The biggest secrets about what happened at Attica in 1971 are still kept hidden.

In 1971, a thousand inmates in an Attica, New York, prison took a stand. Their message continues today.

There's not much around the town of Attica except for tiny rivers, hills, and woods.

There is, however, a prison that held 2,200 inmates in 1971, mostly African-American and Hispanic. The guards were all white.


Aerial view of Attica Correctional Facility. Image from New York State Library.

On Sept. 9, 1971, a thousand inmates took over the prison and held it for four days — until the state governor used 600 state troopers and members of the National Guard to put the action down with guns blazing. When it was over, 10 guards and 29 prisoners were dead.

What happened during and after those four days is often misrepresented by traditional media and by the prison system itself.

What Attica is actually about is much more interesting — and, dare I say it, radical — than the standard narrative.

While the full story won't be told until next September, when historian Heather Ann Thompson's "Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy" comes out with Pantheon Books, here is what is already very clear: Attica's prisoners had every reason to rebel.


Image via The Nation.

Inmates of the Attica prison were living in deplorable conditions, and no one would help them.

Horrid prison living conditions, rampant abuse by guards — especially acute for the African-American and Hispanic prisoners — and the restriction of political rights such as the right to read what they wanted were the key elements that had the prisoners angry.

The inmates wrote to Department of Corrections Commissioner Russell Oswald multiple times. They also tried to gain the interest of a state senator to no avail. During the 1960s and early 1970s, right alongside movements by African-Americans to gain equality and respect in cities and workplaces around the country, similar movements were happening in prisons.

However, the people who could have actually paid attention to the concerns of inmates at Attica instead ignored their grievances, thinking it was simply agitators who would quiet down, soon enough.

This was a grave mistake.

Image via The Nation.

The day the guards lost control of Attica, things had come to a boil.

On Sept. 9, guards decided to lock prisoners back in their cells after breakfast instead of them getting their usual recreational time. Why is unclear — some report an altercation between a white and black inmate, some say a guard was harassing a single inmate by keeping him in his cell rather than letting him eat, which angered his friends. It doesn't really matter; what we do know is the place exploded.

Eventually, about 40 prison guards and civilians were taken hostage by inmates. And then, during the next four days, the leaders of the inmate movement attempted to negotiate with the state and governor.

The demands of the prisoners were pretty straightforward.

The original five were called the "Declaration and 5 Demands of Attica." They included such things as these:

"1. We want complete amnesty, meaning freedom from all and any physical, mental and legal reprisals.

2. We want now, speedy and safe transportation out of confinement to a non-imperialistic country.

3. We demand that the Federal Government intervene, so that we will be under direct Federal Jurisdiction.

4. We want the Governor and the Judiciary, namely Constance B. Motley, to guarantee that there will be no reprisals and we want all factions of the media to articulate this."





The 5th item was a list of people they wanted to come and negotiate for them, and then it ended with this:

"We guarantee the safe passage of all people to and from this institution. We invite all the people to come here and witness this degradation so that they can better know how to bring this degradation to an end. This is what we want."

Image via The Nation.

They later added "The 15 Practical Demands," asking for several more things that sound an awful lot like basic rights.

They included the right to legal representation at parole hearings (which they did not have), a change in medical staff to eliminate the racist and incompetent doctors that were there at the time, an end to denying prisoners the right to read political newspapers and books, the right of prisoners to form labor unions, an end to physical and mental brutality at the hands of prison staff, and much more.

Even things like adequate food and access to regular showers (and even soap!) were demanded.

The primary sticking point for the state was the first in the five original demands, which included "freedom from physical, mental, and legal reprisals."

Given that physical and mental abuse of prisoners was a key element of how the system at Attica functioned, there was no way that would ever be accepted by the prison or state officials.

That sticking point — amnesty — ended negotiations for the state of New York. On the morning of Sept. 13, 1971, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller sent in 600 state troopers and National Guardsmen, guns blazing.


Image via The Nation.

