by Karima Amin
Attica means fighting back! Attica is all of us. The rebellion of 1971 that occurred at Attica State Prison is to be remembered and the prisoners who stood up for their humanity and dignity and for justice are to be honored.
In recent weeks, prisoners across the country in 17 states staged a nationwide strike. Their demands were reasonable, humane, and reminiscent of the demands put forth by the prisoners at Attica State Prison (aka Attikkka) 47 years ago. Among a list of other remedies, prisoners asked for access to rehabilitation programs for all, an end to solitary confinement and other forms of physical and mental abuse and improved mental health and addiction services. The national prisoners’ strike asked for Pell grants (for higher education) to be reinstated in the US states and all territories and that voting rights be given to all confined citizens.
The 1971 Attica Liberation Faction, Manifesto of Demands, listed 23 demands and a Conclusion which reads as follows:
“We are firm in our resolve and we demand, as human beings, the dignity and justice that is due to us by our right of birth. We do not know how the present system of brutality and dehumanization and injustice has been allowed to be perpetrated in this day of enlightenment, but we are the living proof of its existence and we cannot allow it to continue. The taxpayers who just happen to be our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons should be made aware of how their tax dollars are being spent to deny their sons, brothers, fathers and uncles of justice, equality and dignity.”
Every year in September, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO acknowledges the 1971 Attica Uprising. We have screened films, held panel discussions and featured guest speakers who were imprisoned at Attica in 1971. All have provided insight into the evils of a prison that is often declared to be the “worst of the worse” and the evils of a criminal INjustice system that has been purposely designed to target Black people, Brown people, and poor whites. This year’s national prisoners’ strike started on August 21, the anniversary date of George Jackson’s assassination by prison guards, at San Quentin State Prison In California in 1971.
Affectionately known as Comrade George, Jackson was a much loved and respected Black Panther activist. This year, a week before the national strike, on August 15, seven prisoners were killed by guards at Lee Correctional in South Carolina. That inspired the beginning of this year’s national event. The strike ended on September 9, the anniversary date of the Attica Rebellion. During the national strike, prisoners engaged in hunger strikes, sit-ins, boycotts, work stoppages and more to call attention to the evils of mass incarceration which some have called “modern-day slavery.” In fact, in Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas, prisoners are not paid for their labor. The strike also called attention to a system that has trapped 2.3 million prisoners and their families in webs of collateral consequences that impact their lives, financially, legally and emotionally.
During one of our September meetings we featured the film “The Attica Prison Uprising Forty Years Later.” More importantly and had a guest speaker, born after the rebellion but nevertheless raised by parents who introduced him, at an early age, to the importance of activism and Black community concerns that being Malik “Lion” Blyden, a husband and father and president of the UNIA-ACL Division #433. Inspired by the story and teachings of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Blyden has authored a book about the Garveyite Movement in Buffalo, NY. Thinking about Blyden’s connection to Attica brings me to a few points which he will amplify at the meeting. His mother, Elaine Blyden, is a retired youth worker and the former Chief-of-Staff for NYS Deputy Speaker Mr. Arthur O. Eve who was a member of an “observers’ panel” that sought a peaceful conclusion to the prisoners’ rebellion at Attica.
Blyden’s father, Herbert X Blyden was at Attica in 1971. The New York Times described him as a “prison-educated civil rights activist who gave eloquent voice to 1300 beleaguered inmates as their chief negotiator…” Brother Herb was the chief architect of the Attica Manifesto. “Lion” describes his father as a “pillar of strength” which must have influenced the men behind the wall and who certainly influenced his son to be pro-active in the work that he delivers in this community.
Plan to be with us at the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO . For more information contact: Karima Amin at email@example.com, or BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org.