Shut’em Down Wisconsin

Find SHUTEMDOWN Wisconsin events here or on the sidebar menu (bottom of page if on phone). We are planning more actions, workshops, and events.

Wisconsin organizations that have sponsored the strike and are working with us to make things happen include: MKE Lit Supply, Party for Socialism and Liberation-Milwaukee, Prison Action Milwaukee, Black and Pink: Milwaukee, and others. We’re also excited to have also partnered with local creatives who are setting up concerts and events.

More about SHUTEMDOWN: Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is calling on organizations and coalitions to host demonstrations around the country that highlight historic and current struggles of incarcerated people and call for abolition of the prison industrial complex. The demonstrations are set to take place on August 21st, the anniversary of George Jackson’s assassination, and on September 9th, the anniversary of the uprisings at Attica.

These actions also coincide with Black August, which is an annual commemoration to remember Black freedom fighters and political prisoners. These actions call for the abolition of all arms of the PIC, and organizations participating are encouraged to host demonstrations outside of local prisons, jails, and ICE facilities.

This call to action comes from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS), which is a national collective of incarcerated people who organize with people on the inside and outside of prisons to provide legal education and resources. They’ve put forward a list of ten demands that were developed as a part of the National Prison Strike in 2018. These demands are as follows: 

  1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned persons
  2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under U.S. jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor
  3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights
  4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole
  5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states
  6. An immediate end to racist gang enforcement laws targeting Black and brown humans
  7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender
  8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services
  9. We demand the immediate release of all political prisoners 
  10. The voting rights of all confirmed citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so called “ex felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count
2016 prison strike poster

Earlier actions staged by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, and other organizations, include a 2016 prison strike in response to inhumane conditions and being forced to work for little to no pay.  Incarcerated organizers put out a call to action for a work stoppage throughout the nation’s prisons. On September 9th 2016, incarcerated workers across amerika engaged in protests. One of the largest clashes started in the kitchen at Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan when workers organized a work stoppage. The morning after, they staged a protest that resulted in a sit-down with prison administrators. Their first demand? Being able to sit on the same side of the table as their loved ones during visits. As soon as their meeting ended, prisoners were met with tear gas from an armed Emergency Response Team (ERT). Prisoners defended themselves by barricading doors and setting fires. Eventually the ERT took control of the facility and prisoners who participated in the uprising were retaliated against and forced to lay zip-tied on the ground during a thunderstorm. In Texas, similar actions were staged in protest of non-existent wages, toxic water, mold exposure, and excessive heat. Read more about this strike, and lessons learned from The Fire Inside collective

2018 JLS nationwide strike poster

In 2018, JLS and comrades once again called for a nationwide strike in response to the deaths of 7 people in a South Carolina prison. These actions included call-in campaigns, work stoppages, sit-ins, commissary boycotts, hunger strikes, and uprisings. The strike made national news, and was considered one of the largest national prison strikes in US history. It is important to note that these actions cannot come to fruition without the support of folks on the outside simultaneously engaged in struggle. Incarcerated people can face extreme retaliation for standing up for themselves and pushing back against exploitation. Solidarity from folks on the outside, through participation in actions like Shut’Em Down demos, lets these institutions know that we are watching and they cannot continue to harm and retaliate against incarcerated people who are demanding better conditions and their freedom. 

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a substantial threat to the health and well-being of incarcerated people. People in prisons are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19 due to the crowded conditions and substandard medical care. Over half of a million people in US prisons contracted the virus. The pandemic also led to harsher restrictions, including limited access to means of communicating with their families and being confined to a cell for the majority of the day in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Despite this, incarcerated people across the US found effective ways to resist. Perilous Chronicle, a project that documents prisoner resistance in North America, recorded a spike in resistance activities during the pandemic. 

Rebels in the St Louis city jail.

These actions include numerous hunger strikes, but most notably the uprisings at the St. Louis City Jail. In images that spread over social media, folks inside could be seen through broken windows, dropping banners and demanding their freedom. Despite urgent calls from organizers on the inside and the outside, state and federal governments have done little to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in US prisons and jails. In Wisconsin specifically, Gov. Evers refused to decarcerate and release people to stop the spread despite his so-called commitment to “criminal justice reform.” 

Milwaukee Mobilization

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the Free Alabama Movement, and other prison rebel formations are most effective when their demands are backed by collective direct action inside the prisons and robust solidarity outside. Wisconsin’s prisons present an exceptionally difficult organizing landscape. As we described in our Resistance and Solidarity in Wisconsin post, prison rebels here are beset by ongoing humanitarian crisis, a culture of strict control, frequent deaths, and systemic racism. Collective direct action is unlikely to occur until these conditions change. 

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Organizers in Milwaukee hope to use the August 21 – September 9 mobilization to chart a course to changing those conditions. We will expose the humanitarian crisis in the DOC, and erode the racist control regime that perpetuates it, while upholding the survival struggles of prison captives. 

The political situation in Wisconsin offers scant hope. Some members of the republican legislature give minimal, disingenuous, lip service to prison reform while their leadership pursues and passes bills that would make matters worse. Allegedly liberal governor Tony Evers refuses to acknowledge his role in Wisconsin’s prison crisis, let alone take action to address it. He and other white centrists who dominate the democratic party embody the profound racism of Wisconsin when they go courting racist republicans while ignoring the progressives and people of color who put them in office.

Carr, Tate, and Fessahaye

The DOC reflects this political situation. Evers brought in reformists like secretary Kevin Carr, parole chair John Tate II, and division of adult institutions administrator Makda Fessahaye, but failed to back up their efforts with actual decarceration measures. All three have admitted that their reform ambitions run up against an entrenched DOC bureaucracy: Carr at public panel discussions, Fessahaye in a meeting with advocates, and Tate at a packed parole commission meeting. It has become clear that the bureaucracy won. 

Carr sputters defensively, Tate navigates diplomatically, and Fessahaye quit. She was replaced by Sarah Cooper, a veteran of the DOC bureaucracy. Cooper brought increased COVID carelessness, a canteen monopoly, mail privatization and destruction. More death and worse money scams followed. According to advocates with Forum For Understanding Prisons (FFUP) every month conditions in Wisconsin prisons have grow worse, not better.  

An open call

Anyone can take part and help decide what solidarity demonstrations will look like locally. There will be a general assembly for folks to participate in planning these demonstrations on Wednesday, August 4th at Peace Action Center (1001 E Keefe) and online

Current thoughts are city-wide flyering on August 21, events hosted by many partner groups throughout the mobilization period, and a massive day of visibility on September 9. Many events will center at James Wilborn park, the patch of land across from MSDF and the county jail at 10th and State. Concurrent actions and diverse of tactics are welcome, so long as vulnerabilities of participants who are on probation, parole, or who have records is taken into account and respected. Reach out to if you can’t make it August 4, and are interested in being involved. 

We encourage local organizations, musicians, clubs, artists, and everyone to get involved. Organize a benefit show with people speaking about prison or reading letters between acts. Host a letter writing night or mini book club. Prison impacts us all. It reinforces the ugly bedrock of Wisconsin’s settler colonial and anti-Black racism. From August 21-September 9, let’s bring prison resistance and abolition into every part of our lives and break that foundation up.

4 thoughts on “Shut’em Down Wisconsin”

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