Then, the National Guard dropped tear gas — and still, the guns were firing. In total, 4,500 rounds of ammunition were expended. As the prisoners' attorney, Elizabeth Fink, put it:

“Absolutely every procedure established on any kind of armed assault was intentionally not followed at Attica, because what was wanted was a massacre. That's what they wanted … and that's what they got."

The gunfire cut through hostages and prisoners alike. When it was all over minutes later, 10 hostages (mostly prison guards) and 29 inmates were dead. 89 others were wounded.

All but three of the inmates and one of the hostages who died did so at the hands of the state troopers — not the inmates.

Image via The Nation.

All clues point to the fact that the governor wanted a massacre.

Gov. Rockefeller was planning to run against Nixon in the primaries, and he'd constantly been fighting a charge that he was a "hopeless liberal." He desperately wanted to show that he was not soft on crime, so he refused to give an inch at Attica.

In fact, afterward, Rockefeller was so boastful about how it all went down, he told Nixon on the phone immediately following the incident that "They (the troopers) did a fabulous job. It really was a beautiful operation." This was when he assumed that the dead were "only" prisoners.

Lastly, because one of the guards had been killed by some rogue prisoners during the first days of the uprising, state troopers wanted retribution.

I spoke with professor Heather Ann Thompson of the University of Michigan.

Thompson has been writing her definitive history of the Attica uprising for the last 10 years.

“One of the reasons this has taken 10 years to write has everything to do with the fact that the official records are not accessible to the public," she told me.

Why would that be? I asked.

"There is a dual legacy from Attica." She continued. "On the one hand, and after a brief moment of implementing some pretty important reforms, corrections officials used Attica to argue that prisoners needed to be clamped down on even more. And, indeed, because they told so many lies about what had happened at Attica, many ordinary Americans bought this. But the other crucially important legacy of Attica was that prisoners never stopped resisting that kind of draconian treatment."

“Frankly," she said, "what Attica shows is that there's a very long history of covering up for police misconduct. And that misconduct includes the abuse and killing of our nation's most disenfranchised and marginalized citizens. It also speaks to the lengths that officials will go to not take responsibility for their actions."


A memorial to the guards and inmates killed during the uprising stands at Attica State Prison. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Learning the real story of what happened at Attica is ongoing.

Although the state of New York has worked hard to keep Attica's history hidden, it has not succeeded entirely. While many of the stories by prisoners themselves were hidden or their accounts were purposefully destroyed, some are coming out now.

When portions of a sealed report called "The Meyer Report" were released this year, it contained a lot of the abuse and denial of medical treatment that occurred before and after the uprising. It's been sealed since the early 1970s, and there is a good deal that is still sealed — for now.

As more people clamor for the release of the full report with other documentation coming to light from Attica's prisoners and guards — and with Thompson's soon-to-be-released book — perhaps one day we will see the full real story.

The ghosts of Attica are still with us today.

When police actions end in the deaths of African-Americans, such as on the streets of Ferguson or New York City or Cleveland, and the official story immediately starts to change until nobody really knows what happened, Attica serves as a lesson to not let those official narratives be the only ones.

Seeking the truth before passing judgment on events like Attica that happen in our lives is something I will always strive to do.

We can respect the legacy of Attica by attempting to do the same. In the following video from The Nation, listen to the first-hand stories of prisoners and guards and explore their perspective.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

'Tis the season to do weird things with pumpkins.

A few years ago, the midwives of the Royal Oldham hospital in England decided to illustrate the horrors of childbirth using the whimsy of Halloween pumpkin art. The maternity ward became a zone of terror, as the "dilation pumpkins" were lined up in ascendant order, matching how the cervix dilates during labor, from a harmless 1cm to a terrifying 10cm.

The first pumpkin looks adorably surprised. Nothing too scary about that, right? Kind of like it just had an unexpected visit from a cute puppy.

Then take a look at that last pumpkin, apparently at the optimum dilation for giving birth, mouth fully agape, with an expression that can't help but convey "OUCH!" No amount of fun googly eyes are gonna make that image less frightening. Yikes.

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Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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