JOIN the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights

millions march 2By Tomiko Shine and Charlotte Malerich

This Saturday, August 19, the Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign (APP-HRC) marched with dozens of other organizations and thousands of concerned individuals to end slavery in the U.S.

American school children may be taught that slavery was abolished with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  And it was–“except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  In other words, slavery was legal as long as you labelmillions for prisonersed enslaved people criminals first.  As the Jim Crow regime took hold, laws were written and enforced selectively to incarcerate African Americans, who could then be exploited as convict labor.  As the organizing of the Civil Rights Movement and rebellions throughout the ’60s and ’70s ended segregation and open racism, the new War on Drugs took Jim Crow’s place and accelerated the incarceration of Black men and women, along with other people of color and the poor and marginalized of all races.  (For further reading, see Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.)


Although there have been some very recent reforms to sentencing and decriminalization for drug offenses, keeping some young people out of prison, we are still very much feeling the effects of decades of racist policing and harsh sentencing, most reflected in the age of the prison population.  Mandatory minimums in the ’80s and ’90s mean that the teenagers and twenty-somethings locked up then are approaching old age now.  According to an ACLU report, there are now 125,000 inmates aged 55 or older now behind bars.  This represents an increase of over 1,300 percent since the early 1980s; by 2030, the number could be as high as 400,000.  These elders experience all the struggles of aging, from declining mobility and eyesight to dementia, in facilities that aren’t equipped to make them comfortable, safe, or respected.  Prisons don’t have sit-down showers or handrails in the hallway.  Their children and grandchildren, if able to see them at all, must visit behind bars.  And although they cannot reasonably be considered the same person they were at 19 or 20-years-old, or pose any great risk of re-offending, still parole boards and governors too often are content to let them die behind bars — just as enslaved African Americans in the anti-bellum U.S. could expect to die in chains.

The Millions For Prisoners Human Rights March is a call to finish the work of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown; to amend the 13th amendment; to finally end legal American slavery.  Not only this, but marchers are calling for a Congressional hearing on the enslavement clause of the 13th as a violation of human rights, and for a full accounting of its direct relationship to:

1. Private entities exploiting prison labor
2. Companies overcharging prisoners for goods and services
3. Private entities contracted by states/federal government to build and operate prisons. This would also include immigration detentions.
4. Racial disparities in America’s prison population and sentencing
5. Policing: the disproportionate (unaccountable) killings by police in the black and brown communities
6. Felony Disenfranchisement laws
7. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 34,000 detention quotas
8. Producing the world’s largest prison population

We who organize with APP-HRC hope this movement will finally mean freedom for more people like Larry Yarbrough, who spent over 50 years in prison after officers “found” an ounce of cocaine in his house; or Zerious Meadows, who was incarcerated at 15-years-old in 1971, now in his ’60s; or Eraina Pretty, whose daughter was a one-year-old baby when she was locked up, and is now a grown woman of 40 with two children of her own.  By focusing on the human rights of these prisoners, we hold up their humanity and demand both compassion and justice.  March with us!!  More to follow.


Date:Saturday August 19th

Time: 11:30am-12:00pm

March 12:00pm- 5:00pm

Rally Location: White House (Lafayette Park)

Pennsylvania Ave NW & 16th Street

Northwest, Washington, DC 20001


MORE ABOUT HEALTH: Structural Racism and Stress

By Karyn Pomerantz, August 8, 2017

you may be suffering from capitalism



This blog post presents the ways the ruling class of owners and financiers intentionally use racism to create profit and separate the working class.  It discusses structural racism and its manifestations in health.  Subsequent pieces will discuss how structural racism affects health because of policies in housing, education, employment and other necessities of life.

The Structures of Racism

Racism has many levels, from the interpersonal to the institutionalized. There are different ways to address each level, from developing relationships on an individual basis, to changing policies, to creating a new way to organize society without racism. How we define racism determines how we work to abolish it.  Black Lives Matter and other movements have focused people’s attention on white privilege and white supremacy. Interpersonal forms of racism include micro-aggressions, such as strangers asking people of Asian descent where they are from, retail clerks following black customers around a store, and white students rejecting the contributions of their black classmates. Mass incarceration and police violence represent more institutional forms. The historical legacy of atrocities of genocide, colonialism, and slavery, which used racism as their justification, continue to limit our ability to unite as a class, and improve our health and social relationships.

