Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strikers
"What is of note here and something that should concern all U.S. citizens, is the increasing use of behavioral control, i.e. Torture units and human experimental techniques against prisoners, not only in California but across the nation. Indefinite confinement, sensory deprivation, withholding food, constant illumination and use of unsubstantiated lies from informants are the psychological billy clubs being used in these torture units. The purpose of this 'treatment' is to stop prisoners from standing in opposition to inhumane prison conditions and prevent them from exercising their basic human rights."
Statement of Solidarity with the Pelican Bay Collective Hunger Strike on July 1st and announcement
of participation by Corcoran SHU prisoners
(from California Prison Watch,
On Friday, July 1, prisoners in California's infamous Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison began a courageous and determined hunger strike. This then, very quickly, turned into a display of collective outrage and solidarity among prisoners throughout the state and beyond.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) initially tried to say the strike was fewer than two dozen prisoners. But they then had to admit that by their own count, more than 500 inmates refused food at Pelican Bay State Prison and that 6,600 prisoners in 13 different prisons participated in the hunger strike on the weekend of July 2-3.
This is an extremely significant and extraordinary development, something that challenges people on "the outside" to sit up and take notice. Many have been moved to support the prisoners in their just demands.
The Pelican Bay SHU is designed to subject prisoners to solitary confinement, isolation and sensory deprivation—indefinitely. Some prisoners have been kept in these completely inhumane conditions for years and decades. And the prisoners in the SHU write that they are fighting to let the world know the brutal injustices being done to them; and that they are risking their lives to send out a message that they are human beings! That they refuse to be treated like animals.
One of the ways prison officials maintain control is by pitting prisoners against each other by race and ethnicity, and exploiting and promoting other divisions among prisoners. But this hunger strike is crossing barriers that usually divide prisoners—building unity to fight the horrendous conditions they all face. The New York Times reported, "The hunger strike has transcended the gang and geographic affiliations that traditionally divide prisoners, with prisoners of many backgrounds participating."
A prisoner from Ohio writing in solidarity with the hunger strike said: "We are all a part of the same fabric of oppression within these walls; we all experience the same or similar conditions in some form or fashion. That's why I believe it's very necessary for us to come together, put down the knives for a moment & demand the kind of meaningful change needed to produce better conditions & to combat abusive 'power holders' in ways that foster collective resistance. Case in point—the brothas in Georgia (work stoppage demonstration) & the brothas out in Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit (SHU)." (Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity, prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com)
On the first day of the strike, 43 food trays were refused (out of 52) in Pod D1 of the Pelican Bay SHU. The nine prisoners who didn't refuse to eat are reportedly much older with serious health concerns. Prisoners reported that other units had similar numbers of nearly 100% participation.
On the second day, the hunger strike spread into the General Population (GP). And prisoners at 13 of California's prisons protested in solidarity with the hunger strike at Pelican Bay. At Corcoran and Folsom State prisons, more than 100 prisoners participated in the hunger strike. And a number of prisoners at the Ohio State Penitentiary refused their food trays for 24 hours.
Molly Porzig, a spokeswoman with the group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, said, "They are protesting conditions that they say are torturous and inhumane. They feel the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will not make any meaningful or long-term change until they start dying, and they're willing to take it there." (thecrimereport.org/archive/2011-07-hung-strike-ca-folo, July 8, 2011)
According to reports, the CDCR began deliberately spreading disinformation that they hoped would make it seem like the strike was winding down or over. On Thursday, July 7, they said the number of prisoners refusing meals was 1,700 inmates at seven prisons.
First of all, as of July 9, according to prison activists following the situation, at least 2,000 prisoners at 11 California prisons were on hunger strike. There is a hard-core group of 50 prisoners in the highest-security special isolation wing in the SHU who say they will refuse to eat until their demands are met. And it is very significant that over 6,600 prisoners in many different prisons refused to eat in the first few days, in solidarity with the hunger strike at Pelican Bay.
A statement from prisoners in the SHU at Corcoran Prison said:
"It is important for all to know Pelican Bay is not alone in this struggle and the broader the participation and support for this hunger strike and other such efforts, the greater the potential that our sacrifice now will mean a more humane world for us in the future." (From commondreams.org/newswire/2011/07/05-6)
On July 4, the website prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.com reported: "Prisoners across the US are showing their solidarity with the Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners by joining the hunger strike for varying lengths of time (like Corcoran, Folsom, CCI Tehachapi, Calipatria and Centinela State Prisons in CA and Ohio State Penitentiary), or by bravely writing statements, letters, or calling people outside to relay messages to the Pelican Bay hunger strikes." It went on to say, on July 7, that "Thousands of prisoners have come together in solidarity with the prisoners at Pelican Bay SHU, while being locked up in brutal conditions themselves. This massive resistance and support is a testament to people's undying will and ability to build collective power in the face of disappearance and death."
The prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU are protesting inhumane conditions of torture—which includes complete isolation for 22 1/2 hours a day in windowless cells. They have five demands, including an end to long-term solitary confinement, collective punishment, and the practice of "debriefing," which amounts to forced interrogation on gang affiliation.
One of the main reasons prisoners get sent to the SHU is because prison officials label them as affiliated with a gang. And once a prisoner is put in the SHU, just about the only way they can get out is through "debriefing." Many prisoners are put in the SHU simply because they have been labeled as gang members (by prison officials or another prisoner); and then the way these prisoners can get out of the SHU is to get "debriefed," to give information (that can be totally false) that is used to target other prisoners; those that have been "informed on" are then put in the SHU. Other demands include decent food, rehabilitation and education programs, warmer clothing and a phone call each week.
The SHU is a "prison within prison" where prison officials and guards—not juries—determine that a prisoner will be put in conditions of isolation. And this is not just going on at Pelican Bay—many other prisons in California and all over the country have similar maximum-security, extreme-isolation units where prisoners face vicious brutality and physical and psychological torture.
The statement from prisoners at Corcoran said:
"All of the deprivations (save access to sunlight); outlines in the five-point hunger strike statement are mirrored, and in some instances intensified here in the Corcoran SHU 4B/1CC Section isolation gang unit. Medical care here, in a facility allegedly designed to house chronic care and prisoners with psychological problems, is so woefully inadequate that it borders on intentional disdain for the health of prisoners, especially where diabetics and cancer are an issue. Access to the law library is denied for the most mundane reasons or, most often, no reason at all. Yet these things and more are outlined in the P.B.S.P. SHU five core demands." (from California Prison Watch, californiaprisonwatch.blogspot.com)
The kind of torture that goes on every day in U.S. prisons is something most people have been totally unaware of. And the system has done all it can to wage a huge ideological battle to convince people that prisoners are getting just what they deserve and that putting these criminals in prison makes things safe for "the rest of us."
But this hunger strike has the potential to spur millions of people to learn about the horrific realities of life in these prison hellholes. There is the potential for many of those "on the outside" to feel compelled to speak out against what is being done to prisoners. And reports indicate this hunger strike can provide a platform for the prisoners, as well as their families, to rally others to fight for the rights of prisoners, not just in this strike, but as an ongoing struggle.
One of the ways the system justifies what it does to prisoners is to put a gang label on them—which essentially puts them in the category of the "worst of the worst" who don't deserve to be treated like human beings. Terry Thornton from the CDCR said: "The department is not going to be coerced or manipulated. That so many inmates in other prisons throughout the state are involved really demonstrates how these gangs can influence other inmates, which is one of the reasons we have security housing units in the first place." (New York Times, July 7, 2011)
But to this we have to say: no matter what they have done—or not done, no human being deserves to be treated like this; no human being should be treated like an animal; no human being should be tortured and subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation that will drive them crazy. And anyone on the outside with an ounce of humanity should expose and fight against what is being done to the prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU and other maximum security torture chambers throughout the USA.
Civil rights groups have reported that the CDCR has refused to negotiate with the hunger strikers, even though advocates for the prisoners have a representative team in place. And Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children says there have been reports that the CDCR is violating a federal mandate by canceling some or all medication to hunger striking prisoners. This is not only illegal but an especially cruel form of punishment against prisoners who are fighting to be treated like human beings.
Thornton has also claimed that the prisoners have other ways of having their demands heard. She said, "There are appropriate ways of registering your concerns, and even though this hunger strike has been peaceful, this is not the way to register those concerns." (sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/07/08/BA9U1K7SE3.DTL)
But many prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison remember what happened in June 2001, when over 1,000 prisoners at Pelican Bay and other SHU prisons went on a hunger strike for two weeks. That strike was ended when the CDCR agreed to re-evaluate cases of "gang validation." And now, 10 years later, the prisoners are still protesting the whole unjust practice of debriefing.
Prisoners in Corcoran Prison—another site of the torture of prisoners in California—issued a statement of support that said, "When approved means of protest and redress of rights are proven meaningless and are fully exhausted, then the pursuit of those ends through other means is necessary." (sfbayview.com/2011/Corcoran-shu-prisoners-join-pelican-bay-hunger-strike)
These prisons within prisons were started in the 1960s—for what prison officials called the "worst of the worst." These SHUs were used to isolate and punish political prisoners. And for many decades now, thousands of prisoners have suffered in these torture chambers. And the system, through its officials, politicians, mainstream media, etc. has constantly justified this, saying that these prisoners have no one to blame but themselves; that they deserve to be treated like this; that society is a better place because they are locked up; that those on the outside should be glad that they are behind bars.
But first of all, we have to ask, what kind of a system is it that now incarcerates over 2.3 million people—the majority Black and Latino? What does it mean that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world?
This is a system that uses mass incarceration as a way to control the people. This is a system that for decades has carried out a so-called War on Drugs that is really a war on the people that has targeted a huge section of society and determined that they will live their lives behind bars, with no rights, with no chance to have an education, to see their families, to contribute to society in any way.
There are the thousands of prisoners who will spend most or all of their life in prison—not because they did a violent or horrendous crime, but because of mandatory sentencing laws and things like the "three strikes" rule which means you can be given long sentences for something relatively minor, if it is your third felony. This is a system that uses its state power—its laws, police, courts, bureaucracy and prisons—to repress and control the masses of people; to enforce the oppressive economic and social relations in this society, including the new ways Black people and other minorities are systematically oppressed.
Many innocent people are put behind bars, their lives ruined. Think of the fact that there have been many prisoners that have spent decades behind bars, sometimes on death row, before it turns out that they were framed up and railroaded, forced to confess to something they didn't do, or found guilty on the basis of a prisoner who gave false information in order to make a deal with prison officials.
These striking prisoners are going up against a lot, they are risking a lot. And their actions aim to challenge everyone else to think about what this means. Revolution is hearing from many people who are inspired by how they are standing up—shining a light on and demanding an END to the way they are being tortured.
This hunger strike has the potential to impact how people look at prisons and prisoners, and the mass incarceration of millions. It can open people's eyes to the horrible injustices that are going on—and cause them to reject the system's justifications for their torture chambers. It can contribute to creating more favorable conditions for struggle against all the different ways the system oppresses the people. This struggle can shake up and challenge those who say "this is the way things are and you can't change it."
The solidarity statement from Corcoran prisoners (from California Prison Watch, californiaprisonwatch.blogspot.com) brings all this out sharply:
"Our indefinite isolation here is both inhumane and illegal and the proponents of the prison industrial complex are hoping that their campaign to dehumanize us has succeeded to the degree that you don't care and will allow the torture to continue in your name. It is our belief that they have woefully underestimated the decency, principles and humanity of the people. Join us in opposing this injustice without end. Thank you for your time and support."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
At the July 9 protest in San Francisco, Revolution talked to a woman whose two sons are hunger strikers at Pelican Bay.
Revolution: Can you tell me why you are here?
Maria: I have two sons who are suffering right now. They are in intensive care. The officers in Pelican Bay, they don't want to give me no information about my kids. This makes me so upset and fills me with hurt. I'm here to support my children from outside so they can win their demands.
Revolution: When was the last time you saw your children?
Maria: Last weekend I drove up to Pelican Bay because I knew that my children were going to go on hunger strike. They were really weak from being without food. They told me that they would do the hunger strike until the last consequences. That made me so worried. They want their rights and it's not my say to stop them for asking for their humanity.
Revolution: What message would you want to send to those who read Revolution?
Maria: I'm here to support my sons and ALL of the people suffering in Pelican Bay. Everybody as a family, as a friend, we have somebody in Pelican Bay suffering. I want to tell people don't forget your family or your friends because they need us.
Revolution: Are you scared?
Maria: I'm proud of my children—they are strong guys—but the same time as a mother it's a really huge worry in my heart that they could lose their lives in there without me. And they don't let me know anything right now.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
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.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
On July 9, well over 100 people staged a spirited rally in support of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other California prisons. Dozens of protesters wore orange jumpsuits marked CDC—standing for California Department of Corrections—on the back, reminders of prison uniforms and also those worn by prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. Activists around prison conditions and mass incarceration were joined by prisoner families and former prisoners. There were a significant number of those who had taken up the issue of torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay carrying signs saying that what is going on in Pelican Bay is torture. There were students from Stanford and UC Berkeley.
|Credit: Ruben Coronel|
Speakers emphasized the urgent situation. "I have great, great respect for the courage and the strength of those men in the SHU [Security Housing Unit] in Pelican Bay for doing what they are doing," said Barbara Becnel, an activist against the death penalty who is on the mediation team that is meeting with officials on behalf of the prisoners. "You should know, as we speak this is the ninth day of the hunger strike and it is so disturbing and distressing to me... What they have said is that they are slowly dying anyway and they would rather take a stand and you should know that they have said they are willing to go until they are dead."
Former prisoner Manuel La Fontaine, with the group All of Us or None, said, "Most of the people in the Security Housing Unit are critical thinkers, people who want fundamental changes in our community, are people that are human beings that are willing to sacrifice their lives for freedom... The CDC may let people die before they even start talking to prisoners." (He said he'd stopped his own fast because his voice was needed and he had to stay strong.)
Former prisoners Richard Brown, Linda Evans, and Deirdre Wilson also spoke.
During the rally there was a mass "phone-in" with people taking out their cell phones to call the head of the CDC and Governor Jerry Brown to tell them to grant the prisoners' demands. Many people took up petitions to get out broadly—and quickly—calling on the CDC to grant the prisoners' just demands.
The rally was joined by marchers from another demonstration, organized by the ANSWER Coalition, opposing U.S. intervention in Libya, adding another 100 people to the rally. A spokesperson for the march said that these issues were part of the same system and pointed out the hypocrisy of the U.S. going to Libya to supposedly bring "democracy" when it is torturing the prisoners at Pelican Bay.
During the day, 60 copies of Revolution #237 and #238 were distributed, including some bundles, and three copies of BAsics were sold. The newspaper's coverage of the strike has been widely appreciated; we've sold out of #237, and Revolution's articles on the prisoners' hunger strike have circulated widely online.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
From a reader:
The last issue of Revolution (#238) included a call for people to record and send in videos of their favorite quotes from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. The idea, as the article explained, is that these videos will get collected (see info at the end of this letter), and posted at YouTube, to help create a buzz online about the book, the man, and the revolution he is leading.
I've got some thoughts on this project, and how important it could be.
First, let's all step back and think seriously about what we've got with this book—the potential it holds on so many different levels, including this book being a way for people to meet Bob Avakian, to get a powerful distillation of his 35 years of work as a pathbreaking revolutionary, and to see the possibility of a whole different kind of world, and how to get there.
Now, read the letters in this week's Get In, Get Out, Get Connected column—this is a glimpse of the power of this book.
What we have with this YouTube project is a chance to amplify and magnify the impact of BAsics. To do it right, we need all kinds of voices sharing their favorite quotes from BAsics—a whole range of voices, comin' up from the underground—projecting the exciting and unpredictable breadth of the movement for revolution that we are building. Bringing out of the shadows people who are attracted to this book on one level or another, from one angle or another.
There are videos up now at YouTube of Carl Dix, Herb Boyd, Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, and Nicholas Heyward Sr. reading quotes from BAsics. Their voices are precious and will compel people to listen up, all the more so as other voices are added to the set list at YouTube. Watch them yourself at youtube.com/knowthebasics1.
Never underestimate the power of the truth—and in particular the truth coming from the mouths and from the hearts of those who have seen some of the ugly reality behind this so-called "best of all possible worlds." As people see others like themselves reading these quotes, and as they see people very different than themselves reading them, they will get a deeper perspective on what this book means to people, and a more multi-colored, multi-dimensional picture of the movement for revolution we are building. Getting these videos up is part of making it known that this revolution is REAL.
So, pick your own favorite quote from BAsics, practice it until you can read it clearly, and read it like you mean it. Get someone with a cell phone, or maybe a better camera, to record it as a video. Or, if you're in a position to do so, get hold of a camera, set up a session, organize people to come, and record some of these videos.
You can do this even as you first introduce people to BAsics. There was an experience shared in Revolution where a student was handed BAsics—in a school cafeteria—found a quote on the spot that spoke to her deeply felt anger and aspirations. And then she practiced it, and read it out loud right then and there, with heart and power. Let people like that speak to the world through these videos. And let's make sure there are videos of people reading BAsics in English and Lo BAsico en español.
