Days of Solidarity With the Struggle to End Prison Torture!

July 7, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On June 21, 22 and 23, events around the country were held as part of Days of Solidarity with the Struggle to End Prison Torture. In New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco/Bay Area, and Chicago, people responded to the EMERGENCY CALL signed by over 150 people to "Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons!" and organized days "all aimed at laying bare the ugly reality of wide spread torture in U.S. prisons and challenging everyone to join in fighting to STOP it."

As the Emergency call points out: "Tens of thousands of people imprisoned in the U.S. are being subjected to torturous, inhumane conditions... Many are forced to endure these conditions for months, years and even decades! Mental anguish and trauma often result from being confined under these conditions. Locking people down like this amounts to trying to strip them of their humanity. These conditions fit the international definition of torture! This is unjust, illegitimate and profoundly immoral. WE MUST JOIN IN AN EFFORT TO STOP IT, NOW!"


What gave these Days of Solidarity such importance—and URGENCY—is the fact that prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in California have called for a Nationwide Hunger Strike to begin on July 8, 2013. The prisoners' five demands include an end to long-term solitary confinement, collective punishment, and the practice of "debriefing," which amounts to forced interrogation on gang affiliation. Other demands include decent food, rehabilitation and education programs, warmer clothing and a phone call each week. These are basically demands to be treated like human beings. And the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has refused over and over again to meet them. These prisoners have also issued a call for unity among people from different racial groups—both inside and outside the prisons. As the Emergency Call underscores: "We must have the humanity to hear their call, and answer it with powerful support!"

This was the spirit that infused the Days of Solidarity with the Struggle to End Prison Torture.

Speaking Bitterness

One feature of this day was people stepping forward and speaking bitterness.

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, a spirited group of people convened at the State Building on June 21 to kick off the weekend Days of Solidarity. Family members with brothers, husbands, and sons doing long-term sentences in the California State Prison system attended and spoke out. They spoke of husbands in the SHU (Security Housing Unit) for over 20 years; of brothers doing 14-to-life and recently beaten by prison guards and sent to SHU; of sons doing 52-to-life based on fabricated testimony. A delegation delivered the Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons to the governor's office at the State Building.

This same day in San Francisco, 20 activists around the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and supporters of the RCP, including teachers, gathered at a busy downtown plaza with large signs with the prisoners' five demands and a life-size picture of a Security Housing Unit isolation cell. All kinds of people passed by, from homeless people to businessmen to tourists and were horrified by the situation for prisoners in America. Five men who were on parole stopped to talk, some who had done many years in prisons up and down California. Two had been locked down in Pelican Bay. One of them, a Latino man, took a stack of SMIN palm cards to get out. An older Black man who had been in San Quentin, Pelican Bay, and Corcoran said, "In the SHU unit—they was treating people like animals there. They don't get food. They don't get blankets. I feel like the public needs to get involved like you are today. We need to take this to Sacramento. I was in the system 23 years." Another man who said he had "been to almost every prison there is in California" spoke about guards "accidentally" opening the doors when two men from different gangs are out of their cells, and then watching and egging on the men to go at each other.

In New York, the Revolution Club held a rally/speakout in a neighborhood park on Saturday, June 22. A report sent to Revolution described how, in particular, the youth really stepped forward to take this up:

"The afternoon started by 'shorties' painting, in multiple colors, a big banner that says, 'Stop the torture of people in prisons!' In the course of doing this, a number of youth, from 9 years old to 14, learned a lot of the conditions prisoners are living under. Some of these youth expressed to us their outrage, though they later felt shy to speak to the audience gathering for the rally, 'these prisoners are being treated worse than dogs,' 'the torture are illegal,' 'we are all human beings and no one should be treated that way!' They also distributed a lot of palm cards (BAsics 1:13), and fliers about the prisoners' demands to stop torture. Their activism brought the park to life, attracting many passersby. Later, during the rally, these youth proudly held up the banner they made as well as enlarged displays of Revolution centerfolds (like BAsics 1:13, prisoners' art, BA quote on '3 Strikes') as a backdrop for the event.