Racism is more than stereotypes and attitudes.  It is also a set of practices that exploit people and enrich others.  We need to ask who benefits from racism.  Many people say that white people are “privileged” by racism and benefit from it.  We say that people experience different LEVELS of exploitation and oppression.   Exploitation means that employees earn lower wages that do not equal the value of what they produce, leaving employers with a profit.  Oppression refers to the discrimination, repression, and marginalization specific to different groups.  A gay man may be an employer who isn’t exploited but may suffer oppression because of his sexual identity.  Black and Latin people often suffer police surveillance and excessive force regardless of their class status.

On average, white people do earn more than others, have less unemployment, live in more resourced neighborhoods, and are less likely to be victims of police violence.  However, racism did not arise from the prejudices of white people.  Colonists developed racism to justify their oppression of indigenous and African people, and keep whites from uniting with them.  Some white workers do promote and support many racist policies and ideas as we saw recently during Trump’s campaign but did not originate them.  While we need to defeat these prejudices, we cannot stop there.

We need to examine the structural factors of racism.  Who benefits from racism?  How do we organize against the root causes of oppression? This determines whether we organize together or in separate groups, whether we rely on electoral politics or organize uprisings and grassroots actions.

 Structure reveals how society is organized. This picture shows 1% of the people at the top who own corporations and banks, the next 19% who serve them, and the rest of us who works for a salary or wage or are unemployed.  There are many levels of income and exploitation within this 80%.   

 Structural racism refers to the ways that capitalism institutionalizes inequitable societal factors, such as enforcing policies that segregate schools and neighborhoods.  Structural factors describe what class holds political and economic power, controls the media and shapes messages, and determines domestic and foreign policy.  The key motivating structural features of capitalism are profit and competition.  Without competition for profit, it isn’t capitalism.        

Development of Capitalism and Racism

             From the 9th to 15th centuries, feudalism organized society.  The monarchy (kings and lords) ruled over the peasants who worked the land producing wealth for their sovereign and making just enough food and clothing for their needs.  As industrialization progressed, the monarchy aggressively pushed peasant families off the land and into the city slums.  Many worked producing clothes from the cotton that enslaved people grew.  The colonists in the US captured millions of African people to work for free harvesting cotton and tobacco. Their labor enriched southern plantation owners and northern shipbuilders, textile factories, and spurred the development of the insurance and banking industries.

            Capitalism developed in the 1700s as the main way to organize production.  Workers sold their labor in exchange for wages, earning far less than the value of what they produced. The owners took the profits that were left.  As the production increased, the capitalists required more raw materials, like cotton and rubber that they stole from other countries, such as India and the Congo.  Today we see that same practice that we call globalization.  To keep workers from uniting across countries against the capitalists, governments push patriotism and hatred of migrants and immigrants, using crass stereotypes and fear.  This persists today. 

American colonists also needed an increasing supply of labor that would work as cheaply as possible, and made a decision to build an economy based on slave labor. They settled on Africa as a source of slaves precisely because those slaves would be easily identifiable and not have knowledge of the terrain, as would Native Americans, and were abundant. White workers would be employed at low wages in northern factories or become subsistence farmers in the South, impoverished, but with more rights than slaves.

Racism did not originate because white people rejected black and Native people. Racism developed when European monarchies established colonies in the “New World” in the early 17th Century.  They sought resources and markets in North and South America, Asia and Africa.  Genocide of Native people allowed the seizure of land and its riches.  Slavery abducted millions of people for free labor to harvest the cotton, tobacco, and tea that made the US an imperial power.

The colonists needed to justify the enslavement of Africans, and convince whites that they were better off.  They gave whites wages and granted them a higher social and economic status.  This justification of exploitation and genocide created the ideology of racism that people express in micro-aggressions, stereotyping, and outright murder.   (See Lerone Bennett’s The Road Not Taken in this blog).  It encourages people to blame black and Latin workers for their own poverty and for dragging down the living conditions of whites.

