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Imprisoned With a White Supremacist (Migs Update)

3:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Migs Latest Oppressions (Could Be Worse)

The only surprise from an internal decision by officials at Pontiac Correctional Center about the imprisonment of Mark “Migs” Neiweem, a member of the NATO 5, is that it could have been worse.

A racist skinhead

In the latest form of state provocation, Migs of the NATO 5 must share a prison cell with a white supremacist.

In my last update, I detailed how Migs — one of the five activists arrested and charged with “terrorism” based on entrapment by undercover Chicago Police in the build up to NATO protests — faced new obstacles in his quest for freedom. Though originally scheduled to be released in November, prison officials brought politically-motivated “gang intelligence” charges against him. They claimed, based on letters and books received in the mail (already approved by prison censors) as well as sparse communication with another imprisoned anarchist, that he was plotting to cause unrest.

Officials charged him with two disciplinary violations – Gang or Unauthorized Organization Activity and Dangerous Written Material — then, to no one’s surprise, convicted him of both charges. The one relief is that they did not carry through on all their threats, such as adding more months or transferring Migs to a much worse prison far from his Chicago support network. But the consequences still put freedom that much farther off for this political prisoner.

From Operation Pen Pal: 

Mark’s punishment for being found guilty of Anarchism is: 6 months in solitary confinement; 2 months of yard restriction (no time outside); 6 months restricted visits; and he is losing 3 months time off for good behavior, which will see him released next February instead of mid-November.

Migs denies that he planned to cause any trouble — he only wants to keep his head down and get out. His legal team plans to appeal the decisions but, with the prison-industrial complex being what it is, it may be February already before they make any headway.

I spoke again with Rachel Unterman after her visit to Migs on Tuesday. “Our actions have made a difference,” she said of the relatively lenient punishment. “They know we’re watching and we’re unhappy and they can’t really get away with coming down on him full force.”

Imprisoned with a White Supremacist

Migs is being moved repeatedly within the segregated housing unit at Pontiac for unknown reasons, and his access to the commissary is heavily restricted. He can only visit once a month, greatly limiting his access to supplies like stamps, and he’s not allowed to buy food at all while in segregation. Unterman said he’s not getting enough to eat as a consequence, and they are working to get him access to a vegetarian diet. There’s precedent for this, usually by prisoners claiming that vegetarianism is based on their spiritual path.

His cells are tiny — some as small as six feet by nine feet — and in one of the most restrictive parts of the prison. Even so, Migs now has a cell mate. In the latest attempt to orchestrate further disciplinary infractions, Neiweem is now forced to share this tiny space with a white supremacist. “They’ve had to call a bit of a truce, they just have to live together. They both just want to get out.” Placed together in the hopes that they’ll fight, their only hope for mutual freedom is to temporarily overlook their differences. “It’s not against just him. The whole system is vindictive,” she said.

That the best we can say is that while Migs suffers he could have been faced with even worse torture is, to this reporter, a glimpse of the entire US “justice” system in microcosm. Still, on her last visit Unterman found him in surprisingly good spirits:

He’s talking about all the books he’s reading. He’s working on doing some writing of his own. Even though he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to write out right now, he’s getting a lot of mail and it’s making him feel connected to the outside world. Their goal was to remove easy access to his support crew and they have not accomplished that.

I can tell how well he’s handling this. He’s determined to not only get through it, but to use it to make himself even stronger intellectually. … He’s allowed to buy a TV now, a small portable TV, and he won’t because he’s afraid it will eat into his reading and writing time. Which for someone who’s in a cell for twenty-four hours a day is saying something. … He’s determined to take whatever they throw at him and turn it into a positive.

Call and Write to Support Migs & #OpPenPal

Migs is just one of many political prisoners who need our support. Operation PenPal maintains an extensive list of political prisoners and guidelines for how to write and what to send.

Rachel Unterman and Operation PenPal are asking that we put continued pressure on his jailers:

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99% Gang Signs: An Update on Migs

3:09 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

We are the 99% Gang

99 Percent Wheatpaste

Is the 99% a gang? Pontiac Correctional Center seems to think so.

In my last update on Chicago’s political prisoners, I reported how Mark “Migs” Neiweem (pronounced Nye-wame) faces continued repression and torture in jail. First he was placed in solitary confinement with just months remaining in his sentence at Pontiac Correctional Center. When members of Operation PenPal started a campaign demanding his return to general population, prison officials moved him to an even worse solitary cell infested with rats and roaches and where he is denied even the brief human contact solitary victims expect at feeding time.