The article in Revolution emphasized that we should make these videos in a way that protects people's privacy. Pick a good spot to record the video, and, before you start recording, have a stack of hats, dark wrap-around glasses, bandanas, and so on. Get creative with things people can wear while they record their videos.
Then, the article in Revolution explained, "You can mail video files (in regular video file formats like MOV, WMV or AVI) on a flash drive to Revolution Books in New York City (address on page 15), or go to revcom.us/basics-videos for further instructions." Or call Revolution Books for more info. I see at revcom.us that there will be advice later for those of you who can send in your videos digitally.
But don't wait. Seize the time: Get your camera and help make this happen, right away.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
A wave of extremely dangerous, utterly heartless, and profoundly anti-woman legislation swept through state legislatures this spring and early summer. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 512 laws limiting abortion were proposed in 49 states in the first three months of 2011. The New York Times reported that, by late May, 64 anti-abortion laws had been passed, 30 in April alone, in what the Times called "a campaign [that is] the largest in history."
With the ascendancy of the Republican Party and its "Tea Party" component in many state legislatures, and with the Democrats either assisting outright or offering objections that in no essential way challenge the onslaught, these laws are a poisonous brew concocted from a combination of modern technology and the patriarchal, oppressive ideology that is a cornerstone of Christian Fascism.
At the same time as these new laws were being proposed, passed, and signed in various states, federal anti-abortion laws aimed, as Lina Thorne wrote on the World Can't Wait website, at "further restricting women's access to abortion, and cutting funds for birth control, cancer screenings and other basic care for women" have been put before Congress.
Federal funding of Planned Parenthood, which provides vital health services to women across the country, has come under sustained attack in the U.S. Congress, and several states, such as Indiana, have passed laws that "prohibit state agencies from entering into contracts with organizations like Planned Parenthood...that provide abortions." These proposed federal and state laws would, among other harmful measures, prevent women on Medicaid—overwhelmingly poor women without access to health insurance—from receiving abortions.
Developments in medical technology—in particular ultrasound technology—coupled with ignorance of (and opposition to) science, have helped propel the anti-abortion, anti-woman assault. As the Los Angeles Times reported last month, "In the last few years, the widespread use of ultrasound to view a fetus in the womb has inspired legislation in many states." John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, said recently, "When Roe vs. Wade was decided, we didn't have such a clear window into the womb. That's been absolutely crucial."
Ultrasound is an imaging technique that is a valuable tool in many forms of medical diagnosis. In recent years, ultrasounds have advanced to include three and four dimensions (the fourth dimension being time). Instead of static squiggly images in varying shades of gray, color images that show length, breadth, depth, and movement of the organ being examined are now available at many clinics and hospitals throughout the country. Among other medical uses, ultrasounds are commonly ordered as a non-invasive exam upon pregnant women to aid in determining fetal health, size, sex, etc.
Anti-abortionists have been pushing the mandated use of ultrasounds, and the "explanations" of these images by selected personnel who themselves are opposed to abortion, on women seeking abortions for several years. They often open up phony "clinics" offering discounted ultrasounds, and staffed by antiabortion Christian fanatics, near establishments that provide abortions. They are not doing this out of any concern for women's health, or for the viability of the fetus, for that matter.
A central issue in the battles around abortion concerns the question of when human life begins. The Christian Fascists and others behind the attacks on abortion promote the unscientific, wrong, and deeply damaging falsehood that human life begins at conception—when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. In reality, a fetus is a subordinate part of a woman's body, and it's only when there's birth that the potential human life becomes an actual one (see centerfold of this issue of Revolution for a more in-depth exploration of this). These reactionary woman haters who are pushing the mandated use of ultrasounds are using modern technology combined with theocratic, patriarchal, anti-scientific ideology to try to compel women at what they perceive as a vulnerable moment in the women's lives to make a decision based on emotion and ignorance, not rational thought and science.
In particular, they seek to force a pregnant woman to view ultrasound images of the fetus, listen to fetal heartbeats, and get an "explanation" of what they are experiencing from a committed antiabortionist to try to coerce her to make the profoundly wrong and harmful decision that she would be "killing her baby," rather than the rational, true, and scientific decision that she is undergoing a routine and safe medical procedure in which a fetus is being aborted. As of June 1, 2011, 19 states require the use of ultrasounds in some form on women who want an abortion, and nine others "require verbal counseling or written materials to include information on accessing ultrasound services."
Other restrictions and requirements intended to limit and eventually (as in soon) eliminate the right to abortion also have become law in many states over the past several months. All of these laws have many features in common, with some particular twists.
In Florida, an amendment to the state constitution was passed that prevents public funding of abortions, as was a bill preventing health insurance exchanges created by federal health reform from paying for abortions. Florida also put further "parental notification" requirements on young women seeking abortions, and requires all women to pay for their own state-mandated ultrasound.
South Dakota, a large, sparsely populated, and largely rural state with only one abortion provider, passed a law requiring women to wait three days between their first mandated "counseling session" and the abortion, forcing doctors to tell women seeking abortions of "any possible risk factor published in medical and psychological journals since 1972." Women in South Dakota also must first visit a "crisis pregnancy center"—which in the real world of South Dakota today usually means a place run by Christian Fascist lunatics, and which, in the words of ACLU lawyer Sondra Goldschein, are "entities that are notorious for providing false and misleading information."
Indiana legislators voted to ban abortion altogether "after 20 weeks unless the woman's life is in danger." The Indiana law also requires that women seeking abortions "be told in writing that they face a greater risk of infertility and breast cancer," and that "human life begins at conception." All this is utterly, maliciously false. As a study from the journal Annals of Internal Medicine pointed out, "both the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute have concurred that no credible evidence supports a link between abortion and breast cancer."
One of the most far reaching, and ominous, of the new laws is making its way through the Ohio legislature. As reported in Reuters, the Ohio House of Representatives voted in late June to "ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can be as early as six weeks. If enacted, the law would be a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which upheld a woman's right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at 22-24 weeks. Republican Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder said he knows this bill will face a court challenge. 'We're writing bills for courts,' he said."
A leading member of Iowa Right to Life said of the new laws in Iowa and throughout the country, "We want to see a day when abortion is ended and, you know, this is a pretty good start in that direction."
In Kansas—the state where abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered by a Christian Fascist two years ago—some of the most extreme anti-abortion laws were passed this spring. These laws required yearly licensing by the state, and imposed conditions nearly impossible to meet for ordinary clinics. Two of the three sites in the state of Kansas that provide abortions were forced to close after this law was signed by Kansas governor Sam Brownback.
Many of these laws in different states were immediately faced with lawsuits. In Kansas, a judge recently issued an injunction against the law and the three clinics in the state remain open as of this writing. The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a suit to delay the implementation of the new Texas law, and several doctors have also spoken out against it.
Opposing these attacks in the courts is an important part of the struggle, but it must be recognized that the forces pushing for an end to the right to abortion are relentless, and are determined to continue their drive to eliminate abortion completely in this country. Confining opposition to the legal arena, and opposing these attacks piecemeal, is a recipe for disaster. Nothing less than a broad movement of militant opposition, and an outlook that rejects the entire framework in which this vital question is being presented, is needed. A culture that cherishes and defends the lives and rights of women against this literally murderous and highly repressive onslaught must be built.
Developments in Nebraska over the past couple of years provide a painful illustration of how deadly passivity and confining opposition to the attacks on abortion to lawsuits and the legislative process truly is. In 2010, Nebraska passed a law which outlawed abortion after 20 weeks. This law became a sort of model for anti-abortionists in other states, and this year 12 states have passed or are "considering" a similar law. In defending the lack of opposition to the Nebraska law, a national spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights said that "We're not going to file a legal challenge just because our opponents try to bait us to do so," and that her organization is looking for the "right circumstances" to challenge the vicious law. Meanwhile, the lives of countless women are at stake.
This coordinated assault on the state and federal levels serves as a legal counterpart to the deadly terror directed at abortion providers, such as the murder of Dr. George Tiller in a Wichita, Kansas church in May 2009. It is ultimately aimed at completely preventing access to abortion, and even knowledge about the medical procedures and legal rights available to women.
One of the most insidious aspects of these assaults upon the right to abortion is that many of its proponents present these laws as "empowering women" and enabling them to make "informed decisions," based on the most modern medical technology.
Dan Patrick, a Texas state senator and leading figure among Christian Fascists and in the Republican Party, wrote in the Houston Chronicle that "This bill is about a woman's right to know. Offering women comprehensive information and time to make such an important, life-altering decision is not interference; it is empowerment." When Texas governor Rick Perry, also a Christian Fascist and a possible Republican presidential candidate, signed the Texas law, Patrick changed his tune, saying "The good news is through the blood of Jesus Christ he forgives, and women who have aborted children need to know that message. ... I believe this can be the beginning of the end of 75,000 abortions we have every year in Texas."
The laws being proposed and, most often, passed and signed serve a theocratic (rule of society by religious law) doctrine that wants to take society, and most particularly, women, back. Back to a situation in which women are openly the property of men—whether their fathers or their husbands. They would combine and enforce this suffocating and horribly oppressive goal with a government that intrudes into the most private and personal spaces of a woman's life, and prevent her from making the most basic decisions about the direction of her own life, and control over her own body.
In the context of the '60s, when U.S. society was in turmoil and oppression in many forms was challenged (but not overthrown with a revolution), one important concession to the people's struggle was legalizing abortion. Today, even as the role of women is going through big changes in the workplace and in society, the oppression of women remains a cornerstone of capitalism and the structures and culture that flow from and serve capitalist exploitation and oppression. And this is concentrated in whether women have the right to decide if and when to bear children, or—as powerful forces in U.S. society demand—women are driven back to being enslaved as baby producers.
These attacks must be met with urgent, determined political opposition. Even more basically, the entire framework in which the question of abortion is currently debated needs to be transformed, qualitatively. Fundamental understandings of morality and science are clashing here.
As Sunsara Taylor wrote in these pages, "The life of a woman who is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy is endangered. From the dangers of illegal abortions to the disrespect for her own life, she is harmed and demeaned as a human being. Being forced by society to have a baby when a woman either does not want or cannot care for one is one of the age-old tragedies that are no longer necessary for anyone to have to suffer.
"But if a woman is not allowed to control her own body, her own reproduction, not allowed to decide whether or not or when to become a mother, she has no more freedom than a slave. This is for the greater good for the health and overall well-being of that woman, whose life we should value and cherish more than that of a partially formed fetus. And for the greater good of humanity—for don't we want a society where all forms of slavery are ended? The morality that should be supported and fought for is one that values the rights of women to lead full social lives. It supports social and intimate relations where people respect each other's humanity and flourish together—and not where women are supposedly commanded by 'God' to 'submit themselves' to men."
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
|Alejandro del Fuego, 1989-2011.
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
I was extremely saddened to learn of the death of Alejandro del Fuego, the young revolutionary communist from Houston. My heart goes out to everyone who knew and loved him.
I got to know Alejandro a bit during the Revolutionary Summer Youth Project in July and August of 2009. Revolutionary youth from all over the country came to New York City for several weeks to put revolution and communism on the map in a big and bold way and to introduce as many people as possible to the leadership for this revolution that we have in Bob Avakian. This coincided with the kickoff of the Revolutionary Communist Party's campaign, "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have," and the release of the message and call from the RCP of the same name, which we took out very broadly to masses in Harlem and Washington Heights and throughout New York City. At a moment in which "Obamamania" was very much in full force, we went out challenging and inviting people to confront the reality that we live under a system of capitalism-imperialism responsible for tremendous suffering throughout the world; that revolution to get rid of that system and aiming for a communist world is the solution to that suffering; and that, in Bob Avakian, we have the leadership we need to get to that solution. In the process, we learned a lot. And we had a lot of fun. The summer project was a truly special and historic endeavor, and Alejandro will forever hold a special place in my heart because we were part of this together.
I remember Alejandro as a person of warmth, determination, liveliness and humor. An enduring image of him that stands out in my mind is his warm, embracing smile. I also got the sense that he was passionate about music. He was definitely a huge fan of the band Outernational, and I can still hear him whistling "Fighting Song," along with other tunes, during that summer.
When I saw the two photographs of Alejandro in Issue #237 of Revolution, I was brought to tears. For one thing, they drove home the cruel, heartbreaking loss of a youth who truly had so much more to contribute to the world. For another, they captured the person I remember. When I look at these photos, I see a person of conviction, defiance, hope and joy—a person who sees a radically different world that is possible and is challenging others to see it—and struggle for it—too.
In BAsics, Bob Avakian says:
"If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog, and most likely get swallowed up by that while trying to get ahead in it. You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is. When you put those things alongside each other, which one has any meaning, which one really contributes to anything worthwhile? Your life is going to be about something—or it's going to be about nothing. And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them. I have learned that more and more deeply through all the twists and turns and even the great setbacks, as well as the great achievements, of the communist revolution so far, in what are really still its early stages historically." (BAsics 5:23)
|Alejandro del Fuego was part of the Revolutionary Summer Youth Project that worked
to spread the message and call from the RCP, "The Revolution We Need... The
Leadership We Have," in Harlem and Washington Heights during the summer of 2009.
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
Alejandro's life was most definitely about something. And in a time in which far too many people—including far too many of his generation—are choosing, with varying degrees of consciousness, to put their snouts in the trough, his example serves as a challenge to rupture with this empty and callous individualism, confront the world as it really is and live a truly meaningful life. His selfless dedication to the people of the world and his unyielding commitment to their emancipation—right up to the very end of his life—is profoundly inspiring.
About two months before his death, Alejandro was too ill to attend the April 11 event in Harlem—"On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World." He submitted a deeply moving statement that was read that night. In that statement, he spoke with tremendous enthusiasm and urgency about the leadership and method of Bob Avakian, the great need to broadly popularize that leadership and method, and the powerful potential of BAsics as a tool for doing that.
He ended the statement by saying: "It is with great pleasure and pride that I've been able to at least scratch the surface of his immense body of work, attempting to grasp his exhilarating insights and how it is that he has developed these. This body of work can, in a qualitatively new way, with the release of BAsics, be spread among masses of all strata empowering them to envision and struggle for a liberated planet. I'm getting ready to get out there and spread BAsics, and this leader we have in Bob Avakian. I'm taking up the $200 Challenge, and I challenge you to do the same."
Tragically, Alejandro has been robbed at far too young an age of the opportunity to continue contributing all he could towards the emancipation of humanity. But a whole new generation of revolutionaries should take inspiration from the substance and spirit of Alejandro's statement, and of his life overall.
We have lost a comrade. But the goals to which he dedicated his life remain more urgent than ever. As we continue to struggle towards those goals, let us keep Alejandro in our hearts.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Correspondence on BAsics
Revolution received the following letter:
Dear Revolution Newspaper,
Before I could even finish the first page, I knew BAsics was going to be a breath of fresh air. I was excited to finally pick up a copy last weekend at Comfest in Columbus, but I could not have prepared myself for how powerful the new publication would be. As I began reading, the image stuck in my mind of workers and oppressed across the country reading quotes from Bob Avakian in their workplaces, schools and homes. But it is even more than that. BAsics is a handbook for making revolution and emancipators of humanity.
This is something my generation needs. As a college student who was forced to endure over twelve years of brutal Catholic schooling, I have seen what religious dogma, intolerance and bigotry can do to the youth. It systematically brainwashes students who seek a better world, and those who seek to make their own assertions about the world are confined to the narrow political and religious visions of the elite.
The quote that really leapt out at me began with "If you can conceive of a world without America...". This is a powerful thought, as this system of capitalism-imperialism has spread American influence across the globe. However, Bob Avakian offers some insight saying, "And once you have raised your sights to all this, how could you not feel compelled to take an active part in the world historic struggle to realize it; why would you want to lower your sights to anything less?"
As revolutionaries, this is our monumental task. To fight the power and transform the people for revolution. With the immense power of Revolution newspaper and BAsics, we have two essential tools for making revolution and fighting for a communist future.
To say the least, I wish I had had a copy of BAsics in high school so that I could counter the bullshit being taught to me. I didn't have that opportunity, but there are millions of students today who need to hear the voice of Bob Avakian so they can join the fight. BAsics presents an essential challenge to all that is oppressive and intolerant. It paints not only a picture of a new world, but it leaves room for innovation and growth, as a communist future will have, as Bob Avakian says, "a solid core with a lot of elasticity."
BAsics is a tool for all of us who seek a world without exploitation and oppression. I plan on buying more copies to get out to people in my area. We have an opportunity for something really immense with BAsics as a guide.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Letter from Prisoner on Reading BAsics
The following letter from a prisoner was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:
June 21st (Tuesday 2011)
To whom this may concern,
Today I was rereading BAsics, and one particular quote: BAsics 2:3, really stood out to me more profoundly than it has ever done in the past, of just what this movement and everything we represent is all about—not only in where we intend to take human civilization, but also what we, as human beings, have overcome up to this point in our historical development to make communism even an objective possibility.