"A young man living in the 'hood, whose father has been in the Pelican Bay prison for a long time, brought to the rally an art work he made especially for the occasion. The art work, 'Death camp in prisons,' depicting graves in front of a maximum security prison, was inspired by viewing various art pieces by prisoners displayed in several issues of Revolution newspaper.

"A little over two dozen people, young and older, attended the rally/speak-out, and several statements in support of the prisoners' struggle were read. Individuals also read out the Revolution centerfold that exposes torture, as well as a couple of prisoners' letters that express their hopes for a better future and their appreciation of BA's [Bob Avakian's] work and leadership. A highlight of the event was the reading of the statement to end hostilities that was issued by the prisoners almost a year ago. People were very moved by the content of this statement. Many in the audience applauded. Then people were shown a segment of the DVD, BA Speaks: Revolution—Nothing Less! People listened very intensely and many smiled when they heard BA speak in the film about the precious importance of the 'unity statement' [by the Pelican Bay prisoners] that they had heard earlier."

Exposing the Horror of Solitary Confinement


These Days of Solidarity exposed to many, many people the intolerable horror of solitary confinement. The fact is, most people just do not know that some 80,000 people in this country are being tortured by the U.S. government in U.S. prisons. But it is also the case that once they know about it, they have a moral responsibility to do something about stopping it! And this was a very important mission and message of the Days of Solidarity: to get the word out to as many people as possible about this torture that is going on in the prisons AND about the need to support the demands of the prison hunger strikers.

In Los Angeles, activities were organized to reach thousands of people. After the June 21 rally at the State Building there was a march to Grand Central Market in downtown LA, with a cadre of Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc, to mix it up with the principally Spanish-speaking crowd at the Market. Then on Saturday, June 22, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network had a festive engagement with thousands of people from all over the world at the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Thousands of fliers and stickers went to people, many taking stacks to get out themselves, and dozens of people signed the Emergency Call! A replica SHU cell, an interactive piece of public art, was constructed for the first time at the Venice Boardwalk. It was displayed for a short time until Santa Monica police shut it down. SMIN members and families with loved ones in the SHU were interviewed by KRCV Channel 62 Television, World Focus Radio, and Voice of Russia Radio News during Days of Solidarity weekend.

Harlem, New York

In New York, there were efforts to get the word out to people in Harlem. On Friday, June 21, people gathered for a short rally outside the State Office Building. There was some street theater on this very crowded street, aimed at really showing people the kind of torture prisoners are being subjected to. From a report sent to Revolution: "We chalked the ground with an 11 foot by 7 foot box representing a cell. One of us put on an orange jumpsuit and sat inside the box or paced around its interior to some dramatic effect to passersby. The 'inmate' had a sticker over his mouth, 'Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide.' Mock chains ringed the box as well. Our agitation and chalking on the ground was a description of the conditions of torture for 80,000 people locked up in SHU units in prisons across the country. We also had chalked the quote from BAsics 3:16, 'An Appeal to Those the System has Cast Off.' A middle-aged Black man and artist living in Harlem said this was 'a wonderful message full of hope for people who have none.' Lots of people who knew people or had loved ones locked up or even living in these conditions stopped and took note... Many walked past all this, while others stopped to read the various chalked messages on the sidewalk about mass incarceration and torture in the form of solitary confinement. For some this was not something abstract. They shared their experiences, concerns and stories about incarcerated loved ones, or about their own personal experiences. Several knew about the first hunger strike. The 'prisoner' (in the chalk outline SHU) got up several times to speak to people about the slow genocide of mass incarceration, racial profiling, and police brutality, and the need to raise resistance commensurate with the slow genocide being waged against Black and Latino peoples."


