Category Archives: revolutionary strategies

Prison Health News: Spring 2013 Issue! (Plus, other recent issues)

You can download it as a pdf for reading by clicking here, or the printable version by clicking here. See the end of this post for helpful printing instructions.

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Plus: Winter 2013 was one of my favorite issues of Prison Health News, with an article by Khalfani Malik Khaldun on how folks in solitary confinement in Indiana survive medical neglect, an interview with Joshua Glenn of the Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project, a tribute to our mentor John Bell who recently passed away, and several articles on navigating mental health. Download it here. And don’t miss Summer 2012!

Prison Health News is a print newsletter read by about 5,000 people who are locked up in prisons and jails across the United States. It is produced by a Philadelphia-based collective of writers and editors and includes the work of imprisoned artists and writers. Our readers are living inside a system that denies them prevention tools and treatment information about HIV, hepatitis, and other health issues. They are dealing with medical neglect, daily humiliations driven by intense stigma, and the destruction of their communities by mass imprisonment.

Prison Health News is a project of the HIV/AIDS services organization Philadelphia FIGHT. Volunteers answer the many letters to us from people in prisons and jails asking for resources and health information.

To help distribute Prison Health News, contact:

Institute for Community Justice, Philadelphia FIGHT
21 S. 12th Street, 7th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Office: 215.525.0460
Fax: 215.525.0461

Instructions for printing Prison Health News on your home printer:

1. Download the printable version here.

2. Use Letter size (8 1/2 x 11) paper. Make sure that the printer is not set to reduce, or “scale” the document. On my Mac in Preview, I go under “File” and click on “Page Setup,” then make sure “Scale” is set to 100%. I don’t think it’s much different for other computers and programs.

3. In the printing options, select “Odd pages only.” Press print.

4. Half of the pamphlet will print. After it finishes printing, take the whole pile, flip it over, and insert it back into the printer. It usually has to be flipped over lengthwise, but you might want to make sure by using a test page.

5. In the printing options, select “Even pages only” and press print.

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Filed under African Americans, arts and culture, criminalization of HIV, people with AIDS in leadership, Philadelphia, prison, revolutionary strategies, Southern United States, stigma, Uncategorized

Why AIDS Activists Occupy Wall Street — and How to Get Involved!

In 2008, as the stock market crashed and Congress prepared to give trillions of tax dollars to the banks, I desperately emailed all my AIDS activist friends: “We’ve got to stop this bailout! There will be no money for Obama to do anything for our communities.” I felt like a nay-saying bore for endlessly harping that getting politicians to expand their campaign promises is a losing strategy, because politicians lie, and only ending capitalism will shift power and priorities toward health. But when Occupy Wall Street protesters started camping out in lower Manhattan last September, chanting, “All day! All week!” and never leaving, the AIDS movement lost no time in recalling its birth in ACT UP New York, which brought the stock exchange to a screeching halt one day during a protest against price-gouging AZT (watch this thrilling interview with Peter Staley describing the 1987 action or read this recent interview with Douglas Crimp). AIDS activists got involved in OWS immediately, to the great benefit of both movements.

Occupy Pharma!

The HIV Prevention Justice Alliance intends to seize the bull by the horns this year, putting “generic drugs and drastic price reductions at the top of the agenda for the domestic HIV/AIDS movement in 2012, moving beyond the ADAP waiting lists to insist on treatment on demand for all.” Alright, PJA! (Read the PJA Action Agenda here). With this kind of vision, the campaign should attract tons of new activists and enliven the rest of us (Join a PJA working group here).

