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(en) Canada, Linchpin* - a publication of common cause - dec 2010 II. (2/3)

Date Mon, 29 Aug 2011 11:08:00 +0300


Certain Days: Freedom for political prisoners! by SARA FALCONER ---- In many ways, the The Calendar is an attempt to reshape the dominant narrative of history. Instead of marking the fourth of July as a time to celebrate Independence Day, it invites us to observe that on that date in 1977: “Washington: George Jackson Brigade plants a bomb in main power substation in state capitol in support of striking segregation prisoners.” More than merely a calendar, it is a detailed resource, a constant reminder, and a true collaboration. Published by a collective based in Toronto and Montreal, the project was suggested by Black Panther Party (BPP) political prisoner Herman Bell, who helps shape it with political prisoners Robert Seth Hayes and David Gilbert. ---- With the 2011 edition, we are proud to celebrate our tenth anniversary by offering 42 colour pages of art and insight from some of North America’s longest-held political prisoners, including Leonard Peltier, Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Herman Wallace, Sundiata Acoli, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jaan Laaman, Daniel McGowan, Alvaro Luna Hernandez and Marilyn Buck (who passed away in August just weeks after being released from prison).

It also features contributions from
supporters around the world.

As we explain in our introduc-
tion, during the early years of the
calendar, the events of September
11, 2001 transformed the political
landscape in ways we were still
coming to understand: new impe-
rialist wars had begun, and here at
home the state was using the post-
9/11 climate as a carte-blanche to
step up repression and retract hard
won social gains. As the calendar
went to print, in July 2010, the dust
was still settling from the largest
mass arrest in Canadian history.
Over 1000 people were detained or
arrested in connection to the pro-
tests against the G20 meeting in
Toronto. Of these, over 250 were
released facing pending charges,
while a few outspoken communi-
ty activists remain in jail or under
house arrest, facing even more seri-
ous charges. The Canadian govern-
ment is clearly hoping to utilize the
“conspiracy” model pioneered in
the SHAC 7 and RNC 8 cases in
the U.S. to terrorize dissidents in-
volved in laying the framework for
protests.

So it was a fitting time to go
“back to basics,” bringing the fo-
cus back to the theme of political
prisoners: their voices and per-
spectives, their contributions and
the particular issues they face in-
side prison. Political prisoners are
still in the struggle: as organizers,
as mentors, and as comrades in
need of our solidarity to win their
freedom.

Of course, the very existence
of political prisoners belies the
state’s true purpose for prisons
themselves: not public safety or
crime reduction, but social control.
This is a clear motive behind the
Harper government’s recent so-
called “tough on crime” legisla-
tion, announced in spite of the fact
that crime rates have been steadily
decreasing in Canada for the past
25 years. The fact that political
prisoners generally get harsher
treatment in terms of sentencing,
parole, and day-to-day harassment
within the “correctional” system
underscores the purpose of the en-
tire Prison Industrial Complex as a
tool of repression.

Once you recognize these con-
ditions, the need for projects like
the calendar becomes evident. The
issue at stake is the right to com-
municate. Prisons are a form of
censorship, silencing the voices of
millions.

=============================
“we are proud to celebrate
our tenth anniversary by
offering 42 pages of art
and insight from some of
North America’s longest-
held political prisoners”
=============================

The challenges in communicat-
ing with prisoners are formidable.
Even for those who work, prison
labour wages are so low that many
prisoners have difficulty obtaining
stamps, paper and other basic neces-
sities. Censorship of both incom-
ing and outgoing mail is rampant and
arbitrary. Even then, because pris-
oners are usually forbidden from
writing to each other or anyone on
parole, they are isolated from many
of their comrades, sometimes for
decades. Phone calls, often costing
more than a dollar per minute, are
difficult and infrequent between
prisoners, their families and other
outside supporters. The situation
is even more stressful for those in
solitary confinement - or “admin-
istrative segregation,” “special
housing,” or “control units,” as the
most current euphemisms describe it.
Political organizing is labeled “gang”
or “terrorist” behavior, and many po-
litical prisoners languish in solitary.
These labels—“gang member,” “ter-
rorist” and “criminal,” among oth-
ers—are part of a system of language
that seeks to exert control through def-
initions.

It is therefore vitally important to
give prisoners a chance to tell their
own stories in their own
words, and to create new—al-
ternative—definitions through
their own media. Helping raise
these voices also combats our
society’s “out of sight, out of
mind attitude” towards prison-
ers. The calendar, for example,
and we have a
literally aims to make political
collective responsibility
prisoners more visible, on a
to resist these efforts”
daily basis.

