Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thought for the day...

Star Seeds
©2013  Syneeda Penland

Why have we yet to arrive
to the state of being of knowing who we are?
For I am the Moon, You are the Sun,
In between us is a Star.

Our Crown, Our Light, Our Glory,
Extends far beyond, “Four Score Seven Years Ago”,
Even farther beyond Mother Africa’s ivory shores.

Our seeds fell upon the Earth, at our birth,
Father God planted them when he said,
“Be fruitful my children and multiply”.

Father God provides us the Sun, our Light,
The Moon, our Darkness,
Together we balance God creations
So they can harvest.

For we are the original Star Seeds,
Planted upon Mother Earth,
Our Father God blessed his wife,
with Peace and Harmony upon our birth. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

On August 30, 1967, The Senate confirmed the appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court.

"A child born to a Black mother in a state like Mississippi . . . has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It's not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thought for the day...

There is POWER in Prayer, 
let's pray for LOVE and PEACE, 
NOT for greed, egos and war!

Thought for the day...

Yesterday America celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's steadfast devotion to negogiating change in America through the use of non-violent means.  How can we "America" disgrace such a legacy with threats of inflicting harm upon millions of innocent lives?

Prayer for Peace
O' Lord, guide the thoughts and actions of our World Leaders, 
instill in their hearts the same Love and Devotion 
to serving you, as Dr. King;
 Guide them to see the error of their wicked ways
and teach them to Love and Respect one another;
For their duty to serving you, O' Lord, 
is to protect the children and all of your creations
on your Heavenly Earth,
not seek to harm innocent lives 
or destroy the Earth with threats of nuclear holocaust;
O' Heavenly Creator of our Universe, please forgive them,
for they do not understand the error of their wicked ways.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Celebrating a true American Hero, transcript of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, let us also celebrate the strength, courage and perseverance of the Civil Rights leader and humanitarian who helped to make it possible.

"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. 

This note was a promise that all men -- yes, black men as well as white men -- would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end but a beginning. Those who hoped that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. 

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for whites only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today my friends -- so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi -- from every mountainside.

Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring -- when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children -- black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

US strike on Syria could come within days as military assets 'ready to go'

The guardian reports -- "The United States military has provided Barack Obama with a range of options for launching an attack on Syria and is "ready to go" with an offensive, the US defence secretary has said.
There is now a growing belief in Washington that a US strike against Syria, possibly involving cruise missiles or long-range bombers, could take place in the next few days.
Chuck Hagel said military officials had presented the US president with "all options for all contingencies" and put resources in place to take action against Syria over its purported use of chemical weapons.
"We are prepared, we have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take, if he wishes to take any of the options he's asked for," he told the BBC. "We are ready to go, like that."
The White House insisted on Tuesday that Barack Obama had still not made a decision about the use of military action, but stressed that "boots on the ground" was not an option being contemplated. "The options that we are considering are not about regime change," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
He declined to say whether the US Congress would be required to authorise any military strike, or be recalled as has happened in Britain's parliament, but insisted the White House was consulting with leaders in the House and Senate and communicating with the chairmen of relevant congressional committees.
Food for thought:  When are our World Leaders going to call for "World Peace?!!"  Wars make money, the longer we remain at war the more corporations and our defense department will profit!  How can you help fix another country if you can't economically fix your own country?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream "in the process of becoming real," Rep. John Lewis says

CBS News reports -- "One hundred and fifty years since the Emancipation Proclamation and fifty years after his March on Washington,  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "would have said, 'My dream is in the process of becoming real,'" Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. - who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial both in 1963 and Saturday during a commemorative rally - said Sunday on "Face the Nation."
"He'd be grateful to see an African American as president of the United States: 'It's almost unreal, unbelievable,' Dr. King would have said," according to Lewis, who has called king his "mentor." "If Dr. King could speak to us, he would say, 'We've come a distance. We've made a lot of progress. You're in the process of laying down the burden of race. But we're not there yet.'"
Lewis recalled his and King's meeting in 1963 with then-President John F. Kennedy: "A. Philip Randolph, one of the leaders during that period, spoke up and said, 'Mr. President, the masses are restless... And we're going to march on Washington.' And you can tell by the body language of the president he, sort of started moving and twisting, and he said, 'Mr. Randolph, if you bring all these people to Washington, won't there be violence and chaos and disorder? We will never get a civil rights bill through the Congress.'"