"When we finally get to the final goal of communism, there won't be the relations of exploitation and oppression that are so commonplace and that mark all of society today and that we are told over and over again are just the natural order of things and the way things have to be. As Karl Marx pointed out, the communist revolution leads to what we Maoists call the '4 Alls'—that is, the abolition of all class differences among people. The abolition or the end to all the production or economic relations underlying these class differences and divisions among people. The ending of all the social relations that go along with these economic or production relations. Oppressive relations between men and women, between different nationalities, between people of different parts of the world, all that will be put an end to and moved beyond. And finally, the revolutionizing of all the ideas that go along with this whole way, this whole capitalist system, these whole social relations." (my added emphasis)
Of all of the quotes that are contained in this book, I believe that this one has the potential to raise one's consciousness the most, qualitatively. In a concentrated sense, it encompasses the whole—abstractly and concretely—of why not only is communism possible, but also how this possibility derives from the objective necessity of the current global system of capitalism-imperialism itself. (BAsics 1:6) I believe the more one begins to deeply understand these "4 Alls"—not only abstractly, but also how it concretely relates to human civilization in its motion and development in Real time and Real space throughout human history—they'll most certainly experience a qualitative leap in their "communist I.Q.," while reinforcing their convictions on an even firmer basis. I'm absolutely confident of that; and I believe every committed comrade should make this their aim when reaching out to those who are beginning to understand what communism is all about.
This is kind of like a math teacher, trying to teach someone addition, algebra, or calculus, with the intention of raising their "mathematical I.Q.," exponentially. For the average person, math can be very intimidating—especially the more abstract the level of math seems to become. The biggest hurdle, I believe, for most math teachers to overcome is dialectically bridging the gap between abstract ideas and concepts, with how they concretely apply and are expressed in the real world. I think that's largely the reason why when most students reach the level of algebra, trigonometry, and especially calculus, many of them lose interest in advanced levels of math and stop making leaps in their mathematical competency—simply because they no longer see how those subjects apply in the real world, and more importantly, how they apply to their everyday affairs.
I believe we, as communists, face a similar challenge, when it comes to explaining how the "4 Alls" concretely applies and relates to the average person's life, in the most broadest and direct sense—in the past, present, and in the communist future we intend to collectively bring about. I don't think we should get used to using this formulation ("4 Alls"), as if it were just a "mathematical theorem" divorced from any real world significance and application. The deeper we wrestle with this formulation and come to grasp its immediate and wider implications, I'm confident that we'll be able to break down many people's current belief in a "permanent necessity of existing conditions," exponentially. As stated, in part, in BAsics 3:4, BA says quoting Marx:
"'Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions breaks down before their collapse in practice.'
"This is not just a matter of abstract theory—it has a broader effect. That belief weighs heavily on people who don't like the way things are—they are weighed down by a belief in the 'permanent necessity of existing conditions.' Over and over we are confronted by the fact that people can't see beyond the way things are now...."
This is related to an equally valid point, which BA makes in BAsics 3:36:
"The notion of 'unchanging human nature' is completely erroneous, and the idea that people are naturally selfish is nothing but another tautology. As Marx and Engels pointed out in the Communist Manifesto, this amounts to nothing other than saying that, with the domination of the bourgeois mode of production, the dominant thinking and ways of acting will be in accordance with the dictates of the bourgeois mode of production. As the Manifesto also puts it, the ruling ideas of any age are ever the ideas of the ruling class—and these ideas are spread and have great influence not only within the ruling class itself but also among other sections of the population, including the class (or classes) most brutally exploited and oppressed by the ruling class."
As true as this may be currently for many today, this isn't a "permanent necessity" either—especially once one grasps the inner connection and broader effect of the "4 Alls."
So I challenge those who wish to deepen their understanding of what this movement is all about, by going beyond just wanting to know the basics, and picking up BA's earlier work: Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism.
If I may suggest, I think it's important to keep in mind at all times how the "4 Alls" relates to BA's explanation of historical materialism in that book, particularly pages 11-23. Furthermore, I believe it's equally important, not only to understand how the "4 Alls" are expressed with a historical materialist analysis, but also how the quote by Marx factors in, in which he states that: "Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby." (page 114 of the same book)
One should ask themselves, what does this particular quote mean in relation to the "4 Alls"? How is "right" different—economically, legally, and morally—under socialism than under slavery, feudalism, and capitalism? Even more important, how is it different under socialist society in comparison to a classless communist world? (Note: In BAsics, BA addresses this comprehensively in the supplemental chapter: "Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right" on pages 169-178, in which he explains how this relates to "right" under the capitalist system.) All these questions are related to gaining a deeper grasp of the "4 Alls," and understanding its inner connection and broader effects. As BA mentioned in Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism:
"These 'four all's' must be popularized, especially in these times, to give a clear, basic sense of what communism means and involves. They should be popularized in both senses: they should be made known broadly among the masses of people; and, while sometimes using these formulations exactly as Marx stated them in order to familiarize people with them, they should also be translated into more common terms. In this way, people will get the essence of what this is about and take it up as their own, so that through all the struggle of today they will be fired with the vision of what these 'four all's' represent." (p. 122-23)
We can't afford to make the same mistake as many well meaning math teachers do today. The better we do at transforming this abstract formulation, and making it concrete to people in meaningful ways, the quicker we can transcend the belief that capitalism is a "permanent necessity" which humanity is unable to overcome. Another way is possible; and by understanding the "4 Alls" comprehensively, that way becomes all the more clear.
In solidarity, Prisoner in Midwest
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
More than $30 thousand was raised in 30 days, a significant and important step forward. Many people donated for the first time—along with others who have contributed before. Youth and people of all ages who had not raised funds before took up the call and organized fund-raising events. Contributions that came in from people across the country means real, immediate needs can be met. We can now make a leap in publicizing BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, get this essential work into the hands of hundreds of prisoners, and begin production of a film of the inspiring April 11 cultural event which marked the publication of BAsics.
In the drive for 100 sustainers for Revolution newspaper, numbers of people from the neighborhoods whose daily life is a struggle to make ends meet found the ways to sustain on a monthly basis, but there was a serious shortfall in reaching our goal of regular sustainers in the range of $50+ per month. We need to soberly and scientifically assess this shortfall. In the next issue we will be posing some questions to our readers to be wrestled with in summing up our experience—and moving to meet this urgent need.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Monica Shay, known to many as Kathryn, died on Thursday, July 7. She was 58 years old. Kathryn died after being shot on Saturday, July 2, in her family's weekend home in Pennsylvania. Also shot were her husband, Paul Shay, Paul's nephew Joseph Shay, Joseph's girlfriend Kathryn Erdman, and Kathryn Erdman's two-year-old son Gregory. Paul's nephew and the two-year-old child were killed in the shooting. The circumstances that led to this terrible tragedy, and to the police killing of a man said to be the suspect, are not clear at this time.
PHOTO: October 22 Coalition
Revolution newspaper joins many others in shock and sadness at this terribly cruel death. Our hopes are for Paul Shay's and Kathryn Erdman's full recovery. Our hearts and thoughts go out to those who suffered a loss in this horrific incident, and to all those Kathryn left behind: especially her family, and the many others who knew and worked with her and are so deeply feeling this loss.
Kathryn was a longtime supporter of the movement for revolution in various ways.
Kathryn grew up in Pennsylvania in a Quaker family deeply opposed to the Vietnam war and concerned about those kept at the bottom of society. In the early 1970s, Kathryn traveled to revolutionary China as part of a student group. She lived and worked alongside the people in villages and factories during the mass ferment of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Kathryn was deeply moved by the earth-shaking transformations she witnessed and the struggle to carry that revolution forward against the forces that would pull society back to capitalist and oppressive relations. She returned to the U.S. inspired and determined to share and spread the real-world possibility of a liberated and revolutionary society.
Kathryn lived for the past 20 years or more in the East Village area of New York City. She was well known and respected for her role in the important resistance to attacks on the homeless and on the radical youth culture that emerged there in the late 1980s. In August 1988, a massive police attack on the homeless encampment in Tompkins Square Park resulted in an international spotlight on the brutality of the police. Kathryn was part of building determined opposition to this, and joined with homeless people and other activists in the mass takeover of a vacant building near Tompkins Square. That powerful and determined mass struggle is widely remembered with great love in the East Village area and beyond.
In recent years, and since its inception, she was actively involved with the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, and played a role in anchoring that nationwide coalition. She was involved in the Stolen Lives Project in a major way and was well known and close to families of police brutality victims and anti-police-brutality activists across the country.
Nicholas Heyward, father of Nicholas Heyward Jr. who was killed by New York City police, said: "Kathryn was a standup warrior who stood firm in what she knew was right and fought hard against what she knew was wrong. Kathryn has given me courage and inspiration at times when I needed it most."
Kathryn never stopped fighting injustice, or caring for those most oppressed by this system. Generations of our youth have been locked into a future of constant harassment, criminalization and imprisonment, and every day more parents experience the unbearable pain of losing a child to murdering police. Her untimely and cruel death leaves a hole in the resistance to that oppression. Others who share her hatred of injustice should step up to fill this hole.
Her loss is also deeply felt by colleagues and students at the university where she taught and administered a program devoted to the integration of art and culture with the broader community.
We join with all those who are mourning the loss of Kathryn.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
This is such a crime against the soul of humanity. We can't stand this. Who are we as human beings if we can even bear this? We cannot bear it. And we must not.
—Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and many other works, explaining why she has participated in the Freedom Flotilla II to break the siege of Gaza.
The Freedom Flotilla II was made up of people from 22 countries aboard 10 ships. Its plan was to set sail from Greece in late May or early June to display international opposition to Israel's siege of Gaza. This was timed with the one-year anniversary of the first Freedom Flotilla, when, on May 27, 2010, Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish flotilla boat Mavi Marmara, shooting to death nine participants in the movement to bring aid to the people of Gaza.
As the flotilla activists mobilized to set sail from various Greek and European ports, two of the ships were sabotaged with damage that made them unable to sail. And an Israeli Zionist legal group filed frivolous charges in Greek court saying that the U.S. ship was un-seaworthy. Greek authorities carried out a formal inspection and the charges were shown to be false, but this greatly delayed the ship's planned departure.
The world's major powers worked in concert to threaten the flotilla. Israel falsely claimed that dangerous materials and weapons were going to be smuggled into Gaza.
The U.S. State Department threatened "that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration." The so-called "Quartet" (the U.S. and Russian governments and the imperialist-run institutions, the European Union and the United Nations) which is trying to dictate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, called July 2 "on all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas...."
On July 1, the U.S. ship in the flotilla, named by organizers "The Audacity of Hope," set sail from a Greek port, but within minutes it was intercepted by the Greek Coast Guard as commandos pointed guns at the activists. When back at the dock, the captain was arrested (and later released without charges). The Canadian ship was also halted by the Greek military as it set sail. U.S. ship activists protesting peacefully in front of the U.S. Embassy in Athens to demand the release of all the ships and the U.S. captain were detained and later released. These Greek government actions were described by activists as Israel's "outsourcing" of the oppression of the Palestinian people and of the siege of Gaza.
As we go to press, the flotilla ship from France Dignité/Al Karama succeeded in leaving a Greek port headed to Gaza, while eight other ships remain detained in Greece and one other in a Turkish port where it had been sabotaged.
Organizers of the U.S. boat to Gaza issued a statement that pointed out in part:
"This is an important moment in history.... Gaza is essentially an open-air prison under a U.S.-backed Israeli blockade.
"The U.S. government is complicit through established policies that uncritically support Israel in its brutal attack on the Palestinian people and on those who attempt to intervene on their behalf. We in the United States must continue to step up and do our part. We must join with others from across the world to support an end to the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza."
Gaza is a tiny strip of land sandwiched between the state of Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. Most people in Gaza are the families of Palestinians who fled there as refugees because of the "Nakba," the Arabic word for catastrophe that is used to describe the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that set up the settler-colonial state of Israel. Israel began a military occupation of Gaza in 1967 after a second war to grab more of Palestine, and withdrew its full-time military occupation in 2005 after 37 years. But Israel (with the ongoing collaboration of the Egyptian government) continues to tightly control the border. In 2007, the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas was elected to run the Palestinian government in Gaza. In response, Israel began a total blockade of Gaza. The Gaza economy, such as it was, collapsed.
From December 2008 through January 2009, Israel carried out a deadly and massively destructive military assault against Gaza. The United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, reports that "A total of 1,393 Palestinians, including 358 children, were killed, more than 5,300 were injured, and some 60,000 shelters were demolished or damaged," and that today 80 percent of Gazan households, some 750,000 people, are dependent on food aid from the UN.
A June 2011 report from UNRWA says broad unemployment in the second half of 2010 reached 45.2 percent, one of the highest in the world. It goes on to report that "the abject poor living on just over 1 dollar a day, has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed...."
All this gives a picture of the importance of the movement to end the blockade of Gaza, and the outrageous injustice of the threats and attacks on the Freedom Flotilla orchestrated by Israel and the U.S.
For more in-depth coverage of the flotilla, see "Gaza Flotilla Faces Barriers," July 4, 2011, online at revcom.us.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Obama's Speech on Afghanistan:
On June 22, President Barack Obama delivered a major address on the war in Afghanistan. He announced that by September 2012, the U.S. would withdraw all 33,000 troops that were sent to Afghanistan as part of the November 2009 "surge." Obama claimed this was the beginning of a major drawing down of U.S. forces in Afghanistan: "After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security."
Obama claimed this was the beginning of the end of the war in Afghanistan: "[T]onight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.... And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end."
The mainstream press highlighted Obama's claim that the war in Afghanistan was finally coming to an end. And some opponents of the war saw his speech as a "step in the right direction."
But neither of these assessments holds up to scrutiny. Look at what Obama actually said, and then do the math. When Obama took office in January 2009 there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. By December 2009—when this number had grown to 68,000—Obama announced an "Afghan surge," to add over 30,000 U.S. soldiers. Now Obama plans to withdraw the 33,000 "surge troops," 10,000 by the end of 2011 and the rest by the Summer of 2012. This means by the end of 2012, there will still be 68,000 troops in Afghanistan—twice as many as the 32,000 when Obama took office. And currently there are also 50,000 NATO troops and approximately 100,000 military contractors in Afghanistan, neither of which Obama mentioned.
Obama's promise that there will be no U.S. ground combat operations after 2014 doesn't mean there won't still be thousands of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, or that they won't be involved in various forms of military attacks—whether training and directing Afghan forces, conducting "special operations," or launching drone attacks.
Obama gave the U.S. a big loophole when he stated, "We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government." This means the U.S. can decide to slow down or even halt the withdrawal of troops in the name of "keeping gains" and transitioning "responsibility."
In his speech, Obama claimed, "We stand not for empire, but for self‑determination." But empire is precisely what the U.S. "war on terror" is about, and what the U.S. has been pursuing in Afghanistan.
The U.S. imperialists launched their "war on terror" and invaded and occupied Afghanistan in October 2001 in order to violently impose, including through massive terror, U.S. objectives and overall dominance in Central Asia—a key strategic area in the world. This war's objectives never centered simply on avenging the attacks of 9/11, much less "liberating" the people of Afghanistan or elsewhere. It was aimed at defeating Islamic fundamentalist, jihadist forces that were challenging the U.S. agenda, taking down regimes standing in the U.S.'s way, and radically transforming the entire region from North Africa to Central Asia. This was viewed as critical to strengthening U.S. imperialist dominance. All this was part of a broader agenda of creating unchallenged and unchallengeable global hegemony.
The problem for the imperialists is that they've run into enormous and potentially enormously destabilizing contradictions in this pursuit, which have sparked very sharp debates within their ranks over how to work their way through them. Obama's drawdown in Afghanistan represents his plan for dealing with these contradictions and continuing to fight to strengthen U.S. global predominance—over which there are no differences among the rulers. Obama's moves are not a response to "public opinion," in any fundamental sense, nor about ending the war or retreating from "empire."
Afghanistan, a largely rural country of some 30 million people, is one of the poorest and most oppressed on the planet. The U.S. is the world's richest and most powerful imperialist superpower. Why has the U.S.—with its high-tech military—been unable to conquer Afghanistan after nearly a decade of war?
These difficulties have grown out of both the unjust, reactionary character of the U.S. war and how it is diametrically against the interests of the Afghan people. U.S. difficulties have also arisen from the complex set of contradictions it is facing across the whole region, now focused very sharply in the current tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, as well as other major challenges to the U.S. agenda in the region.
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 grew out of a decade of U.S. planning before 9/11 aimed at seizing greater initiative and hegemony in the Middle East and Central Asia. But the history of U.S. domination in Afghanistan goes back several decades. In 1979, the Soviet Union, then an imperialist rival of the U.S., invaded Afghanistan. And throughout the 1980s, the U.S. funneled more than $3 billion in arms and aid to reactionary Islamic fundamentalists to fight the Soviet occupation. This CIA‑led insurgency is where Osama bin Laden got his start.
After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the jihadist forces nurtured by the U.S., Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia remained and gained strength in both Pakistan and in Afghanistan, where the Taliban took over the country in 1996. The 2001 invasion was aimed, in part, at crushing these forces. Instead, the war and occupation, like previous imperialist actions, have served to fuel Islamic fundamentalism.