================================
“one of the goals
of imprisoning
revolutionaries
is to erase this
people’s history
-
================================

Those voices can in turn have
a tremendous impact on the individu-
als and movements in “free” – or as
prisoners often call it – “minimum-
security” society. Imprisoned black
liberation leaders, including Malcolm
X, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale,
wrote some of their most important
works from prison. George Jack-
son wrote his pivotal book, Soledad
Brother, as a series of letters to fam-
ily, friends and supporters, sparking a
passionate movement among prison-
ers and supporters, and riots when he
was killed in 1971.

In the case of political prisoners,
especially, those of us on the outside
have much to learn from their vast po-
litical study and years of experience
– all of which should not be deval-
ued by their present circumstances.
All prisoners are more than prison-
ers, and know about much more than
prisons. Their first-hand experience
of the lengths the state is willing to go
to in order to exert power often leads
to much sharper and more valuable
analysis than can be found outside.
For us, the prison struggle involves
integrating these prisoners’ voices
in our everyday work - around all
issues, not just those pertaining to
prisoners.

Involving prisoners in our every-
day struggles can also help us con-
nect with the history of the strug-
gles we are currently involved in.
One of the goals of imprisoning
revolutionaries is to erase this peo-
ple’s history, and we have a collec-
tive responsibility to resist these
efforts.

As a new generation of activ-
ists finds themselves increasingly
targeted for repression, is it more
crucial than ever that we support
our movement’s political prison-
ers. Start by listening to what they
have to say.

Funds raised from the sale of
this calendar will be divided be-
tween the New York State Task
Force on Political Prisoners, the
Palestinian NGO Addameer, and
the G20 Legal Defense Fund.
Order now at www.certaindays.
org. Join us on Facebook
(http://facebook.com/certaindays) and
help spread the word.

----------------------------------------------

40 Days of Harassment: the battle for reproductive rights in Canada by MELANIE STAFFORD

“40 Days for Life” has once
again set itself up on Bank
Street in Ottawa, across the
street from the Morgentaler abor-
tion clinic. Anti-choice protesters are
carrying signs that read things I’d
rather not burden readers with. Suf-
fice to say, it’s sensationalistic, sexist,
shame-based bullshit. For 40 straight
days on Bank Street, an empty baby
carriage is symbolically bungeed to
a post. Pamphlets are distributed that
spew out misinformation already de-
bunked by countless reputable health
organizations. Street counselors sent
by the Helpers of Gods Precious
Children intimidate, harass, and bul-
ly women as they enter the building.
Catholic school groups travel from
Peterborough to visit the “ground
zero” site.

40 Days for Life is an anti-choice
campaign aimed at “saving the un-
born”, where “the most visible com-
ponent is the prayer vigil outside
the Abortion Mills in every partici-
pating city throughout the 40 days, 7
days a week, 24 hours a day.” While
the measures of success are question-
able, the organizers claim that “the
results of the 40 Day campaigns have
been outstanding, with hundreds of
mothers and their babies being res-
cued from despair and death.”

While this particular form of ha-
rassment and intimidation primarily
targets cisgendered women, the same
groups organizing and participating
in the 40 days of harassment and in-
timidation campaign have also target-
ed the queer community, sex workers,
and young people wanting compre-
hensive sexual health education.

40 Days for Life is promoted by the
haters at Campaign Life Coalition.
This group runs many hate-promotion
campaigns, including a current cam-
paign against comprehensive sexual
health education, and another that
opposes policies such as the Liberal
government’s Equity and Inclusive
Education Strategy, claiming that this
initiative “will lead to the normaliza-
tion of homosexuality”. I sure hope
it does.

R.E.A.L. Women of Canada rein-
forces their supposed “pro-family”
stance by endorsing the 40 Days for
Life campaign. This group promotes
a traditional wife-and-mother role for
women and is stridently anti-feminist
and anti-gay. R.E.A.L Women is a
strong cheerleader for social conser-
vative causes and has been at the fore-
front of several battles, including the
fight against gay marriage, interven-
ing at court to uphold Canada’s
harmful prostitution laws, cut-
ting funds to women’s groups,
and interfering at the United Na-
tions to curtail human rights for
women everywhere.

