Saturday, February 18, 2012

Occupy Joins the Fight Against Private Prisons

On Wednesday, January 24, the Occupy movement joined the National Prison Divestment Campaign in 13 cities across the country for a nationwide day of action that gave a voice to an invisible segment of the 99 percent exploited by the private prison industry.

The National Prison Divestment Campaign was organized less than a year ago by Enlace, a coalition of US and Mexican low-wage worker centers and unions, to pressure corporations to divest from private prisons, whose chief investors include some of country's largest financial institutions such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, both of which have provoked the ire of the Occupy movement for their role in tanking the economy, among other things.

In Washington, DC, occupiers and prison reform advocates converged on Tivoli Square across the street from the Columbia Heights Wells Fargo.

Tivoli Square is a commercial complex surrounded by big box stores and chain restaurants that popped up over the last decade along 14th Street between Park Road and Harvard Street. It was constructed as part of the city's attempt to revitalize the neighborhood, which was destroyed in the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Despite the gentrification that has predictably followed, Columbia Heights still maintains a strong African-American and Latino presence and is somewhat of a hipster haven, which is apparent almost immediately upon exiting the Columbia Heights Metro Station on 14th Street and Irving.

The evening was filled with chants demanding an end to Wells Fargo's investment in the private prison industry. Over the loud speaker, lead organizers led dozens of protesters in chants that captured nods of approval from the swarms of pedestrians passing by. "Wells Fargo just face it, your investments are racist," shouted the crowd. According to SEC filings, the bank owns 3.5 million shares in GEO Group, the nation's second-largest private prison operator.