This week, Rachel Unterman of #OpPenPal called me to share the latest news.

Though he’s due to be freed in November, prison officials are bringing additional charges that could add to Migs’ sentence and endanger not just his freedom but that of future Occupy-associated political prisoners as well. “They accuse him of being an anarchist, which he is.” says Unterman. That’s not against the law — “but this is prison, so they are using it as a gang charge. The gang charges are worded so that you can apply it to almost anything.”

One of his charges is being in possession of symbols and insignia that are unauthorized — ‘gang signs’ — but here the ones they specify are Circle-A and Circle-E.

Similar to the Circle-A, the internationally famous symbol of anarchism, the Circle-E is a newer symbol which represents radical equality. In defining this symbol in prison intelligence documents pertaining to Migs’ case, officials specifically cite that it represents “the 99%.”

Migs is also being charged with possessing “unauthorized literature,” even though these books were allowed through the mail room. Migs’ own writings against the prison-industrial complex are being used in claims he has plans to undermine prison security. Prison officials are claiming, despite Migs denials, that he and another avowed anarchist in the prison are organizing for an uprising. According to Unterman, all Migs wants to do is keep his head down and get free in a few months.

He’ll hear the formal results of these new charges within about a week. Officials are considering transfering him to Menard Correctional Center, a prison with a dangerous reputation that is an almost six hour drive from his Chicago support network. They could also take away his “good time” — meaning he’d spend almost two additional years behind bars instead of getting released this year. Once the charges are formalized, his legal team will begin filing appeals.

Prison officials were holding his mail for over a week but, when she visited on Wednesday, he’d started receiving it again. “He’s taking it better than I am,” she told me. “He was very positive and optimistic but also realistic. He knows that they are out to get him but he said ‘they can take all these aggressive measures on me and I could take it passively, but it’s not going to make me treated any better.’”

Migs wants people on the outside to keep fighting for him by sending mail until it overwhelms the prison with support. “He wants to fight the charges, to fight for better treatment, and to make sure he’s released in November.”

She adds:

We need to keep in mind that this is very much political. They don’t like him because he’s an anarchist. We have a lot of people in the system who are anarchists or support the 99%. If they can make us into gangsters, as far as the system is concerned, it’s going to be harder on everybody who’s going to jail.

We know they don’t like the 99%, but to put it under gang intelligence and to say that they’re somehow a threat to the prison population just for their political views, without any evidence that they intend to act violently — it’s a bad precedent to set.

How to Send Photos to Migs

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3 Ways Movements Spread Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

6:26 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More: Kit’s social media & blogging slideshow.

Civil Disobedience Misconceptions

We have entered an age of protest. Social media tools allow new ways to mobilize activists into public and private spaces and also provide new avenues for amplifying their actions. The Internet, when used properly, can drive activists to an action — or a worldwide coalition of actions — and then make sure thousands more people see and hear about them afterwards. Using simple tools like hashtags, we can monitor the response to actions in real time in a way never possible before.

A large street march with an Idle No More banner

An #IdleNoMore street march in Victoria, British Columbia. Successful movements use modern social media tools while empowering everyday people to take the streets.

Social media buzz during and immediately after a direct action is an interesting measure of its success. Actions which capture the imagination of their viewers, or which take place in very visible ways can quickly multiply beyond their numbers. Less than a dozen people took part in planning and executing Austin’s Free Santa chalk action, but perfect timing and smart use of social media drew international attention.

Of course, the critics will flood onto social media too. In some ways, they are also a measure of success — a tiny action with little impact is unlikely to attract trolls. The more of your opponents (and their sock puppets) who respond, the more you are getting noticed. Successful movements also find themselves under fire from mainstream media propaganda, like the NYPD and New York Post after recent arrests unrelated to Occupy Wall St. Unfortunately, this propaganda quickly becomes accepted truth — I’d wager that more people can repeat police & media-spun myths about widespread public defecation and destruction at Occupy camps than can speak to the movement’s actual demands, however clearly members have articulated them.

When I glanced at the #IdleNoMore hashtag recently, I was disheartened to see someone suggesting that the movement should cease civil disobedience and instead organize around cleaning up trash on the roadways and beaches of Canada and the United States. Obviously, some statements like this come from a position of racism (or at least privilege) — there’s a long tradition of telling the oppressed to just settle down rather than engage in troublesome free speech. Even taken charitably, such statements are ridiculous — the Adopt-A-Highway campaign is hardly a hotbed of revolutionary change.

