More on Philly by Ron Jacobs

Jay Moore research at
Fri Aug 4 12:09:27 MDT 2000

More from Ron Jacobs



Only as Free as the Padlocked Prison Door
August 4, 2000

The folks arrested in the past few days in the streets of Philadelphia are
political prisoners.  They are in the Roundhouse and Holmesburg jails
because they were expressing their political beliefs.  There is a very real
likelihood that some of them will face serious felony charges and there is
the further likelihood that a few will face some kind of federal charges
concerning intent to riot when it is all over (Update August 4: The New
York Times reports that John Sellers of Ruckus Society is being held on $1
million bail, with one charge being conspiracy--a charge that means more of
these arrests will come.  Also, Police Chief Timoney of Philadelphia Police
Department has called for a federal investigation of those "behind the
protests.").  If one recalls what happened in 1968, although it was the
Democratic convention that was disrupted by the infamous Chicago police
riots, the Nixon Justice department conducted the prosecution of the
Chicago 8 conspiracy. Although I still believe that a federal prosecution
on these types of charges are more likely under a Bush regime, they could
also occur should Gore win the election in November.

Prisoners who either have been released or been able to reach the
independent media from jail tell of beatings in the jails, denial of food,
water, and medicine, and the denial of legal counsel to those arrested.
This is but a prelude to what lies ahead.  The police are but the most
obvious participants in the system of oppression in this country.  Beatings
of prisoners happen all the time in our nation's jails.  Indeed, in the
communities of color in our nation, men and women are beaten by police even
before they are in jail and often without even going there.  And, as we all
know, more than a few are killed without any type of due process even
considered.  None of these comments are meant to diminish the brutality of
the police in Philadelphia this week nor should they be construed to
diminish the experiences of those sisters and brothers currently being held
under less than humane conditions in the jail of that city.

If we are to learn from the experiences of the past--recent and
historically--we must ensure that the movement does not become a movement
that spends all its energy getting people out of prison.  Nor must it
become one that forgets those who are in prison.  The work around Mumia Abu
Jamal and other political prisoners has been instructive in this matter in
that Mumia, Black Panther Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, and others are insistent
in relating their situation to the greater struggle for social justice.  If
(or perhaps when) the trials of those arrested in Philadelphia begin and
especially if serious charges are brought against those the government
deems the movement's leaders (as they did in 1969 after Chicago), it is up
to us to link any struggle for their freedom to the greater struggle in the
world against global capitalism, racism and militarism.  In short, we must
turn the tables on the prosecution and put the system they represent on

After the protests against the WTO in Seattle there were those in the
movement who attempted to separate themselves from that action's more
militant protestors--the so-called anarchists.  This was, plain and simply,
doing the work of the state.  We should not allow this dynamic to occur,
even if we have sincere problems with the tactics of certain groups within
our amorphous coalition.  When this dynamic exists, the state and its law
enforcement apparatus has no qualms about exacerbating those differences,
which often leads to our more militant sisters and brothers going it alone
if they are arrested.  One very recent example is that of Rob Thaxton (or
Rico) who is spending seven years in the Oregon prison system for his
involvement in J18 activities in Eugene in 1999.  His trial drew little
support outside of northwestern U.S. anarchist circles and, perhaps because
of that (and the obvious prejudice of the judge), he received close to the
maximum sentence.

If more of our comrades end up in prisons this can be a beneficial
organizing opportunity.  As historical events like Attica and the struggles
for justice in California prisons in the Sixties and seventies showed,
prisoners of capitalism are open to political education and organization.
However, it is important to remember that organization of those on the
outside is equally important and that the emotional and political
perspectives of the two groups (outside and inside prisons) are not always
the same.  While life is undeniably brutish in many working class
communities in the world, prison is even more so.  Consequently, the sense
of desperation is often magnified when one is inside.  This means that one
is often prepared to take very desperate measures that, while making
perfect tactical sense to a prisoner, do not make a similar sense when
considered objectively from the outside.  In addition, the controlled
environment of the prison allows for even more police interference and
manipulation of people and projects than occurs in the "free" world.

All this said, let us take inspiration and instruction from those in jail
in Philadelphia and those political prisoners throughout the United States.
 The struggle to free these prisoners and the struggle to free us all from
the economic prison of global capitalism and its evils are one and the same.

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