The Beat

The Beat

PRISON PROTESTS: February 15 was a doubly significant date in the history of US criminal justice.



February 15 was a doubly significant date in the history of US criminal justice. The country’s prison population topped 2 million, according to the

Justice Policy Institute

. And America saw the most widespread protests ever against the prison-industrial complex, which locks up a quarter of the world’s prisoners in a country with 5 percent of its population. Activists in forty-two cities, from Fairbanks to Gainesville, joined rallies organized by the

November Coalition

and state groups like

Drug Policy Forum of Texas

–where the prison population has grown from 41,000 to 150,000 during George W. Bush’s governorship. On February 13 New York’s

Prison Moratorium Project

handed out customized candy hearts with slogans: “School not jail,” “Two mill equals too many” and “Stop prison profit.”

Michael Gelacak

, former vice chairman of the US Sentencing Commission, says, “I have always believed that incarceration should be the last resort of a civilized society, not the first. We have it backwards, and it’s time we realized that.”

Kevin Zeese


Common Sense for Drug Policy

thinks a new prison politics is taking shape: “We’re growing into a movement that can deliver the message that, instead of building more prisons, America needs to put its resources into dealing with the social problems that lead to drug abuse and crime.”… In Milwaukee, local Socialist Party chairman

Wendell Harris

, who made alternatives to incarceration a campaign focus, won an unexpected 18 percent of the vote in the February 15 mayoral primary.


In the 1890s Kansas populist

Mary Elizabeth Lease

told farmers to “stop raising corn and start raising hell.” In the 1990s

John Boyd

did just that. The Mecklenburg County, Virginia, activist founded the

National Black Farmers Association

in 1995 and, as its president, charged that the US Department of Agriculture had systematically denied loans and aid to black farmers. After meeting Boyd, President Clinton promised a policy shift, and last year the USDA agreed to pay millions to black farmers. Having beaten the Feds, Boyd now wants to join them. The 34-year-old tobacco farmer will challenge conservative Congressman Virgil Goode Jr., an ex-Democrat who caucuses with the House GOP and seeks re-election as an independent. With encouragement from Representatives

John Conyers


Maxine Waters

, Boyd promises to run a progressive populist campaign that will unite hard-hit black and white farmers with laid-off textile workers and Charlottesville liberals. It’s an uphill race, but, says Boyd, “My message is that if we could beat Washington on behalf of black farmers, there isn’t anything we can’t change.”… In Pennsylvania, State Senator

Allyson Schwartz

, a former social worker who founded Philadelphia’s first women’s health center, is seeking the Democratic nod to challenge vulnerable Republican US Senator Rick Santorum. “She’s in a tough primary, she’s the only woman, the only pro-choice candidate, and she needs [our] help,” says

Ellen Malcolm


EMILY’s List

, which joins the

Women’s Campaign Fund

, Representative

Chaka Fattah

and other progressives in backing Schwartz’s April 4 primary bid….

Medea Benjamin

, founding director of the human rights group

Global Exchange

, is running as a Green against US Senator Dianne Feinstein. Citing the Seattle protests as inspiration, Benjamin says, “I am more convinced than ever that the majority of Americans–and certainly the majority of Californians–agree that we need a society that puts human needs and sustainable development before corporate profit.”



Lou Reed

, who first entered Austrian political debate with the 1989 song “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim,” canceled a Vienna show on his European tour after neofascist Jörg Haider‘s Freedom Party joined the Austrian government. He told Austrian radio, “People have a right to elect [neofascists]. But that doesn’t mean other people have to go near them.”… Pianist

Andras Schiff

brought protests against the Freedom Party’s inclusion in the government to Washington, canceling a February 9 concert at the Austrian Embassy. Acclaimed for energetic performances of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Schiff says, “Politics and art cannot really be separated. Those who do not agree with this should remember the days when the works of Heine, Mendelssohn and others were burnt.”


Campus activists are stepping up the campaign to insure that clothing with school logos is not made in sweatshops. They push withdrawal from the Fair Labor Association, a monitoring group seen as too cozy with manufacturers, in favor of the

Worker Rights Consortium

, which has a labor and human rights focus. Administrators at Penn agreed to withdraw from the FLA after an eight-day sit-in; at Wisconsin, fifty-four students were arrested after sit-ins. “This is a fight for workers’ rights and human rights all over the world,” says student and Dane County Supervisor

Echnaton Vedder

. “We’re not backing down.”


Liz Guy

helped organize

Direct Action Network

protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Now Guy, 24, has relocated to Washington to help

Mobilization for Global Justice

organize a Florida-to-Canada caravan promoting protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund at the time of the groups’ joint meeting in April. A West Coast caravan preceded Seattle; Guy says, “There are a lot of people on the East Coast who are saying, ‘Now it’s our turn.'”… Protesters are unlikely to find an ally quite like London’s

Ken Livingstone

, who may still run for mayor after failing to get the Labor Party nod. He says that if he wins, “we will not be inviting the World Trade Organization to come here–unless we get vast stocks to put them in so we can throw stuff at them in an organized way. I’ve always been in favor of direct action.”

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