Today, to protect their profits and power, the rulers try to convince us that voting will improve our lives and change who holds power.  African Americans held local, state, and federal government positions during Reconstruction after the Civil War and after the civil rights movement during the 1960s.  Despite the election of Barack Obama and other black politicians, structural racism persists today.  Owners of finance and corporations control what we earn, produce and buy, where we live and attend school, and whom we fight to enrich these owners.  They have instituted a system where black, Latin, Asian, and Native residents have less income and wealth, a worse education, less access to healthy foods, and more pressure to seek jobs in the military.  These are intentional policies that allow a very small, egregiously wealthy group to control society for their own benefit.

Structural Racism, Stress and Health

             Racism has huge impacts on our health.  There are many ways in which the profit system destroys our health on a daily basis, but one of the most effective agents of ill health is stress on the human mind and body.  Stress causes deficits in our immune systems, the main defense we have against illness, and by increasing the secretion of various hormones – some, like cortisol, even called “stress hormones” – takes its toll on many of our internal organs.

Stress is caused by everything that afflicts workers in a capitalist society.  This includes but is not restricted to (in no particular order):

  • being undervalued on the job (less valuable to the capitalists than their machinery since workers are more easily and cheaply replaceable),
  • being last hired and first fired for minority workers,
  • the fear of being laid off,
  • fear of deportation for immigrants
  • actually being laid off or fired (i.e., unemployed) and having to compete with other workers for a shrinking number of jobs,
  • overwork and underpayment,
  • wage theft
  • lower standards in work and pay for women and black and Latin men,
  • hazardous and tortuously boring working conditions,
  • rising prices and threats of losing one’s home and becoming homeless,
  • ever present threat of catastrophic illness,
  • no or little health insurance,
  • threat of bankruptcy or wiping out savings produced by catastrophic illness
  • seeing our teenagers and young adult children having nowhere to turn other than the police or military where they risk being killed and are forced to try to kill other workers,
  • the ever-present availability of addictive and life-destroying drugs,
  • stigma, fear, and alienation of people who are LGBT,
  • increased physical attacks against Muslim, Black, Latin, and immigrant people,
  • rise of neo-Nazis and Klan groups,
  • too little income to retire,
  • losing Medicaid for healthcare and disability care,
  • high cost of medications,
  • troublesome or non-existent close, personal relationships.

Health Consequences: High Blood Pressure and Low Birth Weight

Take high blood pressure as an example.  Many more U.S. black and Latin workers, as well as immigrant workers over time, have hypertension compared to white workers, where it is already epidemic.  The primary cause of this organ- and life-destroying medical condition is the horrendous and ubiquitous racist conditions (Krieger N. The CARDIA study).  To hide this simple and obvious fact, racist theorists have tried to claim that black people, in particular, have a greater inborn, genetic tendency to develop high blood pressure.  But antiracist investigators have shown, on the contrary, that high blood pressure is far more prevalent among U.S.-born black workers than among West African citizens remaining in Africa (from where the majority of black populations in the Western Hemisphere originated) and among African men and women who immigrate to the U.S. and have only been here relatively short times.

This is also true of bad birth outcomes in black women.  Women of African descent who live in the US have higher rates of low birth weight babies than women who live in other developed countries.  Black women with college degrees have sicker babies than white women who dropped out of high school. (When the Bough Breaks, Unnatural In other words, living in the U.S., with its extreme racist institutions and practices, rather than genetics, is the major cause of hypertension and birth problems among super-exploited workers.

Stress also gives rise to alcoholism, smoking, paralyzing depression, intimate personal violence, child abuse, and suicide.  Unemployment, poverty, and isolation fuel the opioid epidemic that has reduced the life expectancy of middle aged white women.  If white people had fought for drug treatment when drug use had a black face, there may have been more prevention, such as needle exchange programs.  Now that drug use affects so many whites, the government is claiming an epidemic and allocating millions of dollars for care.

