Ethnographer Behind Bars: Arrested Activists, the General Jail Population, and Social Integration


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This presentation examines an ethnographic study of global justice activists arrested, their resistance behind bars, and interactions with the general jail population.

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  • Ethnographer Behind Bars: Arrested Activists, the General Jail Population, and Social Integration

    1. 1. Ethnographer Behind Bars: Arrested Activists, the General Population and Social Integration Beverly Yuen Thompson, Ph.D. [email_address] Women’s Studies Program Texas Woman’s University, Denton Fifth International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, May 20-23, 2009
    2. 2. Overview <ul><li>The global justice movement </li></ul><ul><li>Jail solidarity </li></ul><ul><li>Tactical lifecycle of jail solidarity </li></ul><ul><li>Activist demographics </li></ul><ul><li>Jail population demographics </li></ul><ul><li>Edgy ethnography </li></ul>
    3. 3. The global justice movement <ul><li>Platform: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fair trade not free trade; human rights; protect environment; remove structural adjustment policies (SAP) (privatization of social services, devalue currency, develop export economy) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Demand representation </li></ul><ul><li>Interrupt meetings where powerful elites make global policy decisions </li></ul><ul><li>Repressed/silenced with mass arrest and media demonization </li></ul>
    4. 4. What is jail solidarity? <ul><ul><li>Genesis: WTO protests, Seattle, 1999 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>~600 protesters arrested </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ jail solidarity” (continued direct action post-arrest): demand dropped/reduced charges for unjust arrest </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li> Jail Solidarity succeeds </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Released after five days </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Nearly all charges dropped </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>City loses court battle two years later and pays fine </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Refused to provide names </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Physical non-compliance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Hunger striking </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Demand lawyers and jury trials </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Outside support/publicity </li></ul></ul></ul>
    5. 5. tactical lifecycle <ul><li>Utilized at following protests: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ A16” IMF/World Bank in DC April 2000 (156 arrests) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Republican National Convention in Philly 2000 (~420 arrests) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Democratic National Convention in LA 2000 (~56 arrests) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>School of the Americas in Georgia 2001 (~40) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>World Economic Forum in NYC in 2002 (~201) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Jail solidarity falls into disuse : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Anti-war protest in DC 2002 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>IMF/World Bank in DC 2002 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Republican National Convention in NYC 2004 (~1,700) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>(Mass arrest continues at RNC/DNC in 2008) </li></ul>
    6. 6. activist demographics <ul><li>Over-privileged </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Predominantly White, a few resisted this label; the very few people of color always spoke of racism in movement </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>College and post-graduate education; study related to political activism </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Careers often related to political interests (non-profits, research, organizers, student activists) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Few previous arrests, all activist related </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. jail population demographics <ul><li>Under-privileged </li></ul><ul><ul><li>U.S. highest incarceration rate in the world at 737 per 100,000 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>U.S. 25% global prisoners </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cost: $60 billion/$88 p/d </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Poor people of color comprise majority of population </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>~80% convicted relied on public defenders ($305/felony) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>~90% cases rely on plea bargaining= no trial/legal right </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. Outcomes: life-changing & solidarity? It was the first time we went into the holding cell for court and it was standing room only, so packed. We walked in there and they [the prisoners] were looking us up and down, checking us out. One of them asked us if we were protesters and we said ‘yes.’ And they asked ‘what were you protesting?’ We said, ‘police brutality.’ And there was silence. All of a sudden there was this collective outpouring from the women, they all wanted to tell us their stories (Vanessa 2001). We began to hear all these stories. It became harder and harder to talk about how badly we’d been treated. Awaiting trial for some could conceivably be six months, because they couldn’t make bail. And we were able to get one a lawyer, which I think had the effect of winning us a lot of points with the population. So then we’re not just a bunch of smart-ass white kids, we’re smart-ass white kids who you can get something from (Christopher Day 2002).
    9. 9. Global justice and the fight against compulsive imprisonment <ul><li>Critical Resistance conference </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Strategy & struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Criminalization of communities rather than education/opportunities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Thirteenth Amendment “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime…” </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. Edgy ethnography <ul><li>Jeff Ferrell, editor of the book on how to ethnographically observe: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Crime </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Subcultures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Homelessness </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Militarism </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Terror </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sex work </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Drug dealers </li></ul></ul>Becker does not like the popular term “labeling theory,” instead he uses “interactionist theory of deviance” My main professor Williams taught us how to conduct edgy ethnography
    11. 11. “Write what you know” Washington, D.C. 1995 Ending Violence Against Women Seattle 1999 World Trade Organization protests Los Angeles 2000 Democratic National Convention protests Research participation as street activist/legal observer, law collective office worker, and arrestee
    12. 12. Have you ever been to the D.C. jail At the very, very bottom of the justice system? There you’ll find quite a few resisters, Who go by the name of Jane. If you do, that’s us, We’re Jane Doe. We crossed the line, got pepper sprayed and now we’re in cell 48 , Solidarity. It’s working! --Jane Doe (Washington DC 2000)