With their “I regret my abor-
tion” signs, the Silent No More
Campaign also maintains a fre-
quent presence on Bank Street.
A project of the male-led An-
glicans for Life and the Priests
for Life intended to help support
various anti-choice “awareness”
efforts, Silent No More solicits
tearful testimonies from guilt-
ridden religious women who
regret their abortions. Women
experience all sorts of emotions
following their abortions, relief
being the most common one,
and few women suffer long-term
negative psychological effects
because of their abortion. While
I would agree that women need
more safe spaces to discuss all
of their emotions following an
abortion, it is worth noting that
there are no organizations out
there with ready-made sandwich
boards “I regret choosing to par-
ent” and it is completely unfair
to suggest that one person’s
experience will be the same as
someone else’s.

40 Days for Life has an im-
pressive level of organization,
including coordinators, a user-
friendly website, and many par-
ticipating churches and Catholic
schools – each responsible for
one day of harassment. This
ensures city-wide participation,
meaning the organizers are able
to produce a consistently high
number of volunteers.

Anti-Choice groups protesting
in front of abortion clinics have a
significant detrimental effect on
society’s efforts to maintain safe
and secure access to abortion care.
By attempting to prevent access to
abortion services, these groups are
launching a direct attack against
women’s reproductive freedoms.

Anti-abortion protesters, with
their gruesome photos and their
rhetoric of blood and murder, dis-
turb the peace, offend public decen-
cy, and inflict psychological dam-
age. Their manipulative methods
can shock, unnecessarily upset, and
even traVumatize women who have
had an abortion, are about to have
one, or may consider one in the
future. Their attempts to block ac-
cess to abortion clinics are against
the law and a violation of privacy.
Most alarmingly, many Ottawa
anti-choice activists have engaged
in overt violence against provid-
ers and clinic staff, most of which
is caused or encouraged by protests
outside abortion clinics. As a pro-
choice sexual health educator, I’ve
received death threats, and my ve-
hicle was vandalized with the words
“there is a bomb inside” as well as
“murderer”.

To comply with the Canada Health
Act, as well as the Canadian Char-
ter of Human Rights and Freedoms,
abortion clinics are required to pro-
vide an accessible, safe and private
environment for women seeking
their Medicare-funded procedures.

The province of BC (through its
Access to Abortion Services Act),
clinics in Calgary, Toronto, and
Hull, to name a few, have complied
and enforced bubble zones - protest-
free zones around abortion clinics.
Consistently, rights to freedom of
expression are trumped by rights
to access to health care.

Despite this being highly inap-
propriate, considering the prec-
edents set all over the country,
the city of Ottawa has sanctioned
harassment of women for far too
long by granting the 40 Days for
Life campaign a permit to protest.

========================================
“By attempting to prevent access to abor-
tion services, these groups are launching
a direct attack against women’s reproduc-
tive freedoms. “
=========================================

Public health and pro-choice or-
ganizations are under-funded and
overtaxed already. Organizations
in Ottawa don’t currently have the
capacity to offer a viable counter
to this campaign of misinforma-
tion, harassment, and intimidation;
they are too busy supporting their
current clients. Under a Conserva-
tive government, pro-choice orga-
nizations are justifiably concerned
with their funding and charity sta-
tuses, leaving the task of providing
meaningful pro-choice activism to
be filled by grassroots organizers.

Here’s where the Pro-Choice
Coalition of Ottawa - a small and
dedicated group of sexual justice
activists – comes in. In response
to the 40 days of harassment and
intimidation, PCCO-CPCO has
organized an online petition and
letter writing campaign demand-
ing that the city revoke the anti-
choicers’ permit. We believe that
women should not have to run a
gauntlet of anti-choice activists in
order to access legal health servic-
es. The City of Ottawa must im-
mediately revoke this permit in or-
der to respect the dignity, privacy,
and legal rights of women to un-
impeded access to health services
at the Morgentaler Clinic.

We also recently organized a
Nov 1 fundraiser for Canadians for
Choice’s abortion access fund, called
“Bodies of Dissent: a panel on build-
ing radical support for our sexual
justice movements.” When abortion
services are only offered in 15.9%
of all Canadian hospitals, and half
of those hospitals only provide abor-
tion services up to thirteen weeks
gestation with wait times of up to six
weeks and judgemental gatekeepers
who actively impose their own mor-
alistic, misinformed ideas, abortion
is most certainly not as accessible as
it should be.

