological situations of the masses in the U.S. not coinciding and in fact being at considerable variance. The socio-economic reality of the people is not directly and immediately translated into political consciousness; if it were, the social revolution would have been realized years ago. The answer lies in the unique historical processes that forged the character structure of the average Amerikan worker.

That process began with the introduction of patriarchy as the dominant force in social ideology in Europe and its impetus toward authoritarian control of every aspect of social life of the remaining members of the family unit, especially as it relates to the negation of natural social and biological processes. In the figure of the “father” the authoritarian ruling class has its representative in every family, so the family unit becomes its most vital instruments of power.

This patriarchal authoritarian process’ chief component is puritanical repression, and this is also the manner in which the ruling 1 percent chains the ideological structure of the lower middle and middle classes to its own interests. Unlike patriarchal authoritarianism, puritanical repression as a tool of mass social control is fairly recent – in the last 300 years.

If we analyze the history of puritanicalism and the etiology of the repression of natural human biological expression, you’ll find its origins aren’t at the beginning of cultural development. No, it was not until the organized establishment of patriarchal authoritarianism and the class system that puritanicalism starts to assert itself and begin to serve the interests of the ruling 1 percent in amassing material profit.

There is a logical reason for all of this when seen from the perspective of the thriving exploitation of human labor and the apparent enthusiasm of the people to accept that exploitation. You see, the ruling 1 percent very rarely need to resort to brute force to maintain control of society, as the owners of the means of production prefer to employ their ideological power over the oppressed as their primary weapon, for it is the ideology of puritanical patriarchal authoritarianism that is the mainstay of the ruling elite.

The ruling 1 percent very rarely need to resort to brute force to maintain control of society, as the owners of the means of production prefer to employ their ideological power over the oppressed as their primary weapon.

It is within the authoritarian family that the merging of the economic arrangement and the puritanical structure of society takes place; religious and other puritanical interests continue this function later. Thus, the authoritarian state has an enormous stake in the authoritarian family; it becomes the factory in which the state’s structure and ideology is molded.

Man’s authoritarian psychology is thus produced by embedding these puritanical inhibitions, guilt feelings and fear of freedom to experience natural forms of human expression. The suppression of one’s economic needs compasses a different psychological reaction than one’s natural human drives.

The suppression of one’s economic needs usually incites resistance, while the repression of natural biological needs removes those desires from the consciousness, embeds them in the subconscious and erects a “moral defense” against them, and in so doing prevents rebellion against both forms of suppression. The result is the inhibition of rebellion itself.

How the 1 percent suppresses the cultural revolution

In the average Amerikan, there is no trace of revolutionary thinking. It is this process that has strengthened political reaction in the U.S. and made far too many victims of economic inequality here passive, indifferent and apolitical. It has succeeded in creating a secondary force in man’s mind, an artificial interest that supports the authoritarian order of the ruling 1 percent.

In the average Amerikan, there is no trace of revolutionary thinking.

Yes, most are truly “trapped in the matrix.” This is observable at every level of this capitalist society. It is the conservative who first suggests reactionary repressive measures or curtailing civil liberties in the face of civil disobedience or broad political dissent. The Occupy Movement continues to experience this firsthand at the hands of national police forces.

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition here in the Corcoran State Prison SHU and in Pelican Bay continues to experience waves of retaliation from state prison industrialists. This “fear of freedom” is inherent to the authoritarian character structure of conservative man.

The conflict that originally takes place between natural desires and authoritarian suppression of these desires later becomes the conflict between instinct and morality within the person. This, of course, produces a contradiction within the person. Since man is not only the object of the historical processes that created the economic and ideological influences of his social life, but also reproduces them in his activities, his thinking and acting must be just as contradictory as the society from which they arose.

The U.S., for instance, is a society founded on the premises of “equality, freedom and the unalienable rights of man,” yet its formation, history and modern structure contradict this. When we speak of the realization of U.S. “manifest destiny” or the development and maintenance of its global hegemony, we are speaking of the systematic genocide of Native Americans, the organized theft of Native land, the slavery and brutalization of Africans and New Afrikans, the maintenance of institutional racism and sexism, imperialist war mongering, state-sponsored kidnapping, torture and targeted assassinations, suppression of sexual democracy, state imposition of religious moral imperatives that deprive others of their equal rights, the naked exploitation of human labor and suppression of organized labor, and the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color – all while espousing the ideas of “opportunity, fairness and equal protection under the law.”

This is the historical legacy of contradiction in the development and maintenance of U.S. society. These same contradictions are reproduced in the psychic-structures of its people.

Should the middle strata of White Amerika lose these warped concepts of “morality” to the same degree it continues to lose its intermediate position between the average worker and the upper class, this would seriously threaten the interests of the ruling 1 percent. You see, lurking also among this strata of the people, ever ready to break free of its reactionary tendencies, is the inherent revolutionary imperative of their socio-economic situation.

This is why since the start of the 2008 recession the FCC and virtually every segment of public and private enterprise has increased its push for “morality” and “strengthening traditional marriage,” because the authoritarian ideology and family unit forms the link from the wretched social reality of the lower middle class to reactionary ideology and social conservatism: The ideology of the 1 percent.

Where this ideology is uprooted from the compulsive family unit, the authoritarian system is threatened. They sense it on the horizon, and historically this is when the greatest ideological resistance asserts itself.

The socio-economic exploitation of the 99 percent, in its myriad manifestations, would not be possible without the psychological structure of the masses that accepts that status quo.

It is when the economically disenfranchised and dissatisfied classes begin to organize themselves, begin to fight for socio-political improvements and begin raising the cultural level of the broader masses that these authoritarian “moralistic” inhibitions set in. The bottom line here is every social order produces in the masses of its members that structure which it needs to achieve its main aims.

