PA Corrections bans anti-fascist literature; documents confirm censorship at Standing Rock

Letter to Worker’s World from PA Corrections regarding censored issue of their newspaper.

Note: I want to express my condolences to the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, including the family and friends of those who lost their lives. May this event be a lesson to us all of the dangers and terrible tragedies which result from senseless violence. Yet, we must remember that this acute pain is nothing compared to the social ills that plague our everyday lives throughout the country. The construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline is gearing up. Things are about to get tense here in Pennsylvania. Remain strong.

The Philadelphia Worker’s World Branch confirmed via email on Friday that the Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections is enforcing a ban on the August 31 issue (pdf) of their socialist newspaper Worker’s World. In a letter to Worker’s World dated September 11, Pennsylvania DOC said that it banned the issue because it “contains articles that call for people to join the fight against white supremacy.” Joe Piette of the Philadelphia Worker’s World Branch explained to me in the email that they believe this reason to be overly broad, and claimed that the DOC is violating the 1st Amendment rights of 300 prisoners. Piette claims that this is the fourth time this year that their publication has been censored.

According to a 2007 article published by legal scholar Emily Chiang (pdf), the Supreme Court clearly laid out that prisoners retain their First Amendment rights during incarceration and that they need to be balanced with the legitimate security needs of prison administrators. So just how threatening are the words published in the Aug. 31 issue of Worker’s World?

Joe Piette:

Two of the articles on the pages the DOC cites included articles on the justified taking down of the confederate statue in Durham. They also cite page 2, which features an article entitled “AFL-CIO’s Trumka leaves Trump council – He never should have joined!” The DOC seems to be offended by this paragraph: “The bigger question for labor is, of course, the conduct of Trumka. How could he justify taking a seat on this hideous council, knowing all about Trump’s bigoted rhetoric and the presence of open white supremacists in the cabinet?”

There is nothing there that justifies the denial of Workers World into this State’s prisons. The DOC’s action is nothing short of censorship in defense of white supremacy.

The Trumka-Trump article ends by encouraging the “rank and file” to “revive labor’s proud legacy of militant, class-conscious and anti-racist unionism,” which I suspect may have contributed to the ban. However, the use of the word “militant” does not mean the ban can be justified on the basis of being a security risk in prison. The words expressed within the pages of Worker’s World do no more than honor those who we are encouraged to honor every Labor Day, those men and women who struggled for their right to organize against the brutality of their oppressors.

The article on page seven encourages anti-racist activists to learn how to defend themselves from attacks by white supremacists, while the last article cited by the PA DOC pleas with readers to contact the Sheriff of Durham, NC over the arrest of over 40 anti-racist activists on August 14.

After reading the paper, though there are some inflammatory remarks (many of which I don’t agree with), I can’t discount Worker’s World’s conclusion that the PA DOC had ulterior motives for this ban. There are no calls to violence. No condemnation of white people as a group. And, given the nature of our founding documents, it is absurd to deny a prisoner’s right to read revolutionary literature from any time period, especially literature that is far less inflammatory than our own Declaration of Independence and most of the world’s major religious texts. After all, it is prisoners who are most likely to be victims to the tyranny of the status quo. And, if we are to protect our freedom, we need to stand up for the rights of all those charged and convicted of crimes. Our justice system is supposed to be a bulwark against tyranny, not an extension of it.

Perhaps the PA DOC does not want prisoners tear down racial divisions within the Pennsylvania corrections system. Perhaps they have an invested interest in discouraging solidarity between inmates. If this is the case, the PA DOC’s interests are completely at odds with the principles of justice. The Supreme Court, according to Chiang, makes it clear that prison policies “must address a valid issue of prison security or rehabilitation.” Are we really supposed to think that a publication which advocates for solidarity between all ethnicities is more of a security and rehabilitation risk than the segregation endemic to the state prison system today? Wouldn’t we want prisoners to develop pro-social opinions of people that are different from them? That sounds almost rehabilitative.

In these times of mass incarceration, dragnet surveillance, and the criminalization of activism, prisoners’ rights are of fundamental importance. Censorship of the movement against pipeline expansions in Pennsylvania is a real and tangible risk.

Last week, the Intercept published an article describing the evidence that police and private security firms leveraged their power over the FAA to gain control of the airspace above the Standing Rock protest camp, preventing protesters and journalists from documenting the excessive use of force by police and private security.

Documents obtained via open records requests, as well as material from court cases, reveal new details about how the FAA and state agencies helped police and private security companies wrest control of the airspace above the NoDAPL resistance from indigenous water protectors.

We need to act now to put a stop to these over-bearing policies that aim to restrict our right to be freely informed, in and out of prison. One can only be reminded of the words of John F. Kennedy, that those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable. This is no threat. It’s a warning. After what was witnessed in the twentieth century, I think all reasonable people must come to an agreement that revolutions of aggression pose a great risk to revolutionary aims, and that violence between political factions must be mitigated at every turn.

But we must act, and we must be prepared to commit to self-determination, radical organization, and direct action. Turn your very life into an act of rebellion and inspire others to do the same. We should implore the PA DOC to rescind the ban and allow our state’s prison population have access to facts and opinions regarding social and environmental movements. In doing so, we protect ourselves from similar violations.

You can contact the PA DOC here:

Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA  17050
(717) 728-2573





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