Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Report from Inside an Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Prison Industrial Complex Meeting

Yes, quite by accident, yesterday I came by an anti-capitalist, anti-prison industrial complex meeting.

I happened to be in a building where the event was about to be held in a lobby/meeting area. I noticed the meeting being set up and asked permission to sit in, which I was given.

The first slide on a screen, which had originally caught my eye, said "Californians United for a Responsible Budget." So I initially I thought the meeting was about California's budget. When the presentation started, I quickly realized it was about the prison system in general and California's prison system specifically.

The presenter Emily Harris revealed some very startling and horrifying statistics about the number of prisons that have been constructed in California and other data about what goes on in the prison system. She noted that, despite this increase in prisons, crowded conditions remained. She reported that the government used all sorts of tactics to keep the prisons filled.

One tactic, pointed out by another presenter, to fill prisons was to use DUI checkstops, which were often set up in heavily populated immigrant communities. The presenter pointed out that the DUI checkstops were simply cover to find illegals.

Harris reported that all kinds of things go on once inside the prison system. She said that both Starbucks and Victoria Secret sell products that are made from within prison walls. She also spoke of multi- billion dollar "revenue" bonds in California used to finance some of the prison construction.

Through out, she alluded to the prison-industrial complex, which I am sure exists, but she never went into much detail as to who they were, other than mentioning police-type unions. During the Q & A, I asked what investment bank raised the money for California via "revenue" bonds. She said she did not know.

I was generally sympathetic to this part of the presentation, but was also curious about how CURB received its funding. The presenter suddenly got a lot less transparent, when I asked her about this. She said support came through foundations, but did not name any, even when I asked for specifics with a follow-up question. At that point, she added that many individuals contributed.

What specifically caused me to ask about the source of CURB's funding was a brochure passed out at the meeting. The meeting, btw, consisted of about 10 people. The brochure listed "measures we support":

1. Reinstate property tax by reforming or repealing Proposition 13

2. Close corporate tax loopholes

3. Instate an oil severance tax

4. Apply a foreclosure tax to banks

5. Increase taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent

6. Decriminalize and tax marijuana

And then there was support listed for that George Soros favorite (which really prompted me to ask the question about CURB's support)

7. Tax financial transactions (Tobin tax).

Somehow, I missed the connection between increasing state revenue and decreasing state prisons, especially since Harris said that every time they succeeded in getting a prison reform passed, the Prison-Industrial Complex used it to do an end around and make the prison system more severe. I, thus, would have thought that decreasing government revenue might be away to shrink the growth of prisons.

Harris left the meeting early and the event was then carried on by another presenter (Erma?)  who threw around the anti-capitalist word a lot. I tried to make the point that crony-capitalism was not the same thing as capitalism and used, what I thought were lefty favorites, Whole Foods and Ben and Jerry's, as examples. I asked her if she was against WF and B&J, she said yes, that they were evil.

I then asked what capitalism should be replaced with and she said humanism. The coordinator of the event said, anarchism. I asked the coordinator, if under her form of anarchism, I would be able to still shop at a Whole Foods if I wanted to. At that point, another attendee interrupted and told me that my question was too basic and had been asked and answered by them long ago.

Since, the great capitalist/anti-capitalist debate had apparently been resolved long ago, the discussion turned to the term, anti-capitalism, being thrown around much more, with occasional supportive mentions of rent controls and higher minimum wage laws---with a strong belief that over-turning the current prison system would overthrow crony-capitalism, which they, incorrectly saw as all of capitalism.

I am certainly not in favor of the current prison system and indeed there is a prison-industrial complex, but unless discussion gets back to the basics, which the one attendee seemed to pooh-pooh, the crony capitalist system will never end. They, indeed, don't seem to understand its full nature and want to remarkably increase the state in other directions, with many more taxes, all of which will result in more money ending up in the pockets of crony capitalists. Bottom line: Their objective to overthrow the prison system, by increasing taxes  for other programs, will do nothing but feed the crony-capitalist beast and result in all of us living in more prison-like conditions.


  1. Wow, that's a pretty bizarre group, but maybe not... I bet there are a lot of Occupy-styled thinkers that would largely concur with them.

  2. Really love reading your insights about events you visit. Keep up the good work.