The U.S. is no different. The socio-economic exploitation of the 99 percent, in its myriad manifestations, would not be possible without the psychological structure of the masses that accepts that status quo. There is a direct correlation between the economic structure of capitalist society and the mass psychological structures of its members, not only in the sense that “the ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling class,” but more essential to the question of a resurgence of the cultural revolution in the U.S. is that the contradictions of the economic structure of society are also embodied in the psychological structure of the subjugated masses.

The role of the cultural revolution

Which brings us to the cultural revolution itself. The role of the cultural revolution is to uproot these old unprogressive ideas and values which have served to keep us shackled to the legacy of oppressive relationships that define the majority of U.S. history and usher in new values which reflect the universal mores of freedom, justice, equality and human rights.

A cultural revolution is a reconstruction of a people’s way of life in order to move them to a given objective; it forms a new historical continuity in which re-evaluation of self, the people and the society compels us to cast aside historical revisionism. It will place the political power back in the hands of the people, rescue democracy from the stranglehold of corrupt political influences and corporate super-PACs.

The role of the cultural revolution is to uproot these old unprogressive ideas and values which have served to keep us shackled to the legacy of oppressive relationships that define the majority of U.S. history and usher in new values which reflect the universal mores of freedom, justice, equality and human rights.

A true cultural revolution entails more than simply chanting slogans, protest actions, hunger strikes or occupations. It’s more than changing our looks or altering our polling strategy to more closely reflect support for those issues dear to the movement. No, it entails changing our core psychology, how you think, changing your conduct and activities, your interactions and methods in order to transform society as a whole.

Cultural values are produced by economic and political systems. As we struggle against the institutional inequalities inherent in the U.S. capitalist arrangement, we will lose the cultural values of that system and will forge more humane values as the basis of new political and economic relationships. Such a revolution must encompass the common man and woman, illuminating for them the inherent interests in this national transformation of values and how it will positively impact their lives and the lives of their friends and loved ones. This is the reason the National Occupy Movement must organize and grow together.

Cultural values are produced by economic and political systems. As we struggle against the institutional inequalities inherent in the U.S. capitalist arrangement, we will lose the cultural values of that system and will forge more humane values as the basis of new political and economic relationships.

This calls for unity, the conscious development of united fronts and strategic alliances that grow deeper and richer as they experience trials and adversity, pass through ease and danger. Essentially this process IS the cultural revolution.

What must be understood is these different groups represent different class interests, political interests and economic interests and have different ideologies. It is the reality of this dynamic that has been the basis for the divide and rule politic that has governed life in this society and most others since the rise of monopoly capitalism. It is the basis of the primary contradiction now.

We have demonstrated how for the vast majority of this nation’s history, the ruling 1 percent has been successful in convincing desperate segments of society to identify their interests with the ruling 1 percent’s. Playing on “this” economic class interest of the middle strata or “that” religious moral lean of the lower middle strata, all along ensuring that whatever the ultimate outcome, their interests, the interests of the 1 percent elite, will be preserved as the ruling interests.

For the vast majority of this nation’s history, the ruling 1 percent has been successful in convincing desperate segments of society to identify their interests with the ruling 1 percent’s.

They’ve been consistently able to do so despite centuries of material evidence of their duplicity because they’ve been capable of maintaining control of not simply the context of these national discussions, but of the apparatus in which they’ve been held – corporate mass media – and the very cultural values upon which those discussions are based.

There is a relevant maxim which states, “The ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class.” The current struggle we are waging now in the National Occupy Movement, prisoner hunger strike solidarity movement, anti-imperialist movement etc. is a manifestation of the people’s consciousness that their interests and the interests of the ruling elite are not the same interests and in fact are and have always been diametrically opposed.

Winning the cultural revolution

It is for this reason that corporate entities, government officials, their police forces and corporate-owned mass media have made a collective and coordinated effort to downplay, discredit, underreport, dismiss, brutally attack, pass laws against and ultimately crush the movement before it can lead to a true cultural revolution which could force upon them a progressive transformation in the nature and structure of U.S. society.

This has been the historical trend in the U.S.:

• The gains of “Reconstruction” for New Afrikans were erased by the “1877 Compromise” that paved the way for Jim Crow and Lynch Law;

• The 1839 Anti-Renters Movement was crushed by brutality under the guise of law by 1845;

• Thomas Dorr’s rebellion for election reform in 1841 was crushed by 1842 and buried with the Supreme Court decision in Luther v. Borden in 1849;

• The Labor Movement of the International Working People’s Association of Albert Parsons and August Spies was crushed at the Haymarket Massacre on May 4, 1885;

• The aborted cultural revolution led by the Socialist Party and IWW in the 1900s was crushed by reform and brute force like the 1913 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado;

• The potential cultural revolution of the Civil Rights Movement was aborted by co-option, reform and assassinations;

• The cultural revolution of the late ‘60s to late ‘70s, which encompassed the Black Liberation Movement, Women’s Rights Movement, New Left Movement, Prison Movement, American Indian Movement and Anti-War Movement was systemically crushed by the FBI’s counter-intelligence program, superficial reforms and brutal, bloody force.

Cultural revolutions of these types in the U.S. historically all have a central purpose: to destroy the oppressors’ conditioned mores, attitudes, ways, customs, philosophies and habits that the dominant power base has instilled in us which allow these exploitive and repressive relationships to exist.

A cultural revolution is a revolution of one’s values, and the ruling 1 percent recognizes your values dictate your actions. They also realize where such a transformation in your worldview would lead; it was even noted in the Declaration of Independence: “(A)ll experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.”

A cultural revolution is a revolution of one’s values, and the ruling 1 percent recognizes your values dictate your actions. As long as the ruling 1 percent can keep you convinced that its values and interests are your own, you will continue to suffer oppression without protest.

As long as they can keep you convinced that the interests of the ruling 1 percent are your own, you will continue to be content to suffer the “evils” that you have without protestation. Thus, at all costs they must ensure you don’t realize that the values that have been instilled in you for generations – those of greed, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, elitism, naked self-interest, religious intolerance, classism and thinly-veiled hypocrisy – were instilled to ensure you never realize you’ve long since been “reduced under absolute despotism,” and the political and economic choices available to you, no matter what your decisions, favor their interests first, and whatever interests support theirs most effectively secondly.