Yet some of these statements come from genuine ignorance about the effectiveness of direct action as part of a movement. The same mainstream media that happily spreads anti-activist propaganda is loathe to share stories of the effectiveness of mass movements; when they do show up at a protest they are notorious for highlighting the “weirdest” looking, least articulate protester they can find in their sound bytes. Before last year’s #NoNATO protests, police deliberately kindled fear of widespread disruption among the city’s people and business owners. Chicago peace activist Sue Basko told me that because she was a public organizer of the protests with her name on march permits, she fielded many calls and emails complaining about public transportation delays and disruption, even though most or all of this disruption was caused by the NATO conference and its security apparatus.

Some people will always be “inconvenienced” by civil disobedience, mass protest, and other forms of nonviolent direct action. It’s the job of the activist to educate the public about the necessity of free speech in all its forms, even when it makes some people late for work. What follows should not be taken as another white guy telling Idle No More or other new activist movements what to do, but rather highlighting some of what I think they are doing right.

Create Your Own Conversation

It is important to court the mainstream media and major alternatives by sending out press releases and cultivating relationships with sympathetic journalists. Yet even the most understanding of reporters can’t tell your story as well as you can tell it yourself. Make smart, consistent use of whatever tools you have available to start your own conversation. The true effectiveness of street movements is how they break through the mass media’s messages and make real people have real conversations. Don’t waste your time fighting with trolls, but instead look for opportunities to cultivate dialogue.

In my opinion, it’s better to master a few social networks rather than to push to be on them all. Idle No More has spread effectively onto Facebook, Twitter and beyond by playing to the strengths of each site. Pinterest may be the hottest new thing, but if all you’re going to do is cross-post links to your Facebook page then you might want to wait. Don’t overlook old fashioned methods like flyering or street art. Devote your resources to the areas where you can focus and then see if you can build coalitions with existing activist networks elsewhere that can spread your message along with their own.

Teach People To Take The Streets

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VIDEO: Mark Neiweem Beaten by Cook County Guards, Placed in Solitary (#NATO5)

6:08 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell


I’ve written before about political prisoners of the Occupy movement and Kevin Gosztola of The Dissenter has also written about this case, but the latest development is an especially disturbing one. Mark Neiweem is one of 5 activists charged preemptively in the lead-up to May’s NATO protests in Chicago; he is accused of “felony offense of solicitation for possession of explosives or explosive or incendiary devices,” in part based on the testimony of two police infiltrators. According to new reports from Occupy Chicago, Neiweem, better known as ‘Migs,’ was beaten by Cook County Guards and, after his release from the hospital, immediately placed in solitary confinement:

Mark Neiweem, (pronounced Nye-wame) one of the NATO5, was badly beaten by Cook County Jail Guards and placed in solitary confinement, “the hole,” for 20+ days. His lawyer confirmed that Mark spent the night in Cermak Hospital. He has stitches, his face is swollen and bruised. his ribs are sore but not broken. We, his activists and friends, cannot let this atrocity of state abuse stand.

I am in Chicago, so I asked Rachel Unterman, an occupier who has been heavily involved in supporting these political prisoners, to speak with me about the incident. According to Rachel, Migs has spent his time inside educating fellow prisoners, but it is unclear what, if anything, could have triggered this horrible attack.

Occupy Chicago has gone public with the story today, and is asking people to take action:

We are calling on every person around the world to telephone Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart at (312) 603-6444 and ask to speak with him, demanding:

What happened to Mark Neiweem?
Why was Mark Neiweem beaten so severely that he was admitted to Cermak hospital overnight?
Remove Mark from the hole now!

As Rachel points out, a great way to support the NATO 5 is by writing letters and sending pictures. OChi’s Free the NATO 5 website has a guide to writing letters to these prisoners. Occupy Austin’s Braettie Ledezma has led an effort to write to political prisoners worldwide, including Migs and other members of the NATO 5. She told me:

It’s been a cathartic experience writing to prisoners in general, but writing to Migs has been different in the way that he manages to make a strong  but very warm personality light up his letters from his first reply. He has a willingness to share things with an unapologetic honesty, and I found that delightful. He shows a determination to not allow his circumstances to defeat him and even though he has grim struggles; he takes a genuine interest in the welfare of others. The courage of these guys who write to me is amazing, and Migs has no shortage of courage.

Free the NATO5!

Gay Crumbs From the Table of the Masters (by Daniel Edward Massoglia)

9:30 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

By Daniel Edward Massoglia (@jujueyeball). Originally published on the Occupied Chicago Tribune. For more MyFDL coverage of Occupied Pride events, see Why Occupy Pride and the watercooler posts Pride and Pride Revisited.