In Chicago, on Saturday, June 22, at an intersection on the South Side, people taped two banners to a fence at a gas station by a bus stop. One said "Solitary Confinement = Torture" and the other said "California Prisoner Hunger Strikers, We Have Your Backs." They also had enlargements from Revolution, a Trayvon Martin banner and a literature table. The main prop was a cardboard prison cell just large enough for one person to sit inside. People took turns reading letters from prisoners at Pelican Bay over a loudspeaker from inside the solitary confinement cell, while others passed out fliers about the hunger strike and encouraged people to sign the "we have your backs" banners. Some people joined in passing out fliers, passing cars took photos or video footage of the scene. A bus driver honked as she was picking up passengers and took a stack of fliers for the bus.

Calling on People's Conscience

When people actually hear about the kind of torture that tens of thousands of prisoners in this country are being subjected to, many are horrified and want to speak out and do something about it. These Days of Solidarity were aimed at struggling with all kinds of people, very broadly throughout society, to follow their conscience and realize the moral responsibility to do just this.

On Sunday, June 23, one neighborhood church joined the Days of Solidarity with the pastor giving a sermon to his congregation of over 30 about the need to support the California prisoners' struggle against "hostilities and torture" imposed on them. This pastor also spoke briefly about the conditions the prisoners are facing in solitary confinement. While this pastor describes himself as a "conservative" and says he thinks if "you did the crime, you do the time" he was very moved by reading about the conditions prisoners are forced to live in that are described in the Emergency Call and this is what made him decide to join in the Days of Solidarity by addressing the issue of torture in prisons in his Sunday sermon.

At another church in the neighborhood, the pastor invited a member of the Revolution Club into the church to talk with church members after the Sunday service. While there was controversy about the root cause of mass incarceration, all members of this church were astonished in hearing the conditions that prisoners are subjected to in the SHUs and they all agreed that the torture must stop and the demands of the prisoners must be met. At a larger neighborhood church, a total of 42 members of the congregation signed the Emergency Call in support of the prisoners.

In New York and Oakland, Evenings of Conscience were held as part of the Days of Solidarity. These events combined speeches, videos and cultural performances to bring the message home about the need to build this struggle against prison torture and support the hunger strikers. [See article: "Days of Solidarity, Evenings of Conscience"]

* * * * *

It is extremely important now to build off of these Days of Solidarity—especially as the Pelican Bay prisoners are set to begin their hunger strike on July 8. The prisoners being held in isolation at the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) have just released a statement, dated June 20, titled, "We have to put our lives on the line to force CDCR to do what's right." [The CDCR is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.]

This statement serves as a "public notice that our nonviolent peaceful protest of our subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long-term solitary confinement will resume on July 8, 2013, consisting of a hunger strike/work stoppage of indefinite duration until CDCR signs a legally binding agreement meeting our demands, the heart of which mandates an end to long-term solitary confinement (as well as additional major reforms)."

These prisoners are demanding to be treated like human beings. And it is the people's moral responsibility to act in a way that corresponds with the justness of these prisoners' demands.

The statement goes on to say: "We are presently out of alternative options for achieving the long overdue reform to this system and, specifically, an end to state-sanctioned torture, and now we have to put our lives on the line via indefinite hunger strike to force CDCR to do what's right.

"We are certain that we will prevail.... the only question being: How many will die starvation-related deaths before state officials sign the agreement?

"The world is watching!"

The Emergency Call that summoned people to organize the June Days of Solidarity continues to ring now, even more urgently:

"To the Government: We Demand an Immediate End to the Torture and Inhumanity of Prison House America—Immediately Disband All Torture Chambers. Meet the demands of those you have locked down in your prisons!

"To People in this Country and Around the World: We Cannot Accept, and We Should Not Tolerate This Torture. Join the Struggle to End Torture in Prisons Now!

"To Those Standing Up in Resistance Inside the Prisons: WE SUPPORT YOUR CALL FOR UNITY IN THIS FIGHT, AND WE WILL HAVE YOUR BACKS!"


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