The entire purpose of socio-economic stratification and institutional racism is to ensure the ruling 1 percent can maintain control with “a minimum of force, a maximum of law, all made palatable by the fanfare of unity and patriotism,” as Howard Zinn wrote in “A People’s History of the United States.”

Brothers and sisters, this will not be easy because the most vital battles will have to be waged within you. But the reassertion of the cultural revolution is necessary if the movement is to realize actual success and not become just another footnote in the crushed movements of American history.

We will stand with you, wage struggle with you, but in the final analysis only you, the people, the 99 percent, can hoist this banner and carry the cultural revolution to its victorious conclusion – and on the other side a new and brighter world for us all. Until we win or don’t lose.

For more information on the NCTT (NARN (New African Revolutionary Nation) Collective Think Tank) Corcoran SHU and its work product, contact:

• Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, CSP-Cor-SHU, 4B1L #53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

• J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, CSP-Cor-SHU, 4B1L #46, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

• Kambui Robinson, C-83820, CSP-Cor-SHU, 4B1L #49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

• Jabari Scott, H-30536, CSP-Cor-SHU, 4B1L #63, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

 

Slavery on the new plantation

by Kiilu Nyasha

A youngster in a Georgia forced labor camp around 1932 is subjected to an ugly form of punishment. – Photo: John Spivak

“Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today. It’s the same, but with a new name. They’re practicing slavery under color of law.”– Ruchell Cinque MageeThe 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution retained the right to enslave within the confines of prison: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” It was adopted Dec. 6, 1865.

Even before the abolition of chattel slavery, America’s history of prison labor had already begun in New York’s State Prison at Auburn soon after it opened in 1817. Auburn became the first prison that contracted with a private business to operate a factory within its walls. Later, in the post-Civil War period, the “contract and lease” system proliferated, allowing private companies to employ prisoners and sell their products for profit.

Today, such prisons are referred to as “factories with fences.”

The convict-lease system

In Southern states, Slave Codes were rewritten as Black Codes, a series of laws criminalizing the law-abiding activities of Black people, such as standing around, “loitering,” or walking at night, “breaking curfew.” The enforcement of these codes dramatically increased the number of Blacks in Southern prisons. In 1878, Georgia leased out 1,239 convicts, 1,124 of whom were Black.

The lease system provided slave labor for plantation owners or private industries as well as revenue for the state, since incarcerated workers were entirely in the custody of the contractors who paid a set annual fee to the state, about $25,000. Entire prisons were leased out to private contractors who literally worked hundreds of prisoners to death. Prisons became the new plantations; Angola State Prison in Louisiana was a literal plantation and still is except the slaves are now called convicts and the prison is known as “The Farm.” (A documentary of that title is available on DVD and online.)

The inherent brutality and cruelty of the lease system and the loss of outside jobs sparked resistance that eventually brought about its demise.

One of the most famous battles was the Coal Creek Rebellion of 1891. When the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co. locked out their workers and replaced them with convicts, the miners stormed the prison and freed 400 captives; and when the company continued to contract prisoners, the miners burned the prison down. The Tennessee leasing system was disbanded shortly thereafter. But it remained in many states until the rise of resistance in the 1930s.

Strikes by prisoners and union workers together were organized by the then radical CIO and other labor unions. They pressured Congress to pass the 1935 Ashurst-Sumners Act making it illegal to transport prison-made goods across state lines. But under President Jimmy Carter, Congress granted exemptions to the act by passing the Justice System Improvement Act of 1979, which produced the Prison Industries Enhancement program, or PIE, that eventually spread to all 50 states. This lifted the ban on interstate transportation and sale of prison-made products, permitting a for-profit relationship between prisons and the private sector and prompting a dramatic increase in prison labor which continues to escalate.

As the leasing system phased out, a new, even more brutal exploitation emerged – the chain gang. An extremely dehumanizing cruelty that chained men – and later women – together in groups of five, it was originated to build extensive roads and highways. The first state to institute chain gangs was Alabama, followed by Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Montana and Oklahoma.

Arizona’s first female chain gang was instituted in 1996. Complete with striped uniforms, the women of a Phoenix jail – to this day – spend four to six hours a day chained together in groups of 30, clearing roadsides of weeds and burying the indigent.

Georgia’s chain-gang conditions were particularly brutal. Men were put out to work swinging 12-pound sledge hammers for 16 hours a day, malnourished and shackled together, unable to move their legs a full stride. Wounds from metal shackles often became infected, leading to illness and death. Prisoners who could not keep up with the grueling pace were whipped or shut in a sweatbox or tied to a hitching post, a stationary metal rail. Chained to the post with hands raised high over his head, the prisoner remained tethered in that position in the Southern heat for many hours without water or bathroom breaks.

Thanks to a lawsuit settled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama’s Department of Corrections agreed in 1996 to stop chaining prisoners together. A few years later, the center won a court ruling that ended use of the hitching post as a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In response to the demands of World War II, the number of both free and captive road workers declined significantly. In 1941, there were 1,750 prisoners slaving in 28 active road camps for all types of construction and maintenance. The numbers bottomed out by war’s end at 540 captives in 17 camps.

The proliferation of prisons, jails and camps

Books by George Jackson – best sellers when they were published – remain very popular with today’s prisoners; but in California, possession of his books or even a clipping from the Bay View containing his name can result in punishments as torturous as indefinite solitary confinement.

In the 1940s, California Gov. Earl Warren conducted secret investigations into the state’s only prisons, San Quentin and Folsom. The depravity, squalor, sadism and torture he found led the governor to initiate the building of Soledad Prison in 1951.Prisoners were put to work in educational and vocational programs that taught basic courses in English and math and provided training in trades ranging from gardening to meat cutting. At wages of 7 to 25 cents an hour, California prisoners used their acquired skills to turn out institutional clothing and furniture, license plates and stickers; seed new crops; slaughter pigs; and produce and sell dairy products to a nearby mental institution.

