The following was extracted from a July 29 webinar held by the Disability Justice and Rights Caucus of Workers World Party that highlighted the links between the struggles of disabled people and those in prison. The caucus members below were Brian Shea and mYia X. The entire webinar can be viewed on YouTube at the Workers World Party. (youtube.com/user/wwpvideo)
mYia: The Black Panthers made it a priority that every single chapter had a medical clinic. The Panthers took a close look at why health care had to be high on the list, seeing the level of racism and neglect – as well as the profits made by the medical-industrial complex. The Panthers initiated the free health clinics to address the health problems of the poor and the oppressed. And we see that to this day. The pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies, the equipment suppliers, the private hospitals are still taking huge profits – and that includes the profits from the prisons and prisons.
To date, members of the Black Panther Party who have spent decades behind the wall struggle with multiple illnesses and disabilities. These are our warriors, for whom we fight for justice on this side, for their and our rights, for our whole people. The work that the Black Panther Party and its clinics were able to do – that really strikes me. And that party was definitely influenced by what was happening in countries that were working towards socialism – Cuba, North Korea, China.
Cuba’s socialist vision
Brian: I was in Cuba during some of the worst parts of the special period when the Soviet Union was killed and Cuba lost as a trading partner. The USA tightened the illegal blockade through the Torricelli Act in 1992 to put Cuba under pressure.
I was down there back then when there were handicapped people who organized themselves in all sorts of ways through social organizations, through schools. Bringing the specific needs of all people with disabilities into society. They were all over the neighborhood CDRs [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution] to the women’s organization, to every other organization in Cuban society.
Even if material resources were scarce and Cuba was still being punished with the illegal blockade, there was and is a political priority that primarily addresses the needs of the population – and not the needs of shareholders or corporate donors or anything else.
mYia: Comandante Fidel and the Cuban people have ELAM. founded [Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina]. That’s the Latin American Medical School, the medical faculty in Cuba. It opened on November 15, 1999. To take a quote from Fidel Castro, his spirit of solidarity will be so deep that it will never be extinguished.
We know that Cuba does so much for its people every year. Even in a hurricane, few people die because from the oldest to the youngest to the animals there is a plan that takes care of the people.
In the US, the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are displaced to this day, and parts of Louisiana are still decimated. That is ripping off the association to show you this country that some say is the richest country in the world. But that depends on what your level of wealth is? Does your wealth just relate to what you get from the capital? Or is your measure of prosperity the quality of life of your people, the quality of life of the inhabitants of the country, their humanity? And we see that in Cuba.
Even myself – I had traveled to Cuba and had to turn on the health system because I had an allergic reaction – I didn’t have to sit in an emergency room for four to five hours to get questions about my insurance and what’s covered and uncovered, or Medicaid, or what is the medical need. Within 5 to 10 For minutes I was seen by Cuban doctors; the problem has been assessed; I was taken care of. I was told what to do and that I could go. I haven’t received an invoice. I wasn’t asked any questions about money or anything.
People made sure I was better. And they have been doing that every day since the revolution. And Cuba sends care where disaster strikes in other parts of the world, even while caring for the citizens of Cuba. Cuba prioritizes people’s lives. It’s not about profit.
USA benefits from incarceration
mYia: The US prison industrial complex is built for profit. And when it is privatized, all problems get worse. Just last week we heard that prison authorities, who have released people from custody due to the COVID-19 crisis at the height of the pandemic, are telling prisoners to go back to prison!
This system is a vicious animal that we live under. I think of Mumia Abu-Jamal in prison [since 1982], on the verge of losing his life again [from health problems]because the system tries to kill him by any means necessary. And if it weren’t for the movement that includes the Disability Rights and Justice Movement here and around the world, Mumia and so many other political prisoners would be dead by now.
And to quote George Jackson, when you are incarcerated, the very fact that the system is so corrupt makes you all political prisoners. So we don’t distinguish one prisoner from another.
We demand the abolition of prisons. We do not stand with “reform” for a “friendlier, gentler” detention system that would still keep our people in the detention system. We call for people to be set free now and the resources to be made available to them now – especially when we think about this pandemic.
How many billionaires kept topping up their coffers during the pandemic – that’s how much money Jeff Bezos made – a man who’s super exploited prison labor, especially since he bought Whole Foods. Even within the pandemic, a tiny amount of resources are being made available to people while so many others are stacking and packing their accounts.
We see right in the face what is happening around the world, where countries are not given access to what they need, are not allowed to send or receive resources due to sanctions in order to be able to take care of their people. It’s the same thing we are seeing here in the United States, the same thing we are seeing behind the walls of mass incarceration.
We have to continue the fight. We have to keep fighting because that is injustice.