The U.S. achieved a quick victory in 2001, largely because the Taliban withdrew to regroup, rather than fight the invaders head on. But by the time Obama took office, they had regained the initiative, in part because of their relationship with elements in the Pakistani army and intelligence services.
So when Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. was facing defeat, and Obama more than tripled the number of U.S.-led combat forces—from 32,000 to 100,000 U.S. troops, plus another 100,000 or so military contractors and 50,000 NATO troops. The U.S. adopted a counterinsurgency strategy that the world was told was aimed at "winning hearts and minds" of the Afghan population by ousting the Taliban from contested areas, and then holding and rebuilding them to provide stability and a better life for the local population.
But the most essential surge was in violence. As an occupying army fighting for reactionary aims with a fundamentally antagonistic relationship to the Afghan people, the U.S. relies on its technological advantages—including massive firepower and air power. As documented in an article in Rolling Stone earlier this year ("King David's War," February 14, 2011), Obama and Gen. David Petraeus, who headed up the "surge," responded to the danger of defeat with escalating violence on many fronts—including increased bombing, night raids, and unleashing all manner of kill squads and U.S.-backed gangs and militias.
A central goal of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is subduing "by any means necessary" a population in which most don't want to be under foreign domination. Thousands of people in Afghanistan have experienced the brutality and murder of the U.S. troops and they distrust if not hate the American occupiers and the Afghani flunkies the U.S. put in the government. Night raids, special operations, covert assassinations, extrajudicial killings, drone strikes, the use of military contractors, massive detentions and torture, and all‑around terror are embedded in the nature of this imperialist occupation.
A recent UN report concluded that night raids—a critical element of U.S. war-fighting doctrine in Afghanistan—have resulted in "excessive use of force, ill treatment, death and injury to civilians and damage to property." One Afghan legislator said, "People in the villages are more scared of the Americans than of the Taliban because of these raids." (Night Raids Curbing Taliban, but Afghans Cite Civilian Toll," NY Times, 7/8/2011)
Every U.S. bombing of a wedding, every massacre of civilians, only fuels anti‑U.S. sentiment. Tragically, in the context of the current situation where the organized opposition to the U.S. and its NATO allies is reactionary Islamic fundamentalists, every escalation in U.S. violence drives people into the arms of the Jihadist forces.
The problem for the rulers of the U.S. is not that the occupation of Afghanistan is unjust and wreaking terror and death on the people of that country. The problem, from their logic and standpoint, is that this isn't working, and in spite of all the terror and killing they are raining down on Afghanistan, the situation threatens to spiral out of their control.
According to the International Crisis Group—an imperialist think tank—the contradictions the U.S. is facing in the region, especially in Pakistan. have grown more grave. The Crisis Group reports that it is highly unlikely the U.S.-installed Karzai regime can take over security in 2014, and perhaps not even hold on to the capital, Kabul. The report states that "Collusion between insurgents and corrupt government officials...has increased" and that the Afghan economy "is increasingly dominated by a criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen." (International Crisis Group, "The Insurgency in Afghanistan's Heartland," June 2011)
This has given rise to the possibility that the U.S. could be mired in a quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan from which it cannot emerge with anything close to achieving its objectives.
Such a scenario could lead to the further growth of Islamic fundamentalism across the region, the destabilization of Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, the spread of instability across the entire region, and the global perception that the U.S. is no longer the world's dominant superpower and military guarantor of world order.
The U.S. rulers view this outcome as intolerable.
Adding to U.S. difficulties, the war is taking place in the context of the worst global financial crisis in 80 years, and the enormous costs of the Afghan war, now running at $100 billion a year. (The full cost of the whole "war on terror" may be as high as $3.7 trillion. ["US Cost of War at Least $3.7 Trillion and Counting," Reuters, June 29, 2011])
Incoming Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently said the U.S. faces a "blizzard war" of crises and difficult contradictions across the world, not just in Afghanistan. In his June 9, 2011 confirmation hearing Panetta said: "This is a time of historic change....We are no longer in the Cold War. This is more like the 'blizzard war,' a blizzard of challenges that draws speed and intensity from terrorism, from rapidly developing technologies, and the rising number of powers on the world stage....
"Today we are a nation at war, and job one will be to ensure that we remain the strongest military power in the world, to protect that security that is so important to this country. Yet this is also a time for hard choices. It's about ensuring that we are able to prevail in the conflicts in which we are now engaged, but it's also about being able to be strong and disciplined in applying our nation's limited resources to defending America. None of this will be easy."
When U.S. ruling class figures like Leon Panetta talk about "defending America," the essence of what they are talking about is defending a world of brutal exploitation—a world of child labor, enslavement of women, environmental catastrophe and endless unjust war.
And when they say "none of this will be easy," they are talking about serious challenges they face in carrying out their agenda.
But that agenda, those challenges, and those interests behind them, are not the interests of the people of the world—including the vast majority of people in the United States.
The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is the occupation of an oppressed country by an oppressive empire. And every time U.S. troops shoot up an Afghan village, this fuels the growth and spread of reactionary Islamic fundamentalist jihadist movements. And that is particularly so in the absence of a visible, determined anti-war struggle in this country—where people in Afghanistan and around the world could see that the U.S. ruling class does not speak for at least a significant section of the people in this country.
People should not "take comfort" in Obama's lies that "the tide of war is receding," The war is not "receding" for the millions of people in Afghanistan for whom life has been made a living nightmare.
Exposing this war for what it is—a war for empire—and building a movement of broad and determined political resistance within this country against the war is necessary. And such a movement could be part of breaking the world out of the current deadly "alternatives" of imperialism vs. Islamic fundamentalism, and play a vital role in bringing forward a whole other way for the people of the world.
"What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these 'outmodeds,' you end up strengthening both.
"While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these 'historically outmodeds' has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, and in particular the U.S. imperialists."
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
From A World To Win News Service
July 4, 2011. A World to Win News Service. An important political event took place in London June 12 that has helped to strengthen the bonds of international solidarity here and support an important revolutionary struggle being fought in India. A meeting was held in the city center, in Friends House, to oppose the vicious counterinsurgency war being waged by the Indian government, Operation Green Hunt, which has seen the deployment of large-scale paramilitary and military forces. Much of the fighting is concentrated in remote rural areas inhabited by millions of India's desperately poor tribal peoples, called adivasis, whose land is being sold off by the Indian government to large mining companies. The Indian government has declared that the war targets the revolutionary insurgency led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist), with the Prime Minister claiming that the Maoists represent the country's "number one national security threat."
Operation Green Hunt has been accompanied by a clampdown on democratic rights that has targeted civil liberties activists, revolutionaries, and oppositional media throughout the country, including through a series of repressive acts whose names are very telling: the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and the Disturbed Areas Act. Unsurprisingly, the number of political prisoners in "the world's largest democracy" has been rising steeply.
The London meeting was thus an important way of rallying people in the UK to take a stand against all this, and to bring out the reality of events that have been largely hidden from view in the mainstream media around the world. The meeting hall was nearly full—the main organizers, the International Committee Against the War on People in India (ICAWPI), report 500 people attended. Large numbers of people from London's South Asian community came out, and it also attracted activists from around northern Europe.
The program started with a short video that had been put together by Indian filmmakers and musicians, which set the scene for the battle being waged in India's countryside. Then a representative of the ICAWPI provided some background and presented the speakers. Jan Myrdal, who spoke first, recently produced a work on the battle in India called Red Star over India, a title that evokes the famous account of the Chinese revolution led by Mao Tsetung, Red Star over China, which had brought that revolution to the world's attention.
Myrdal argued that the struggle in India's countryside is the most large-scale uprising of native peoples since the times of Christopher Columbus, and that its importance must not be underestimated by revolutionaries and progressive people. He gave details from recent travels in the guerrilla zones, and talked about how the insurgent forces are trying to build what he called "green infrastructures" as part of their efforts to change the world, in sharp opposition to the dynamics brought about by neocolonial relations that predominate in the Third World, and in particular India, where mining companies plunder the people and the natural resources. He also emphasized the shoots of internationalist solidarity with the struggle in India's countryside that are growing around the world.
Basanta, a leader of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), had been scheduled to speak but was unable to make the trip, and sent a short message in which he emphasized the need to recognize that the land and resources were rightfully the property of the masses of people in these countries, and that this made it necessary to give the international solidarity campaign an anti-imperialist character, in order to unite the people against their common enemy.
The next speaker, comrade Kolash from the Nepal Solidarity Forum in Europe, spoke of the bonds that unite the masses of ordinary people in both India and Nepal, and how they were facing a common enemy in Indian expansionism.
Between the speakers, solidarity messages were read from a number of different organizations, including from Turkey, Canada, and Italy.
The final speaker had been eagerly awaited, and received an enthusiastic greeting: Arundhati Roy, the celebrated author and activist from India, who has recently released a new book, Broken Republic, that includes her recent accounts called "Walking with the Comrades," about the three weeks she recently spent in India's forests with the Maoist guerrillas.
Roy sharply exposed what democracy in India meant for the most oppressed, including that over 400 million people are living on less than a dollar a day. She described how Indian democracy is the exclusive preserve of the high castes, the rich and powerful, and does not extend to the vast masses of poor dalits ("untouchables") and adivasis, nor to staunch opponents of the status quo. She made light of her celebrity status, remarking ironically on how many times she'd heard the phrase, "author of the Booker Prize for The God of Small Things."
One member of the audience challenged her, arguing that in many places people are not allowed to go around criticizing their country as she did India. Roy responded, that it's true that there are countries where she would not be allowed to write her latest work, but it's also true that if she were not Arundhati Roy, author of a Booker Prize-winning novel, she would already be in jail—that many others who were doing nothing more than saying the same thing that she is saying were already there. This gave her an important opportunity and responsibility. And she herself has already come under attack: her home was pelted with stones by reactionary demonstrators angry at her statement that Kashmir, the disputed province between Pakistan and India, deserves self-determination, and the Indian government is currently weighing whether to charge her with sedition for her statements.
In regard to the Indian government's efforts to attack the Maoists as "outside agitators," she said: "It is impossible to distinguish the Maoists from the adivasis: 90 percent of the Maoist guerrillas are adivasi, their resistance is older than the Maoist movement, but it would not be what it is today without the action of the Maoists. In turn, the Maoists are not the same as 40 years ago; they and their struggle would not be what they are today without the adivasis." She described the feelings aroused in her as she slept in the guerrilla camps, under the open sky, in what she describes as a "thousand star hotel."
One important point of controversy that came up frequently during her trip to London was the use of violence by the revolutionary forces. "I don't condemn it any more," she told the Guardian newspaper, in an interview preceding the meeting. "If you're an adivasi living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation."
Roy highlighted the importance of women in the revolutionary struggle. She pointed out that many feminist organizations in India's cities work with NGOs to oppose women's oppression yet ignore what is going on in the countryside. In particular she called on them to speak out against the rape and terror that is being targeted against rural women as part of the army's counter-insurgency war.
There was a spirit of passionate debate about these and other crucial issues facing the revolutionary struggle in India, including on the part of many in the UK who opposed the support the British government is giving to the Indian state. Many issues were raised in the course of the Q&A that cried out for more examination, including in particular the role of communists and democracy. In her penultimate [next-to-last] book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, Roy accused Mao of genocide, and one man in the audience challenged her as to how she could support Maoists while arguing that Mao committed genocide. When the questioner was met with a chorus of booing and hissing, Roy intervened and argued that this was an important issue that needed to be debated—and it does indeed, not least of all with Roy herself, as behind the young man's question lay fundamental issues of whether capitalism does need to be overthrown and whether a whole new world, free of exploitation and oppression, can ever be achieved. Ignoring these questions, in a world where communism has been the target of intense propaganda for decades, is not an option for anyone who actually wants to do away with the source of oppression. But all in all the meeting concluded with a spirit of internationalist solidarity, and a hunger to go more deeply into the vital issues like these that had been raised.
The meeting ended with the ICAWPI representative calling on people to get involved in a series of efforts, including in a newly launched campaign to defend the Central Committee members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) who have been imprisoned, along with other political prisoners, and an international conference that will be held soon.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
On June 26, the New York Times ran an op-ed from Ross Douthat which highlighted the horror of there being 160 million girls missing from the world today, largely owing to sex-selective abortions. However, rather than indicting this as a horrible outgrowth of deeply entrenched male-supremacy and patriarchy, Douthat places the blame for this on women's right to abortion and the few hard-won advances that have been made in some spheres for some women. As such, he ends up arguing for the very male supremacy and traditional values that lead to this kind of thing in the first place.
Douthat's argument rests on three key assertions.
First, Douthat makes the outrageous claim that the widespread practice of sex-selected abortions is not due to patriarchy, but to female "empowerment" and to abortion technology itself. Second, Douthat distorts and discounts the very liberating aims and actual impact of the fight for women's ability to control their own reproduction because the programs of some very reactionary forces overlapped at times with the fight for women's reproductive rights. And, finally, Douthat insists that only the anti-abortion movement can legitimately and fully critique this horror.
On all accounts, as I will show, Douthat is dead wrong.
Let's begin with his first major argument.
Douthat disputes the notion that sex-selective abortion is caused by patriarchy and misogyny, because, "Thus far, female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less." He cites Mara Hvistendahl's new book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, to argue, "In many communities... 'women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,' because male offspring bring higher social status."
Excuse me? There is a huge difference between, on the one hand, "women's empowerment" and increased "autonomy" within a world of patriarchy and male-supremacy; and, on the other hand, the full liberation and equal participation of women together with men in every sphere through the achievement of a world without patriarchy and male supremacy! And lest anyone be confused: a world where "male offspring bring higher social status" is a world in which women are still, a) valued not as full human beings but as the breeders of children, and b) boys are valued more than girls. That is a world of patriarchy.
Further, it is extremely widespread for women in the countries where the practice of sex-selected abortions is most widespread to be severely beaten, set on fire, or burned with acid if they fail to produce a male child. In this context, the fact that some of these women themselves "choose" to selectively abort female fetuses—and even the fact that often this brutality is carried out with the participation of women (most often the mother-in-law)—does not change the fact that this violence, the valuing of women only in terms of the offspring they produce, and the subsequent selection for male fetuses are ALL the result of deeply entrenched male supremacy and patriarchy.
Next, let's take apart Douthat's attempts to obscure and bury any discussion of the real interest of women beneath a game of guilt by association.
Douthat cites Hvistendahl in identifying "an unlikely alliance between Republican cold warriors worried that population growth would fuel the spread of Communism and left-wing scientists and activists who believed that abortion was necessary for both 'the needs of women' and 'the future prosperity—or maybe survival—of mankind.'" He continues, "For many of these antipopulation campaigners, sex selection was a feature rather than a bug, since a society with fewer girls was guaranteed to reproduce itself at lower rates."
Notice first that there is zero discussion from Douthat as to whether or not "abortion [is] necessary for the 'needs of women.'" In fact, it is. A world without abortion is a world in which women are forced to bear children against their will. It is a world that enslaves women to their biology. It is a world in which women have little more freedom than slaves.
But, Douthat side-steps this basic and fundamental truth by instead "revealing" that there were some reactionary forces whose agendas overlapped in some ways with those fighting for women's reproductive freedom. Big fucking deal! I spoke to a fanatical End Times fundamentalist not long ago who was eager to seize on recent scientific findings pointing to the tremendous extremes of recent weather patterns, but that doesn't mean he had anything in common with those fighting to recognize—and put an end to—the manmade causes of climate change!
But to go even further, the fact that some in the movement for women's reproductive rights have at times been influenced by racism and chauvinism that is so common in an imperialist country like the U.S., does not negate the fact that the right to decide for herself when and whether to have a child is necessary for women to be free.
Finally, Douthat implies that Hvistendahl and others who uphold women's right to abortion don't really have firm ground to stand on in condemning the situation that has led to—or the harm caused by—the 160 million missing girls. Instead, Douthat offers the simplistic and wrong-headed claim that "the anti-abortion side has it easier" because it can say outright that, "The tragedy of the world's 160 million missing girls isn't that they're 'missing.' The tragedy is that they're dead."
Only they aren't dead, they were never born. While a fetus has the potential to become a human being, it doesn't become one until it is born. Ever notice how we count how long we've been alive since the date of our births? Until then—no matter how much the anti-abortion movement romanticizes it and no matter how many "pro-choice" people capitulate to their bullshit—a fetus is a subordinate part of a woman's body. As such, while there IS a great disparity and a host of highly oppressive factors that have led to it, there ARE NOT 160 million "dead girls" as Douthat would have us believe because they never came into being as independent biological or social beings.
On the other hand, the women in whose body fetuses grow are fully formed human beings. And each year, 70,000 of those fully formed human beings die due to lack of access to reproductive health and safe abortions. They are not "missing"—those women are dead! And the lives of the millions upon millions of women worldwide who are forced to have children they do not want, their lives are significantly disfigured. And the lives of all women who live in a world that fails to recognize the full humanity and equality of women in every sphere—and instead reduces them to either breeders or sex objects, and quite often both—is horribly diminished.
