Prison Politics Go Mainstream

by Martin W. Williams
File under: Fake Freedom11 Mar 2013 12:14 EDT

Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel Campaign while Lording Over the Polluted Prison that is Los Angeles

If you are ever unlucky enough to spend time in a US prison, you will probably end up joining a prison gang.

You see, the US prison population has divided itself into large, nationwide gangs, distinct from the common street gangs. These prison gangs provide protection for their members, protection against violence from the other gangs.  An individual prisoner outside of a gang is an open target.

Gang membership is determined by the most primitive criterion: race.  If you're black, you join the black gang, if you're Latino, you join the Latino gang, and if you're white, you join the "Aryan Brotherhood" (the same Brotherhood that recently tried to murder OJ Simpson).

Together these gangs co-exist and form their own political system, competing for control of limited resources (like weapons, drugs, and pornography).  Despite the obvious dehumanizing aspect, this kind of self-organization can be seen as an innovation, in the sense that it didn't exist 50 years ago.

Perhaps this is why the mainstream political culture in the US, perpetually low on new ideas, has adopted it as their own.  Recently the major parties have seemed determined to organize the US population into racial blocs that must fight each other for control of tax dollars.

"Democrats" and "Republicans" now sound like "Crips" and "Bloods" -- the old-fashioned street gangs.  The new, emerging political parties are the "black voters," the "hispanic voters," and the "white voters."  Most insulting is the presumption that individuals in these groups vote robotically for some pre-determined set of policies.

An good example is the political positioning of Marco Rubio.  In an attempt to offset black support for Democrats, the Republicans have put forth a Latino candidate.  Rubio as an individual means little or nothing; his political capital comes from his Cuban ancestry.  So now it's the blacks vs. the Latinos -- not at Riker's Island, but in Washington DC.  And the mainstream US news outlets have no qualms about amplifying this kind of exploitation.  

Take a recent article from the LA Times on the upcoming mayoral election in Los Angeles.  The two major candidates, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, are campaigning on almost identical platforms.  Perhaps because of this, journalist Michael Finnegan has framed the competition as a kind of racial turf war:

So began the 11-week battle over the tens of thousands of Los Angeles voters who shunned both Garcetti and Greuel in last week's primary. Many of them fall into two groups: black Democrats in South L.A. and white Republicans in the San Fernando Valley.

Both candidates, we learn, have tried to appeal to the black bloc.  Garcetti has "turned his focus to ... campaigning in Leimert Park with [black] comedian D.L. Hughley," while Greuel "announced that one of the city's premier black clergymen, Rev. Cecil 'Chip' Murray, was backing her."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the prison gang approach hasn't been too successful.  As Finnegan reports, "Garcetti, whose paternal ancestry is Mexican, had tried -- with mixed results -- to win outsized support among Latinos."  And Greuel "had hoped to win extra support citywide among women by stressing that she would be the city's first female mayor. A poll last month by USC and The Times found no sign of success for that strategy."

But when it comes to the "white Republicans," there is -- perhaps strangely -- no talk of kilt-wearing to gain 'Scotch-Irish cred' (even with St. Patrick's day so close),or of a Public Eating of Prosciutto in order to gain the Italian vote.  Instead, catch-phrases are the order of the day:

"Fiscal watchdog: That's an expression Republicans love," said Garrett Biggs, a Republican campaign consultant in Woodland Hills.

It's no surprise that younger voters in the US, who don't carry the racialized outlook of their parents, feel increasingly alienated by the entire political system.  Of course the recent headlines have been about young people abandoning the Republicans, but just as many young Democrats (myself included) feel betrayed by their own party.  

If the establishment generation in the US wants to continue on with prison politics, let them.  We'll get on with addressing our collective problems together, as a group of individual human beings.  There can be no solution otherwise.

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