Within a decade this “model prison” at Soledad had become another torture chamber of filthy dungeons, literal “holes,” virulently racist guards, officially sanctioned brutality, torture and murder. Though prison jobs were supposed to be voluntary, if prisoners refused to work they were often given longer sentences, denied privileges or thrown into solitary confinement. Forced to work long hours under miserable conditions, in the 1960s, “Soledad Brother” George Jackson organized a work strike that turned into a riot after white strikebreakers tried to lynch one of the Black strikers.

The Black Movement’s resistance, led by George Jackson, W.L. Nolen and Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, eventually brought Congressional oversight and an overhaul of California’s prison system, according to “The Melancholy History of Soledad Prison” by Min S. Yee.

California’s prison population has risen exponentially to approximately 174,000 prisoners crammed into 90 penitentiaries, prisons and camps stretched across 900 miles of the fifth-largest economy in the world, as Ruth Gilmore’s book, “Golden Gulag,” reports. That number can be doubled or tripled by those on other forms of penal control, such as probation, parole or house arrest.

Since 1984, California has erected 43 prisons – and only one university – making it a global leader in prison construction. Most of the new prisons have been built in rural areas far from family and friends, and most captives are Black or Brown men, although the incarceration of women has skyrocketed. Suicide and recidivism rates approach twice the national average, and the state spends more on prisons than on higher education. (The seeming contradiction between 43 as the number of new prisons and 33, the total number of prisons in California, is explained by additional buildings constructed at a given prison complex.)

Between 1998 and 2009, the CDCR’s budget grew from $3.5 billion to $10.3 billion (the latest figures available). At the overcrowding peak in August 2007, the department had 72 gyms and 125 dayrooms jammed with 19,618 inmate beds.

“They provided an accurate and extremely graphic example of the crowding and inhumanity that engulfed the entire system,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office in Berkeley, which sued to force the state to ease crowding as a way to improve the treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates.

The privatizing of federal and state prisons

Under court order to reduce overcrowding, by 2009, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had transferred 8,000 prisoners to private prisons in four states –Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Arizona, among the most virulently racist states in the country. The rest of the prisoners released from state prison in order to comply with the court ordered reduction were transferred to county jails. Currently, the inmate population is about 142,000, and CDCR must remove another 17,000 prisoners to reach the June 2013 court deadline.

At the peak of overcrowding, prisoners filled every empty space. This is the state prison in Lancaster, near Los Angeles, in 2008. – Photo: Spencer Weiner, AP

In 1985, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger lauded China’s prison labor program: “1,000 inmates in one prison I visited comprised a complete factory unit producing hosiery and what we would call casual or sport shoes … Indeed it had been a factory and was taken over to make a prison.” Burger called for the conversion of prisons into factories, the repeal of laws limiting prison industry production and sales, and the active participation of business and organized labor.Heeding the judge’s call, California voters passed Proposition 139 in 1990, establishing the Joint Venture Program allowing California businesses to cash in on prison labor. “This is the new jobs program for California, so we can compete on a Third World basis with countries like Bangladesh,” observed Richard Holober with the California Federation of Labor.

Currently, California’s Prison Industrial Authority (CALPIA) employs 7,000 captives assigned to 5,039 positions in manufacturing, agricultural service enterprises, and selling and administration at 22 prisons throughout the state. It produces goods and services such as office furniture, clothing, food products, shoes, printing services, signs, binders, gloves, license plates, cell equipment and much more. Wages are 30 to 95 cents per hour before deductions.

For the state’s highest wage, $1 per hour, prisoners provide the “backbone of the state’s wildland firefighting crews,” according to an unpublished CDCR report. The California Department of Forestry saves more than $80 million annually using prison labor. California’s Department of Forestry has 200 fire crews comprised of CDCR and CYA (California Youth Authority) minimum-security captives housed in 46 conservation camps throughout the state. These prisoners average 10 million work hours per year according to the CDCR.

“Their primary function is to construct fire lines by hand in areas where heavy machinery cannot be used because of steep topography, rocky terrain or areas that may be considered environmentally sensitive” – i.e., the most dangerous fire lines.

This prisoner is working for Furniture Medic, which describes itself as one of the world’s largest furniture repair and restoration companies.

Now at least 37 states have similar programs wherein prisoners manufacture everything from blue jeans to auto parts, electronics and toys. Clothing made in Oregon and California is exported to other countries, competing successfully with apparel made in Asia and Latin America.One of the newest forms of slave labor is the U.S. Army’s “Civilian Inmate Labor Program” to “benefit both the Army and corrections systems,” according to its official Army website, by providing “a convenient source of labor at no direct cost to Army installations,” additional space to alleviate prison overcrowding, and cost-effective use of land and facilities otherwise not being utilized.

“With a few exceptions,” this program is currently limited to prisoners under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) that allows the U.S. attorney general to provide the services of federal prisoners to other federal agencies, defining the types of services they can perform. The program stipulates that the “Army is not interested in, nor can afford, any relationship with a corrections facility if that relationship stipulates payment for civilian inmate labor. Installation civilian inmate labor program operating costs must not exceed the cost avoidance generated from using inmate labor.” In other words, the prison labor must be free of charge.

The three “exceptions” to exclusive federal contracting are as follows: 1) “a demonstration project” providing “prerelease employment training to nonviolent offenders in a State correctional facility” [CF]; 2) Army National Guard units, which “may use inmates from an off-post State and/or local CF”; 3) civil works projects that require such services as constructing or repairing roads, maintaining or reforesting public land, building levees, landscaping, painting, carpentry, trash pickup etc.