We do not need the horrors that Douthat is peddling—even greater burden on that half of humanity that has the misfortune in this world of male-supremacy of being born female, the retrenching the very patriarchy that leads to female children being valued less than males, and the further restriction of women's ability to control their own bodies and their own destinies. We need the kind of thorough-going, world-wide revolution that can, once and for all lift these burdens off of women as a core and driving force in the emancipation of all of humanity—from the lack of access to birth control and abortion to the life-time of restrictions, insults, violence and degradation that comes from being born female.
To find out more about that revolution, here is a good place to start: A DECLARATION: FOR WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND THE EMANCIPATION OF ALL HUMANITY
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
From a reader:
On Sunday, June 26, I spent a few hours on a midtown street corner, soaking in the scene of the passing NYC Pride March and talking to those who lined the route. As the evening approached, I was able to go for a short time down to the West Village, where lots of gay and lesbian youth were hanging out.
I wanted to write in with some brief snapshots and impressions of the day.
I definitely felt there was a spirit of community, friendship and love in much of the day's scene. There were many youth at both locations, including many young people of color wearing rainbow flags or ties. Gay and lesbian couples held hands or kissed. I saw lots of smiles and joking around.
The parade included several groups of young people dancing, and on a couple of occasions, I saw youth who were watching the march bust out dancing themselves. I asked a 23-year-old woman of color what she thought of the festivities.
"Besides the fact that it's amazing?" she replied. "There's so much love in the air—so much peace and happiness. I love it."
A 24-year-old lesbian from Missouri who had come to New York for the parade said she was really struck by the size of the crowd (according to the New York City television station NY1, there were more than 1 million people at the parade between those participating in the march and those observing).
"It makes me proud," the woman said, "to not be straight."
In the march, and in my conversations, people voiced excitement and optimism about the legalization of same-sex marriage earlier that weekend; several people said they expected other states to follow suit.
"I guess a sense of joy, a sense of liberation for LGBT people," a bisexual woman of color said when I asked for her reaction to the news.
"A big reason why I came is I felt like it was an important moment in history," a Yale student told me.
The student said he felt there was a lot of momentum currently around the issue of gay rights. "I feel like this is a moment where it is really shifting," he said. "Anybody who doesn't believe in some degree of equality is just looking very backward and out of touch with especially the younger generation."
On the heels of that comment, I asked him where he thought his generation was at politically.
"I've often been frustrated with my generation's complacency on various issues," he answered. "But I feel like gender equality and respect for all different gender preferences feels like it's one of the defining issues of my generation." The student cited the influence of parents who came of age in the '60s on their kids, as well as the fact that the issue of gay rights has become a big topic in popular culture, as two factors contributing to this becoming a defining issue for his generation.
One sharp contradiction expressed in the parade is that, as discussed in Issue #238 of Revolution ("Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in New York: Righteous Celebrations in the Streets") the right to marry—and the many other rights and benefits that go along with that in this society—is very important for LGBT people to have, and denial of that basic right is one vicious way in which LGBT people are persecuted, marginalized, and treated as second-class citizens; for this reason, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York definitely is something that people should celebrate. However, one form this celebration took at the parade was to celebrate New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a political representative of this capitalist-imperialist system who—it should be pointed out—did not suddenly relinquish that job description when he signed gay marriage into law. Many people in the march held signs reading "Thank you Governor Cuomo/Promise Kept," and the New York Times reported that Cuomo was greeted with heavy cheers. I think this points to something that revolutionaries and others more broadly interested in radical change will need to wrestle with: the illusion that the legalization of gay marriage in New York shows that "the system works" or "the system worked," as opposed to "the system was forced to make an important concession." Other ruling class representatives who marched in the parade included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Senator Chuck Schumer.
Some of the signs, banners, and other visuals I saw during the parade, which I think—in their totality—further illuminate the breadth, complexity, and contradiction within the parade:
"I'll see your Prop 8 and raise you New York" (Prop 8 is the measure banning same-sex marriage in California) ... A combination rainbow/American flag ... "The Future's So Bright" ... "Stop Hate Crime" .... "This is what bisexual looks like" ... "2012—I'm in" ... A sign denouncing the NYPD raid on a Manhattan gay bar at roughly the same time that same-sex marriage was passed ... "Together 8 years—finally we're engaged." . "Love Makes a Family"... "Come Out, It's Worth It, You Can Do It" ... "84-year-old boy scout leader kicked out for being gay" (a young man along the parade route, seeing this sign, shouts out, "We love you! I was a boy scout!") ... several people dressed as sailors surrounded by rainbow and American flags ... Two men holding a sign that read, "Thirty years engaged. Let's get married." .... "Think beyond marriage" ... "Walmart you are never gonna get our love" ... "2 Dads/30 years/2 kids/1 mortgage/ A marriage/ I love NY" ... "LGBT families for immigration reform" ... A contingent with Israeli and rainbow flags ... "We can end AIDS" ... "Queers Against Israeli Apartheid" ... "Bulldykes not missile strikes" ... "Flaming for Christ" ... "Straight Married Christian For Equal Rights" ... "Gay hero, Free Bradley Manning."
During the parade and during the past week in general, I have found myself thinking a lot about this quote from Bob Avakian, which I think is really important to reflect on, study and take out to people (and I also think it's important to think about the fact that this quote is from the "Making Revolution" chapter of BAsics):
"We also need to be aware of the positive—and in significant ways 'subversive of the system'—potential of the assertion of gay 'identity' and gay rights, even with the very real contradictions in this, including the narrowing tendencies of 'identity politics' as well as conservatizing influences related to traditional marriage, and, for that matter, the campaign to be allowed to be part of the imperialist military while being openly gay. Even with all that, in its principal aspect this has, and can to an even greater degree have, a very positive, 'subversive of the system' effect. This is a contradiction which, in the society overall, is 'out of the closet.' It could be forced back into the closet, and underground, with not only the stronger assertion of the kind of fascist movement that is being supported and fostered by powerful ruling class forces in this period, but with the actual assumption of a fascist form of bourgeois dictatorship. But the struggle against the oppression of gay people is not going to be easily suppressed. We should understand the potential of this as well, and the need to relate correctly to this, to foster the further development of its positive potential and its contribution to the movement for revolution." (BAsics 3:25)
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
As we know many of our readers have been following developments in the hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison, we will be sharing information/updates as we receive them.
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity sent out the following press release about the medical condition of the Pelican Bay prisoners who have been on a hunger strike since July 1:
Medical Conditions Reach Crisis in Pelican Bay Hunger Strike
Advocates Demand Access to Strike Leaders, Negotiations
What: Press Conference
When: Wednesday, July 13—11:00am
Where: San Francisco, California State Building, at Van Ness Ave. and McAllister Street
Oakland—According to advocates working on behalf of prisoners on hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit (SHU), medical conditions for many strikers have deteriorated to critical levels, with fears some prisoners could start to die if immediate action isn't taken. Prisoners at Pelican Bay have been on hunger strike for nearly two weeks and have been joined by thousands of other prisoners throughout California's vast prison system. Some of their main demands revolve around health conditions in Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit, while the entire California prison system is under federal receivership due to grave health conditions throughout its facilities.
A source with access to the medical condition of the hunger strikers, who asked to remain anonymous, told lawyers with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition that health of the prisoners on hunger strike is quickly and severely deteriorating, saying, "All of the medical staff has been ordered to work overtime to follow and treat the hunger strikers. Some [strikers] are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for three days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated. The staff has taken them to the [prison hospital] and given them intravenous glucose when allowed by the prisoners. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up."
Prisoners participating in the strike in other prisons in California have also reported that medications, including those for high blood pressure and other serious conditions, are being withheld from prisoners on strike. Some prisoners have participated for limited periods of time or have joined other prisoners in "rolling" strikes, due to their already poor medical conditions.
"This situation is grave and urgent," says Carol Strickman, staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a legal representative of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. "We are fighting to prevent a lot of deaths at Pelican Bay. The CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] needs to negotiate with these prisoners, and honor the request of the strike leaders to have access to outside mediators to ensure that any negotiations are in good faith."
The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition is urging journalists to do further investigation into the health conditions at Pelican Bay, while also pushing state politicians to visit the prison itself. The coalition is also encouraging members of the public to pressure Gov. Brown and the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners. Taeva Shefler of the Prison Activist Resource Center, another member of the solidarity coalition says, "The question for the CDCR is: will they continue to jeopardize prisoners' health and safety rather than sit at the same table and talk?"
Hunger strike supporters will hold an emergency press conference Wednesday at 11:00 am outside the State Building in San Francisco. Supporters, including family members of those held at Pelican Bay, will also continue to hold rallies and other events in the coming weeks.
For information on upcoming events, visit www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com
Revolution Books/Libros Revolución in Los Angeles received the following e-mail:
URGENT! - Distribute Far and Wide
SUPPORT THE PELICAN BAY HUNGER STRIKERS!
PRESS CONFERENCE/SPEAK OUT!
WEDNESDAY @ 2 PM Ronald Reagan State Building
300 South Spring Street, L.A., CA 90013
(3rd St. between Spring and Main)
ENCAMPMENT SOLIDARITY WITH PELICAN BAY PRISONERS HUNGER STRIKE!
BEGINS WEDNESDAY AT 5 PM
KRST Unity Center of Afrikan Spiritual Science
7825. S. Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90047-2728
For info: 213-840-5348 (California Prisoners Hunger Strike Action Network)
On Wednesday, DAY 13 of the Pelican Bay prisoner hunger strike, a Press Conference will be held in front of the State Building in L.A. at 2 pm and an Encampment at KRST Unity Center in South Central LA will occur. Wednesday, July 13, marks the 13th day of the hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) and other CA prisons. This is a serious situation.
The Press Conference will draw the attention of the public, at a key moment, to the prisoners on this hunger strike and their just demands. The Encampment will be a center for all those who support the just demands of the hunger striking prisoners; a space where people will participate in a solidarity hunger strike / fast, in unity with the prisoners and opposed to the torture going on in the Pelican Bay SHU and other California prisons.
This situation is urgent in the extreme; we recently read this report: "According to a SHU nurse, things are bad at Pelican Bay. The prisoners have not been drinking water and there have been rapid and severe consequences. Nurses are crying. All of the medical staff has been ordered to work overtime to follow and treat the hunger strikers...there were about 50 on C-SHU and 150 on D-SHU. They are not drinking water and have de-compensated rapidly. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated...." All people and voices of conscience need to step forward urgently! Be at the Press Conference/Speak Out! at the State Building on Wednesday at 2pm. Take part in this solidarity hunger strike / fast (for 24 hours).
Add your name publicly to the call for this solidarity hunger strike / fast. Write a statement in support. Protests, demonstrations, urgent outreach, media work, and a solidarity hunger strike / fast "on the outside" are key ways, not the only ways, but certainly key ways actors, academics, artists, lawyers, faith-based people, youth and students, families of the incarcerated and everyone can show their support right now; a way to coalesce, unite and collectively make impact to demand the prisoners demands are met.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
At the time of this posting it has been 13 days since the prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison SHU went on a hunger strike—demanding an end to the inhumane way they are treated on a daily basis (see earlier coverage at http://revcom.us/s/pelicanbay-hungerstrike-en.html). As we have said, this is an extremely significant and extraordinary development, something that challenges people on "the outside" to sit up and take notice. And many have been moved to support the prisoners in their just demands.
The first weekend of July 2-3, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) reported that 6,600 prisoners, in 13 different prisons, refused food in solidarity with the strike. It is hard to determine how many prisoners are now on the hunger strike—in large part because of the restrictions the CDCR is putting on the press and family in terms of communicating with the prisoners. But there are reports that hundreds are refusing food and there is a hardcore of prisoners who have made it clear that they are willing to die if their demands are not met. And it is clear that the situation is very urgent—with reports of a number of prisoners in a very dire medical condition.
The prisoners are putting their lives on the line—demanding that they be treated like human beings. No human being should be tortured and subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation that will drive them crazy. And there is an urgent need for people from all walks of life to speak up with courage and determination to support the prisoners' just demands. As the article "Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strikers: We Are Human Beings!" says:
"These striking prisoners are going up against a lot, they are risking a lot. And their actions aim to challenge everyone else to think about what this means. Revolution is hearing from many people who are inspired by how they are standing up—shining a light on and demanding an END to the way they are being tortured.
"This hunger strike has the potential to impact how people look at prisons and prisoners, and the mass incarceration of millions. It can open people's eyes to the horrible injustices that are going on—and cause them to reject the system's justifications for their torture chambers. It can contribute to creating more favorable conditions for struggle against all the different ways the system oppresses the people. This struggle can shake up and challenge those who say 'this is the way things are and you can't change it.'"
Because of the tremendous importance and urgency of this situation, we are posting materials that are being sent to us daily, including letters that the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund receives from prisoners participating in the hunger strike.
Read our earlier coverage at News from Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strike, July 2011... check revcom.us frequently for news and updates, including announcements from those building solidarity actions.... and help spread Revolution's coverage and analysis of this extremely important struggle.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
The following letter, from a prisoner at Pelican Bay Prison, was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, postmarked July 8, 2011:
Greetings, I write in concerns of the hunger strike that begun on July 1st of 2011 here in Pelican Bay Shu. And as I get into the current effort made at Pelican Bay let me give some background to what lead to this social protest from the viewpoint of one of the hunger strike participants and its important to see the Repression unleashed on the Barrios and ghettos that lead to being wharehoused in koncentration kamps like Pelican Bay throughout America.
The prisons in California hold the most prisoners than any other state in America yet many of the conditions are the same. Pelican Bay opened for business in 1989, taking a page from the Federal Prison system and what it was doing with its new 'supermax' concept of incarceration. California began a new dawn in its housing of those prisoners it felt unruly. Pelican Bay Security Housing unit or Shu as it's known is a prison within a bulging state prison system and is the future of what is the supermax America.
Supermaxing prisoners is not exclusive to Californians as America has about 70,000 men and women held in supermax prisons nationwide! 70,000 people housed in supermax! This is unprecedented. Never in the history of the world has their ever been as much as 70,000 people housed in supermax prisons, not even in Nazi Germany was their 70,000 supermax prisoners. America has become #1 in supermax prisoners of all time.
The conditions at Pelican Bay may shock the public, the idea that American citizens endure torture daily, yearly and for decades may be a surprise to many, or the fact that many of the conditions for prisoners being held in Guantanimo Bay are really better than Shu prisoners in Pelican Bay is hard to swallow but its true. Shu prisoners here endure 22½ hours locked in their cell every day. Their cell is a windowless concrete tomb that includes a slab of cement for a mattress and a toilet and sink. Shu prisoners are held in solitary confinement with no cellmate and for some this solitary has gone on for decades. Its important to note that the United Nations has said that solitary supermax is torture as this is known to create a psychological disorder in what has come to be called 'Shu syndrome'! The studies that have been done concerning the supermax has shown that after 60 days of supermax people begin to experience a wide range of symptoms from panic attacks to psychosis and even emotional breakdown.
There is no human physical contact between prisoners and any other human being ever in Shu. Everything from food to laundry to books or mail is passed through a slot in the door. The psychological effects from supermax cannot be reversed by rehousing into a regular general population in another prison, yet some have been here in shu for decades, this in a country that claims to uphold human Rights, even occupying other countries under the excuse of their citizens having their human rights violated. And all along people in its prisons have their human rights trampled on without a murmur coming from the 'halls of Democracy'.The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the California prison system is over stuffed with prisoners to the point where it now has a couple years to reduce its population by about 30,000 prisoners. Indeed the Supreme court said about one prisoner a week dies in California prisons due to medical care thats insufficient. One prisoner a week! It should also be noted that California seems to be the epicenter for the prison boom in this country and thus the epicenter for the prison boom globally and so precidents set in California should be followed closely especially when it comes to supermax prisons.
So what does it take to get one sent to a Shu supermax? The short answer is not very much. I was corresponding with someone once who asked me if someone arrested for a drunk driving and sent to prison can ever be sent to the Shu, and that person was shocked when I said yes! The thing that would shock the public the most is that people sent to Supermax in California are not sent here necessarily because of a crime or physical violation in a prison general population, one can come to prison for a drunk driving and happen to be a 'jailhouse lawyer' helping other prisoners with appeals and tackling violations in prisoner rights and be targeted by guards for Shu. One can get on the bad side of guards or simply refuse to go along with their wrongdoing or refuse to provide information and be targeted for Shu, just being a rebellious or progressive prisoner gets one targeted and labeled a 'gang member' and sent to Shu. The Shu is made out as a big stick to intimidate the prison population into passivity, (think deportation threats to migrants or the whip shown to the slave). It doesn't mean its going to be used but the thought of it existing is enough to control a large portion of the prison population so it becomes a tool not used for rehabilitation but for social control. The fact that the Shu has no kind of self help program's or classes such as victims awareness, narcotics anonymous, etc, or G.E.D. or college courses shows it is not a place designed to 'rehabilitate'. One would think with the prison administration labeling those in Shu as 'worst of the worst', 'uncorrigible' or 'the most violent' in California's prisons one would think there would be at least one anger management class available (even if it had to be done via mail) but no dice. Instead prisoners are forced to languish in their windowless cell for 22½ hours a day every day.