Targeting Big Pharma is not just the most direct route to the root of the problem — the exorbitant profits made at the expense of access to lifesaving treatment. It’s also a way out of the trap of merely resisting the budget cuts that have wracked our communities, or demanding more funding from a government that cares more about banks and corporations than human beings. Led by ACT UP Basel, Switzerland, the current AIDS activist campaign against Novartis is an inspiring example. Why focus all our attention on getting presidents to pledge more tax money for pricey patented meds in developing countries, when we can get generics for all if we keep fighting for them? Novartis sues India to stop making generics for the world: activists occupy Novartis offices in 3 cities during a global day of action. Bam. Let’s build on this! Last week, India issued a rare compulsory license to allow generic production of a Bayer anti-cancer drug, which will save many lives and also bring more Big Pharma pressure to bear on the country. Our voices are needed.

And just before May Day — when occupiers everywhere call on the 99% to carry out a People’s General Strike — ACT UP New York will return to Wall Street for its 25th anniversary action.

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How AIDS Activists Have Occupied Since September

This year’s actions should be fierce, building on the strength of last fall. AIDS activists didn’t sit around wondering if the new 99% movement would invisibilize AIDS, they stepped up to build a true, strong unity that appreciates the strengths that difference offers. A complex unity, as envisioned by revered anti-prison activist Angela Davis, who spoke of the convergence of single-issue movements at Occupy Philly in October. AIDS activists passed out this excellent flier from Housing Works at #OWS to educate occupiers and link the issues.

Andrew Coamey, a Housing Works senior vice prez, penned “Why I Occupied Wall Street” to inspire others to take the plunge. After a gay, HIV positive AIDS activist was punched by a New York police official at an #OWS protest, even more outraged AIDS activists marched with the new movement (see video of police official punching AIDS activist Felix Rivera-Pitre here). After participating in the #OWS global day of action in November, AIDS activists staged a sit-in dressed as Robin Hoods on World AIDS Day, demanding a financial transaction tax to fund the fight against AIDS locally and globally (see video and photos here).

More than 20 cities participated in the Occupy our Homes day of action in December. AIDS activists at VOCAL helped lead the occupation of a home in Brooklyn, where predatory lending and foreclosures have thrown many families onto the street, and helped a homeless family move in (watch this incredibly inspiring video). As longtime AIDS activist Sean Barry said to The Raw Story in an article about the action, “We’re here because [there are] a lot of empty buildings owned by Wall Street banks and we’re going to liberate them.”

As the AIDS movement returns to its rabble-rousing roots, it’s up to us to tell the story of the early days of our movement, as Douglas Crimp’s recent Atlantic Monthly piece on the 1988 activist takeover of the Food and Drug Administration does.

As for myself, I spent a few months last fall shirking any form of paid work, spending my time making videos for Occupy Philly Media and working on Prison Health News. Now, I’m working full-time as a copy editor for a medical publisher to catch up on my rent. But this blog is still on! See you in cyberspace….

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Filed under displacement and gentrification, Drug users' rights, economic justice, housing, New York City, police repression, revolutionary strategies, treatment access, Uncategorized

Why Ideology Matters, and what the AIDS Movement Can Teach the Left about Organizing

Every day I read another depressing news article about how the lame duck Democrats are going to cut off unemployment checks for millions of people right before the holidays and keep Dubya’s tax cuts for the super-rich intact. And sometimes I start to think, OK, maybe this does mean that we should drop our organizing for justice against mass imprisonment and AIDS, and all get together to fight back against this corporate class warfare, something almost everyone in the country could get behind if we all stood together.

But then I think, Wait a minute. How did we get in this situation? How did so many Americans get so screwed up in their thinking that we could allow the government to start dismantling social security and endlessly wage two wars (or three, if you count Pakistan) funded by devastating cuts to our libraries, hospitals, schools, everything that’s left of the New Deal? For us to roll over and take this, we had to be persuaded to blame ourselves for everything bad that happens to us. They started with blaming drug users and people with criminal records, and they really started winning when they blamed “welfare mothers.” Now they can blame the young people for all the violence in our communities, and if the parents don’t want to accept that, the parents can blame themselves and each other. If we can’t find a job, it’s our own fault. Failure and shame.