We are frustrated with constantly
having to act in reaction to well-fund-
ed and well-established anti-choice
organizations. While we are spend-
ing so much energy trying to sup-
port those traumatized by sexist and
intimidation-based campaigns like
40 Days, most of us in the pro-choice
movement would rather invest our
energies in tackling issues of pov-
erty, racism, classism, homophobia,
and ableism. Instead, we are stuck
battling against harassing anti-choic-
ers, uninformed health care workers,
indifferent municipal employees, an
organized “pro-life” caucus in gov-
ernment and well-funded anti-choice
lobbyists.

Along with fighting the anti-choice
activists on Bank Street, we’re also
fighting them in Parliament. Bill
C510 is a private member’s bill that
would amend the Criminal Code to
prohibit coercing a woman into an
abortion via physical or financial
threats, illegal acts, or through “ar-
gumentative and rancorous badgering or
importunity”. It was introduced in April
by the chair of the Parliamentary Pro-
Life Caucus, Conservative MP Rod Bru-
inooge of Winnipeg South.

This bill promotes abortion stigma, pa-
ternalizes women, and puts providers at
risk. The bill is both redundant and mis-
guided. It patronizes women by implying
that they are frequently coerced into abor-
tion, despite the fact that the vast major-
ity of women make their own decision to
have an abortion and take responsibility
for it, and abortion clinics already ensure
that their clients are making an uncoerced
choice of their own free will. If coercion
is present, it’s usually in the context of
domestic violence. If the intent is really
to protect women from abusive partners,
we need better and more comprehensive
solutions for supporting women living in
abusive situations, perhaps with funding
for women’s equity seeking groups.

When it was confirmed that the 40
Days campaign would still be allowed to
happen in Ottawa this fall, the pro-choice
community came together to organize
volunteers who would stand outside in
front of the clinic, symbolizing a pro-
choice presence for passerby’s and clinic
patients. When I participated in my first
2-hour shift at the Morgentaler Clinic,
about sixteen people came up to our
group to thank us. One woman just want-
ed to talk, and another got off the bus just
to come and thank us (which led to a lon-
ger conversation on sexual justice). One
man also stopped, presenting himself as a
lawyer and asking why we didn’t already
have a bubble zone in Ottawa. He asked
if we could call the hate crimes unit, and
I reminded him that gender wasn’t a ba-
sis for a hate crime in Canada.

Another man walked by, quickly
interrupting the conversation to state
that he came from “a family of nine
children”, as if to say that being pro-
choice implies that we are pro-abor-
tion. While there are many feminists
that identify as pro-abortion as a po-
litical stance, they certainly do not
impose abortion as the sole option for
people facing unintended pregnancy.
That would be anti-choice.

==========================
“The City of Ottawa
must immediately
revoke this permit
in order to respect
the dignity, privacy,
and legal rights of
women to unimped-
ed access to health
services”
===========================

What does it mean to be pro-
choice? It means having the liberty
and ability to make your own choic-
es, uncoerced, regarding your sexual
and reproductive health, and having
control over your own body. The Pro-
Choice Coalition of Ottawa affirms
a definition of pro-choice that is in-
clusive of all aspects of sexual and
reproductive health and honours the
right to bodily integrity and privacy.
This can include whether or when
to have children, how to respond to
pregnancy (whether with abortion,
making an adoption plan or becom-
ing a parent), whether to have sexual
relationships, when to have them and
with whom, and choosing how to
best configure our relationships. Pro-
choice includes having the
right to choose which birth
control option works best for
you (if any), which methods
you wish to use to practice
safer sex, who you wish to
include in making decisions
about your sexual and repro-
ductive health, how you wish
to express your sexuality,
choosing to come out or not
and choosing whether or not
to label your sexual orienta-
tion or gender identity with-
out fear of discrimination.
Pro-choice information is ev-
idence-based, legal, inclusive
and shared in an unbiased and
factual manner. Pro-choice
means allowing for all of the
above to remain safe and ac-
cessible. Lastly, being pro-
choice means respecting the
decisions others make with
regards to their sexual and
reproductive health, and trust-
ing them to be the expert in
their own sexual well-being.
For some people, pro-choice
extends beyond the realm
of sexual and reproductive
health and each person’s defi-
nition becomes personalized
for them.

The Pro-Choice Coali-
tion of Ottawa envisions a
community that celebrates
healthy sexuality, its diver-
sity of expression and re-
productive choice as fun-
damental human rights for
individuals throughout life.
================================
* Anarchist journal
_________________________________________
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