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bob Filner agrees to resign

CBS News reports -- "After six weeks of heated controversy over the sexual harassment charges against him, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has agreed to resign, CBS News' Ben Tracy confirms.
The San Diego City Council on Friday voted 7-0 to accept Filner's resignation as part of a deal his lawyers struck with the city attorney over a sexual harassment suit against him. As part of the deal, Filner will stay in office until Aug. 30."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bradley Manning: I want to live as a woman named Chelsea

After being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning has confessed that he prefers to live his life as a woman. Senior Army officials were well aware of his “gender-identity disorder” prior to deploying him to a combat war zone, long before he leaked classified information to WikiLeaks.   This unfortunate ordeal could have easily been avoided had Army doctors initially provided him the necessary hormone and therapy treatment required to treat his gender transformation.  Instead they punished him for not being a "soldier"!  Wow, talk about getting screwed by the system!

Thought for the day...

Learn to calm your fiery soul 
by expressing words of Love and Kindness...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Petition drive to recall San Diego mayor Bob Filner begins

WashingtonPost reports – “The effort to recall San Diego’s embattled mayor is kicking off in the nation’s eighth-largest city Sunday, one day before Bob Filner is set to return to work after undergoing behavior therapy.

The petition drive to boot Filner from office amid sexual-harassment allegations was free to officially begin at midnight Saturday, and organizers said they expected some volunteers to start gathering signatures right away.

“This is a tremendous grassroots undertaking — truly the people taking back their government from an abuser who has betrayed San Diegans, demeaned women, and who can no longer lead our city,” said Michael Pallamary, who filed the petition to recall the Democrat. “They’re ready to tell Filner, ‘It’s over, Bob. The people are going to show you the door.’

The 70-year-old former congressman has resisted numerous calls to resign from the nine-member City Council and state and federal elected officials, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who have said that Filner should step down and spare San Diego the pain and expense of a recall election.

More than a dozen women have publicly accused Filner of making inappropriate statements or advances. The latest came Thursday when a volunteer city worker who assists senior citizens said Filner repeatedly rubbed her hands, asked her on dates and made sexually suggestive comments."

Food for thought:  If the military was this aggressive in prosecuting its rapists and sexual predators, our cities would be a much safer place!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Military discharges "unregistered" rapists and sex offenders

Stars and Stripes recently reported:
Air Force to dismiss anyone found to have committed sexual misconduct

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Airmen who commit any type of sexual misconduct, whether groping a co-worker or rape, face dismissal from the service under a tough new Air Force policy aimed at eliminating such behavior from the ranks.

The new guidance, which took effect July 3, requires commanders to initiate separation action for any officer or enlisted airman found to have committed or attempted to commit a range of sexual offenses.

The measure is among several new Air Force policies dealing with cases of sexual assault and related misconduct.

Airmen in a position of trust found to have engaged in an unprofessional relationship — such as dating a potential recruit or military trainee — are also now subject to mandatory administrative discharge.

The service also has taken steps to protect airmen from retaliation for reporting sexual assault. Any orders of involuntary discharge issued to airmen who have filed a recent unrestricted report of sexual assault are to be reviewed by a senior commander.

But the biggest change, Air Force officials say, relates to mandatory discharge for
committing a sexual offense. It means that an airman can be involuntarily discharged without a criminal conviction, as long as the misconduct is documented administratively, either by a letter of reprimand or an Article 15, a form of non-judicial punishment, according to Air Force officials.

“It’s to reiterate … a ‘get tough’ policy as it relates to sexual assault, and to let everybody understand, especially the uniform wearers, that this kind of misconduct and inappropriate behavior has no place in our Air Force and if you engage in it, then we’re going to take steps to remove you from the Air Force,” said Scott Martin, senior air staff counsel for the Air Force’s office of the judge advocate general.

Since the policy is so new, it’s unknown if anyone has been affected by the policy yet.

The stricter guidelines come as reports of sexual assault in the military are at an all-time high:  “The Pentagon says there were 3,374 reported cases of sexual assault in the military last year, a record. It estimates, based on anonymous surveys, that as many as 26,000 sexual assaults went unreported last year.”

In the Air Force, 792 sexual assault cases were reported last year….

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thought for the day...An inspirational poem by Dr. Maya Angelou

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Japan's Nuclear Crisis -- Tepco needs public cash to dig deep wall reports -- "Radioactive flow to sea 300 tons daily; Suga says utility can't halt it"

The public must help fund Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s effort to freeze the soil around the reactor buildings at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, creating a barrier to prevent more groundwater from becoming radioactive, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday.

