Did you know that on December 9th thousands of inmates in at least six major prisons in Georgia simultaneously went on strike? Unless you receive news from progressive sources like Democracy Now!, the Center for Constitutional Rights or San Francisco Bay View, you’d be hard pressed to know that the largest prisoners’ strike in United States history took place for a week last month.
In a remarkable feat of organizing, inmates of different races, religions and factions within the prisons used cell phones and social media to coordinate a non-violent action in which they refused to leave their cells to perform uncompensated labor on behalf of their jailers. The prisoners asked for fair compensation for their work, educational opportunities, an end to brutalization and overcrowding, and better access to their families. I have written previously about the outrageous fees charged to the families of prisoners by phone companies that hold a monopoly on prison calls. To make matters worse, in Georgia, inmates’ families can’t send their loved ones postal money orders. Instead they must use a company that charges a higher percentage "fee" on the funds sent than the post office does.
The state authorities reacted to the strike by suppressing any news coming from the prisoners. This did not prevent word leaking out of widespread retaliatory violence used by guards against the non-violent strikers. The strike was over by December 16th.
A coalition of groups in Georgia has organized protests as well as efforts to negotiate with the authorities to implement some independent monitoring of the situation. Since December 20th, representatives from the NCAAP and other organizations have been allowed to interview a few of the inmates in at least one of the prisons. Rev. Kenny Glasgow, one of the outside observers stated: “We only got to sit down with correctional officials; we only gained access to the prisoners because of the courageous stand of those behind the walls. It was their willingness to work together across different lines and to sacrifice the very limited freedom and safety they have that got us to this point. The prisoners have done all they can do now. It’s up to us to build a movement out here that can make the changes which have to be made,” ("Georgia prisoners' strike, What would Dr. King say or do?", sfbayview.com, Dec 24, 2010).
The strike has ended, but the organizing for better conditions has just begun. Those wishing to find out more should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.