This Civilian Inmate Labor Program document includes in its countless specifications such caveats as “Inmates must not be referred to as employees.” A prisoner would not qualify if he/she is a “person in whom there is a significant public interest,” who has been a “significant management problem,” “a principal organized crime figure,” any “inmate convicted of a violent crime,” a sex offense, involvement with drugs within the last three years, an escape risk, “a threat to the general public.” Makes one wonder why such a prisoner isn’t just released or paroled. In fact, the “hiring qualifications” make me suspect the “Civilian Inmate Labor Program” is a backdoor draft, especially considering a military already stretched to its limit.

Note: When I tried to find an updated web page on the Civilian Inmate Labor Program, there was none. The date remains 2005 for its latest report. Could the latest data be classified?

The Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a nonprofit Justice Department subsidiary that does business as UNICOR, was created in 1935 and began supplying the Pentagon on a broad scale in the 1980s.

The prison privatization boom began in the 1980s under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. but reached its height in 1990 under Bill Clinton, when Wall Street stocks were selling like hotcakes. In fact, President Clinton accomplished a record $10 billion prison building boom in the 1990s.

His program for cutting the federal workforce resulted in the Justice Department’s contracting of private prison corporations for the incarceration of undocumented workers and high-security inmates, according to Global Research, 2008.

By 2003, there were 100 FPI factories working 20,274 prisoners with sales totaling $666.8 million. And currently FPI employs about 19,000 captives, slightly less than 20 percent of the federal prison population, in 106 prison factories around the country. Profits totaled at least $40 million!

In 2005, FPI sold more than $750,000,000 worth of goods to the federal government. Sales to the Army alone put UNICOR on the Army’s list of top 50 suppliers, ahead of well-known corporations like Dell Computer, according to Wayne Woolley, Newhouse News Service.

In 2011, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a report that exposes how private prison companies are “working to make money through harsh policies and longer sentences.” The report notes that while the total number of prisoners increased less than 16 percent, the number of people held in private federal and state facilities increased by 120 and 33 percent, respectively.

Government spending on so-called corrections rose to $74 billion in 2007. And in 2011 the two largest private prison companies – Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) – made over $2.9 billion in profits. These corporations use three strategies to influence public policy: lobbying, direct campaign contributions and networking. They succeeded in getting Arizona’s harsh new immigration laws passed and came close to winning the privatization of all of Florida’s prisons.

A relatively new ordering tool used by BOP (Bureau of Prisons) is GSA Advantage! the federal government’s premier online ordering system that provides 24-hour access to over 17 million products and services, solutions available from over 16,000 GSA Multiple Award Schedules contractors, as well as all products available from GSA Global Supply.

UNICOR improved its method of breaking down and recycling the components of computer monitors and TVs after a series of articles in the Bay View by a former federal prisoner revealed the previous process that required prisoners with no protective gear to smash the glass screens by hand, causing unnecessary injuries and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals.

Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, the Army’s Communication and Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J., has shipped more than 200,000 radios to combat zones, most with at least some components manufactured by federal inmates working in 11 prison electronics factories around the country. Under current law, UNICOR enjoys a contracting preference known as “mandatory source,” which obligates government agencies to try to buy certain goods from the prisons before allowing private companies to bid on the work. This same contracting restriction applies to state agencies.The demand for defense products from FPI became so great that “national exigency” provisions were invoked so the 20 percent limit on goods provided in each category could be exceeded. The rules were waived during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Private manufacturers say they’ve been hurt by such practice, as they are unable to bid on various products.

According to the Left Business Observer, Federal Prison Industries produces 100 percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98 percent of the entire market for equipment assembly services, 93 percent of paints and paintbrushes, 92 percent of stove assembly, 46 percent of body armor, 36 percent of home appliances, 30 percent of headphones, microphones and speakers, 21 percent of office furniture, plus airplane parts, medical supplies and much more. Prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.

By 2007, the overall sales figures and profits for federal and state prison industries had skyrocketed into the billions. Apparently, the military industrial complex (MIC) and the prison industrial complex (PIC) have joined forces.

The PIC is a network of public and private prisons, of military personnel, politicians, business contacts, prison guard unions, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers – all making big profits at the expense of the poor people who comprise the overwhelming majority of captives. The fastest growing industry in the country, it has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites and mail-order and Internet catalogs and direct advertising campaigns.

Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ labor lobby for longer sentences in order to expand their workforce.

Replacing the “contract and lease” system of the 19th century, private companies that have contracted prison labor include Microsoft, Boeing, Honeywell, IBM, Revlon, Pierre Cardin, Compaq, Victoria Secret, Macy’s, Target, Nordstrom and countless others.

In 1995, there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, private companies operate 264 correctional facilities housing some 99,000 adult prisoners. The two largest private prison corporations in the U.S., GEO Group and CCA, are transnationals, managing prisons and detention centers in 34 states, Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

A top performer on the New York Stock Exchange, CCA calls California its “new frontier” and boasts of investors such as Wal-Mart, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, Chevrolet, Texaco, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon and UPS. Currently, CCA has 80,000 beds in 65 facilities, and GEO Group operates 61 facilities with 49,000 beds, according to Wikipedia. [Editor’s note: for updated data, check CCA and GEO websites]

Employers (read: slavers) don’t have to pay health or unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick leave or overtime. They can hire, fire or reassign inmates as they so desire, and can pay the workers as little as 21 cents an hour. The inmates cannot respond with a strike, file a grievance, or threaten to leave and get a better job.

On Sept. 19, 2005, UNICOR was commended for its outstanding support of the nation’s military. The deputy commander of the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia (DSCP) presented the Bureau of Prisons director with a “Supporting the Warfighter” award. The award recognized UNICOR for its tremendous support of DSCP’s mission to provide equipment, materials and supplies to each branch of the armed forces. “We at DSCP are very appreciative of UNICOR, especially with our critical need items. With more than $200 million worth of orders during fiscal years 2004 and 2005, UNICOR has not had a single delinquency.”

