Revolution #246, September 25, 2011

Hastings Law School Teach-In: Magnifying the Voices of the Prisoner Hunger Strikers

On September 26, as prisoners in California prisons resumed their hunger strike, students at Hastings Law School in San Francisco organized a teach-in to expose the conditions that prisoners face and to mobilize support and action in support of the prisoners’ demands.

More than 90 Hastings students attended the teach-in, which was sponsored by Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal, Hastings Prisoner Outreach, National Lawyers Guild - Hastings Chapter, La Raza, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Black Law Student Association and Hastings Criminal Law Society.

Speaking at the teach-in were Marilyn McMahon, Executive Director of California Prison Focus, law professor Hadar Aviram, Keramet Reiter, JSP candidate at Boalt Hall Law School, and Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, himself a former prisoner. While these speakers brought forward information on the conditions in the SHU and the history of solitary confinement, a big focus was on the need for people to get involved and use their legal training and their position in a way that can make a difference.

Dorsey Nunn gave an impassioned challenge to the students: "You can't do mass incarceration and put 2.4 million people in prison and 7 or 8 million under the control of the criminal justice system without torture and killing people questionably. It's almost like it is a natural extension. I don't think you can do all of these things and say that somehow as a society that we are not accountable—for all of us.  So I don't think we can say it happened outside the public eye. We were all aware that we were locking up Black and brown people in these extremely large numbers. It's almost like saying Dachau was outside the public eye."

One of the students who organized the event told Revolution, “It's about relevancy. There are a lot of students here who want to make their work relevant so that what they are doing is in line with their values."

Brooke, a Hastings student, is organizing law students to travel to Pelican Bay, a seven-hour drive from San Francisco, to meet with SHU prisoners and document their conditions. She told Revolution, “It's really inconvenient, especially for law school students to take that trip and miss class. But what you really have to think about is whether missing a lecture—how far back is that going to set you compared to what these people are facing? How important is it, in comparison to get their voice out? I try to make clear to students that magnifying this voice, especially through a law school student who, for whatever reason, society has given more legitimacy, is so much more impactful than going to a lecture that you can get notes on from someone else.”

The students at Hastings have put together a PowerPoint presentation that they are making available to other students to use in organizing support for the prisoners.

Many diverse actions are being organized in support of the prisoners—and much more is needed.

San Francisco Press Conference: On Monday, Sept. 26, supporters of the prisoners organized a press conference in San Francisco. Speakers included former prisoners, attorneys, law school students and scholars. The Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition website announced that meetings were organized in Toronto and Vancouver on Monday and that there was a protest in Los Angeles at a fundraiser for Obama.

Bannering during rush hour: On Tuesday, six people took a huge banner supporting the hunger strike to a busy freeway on-ramp in San Francisco during afternoon rush hour. The on-ramp was across from a homeless service agency. Many of the people there had either been in the California prison system or have friends and relatives incarcerated. One Black man told us that he had been in the Pelican Bay SHU when guards “washed” a mentally ill prisoner in scalding hot water till his skin fell off. Reportedly the guards joked that "It looks like we have a white boy now!"

Upcoming actions in the San Francisco Bay Area include a protest at CDCR headquarters, 1515 S St., downtown Sacramento, on Wednesday, October 5, from 12 noon -2 pm.

For some of the ways you can support the hunger strikers:
go to and prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond