Revolution #239, July 17, 2011
Hunger Strikers Inspire Solidarity Actions Inside and Outside Prisons
The courageous, historic hunger strike by a multinational group of prisoners in the SHU (Security Housing Unit) of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison has within days been joined by actions in solidarity by prisoners incarcerated throughout California, in other states, and in Canada.
And from the very outset, this hunger strike has inspired and tapped into a deep well of sentiment of people outside the prisons who have come together in growing numbers to initiate actions of solidarity. Press conferences, demonstrations, solidarity hunger strikes and more have occurred in several cities in the U.S. and a number of cities internationally. These actions have given voice to the prisoners’ demands and challenged the disinformation by prison officials in the major media across the country.
Family members of prisoners; religious leaders; people from the inner-city communities where mass incarceration is a crime of epidemic proportions; organizations that have been working to assist prisoners and their families during and after incarceration; researchers and investigative reporters who have documented the magnitude and depth of the state-sanctioned torture taking place inside prisons throughout the country; and radical and revolutionary forces have come together and taken action on the prisoners’ behalf.
Within hours of the start of the hunger strike on July 1, demonstrations were held in San Francisco and East Oakland, and an important press conference took place in South Central Los Angeles, where mass incarceration is a scourge. (See “San Francisco and Oakland demonstrate in support of Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: ‘Pelican Bay Brothers: We Hear You, We’re With You,’ and “Los Angeles Press Conference in Support of Pelican Bay Prisoners’ Hunger Strike,” online at revcom.us.)
Laura Magnani, author of the American Friends Service Committee’s 2008 report, Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons, said in San Francisco: “I stand here with a mixture of excitement and horror. Horror at the conditions faced by 1,200 prisoners at Pelican Bay and over 3,500 prisoners in security housing units throughout California. Excitement that the prisoners have successfully organized across racial groups to take this action.”
Reverend Richard Meri Ka Ra Byrd, in his introduction to the Los Angeles press conference hosted by him at his KRST Unity Center for Spiritual Science, said: “As this nation and state prepare to celebrate this Fourth of July we are reminded of the conditions existing in America. The living hell our enslaved ancestors who did not enjoy the protection and promises of freedom so vaingloriously proclaimed as truth that was self-evident. Those fallacies still fly in the face of truth of our brothers who are still chained down and are living in conditions and are subject to extra-judicial cruel and unusual punishment....”
In Los Angeles an emerging ad hoc organization of family members who have relatives in prison, revolutionaries, religious leaders, youth, prison abolitionists and others are urgently developing new plans to mobilize society-wide. The coalition is united around the need to catapult the support for the hunger strike onto a whole other level, to include prominent people in arts and culture, lawyers and the civil rights community, students, youth, and others.
The groups and individuals who participated in the July 1 press conference in Los Angeles held a July 5 SPEAK OUT! at the State Building. It was covered by the Los Angeles Times, some international media, NPR, and alternative stations such as KPFK (Pacifica). Following the SPEAK OUT!, RTTV (Russia Today TV) ran a live in-studio interview with revolutionary communist and former prisoner Clyde Young, and journalist Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report interviewed Young as well.
The hunger strike and the protests in support have now been covered in major newspapers around the country, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Globe. The LA Times coverage of the SPEAK OUT! noted that more than 400 prisoners in Pelican Bay are believed to be refusing meals, including prisoners in the general population, and discussed other California prisons where prisoners were refusing meals in solidarity. It also described the cells of the Pelican Bay SHU: “The cells have no windows and are soundproofed to inhibit communication among inmates. The inmates spend 22 1/2 hours a day in their cells, being released only an hour a day to walk around a small area with high concrete walls... Prisoner advocates have long complained that Security Housing Unit incarceration amounts to torture....”
Families and loved ones of prisoners have been organizing outside of Pelican Bay, sharing information with each other before visiting with their loved ones on the inside. Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc dancers from Los Angeles are in Crescent City, where Pelican Bay is located, supporting the strikers with ceremony. Outside Corcoran State Prison, where prisoners have joined the Pelican Bay hunger strike in solidarity, families and community members have been rallying to show their support, as well as sharing information before visiting their loved ones.
As of this writing over 4,900 people have signed an online petition that details the core demands of the prisoners. More demonstrations have been held in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and elsewhere in California. On July 9 a solidarity rally took place at the UN Plaza in San Francisco (see report in this issue); a “Noise Demo” took place in Los Angeles outside Men’s Central Jail; a protest was held outside the California State Building in Sacramento; and there was another protest in Eureka, on the lawn of the Humboldt County Courthouse.
Events in support of the prisoners have occurred elsewhere in the U.S., including New York, Virginia, Washington, and Ohio. “Noise” demonstrations were called for in Seattle and at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. On July 9, a lively crowd gathered at the Harlem State Office building in New York City in support of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers. Speakers included organizers from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Tina Reynolds from Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH), Carl Dix of the RCP, and James Benjamin, who participated in the 1971 Attica prison rebellion.
Internationally, events in Toronto and Montreal, Canada, have included “nights of inspirational discussion of prisoner support,” film screenings, pickets, and chartered bus trips to prisons to protest. Protesters are linking prisoner struggles in their areas to the Pelican Bay hunger strike. The organization Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in Western Australia dedicated an action in Perth to the Pelican Bay hunger strike.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.