Blaming the Victim

My dear friend and study group comrade Dana Barnett turned me on to an amazing book called Blaming the Victim by  William Ryan. He wrote it in 1970, but I think it’s even more infuriatingly accurate for our own times. Here’s a bit from page 5: “The miserable health care of the poor is explained away on the grounds that the victim has poor motivation and lacks health information…. The ‘multiproblem’ poor, it is claimed, suffer the psychological effects of impoverishment, the ‘culture of poverty,’ and the deviant value system of the lower classes; consequently, though unwittingly, they cause their own troubles. From such a viewpoint, the obvious fact that poverty is primarily an absence of money is easily overlooked or set aside.”

The rich, the Right, and the liberals started off by blaming the people who can most easily be marginalized, and then they came for the rest of us. This means our best hope to take apart this incredibly successful victim-blaming ideology is to learn from the movements built by the most stigmatized, the people most abandoned and hated and feared by the majority.

Re-Building Ourselves, Building Our Movements

People with AIDS deal with stigma most of us can’t imagine, the kind where your family refuses to share plates or toilet seats, where telling others your health status in prison can get you killed. How do HIV positive people get past the self-blame, too, the sense that you failed because you didn’t insist on a condom, you shared needles, or you were raped? The only way to do this is by building a movement and community based on supporting and believing in each other, encouraging each other to take on new challenges and skills and make changes we never thought possible. In the AIDS movement, a person living under a cardboard box can make a speech in front of City Hall at a rally. In the AIDS community’s support groups, domestic abusers and survivors can find themselves hugging in celebration of their newfound power to overcome and become someone new.

Any strategy to build popular refusal to pay for the corporate elite’s economic crisis has to be rooted in taking apart the ideology of blaming the victim. People cannot believe in themselves and become leaders if they are blaming themselves for their own oppression. And we can’t let ourselves take the short-cut and accept the myth of the “deserving poor,” the people who used to be middle-class and have had the rug pulled out from under them. We have to fight this thing on all fronts – for our rights to housing, education, health care, the return of our loved ones from prison, meaningful jobs, everything – but wherever we do, we have to consciously attack the ideology of blaming the victim, and not let anyone get marginalized out of the movements we are building. Those are the folks we can learn from the most.

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Kazembe Balagun pushes the Left to bring the margins to the center

Sometimes I am the person who criticizes the AIDS movement for not being radical enough… and other times I poke the Left for perpetuating the marginalization of communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS. This critical blog post by my friend and old comrade Kazembe Balagun challenges other leftists in some ways that I think are sorely needed. With the economic crisis, some of the best and brightest thinkers on the Left have argued that we should organized the “oppressed majority” — meaning, in my interpretation, that we should not concentrate on fighting homophobia, racism, transphobia, the prison industrial complex, etc. and instead focus somewhat narrowly on economic issues like foreclosures and unemployment, without an analysis that talks about how all of these issues intersect. In the AIDS movement, we know that the same people losing their homes are often those with loved ones in prison, LGBT people, people who will become marginalized and isolated after becoming homeless due to eviction…

What I’ve learned from the AIDS movement about the importance of confronting stigma is amazing. Cathy Cohen argues in The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-Blackness-Breakdown-Black-Politics/dp/0226112896 that the failure to fight the stigmatization of Black queers, homeless people, drug users, prisoners — everyone most at risk for HIV — has hurt the whole Black community by allowing the proliferation of prisons, the War on Drugs, gentrification, etc. What I see in movements that take on stigma and celebrate our vulnerable, creative, marginal humanity is this incredible, energetic defiance that really moves people to participate and become leaders.

Now more than ever we have to bring the margins to the center, as Kazembe argues. See the full post on his blog by clicking here:

No Chart Paper is Big Enough to Hide The Sky: Some Thoughts on Organizing Upgrade and Beyond the Choir

Sept. 16

here is a snippet:

“…the vitality of any movements come from bringing the the margin to the center, not the other way around…. There is an overwhelming logic that the only way for activist movements to be effect is to bring the center to the margin: tone down the rhetoric, clean up your act and then people will listen.And maybe they will. But whats the point of speaking if you have forgotten what to say?