It was revealed the same day that 300 tons of tainted water is flowing to the Pacific daily from the stricken plant.

“There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale (as planned now at the Fukushima complex). To build that, I think the state has to move a step further to support its realization,” Suga told reporters.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is considering including the costs in the fiscal 2014 budget request. If approved, it will be the first time the government has provided money to Tepco to help it contain the groundwater mixing with radioactive water in the reactor buildings.

The government has so far allocated taxpayer money for research and development related to reactor decommissioning at the Fukushima plant, which suffered three meltdowns in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

A 1.4-km barrier of frozen soil will be created by sinking pipes around the buildings housing reactors 1 to 4 and then running coolant through them. According to major contractor Kajima Corp., which proposed the project, construction is expected to cost ¥30 billion to ¥40 billion.

At the end of May, a government panel adopted the project as the best way to reduce radioactive groundwater at the plant. METI Minister Toshimitsu Motegi instructed Tepco to go ahead with the project.

About 400 tons of groundwater seep into the reactor buildings every day and mix with toxic water that has been used to cool the crippled reactors.

On Wednesday, the Natural Resources and Energy Agency said about 300 tons of radioactive water per day is flowing out to the sea.

Dealing with the massive accumulation of radioactive water at the plant has remained a concern for Tepco since the nuclear crisis began.

Most recently, the utility admitted highly radioactive water is escaping into the Pacific from the plant and it is trying to prevent the spread of contamination.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, a fisheries cooperative in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, decided to postpone a plan to resume test fishing from September due to the radioactive flow into the sea.

Masakazu Yabuki, head of the co-op, said delaying the operation ensures consumers won’t be sold unsafe marine products.

Food for thought:  Before allowing this nuclear crisis to pollute more of the Pacific Ocean, which will eventually make its way to the Atlantic Ocean and contaminate a larger portion of Marine life, the UN needs to intervene to assists Japan with this potential world-wide catastrophe.  Instead of  perpetuating wars in the middle east and other parts of the world, world leaders needs to “step up and be more responsible" in assisting a country and its people in need!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Civil Rights Attorney Julius Chambers dies at 76 reports -- "The civil rights attorney Julius Chambers has died at the age of 76 after a long illness. According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Chambers was a founding member of the first racially integrated law firm in North Carolina who litigated and argued a number of key desegregation and voting rights cases before the Supreme Court. The group said in a statement: "[Julius Chambers] was a man of tremendous courage. His home and his car were firebombed on separate occasions in 1965, and his office was burned to the ground in 1971, during the height of some of his most contentious civil rights litigation in North Carolina. When he spoke of these events, Chambers was typically matter-of-fact, insisting always that you 'just keep fighting.'" Julius Chambers died on Friday in North Carolina."

Why are military rape and sexual assault victims failing to see the obvious... "That your civil rights and human rights have been violated!"

PBS.Org recently reported "Sens. McCaskill, Ayotte: Keep Military Sexual Assault Cases in Chain of Command.  

Watch full broadcast here:

Food for thought:  For the past 2 years I’ve been monitoring the progress of military sexual assault and rape cases, and I’m deeply saddened by the growing number of victims who have come forward. Yet each of them have not been properly advised by their legal advocates that, “When you are raped or assaulted in the workplace, both your “Civil Rights” and “Human Rights” have been violated”.  

As a survivor of military human rights violations, I encourage other victims to do your own research of the 1964 Civil Rights Act before wasting your time and money on a lawyer who is not trained in the area of Civil Rights laws.  Women of all races are considered “minorities” in the military, which automatically grants you protection under the amended 1964 CRA.  

I further encourage you to seek the assistance of a seasoned lawyer or law firm in the area of human rights violations, someone who is not afraid to challenge your case(s) before the U.S. Supreme Court.  This will allow you to better cope with your pain and suffering and lessen the political stalemate from Congress.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Oprah Winfrey shows her support for the natural "Afro"

© Syneeda Penland 2011

I saw a Sistah at a restaurant the other day,
She was wearing an Afro; an Angela Davis,
Foxy Brown - 1970’s, looking Afro,
This Sistah certainly knew how to wear her Afro;

It was all picked out, full and thick,
And was a little rough around the edges,
Her hair and all its sheen
Truly defined her blackness;

It was exotic,
It was sexy,
It was beautiful,
It was strong,
It was powerful!

