Reports on August 1 International Day of Solidarity and Protest in Support of the Prison Hunger Strikers

View more photos from protests across the country.

This was a day of action initiated by World Can’t Wait and taken up by the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, calling for people of conscience everywhere to act to support and respect the prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons all around California. The prisoners’ courageous 20-day hunger strike in July successfully challenged the inhumane conditions of the Security Housing Units [SHU] in the eyes of the world. The hunger strike spread to thousands of prisoners in at least 13 prisons across California, and hauled into the light of day decades of inhumane torture and abuse going on behind the prison walls. These prisoners have inspired people’s support far and wide.

Now this struggle is far from ended. Public attention and support must be sustained, and must grow. For now, the two demands for the August 1 day of action are the basis to spread this support very broadly: the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) must fully meet the hunger strike’s five demands, and there must be no retaliation for the hunger strike against any prisoners, their families and advocates, or their attorneys.

Prisoners are human beings! They deserve the human rights and civil rights demanded by their very humanity – and by ours outside the prison walls too, wherever we may be.

 

Listen to radio interview with Stephanie Tang for World Can't Wait, and Ron Ahnen, President of California Prison Focus. Segmant starts at 8:03, about 7.5 minutes total:

http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/72033

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Report from San Francisco World Can’t Wait: 
At noon we gathered at the State Building for a rally with a powerful line-up of diverse speakers, endorsed by California Prison Focus, SF Bayview newspaper, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, and Cindy Sheehan. Local TV news and Univision reporters filmed the demonstration and interviewed speakers. We grew to 50 strong, as over the roar of mid-day traffic, passionate voices rang out.

 

Speaking to represent the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, Jerry (formerly incarcerated, now an activist for justice) called on us all to stand with the courageous prisoners: “We’re talking about men who wake up in the pre-dawn hours confined in little enclosed, sunless chambers and then spending the rest of their day locked in those little chambers …. No natural sunlight … who could think up something like this? This is the madness we’re fighting against … you have men who’ve been up there for 20 or 30 years.”

Four family members with loved ones in the Pelican Bay SHU spoke with dignity, outrage and love. They told of sons and a brother who lost 20, 25, 30 pounds on the hunger strike, and of the cruelty of the prison system not only against the prisoners but their families: family letters withheld, knowing your child or brother is denied humane medical treatment, not being able to touch or even know if a prisoner’s been transferred. One mother told the rally she is speaking out “to take care of all of the prisoners, not only my kids, but all the kids, all my brothers, my friends, everybody in there, they are a human being like me, and they deserve better!”

Carol Strickman, an attorney on the mediations team for the hunger strike, explained the official pathways for changing prison policies and conditions (thru CDCR, thru legislation, and thru the courts) but she emphasized that "the only way that any of these things can happen is through the power of the people, pushing for the changes to happen and to be enforced."

The crowd was riveted to the words of revolutionary journalist Kiilu Nyasha, a former member of the Black Panther Party. “There's only one race, the human race – and I salute the prisoners who have broken down these false barriers between them and among them and are coming together in solidarity to fight the prison system.” Kiilu said political prisoner Hugo “Yogi” Pinnell joined this hunger strike. In prison since 1964, in solitary confinement since 1969 – Hugo Pinnell has been tortured in the Pelican Bay SHU since 1990. He has not been allowed to make a phone call or feel a human touch (except when being handcuffed) for 20 years. He has not touched his mother since 1973. “We are inhumane,” Kiilu concluded. “As a society we have to take collective responsibility for what happens in our society. Being the world's largest incarcerator makes us much less than human. We must regain our humanity and demand an end to neo-slavery, the prison system and torture”.

We marched to the SF offices of Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris (Harris is behind vicious “anti-gang” laws and raids criminalizing whole communities and sending even more people, mostly Black and Latino, into prison). A delegation went inside to deliver stacks of statements from well-known people who support the hunger strikers including Cornell West, Susan Sarandon, Cynthia McKinney, prominent writers like Nawal el Sadaawi, artists like Tom Morello and Boots Riley, and dozens more. We waited for the delegation, listening to more speakers and chanting. A member of Prison Activist Resources Center (PARC) read from the Written Statement of the hunger strike leaders. A brother from the Revolution Club and a member of the Black Student Union at Laney College spoke. A poem by a Nevada prisoner supporting the hunger strike was read.

Then we marched back to the State Building for a closing circle and everyone pledging to stay the course and stand with the prisoners, supporting their demands and not letting this struggle be silenced. One important upcoming date was announced: on August 23rd, SF Representative Tom Ammiano and the Public Safety Committee in the State Assembly will hold an informational hearing on conditions and policies of the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay. This is a major opportunity for people across the country to support the hunger strike demands, and pressure state legislators and the CDCR to make substantial changes.

Other speakers during the rallies and march gave equally powerful messages – we’re posting YouTubes soon, heads up! – representing World Can’t Wait, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Oakland Educators Association’s Peace and Justice Caucus.

