Southern Ontario: Seven Years Against Prison - Reportback on NYE demos
New years in Southern Ontario wouldn't be complete without a festive expression of our rage against prisons and the world which requires them. For the seventh year running, we brought the party to several local institutions of control and isolation, in order to show those trapped inside for the holidays that they aren't alone.
The first prison we visited was the Toronto South Detention Center, a newer prison located in Mimico which is still mostly empty. About 30 people came out from six cities in the area and created a huge ruckus with giant fireworks and a marching band. It was our first visit to Mimico and there was no response from police or prison officials, although there was a very enthusiastic response from those inside.
Our next stop was Barton, the local Jail in Hamilton and the site of new-years demos for the past seven years. Eighty or ninety people contributed to a fun and rowdy atmosphere outside the prison, and those stuck inside responded in kind. Participants shot off more giant fireworks, banged on drums, launched a small arsenal of paint bombs on three sides of the building (including the front door) and, when the paint bombs ran out, started chucking chunks of ice toward the surveillance cameras. Masked individuals also spray-painted 'H(A)PPY NEW YEARS', 'BL(A)CK DECEMBER', and other tags against prisons both on the sides of the jail and on nearby buildings where the messages are visible to those inside. Again, there was almost no response from police.
This year, our thoughts and actions were with the folks in the Grand Valley Women's Prison, who have been struggling against the criminalization of queer prisoners, as well as Tamara Sol (on the run in Chile) and to those facing repression from the eviction of the Hambacher Forest occupation in Germany. Throughout the month of December, we've been inspired by the coodinated actions taken around the world and across different tendencies. The gestures we made tonight -- these small attempts to break the isolation of prison -- were in response to this call made by our comrades imprisoned in Greece, as well as to participate in an international tradition of solidarity and struggle against prisons. It's also a great to build trust through action and then develop a friendship while partying after.
The following text is from a zine distributed to participants at the march:
Seven Years Against Prison
Notes on the practice of prison noise demos in South-western Ontario
“The prison door opens, and now he knows what to do; keep the memory alive, leave no space for oblivion, never forget the comrades left behind, pick up the thread of insurgency from where it was interrupted, pour the poison of insubordination into the reproduction networks of the capitalist society”
From “For a new combat position of anarchist insurgency – For a Black December”
By imprisonned anarchists Nikos Romanos and Panagiotous Argirou
For the past seven years, anarchist and other radicals in South-western Ontario have celebrated New Year’s Eve with noise demos outside of the areas many prisons. We love to party and celebrate on New Year’s and this tradition has allowed us to do so in a spirit of antagonism and solidarity. We can have fun in a way that actually inspires us and that brings some joy to people who are locked up. Connecting through the walls with prisoners is a direct action against the alienation and separation that prison creates and it transforms the urban space, bringing in to focus the prisons that dot the landscape and making vivid the coercive violence of the state that controls our lives. Prison impacts us every day, whether or not we’re locked up, and the New Year’s Noise Demos make this conflict tangible.
One of the initial intentions of the noise demos in Hamilton was to participate in an international practice of anarchist solidarity with prisoners. In 2009, it was a direct response to a call to support an international hunger strike campaign by anarchist prisoners, launched by Gabriel Pombo Da Silva from a prison in Germany. The following year, several of our comrades were still locked up from the G20 mobilizations and there had been demos earlier in the year at Vanier/Maplehurst and The Don Jail in support of anarchist and other prisoners held there. This marked a time when, for many of us, the reality of prison intruded more starkly into our lives and the combative anger of the demos that year showed an escalation in hostility still anchored in the spirit of international solidarity, particularly with prisoners in the US state of Georgia who were on hunger strike and with an international call for new year’s noise demos (the exact same text has been re-released this year as a fresh call for demos).
This year, let’s show our solidarity with the international call for a Black December released by anarchist prisoners in Greece, Nikos Romanos and Panagiotis Argirou. They called for insurrectionary actions around the world which they hope “will be the detonator for the restart of anarchist insurgency, inside and outside the prisons”. Their call has already been answered by more than fifty actions around the world, including in Canada, where an attack on a police vehicle and a confrontational march in Montreal have been claimed as part of Black December. (There is a timeline of actions at rabble.org.uk).
From 2011, the demos expanded – to support prisoners in struggle at the Grand Valley Prison in Kitchener, to visit anarchist prisoners in West Toronto and in Penetanguishene, the Syl Apps youth prison in Oakville – while continuing to anchor themselves with a stop at Hamilton’s Barton Jail. This prison, described as ‘a monument to human misery’, that looms over one of Canada’s poorest urban areas, remains very overcrowded and kills several of its prisoners every year.
The shit-eating screws of the OPSEU union use the Barton Jail as a centre-piece in their disputes with the province, allowing conditions there to degenerate to deadly levels to improve their negotiating position. In 2012, a so-called “strike” action by the guards only ended after a prisoner died following a month of lockdown. (But can they really be thought of as workers when their job is to manage the misery of others? Would not such an action more accurately be called hostage-taking or extortion?)
This year, we’re stopping at the new Toronto South, or Mimico, prison on the Toronto-Mississauga border. This new maximum security nightmare, which, when full, will be among the largest prisons in Canada, has already seen at least two prisoners die in the year it’s been open. Prisoners there describe being locked down three or four days a week and being persistently denied needed medical care. There is no yard in this jail – they meet their requirement for outdoor time by putting prisoners in a concrete room with windows. There are no real visits either – although friends and family still have to travel to the jail, they can only see their loved one by video screen.
The Mimico prison is an escalation of the cruelty and cynicism of the system against us all and it deserves to be vigorously opposed. The intensive management and surveillance of the lives of those locked inside it mirrors the increasing social control we experience outside. The prisoners there have been courageously organizing to demand better conditions, using hunger strikes, press releases, and collective demands, and they definitely deserve our support and participation in a shared struggle.
It’s beautiful that we’ve kept the tradition of New Year’s noise demos alive for so many years – as a chance for collective joy, for collective rage, a chance to dramatize the violence of the capitalist system, to remember its many victims, a chance to participate in an international mobilization against prisons and the world that needs them. Happy fucking New Years.
“Prison is not a domain reserved for specialists such as those who have done time themselves or have a particular rapport with individual prisoners, it is the underlying reality of everyday life, each and every discourse of capital taken to its logical conclusion.”
Alfredo M Bonanno in Locked Up.