Mass roundups of immigrants and non-citizens, currently about half of all federal prisoners, and dragnets in low-income ‘hoods have increased the prison population to unprecedented levels. Andrea Hornbein points out in Profit Motive: “The majority of these arrests are for low level offenses or outstanding warrants and impact the taxpayer far more than the offense. For example, a $300 robbery resulting in a five-year sentence, at the Massachusetts average of $43,000 per year, will cost $215,000. That doesn’t even include law enforcement and court costs.”

Nearly 75 percent of all prisoners are drug war captives. A criminal record today practically forces an ex-con into illegal employment since he doesn’t qualify for legitimate jobs or subsidized housing. Minor parole violations, unaffordable bail, parole denials, longer mandatory sentencing and three strikes laws, slashing of welfare rolls, overburdened court systems, shortages of public defenders, massive closings of mental hospitals and high unemployment – about 50 percent for Black men – all contribute to the high rates of incarceration and recidivism. Thus, the slave labor pool continues to expand.

Among the most powerful unions today are the guards’ unions. The California Corrections Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) wields so much political power it practically decides who governs the state. Moreover, its members get the state’s biggest payouts, according to the L.A. Times: “More than 1,600 officers’ earnings exceeded legislators’ 2007 salaries of $113,098.” Base pay for 6,000 guards earning $100,000 or more totaled $453 million, with overtime adding another $220 million to wages. One lieutenant earned $252,570; that’s more than any other state official, including the governor.

California’s per prisoner cost has risen to $49,000, and that figure doubles and triples for elderly and high-security captives. That’s enough money to send a person through Harvard!

The National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) is an international nonprofit professional association, whose self-declared mission is “to promote excellence and credibility in correctional industries through professional development and innovative business solutions.”

NCIA’s members include all 50 state correctional industry agencies, Federal Prison Industries, foreign correctional industry agencies, city and county jail industry programs, and private sector companies working in partnership with correctional industries.

Chattel slavery was ended following prolonged guerrilla warfare between the slaves and the slave-owners and their political allies. Referred to as the “Underground Railroad,” it was led by the revolutionary General Harriet Tubman with support from her alliances with abolitionists, Black and White. It only makes sense that this new form of slavery must produce prison abolitionists.

As George Jackson noted in a KPFA interview with Karen Wald in the spring of 1971: “I’m saying that it’s impossible, impossible, to concentration-camp resisters. … We have to prove that this thing won’t work here. And the only way to prove it is resistance … and then that resistance has to be supported, of course, from the street. … We can fight, but the results are … not conducive to proving our point … that this thing won’t work on us. From inside, we fight and we die. … (T)he point is – in the new face of war – to fight and win.”

Power to the people.

Kiilu Nyasha, Black Panther veteran, revolutionary journalist and Bay View columnist, blogs at The Official Website of Kiilu Nyasha, where episodes of her TV talk show, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, along with her essays are posted. She can be reached at Kiilu2@sbcglobal.net. This essay, originally written in 2007, was updated in March 2012.

 

Ruby Dee set to perform at the Apollo

By Bill Carpenter

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

The Dallas-based Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL) is presenting the living Mother of Black Theatre, Ruby Dee, in a special evening of spoken word at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY on Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. EST. Dee will speak the word and tell the truth in this culturally entertaining experience of music and spoken word.

“Ms. Dee is a shining example of African American culture and history,” says TBAAL Founder and President Curtis King. “It excites me to see her still performing so masterfully, and I am certain the audience will be just as excited to be in the presence of one of our country’s foremost living legends.”

The legendary actress was raised in Harlem and began her career there as a member of the American Negro Theatre. Over the years, Ms. Dee has appeared in such stage productions as “South Pacific” (1943), “Anna Lucasta” (1944), “Purlie Victorious” (1961) and “Checkmates” (1989). However, it’s her 1959 portrayal of Ruth, the long-suffering inner-city wife of Sidney Poitier’s character, in the original Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” that made her a star. It ran on the great White Way for two years and was then made into a 1961 film for which Ms. Dee won a National Board of Review Award as best supporting actress.

In the ‘60s, Ms. Dee co-starred in several television series ranging from dramas to the primetime soap opera “Peyton Place” and the daytime soap, “Guiding Light.” In the years since, she (often with her late husband, actor Ossie Davis), has appeared in dozens of motion pictures such as Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” and episodic television shows like “Golden Girls.” She’s earned seven Emmy Award nominations, including a win for a 1993 performance on Burt Reynolds’ “Evening Shade” sitcom and for a 1991 role in the telefilm, “Decoration Day.” Ms. Dee’s 2007 role as Mama Lucas in the 2007 film, “American Gangster,” starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, earned her an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress.  In 2004, Ms. Dee and Mr. Davis were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors and she shared a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album with Ossie Davis, “With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together.”

Tickets are available online at http://www.Ticketmaster.com and the Apollo Theater Box Office (212) 531-5305. The Apollo Theater is located at 253 West 125th Street, New York, NY 10027.

 

Black lawyers to challenge status quo

by caines

This is shaping up to be an interesting year. There are three Black women running for election this year to be judges: Teretha Lundy Thomas, Tanya Brinkley and Greer Elaine Wallace. Thomas, the first Black woman to win a county-wide election and become a judge, has been challenged by a Cuban attorney, John

Reginald Clyne, Esq.

Rodriguez. Rodriguez is counting on a money advantage and his friends in Hialeah and Miami Lakes. Thomas is betting on 20 years of excellent service as a lawyer and judge. This challenge to a well-respected jurist has many Black lawyers seeing red because it is reminiscent of the repeated challenges to Black judges. Most recently, Judge Shirlyon McWhorter was unseated by a Cuban-American woman, Patricia Marino-Pedraza. Marino-Pedraza was notable because of her lack of experience; she had never tried a jury trial before she became a judge. God must have a sense of humor because now she is being challenged by another Cuban lawyer, Frank Hernandez.