Once a prisoner finds themselves in Shu and if the prisoners has a life sentence, as this person goes to board to see if he or she is eligible to parole it will be denied because nobody has been paroled from Shu with a life sentence, as administrators see it as 'if your in Shu, your not ready for society.' Thus Shu becomes an even bigger stick a huge whip to those of us with life sentences as it is basically a Death Sentence once sent to Shu. Any psychiatrist would agree even the thought of this playing out in ones head while locked in Solitary 22½ [hours] a day must be indescribably cruel. And once here in Shu their is a system called 'debriefing' that demands one to snitch on others or even make stuff up in order to be released from Shu and back into general population. After years of torture many will make stuff up on anyone just to escape the mind numbing torture of this sensory deprivation, and unfortunately someone will fill his/her cell and the cycle of torture continues.Within this house of horrors of Shu that I have described lies an even more draconian existence (if one can imagine this) that within Shu exists what is called 'the short corridor.' The short corridor consists of about two hundred men here in Pelican Bay. This is where if prison officials feel you are a leader of sorts, you will be placed in short corridor where food is even less & worse, you have less movement out of your cell, less yard and mail is censored even more. It is these conditions where even reading material such as philosophy or history is censored. Pelican Bay Shu is designed to control, nothing more. We seen even Revolution newspaper being censored and banned from this prison at one time. Take a minute to think of living in a certain zip code or apartment building where city officials notify you that Revolution newspaper is banned and is not allowed in your neighborhood. How would you feel about these city officials? How would you feel about the system that upholds the actions of these city officials?
This Hegemony and Draconian existence has led to the non violent civil disobedience playing out in the Shu. Mao said where you find much repression you'll find much resistance! This resistance, although non violent is not expected to be met with a smile from prison officials but what other choice is there when you are left in your windowless cell in solitary for years with no recourse from the courts? But the efforts of the Pelican Bay hunger strike is more than the injustice unleashed on Shu prisoners. For vast swaths of the public this situation will call attention to the ills of not just the California Supermax but of the U.S. prison system in general. As I think of the whirlwind sweeping the Middle East that was born from a Tunisian street vendor and has now been called an Arab spring, I wonder in regards to the efforts of resistance from the Georgian prisoners, I wonder if the American prison system has developed a Georgian spring?
There are many demands, some of which are contact visits with family, the ability to make a phone call (some have not been allowed phone calls for decades). Shu prisoners are not currently allowed to use a phone ever so as long as your here you won't use the phone. Medical services, with the present medical system you can sign up for feeling ill and not be seen for weeks, by then you feel better but your still charged five dollars. Those with documented illnesses are denied pain medications and surgeries are put through a stringent review board, treatment is very hard to obtain here. Because of the sensory deprivation a TV/ radio combination is being requested. The T.V. we are allowed to purchase has no radio and radios are not allowed. Music has long been known to be therapeutic yet in Shu it is denied, the act of enjoying music is banned. The ability to obtain colored pencils and art paper are being requested as it is also a form of therapy to create art, this basic act of expressing oneself through art is being denied to Shu prisoners and colored pencils and art paper are currently forbidden. The ability to purchase two care packages a year are being requested as at this time only one care package a year is allowable, forcing some prisoners such as Muslim Prisoners who cannot purchase halal food items on the prison commissary as the prison commissary has no halal food items. Thus many are forced to simply eat the meager slop issued on the trays given for meals.
General population prisoners are able to purchase radios, colored pencils, art paper, use the phone daily and get contact visits, take photos and receive four care packages a year. The ability to take photos is being requested as those who have been in Shu for 20+ years have not been able to take a photo to send their family. Many families do not have the money or transportation to travel all the way to Pelican Bay for a visit and a photo would substitute a visit as at this time Shu prisoners are forbidden from receiving a photo. The ability to receive direct sunlight is being requested as currently the dog run yard has a sheet of blurred plastic so the sun is blocked out and the way the yard is designed the sun does not make contact with ones skin. It's a known fact sunlight is essential to health and even bone density. Shu prisoners are withheld direct sunlight at this time. The dismantling of the 'debriefing process' is also being requested, the necessity to compromise another in order to leave Shu is a horrendous practice, one I suspect will be looked back on as incredulous as one now sees the selling of human skins in the day of slavery in America.
The whole process of 'validation' which qualifies one to be placed in Shu is faulty and without merit, for years it's been known that some prisoners will make stuff up to leave Shu. Experts on torture have well documented that when one is tortured people will say whatever you want to know just so long as the torture stops. So as a result more people many innocent of the accusations will be placed in Shu. See Revolution issue #237 on Pelican Bay for the core demands. The issues that force people to seek redress by depriving oneself of nutrients is not exclusive to Pelican Bay Shu. The prison system in America is filled with the injustices that Shu prisoners experience here in Pelican Bay, and to deprive oneself of food is often the last line of defense, the last rock to hurl at a monster who makes life a constant state of torture, a perpetual waterboarding. Marx said in 'On the Jewish Question,' "We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others". I think prisoners are indeed emancipating ourselves and moving forward with a strong Revolutionary surge in seeking justice. Prisoners are tired of the decades long white torture that is often hidden from the public eye and which is now being heard nationwide with the strike – with nothing to lose and a world to win!
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
The following is from a letter posted on the blog "My Brother's Keeper" from Chad Landrum, one of the prisoners participating in the hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison:
It's been a difficult and uphill battle, a lot of brow-beating and direct debate, but as it stands all are participating on a limited basis. Some, including myself, are going "indefinitely"... victory or death! I ask that you and those necessary are aware of our participation. Geographically we are isolated from the main SHU facility and PBSP will try to isolate and restrain our info from getting out. We are in A-Z. Also, as you know, I'm sincerely sick with end stage liver disease (ESLD) and a severe case of related diabetes. I'm going to end up in the hospital almost immediately and will be effectively isolated. Due to my dedication to the struggle I will continue with my strike. I won't know when to stop. If the demands have been met in whole, negotiated part, etc. I will not take the cops' word for the pigs have proven their word to be hollow. I will need the word of you or your outside support. Likewise, please keep those convicts at the heart of this struggle in D short [corridor] abreast of my circumstances (most know me as 'Ghost' or 'Landale'). Hopefully the situation doesn't deteriorate to this....
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Revolution newspaper obtained the following update from the California Prison Watch blog: http://californiaprisonwatch.blogspot.com/2011/07/urgent-medical-alerts-about-ongoing.html
Date 7/3/11 0917 Hours
Greetings to all who support freedom, justice, and equality, and oppose torture. We are 3 days into the hunger strike here in 4B 1L C-section (Corcoran SHU's version of the short corridor), and I want to report that our first brother has gone down. Last night (7/2/11) at approximately 2255 hours (10:55 p.m.) our beloved brother Kambui Nantambu Robinson, a Type 1 Diabetic who's commitment, resolve, and strength are an inspiration to us all, went into severe diabetic shock (hypoglycemia [acute low blood sugar]), after our efforts to render assistant to enable him to overcome the subsequent ketoacidosis which accompanied the attack failed. We called "Man Down" and ultimately got the tower's attention. We are only 3 cells from one another so I was able to observe the medical response directly (I am a former U.S. Naval Hospital Corpsman attached to Spec-war PAC-Fleet Command), which was panicky, bumbling, and slow . . . far too slow. The comrade did suffer a mild seizure, loss of consciousness, and stopped breathing for a brief period. The nurse administered what I believe was glycogen and epinephrine. After our prompts to staff, he was finally secured to the gurney and transported via ambulance to the hospital, where he was admitted and remains. This stalwart new Afrikan soldier of the people is to be honored, revered, and admired for his unwavering stance in support of our collective basic human rights and dignity. He remains with us in spirit, as our love, spirit, and dedication to purpose remain with him. We ask for your prayers, your phone calls, and letters – spread the word on Facebook, twitter, and other social media of our stance here, in Pelican Bay D corridor, and across the CDC. Kambui's spirit endures!! Uhuru Sasa!! Si se puede!!
Currently, here and 4B 1L C-section the new Afrikan collective and southern Mexican collective are in full participation, while our white and northern Mexican brothers are lending their moral support. On 7/1/11 they came around on 3rd watch and checked ourselves to catalog what food we had, if any. The following day they'll start weighing us. There are some here with serious medical conditions such as cancer survivors and we anticipate we may well see more hospitalizations, or death, as our collective resolve to see this peaceful protest through to a successful conclusion is adamant. We have documented at least one instance of institutional gang investigators attempting to foment racial divisions here in the torture unit in an attempt to derail or fracture the hunger strike for its solidarity. It, and any other counterintelligence assaults of its kind, will fail. We again call on everyone who reads these words to support the five point court demands of this peaceful protest as outlined by the Pelican Bay D corridor collective (see: Turning This Tide, July Issue; California Prison Focus, July Issue; or go to "www.barnonearcata.wordpress.com - Archives - PBSP - SHU D-corridor Hunger Strike"). Call or email your local TV station; blog about it on the web; organize support at your local church, mosque, temple, synagogue, or community center; contact your Congressman, Alderman, or local legislature; write and call the governor. Oppose the continued use, expansion and broadening of those psychological torture units in your nation. Do not allow the prison industrial complex in California Correctional Peace Officers Association (guards union) to continue using us as scape goats to fleece you for billions of your tax dollars to line their pockets, and deny our communities and children greater prosperity and a future brighter tomorrows. Join us in opposing conditions so psychologically torturous that they would compel men to embrace self immolation – even death – as a viable tool of struggle to alter that existence. Dare with us; dare to struggle, dare to win . . . Our love and solidarity to all those who champion freedom, justice, and equality, and fear only failure.
J. Heshima Denhayn
For more information on this N.C.T.T. - Corcoran SHU, or the CAL-SHU Hunger Strike Contact:
|Zaharibu Dorrough D-83611
CSP-COR-SHU 4B 1L #53
PO Box 3481
Corcoran, CA 93212
|Heshima Denham J-38283
CSP-COR-SHU 4B 1L #46
PO Box 3481
Corcoran, CA 93212
|Kambuit Robinson C-82830
CSP-COR-SHU 4B 1L #49
PO Box 3481
Corcoran, CA 93212
Update: 7/3/11 1845 Hours
There has been an unfortunate development here, and though we knew the probability of this occurring was high, we didn't know it would come this sudden. At approximately 1845 hrs. (6:45 pm) for picking up trash and trays from our white and northern Mexican brothers, one of the CEOs here began to call our staunch and beloved brother Haribu Mugabi Soriono's name repeatedly. He did not respond. She notified the tower "Soriono's unresponsive, called EMT and notify the watch commander." Then the alarm was triggered. Multiple custody and medical staff responded, but because Haribu was unconscious he could not comply with their directions to come to the door and cuff-up. A tactile team was assembled and they entered his cell. As they were putting him in mechanical restraints he regained consciousness briefly, and quickly lost it again. EMTs arrived, he was secured to the gurney and rushed by ambulance to A.C.H. (Hospital) where he remains. Comrade Haribu is a 57-year-old veteran prisoner and human rights activist who just waged and won a protracted battle with cancer (Leukemia) and suffers from multiple chronic medical conditions, yet he started fasting two days before the hunger strike started, in solidarity with our Afrikan brothers and sisters in the Horn of Afrika suffering famine and death with no food or water because of a 2-year drought. A beloved brother went five days without eating, knowing his body was already severely damaged to uphold our collective pursuit of basic human rights and dignity. This brother brave death to free us all from torture without end, and to make you all aware that it's being carried out – right here in the borders of your nation; not halfway around the world in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, or some CIA blacksite - No - Right Here in Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and Tehachapi SHUs; human experimentation torture units are being ran and expanded. Haribu is an inspiration to us all, a hero of the people, and his undaunted fighting spirit abides with us all. Pray for our beloved brother and comrade – pray for us all.
Update: 7/5/11 1520 Hours
We were again weighed today and her vitals taken an average of 8 to 20 pounds has been lost by those participating (I've personally gone from 208 to 188 in 5 days). The Associate Warden and Captain held a sit down with representatives of the population – noting the hunger strike has been taken up SHU wide and on the Main line (3B Yard as well). Our Brother Zaharibu Dorrough and representatives from the southern Mexican, white, and northern Mexican collectives expressed our collective concerns as outlined in the Pelican Bay collectives five point court demands and our local 602. It appeared to be more of a feeling out session and nothing of substance will be addressed until after a meeting to be held in Sacramento Friday, July 8 at 1300 hrs. (1:00 pm). It is our hope that reason, principal, and humanity prevail as a result continues unwavering. Stand with us. Until we win or don't lose, we remain firm.
J. Heshima Denham
N.C.T.T. Corcoran SHU
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Emergency Meeting to Support Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers
Thursday, July 14, 7 pm
Revolution Books/ Libros Revolución
5726 Hollywood Blvd. (Wilton)
East of the Hollywood Blvd 101 exit; 3 blocks west of Western / Hollywood Red Line station.
For more info: 323.463.3500
Emergency Meeting to Plan Support for Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strikers
Thursday, July 14, 7 pm
146 W. 26th St., between 6th and 7th Ave., Manhattan
Emergency Demonstration and Speak Out!
In Solidarity with Prisoners on Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay, CA & other prisons
(at least 1,600 in California alone)
Friday, July 15th @ 12 noon
26 Federal Plaza,
Broadway and Duane St., Manhattan
Rally every day this week
11 am – 1 pm at the State Building in San Francisco at the intersection of Van Ness and McCallister near Civic Center BART station.
5 pm Friday July 15
Gather at UN Plaza
Check back later for more info
"Support the Hunger Strike and Just Demands of Prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison"
Thursday night discussion, July 14, 6:30 pm
1158 Mass Ave., 2nd Floor, Cambridge
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
From Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity:
The following was posted on July 14, 2011 at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) which describes itself as "a coalition based in the Bay Area made up of grassroots organizations committed to amplifying the voices of and supporting the prisoners at Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) in their hunger strike to end tortuous conditions."
More on Medical Crisis, Need Support Pressuring Immediate Negotiations
Legal representatives made visits to Pelican Bay SHU Tuesday and interviewed a number of hunger strikers. Each prisoner explained how medical conditions of hundreds of hunger strikers in the SHU are worsening. Many prisoners are experiencing irregular heartbeats and palpitations, some are suffering from diagnosed cardiac arrhythmia. Many are also experiencing dizziness and constantly feel light-headed. Many struggle with shortness of breath and other lung and respiratory problems. Dozens of prisoners have fainted and been taken to either the infirmary and/or outside hospitals. Some prisoners also have Crohn's disease, which leads to extreme loss of fluids and electrolytes and needs to be treated by adequate nutrition and hydration.
At least 200 prisoners continue the strike in solidarity with the prisoners at Pelican Bay at Calipatria State Prison, where summer heat has reached to 110 degrees F, even hotter inside the SHUs. Some people have experienced heat stroke due to severe dehydration.
Prisoners at Corcoran have also notified us that hunger strikers there are struggling with the same symptoms of severe dehydration. After mild seizures and severe diabetic shock, some people have been taken to the infirmary.
Many doctors outside of prison, some of whom have experience working with prisoners, have explained to us that adequate hydration is paramount to preventing fatal starvation. The fact that the prisoners are showing symptoms of such extreme dehydration shows the prisoners are approaching a medical crisis.
Dr. Corey Weinstein, a private correctional medical consultant and human rights investigator with 40 years experience providing health care to CA prisoners, explains:
"The strikers' claims of substandard and prejudicial medical care at Pelican Bay are certainly true. As well the medical staff refuses to take on their responsibilities as health professionals to advocate for their patients in matters of daily life related to food, nutrition, exercise and mental hygiene. Those who should be providing care act the jailer instead. Given my long history of working with California prisoners, I have grave doubts about the Department of Corrections' ability to adequately carry out their own guidelines and protocols even during this urgent and public moment. Reports such as prisoners with very low blood sugar levels and lack of urination for 3 days should not be coming from the prison. These are men who require hospital care under prison protocols. We should ask why do they remain at the prison?"
Clearly the prisoners are in dire need of adequate food and hydration. The only way to prevent people from dying right now is for the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners with the outside mediation team the prisoners have approved of.
Support the Prisoners in Winning their Demands! Take Action NOW!Click here for info on how to get involved.
*If you have information you think we should know about or suggestions of how people can support the strike that will help pressure CDCR to negotiate immediately, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
**Supporters everywhere are encouraged to coordinate and organize events, actions, and demonstrations that amplify the prisoners' voices and will effectively urge the CDCR to negotiate immediately.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Emergency Press Conference in San Francisco:
In response to a crisis situation concerning the medical treatment of prisoners on hunger strike in Pelican Bay and other California prisons and the refusal of the prison authorities to negotiate with prisoners or their representatives, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition called an emergency press conference on Wednesday, July 13 in front of the California State building in San Francisco. TV, radio and print media were present together with about 40 supporters of the hunger strike.
"We cannot stress enough how critical the situation is," said Isaac Ontiveros from the coalition who emceed the press conference. "The health of some of these prisoners has deteriorated to the point of it being potentially fatal. The time now is for the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners."
