WASHINGTON, DC, January 25 — For more than two months, the Criminal Injustice Committee (CIC) of the Occupy DC movement has been battling the Wells Fargo bank to stop its support of the racist private prison system. In mid-December, more than 100 occupiers protested at the Wells Fargo branch in the mainly black Shaw neighborhood. Every Friday afternoon since then, a team of occupiers has leafleted there to urge its customers to close their accounts. Recently the CIC has expanded its boycott activities to a second branch office in Columbia Heights, where many black and Latino workers live.
On January 24, a second demonstration was held there in solidarity with protests at the Florida meeting of financiers involved with the GEO private prison company. The CIC also marched in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade on January 22. The black working-class onlookers gave a rousing cheer to our “Jobs not jails!” chant, and quickly took all of our leaflets and CHALLENGEs.
The capitalist system requires and reinforces racist institutions in order to maintain social control and maximize its profits (see “Smash Racism: A Fighter’s Manual” at www.plp.org). Capitalism systematically ensures the super-exploitation of African American workers by criminalizing and marginalizing them in what has been called the New Jim Crow (see adjoining article).
More than 60,000 DC residents have criminal records, mostly due to the bogus, racist “war on drugs.” The majority are jailed not for new crimes but for parole violations that are almost impossible to avoid. Half of those with criminal records are unemployed because it is lawful to discriminate against individuals for prior convictions. Wages and working conditions are driven down for these workers, and ultimately for all workers, as a result of this massive branding of black workers.
A similar institutional process is apparent for Latino immigrants, who face intense harassment, unjust jailings, and massive deportations. In the last three years, more than a million immigrants have been forced out of the U.S. under Barack Obama’s accelerated deportation proceedings. Meanwhile, 35,000 individuals are held in camps under the expansion of mandatory civil detention for non-citizens by Obama’s liberal predecessor, Bill Clinton, in 1996.
The surge in detention has resulted in horrid conditions, including grossly inadequate health care, physical and sexual abuse, and overcrowding. One Latino worker pressed a twenty-dollar bill in our hand to support our work against detention centers. We learned that his entire family was being held with no end in sight.
The Wells Fargo campaign is merely one element of the attack on the criminal justice system and by extension the entire capitalist system. Why Wells Fargo? All banks are ruthless. But Wells Fargo in particular profits from its extensive business with the GEO Group, the second largest private prison owner, and second to none in its brutality towards incarcerated individuals. Wells Fargo is GEO’s largest investor (owning more than $100 million in stock) and serves as its underwriter, broker and financial advisor.
At the Rivers Correctional Facility in Winton, NC, GEO incarcerates nearly a thousand residents of the District of Columbia. CIC members have met many former Rivers inmates with horror stories to tell, from snakes in the toilets (from the adjacent swamp) to negligent health care (one doctor for 1,300 inmates) to physical and psychological damage. As a profit-maximizing private facility, Rivers refuses to spend enough to provide decent food, health care, education, or job training. The truth, however, is that all prisons, public or private, are vicious tools of capitalist oppression. They must be smashed through revolutionary action.
During weekly CIC meetings, PL’ers have argued that the anti-racist Well Fargo boycott campaign will require more participation by the industrial working class to gain clout. While quite a few Wells Fargo customers have told us that they have already closed their accounts, more force is needed to pressure the bank and also to broaden the campaign. PL’ers have invited other CIC members to join the Party’s regular distribution of anti-racist and communist literature to bus drivers, an effort to gain transit workers’ support for this campaign. PL’ers have also made clear, through discussions and the distribution of CHALLENGE, that only by building a revolutionary PLP, smashing capitalism, and replacing it with a communist system can the New Jim Crow be defeated.