Frequently Asked Questions
Do you fight against private prisons?
Milwaukee IWOC is focused on support for prisoners in Wisconsin, other IWOC locals communicate with prisoners in other states. At present in Wisconsin there are no private prisons. The exploitation, isolation, degradation and torture occurs in the state prison system, and we need to help the fight against these abuses.
What is the history of IWOC?
IWOC is a committee of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical anti-capitalist union that has been fighting direct against exploitation through direct action since 1905. Over the last fifteen years, prisoner resistance movements have been growing, and they’ve increasingly used work stoppages as tactics to put pressure for immediate improvements and longterm weakening of prison slavery. In 2014, the Free Alabama Movement approached the IWW looking for support in building prisoner strikes. The IWW created IWOC to help mobilize more support for prisoner organizers, and built easier ways for prisoners to join the IWW to expand member-driven resistance. Early IWOC presence had much activity in Kansas City and Twin Cities, it has since expanded to many other active locals. There are at present over 700 members of the IWW inside prison, one prison branch in Texas, and outside locals and support groups across North America, including Oakland, Missoula, New York, Chicago, Tidewater, Baltimore, and Milwaukee.
What is the history of Milwaukee IWOC?
There has been an IWW branch in Milwaukee since 2001, in 2015 it became revitalized with more organizing efforts and energy, including building a major workplace campaign at a call center, organizing on a farm, and creating a Solidarity Network. At the same time, a few IWW members because regular prisoner-writing sessions to apply the model of IWOC to Wisconsin, to start connecting with prisoners, find out their conditions and support their organizing. Milwaukee IWOC was contacted in April 2016 by prisoners organizing the Dying to Live Hunger Strike and helped support their efforts through December 2016. (See more about this campaign here.) In 2016 we also started the first issue of Voices From Behind Wisconsin Prison Gates, and to send our meeting notes to inside members for updates and to get agenda items. In a coalition effort, we and other groups started the campaign to Close MSDF in 2017. In 2017 we also formally chartered as an IWOC local. In January of 2018 we started the campaign to fight abusive conditions at Columbia Correctional Institution. Since starting IWOC activity in 2015, we have continually built up contacts on the inside and outside, and met regularly to evaluate what works needs to be done to support inside organizing and fight prison slavery.
What does “campaign” mean?
A campaign is an effort to combat a specific abuse in the Wisconsin prison system, involving action by prisoners and support of their efforts by people on the outside. It includes a lot of behind the scenes activities, including research and writing letters to prisoners, but also includes visible public pressure activities: pickets, phone and email zaps, showing up to DOC meetings and other kinds of disruptive action. There is a lot of critical longterm work that Milwaukee IWOC does that is not a campaign, including building contacts on the inside, producing our newsletter Voices, adding content to this website, responding to prisoner letters and doing research on the Department of Corrections. Campaigns have specific goals and involves more direct confrontation with DOC decision-makers.
What if I don’t have much time to help?
We understand. There is a lot of work to be done, but you don’t have to be involved at a high level to help. There are spaces for involvement for hours each day, hours each week, hours each month or occasionally. Whatever you can contribute helps. Be honest about your availability in the volunteer form or when emailing us, and we can find stuff that you
What are phone and email zaps?
Phone and email zaps are a tactic aimed at people in positions of power but are not elected officials. Rather than calling a legislator and lobbying for legislation to change things, these actions attempt to disrupt the actual workday of people who would otherwise continue with business as usual. This interview with someone in the Oakland IWOC is a great source for info on the rationale behind this tactic.
How do you know if your campaigns are working?
The function and nature of prisons make it more challenging to assess the effectiveness of actions and campaigns, but between open records and correspondence from incarcerated people we can get some sense of whether changes have been made or not.
What if I don’t know how to do a specific task?
Ask us! Actions are less effective if the people doing them are not confident in what they are doing and how, so please ask if you are unsure.
Why is there description of problems in many prisons in Wisconsin, but only campaigns focused on a few?
In a word, capacity. While a phone or email zap might only take a few minutes to do, it takes much longer to research, plan, and mobilize for these actions. As more people get involved, it’s our hope to be able to address more of the problems within the Wisconsin DOC.