“This historic strike has demanded everyone who is against torture in any way to recognize prisoners as human beings … it widened and intensified international scrutiny into prison conditions and policies in California and around the U.S., particularly among the middle classes who have for years been told these prisoners are the “worst of the worst” and should receive no humanity … it re-invigorated rigorous and collective prisoner-led resistance in the U.S….” said a speaker who’s a Revolution newspaper distributor.

Laura Magnani, director of the American Friends Service Committee in SF, and author of the AFSC’s 2008 report, Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons, reminded us that we rallied at this same place one month ago, on the first day of the hunger strike July 1. “"We have to keep the pressure on. They're hoping that we are going to all go away. They're hoping that it's over. And we're here to say that it’s anything but over. This is just the beginning. The real work starts now and it’s on us to show that we are not going away, that we haven't forgotten."

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Los Angeles

On Monday August 1st, in Los Angeles, in front of the State Building, families with loved ones in the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay and other state prisons, as well as former prisoners who’d been in the SHU at Pelican Bay, joined with representatives from the National Religious Council Against Torture (NRCAT), Interfaith Communities United For Justice and Peace (ICUJP), the Martin Luther King Coalition, readers of Revolution newspaper and numerous others determined to stop torture. Families with loved ones in the SHU and state prison came from all over So California: Santa Monica, Montclair, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Compton, Lake Perris, Riverside, Santa Ana… many of these families have been, for the most part, alone with the knowledge of the horrific reality of their loved ones in the SHU and only until now, with the July hunger strike and support actions, have come together with one voice to demand an end to the long-term isolation and torture.

The NRCAT banner read “Torture is a Moral Issue” and a former SHU prisoner spoke about his experience in the SHU, including how he watched other prisoners literally go insane. He let us know the only way he kept his sanity was that he had a release date as opposed to an indefinite SHU term… he said he had to be out here for those in the SHU today. One family member has heard from Pelican Bay prison authorities that she will now be able to visit her son… she has not seen or heard from her son who is in the SHU for 16 years! Families reported that they’d driven up to Pelican Bay this month and had been able to see loved ones. They told us how their loved ones spirits had been lifted to learn of the protests on the outside and the publicity about the cruel and unusual punishment in the SHU reaching the public at large. A group of 50 protested in the front of the State Building for 2 hours and took off on a march through downtown LA, blasting through a bullhorn the 5 core demands and encouraging others to join.

Leading into the International Day of Protest, on Saturday July 30, a group of family members and others were offered an information table by the organizers of LA Rising, featuring Rage Against the Machine, at the LA Coliseum. These family members spoke with hundreds of people about the hunger strike at Pelican Bay and CA state prisons, the 5 core demands, and the upcoming Int’l Day of Protest. This was an extraordinary opportunity to reach thousands of progressive and radical people from the 20-30 year old generation. The concert was truly amazing, and those of us there spent time into the wee hours of the morning talking with the crowd, distributing info, and planning and visioning next steps to reach many thousands more through the next weeks.
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Seattle

On August 1, a group of us went to the Federal building in downtown and unfurled a banner that read:
No To U.S. Torture  Here and Everywhere! Support the Demands of The Prison Hunger Strikers!

After staying there for an about an hour, we marched to a busier section of town and did chants in support of the prison hunger strikers. The part of town that we ended up with is in a busy part of city, where there is a lot of tourists and stores.  Somebody agitated on the bullhorn about why we were out there and this got attention. People listened to what we were saying about the conditions of the prisoners and others came up to understand more what we were talking about.  Some people were shocked about what was going on in the prison. When we explained the conditions in the prisons such as solitary confinement and what that looks like, one woman was listening intently. When we told her  that there are people who have been held in these conditions for decades,  her jaw dropped. Some people told us that  if people didn’t want to be tortured they shouldn’t go to prison. We replied that no matter what people have done they shouldn’t be tortured. When we framed it that way, some people changed what they thought.

For people who were paying attention to or banner or listening to the agitation, we would go up and get them a flyer so that people could understand what the demands were.  We also had an enlarged version of the demands.  In making these demands known, people get more of a sense of what the conditions in prison are really like. Some people also  had copies of Revolution Issue #241 Prisoners At Pelican Bay End Hunger Strike, The Struggle Continues. This issue had a good centerfold that explained how the real criminals are Presidents like Bush and Obama that have started illegitimate wars of aggressions, sanctioned torture, etc.
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New York City World Can’t Wait:

Representatives of World Can't Wait and Revolution newspaper gathered in New York City's Union Square on Mon. afternoon, Aug. 1 for a speak-out in solidarity with the Pelican Bay prison strikers in support of their
demands.  We were joined by a number of young passers-by and people who had seen the announcement of the speak-out.  Together we held signs, chanted and gathered signatures on letters to Gov. Brown and Sec. Cate urging them to grant the prisoners' demands.

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Chicago World Can’t Wait: 

We held up a banner in support of the Prison Hunger Strike and passed out leaflets to the evening rush hour crowd.  People read the 5 demands, statements of support for the Hunger Strike and chanted "Stop Torture in US Prisons" and "Solitary Confinement is Torture".

 

Main Reports on Protest & Resistance Reports on August 1 International Day of Solidarity and Protest in Support of the Prison Hunger Strikers

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.