abolition / Aboriginal issues / Activism / criminalization / drug policy / G8/G20 / human rights / immigration issues / justice / prisoners' rights

The G20 and Its Connections to Prisoners’ Justice Organizing

by Giselle Dias

The G20 symbolized many different things to each of us but one of the overarching themes (from my perspective) was the level of state repression/oppression/violence. In a statement from the Toronto
Community Mobilization Network (June 2010) they stated:

“Instead of simplifying our diverse struggles in to one issue, we supported actions for Queer and Trans Rights, for Environmental Justice, for Income Equity and Community Control Over Resources, for
Gender Justice and Disability Rights, for Migrant Justice and an End to War and Occupation. We created the conditions for over 100 grassroots organizations to come together, to build relations, to grow
stronger together. This in itself is a victory. For the first time at a G8/G20 Summit (on June 25), we saw communities in ongoing resistance, people of color, poor people, Indigenous people, women,
disabled folk, queer folk and others leading the Days of Action.”

Almost all of these struggles relate to anti-prison/penal abolition struggles. The reality is that most of these “communities in on-going resistance” are criminalized and over-represented in the prison system or other carceral spaces (psychiatric prisons, immigration detention prisons etc). People in carceral spaces are poor, racialized, queer, trans, indigenous, women, people with disabilities specifically people with mental health issues and learning disabilities, people who use drugs, homeless, unemployed etc. These folks are put in prison as a form of social control.

The level of state repression and oppression that was felt at the G20 was new to some (white, middle class folks) but certainly more familiar to communities in “on-going resistance”. The reality is that state repression and oppression is used every day in some communities as a form of racism, white supremacy and colonization. Prisons are used for the very same reasons. These are all violent structures that the government uses as a means of social control.

Coming out of the G20, we have an opportunity to collaborate, educate and learn from other peoples experiences. In particular, there were over a 1,000 people incarcerated in just a few days, those people have
an experience that is shared by other prisoners – a loss of freedom, silencing, poor prison conditions, and a state tyranny of oppression.  For one of the first times in Canada – we have a large group of political prisoners. This adds to the already existing group of indigenous political prisoners that have been under attack while they struggle for self-determination and the settlement of land claims.

Although most of the people from the G20 are no longer incarcerated – they share an experience and understanding of how fragile our freedom is, how easily it can be removed and why we need to fight for all the worlds freedom, otherwise none of us are free. The prisoners rights movements in the U.S has predominantly moved ahead because of political prisoners who were arrested in the 1960’s and 70’s (Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, Anti-imperialist direct action groups etc). In Canada, this has not been the case. Many of the prisoners that we work in solidarity with have become politicized after their incarceration.

There are those in the penal abolition movement that fight for better social programs, better education, more housing, decriminalization of drugs, decriminalization of sex work, alternatives to incarceration, world without borders, better immigration policies etc. There are also abolitionists who believe real change will only come with a revolution. It is important that we have these discussions to see how we can move forward in our movements to change the world. The reality is that as we fight for those changes, more people will lose whatever fragile freedoms exist. The state will continue to use forms of oppression and repression to keep us silent. The G20 was just one example of how far they will go.

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