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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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2009: The New Desert

2009: In Corcoran, Californiaa rural prison town (formerly the farming capital of California)—there are two facilities with over 13,000 inmates (half the town population), 5,000 staff and a $500 million budget. The town unemployment rate is 19%, and spending on education is $29 million.

Actions for Self-Determination:

  • 1990s: Small farms begin offering CSA boxes (Community Supported Agriculture). "Members" buy a share in the farm by purchasing a box of produce from a specific farm (or collective of farms) on a consistent basis. Some CSAs begin providing educational programs, accepting food stamps and offering sliding-scale boxes to make the program available to different income levels.
  • 1995: Timebanks USA is founded in Washington, D.C., in an effort to create a national network of TimeBanks.  Members of TimeBanks trade time, regardless of the services rendered, creating a community bartering movement that promotes social justice and ecological sustainability. 
  • 1997: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers begins bringing charges of slavery against agricultural employers in Florida.  By 2012, they have brought nine cases to the courts.
  • 2001: California Prison Moratorium Project, Critical Resistance and other environmental justice organizations host Joining Forces: Environmental Justice and the Fight Against Prison Expansion, a conference in Fresno that builds bridges and develops common analysis between activists in the Central Valley and activists in California's urban areas.
  • 2011: Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners holds its second conference as it begins creating a national network of farms.
Discussion Questions:
  • Write down everything you ate today. Create a map showing where this food came from and the resources it took to produce it. Why is it so cheap, or expensive?
  • What are the options for employment in your town? How has this changed in the past 30 years?
  • Imagine you are the mayor of a rural California town. A company approaches about building a prison there. What do you do?
  • Would you be open to a prison being opened where you live now?
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