Capitalist profit strivings affect every area of our lives.  The food industry relies on toxic pesticides for crops and antibiotics for livestock, both of which get into the food supply.  It creates unhealthy environments for the animals it raises for slaughter and for the workers who turn livestock into products.  The beverage industry promotes sugary drinks and blocks efforts to restrict them.  Food producers fund health associations, such as diabetes and dietitian groups, and push physical activity versus diets as interventions to promote health.  Many people turn to these junk foods to alleviate stress creating conditions ripe for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Pharmaceutical companies fund both political parties to ensure favorable legislation.  They are masters of manipulating drug marketing, pricing, and media.  They have rejected any discounts for drugs in Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.

These industries and many others create bad health outcomes and limit the options most people have for wellness.

Structural Racism in HousingPolicies Enforce Segregation and Damage Our Health

Unaffordable housing, gentrification, and residential segregation coupled with inadequate, expensive transportation exemplify the structural nature of racism.  Previous housing policies and highway construction through black neighborhoods made it difficult for many black families to buy homes.  This reduced their amount of wealth that exists today.  In addition, realtors targeted black neighborhoods with sub-prime mortgages.  When the housing crisis hit in 2008, black homes went to foreclosure, and black homeowners lost any equity they accrued.  Housing policies also separate people into different neighborhoods preventing the development of multiracial friendships. See the May 23rd blog post, The US Government Created and/or perpetuated segregated housing – with malice of forethought  for a history of housing discrimination.  Read more in The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.

segregation today Brookings

While overt segregation is no longer legal, segregated neighborhoods and schools are as prevalent as before if not worse.  In 2010, almost ¾ of large US cities were segregated, ¾ of black students went to schools that were segregated and under resourced.  Exclusionary zoning policies control who can live in a neighborhood by limiting or excluding certain types of housing, such as apartment buildings or less expensive housing.


The following lists some of the current housing policies federal and local governments, and private real estate companies, banks, and insurance companies implement.

  • Affordable housing does not exist, and the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget in people with AIDS are waiting for Ryan White financed housing.
  • Developers are pushing residents out of public housing, such as Barry Farms in DC where the local housing authority shut down their Section 8/voucher housing waiting list.
  • Developers promise that tenants can move back into their renovated neighborhoods. However, only about 25% do as the landlords change the criteria for renting, such as better credit scores.
  • Local laws often prohibit men and women leaving prison from public housing.
  • Government, real estate companies, and white residents excluded African Americans from living in white areas. About 700 counties in the north and south enforced sundown policies that warned blacks (as well as Chinese and Jewish families) not to be caught when the sun set.
  • In the summer of 2017 in DC, the transit agency, WMATA, raised bus fares to $2 each way, and its subway system can cost over $5 one way to the outer suburbs where many jobs are located.  They also eliminated bus routes that serve poor neighborhoods.

Housing problems affect health in many ways, from HIV to asthma.  Homelessness puts people at risk for exchanging sex for a place to live; HIV rates are high among people who are homeless.  Housing quality, including climate control, and the presence of vermin, lead, and other toxins, cause lead poisoning, breathing problems, and intellectual disabilities.  Public health sociologist, David Williams, links residential segregation to poor health through the lack of resources enjoyed by white families living in more resourced areas. These include poorer access to healthy food (food deserts), good schools, health facilities and healthcare providers, greenery, parks, and safe places to exercise.  On the other hand, there are plenty of toxic dumps and industrial facilities placed in black developments.  In fact, race predicts where environmental hazards exist.

Another blog piece will give more details about structural racism, health, and education, the environment, employment, and war.

To Read More:

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.

Sundown Towns by James Llowen.

Unnatural Causes: Does Inequality Make Us Sick? by ITV (

Race: Power of an Illusion by PBS (pbs,org/race)

Center for Law and Social Policy, CLaSP (

The Road Not Taken by Lerone Bennett.

Social Service or Social Change by Paul Kivel (

Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.


The distribution of cholera cases around the Broad Street pump, as discovered by John Snow

By Ellen Isaacs

The mission of this blog has been to focus on racism as a primary and essential aspect of capitalism, especially American capitalism, without which that system could not survive. In the article recently published, Racism is a Scourge on the Public’s Health, we began to illustrate the role of racism in adversely affecting the health of non-white as well as white workers. We would now like to delve more deeply into the relationship between capitalism and public health—the promotion of health of entire populations.