Protest Banner: Take Back Pride Queers Against Racism And Corporate Greed

OccuPride Banner in Chicago (Photo: Philip DeVon, used with permission)

If you had, at the time, asked a participant in the Stonewall Riots—whose occurrence annual LGBTQ Pride parades commemorate—whether they envisioned a future where their cause was vocally supported by JP Morgan, Doritos, and the President of the United States, chances are your answer would have been a swift and sure “No.” But, in 21st century America, this is the case, and, sadly, Pride has let itself be changed by this, with little thought given to the consequences and ramifications.

Let this be said: Chicago Pride was awesome. Hundreds of thousands (850,000 by the city of Chicago’s estimation) joined together in Chicago’s Lakeview and Wrigleyville neighborhoods in an exuberant celebration of humanity. People of all races, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities celebrated the wonder of life in all its forms. Gay cowboys line-danced. Dykes occupied their bikes. Even the handful of bigots ended up looking silly, flanked on either side by a sign directed at the preacher (“Secretly Gay”) and an honest to goodness “Gay Jesus” impersonator, fabulous from beard to sandals. It really was beautiful. In one interfaith segment, Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, and other groups marched, carrying signs saying, “Gays are God’s People.” Even with all the upbeat, sun-driven joy, however, there were a number of troubling elements to the parade.

Underwritten by the 1%

Pride initially represented the cry, “We exist!” shouted from an ignored and stigmatized community to the larger population of the country. It was a celebration of the margins. While this is still the case in some ways, the LGBTQ community has now found itself underwritten by the most oppressive elements of American society—banks, politicians, and corporations, the ultimate ostracizers—and it has largely accepted this. It is a shift almost as dizzying in scope as the shift in mainstream consciousness towards LGBTQ rights. Decades ago, from the margins came a movement, one which has now, years later, unfortunately and almost unblinkingly accepted the subsidy of organizations and individuals that actively enable the perpetual, repressive “othering” of the powerless.

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Occupy’s Political Prisoners

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Among the many signs of the profound threat that the Occupy movement poses to the status quo has been the coordinated effort by local and state police together with the Department of Homeland Security to suppress the rights of protesters. The United Nations recently criticized the United States for its violent police attacks on the movement.

In the month since the pre-NATO arrests, a new tool in the arsenal is becoming clear: turning dedicated activists into political prisoners.

Occupy Wall Street, Trinity Wall Street, and the December 17 Trial

Sign: Mark Adams is Bearded, Selfless, Defends the Poor, Persecuted. Remind you of Anyone?

Photo: @SubVerzo via Twitter, used with permission.

On December 17, Occupy Wall Street attempted a reoccuptation — not of Liberty Square, but of a new space. Climbing a fence on livestream, occupiers poured into a fenced-in space owned by Trinity Wall Street, a church-run business that is historically one of New York City’s oldest landlords. The trial of 8 of these occupiers, including a retired bishop and active clergy members, concluded on June 18. Seven of the defendants, including the clergy, were convicted of trespassing and sentenced to four days of community service. But one man, Mark Adams, was singled out for especially harsh treatment.

The Village Voice quotes Judge Sciarrino’s justification for his harshness:

He issued his his ruling immediately after closing arguments, finding all eight defendants guilty of trespassing and further finding one of them, Mark Adams, guilty of attempted criminal mischief and attempted criminal possession of burglar’s tools. Adams was seen on surveillance video using what appeared to be bolt cutters to open the fence.

“This was the use of siege equipment to storm a castle,” Sciarrino said in his ruling, adding that political demonstrations are no excuse for violating property rights. “This nation is founded on the right of private property, and that right is no less important than the first amendment.”

Though the district attorney asked for a mere 30 days, the judge instead chose to charge Adams with 45 days in New York’s dangerous Rikers’ Island! Although activists who practice civil disobedience must expect to face legal consequences from time to time, occupiers are surprised by the harsh treatment from Trinity Wall Street, a business theoretically built on Christian values. The Episcopal News Service quotes Bishop George Packard:

In a June telephone interview, Packard had expressed surprise at the trespassing charges and the manner of his arrest. When he entered the property Dec. 17, he said, “I felt that we were entering into a protected area and that it was closed for the season. I had visited hunger strikers on the perimeter of that space … three or four times. …”

“Trespass is a word that I’m not used to hearing as it’s related to church property,” Packard said. “I hear expressions like ‘refuge’ and ‘sanctuary,’ and even … in the Trinity newsletter they talk about ‘radical hospitality.’”

The Continuing Plight of the NATO 5

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