Last week, Austin anarchists marked Juneteenth a day early with a protest against modern-day slavery.
Juneteenth, honored on June 19 each year, marks the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached slaves in Texas. However, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution legalizes unpaid or shockingly underpaid slave labor by those behind bars. The Juneteenth prison protest in Austin targeted two offices operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Around dawn, activists scaled flag poles at the Austin offices of the TDCJ parole board to replace the U.S. and Texas flags with an anti-prison slavery banner. Later, more anarchists (and this reporter) gathered to protest at a showroom where corporations come to hire prison labor.
“ Texas is one of the few states where prisoners receive no paid compensation for their labor, yet are expected to afford commissary items, $100 medical copays, and post-release expenses,” a representative of the group told me.
The group acted on behalf of the “End Prison Slavery” movement, led by Comrade Malik Washington. Washington is a prisoner at Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas, north of Houston. While most everyone involved are “prison abolitionists,” the End Prison Slavery movement also advocates for concrete changes to conditions behind bars, including fair pay.
Juneteenth prison protest begins with banner raising at dawn
“We did a banner drop (or perhaps we should call it a banner raise?) by attaching a 20 foot banner between two flag poles located in front of their building.”
I agreed to protect the identity of everyone involved in these actions. A member of the group sent a statement and answered questions using encrypted messaging.
In the early morning action, the anarchists replaced the U.S. flag and Texas flag. In its place, they hung a banner which read, “Slavemasters work here! Abolish prisons!” The A in “Abolish” was, of course, a circle-A anarchist symbol.
“We hope this act of solidarity with prisoners sent a message to the TDCJ workers that they are under watch,” they told me. “They will always be considered an enemy so long as they hold our comrades in cages.”
They targeted the parole board because of the repeated unfair treatment of prisoners during hearings. Prisoners are supposed to receive credit toward reduced sentences for good behavior and work. Instead, TDCJ routinely ignores, dismisses, or disputes these credits. In addition, prisoners say that officials cancel parole hearings for even minor infractions. The anarchist I spoke with quoted Malik Washington’s take on this situation.
“What Texas has engaged in is a form of sophisticated deception,” Washington said. “The main individuals being deceived are our family members.”
Chalking and protesting at a Texas prison labor showroom
The Juneteenth prison protest continued that afternoon at the Texas Correctional Industries showroom. Corporate representatives interested in hiring slave labor can inspect products made by prisoners at the showroom. The site is also a storage and distribution hub for these products. In 2016, I reported on a previous protest at the TCI showroom for the Texas Observer.
The action began when two people posing as students entered the showroom and asked for a tour. Staff refused to let them into the showroom, so they scattered “confetti” around, which were actually strips of colored paper with printed with “statements from prisoners about their slave conditions, prison abolition essays, demands, as well as some ‘friendly’ messages to the TDCJ board members.”
About 20 folks gathered in black clothes and masks outside the showroom to hold banners after TCI staff kicked out the initial pair. The group used chalk to draw anti-prison slogans on the driveway, sidewalk and a very low wall that separated TDCJ property from a public ditch.
A few police cars arrived not long after the chalking and protest began. Staff at the showroom could be seen holding the confetti strips and speaking with the cops. After, the police would not let any of us onto TDCJ property. The anarchists wisely ignored any attempts by the pigs to communicate:
Found this one going thru my photos just now. Love the expressions and body language here: cops flustered by anarchist in black remaining totally silent. pic.twitter.com/NN3SVvYcqw
— Kit O'Connell (@KitOConnell) June 19, 2018
At one point, two protesters holding a banner attempted to block the driveway entrance into the showroom parking lot. However, the truck they blocked turned on nearly hidden lightbars in response: it was an undercover cop from an unknown law enforcement agency. He threatened the anarchists with arrest if they blocked the driveway, then went inside to guard the showroom.
‘There was a time prisons didn’t exist’
The group stayed for about two hours. Before they left, they scattered copies of a zine they’d made. Inside was an essay by Comrade Malik and another member of his movement, along with a list of their demands:
— Kit O'Connell (@KitOConnell) June 18, 2018
One major purpose of the protest was just to increase awareness of modern prison slavery and the existence of the TCI showroom. Many cars honked and passersby showed their support with solidarity fists. One woman dropped off a case of water to keep us cool from the heat of the Texas summer.
“Thank you for doing this,” she said. I didn’t know how else to help but thank you.”
My contact hopes that my readers will also take direct action against the prison-industrial complex.
If folks want to join the fight and keep up the pressure on TDCJ, don’t rely on reforms. Build direct relationships with folks who are locked up. There are countless TDCJ offices across Texas, especially in Austin. Wouldn’t it suck for them if their phone lines were flooded with hundreds of calls one day?
They also suggested spreading anti-prison propaganda through graffiti, wheatpasting and zines.
“There was a time when prisons didn’t exist,” they concluded. “Nothing is impossible.”
Juneteenth Prison Protest Targets Prison Slave Labor In Austin, Texas by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://kitoconnell.com/2018/06/25/juneteenth-prison-protest/.