May 25, 2013
Heroes for the Beaten, Foreclosed on, Imprisoned Masses
Posted on Oct 18, 2010
By Chris Hedges
The Lynds worked for many years for Legal Services in Youngstown, specializing in employment law. Staughton, when the steel mills were shut down in the late 1970s, served as lead counsel to the Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley, which sought to reopen the mills under worker-community ownership. The legal impediments, however, conspired to make the worker-community ownership impossible, a stark reminder that law in this country is usually designed to protect privilege.
“The hollowing out of the American economy, the absence of manufacturing jobs, is critical,” he said. “It means that this is not an ordinary recession. We are not going to bounce back the way we did in past recessions. Alice and I have had some contact with a school in inner-city Youngstown where they send kids who are thrown out of public school to give them one last chance before they put them behind bars. We have a pretty intense feeling for what it is like to grow up as an African-American in a place like Youngstown. Even if you make it through high school, where do you find a job? I don’t mean to say the problem is wholly economic. There is often a lack of love in the home that these kids experience. But if there were decent jobs which a hard-working young person could go on to, we would have a different world. Instead, some of these kids volunteer for the military and take their hatred and trauma overseas.”
As the collapse has taken its toll on the residents in and around Youngstown, the Lynds have focused on the plight of inmates, especially those who were involved in a prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio, in April 1993. Five of the leaders of the uprising were sentenced to death for their part. They remain on death row.
Three of the five are black and two are white. The two whites were members of the Aryan Brotherhood. The blacks are Muslims. The men have refused to testify against each other. The Lynds, when they read the testimony of Ohio Highway Patrol Sgt. Howard Hudson in the trial of one of the white inmates, George Skatzes, were inspired by the inmates’ ability to overcome racial and religious divisions.
The transcript goes on.
“ ‘Convict race,’ is my favorite,” Staughton said. “Evidently the cultural creation of racial identity can work in more than one way. Among the Lucasville rebels, the process didn’t separate the races, but overcame racism. Not since the early 1960s in the South have I experienced as much interracial solidarity as I have among convicted prisoners which the state of Ohio considers ‘the worst of the worst.’
“The same solidarity took place among soldiers in Vietnam who protested the war,” he said. “This is instructive. People draw on their cultural resources, on their music, traditions and symbols in radical or revolutionary conflicts. It is natural that blacks and whites would initially organize separately. But in Vietnam, or a supermax prison, troops and inmates face a common danger and a common enemy. It is easier to overcome cultural barriers. The danger in the wider society is less defined. It is more diffuse. This is the reason it is harder to bring groups together. But this is what must happen. Too many movements are directed from the top down. They are not rooted in local communities. It is we who should be building local movements to tell those in power what to do, not the other way around.
“My favorite book is Ignazio Silone’s novel ‘Bread and Wine,’ particularly the first edition before he started rewriting all his books.” he said. “The religious element in my childhood was very recessive, more in the background than upfront. We never went to church, although it has always been there for me. My parents sent me to schools run by the Ethical Cultural Society. It is a kind of reform, Reformed Judaism institution. What Pietro Spina, the protagonist of ‘Bread and Wine,’ struggles with is how to bring together the Christianity of his childhood and adolescence with his later Marxism. That has been my effort as well.”
The Lynds have requested that their ashes be buried along with those of indigent death row inmates at a cemetery run by the Jubilee Partners community in Georgia.
“We knew at once that this is where we belonged,” Staughton said.
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