Carol Strickman, an attorney for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, and a member of the mediation team that has been attempting to meet with prison officials, gave an update on the medical situation the prisoners face. "The medical staff is overwhelmed, they've put the SHU on lockdown, nurses are going around every hour to look for people who have fallen over or passed out. Dozens of people have fallen over or passed out, some hitting their heads. They are removed and taken to the infirmary there or outside hospitals. We don't know any details," she said.
Strickman continued, "We received a report Monday night that some of them are getting intravenous glucose and are being resuscitated to some degree in that way. Blood sugars are down for some people. There are some people who have significant medical conditions already and I'll point out that one of the leaders originally stated, that the leaders were not asking for those with serious medical conditions to engage in this hunger strike. Nevertheless many people have and this shows you just how serious and just how horrible the conditions are in the SHU that all prisoners would risk their lives for improvement."
Despite the hunger strikers' extreme medical situation, the California Department of Corrections has refused to meet a single one of the prisoners' just and urgent demands; in fact they have refused to even negotiate with the prisoners or meet with mediators chosen by the prisoners or any outside medical personnel. This is after 13 days of the hunger strike. Instead, a prison spokesperson claimed that the courageous hunger strike and solidarity between prisoners "goes to show the power, influence and reach of prison gangs." This hunger strike has crossed racial and gang divides—and this is a crude attempt to justify ongoing, perhaps stepped up, torture and abuse of the prisoners. One woman who has two sons that are taking part in the hunger strike told of visiting her sons just days after the strike began. "As I walked by the other windows to go and see my sons, I looked at the other prisoners and they all looked pale. I could tell that they were suffering but that they are also holding up their strength."
Samir Shaheen-Hussain, a pediatrician from Montreal, Quebec, presented a letter signed by medical professionals in the U.S., Canada, and other countries supporting the prisoner demands. "We are appalled at the conditions of the prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons in the state have to endure," Dr. Shaheen-Hussain said. "Not only is the physical health of the prisoners being destroyed by the actions of the CDCR with which medical practitioners are complicit but so is the dignity of the prisoners themselves because of the conditions that they have to endure. It is a sign of utmost courage that prisoners are fighting these conditions through this hunger strike and it's lamentable that medical care is either being withheld or not adequately provided by medical professionals. The medical doctors here must step up."
Supporters of the prisoners announced plans to continue and intensify their support in the coming days in the Bay Area including the following:
Other actions are also being planned.
|A mother with two sons on hunger strike in Pelican Bay speaks to the media in front of the California State Building in San Francisco on July 13 surrounded by members of the Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition.|
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Interview with Manuel LaFontaine, member of All of Us or None and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition
Manuel LaFontaine is a member of All of Us or None and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. This interviewed was originally done on The Michael Slate Show and it is being posted at revcom.us courtesy of The Michael Slate Show, (KPFK, 90.7fm Los Angeles, 98.7fm Santa Barbara, www.kpfk.org worldwide)
Michael Slate: What are some of the key developments in the strike since last Friday?
Manuel LaFontaine: There hasn't actually been many. And I say that to say there has been but when no fundamental change has happened in regards to CDC either negotiating or trying to even meet with the prisoners or meet with people that want to represent or amplify the voice of prisoners, it's a clear indication where they stand, and where they stand is that they're willing to let people die or jeopardize their health and safety than start communication and figure out how do we resolve this.
Slate: So they're basically taking a stand that they're not going to end up in any conferencing or anything like that with the prisoners or with the representatives of the prisoner solidarity groups, right?
LaFontaine: Right, and I think what they're doing is tactical on their part, so this system, a very torturous system, like I've been telling different people, you don't have to go to Abu Ghraib. You're right now in your contemporary Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo Bay here in California. So what's going on is they're going to try to wait things out. "So let's see how far we can take these prisoners."
It's torture in many ways. Ten minutes ago I was looking at this website that someone sent me a link in, and we have corrections-only websites or blogs where they basically say, "We should put a microwave with a steak on it next to the cell where these people are going on strike and torture them even more."
So this mindset that officials have, the mindset that guards have, and the fraternity within the law enforcement, feeds into that mentality that prisoners are just the "worst of the worst," when in reality the worst of the worst is Pelican Bay State Prison at the moment. The worst of the worst is not allowing people to be treated as human beings, to have their human rights restored. The fact that they're inside should not constitute torture. We as a society should not condone torture.
Slate: I couldn't agree with you more. I think the worst of the worst is an entire system that bases its treatment of masses of humanity on robbing them of their humanity. The point that Michelle Alexander and a lot of other people have made is, this is a conscious policy very much linked to the war on drugs and all that.
I noticed that the numbers of hunger strikers mushroomed to a very high number of people across the California state prison system. What was that number, 6,000 or something?
LaFontaine: Yeah. If CDC is admitting that, right? It begs the question, what else ain't they admitting, right? It's 6,600 according to them, and here's the truth that CDC will never admit to anybody, at least not to the public, is that the hunger strike has gone across racial and geographical lines in the California state prisons, which is to be highly respected for those of us who are former prisoners, for those of us who are fighting for change and peace in our own communities. Because it's extremely hard to do, especially after decades and generations of prison-manufactured racism, segregation and violence.
So what's going on right now is feared by the state. They don't want to see truce between gangs, so-called gangs, and gangs that they help propagate and the violence that came with it. They don't want to see that, because when there's truce, there's peace, there's resistance, the focus goes back on the man. The focus goes back on the oppressive nature of the man, and the man being the administration of CDC.
And here's another truth CDC won't tell you, that it segregates people who think critically, and people that organize others to think critically, under the pretext of a threat to the security of the institution or staff or inmates, or that you're a gang member. The minute one becomes politically engaged inside, and you begin to challenge the conditions of confinement, or begin to organize others to look beyond themselves and to focus on the things that led to their incarceration, such as social, political and economic oppression here in America and throughout the world, it's the minute you're deemed a candidate for the SHU. That's something the CDC won't tell you.
Slate: What they do say, and I've read a bunch of articles on the strike in major national publications, they quote the CDC representatives as saying, "Well, what we can really say is that gang members are leading this strike, and that shows why we're correct to put them in isolation." That this is all about gang members and their influence across the prison population, and not speaking at all to the very specific demands to be treated like a human being that the prisoners have put forward.
LaFontaine: The California Department of Corrections, I was once one of those people inside. CDC will do anything, I mean, everything in its power to protect their image. In fact, their image, the public relations, their spokespeople, only exist to protect the reality behind it. And the reality is sheer torture. There is no conditions of confinement, conditions of torture. When you put somebody in a cell for twenty-three hours a day in a concrete chamber, that's torture.
Imagine that the only human contact in the last 10, 15, 20 years, is that of guards putting shackles on you. Or a vague recollection of someone who he or she told you was a nurse from the medical field. Imagine if you are having a heart attack, or need medical help, and you need to call out for help, but nobody can hear you because the walls and the floor are soundproof. These brothers aren't asking to be released. They're asking for their basic human rights. They're demanding an end to torture.
I'm not here to speak for them. I'm here to amplify that voice. And I forgot how many hours and days, but I haven't eaten anything. And those that know me in the Bay Area, I haven't eaten anything since June 30. I haven't physically chewed on anything since June 30, for me it's more a stand of solidarity. A lot of people will talk the talk, but won't walk the walk. I'm going to speak as someone who is in the SHU, because I know that the minute, if I was to be caged up under some fraudulent or framed-up charges, trumped-up charges, they'd place me in the SHU under the pretext of being involved in gangs.
So I'm doing this for future people, for all the young brothers and sisters in Los Angeles, in San Diego, who are caught up in that street manners, and street violence, who right now are candidates for the SHU, whether they recognize it or not.
Slate: Can you talk about the support this has been getting from people outside the prison?
LaFontaine: Yeah, there's a lot of support. And there's a lot coming from the family members. So we could talk about the organized activists and organizations, and there are many, throughout not only the Bay Area, but California, in Canada, in Philadelphia, and so many places that have shown their support. We've got prisoners on strike in other prisons, who are also showing solidarity.
But the family members are important to talk to, because I'm one of those people who get the emails, that gets texts, that gets those so sad calls, saying, "I just found out about the strike. I want to do something. I've been quiet, because I don't want it to happen to my loved one. I want to do something."
And what I've been trying to tell people, we have to do something, we have to start talking to other people, talk to our church members, talk to our community members. I got a text last night from someone I didn't even know that three people are in the hospital, for example. I got a text letting me know three people are in the hospital. So far, CDC has been quiet about releasing the details to the public. So sad I couldn't speak afterwards and I don't know how anyone could after learning this.
So people are very concerned, but with this concern is also a victory. And it's a victory in the fact that the spirit—they can torture a human body, but they can't really torture the spirit and the enlightenment that's going on with people who are not in the SHU. So the victory here's that people are becoming aware. The victory is that people now are starting to rise up and say, "I didn't know California could do that." And then when you start to question that notion of the "worst of the worst," that's when you start to challenge them and say, "That's a human being still." And if we're a country, a society that bases ourselves on democracy, on justice and liberty—and yet we're out here torturing people.
So people are picking up, and there's going to be a solidarity event this upcoming Saturday in the Bay Area, for those of us who are here, and there's going to be an international day of solidarity, so many people throughout the country, throughout the world will be joining us as we basically are going to be demanding that CDC begin to negotiate, talk to the thousands of prisoners on strike. And the numbers are continuing to grow.
Slate: Where can people go to get updates on the strike?
LaFontaine: They can go to http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Interview with Lance Tapley, journalist
Lance Tapley is an award winning investigative journalist at the Portland Phoenix in Maine where he has covered the Supermax prison in Maine. Lance is also one of the contributors to the anthology The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse. This interview was originally done on The Michael Slate Show and it is being posted at revcom.us courtesy of The Michael Slate Show (KPFK, 90.7fm Los Angeles, 98.7fm Santa Barbara, www.kpfk.org worldwide).
Michael Slate: Your piece, "Notes from the Supermax Prisons," opens with the statement that the American prison system has become a monster. What do you mean by that?
Lance Tapley: Well, we are an exceptional nation as you know, and we are the world torture champions in what happens in our prison system. That's qualitatively. Quantitatively, we have of course the biggest prison system in the world. We have 4.5% of the world's population, and 25% of its prisoners. We have five times the world average incarceration rate, 2.3 million people behind bars, two thirds of them are Black or Hispanic. I could go on. Our incarceration rate is four times what it was in 1980.
Slate: One of the things that you say, though, in relation to all this, is that beyond the mushrooming of imprisonment, in U.S. society, that there's actually been something over the last few decades, a network of supermax prisons that are not only extraordinarily cruel, but in fact constitute a network of mass torture unique in the world and in history. Can you explain that?
Tapley: Well, that is a pretty big claim, I realize. Supermax prisons are, well, "supermax" stands for super-maximum security, and they feature solitary confinement, and they feature total control, lots of harshness. There's a basic sort of idea here that one must be exceptionally harsh with people in these prisons. Estimates vary, but there are at least 36,000, and upwards to 75 to 100 thousand—depending on how you want to count it, on how you want to define it—people in these prisons in the federal, especially the state systems, county, city jails, etc.
But they're all on the same template, which is super-maximum security, or supermax. And there is no other country that does this. There's an occasional supermax here and there. But for example in England and Wales, there are 75,000 prisoners. There are about forty people who might be considered to be in this category of imprisonment there.
Slate: Even in places like Nazi Germany, this kind of treatment, of isolation, was rare.
Tapley: Well, for one thing, it's expensive. It's two or three times the expense of general population imprisonment, and people in other countries just apparently weren't willing to do that. I'm sure if the Nazis had thought of it, and they felt they had the money, they would have done it. But we've done it. It's a mass torture that I haven't been able to find any historical parallel to, and certainly there's no parallel in other countries.
We in this country spend a lot of time talking about human rights violations in other countries, and of course there are a number of people rightfully upset with what has happened at Guantanamo and before that Abu Ghraib, but we really don't have yet a consciousness that is widespread in this country about the really big crime in terms of this torture sweepstakes if you will, which is the supermax prisons in the U.S.
Slate: That's the good old spirit of American capitalism: "We not only thought about it, but goddam it, we did it!" Think about what that's saying about the nature of this society, and what it's unleashed upon the world, in terms of it being unparalleled and unprecedented. One of the things you talk about is that this parallels a lot what the U.S. is doing internationally.
Tapley: Well, you know Bradley Manning recently, his imprisonment in solitary confinement has brought this issue more to the fore, and I've noticed that on news sites and blog sites, people are starting to talk about what's happening in this country. He is in a military prison. But we had this concern among many people, in the special prisons for example at Guantánamo and at rendition sites and so forth that the military and the CIA have had, but we just haven't had much of a consciousness. But I think this consciousness is growing and people are starting to say, "Why are we doing this?" And that's a very big question.
Slate: You brought up Bradley Manning, and in your piece you bring up two forms of torture. One is cell extractions, which I think you can talk to a little bit and let people know what they are, and the other is the forced isolation, the solitary confinement, and you describe that as the worst form of torture inflicted on supermax prisoners. Can you speak to those two things?
Tapley: Cell extractions are when you do something that the guards don't like, for example, if you maybe paste something over the tiny window in your steel door to your cell and they can't see what you're doing. Or you refuse to put your hands through your food slot. You're fed through this slot, that you don't have any contact normally with other human beings. Or you might even just curse out a guard. And then they send in a team, a kind of SWAT team and they knock you down and they put ankle shackles on, and handcuffs on and they drag you out, and often they'll cut your clothes off and they'll take you down the cell block to the restraint room and put you in the restraint chair to cool you off. This often damages prisoners greatly. This is very bad physically.
But a lot of people have the ability to recover from physical harm. But it's very difficult to recover from psychological harm that solitary confinement inflicts. There's been a massive body of medical literature on solitary confinement for 150 years, actually, because it was tried in the 19th century, and it was abandoned. It just makes people psychotic. About three quarters of the prisoners get mentally damaged, a lot of them have paranoia, hallucinations, even catatonia. It becomes a very bad problem for many prisoners. And this is something, as I say, you can be pretty sure if you have any prolonged solitary confinement, it's going to hit a very large percentage of prisoners. It's a sure thing.
Slate: Some of the people you interviewed as part of your article, you said sometimes they are extracted from their cells five times a day.
Tapley: Well, that is kind of a record. I put that in because this one fellow that I interviewed had that happen to him. He sort of was the record holder in the Maine state prison. But these are common. These go on, on a daily basis in supermaxes all over the country. The idea is total control. That's what the solitary confinement is about.
But when these people, who may not be violent, and may not have really done anything to in any rational way deserve it, are taken out of their cell—they have to have a guard on either side, for example if they're just going to take a shower, a guard on either side. They have to have shackles on their ankles and they have handcuffs, and they're sort of goose-stepped down the corridor to the shower room. These are people who may be in prison for something like fraud or burglary and who may have no history of violence.
The biggest common denominator in supermax prisons is mental illness, people who can't follow the rules of the prison. It's a prison within a prison so they are put in the supermax. In the Maine state prison, for example, there are several people there who got themselves tattooed. And for one reason or another they were caught in the act and they're thrown into solitary confinement. It has become the way to deal with anything you don't like, if you are a guard or if you're a prison official.
Slate: A lot of the prisoners are considered the worst of the worst, but there is a tremendous percentage of mentally ill people. There are people who just are rebellious, and even though the percentage of political prisoners compared to the '60s and '70s is not as high, when you look at the people being held in solitary confinement in these supermax prison, quite a high percentage of them given the low percentage of them in relation to the overall prison population, quite a high percentage are in the supermax prisons and in forced isolation.
Tapley: You know, it's an interesting question, political prisoners. A lot of the people in supermax are there because they have been dissident in one way or another within the prison. They may have protested conditions in some fashion. They may have stood up for another prisoner. They may have in some way alienated the officials. So this is where they go. And in that sense they are political prisoners. The prisoner who turned me on to what was happening in the supermaxes was as his reward sent out of state to try to get him out of my clutches and out of the clutches of the rest of the news media and put into a supermax in Baltimore. And there was no reason. The guy never had any history whatsoever of violence or escape or anything else. It was simply that's the way they deal with it.
Slate: One of the things that was also brought out here, and as you talk about this, the idea that, again, so many of the prisoners in supermax and in isolation are actually mentally ill to begin with. There was a big scandal in California regarding the treatment of these mentally ill prisoners in these special management units. When they go for therapy, the ones that are allowed to go for therapy, find themselves sitting in a little boxed cage chained up, and their therapist is sitting across the room out of spitting distance and what not, and talking to them through this box. And if they have group therapy the guy is surrounded by a circle of boxes talking to prisoners chained in individual boxes. This is the kind of treatment that people get which is forced isolation even within forced isolation. It's just bizarre and barbaric.
Tapley: Well, think about it. How can you give therapy to people who are 99% of the time in a situation, solitary confinement, that's driving them crazy? So therapy becomes a fraudulent gesture. It becomes a bureaucratic fraud. In Maine, what they do is they have a mental worker go a couple times a week to the cell door, which is a solid steel cell door, of the supermax prisoner, and the mental health worker yells through the food slot—of course there's no privacy, which is kind on an important aspect of any psychological therapy—to the prisoner for a few minutes and he may or may not yell something back. So it's just absurd.
