The Dialectics of Incarceration: Let Freedom Ring Shows the Way

By Sasha

Let Freedom Ring [PM Press, 2008] is a much anticipated and life-changing compilation. Spanning nearly half a century, this anthology holds much more than documents from the prisoner support movement. Editor Matt Meyer pieces together crucial reports and primary sources with artful delicacy to lead the reader through what many understandably consider the most pressing issue of our time: the growth of the prison industrial complex and its terrible agency in the repression of democracy.

With an entire chapter devoted to John Brown, as well as material from Assata Shakur and other liberationists, this book is a brick in many ways. I talked to one EF!er last night about Let Freedom Ring, and after seeing its size, he declared it’d be the last thing he threw at the cops if they came banging down his door (after he ran out of ammo). Of course, I suggest reading it rather than throwing it. If it is rather like a large brick, it will provide a fundamental piece to build the foundation your knowledge of the state, on which your activism will be reliably grounded.

From its gripping forward from Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Let Freedom Ring lets you know that the subject is as serious as it is heart wrenching, but beyond that, it places its hand on your shoulder, puts the light of hope in your soul, and, with a tearful eye, promises to lead you through the obfuscated labyrinth. As the work proceeds, the reader meets the cobweb-covered and occulted details of federal case after federal case, as Meyer dusts off the intricate web of deceit and treachery to expose the back-handed methods of law enforcement efforts in subverting and “neutralizing” civil rights, women’s, GLBT, earth and animal liberation, and many other movements.

Although it has taken us four years to review Let Freedom Ring, the 800-page book flies past. I read it in less than a week. It absorbed me. It moved me to a place in time where I was beside myself. Anger, grief, empathy—your nerves are lit, and any sense of confusion turns into a feeling of ecstatic clarity. There is something existential that moves beneath these pages: it is the revolution, which forces you to reckon with it, and in-so-doing, it becomes you. You cannot move forward until you understand the reality that dwells in Let Freedom Ring.

As an article by Brendan Story and Margie Lincita shows, the earth and animal liberation movements have been suffering from the clampdown of the PATRIOT Act security state for over a decade. However, it is impossible to fully grasp what the Green Scare means until greater connections are made to US repression of political and social movements of the past. Naji Mujahid and Ryme Kathouda show in their insightful article, “Once Upon a Time, They Called Me a Terrorist Too”, that the PATRIOT Act is merely an extension of COINTELPRO.

Earth First! fell victim to COINTELPRO in 1990, when Judi Bari was targeted by the FBI’s San Francisco office under the FBI agent, Richard Held, but what many don’t realize is that Held had performed as an agent for the FBI in campaigns against the independentistas in Puerto Rico, as well as against the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers. Besides this immediate and intimate connection between the repression of Earth First! and the repression of other anti-imperialist struggles, Let Freedom Ring also illuminates the specifics of human rights violations by the US government while exposing the history of peoples’ attempts to obtain justice for prisoners.

The manifold of crucial documents that provide the basis of a history of prisoner support work provides perhaps the most important function of Let Freedom Ring. Laying out transcripts from various international peoples’ tribunals that have attempted to call the US to account for its violation of international human rights treaties, Meyer reveals the extent and strategic intent of international organizing surrounding the hope-filled movement for justice. The reader also encounters original documents from and about vibrant movements like the Jericho Movement and Critical Resistance which seek to bring amnesty for political prisoners and abolish the prison industrial complex, respectively.

Included as well are several poems written by political prisoners, which serve to provide a direct connection the feelings underlying the movement. A poem by Emmanuel Ortiz, for instance, proclaims: “So if you want a moment of silence/ Turn off the oil pumps/ Turn off the engines, the televisions/ Sink the cruise ships/ Crash the stock markets/ Unplug the marquee lights/ Delete the e-mails and instant messages/ Deral the trains, ground the planes… Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime./ And we, Tonight,/ We Will keep right on singing/ For our dead.”

The further the reader delves into the struggles of the women activists, Puerto Rican independentistas, the Mexican@ and Chican@ activists, the Black Liberationists, queer and trans activists, and others who have become subjects of the prison industry, the more Let Freedom Rings opens the floodgates for thought and theory to create inroads and connect the dots. Brilliant works by thinkers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jalil Muntaqim, Sundiata Acoli, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Susan Rosenberg, Luis Falcón, and more, show how repression is not confined to politics, the prison industry can also be seen as a broad mechanism of social and racial, imperialist oppression—one that, indeed, needs to be abolished.

As Ashante Alston puts it in the postscript: “We must join together as revolutionaries who still believe in the dreams of our peoples… We will create on the ashes of imperial evil. The story continues… We will win!”

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