Brinkley has taken the plunge and is already running like a veteran. The $180,000 she has raised thus far will make her tough candidate to beat. She is in an open seat against Enrique Yabor. Finally, Wallace, wife of Mayor Otis Wallace, has jumped into the judicial mix against Arthur Spiegel and Andrea Wolfson. Many believe that strong name recognition in South Dade gives her a real chance of winning. In a three-way race, Wallace stands a better chance of winning because the two Jewish candidates will fight over the Jewish vote and she should get all of the Black votes.

In a major turn of events, three Black lawyers have challenged State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Roderick Vereen, past president of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association and a well-respected criminal defense attorney has jumped into the democratic primary. Michele Samaroo and Omar Malone are write-in candidates. The result will be a closed Democrat primary where registered Black Democrats outnumber registered Hispanic democrats. Vereen could win and become the first Black State Attorney in the State of Florida. Fernandez Rundle has traditionally had strong support among Black voters but it remains to be seen if Blacks will give her the nod or a well-respected Black candidate?

Race and ethnicity are critical factors in our county’s elections, especially in judicial races. In this case, Fernandez Rundle hits two ethnic constituencies — Hispanic and Jews; Vereen will take the Black vote. So it comes down to who will turn out to vote? In the general election with President Obama on the ballot, Black voters will turn out in record numbers. But will they turn out during the primary? Some say voters will turn out strong in the State Attorney race because of the Trayvon Martin case, the number of unprosecuted police shootings of Black men and the anger over the witch hunts of Michelle Spence-Jones and Reverend Gaston Smith. Blacks better vote or be prepared to shut up and bear it for another four years.

 

Street Corner Renaissance takes ‘doo-wop’ to new levels

by heard

Group fuses intricate melodies with songs of cultural awareness

During the 1940s and well into the 1960s, it was common to see Black men standing on street corners in cities like Chicago, New York and even Compton – but they weren’t there to kill time or to participate in criminal actions. Rather, they were putting together nonsense syllables with a solid beat and intricate four-part harmonies to create a sound that quickly dominated the music scene. Today, that unique style has been given new life due in part to the talents, efforts and dedication of five men collectively known as Street Corner Renaissance. They are following a tradition of Black artists that include The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, The Chiffons and Little Anthony & the Imperials.

Group founder Maurice Kitchen hails from Chicago, the city where the historical Black newspaper The Chicago Defender is reported to have first printed the term “doo-wop” in 1961.

“I was a 53-year-old insurance agent and woke up one day with the realization that the clock was running out for me and that I still hadn’t done what I really wanted to do with my life,” Kitchen said. “Like the other members of the group, we all loved doo-wop and had kept the music in our hearts. Some of us were already doing things like music theater and some singing but I doubt we ever believed that we could make a living by doing what we loved the most. It’s amazing that now we are actually living our dreams.”

 

Seizing the moment pays off 

Street Corner Renaissance, whose members’ ages range from 50 to 72, recently released their second CD, “Life Could Be a Dream.” Their members, besides Kitchen, include:  Kwame Alexander, Charles “Sonny” Banks, Anthony “Tony” Snead and Torre Brannon Reese. They have opened for everyone from Chuck Berry and Kool and The Gang to Stevie Wonder and Take Six. And they’re fresh off an impressive appearance at the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in Panama City, Florida.

“We’ve set ourselves apart from others that inspired us like The Soul Stirrers or The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi because we have a continuous bass movement — the bass is our foundation,” they said. “And we try to be more entertaining — we want to create an experience for our audience.”

Ironically, the group got its start after being asked to perform doo-wop music during a weekend African market event. Soon after, the phones started ringing and they realized that they might be on to something. Since then they have traveled the globe, bringing their unique spin on songs by artists that range from Michael Jackson and the Beatles to of course, the more traditional doo-wop groups of yesterday.”

Elder statesman Banks, 72, said singing doo-wop is “like breathing.”

Alexander says he hopes their success will remind others to never give up on their dreams.

“If we can do it, anyone can as long as they remain hopeful,” he said.

For more about the group, go to http://www.streetrenaissance.com.

By D. Kevin McNeir
kmcneir@miamitimesonline.com

 

Reservation 13: The Debate Continues

Reservation 13: The Debate Continues

The debate between neighborhood activists and city leaders over a plot of land in Southeast Washington rages on despite a redevelopment plan that has been in place for more than a decade.

Reservation 13, near RFK Stadium in, presently houses the District’s largest homeless shelter, the D.C. Jail and a drug treatment facility.

Villareal Johnson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 7, where Reservation 13 is now located, said the community needs to have greater involvement in the process before the Gray Administration makes a decision on what should be done with the property.

“I think there is a desire for the residents of Ward 6 and 7 to have more input on what will happen to Reservation 13,” Johnson, 34, said.

“The residents in the wards want to be a part of the final decision-making process.”

In 2000, then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams shuttered D.C. General Hospital because it was viewed as a stain on the city’s financial portfolio.

In October 2002, the D.C. Council approved a master plan that would redevelop the 50 acres, known as Hill East, into a mixed-use urban waterfront community that would include some retail and residential components, but would be noted for its tree-lined public streets, recreational trails and waterfront park lands. However, the plans never materialized because of other development priorities of both the Williams and Adrian Fenty administrations.

Last year, redistricting led to a boundary change which moved Reservation 13 from Ward 6 to Ward 7. Ward 7 is represented by D.C.

Council member Yvette Alexander (D), who faced severe criticism and intense opposition because Ward 7 residents felt that she didn’t fight hard enough to ensure that that parcel of land stayed in Ward 6.

Earlier this year, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) made overtures to Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder making it clear that Reservation 13 would be available under the right conditions to the team. Gray, 69, and Evans said if the Redskins chose to relocate their training facility to Reservation 13, the move could jump-start economic development in the area.

At a March 22 meeting at the D.C. Armory, Gray and Evans, along with D.C. Council members Michael Brown (I-At-Large) and Alexander got an earful from residents of both wards, who said that they did not want

the Redskins at Reservation 13 and that they want to stick with the master plan.