That is understandable because the center has gravity: money, connections, power, and popularity. But movements don’t grow from the center. They grow from the margins and take over the center. Think about it; every musical movement in this country has come from the oppressed experiences of Black and Brown people. Blues, jazz, salsa,  hip hop are common currency and they all occurred at the bottom.

At the same time, successful social movements have married avant garde elements with vanguard elements. The Black Panther Party was as much into Bob Dylan, Cuban Poster art and film as they were into Mao Zedong. The German Communists of Weimar married expressionism with jazz and a free sex movement. The Harlem Renaissance was as purple as it was red, with queers like Langston Hughes going to Moscow after the Russian Revolution.”

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Filed under African Americans, Alternatives to 501c3, economic justice, gay and bisexual men, revolutionary strategies, stigma

National AIDS Plan a Tragic Anticlimax

1991 ACT UP Philadelphia poster

For more than 2 decades, activists have fought for a coherent, human response to the devastating losses of our communities to HIV/AIDS. As of last Tuesday, the United States finally has a national plan to fight the epidemic. This is such a non-event in terms of what it means for us in reality that I won’t blather on about it here.

Please read the insightful commentary from community members on POZ.com, the Huffington Post, Housing Works AIDS Issues Update, and LifeLube.

OK, I will say that Obama’s plan is a relief after W’s anti-science administration brought the Christian Right in to run the country’s HIV prevention efforts. In 2002, Republicans threatened PBS funding at the mere thought that South Africa’s HIV positive muppet Kami might come to the U.S. (see this brilliant scathing critique in POZ magazine). After all, the Obama administration actually lets members of the AIDS community physically enter the White House.

Kami, the South African HIV-positive Muppet on the November 2002 cover of POZ magazine (before ICE, there was INS)

But if this plan is the best we can get when we have Democrats running the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, it’s time to look at the bigger picture. Why is the best we can ever get from Obama all talk and no action? We are so happy with the talk that we forgive the fact that we are not getting any tangible resources. We need to look deeper than party politics for the answer to that.

The economy is tanking, but also, the economic system we are part of has gone through some crazy changes that mean we are up shit’s creek for ever getting our social safety net back. The New Deal is gone forever. So is this country’s economic base as a producer of real products that you can use — our factories are gone, and most of our jobs exist because of some financial bubble or another that is bound to burst. I can’t explain this stuff very well, so please check out this reader-friendly analysis from Midnight Notes.

Basically, the budget cuts we have received as body blows for the past 10+ years are the new reality, but only if we let corporations continue to control the government. We know this is what’s happening. But we are at a loss for an alternative, so we are kind of scared to say it out loud.

I think our big AIDS advocacy organizations have worked for so many years, for such long hours — and I mean the kind of long hours when activists get so sick and tired that having a “life” is not an option but they keep fighting because they believe in a better world — to make this National AIDS Plan finally happen, Continue reading

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Highlights from the US Social Forum: Anti-Prison People’s Movement Assembly

Anti-prison activists at the US Social Forum wrote this resolution together. For more information about the People’s Movement Assemblies, see http://pma2010.org/

– Suzy

Anti-Prison People’s Movement Assembly

When: Thursday, June 24th, 1-5:30pm

DRAFT RESOLUTION

The problem: The United States is a prison empire, founded on the legacy of slavery, which uses racist mass incarceration, widespread criminalization, torture and the targeting of political dissidents to try to solve its fundamental economic and social problems. It locks up more people than any other country on the planet. The prison system is a central node in an apparatus of state repression; it destroys our communities and weakens our resistance and movements for justice. Repression is a tool used to maintain state power, and the prison population represents the most oppressed sectors of society: people of color, the poor, First Nations communities, immigrant communities, working class women, queer and transgender people, and radical organizers from many communities.

