Environmental Essay
by Sara Olson

 abolition  activism  gender  movement-building  prison-life  prison-industrial-complex  public-policy

For such an overwhelmingly Christian country, the United States is chockfull of remarkably unforgiving people Redemption! What a concept! Since we’re all going down at Armageddon, why bother? In fact, the quicker we hasten destruction, the better. That seems to be the path somebody chose for everyone. That somebody isn’t named Jesus, Yahweh, God or one of various other surnames in some patriarchal pantheon. It’s somebodies with many different names acting under the holy aegis of the greed of corporate capitalism in consort with imperialism.

For decades, Americans have known that the rest of the world is just plain jealous of what we have and, of course, of our democratic form government. There’s much truth, anecdotal and otherwise, for this contention. So, when anything untoward occurs elsewhere that might hint that people in the “rest of the world” occasionally might have a bone to pick with United States foreign policy and its results, it is because they aren’t grateful for all we’ve done for them, i.e. spreading Freedom and Democracy. Elsewhere is where all critical incidents of fallout occurred until September 11, 2001.

Since 9/11, a culture of terror has come to pass in the United States. Many ordinary Americans and some people from Elsewhere were killed. Colored-coded warnings serve to remind us how dangerous our world became on that day. However, the government in Washington D.C. has painted 9/11 as the Central Sacrifice of Corporate Capitalism, plus, of course, the dead people. One may ask, “Why did it happen?” Despite the erstwhile investigation of the famous 9/11 Commission, or perhaps with its collusion, the government covered up the answers.

September 11 heightened America’s already-enlarged sense of victimization. We all became metaphorical victims of terrorism. Shortly after 9/11, somebody launched a mini-or follow-up terror, the Anthrax Terror. /these terrorist incidents were more democratic than 9/11. Anthrax was in the mail, a mysterious, deadly, inhalable powder that could get anyone, anywhere, anytime. This was no metaphor. September 11 instilled a fear of The Other . . . well Arabs . . . well, actually, they were Saudi Arabians, but, no matter. The Anthrax mini-terror instilled a fear of Each Other. This made us get ready for religion and George Dubya was the Preacher. His sermon: The guv’mint can arrest anyone, anywhere, anytime to help keep Americans “out of harm’s way.”

American political culture has been prepping the population for 9/11 for years. Americans worship at the Divine Church of Victims but only U.S. victims. When a tragedy occurs anywhere in on the planet, the first question a reporter must ask is, were any Americans harmed?” Television news, where 94% of Americans get their up-to-date info, leads with assault and murder. One would never guess that violent crime, except for rape, is at a thirty-year low in the country.

The systems of federal, state and corporate imprisonment, the Prison/Industrial Complex, are growth industries in the United States. While there has been much attention worldwide to the human rights travesty of massive American incarceration, criticism has brought no reduction, only growth in the numbers. Incarceration is aimed at certain groups: blacks, Latinos and the poor. One finds that 13% of the black male population, a direct legacy of slavery, is in prison. The U.S. is the only western democracy that still officially executes. Those convicted of capital crimes are preponderantly Black. Women’s imprisonment rates have doubled in recent years, affecting again, Black, Latino, poor women and children. There are many political prisoners and POW’s (people captured while fighting racist regimes/colonial domination) in U.S. prisons, mostly people of color.

Imprisonment and torture is a U.S. export business. Criminal justice policies that aim to increase prison populations, such as three strikes and mandatory minimum sentencing are replicated in Canada, Mexico, Great Britain and continental European countries. American’s secretive, grossly dehumanizing, maxi-max isolation prisons are in Turkey, on U.S. military –run facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, Cuba and in myriad “disappearance” penal units around the globe. People are “extraordinary rendered, “picked up randomly, then disappeared. They are starved, their religion mocked, threatened with dogs and snakes, beaten, given electric shock and sexually assaulted.

Fear keeps the American population silent about prisons and criminals in this country. People have been conditioned over twenty-five years to mock and disdain criminals by the mainstream media. Crime attracts viewers and readers who buy product sold by advertisers and that equals profit. Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force Base, stories of torture and extraordinary rendition we broadcast to initially shocked reactions in the U.S. but then ran up against a wall of public apathy. After all, torture is common in U.S. prisons. American prosecutors are viewed as White Knight public do-gooders, who go after people who would never have been arrested if they hadn’t done something. With guilt the first assumption, innocence is almost always an illusion.

I am incarcerated in one of the two largest women’s prisons in the world located across the road from each other. Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison for Women lock up seven thousand women in approximately five square miles. We are part of the biggest of the 50 state systems in the American Gulag. I do what I’ve done before. I try to reach out through writing, talking with people within the prison and with the few allowed in to visit. That is what, it seems to me, any activist must, at the least, do: educate and organize as creatively as possible. I live under a high level of personal control but I don’t think there can be any doubt that that is the goal of U.S. repressive agencies: CIA, DIA, NSA, DEA, FBI, and Homeland Security-Achtung Baby!- the new Cointelpro; control of every aspect of everyone’s lives.

In nature, many of the large predators are diminishing in numbers or outright disappearing due to habitat destruction, eradication of vital links in their survival chain or overhunting. There is an ascendant breed of predator at loose on Earth, the men and women who run and work for U.S. multinational corporations. The use economic aid, bribery or threats and military coercion to get what they want, what they need. Within the U.S. borders, they use economic aid, bribery or threats and Law enforcement coercion . . .or the National Guard, at least those not in Iraq.

When the policies of greed and force these people use destroy human life every day through general poverty, disease, starvation, economic sanctions, military incursion and war, the ultimate victim is the planet itself. That’s where we’re at. If people of goodwill don’t step up now in large numbers, it could be a non-future we’re passing on to the daughters and sons of the twenty-first century.

The Earth needs an Operation Rescue. People must cease living as though we’re the biggest asteroid to ever hit the planet. To do so, we’ll have to empower ourselves to change the way we live our lives. Such a course will increase state repression but, given current trends, that will escalate whether or not people move ahead.

Since every person and every deed impacts on another, my politics have intersected with many other struggles, dragging my family and my friends and people I didn’t even know along with me. After I was arrested in 1999 for activities related to the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1975, people whose lives I may have brushed up against over twenty-five years before, had their worlds turned upside down in the ensuring investigation. The government has bottomless pits of taxpayer dough to blow on investigations and prosecutions and there’s not a chance it don’t do so. People must consider this when they decide to take a stand or to organize for change. However, anyone can be caught up anyway and innocence, very often, means nothing.

Prison awaits for many who opt to step outside the boundary of silence. Criminalizing dissent is persecution-as-usual in the U.S. this tactic has been used throughout U.S. history against workers, anti-war, anti-racist and pro-women struggles. A conspiracy charge is the biggest ace in the home for political and non-political acts alike. The numbers of imprisoned [now 2.1 million; there are approximately 6.9 million altogether in prisons, jails and on parole/probation] will increase if people don’t act to stop non-corrective human warehousing. The fact that some are imprisoned and kept there for their political beliefs and actions alone must begin to be widely acknowledged.

So, what are you doing for the rest of your life? How many intrinsic necessities, natural and social—clean water and good schools, breathable air and Social Security, non-genetically modified food and affordable housing, rainforests and healthcare and on and on—=have to vanish before people act? We can’t afford false individualism. Above all, in our work, we must never lose touch with each other. We are now and we always have been in this place together. Bring redemption back! What a concept!