Revolution #248, October 23, 2011

“A Reading of Prisoners' Letters/A Visual Protest” In Support of Prisoner Hunger Strike Comes to UC Berkeley

Revolution received the following correspondence:

On Wednesday, October 12—the 17th day of the California prisoners hunger strike, about a dozen of us took the voices of prisoners and the call to support the hunger strike to the UC Berkeley campus. We did it through letters written by prisoners, “Voices of those cast off by the system”—prisoner’s comments on BAsics 3:16 in Revolution 247—and information about the hunger strike.

There was a mix of people from the proletariat with those from the middle class: a young woman with relatives in the Pelican Bay SHU, the mother of Kenneth Harding (coldly murdered by the San Francisco Police), readers of Revolution newspaper, organizers for October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and Criminalization of a Generation, and students from San Francisco State University (SFSU). We got some on-the-spot help from a few Cal students, and had gotten a lot of encouragement from students and professors who had seen the email about the action.

We started around 11:00 am and went till 2:00 pm—during the noon flood of thousands of students through Sproul Plaza and the center of campus. We held up and propped up enlargements of pictures of the cruel conditions of confinement, Revolution newspaper centerfolds, and letters from prisoners. We had leaflets on the hunger strike and the coming October 22nd national day of action, and we had plenty of copies of Revolution #247.

Sometimes we’d fan out across the walkway between class buildings to distribute lit and speak out, at other times we all gathered together. Organizers and students stepped forward to read prisoners' letters to families, friends and to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. Since we were not allowed to use a bullhorn, the letters of the prisoners were read using “The People’s Mic,” an “Occupy Wall Street” technique in which short sentences are relayed loudly out to others.

We wanted to focus on the humanity and revolutionary potential of the prisoners, as well as the justness of their hunger strike. And we wanted to emphasize that the moral responsibility to stand up for the basic rights and humanity of those held behind bars, and build a determined movement outside prison walls demanding CDCR grant the prisoners' just demands and immediately halt its retaliation against hunger strikers.

There was a good deal of interest in the hunger strike and Revolution newspaper, especially when you caught students who weren’t dashing across campus. The SF State students were very energized by the event, reading letters and calling on Cal students to join in. They had been active on their campus, but really enjoyed being able to engage with students at another university. They were anxious to do more in supporting the prisoners.

It was an intense experience for the young woman with relatives in Pelican Bay. Going out and talking with the students was difficult—it made her think—and worry about—her relatives. And one student walking by said he hoped they all starved to death—a cruel, reactionary comment that brought her to tears. But the next day she called and said she was glad she’d gone out. She liked meeting Kenneth Harding’s mother, and was happy that so many Cal students signed up to help. She really appreciates all the work that Revolution has been doing around the hunger strike—things more people need to be doing, including more forays onto college campuses.


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