This Sistah exuded just the right attitude
To wear her Afro.  She was casually well-dressed,
Barely wearing any make-up; just a little eyeliner,
Mascara and lipstick, that’s it.

Her flawless beauty was so radiant,
I was captivated by the
Essence of Her Black Beauty;

It was mature- not aged,
Strong- yet feminine,
Warm, intelligent and compassionate;
Like Mother Earth.

Food for thought:
I'm going to have to edit my poem to add Oprah's name to it, Oprah's Afro is absolutely beautiful!  I'm proud that I started wearing my hair "natural" a few years ago.  With the help of Oprah promoting our natural hair, I'm going to start wearing my Afro more often.  Thanks Oprah!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Pennsylvania Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. Still Set To Serve 28 Years For Selling Kids To Juvenile Corrections reports --"Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to serve 28 years in federal prison two years ago. Last week, a federal appeals court said it would not reconsider a decision upholding the ruling.

Ciaverella, 61, was convicted of racketeering charges for receiving $1 million in bribes from a constructor of juvenile detention facilities. The judge had violated individual rights for at least 4,000 cases between 2003 and 2008, denying defendants the right to counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. 

Another judge, Michael Conahan was also accused of accepting $1 million in bribes from the same builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers.
However, it was Ciavarella who made a name for himself as the draconian, cold arm of the law. Ciavarella filled the beds of juvenile detention centers with first-time offenders, convicts of minor-crimes and children as young as 10 years old.

Fortunately, that same arm of the law has turned on the man now known as the "kids-for-cash" judge. His lawyers’ defense consisted of an appeal of what they saw as overly cruel punishment.

"The media attention to this matter has exceeded coverage given to many and almost all capital murders, and despite protestation, he will forever be unjustly branded as the `Kids for Cash' judge," reads their memo.

The judge still maintains his innocence and that the transfers were not illegal. Perhaps he will spend his 28 years appreciating the fine construction of the federal prison, much like the juvenile centers to which he sent thousands of children.

Food for thought:  The United States has once again surpassed its own world record for incarcerating the highest percentage of its population. According to a report released by the Bureau of Prison Statistics, one out of every 32 adults was in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole at the end of 2005. But the crisis of mass incarceration is not felt evenly in the United States: Race defines every aspect of the criminal justice system, from police targeting, to crimes charged, and rates of conviction. African-American men between the ages of 20 and 39 account for nearly one third of all sentenced prisoners.1

Over the last three decades, the explosion of the prison population in the United States paralleled the stagnation in the global economy. In the early 1970s, the United States and the G7 nations began implementing neoliberal policies, moving production from the North to the global South, pushing entire sectors of workers in the United States out of the economy.  As the economic role of the working class in the United States shifted from manufacturing to staffing a rising service industry, African American workers faced staggering rates of unemployment.  The mid-1970s is also the first period when the incarceration rate in the United States began to rise, doubling in the 1980s, and doubling again in the 1990s.

It may surprise some people that as the number of people without jobs increases, the number of working people actually increases—they become prison laborers. Everyone inside has a job. There are currently over 70 factories in California’s 33 prisons alone. Prisoners do everything from textile work and construction, to manufacturing and service work. Prisoners make shoes, clothing, and detergent; they do dental lab work, recycling, metal production, and wood production; they operate dairies, farms, and slaughterhouses.

United States Prisons mirror Free Enterprise Zones in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; the prison is a reflection of the Third World within the United States. Prisoners are not protected by minimum wage laws or overtime, and are explicitly barred from the right to organize and collectively bargain. In fact, the conditions for the overwhelmingly Black and Latino men and women inside the United States prison system are so similar to that of workers in the maquiladoras and sweatshops of the global South that in 1995, Oregon politicians were even courting Nike to move their production from Indonesia into Oregon prisons. “We propose that (Nike) take a look at their transportation costs and their labor costs,” Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix explained in an interview with researcher Reese Erlich, “We could offer [competitive] prison inmate labor” in Oregon.2

Rooted in Slavery

To understand the conditions that have allowed such an exploitative industry to develop, we have to look at the origin of the United States prison system itself. Before the abolition of slavery there was no real prison system in the United States. Punishment for crime consisted of physical torture, referred to as corporal or capital punishment. While the model prison in the United States was built in Auburn, New York in 1817, it wasn’t until the end of the Civil War, with the official abolition of slavery, that the prison system took hold.

In 1865, the 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery for all people except those convicted of a crime and opened the door for mass criminalization. Prisons were built in the South as part of the backlash to Black Reconstruction and as a mechanism to re-enslave Black workers. In the late 19th-century South, an extensive prison system was developed in the interest of maintaining the racial and economic relationship of slavery.

Louisiana’s famous Angola Prison illustrates this history best. In 1880, this 8000-acre family plantation was purchased by the state of Louisiana and converted into a prison. Slave quarters became cell units. Now expanded to 18,000 acres, the Angola plantation is tilled by prisoners working the land—a chilling picture of modern day chattel slavery.

Black Codes and Convict Leasing

When slavery was legally abolished, a new set of laws called the Black Codes emerged to criminalize legal activity for African Americans. Through the enforcement of these laws, acts such as standing in one area of town or walking at night, for example, became the criminal acts of “loitering” or “breaking curfew,” for which African Americans were imprisoned. As a result of Black Codes, the percentage of African Americans in prison grew exponentially, surpassing whites for the first time.3

A system of convict leasing was developed to allow white slave plantation owners in the South to literally purchase prisoners to live on their property and work under their control. Through this system, bidders paid an average $25,000 a year to the state, in exchange for control over the lives of all of the prisoners. The system provided revenue for the state and profits for plantation owners. In 1878, Georgia leased out 1,239 prisoners, and all but 115 were African American.4

Much like the system of slavery from which it emerged, convict leasing was a violent and abusive system. The death rate of prisoners leased to railroad companies between 1877 and 1879 was 16 percent in Mississippi, 25 percent in Arkansas, and 45 percent in South Carolina.5 The stories of violence and torture eventually led to massive reform and abolition movements involving alliances between prisoner organizations, labor unions, and community groups. By the 1930s, every state had abolished convict leasing.6

Chain Gangs

As the southern states began to phase out convict leasing, prisoners were increasingly made to work in the most brutal form of forced labor, the chain gang. The chain gangs originated as a part of a massive road development project in the 1890s. Georgia was the first state to begin using chain gangs to work male felony convicts outside of the prison walls. Chains were wrapped around the ankles of prisoners, shackling five together while they worked, ate, and slept. Following Georgia’s example, the use of chain gangs spread rapidly throughout the South.7
For over 30 years, African-American prisoners (and some white prisoners) in the chain gangs were worked at gunpoint under whips and chains in a public spectacle of chattel slavery and torture. Eventually, the brutality and violence associated with chain gang labor in the United States gained worldwide attention. The chain gang was abolished in every state by the l950s, almost 100 years after the end of the Civil War.8

Prison Labor Exploitation in the 21st Century

Just a few decades later, we are witnessing the return of all of these systems of prison labor exploitation. Private corporations are able to lease factories in prisons, as well as lease prisoners out to their factories. Private corporations are running prisons-for-profit. Government-run prison factories operate as multibillion dollar industries in every state, and throughout the federal prison system. In the most punitive and racist prison systems, we are even witnessing the return of the chain gang. Prisoner resistance and community organizing has been able to defeat some of these initiatives, but in Arizona, Maricopa County continues to operate the first women’s chain gang in the history of the United States.9

Shifts in the United States economy and growing crises of underemployment and poverty in communities of color have created the conditions for the current wave of mass incarceration and the boom in prison labor exploitation. In the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, a historically Black community with an estimated 50 percent unemployment rate, the community is facing criminalization, incarceration and mass displacement as a result of gentrification. San Francisco, along with eight other counties in California, is implementing gang injunctions—curfews, anti-loitering, and anti-association laws that function very similar to Black Codes for Black, Latino, and Asian youth—using the pretext of gang prevention to track young men into the prison system to become prison labor, while preparing the community for redevelopment and gentrification. People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) is building power among Bayview residents and fighting for economic development that addresses the interests of the Black community, which will create alternatives to prison labor exploitation.10

Struggles like this are being waged all across the country and provide an opening to link the demands for worker rights, community rights, and prisoner rights.

The fight against the exploitation of prison labor is at once a fight against racial profiling and mass incarceration, and also for genuine economic development in Black, Latino, Asian, and Pacific Islander communities. The labor movement in the United States has a responsibility to support prisoner unions such as the Missouri Prison Labor Union (MPLU), which is fighting for higher wages and collective bargaining, and to challenge labor unions who dismiss prisoners as stealing jobs from the “good law-abiding workers” on the outside. As Sidney Williams of the MLPU states, “In this struggle we seek to regain our human dignity.” That is the demand of the slavery abolition movement of the 21st century.