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Georgia inmates use cellphones to stage historic nonviolent strike

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Using cellphones, inmates in as many of 10 of Georgia’s correctional facilities have successfully organized a peaceful protest against what they see as cruel and unusual punishment.

The prisoners acquired phones from guards, enabling them to plan their grassroots demonstration.

“The protest began Thursday, but inmates said that organizers had spent months building a web of disparate factions and gangs — groups not known to cooperate — into a unified coalition using text messaging and word of mouth,” The New York Times reported.

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In what was intended to be a one-day strike but has lasted six, prisoners vowed to stay in their cells, refused work assignments and other activities. The Georgia Department of Corrections has not publicly acknowledged the strike.

“This is a groundbreaking event not only because inmates are standing up for themselves and their own human rights, but because prisoners are setting an example by reaching across racial boundaries which, in prisons, have historically been used to pit oppressed communities against each other,” Bruce A. Dixon noted, writing for the Black Agenda Report.

“We have unconfirmed reports that authorities at Macon State prison have aggressively responded to the strike by sending tactical squads in to rough up and menace inmates,” Dixon wrote.

The strikers’ list of demands include getting paid for their work, better nutrition, better medical care and more educational opportunities.

“They took the cigarettes away in August or September, and a bunch of us just got to talking, and that was a big factor,” one inmate named Mike told the Times.

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Inmates described the strike more like Congressional vote whipping via social networking than a prison revolt.

After setting a date for the strike, organizers began contacting influential prisoners by text message. “Anybody that has some sort of dictatorship or leadership amongst the crowds,” Mike said. “We have to come together and set aside all differences, whites, blacks, those of us that are affiliated in gangs.”

There was at least one point man with a cellphone in each participating dormitory.

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Another inmate, Miguel, estimated that as many as 10 percent of inmates have phones. “We try and keep up with what’s going on in the news and what’s going on at other facilities,” he said.

Miguel paid a guard $400 for a cellphone that would sale for about $20 on the street.

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Advocate Elaine Brown is one of the strikers’ closest advisers. Her son is being held at Macon State Prison. Brown spoke to Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman Tuesday.

“These men created what is effectively a spontaneous decision by networking with each other and by saying, you know, we’re tired of all of the abuse we’ve been suffering here,” Brown said.

“They are in day six and they are still holding out and saying they will not come out and work unless they can sit down at the table and begin to get their demands met and their issues dealt with.”

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This video is from LinkTV’s Democracy Now!, broadcast Dec. 14, 2010.


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