The Attica Rebellion

The Attica Rebellion of September 1971 was a pivotal moment in U.S. history and had a significant impact on the evolution of prison reform. The uprising at Attica Prison also highlighted the power of collective organizing and demonstrated the agency that even the most marginalized people possess. The rebellion, which involved nearly 1200 people, was prompted by many factors, most notably the murder of George Jackson in California and the brutal treatment of prisoners by Attica guards.


Inmates at Attica State Prison raise their fists in a show of unity during the Attica uprising. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

After forcibly taking over the facility, prisoners drafted a list of demands, including: improved living conditions, access to medical care, suitable food and clothing, and humane, non-discriminatory, non-abusive treatment by prison guards. The state of New York, led by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, refused to meet these demands. The uprising ended in tragedy when the national guard entered the penitentiary and killed 29 prisoners and 10 guards. Today, the Attica Rebellion remains an important frame of reference for examining the problems within prisons and the larger structural issues within society which produce prisons. Finally, the events at Attica are a reminder of the humanity of all people, including those demonized by the media and powerful government officials.

By Odia Barker

Glossary: The Prison Industrial Complex

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a term used to describe various components driving mass incarceration in the United States. It is the preoccupation with punishment rather than prevention and rehabilitation. The development and infrastructure of prisons have become a privatized industry run for the purpose of turning a profit. Under the promise of lowering crimes and protecting the public, state and federal governments issue contracts to private companies, like Corrections Conglomerates of America (CCA) and GEO Group, to manage and staff prisons. These private companies are paid a fixed amount to house prisoners. Their profits are accrued from spending the minimum amount on each prisoner and pocketing the remaining funds. Hence, the objective is to house the maximum numbers of inmates for extended periods of time as inexpensively as possible.


How to Get Black People to Smoke

Getting Black People to Smoke

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. The neighborhood I grew up in, Bed-Stuy, is predominately Black — though the gentrification in recent years has been striking. Recently, I became aware of how willingly ignorant I had been to the disproportionate number of cigarette advertisements that are displayed in my community. Cigarette signage has been a fixture in my environment throughout my life. Tobacco companies have specifically targeted both African American and Latino communities with intensive merchandising and advertising to effectively drive up their sales and profits.

In doing so, it also led to more African Americans smoking and, subsequently, a number of related health problems. Research from the American Lung Association shows just how often Black communities are bombarded with cigarette advertising. Since the signing of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998, every young person in the United States is exposed to 559 tobacco ads annually. This number grows with age and it is estimated that every woman over 18 is exposed to 617 advertisements and every African American adult sees 892 ads. Furthermore, the money that is spent on advertising mentholated cigarettes (popular with African Americans) in magazines increased from 13 percent of total advertising expenses in 1998 to 49 percent in 2005.


How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague Poster

The compelling documentary How to Survive a Plague, directed by David France, explores how activism helped alter public opinion and empower people diagnosed with HIV during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Using archival footage of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP ) and the Treatment Action Group (TAG), David France excellently captures the stirring losses, achievements and solemn victories of the movement while reflecting on a journey in which too many lives were lost to the disease. The film is a testament to the power of people organizing and emphasizes that organizing – coupled with knowledge – has the ability to create meaningful change. How to Survive a Plague is an inspiring and important film as it gives ordinary people who have an interest in a cause but fearful or uninformed the courage to organize. Successful organizing doesn’t necessarily require an extensive knowledge base but rather change is determined by people with a passion for revolution.