Slate: There's never a justification for torture and indeed people can say that the purpose of torture has more to do with establishing fear and establishing total control. That's true but there's actually something much more basic to it in terms of morality, I think.
Tapley: Well, yeah, and I think we all have to look at this. I think we're all complicit in this. I didn't know a thing about what was going on until five years ago when this prisoner through an intermediary got in touch with me. We have to ask why is it that some people are upset about Guantanamo but they're not upset about what's going on in the supermaxes, and that immediately takes you to the question of why are we engaged in the larger prison madness of putting so many people in prison for such long terms for in many cases non-violent crimes? We're the only country that does this, as I cited, the statistics are absolutely amazing. And the people who've looked at this, the scholars and activists who spent the most time on this question, including a lot of prisoners of course, they see racism and they see classism.
I've come to that conclusion. In Maine we don't have many minorities, for example, and most of the people in the prison therefore are white people. But they're all very poor, or nearly so, nearly all of them. We've got to look at how we're dealing with the people at the bottom in terms of the economic structure carefully, and if we do I think we'll see that we're dealing with a lot of them by putting them in prison. And then the prison within a prison for those people who one way or another can't deal with the rules of the prison, and as I've mentioned, they may be mentally ill, too. Those people are the people who get this incredible harshness.
And you know, it's such a complex issue. I mean we've had this harshness in a historical context for the past thirty years. And you have to look at the political atmosphere. You have to look at also what this country did in terms of basically tearing down the mental health structure but not putting a good community mental health system in its place, and so the prisons have become the de facto asylums. You have to look at the media, sensationalism about crime which a lot of opportunistic politicians have taken advantage of. You have to look at the war on drugs. About 20% of the people in prison are there because of that, and on and on. And of course when you develop this sizable prison industrial complex, if you will, and it's not just private prisons. That's just a small part of it. It has to do with the public system. Then you've got a lot of investment right there. So we have to ask ourselves a lot of questions. It's a complex issue, but at the same time you can come to some simple conclusions about it.
Slate: When you think about this, and the point you raised abut who is bearing the brunt of all this, and who's it being targeted against. When you put together what you were saying about when the supermaxes began, with the tie-in with the mushrooming of the prison population. When you think about that, the Reagan era, the war on drugs, when that began. Michelle Alexander stunningly documents how this mushrooming of the prison population to such a gigantic and mainly focused on Black people and then Latino people. But mainly when you look at it, the number of Black people forced into jail these days as routine. So you have whole sections of youth who think, you grow up expecting to do some time in jail. And then what happens in terms of this social control, this dehumanization. And what Michelle argues, it is part and parcel of the formation of a new Jim Crow within this country.
Tapley: Right, but what I'm saying is, it's basically an oppression of a class of people. And many of those people of course are Blacks and Latinos. But it's an oppression of the poor, I think basically. And you talked about how the conservative element in our political world have got the American people to accept. But one thing you should understand and that your listeners should understand is that this is all accepted by the liberals. Only recently have they started to become concerned about the prisons, at least in any numbers of them. The liberal politicians throughout the past thirty years have basically not uttered a peep.
Slate: I don't disagree with you, and I think it's extremely important for people to understand. And there needs to be some outrage, damn it! There really needs to be some outrage around this, and I just don't think people can sit back and allow this to go unspoken to.
Tapley: I think there actually is starting to be a larger consciousness of this. And obviously Bradley Manning, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, that's increasing the consciousness of what is torture and what the United States does. And there is more activism in terms of groups like the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which was only focused on U.S. torture outside the country, and now adopting supermax as a cause. A campaign against torture within this country is what they have adopted. So has the American Civil Liberties Union as well, and other groups. So there is a greater consciousness of this. In Maine we've had a bill in the legislature, which didn't succeed this first time around, but it's going to come around again, to limit solitary confinement to forty-five days, and not allow seriously mentally ill people to be in solitary confinement. Within the supermax prison in Maine, for example, the figure is 50% of the people there are officially classified as seriously mentally ill. So if that bill passed, it would make a large gesture toward emptying the supermax.
In Illinois there's also a big campaign against supermax imprisonment. And there have been some success stories brought about through litigation. For example, the ACLU took on the state of Mississippi, and they got Mississippi in a settlement of a lawsuit to reduce its supermax population considerably. In New York there have been some successes, too.
So this consciousness is increasing. There's more political activism. And despite the dark vision of this situation that I perhaps portrayed in our interview, I think there's some cause for optimism.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Interview with Clyde Young, revolutionary communist
Clyde Young is a revolutionary communist and a former prisoner. This interview was originally done on The Michael Slate Show and it is being posted at revcom.us courtesy of The Michael Slate Show (KPFK, 90.7fm Los Angeles, 98.7fm Santa Barbara, www.kpfk.org worldwide).
Michael Slate: What is the significance of the fact that this strike has been called by people of many different nationalities, different races?
Clyde Young: That's extremely important, because a lot of times in prison there are divisions among different races, and different nationalities. And the important thing to point out also is that the guards often do things to exploit and promote those divisions, to get people fighting against one another and diverting their attention really from the real problem, which is the prison system itself and the larger system. So this is extremely important that people have come together across racial lines to call this strike, and that people of different nationalities are going to be participating in it. I can't tell you how important that is, just from my own experience of being in prison.
I had been in certain situations in prison rebellions where it was extremely important that—for instance, I was in one struggle one time, and I learned a tremendous amount from this. It was a struggle over prison conditions and also had a political component, because some of the people who had been active in prison, a couple of them, were even [Black] Panthers at the time, who came into that prison, were put in solitary. So we were protesting both the conditions, but also the fact that these prisoners had been put in the solitary.
We gathered on the recreation yard. It was mainly Blacks, but a few whites and others. And the guards opened fire on us, killing two people and wounding forty-five. The point is not to say, well, if you have other people involved, then you can prevent that kind of thing. That's not my point. My point is that it's very important for prisoners as a whole to come together and oppose the conditions that are being imposed on all of them.
Slate: When you talk about the conditions in prison, one of the things that I've come to learn a lot more deeply over the past period of time, is the difference that these supermax prisons have made in the conditions of prisoners. We were talking yesterday, and you had mentioned that the conditions you faced were pretty horrendous, but you thought that the conditions today were even worse. Can you talk about that a little?
Young: Yes, I can. When I was in prison it was hell... any time you're locked up, you're deprived of your freedom, the monotony of prison. And then the brutality—I just talked about a very brutal situation in which two prisoners were killed and forty-five were wounded. You would think that was a statistic from Vietnam at that time. But this was inside a prison. People were protesting, and at that time protesting peacefully.
I think that these conditions are such that people are driven, because of the nature—look, we felt in that situation that we were prepared to die. And what I'm getting from the prisoners at Pelican Bay is that they're prepared to do the same thing, just because of—I mean, it was very difficult to bear, listening to your two previous speakers, particularly Laura [Magnani], who was talking about the kind of conditions people were being subjected to.
In prison, the game is to break you, to break you down. When I was in prison, frankly, it was hell. But now, it's much worse. In fact, we heard, when we were in prison back in the late '60s, about Marion. Marion was being built, Marion Federal Penitentiary. That was the first one. We heard about it, and we were just horrified that basically what they were going to be doing was having special units for behavior modification, where prisoners were even more systematically going to be broken down. That was a horror.
Now the horror's become the reality. There's tens of thousands of prisoners. I understand that Laura has given the statistic of 100,000 prisoners who are incarcerated in these type of conditions, in long-term isolation, which breaks the mind down, and is nothing less than torture by international standards.
Slate: These supermax prisons have never been done at any other time in history. There has never been any kind of society that has had this kind of supermax prison, this kind of long-term isolation. I was reading about Hugo Pinell this morning. How long has that brother been in isolation? He's been in the SHU unit at Pelican Bay since it began, and even before that he was held in long-term isolation. This is exactly that kind of psychological torture. There's a connection, it would seem, between this and the mass incarceration that has developed, particularly for Black and brown people: the fact that we have 2.3 million people in prison, and 60% of them or so are Black or brown. This is an outrage. What do you see is the connection between the conditions in the SHU unit and this mass incarceration?
Young: That's a very important question, and I think it's important to also emphasize that the rulers of this country have gone to great lengths to bamboozle people, to trick people into believing that somehow basically they're animals that are incarcerated in these places. Look I went to prison and I served eight years in prison. I went in there for armed robbery and I came out a revolutionary communist. I transformed in prison. There's tremendous ability for people to transform. But let's look at the situation from the 1960s. People just like the ones who are incarcerated in the SHUs today, were the people, not exactly the same people, but I'm saying the younger generation, essentially coming from the same station in life, in the 1960s, contributed a tremendous amount to rocking this system to its very foundation.
And what the rulers are saying is that's never going to happen again. So there's a certain preemptive character to what they're doing by incarcerating in a massive scale. I mean look, there's nowhere else in the world where this number of prisoners are incarcerated: 2.3 million, and the overwhelming majority of them are Black and Latino. You tell me that's not a conscious policy on the part of the rulers. It's definitely a conscious policy to try to preempt anything approaching what happened in the 1960s.
Slate: What's the importance of people supporting the Pelican Bay prisoners in their hunger strike?
Young: It's extremely important, for all the reasons that the previous speakers talked about, and some of the things I'm attempting to say. These prisoners must not be allowed to just stand alone. In other words, the conditions that they're confronting are unacceptable. It's unacceptable for human beings to be incarcerated in this type of way. And it's unacceptable for those of us who recognize this, not to step forward and support them. This is absolutely unacceptable what they're doing and we should stand firmly with the people all over California and beyond should stand firmly with the prisoners and their demands.
Slate: Which reminds me of the statement by this prisoner who has tremendous faith in the ability of people... he thinks the prison officials and the state have underestimated the decency, principles and humanity of the people. He has a lot of faith [in the people], and people need to make that faith real.
Young: That's a profound message.
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
Interview with Carol Strickman, staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Revolution interviewed Carol Strickman, staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and staff to the mediation team representing the hunger strikers, on July 13, 2011 in San Francisco.
Revolution: Can you tell me what we know about the conditions of the prisoners that are on hunger strike?
Carol Strickman: The conditions of the prisoners before the hunger strike I think you know, then add the hunger strike on top of that. The people who are drinking water can get through this longer. Depending on their medical conditions they are going to have problems sooner rather than later. As I mentioned they are sending a nurse around on an hourly basis to check on who has fallen over, who is now unconscious and moving those people out. Dozens have been moved out.
Revolution: Where have they been moved to?
Carol Strickman: Either they have been moved to the medical facility in the prison which is very small. I understand it has 20 beds max—10 for medical and 10 for mental health. I don't know how they are doing it. Some may be being moved out to nearby hospitals or they could be being transported to medical prison hospitals.
The CDCR is using every method they have to try and stop this hunger strike and to scare the prisoners. They passed around a flyer saying that this is what will happen if you go on strike. It would not surprise me if they are going around trying to talk people out of it. We've been asking for negotiations; up until very recently the position was, "we do not negotiate with prisoners." Our mediation team has not been recognized as a mediation team to be dealt with. That may be changing. There have been meetings but there hasn't been negotiating.
Revolution: After 12 days of the hunger strike the CDC has not even negotiated with the representatives of the prisoners?
Carol Strickman: That's exactly right. And they're using various methods to divide and conquer, as this might be. They want this to quietly go away.
Revolution: Have attorneys representing the prisoners or outside medical personnel been able to visit the prisoners?
Carol Strickman: To my knowledge there has been no outside medical contact with prisoners.
Revolution: What kind of retaliation has there been against leaders or those participating in the strike?
Carol Strickman: There has been retaliation in advance, there have been provocative acts before the hunger strike started. For example, "potty watch," not only of the leaders but of anyone that has indicated support.
Revolution: What is "potty watch"?
Carol Strickman: That's a very cruel procedure where people are restrained for three days, put in diapers and unable to move their arms sometimes, or forced to stand, or strapped down. The rationale is that the prisoner has swallowed contraband and we are going to see it. We're going to wait for three days and monitor their bowel movements and find the thing they've swallowed. But, it's used for other reasons. It's used as punishment even if they know that there is nothing there. This shouldn't be used even if they think that there is something that the prisoner has swallowed. It's painful, people can't sleep. They can't move their arms. I heard that sometimes their arms are put in a plastic pipe. It's really horrible. We heard of that happening to one or two people before the hunger strike started in Pelican Bay.
Revolution: What about attempts to divide the prisoners?
Carol Strickman: The thing that is unique and important about this hunger strike is that it transcends all groups. The prison is interested in defining groups, labeling groups, you have to be in one group. What's happened is that all of the groups have come together. I've heard prisoners use the term collective. Groups that have been mortal enemies have come together around this and that is very uncomfortable for CDCR so they are doing things to try and break that unity.
Revolution: Anything you want to add?
Carol Strickman: People need to educate themselves about what the conditions are really like. Once you really understand what the conditions are like then you know everything you need to know.
|Photo: Special to Revolution|
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
The following is from a notice that was sent out by people in Los Angeles organizing support from the prisoners on hunger strike at PBSP:
SOLIDARITY WITH PELICAN BAY PRISONERS HUNGER STRIKE!
KRST Unity Center of Afrakan Spiritual Science
ALL DAY Saturday, July 16, begin at 1pm
7825 S. Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90047-2728
For info: 213-840-5348 (California Prisoners Hunger Strike Action Network); Call 714-290-9077 (if you have a family member or friend incarcerated and want to get involved in Action Network)
Outreach to family members of those incarcerated
Men's Central Jail
Be there on Friday, July 15, from 11 am-3 pm
441 Bauchet St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
For info: 213-840-5348 (California Prisoners Hunger Strike Action Network); Call 714-290-9077 (if you have a family member or friend incarcerated and want to get involved in Action Network)
Southern California Library
Be there on Friday, July 15 from 6 pm-8 pm
6120 S. Vermont Avenue
COME TO THE ENCAMPMENT SATURDAY, JULY 16 AT 1 PM. The Encampment is where people come to express support for the prisoners on hunger strike in Pelican Bay SHU and other CA prisons; where prominent voices of conscience make appearances and convey their solidarity; it is a space where people congregate for a 24 hour solidarity hunger strike and fast and take up other forms as well that draw public awareness to this battle. This Encampment is where families of those incarcerated, and everyone, find community and support and where all this amplifies the voices of the SHU prisoners and galvanizes societal-wide mobilization and support for their just demands.
WE WRITE WITH URGENCY!!
We are making an INTERNATIONAL CALL OF ACTION to take a stand in support and solidarity with all men that are on hunger strike across California State Prisons to end the inhumane and torturous conditions in Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit (SHU).
WE CANNOT STRESS HOW IMPORTANT IT IS FOR YOU TO SHOW THAT YOU ARE STANDING WITH THESE MEN PROTESTING THE TORTUROUS CONDITIONS OF CONFINEMENT OF THE SHU THAT PROMOTE PHYSICAL ABUSE AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA!
We need EVERYONE! TIME IS OF ESSENCE! If you are an artist, actor, public figure, family of an incarcerated loved one, lawyer, academic or organization please make a statement and come out publicly in support of their five core demands. Urge the CDCR to begin NEGOTIATIONS NOW!! This is serious. These men are dying as we speak!
AS THESE PRISONERS HAVE STATED, THIS TYPE OF CONFINEMENT IS STATE SANCTIONED TORTURE and A VIOLATION OF THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS!
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Revolution #239, July 24, 2011
CA Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity issued the following press release:
MEDIA ADVISORY--JULY 15, 2011
Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers Reject CDCR Proposal
California—This afternoon leaders of the Pelican Bay hunger strike unanimously rejected a proposal to end the strike from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). In response to the prisoners' five, straightforward demands, CDCR distributed a vaguely worded document stating that it would, "effect a comprehensive assessment of its existing policy and procedure" about the secure housing units (SHUs). The document gave no indication if any changes would be made at all.
While the CDCR has claimed that there is no medical crisis, mediators report that the principal negotiators have lost 25-35 pounds each and have underlying medical conditions of concern. Despite promises from the federal Receiver overseeing CDCR, no one has received salt tablets or multiple vitamins.
The hunger strike is now in its third week and shows no signs of weakening. In fact, the settlement document distributed last night to all hunger strikers at Pelican Bay prison, resulted in some people who had gone off the strike to resume refusing food. Hundreds of prisoners at Pelican Bay remain on strike, with thousands more participating throughout California's 33 prisons. Advocates and strike leaders dismiss the false claims that the strike is being orchestrated by prison gangs.
International solidarity with the striking prisoners also continues to mount with demonstrations and messages emerging from the US, Canada, Turkey and Australia. According to mediation team member Laura Magnani, "From day one, the CDCR has demonstrated its inability to resolve this situation. We call on Gov. Brown to step in and negotiate in good faith to bring this situation to a just resolution." Strike supporters plan to flood the Governor's offices with phone calls and emails, echoing the strikers' demands.
"Given how basic the striker's demands are, it is immoral that the CDCR would insult these men with such poor faith proposals," stated mediator, Dorsey Nunn.
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