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March in Minneapolis on anniversary of the Attica prison uprising

By Jess Sundin |
September 13, 2016
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 Minneapolis protest on anniversary of Attica rebellion
Minneapolis protest on anniversary of Attica rebellion (Photo by Thaiphy Phan-Quang)

Minneapolis, MN - Over 75 people demonstrated in downtown Minneapolis Sept. 9 to mark the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising. Community elder Rosemary Williams called together several groups to organize the event, including the Black Coalition for Restorative Justice and Community Defense, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar Clark, and the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. After rallying at the Hennepin County Government Center for some speeches, protesters hit the streets, taking over the light rail train tracks and several busy downtown streets. More speeches were delivered across the street at the county jail, and a few blocks away outside the Juvenile Detention Center.

Speaking first, Mick Kelly of Freedom Road Socialist Organization praised the historic uprising that took place in New York’s Attica prison 45 years ago. “You’ve come here to remember the martyrs of Attica, and the bright flame that they lit in 1971. The men of Attica were heroes, and they suffered mightily for what happened. When Rockefeller’s troops retook the prison and murdered 33 men, and tortured hundreds of others in unspeakable ways, it was a crime. It was a crime that typifies exactly what America is about: 400 years of criminality. The aftermath of Attica is exactly what America is about – it is built on oppression, it is built on criminality, it is built on white supremacy, and eventually this system will be destroyed.

“In this country, African American people are held in chains, chains of national oppression, and the day will come when those chains will be smashed, and people will have freedom and self-determination. We need a powerful movement, a movement of the African American people, a movement of the multinational working class - we need a movement of all the oppressed, to bring change. That is the strategic alliance that we really need to make a difference in this country.” Kelly also spoke of the national work stoppage called by prisoners from the Free Alabama Movement to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising, saying, “One, two, ten, many Atticas! That’s our future.”

Youth organizers from AR-14 for Justice offered a dramatic retelling of the Attica uprising and the prisoners’ demands. Earlier, they dropped several banners from the front of the Hennepin County Government Center, before they were seized by building security. One said, “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail the revolution.”

Protesters took on the incarceration of Minnesota’s youth today, with Hennepin and Ramsey counties poised to build a new juvenile prison at a cost of $37 million, with the first funds coming from an $18 million dollar bonding request. Rosemary Williams addressed the protest, “Think what we could do with $18 million! We could give jobs and housing to these kids down on Hennepin Avenue that are homeless and don’t have jobs. And for the families that are out on the streets, we could give them housing. We could build small schools to teach your children what they really need to know. We could do some small hospitals where people have compassion and care about poor people when they come for medical care, free medical care. Please, continue the work.”

Williams also spoke in support of the Standing Rock encampment to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, “We have to shout out to the brothers and sisters in the Dakotas that are fighting for their land, to keep the water pure so that we can drink the water. The water is so polluted, we have this mighty Mississippi, with all kinds of wonderful fish in it we can’t even eat because it’s so polluted.” Referring to a recent conflict at Standing Rock, she said, “They showed the dogs’ mouths bloody, biting the people.” After an emotional pause, she concluded, “It just took me back to the 60s. We can’t sit down, we have to fight!”

Other speakers shared personal experiences as former prisoners, shared greetings and poetry by current and past prisoners, and railed against unjust conditions today – a lack of access to safe drinking water or adequate health care’ the persistent use of inhumane solitary confinement; ‘prison slavery,’ where prisoners can be forced to work for as little as 25 cents per hour, and the detention of immigrants. Speakers included community elder, Mahmoud El-Kati and representatives of many organizations, including the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, IWW General Defense Committee, InEquality, Rad Azn, NAACP Minneapolis, Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee.

The march, though short, tied up trains and traffic for more than an hour. Holding intersections, marching on train tracks and going the wrong way into one-way traffic, protesters voices echoed through downtown as they chanted, “No justice, no peace, incarcerate the police!”