Martin Correctional Institution, Indiantown, Florida
June 19, 2018

In response to a call from the prisoner group SPARC for “community organizing and direct action” on Juneteenth, at least 50 prisoners at Martin Correctional Institution in Florida refuse to go to work or to the dining hall and instead hold prayer groups, according to the group Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP). FTP also commented that administrators at Martin confirmed that they placed the prison on lockdown for several days surrounding Juneteenth.

From the call for Juneteenth actions from SPARC:

This year we, supporters of #OperationPUSH, are calling on all opponents of mass incarceration and modern-day slavery internationally to honor the Juneteenth holiday (Tuesday, June 19, 2018) with community organizing and direct action.

This call to action is inspired by prisoners in Texas and Florida, two of the largest and most repressive prison systems in the U.S., who remain active in freedom struggle against all odds.

Background

Juneteenth is an abolitionist holiday originating in Texas, where many Confederate slave-holders fled to during the U.S. Civil War.

But that war was not merely a domestic civil conflict. It was a flare-up of the global movement to end slavery. It is a movement that continues to challenge the slave relations of today which occur under several names (examples include debt bondage, sex trafficking, prison labor) and generally impact the most historically exploited and most vulnerable among us.

Forced captivity and involuntary labor have been among the most abhorrent practices in human society since the earliest of written records.

The celebration of freedom from these conditions has formed the foundation of many cultures and identities.

Juneteenth in particular marked the official end of chattel slavery in the U.S. But the backlash against this victory saw the initial formation of many state prison systems in the country, especially in the South, born to manage a new era of slavery known as convict-leasing. That system was also technically done away with, but its remnants are visible all over the country.

Prison slave labor today can be seen in wildlands firefighters, disaster clean-up from hurricanes and oil spills, massive contracts with cities, counties and universities, and the running of the prisons themselves.

While prisons no longer provide the same scale of labor that chattel slavery and convict leasing did, they maintain the slave relation of captivity for another primary purpose: the warehousing of populations that pose a threat to a profit-obsessed society. This includes the unemployed or those in underground economies, the mentally ill, and those most likely to challenge the status quo.

The Juneteenth holiday originated in 1865, but the struggle for official recognition is still occuring today. As of May 2016, 45 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a day of observance.

Juneteenth originally marked the freedom of African Americans from captivity. Today’s prison system has made slavery a multi-racial affair, where indigenous and immigrant people of all backgrounds are held in bondage along side the descendants of European settlers, joined by the common bond of poverty.

The aim of this call to action is to support the ongoing effort to recognize Juneteenth, and to add to that legacy by calling for an end to modern-day slave conditions in the prison system.

Goals

1. End slave labor
2. Stop profiteering off prisoners
3. Reduce the prison population
4. Demand environmental justice in the prison industrial complex

Strategy

Plan outreach activities in the weeks leading up to, and actions in the days surrounding, Juneteeneth. Aim to put pressure on the prison system and build community support for ending mass incarceration.

A list of organizations in support of #OperationPUSH and #Juneteenth2018 can be found here

Citations:

Call for a #Juneteenth2018 Mobilization Against Prison Slavery“, SPARC Facebook Page, April 17, 2018.

Call for a #Juneteenth2018 Mobilization Against Prison Slavery“, Fight Toxic Prisons, April 19, 2018.