Fighting Toxic Prisons: Reflections and Next Steps from the June 11 Convergence in D.C.

Fighting Toxic Prisons: Reflections and Next Steps from the June 11 Convergence in D.C.

First off, a huge “Thank You” to the folks that helped make the convergence last month happen. There are too many to list you all here, but you know who you are.

Those of us who organized for the event over the past 6 months considered it to be a complete success. Thus far, we’ve gotten very supportive feedback, including requests to do it again next year… While we appreciate the enthusiasm, and we were glad to be in DC, we’re also not looking to make the event an annual reunion in the capitol.

We felt DC was a great location for this first national gathering of anti-prison environmentalism, or ecological prison abolition (however you choose to frame it). It gave us a chance to draw from the Mid-Atlantic activist population and direct attention towards governmental agencies like the BOP, EPA, FBI, DOJ, etc. at their national offices.

We do envision organizing similar gatherings on or around June 11 in the future, but we plan to be flexible and dynamic about location. There are struggles against proposed and existing prisons all across the country and we’d love to bring the energy and passion we harnessed last month to these places as well. Ideas for next year include: Alabama, Texas, Illinois, Utah and Washington State, to name a few.

We also realize that this work needs to continue throughout the year, and so we plan to participate in similar gatherings and actions as opportunities arise…  Which we’ll be doing at the Bend the Bars conference next month in Ohio, August 26 – 28th. Hope to see you there!

Following up with the EPA and EJ 2020

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The Prison Ecology Project’s June 10th 2016 meeting with EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, D.C. The room was packed with near 30 people in attendance. Despite people traveling across the country to speak with them, they cut us off at 45 minutes. PHOTO Robin Kunkel Code

For those who attended the June 10th EPA meeting, you may recall that July 7th was a deadline for submitting comments on their Environmental Justice strategy plan, known as EJ 2020. Well, in case you were starting to sweat wondering about the silence from us … that deadline was extended, thanks to EJ activists telling the EPA that more time was needed to invite community input on the plan. The new deadline is now July 28.

Worth noting is that despite delivering an extensive comment on this topic with almost a hundred organizations signing on last year, the Prison Ecology Project did not even get a notification that the Draft EJ 2020 plan had been released. It practically seemed a coincidence that they mentioned it at all during the meeting on June 10, moments before an unexpected announcement 40 minutes into the meeting that we only had 45 minutes to meet with them (despite having to wait 30 minutes just to get through security.)

This is a far cry from the supposed inclusive process that EPA gives lip service too. And we’re sad to say that our review of the EJ 2020 plan has generally been a disappointment. There is very little distinguishing it from the hollow rhetoric and empty promises that the EPA’s Environmental Justice efforts have been plagued by for decades now.

To give you a glimpse, in the several hundred pages associated with EJ 2020, we found no mention of the unique and pressing circumstances of prisoners, not even once. This is consistent with our review of years past where, even when finding violations at prisons, we’ve found no records of the EPA noting EJ demographics of people locked inside.

As a result, the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons will be joining the Prison Ecology Project (PEP) in updating their EJ 2020 comment that was filed last year, and seeking out additional signers to show that momentum is building in the effort to have prisons scrutinized for their chronic pollution and environmental health problems, and prisoners recognized as a priority for the federal EJ policy that the EPA is an inter-agency facilitator of.

Please get in touch ASAP if your organization wants to be added as a signer on the PEP comment. FightToxicPrisons@gmail.com

 

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In front of the EPA following the June 10th meeting

Media from the Convergence in DC

Hat’s off to the folks on our team who covered our internal media. We had some great photographers capturing the event, you can view their pictures from the Monday action here.

If you have interest in using any of these photos for publication, please get in touch so we can be sure to notify the photographer and be sure they are given proper credit for them.

Also, the host of a show called Act Out! captured the full June 11 evening panel and shared the footage with us, which we will be posting soon. Act Out! used a section of it on their  show, which airs on Free Speech TV. You can view the segment from that show if you start at 21 mins in this link.

In addition, Tansim News Agency covered the event at UDC, including several pictures during panels. Think Progress also published a great article featuring the weekend’s events, as did In These Times.

Local organization, Empower DC, has a radio show on WPFW that covered the weekend’s events as well. You can find the show archived under “Taking Action”, June 14th, 1 p.m. at about 9 minutes and 30 seconds at this link.

And you can generally check out news and updates from us, including report backs, more pictures and some original memes from the event here.

[Note: A D.C.-area Fox News reporter Shawn Yancy appeared on the scene of the protest on Monday, but we have not been able to locate footage from her interviews. If you saw her coverage, please let us know.]

A Few Ways to Take Action Now

The following are some easy links to circulate among your networks to keep pressure on the prison pushers and build our organizing capacity:

  • Sierra Club launched a petition last year which is now 14,000+ signatures strong. If you are part of large environmental list serves, circulate this on them between now and the July 28th EPA deadline.
  • If you are part of anti-prisons or criminal justice lists, circulate PEP/Nation Inside’s petition on them between now and the July 28th EPA deadline.
    While our goal is to merge these worlds, what we’ve found is that people respond better to what they’re familiar with. So take your pick. They both go to the same targets.
  • Send a message to the BOP against their plans for the Letcher County prison
  • Join the Prison Ecology email list, and invite others to do the same
  • Like and Share the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons on Facebook and Twitter.

Then, get off the internet. We’ll see you in the streets!

For the wild,

– The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons

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FTP J11 panel group shot 2016 DC

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