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Oakland hosts anti-prison gathering

Critical Resistance will be holding its tenth anniversary celebration from Sept. 26-28.

The event, titled “CR 10,” will allow thousands of prison abolitionists to come together for an international conference, strategy session, and dozens of other discussions and activities. The free event will be at Laney College in Oakland.

Numerous Mills College community members are involved with Critical Resistance, including Professor Julia Sudbury, who was a founding member.

It began in 1998, when activists – including educators, students, and former prisoners – gathered in Berkeley for a weekend-long conference to examine the buildup of the United States prison system. Critical Resistance is now a national grassroots organization aimed at abolishing the prison-industrial complex.

The term ‘prison-industrial complex’ refers to relationships between the privatization of the prison system, the government, civilians, and prisoners. Critical Resistance organizers argue that many have been profiting from the ‘prison industry’ in recent years including politicians, attorneys, prison guards, construction companies, surveillance technology vendors, and consumer companies.

Numerous companies, including Victoria’s Secret and Chevron use prison labor, which can be as profitable as outsourcing to developing nations, according to anti-prison advocates.

Madeleine Anderson, a sophomore, says she became interested in Critical Resistance when she heard Angela Davis speak about the prison-industrial complex and the prison abolition mission at Mills last fall.

Anderson is now a volunteer for Critical Resistance, working in community gardens and in the office.

“I really believe in the Critical Resistance mission. I think they are completely right that prisons do more harm than good in our society. Prison abolition would create a massive shift in our society to advocate more resources for education, job training-so it would help our economy, and programs such as those for children to have somewhere to go instead of the streets. The alternatives to prison would be more holistic approaches with the basis that people are good.”

Another Mills student, senior Morning Star Gali, is part of the host committee that is organizing a pre-gathering for two days before CR 10. She also volunteers with a federal women’s prison, and looks at the prison industrial complex from a Native perspective.

“As Native people, we have high rates of our people imprisoned and it has effects on all of us,” she said.

The First Nations Prison Industrial Complex Gathering grew out of conversations among Oakland Indigenous leaders in spring 2008.

“From working with CR I have gained such respect for them as an organization and how they outreach to any and everyone that is affected by the PIC,” she said.

Critical Resistance organizers say that the U.S. has become increasingly punitive, with the introduction of policies such as ‘Zero Tolerance’ in schools and California’s infamous ‘Three-Strikes’ law. The group says these strategies of dealing with crime only push increasing numbers of people into continuous cycles of crime instead of giving them the opportunity to fix the problem.

Professor Julia Sudbury, another founding member of Critical Resistance, says that the PIC goes as deep as our common language, such as identifying those in prisons as “criminals.”

“The movement against the PIC is about humanizing people, not defining a person by an act that they have done. To label a person ‘a criminal’ is to suggest that the person is no more than their criminal act,” she said.