Because we share a vision of justice and solidarity against confinement, control, and all forms of political repression, the prison industrial complex must be abolished. We envision a movement and a society free of racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia.

The work to dismantle the prison industrial complex and build stronger communities includes:

• Supporting the efforts of diverse anti-prison organizations as part of a shared movement against repression in all its forms, including political, racial, gender, sexuality, economic, disability and age, legal status, HIV status, national origin, immigration status, and alleged gang affiliation;

• Fighting for the full civil and human rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people and affirming the rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people to speak in their own voice on all matters pertinent to their existence and well-being;

• Eliminating the stigmas that inhibit currently and formerly incarcerated people and their love ones from speaking out;

• Supporting leadership and leadership development of currently and formerly incarcerated people, and ending all forms of discrimination based on legal status for formerly incarcerated people;

• Organizing for the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of war from grand juries, jail, detention, trial or prison;

• Demanding the immediate end to the death penalty, life without parole, solitary confinement, mandatory minimums, the incarceration of youth in adult facilities, behavior modification/communication management units, all forms of torture, the war on drugs and the criminalization of youth, immigrants and gender nonconforming people;

• Promoting physical, mental and emotional health and healing inside and outside of prisons, including humane models of and access to health care and substance abuse treatment that do not expand the prison industrial complex; Continue reading

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Highlights from the US Social Forum: LA COIL on Intersectionality, Horizontalism and Prefigurative Politics

My favorite session at the U.S. Social Forum was organized by LA COiL (Communities Organizing Liberation), a collective of revolutionaries who work with the teachers’ union, the Garment Workers’ Center, and in hospitals in Los Angeles. [For more information, contact them at coil.losangeles (at) gmail.com.] They asked us to imagine in detail the world we want to live in, starting with what we want our schools to look like (windows on every floor! peer evaluation! all students, faculty, staff and community members involved in decisions about budget, curriculum, etc!) and then exploring how we can build accountability and support structures in our neighborhoods to replace police and prisons. These folks are for real.

LA COiL members gave workshop participants a little green booklet with a fresh design (trippy rippling circles that intersect) and reader-friendly layout. I am going to zerox the hell out of this thing and start handing them out like candy. I don’t think it’s available on the internet yet (although you can download a scrappy pdf here), so I’m going to type up a few short excerpts. The pamphlet, which LA COiL wrote together with a group named Another Politics is Possible, is called, “So That We May Soar: Horizontalism, Intersectionality, and Prefigurative Politics.” What does that mean? Basically, these folks are putting into words the kind of politics many of us have been trying to develop and have been searching for in every organization we work with. Here are some brief quotes from the pamphlet that can be used as definitions:

1. “Horizontalism challenges each individual to break out of the patterns of allowing others to be the agents of change, and to begin to trust, grow and develop ourselves, politically and personally, alongside others…. It is about investing the time and energy in education, support, and encouragement in order to allow for full participation and decision-making…. This requires the development of structures that truly embody collective work, collective leadership and decentralize power.” (pages 11-12)

2. Prefigurative politics: “We offer our vision of a different world, not as a promise of a place that is far off in the distance where one day we can hope to dramatically arrive, but rather as a set of principles and values that guide us in our practice of liberation now. We want to talk about how to build movements and organizations that both challenge current conditions and practice liberation. We practice liberation now in order to build experience with holding power differently in our own lives and communities, to reclaim our agency, creativity, humanity, dignity, and our capacity to love and be joyful…. We understand revolution as a process rather than an event and are working to build movements that transform power, rather than merely seizing or democratizing power in its current forms.” (page 1)

3. For Intersectionality, the term I think is most relevant to the AIDS movement, I’m going to type up a whole section of the pamphlet here:

Making an Intersectional Analysis Central

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.”

— Audre Lorde

We all live at the intersection of multiple identities, privileges and oppressions. As a result, radical politics that rank oppressions or attempt to identify a “primary contradiction” all too often end up addressing one aspect of domination while reinforcing others. Continue reading

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