On September 9th, with noise demos, banner drops, and direct actions, cities across the so-called US marked the 50th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, when over 1,000 inmates took over a part of the New York prison and issued a set of demands for better conditions and to call for an end to brutality from the guards. The State’s brutal response to the uprising led to the mass murder of both prisoners and staff, while the media rushed to blame the prisoners. While it would take years for the inmates of Attica to receive anything resembling “justice,” the Attica uprising helped give birth a wave of future prisoner revolts and helped plant of the seeds for a new generation of abolitionists.
A revolutionary fire was set 50 years ago today when nearly 1300 prisoners rose up and seized Attica. We honor this history and the prison struggle by carrying on the fight. Long live the prison rebels! Burn the prisons! @jaillawspeak #ShutEmDown2021 pic.twitter.com/WmzPf1Br9C
— RevAbolitionNYC (@RevAbolitionNYC) September 10, 2021
On September 9. 1971, a series of conflicts between prisoners and guards ended with a relatively minor incident, involving a guard disciplining two prisoners. This was the spark that set off the revolt a group which began when a group of inmates from D Block broke through a gate with a defective weld and taking over one of the four prison yards, with forty guards as hostages.
Then followed five days in which the prisoners set up a remarkable community in the yard. A group of citizen-observers, invited by the prisoners, included New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, who wrote, A Time to Die: “The racial harmony that prevailed among the prisoners—it was absolutely astonishing… That prison yard was the first place I have ever seen where there was no racism.” One black prisoner later said: “I never thought whites could really get it on. . . . But I can’t tell you what the yard was like, I actually cried it was so close, everyone so together.” All the prisoners – black, Latino, white – who took part in the revolt were united. It was no “race riot” but a united class action.
The prisoners demanded removal of the warden, amnesty for those who had taken part in the revolt, and better conditions. The state agreed to 28 of the 33 demands but not amnesty. The prisoners were not willing to back down on this, as they knew repression would fall heavily on them.
After five days, the state lost patience. Governor Nelson Rockefeller approved a military attack on the prison. One thousand National Guardsmen, prison guards, and local police went in with automatic rifles, carbines, and submachine guns in a full-scale assault on the prisoners, who had no firearms. Thirty-one prisoners were killed. The first stories given the press by prison authorities said that nine guards held hostage had their throats slashed by the prisoners during the attack. The official autopsies almost immediately showed this to be false: the nine guards died in the same hail of bullets that killed the prisoners. Guards beat and tortured prisoners after the revolt.
The Attica rebellion remains a symbol of the prisoner class coming together across racial lines against white supremacy, collectively. It continuities to inspire current prison rebels and revolutionaries as an example of widespread resistance to the prisoner system. What follows is a roundup of actions marking both the Attica Prison uprising and the #ShutEmDown2021 call from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS).
Tacoma, WA: Rally outside of the Northwest Detention facility.
— LaResistencia_NW (@ResistenciaNW) September 10, 2021
Portland, OR: Online #ShutEmDown2021 forum held.
Oakland, CA: Massive banners dropped on bay bridge reading “Remember Attica.”
— Oakland Abolition & Solidarity (@OaklandAboSol) September 9, 2021
Fairfield, CA: Noise demo and mutual aid event.
We help us! Close the prisons, build COMMUNITY!❤️💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/e61k8WM5VW
— Voices of VV (@voicesofvv) September 10, 2021
San Luis Obispo, CA: Car caravan and protest.
Chicago, IL: Noise demo outside of the Cook County Jail.
Noise demo happening right now outside of Cook County Jail in Chicago. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion, and we’re here to continue that fight for justice.
“What’s the call? Free them all!” pic.twitter.com/Kr3LyT48Du
— Zombie Donnie (@ZombieDonnie) September 9, 2021
Milwaukee, WI: Abolitionist rally and mobilization. Banner drop.
We are out here!
10th & State in downtown Milwaukee, Day of Visibility—
food, speakers, music, zines, friends, conversation & prison abolition—let’s do this shit#ShutEmDown2021 @JailLawSpeak @IGD_News @MI_Abolition @OaklandAboSol https://t.co/mT1aK8MPxB pic.twitter.com/YqcQfqPDYy
— ABOLISHmke (@ABOLISHmke) September 9, 2021
Just a quick little reportback and how to we wanted to share with you all in case you’ve got some friends and wanna make something like this happen in your own town!#ShutEmDown2021 @IGD_News https://t.co/1Pw0VDSwpY
— ABOLISHmke (@ABOLISHmke) September 10, 2021
Minneapolis, MN: Protest and direct action at firm building new jail.
#ShutEmDown2021 actions in #Minneapolis targeted “Klein McCarthy Architects. The firm has recently been contracted by Winona County, in the southern part of so-called Minnesota, to design a new $28-million jail.” https://t.co/1LPWIdlNXa
— It’s Going Down (@IGD_News) September 10, 2021
Raleigh, NC: Protest rally outside of jail.
During today’s #ShutEmDown2021 action at the NC Dept of Public “Safety” in Raleigh, a small group of activists with SBW strategically held space right in front of the main entrance where DPS staff were coming out right as most of them were getting off at work.
— Solidarity Beyond the Walls (@SolidarityWalls) September 10, 2021
Washington DC: Educational event on Attica and Vaughn uprising by DC IWOC. Videos and audio here.
Atlanta, GA: Noise demonstration.
Columbia, SC: Noise demonstration.
Roanoke, VA: Noise demonstration.
Florida: #ShutEmDown2021 Banner Drops
Seen in the wild… @JailLawSpeak
— Florida Prisoner Solidarity (@FL_Abolition) September 9, 2021
Philadelphia, PA: Demonstration with banners and fireworks outside of youth detention center.
Brooklyn, NY: Noise demonstration outside of the MDC.
— Outlive Them NYC (@outlivethemnyc) September 10, 2021
Buffalo, NY: Noise demo.