Francis Campbell – an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 6B10 in which Reservation 13 is located – said that the master plan should be carried out.

“For Reservation 13, we the residents of this area want an urban waterfront with a medical complex, retail, housing and a farmer’s market,” Campbell, 60, said. “We want an area that is bikeable and walkable and would give the city a tax base.”

Campbell said the Redskins moving to Reservation 13 would be a moot point because of zoning regulations enacted in 2008 that call for the area to be specifically for a school or a health care facility.

Besides, Campbell said, the master plan states that any recreation facility would have to be publicly-owned.

“The Redskins is not publicly owned,” he said. “It is owned by Dan Snyder and we in the District should not line Dan Snyder’s pockets.”

However, the D.C. Council and Congress have the power to adjust plans for Reservation 13 if they see fit, with or without community input.

Tony Wylie, a spokesman for the Redskins, said no definite plans have been made for the team to come to Washington.

“We are considering all options at this time,” he said. D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) agrees that the master plan should stay in place.

“The plan works for those who live in the vicinity,” Orange, 54, said. “Throughout the years, there have been numerous charrettes in the communities surrounding Reservation 13 and it is important that the citizens remain a part of the process [and] on how it develops.”

Johnson said the Redskins, though he loves them as a team, should not be at Reservation 13. “I don’t think a training facility alone can produce the effect that we want,” he said. “I would like to see affordable housing take place there and perhaps even a Wegmans as an example of quality shopping.”

Orange, a hard-core sports fan, said a training facility alone is not sufficient. He wants the entire Redskins organization, including a privately-funded stadium, to relocate to Reservation 13.

Orange remains adamant about his position.

“A practice facility will not be enough to generate the type of money that the District needs,” he said.

However, Terence Green, who lives in the Fort Dupont section of Ward 7, supports a Redskins training facility at Reservation 13.

“Something has to be done with that property,” said Green, 49. “It’s an eyesore and the Redskins move would bring money and jobs to the

city that is desperately needed.”

Johnson and Campbell said the D.C. Jail, the drug clinic and the homeless shelter need to be relocated – and that they say, is the real problem.

“Of course, you are not going to see a jail, the methadone clinic or a homeless shelter in Georgetown,” Campbell said. “We need to find a suitable location for those amenities.”

Johnson, agrees saying a search should be conducted by city officials to find other places in the city to relocate those facilities.

Victor Hoskins, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said he intends to schedule a meeting with the residents of Ward 6 and 7 to discuss what they think should happen with

Reservation 13.

“There is a master plan in place and we are going to go back to the community with Alexander and [Tommy] Wells to hear what the residents want,” Hoskins said. “What started this was when two developers made inquiries about the land. We have made no commitments to anyone about what will happen there outside of the master plan.”

Doxie McCoy, a Gray spokesperson, said the process is still in its early stages.

 

Henderson, Gray Introduce New Plan for D.C. Schools

Henderson, Gray Introduce New Plan for D.C. Schools

The chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools and the mayor presented a new plan to improve student performance, increase math and reading proficiency on standardized tests and boost graduation rates.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced a five-year strategic plan, titled “A Capital Commitment,” which is an aggressive effort to rebuild the public schools system, during a press conference at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest on Wed., April 18.

“This is the last year of the five-year plan that my predecessor [Michelle Rhee] put into place a few years ago,” said Henderson, 40.

“We want to build on those achievements that have taken place such as hiring staff for schools, paying people on time, and making sure that students have textbooks. We want to move more aggressively and urgently to promises that we made to our stakeholders that our students will be better educated.”

The plan will help guide spending and programming decisions through 2017 and some of the goals include: increasing District-wide math and reading proficiency to 70 percent while doubling the number of students who score at advanced levels of proficiency; improving the proficiency rates for the 40 lowest performing schools by 40 percentage points; increasing high school graduation rates from 53 to 75 percent; ensuring that 90 percent of students like the schools they attend; and increase overall District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) attendance.

Gray, 69, backs Henderson fully.

“As I said in the State of the District Address in February, every child in every neighborhood in our city deserves the opportunity to gain a first-rate public education,” he said. “This plan will move us into the District’s next phase of school reform, building on our recent successes and capitalizing on the dramatic population and economic growth our city has seen in recent years.”

One way to reach the goals of the plan is to extend the school day and school year.

“We have found that school ending at 3 p.m. does not work for anyone,” Gray said. “By having an extended school day, we can have after-school programs that can help our students academically.”

On the matter of year-round school, he said that the late August to June time frame is “an agrarian concept” that is outdated.

“We need to rethink these truisms,” he said.

Matilda Carter, a parent with school-aged children, agrees.

“I am for a longer school year 100 percent,” Carter, 46, said. “We need longer school days because so many of our youth are latchkey children [because] they have nobody to go home to after school. A longer school day would reduce crime and keep them involved at least until 6 p.m. when the parents come home.”

One aspect that is undefined in Henderson’s plan is the closing of some schools. The chancellor said that part of the plan will be addressed in the near future.

Henderson said that parental involvement and making sure that high school students will be ready for standardized tests for higher education will be priorities.

“We have to engage parents differently,” she said. “When parents are involved, children do better and so do the schools.”

Henderson said that she’s working on a pilot program to have a firm that prepares suburban students for college admission standardized tests work with District students.

Washington Teachers’ Union president Nathan Saunders said that the plan is headed in the right direction but needs to go farther.

“To improve the quality of education of all students, it is imperative for schools to spend more time on tasks and less time on testing,” he said.

“We must acknowledge that education not only happens in classrooms, but also in our homes and communities, making it essential to secure and maintain the support of teachers, parents and students as the plan is implemented over the next five years.”

Carter, a resident of Kingman Park in Ward 7, said that Henderson is on the right track.

“Our children must be able to compete in a global market,” Carter said. “It takes a village to raise one child and parents and teachers have to work together to ensure a quality education for all of our children in the District of Columbia.”

 
 
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