Prominent Voices Speak Out in Support of Prisoners' Hunger Strike

August 3, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


An important “Open Letter to Governor Brown” is being circulated calling for an end to the torture of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and has already been signed by prominent voices—including Jay Leno; actors Peter Coyote, Ed Asner, Susan Sarandon, Leonard Nimoy, Mike Farrell and Jamie Cromwell; cinematographer Haskell Wexler; singer Bonnie Raitt; Tom Morello; author Michelle Alexander; Gloria Steinem; Rabbi Michael Lerner; Jesse Jackson; Noam Chomsky; and Cornel West. The Open Letter has received national media coverage, including a July 29 story in the Los Angeles Times, "Hollywood stars, civil rights icons protest solitary confinement."

The letter states in part, "Extended solitary confinement is globally recognized as torture. Cut off from any normal human interaction, enduring sensory and physical deprivation, many prisoners describe their lockdown in the SHU [Security Housing Unit] as being 'buried alive'...." The signers say they "stand together against these shameful practices and consider them extensions of the same inhumanity practiced at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay." The letter concludes, "We, the undersigned, call on Governor Jerry Brown to end this torture at Pelican Bay and all California Prisons immediately."

This represents a very significant step in building much broader, societywide support for the prisoners' hunger strike, now in its 26th day. Organizers hope to reach 20,000 signatures on the letter in coming days. The entire letter can be found online.

On Wednesday, July 31, there was an international day of action endorsed by prominent voices of conscience, with rallies to support the hunger strikers. (See "Hunger For Justice Events Around the World Support Prison Hunger Strikers")

On Friday, August 2, California State Senator Tom Ammiano issued a statement urging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to meet with prisoner hunger strike mediators and work toward meeting the prisoners' demands. "These are not minor prisoner complaints, they are violations of international standards that have drawn worldwide attention. To keep anyone in severe isolation for indefinite amounts of time does not meet norms of human rights that civilized countries accept," said Ammiano.

Push to Publish Emergency Call

Many others, from all walks of life, need to speak out in support of the prisoners and for an end to prison torture, including those whose voices reach widely in society.

A number of important petitions and statements are circulating online, including one authored by Mayra Romero, wife of a Pelican Bay SHU prisoner, that has gotten more than 80,000 signatures.

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is working urgently to raise the money to publish the "Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons!" as a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times. The "Emergency Call" has already been signed by Cornel West, Luis Valdez, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Cindy Sheehan, Chuck D, Cynthia McKinney, and hundreds of others. People from neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have been taking stacks of Emergency Calls and getting signatures from many people. Organizers write that publishing this Emergency Call in the Los Angeles Times "would serve notice to the State of California that the prisoners are not alone, that thousands, including many respected voices, support them, and that refusing to grant their just demands will be widely seen as unconscionable and illegitimate." It would also bring the truth to the many thousands who are only beginning to hear about the prisoners' situation and their hunger strike.


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