The Needs of Capitalism

Capitalism exists to make profits. This is not a moral statement, but the underlying mechanism of the system, for a business must be successful at not only making but maximizing profits, or it will lose out to competitors. Profits are derived from the difference between the value of goods produced and the investment in the means of production, ie labor, machinery, advertising, etc. It is the cost of labor where the major flexibility lies, and wages depend on the costs of maintaining the worker in working condition, providing training, and replacing workers lost to disability or retirement. Thus a low-skilled worker in a time of high unemployment, when he or she can be easily replaced, is much less valuable and is paid less than a highly trained one with scarce skills. In addition, there is the factor of what workers demand above the owner’s minimum, via strikes or other struggles. (For a full discussion, see Schatzkin A, Health and Labor Power: A theoretical investigation, Int J of Health Services, 8:2, 1978.) In fact, Medicare and Medicaid, which cover the poor, elderly and disabled in the U.S., were created in 1965 in response to the massive unrest of that time, the civil rights and the burgeoning anti-Vietnam War movements.

Services that are necessary to maintain workers in general, such as public schools, sanitation, and health care, are general expenses to the capitalist system, a large part of which is recouped via taxes paid by workers themselves. Of course, capitalists also want to guarantee their own disease-free survival, so the control of conditions that might adversely affect them, such as epidemics, is also a consideration in understanding the history of public health. They also want to have a general level of health care infrastructure and scientific advancement so that they can live long and comfortably.

When Must an Epidemic be Quashed?

The history of cholera provides some interesting insights. Although cholera most likely originated in India around 500 BC, it did not cause epidemics until the early 1800s, when increased urban congestion, commerce and migration facilitated its spread. By 1860, millions had died around the world in various epidemics. In 1854, the bacteria causing the disease was identified, but it was the discovery by John Snow in the same year that a contaminated well in London was the source of the disease that first enabled successful measures to control it. Now that clean water is readily available in the developed world, cholera is virtually unknown. The disease, however, continues to flourish in underdeveloped countries and is endemic in Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Although two vaccines, rehydration solutions, antibiotics, and means of achieving safe water are well known, the number of cholera cases continues to rise, with almost 600,000 being reported worldwide in 2011. In all of the endemic areas, there is a disparity between illness rates of the rich and the poor, among whom poor sanitation, overcrowding, and lack of safe drinking water promote disease spread ( A major epidemic was imported to Haiti in 2011 by Nepali UN peacekeepers, and another epidemic has erupted in Yemen as American supported Saudi bombing has destroyed the sanitation infrastructure.

It is clear that the health and survival of the poorest people of the world, away from capitalist centers of production, is not of enough concern to the wealthy and powerful to mitigate the plagues of cholera and the many other infectious diseases that plague only the destitute poor of the less developed world or those whose well-being is less important than a military objective

Keeping Workers Productive

Within capitalist nations, where industrialized production requires the well-being of a large number of workers and the availability of healthy young workers for the military, the level of health and health care must be ample to maintain this productive force. In 19th century England, as factory production flourished, workers lived in filthy crowded hovels, ate very poor diets, worked 15-hour days, suffered exposure to filthy air and toxins, and had frequent crippling accidents. As Edwin Chadwick, chief author of the Sanitary Acts, noted, the “depressing effect of adverse sanitary circumstances on the laboring strength of the population …is to be viewed with the greatest concern….The pecuniary cost of noxious agencies is measured by with data within the province of the actuary, by the changes attendant on the reduced duration of life, and the reduction of the periods of working or production by sickness.”

Within the U.S. at this time, the same sort of calculation was going on. The economist CEA Winslow wrote in 1908 that improved factory ventilation would pay for itself by decreasing absences and preventing workers from being stupefied by late afternoon. Another economist, Irving Fisher, wrote a report using a cost-benefit analysis of disease pointing out the loss of work years by early death. In 1925, Dr. Arthur Emmons of the Harvard School of Public Health urged the control of human waste to decrease turnover, absence and disability. Stacy May, a WWII era Rockefeller linked economist, summed up the capitalist view of health: “Where mass diseases are brought under control, productivity tends to increase – through increasing the percentage of adult workers as a proportion of the total population, and through augmenting their strength and ambition to work….” He later stated that “penetration’’ of foreign countries, under the guise of promoting health for its own sake, that much easier. Medicine and public health were found to be more effective than missionaries for achieving expansionist ends.

