Cal Students Support Prisoner Hunger Strike

May 19, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Revolution received the following correspondence:

Human Rights of the Incarcerated (HRI), a student coalition at University of California Berkeley and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network joined together to support California prisoners who are preparing to launch a third hunger strike against torture.

HRI earlier had organized a week to bring awareness of mass incarceration to campus. Events were held that included panels and reading poetry from and about prisoners. The week was highlighted by a demonstration exposing many well-known corporations that are making profits off of what many call "the Prison Industrial Complex," lining up at the prison feeding trough, profiting from the system's cruel warehousing of 2.4 million human beings. This contributed to a successful effort to have the Student Senate divest (withdraw) student body funds from companies doing business with prisons. [Read the polemic, "There Are 2.4 Million People in Prison in the U.S.—Why? What Do We DO About It? And How Does the Notion of a 'Prison-Industrial Complex' Get This Wrong?"]

Off this victory, HRI members felt more could and needed to be done. They were aware that those locked in California hellholes are facing daily and ongoing torture, and are being forced once again to begin a hunger strike to end their inhuman treatment. Others needed to know this as well. Even though members of HRI were themselves in the middle of writing papers and cramming for finals, they felt the need to spread the word and build support among students before they left campus for the summer.

It was decided to distribute a leaflet to students explaining the crucial situation faced by the hunger strikers and make a banner supporting the prisoners' struggle that Cal Berkeley students could sign. The banner was done by the next morning, and the following day we took it out. It immediately started filling up with signatures. Many people gave their contact information to be part of the struggle during the summer.

One Chicano student brought his friends over to sign, and offered to take us up to his class about prison and mass incarceration. Once we got there, the professor asked us to tell her class about why the hunger strikers were putting their lives on the line, and why we should support them. She encouraged her students to take part. Many more signed the banner.

Even the few hours we were on campus had a great effect, both on the students who signed it, and even on us who took it out. One young HRI activist said that she had no idea that so many people would step forward, that they even cared.

Another point about the reach and scale of mass incarceration was driven home to us. Here, at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, we ran into many, many students (especially Latinos) who have a very intimate relationship with mass incarceration—having a parent, family member or close friend locked in one of the 33 California prisons, or having been formerly incarcerated themselves.


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