Remembering Attica (with video)

Posted September 9, 2009

“You know why we’re not going to quit? Because we’re one, we’re one unit. We’re tired of being beaten; we’re tired of being oppressed.” –Attica inmate, 1971

Archie Shepp’s “Attica Blues”

On September 9th, 1971 the Attica Correctional Facility in the State of New York exploded in rebellion. Less than two weeks after the killing of imprisoned black revolutionary George Jackson inmates attempted to free a fellow inmate from his cell after reports that he was being tortured. When guards realized that prisoners had successfully come to the aid of their fellow inmate they attempted to collectively punish the prisoners. Instead of being punished the prisoners revolted. Within hours a riot had developed into a full-scale occupation of the prison, with over thirty prison guards held hostage.

The seizure of Attica by the prisoners electrified millions of people across the US. The prisoner’s defiance and solidarity in the face of continued state repression lit up the night sky like a beacon. Yes, the rebellion exclaimed, you can fight back, you can resist, you can defend your basic human dignity. For the millions of black people coast to coast who were living through Cointelpro and watching their leaders slain by the state, for the Chicanos and Puerto Ricans who had grown up under US colonialism, for the young white people who had come to understand the brutality that this system is capable of, and for millions more inspired by the freedom struggles that were shaking the world—Attica became the byword for resistance.

The videos included below features extensive footage of the prisoners speaking for themselves. This was an intensely political prison revolt. The prisoners weren’t simply “letting off steam”; they were making a serious attempt to concretely change the conditions of their lives. They didn’t “go it alone”—they struck together, developed demands, and stood strong.

The state responded much as they had to slave rebellions 120 years earlier. After retaking the prison in a hail of bullets and killing 29, prisoners were stripped naked and tortured. The State of New York and the US government seemed satisfied that they had “put down” this brave strike for human dignity. But the murderous suppression of the Attica uprising will be remember along with the Mai Lai Massacre (1968), the murder of George Jackson (1971), and the police attack on Chicano anti-war demonstrators (1969) as signposts along the road to the Second American Revolution.

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3