One example of a corporate attack on disease for its own ends is that on hookworm. Hookworm, which still flourishes in Africa, was brought to U.S. by the slave trade beginning in the 17th century. By 1910, the Rockefeller Sanitation Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease documented that nearly 40% of Southerners were infected, the cause of the so-called “laziness” (due to the resulting anemia) which affected the agricultural productivity and economic development of the region. They therefore initiated a program of sanitation, education and medication dispensaries which significantly mitigated the problem (Ettling J. The germ of laziness: Rockefeller philanthropy and public health in the New South. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press; 1981). In each area where the program was instituted, productivity increased.

There should be no doubt that the calculation of benefits to the employer from a healthy work force has not decreased with time. In 2011, an oft quoted paper (Hymel PA, Loeppke RR, Baase CM, et al. Workplace health protection and promotion: a new pathway for a healthier—and safer workforce. J Occup Environ Med. 2011;53:695–702) reiterates the claim that: The two factors, personal health and personal safety— [are] each essential to a productive worker and to a productive workplace. Just last week, the NY Times (7/25/17) described a new program in Britain to provide widespread talk therapy for common mental health problems like anxiety and depression. The justification was, of course, “just on lost work alone, the program would pay for itself.”

The Role of Racism

When public health initiatives are created, justified or continued on the basis of increasing worker productivity, it is not hard to understand that those who are not working or who hold positions with lower qualifications and are easily replaceable will be less likely to benefit. In the US, low-wage and low-skilled jobs are disproportionately filled by black, Latino and immigrant workers. Recently, the NY Times (7/30/17) published an article showing that black households averaged 55% of the income of whites at every income level, the same as fifty years ago. Low income not only correlates with higher disease and death rates, but these differences are exacerbated by racism.

Untitled copy

Sometimes the profit motive directly drives practices that worsen health among large numbers of workers. Although it is a complex problem, the obesity epidemic in the U.S. correlates with the policy of the agriculture department in the 1970s to encourage the mass production of corn and high-fructose corn syrup, which are used as sweeteners in soft drinks and many foods, especially inexpensive junk food. Since 1995, about $81.7 billion has gone to subsidize corn, which is cheap and allows more food to be sold at affordable prices. Less than 1 percent of farm subsidies go to support the research, production and marketing of fruits and vegetables. Many foods which we don’t even think of sweet are made more tasty by adding corn syrup, such as ketchup or baked beans. The average calorie consumption of Americans increased by 700 day from 1970-80, even as sedentary life-styles were increasing. Currently about 1/3 of all Americans are obese, which leads to diabetes, heart disease, and increases the risk of other illness such as some cancers. Now that the obesity rate in children has risen to about 20%, resulting in health expenditures, illness during the productive years, and the ineligibility of 25% of potential military recruits, there is at least more debate about agricultural subsidy policies. The decision process involves weighing the incomes of farmers against health and productivity costs, as opposed to making primary the health of all Americans.


In sum, we submit that health services for workers, from the unskilled to the professional, are necessary under capitalism to provide a dependable workforce, in order to maximize profits. To admit this is in no way seen as a dark matter to be couched in euphemisms, but is proudly touted with all sorts of cost-benefit analyses. In medical student and resident training the introduction to every lecture on a condition starts with a statement that cost in loss of time from work is XXX million/year and the expenditure in medical cost is XXX million or billion/year. Thus young doctors are inculcated with the ethic of measuring treatment or prevention benefits on the basis of profitability to capitalism, as opposed to the well-being of patients. When a group of sufferers, such as the cholera-stricken in Haiti or Yemen, are of no particular value to the local or international capitalists, their suffering is allowed to continue. What we must strive for is a view of public health as maximizing the health and quality of life of all for its own sake. To do that will require a mass movement that unites workers, students and professionals of all nationalities and ethnicities in struggles that will, of necessity, go beyond the scope of public health.