From the March-April 2023 issue of News & Letters
UKRAINIAN SELF-DETERMINATION AND THE IDEA OF FREEDOM
Re: “Ukrainian self-determination and idea of freedom” (Jan.-Feb 2023 N&L): When we write about movements, a lot of attention is paid to extraordinary bravery or extraordinary acts. I am not discounting that. But the idea of people not trying to be heroic, but still putting their lives on the line for the right to self-activity is important to raise. It may not sound very revolutionary. But it is more than opposition to the immediacy of Putin’s oppression. People in Ukraine don’t say what they are fighting for (at least it’s not reported), but that they will fight. This essay does not quote a Ukrainian saying, “I demand the self-determination of the idea of freedom.” That is a statement from a philosopher looking at an actual struggle. Zelensky may want to limit his “wish list” to weapons to defeat Russia. But that does not exhaust what people in Ukraine want. Engaging ideas that animate activities is more than asking us to be organizers.
SF Bay Area, Calif.
It is how we treat one another that makes new moments of social solidarity so powerful. Society reorganizes itself, with the whole population creating ever new ways of experiencing their solidarity in everyday life. Ukrainians know oppression and the lack of food from five million starved by Stalin 90 years ago to today. A Kyiv gourmet baker now bakes thousands of loaves daily underground to give out to people who need it. He is not producing commodities.
The experience of organizing life differently can be the beginning of a new consciousness of what is important about surviving as a free people. As individuals, many are taking great risks, even sacrificing their lives. That bravery comes from a deep sense of what it means to be human. So there is a possibility that the question of what it means to be free can develop from its first take, that of being free from Putin’s totalitarian-fascist regime, to a deeper sense of what it means to be free in one’s everyday life when Putin is defeated. Isn’t this what Marx meant when he said that the 1871 Paris Commune’s greatest accomplishment was “its own working existence?”
N&L FOR THE STUDY GROUP
Another prisoner shared his N&L with me. I’d like to have a subscription to use in my study group, as we’re attempting to build a better sense of unity among the general population of 3,700 men assigned to this unit. There is a need to open the minds of inmates to a better quality of life and state of mind. Your paper would serve the purpose of bringing forth needed change. Thanks for being a voice for us to the free world. It makes a difference in our lives.
Iowa Park, Texas
SHARING THE PAPER
A friend of mine shared a copy of your paper with me. Could you put me on your mailing list so that I may share it with others in my building. It’s rare to read this level of material at this Unit. I enjoy every page of the paper.
Iowa Park, Texas
CLIMATE MOVEMENTS VS. SUMMITS
The subhead “Climate Summit vs. Climate Movements in “COP15 and COP27: Ecology summits hide two worlds clashing” (Jan.-Feb. 2023 N&L) captures the “two worlds” we are facing over the looming catastrophe of climate chaos. The climate summits which are rolled out each year seem so much about posturing by one leader or another. Greenwashing is being substituted for concrete actions. What does seem worthwhile are the climate movements which gather at these summits to demand real action and voice protest and expose the extreme danger we are in. What I would ask is whether their important protests against the emptiness and manipulation of the summits can be at the same time a projection of the need for a kind of full uprooting that can put us on the road toward a new, human beginning.
UNSANITARY PRISON CONDITIONS
We are going through a real struggle here in Texas prisons. We have been oppressed here for a long time! Inmates are now trying to speak up, protest, and push back. We need help that must come from the public. News publications are very powerful when telling the public about conditions in these prisons that are being carried out as cruel and unusual punishments and with taxpayer money.
The unit I’m on, Robertson, has many harsh conditions. Some are dangerous: the toilets leak urine and feces from the base; and water is leaking in the pipes and making sparks off a light fixture. Seriously! The food here is spoiled sometimes, not nutritious, and leftovers are served for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is dry pancakes, oatmeal and prunes every morning! Same meal! The showers are being conducted once in a blue moon. We are in the cells 24/7 with a cellmate and officials are always claiming shortage of staff. However, officers just don’t want to let us take a shower.
There are many deprivations, abuses, discrimination, and failures by this administration. You would need to see it to believe it.
Me and my comrades enjoy N&L. When I get out, I will join the “big business” to end the “slavery” in prison. Not only are we working for pennies a day, now they are trying to take 75% of money coming in for fines, child support or anything they can bill us for. We have no problem paying if we got the right currency, but they never talk about that.
VOICES FROM BEHIND BARS
I deeply thank you for your important publication. I have been incarcerated since 2009. You have been a true voice of reason I have listened to. Every word you print is not some wasted nonsense. Each article is of utmost importance because it reflects individualism, even in the face of utter adversity. What makes change is but one voice raised up, even in printed form, which you aid. What you have done for me I’m certain you do for others with each issue, to provide a true freedom that while they have our bodies, our minds are free to thrive.
I enjoy reading N&L. It helps keep me up on what is going on outside these walls. I would like to thank the people who are donating the funds so that I may continue receiving the paper. I do highly appreciate it and all the other people helping to write the news and everyone else involved with it. Thanks to making this happen to help those of us who need help.
San Diego, Calif.
TO OUR READERS: Can you donate $5 for a prisoner who cannot pay for a subscription to N&L? It will be shared with many others. A donation of $8 pays for a subscription plus the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers pamphlet to be sent to a prisoner. Prisoners are eligible to continue their free subscriptions when they first get released, a time when the system tries to make them forget the struggle.