Over the last several years there have been prison hunger strikes all over the country - North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, California… What has been going on in California is just incredible.
Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.
Think about that for a minute. Think about the amount of coordination it took to organize 30,000 prisoners. Think about the obstacles for people trying to organize, not just within a prison, but between prisons. And many of the organizers are in solitary confinement.
The organizing crossed racial lines and gang affiliations. The collective that organized the strikes put out a statement committing to end all racial hostilities, recognizing that the prison system uses those conflicts and prejudices to keep the incarcerated divided and disempowered.
In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!!
I’ve written about these strikes a few times and linked to stories about them. And I’ve been continually frustrated that few people seem to be paying any attention. People’s lives are at stake. Prisoners died after the last actions. Several of the current strikers have required medical attention. And the California Department of Corrections is retaliating against the spokespeople. Our attention could actually save someone, or at least make retaliation a little more difficult.
I’m going to be honest with you. And I’m probably going to piss people off here. But I don’t understand why my inbox is filled with announcements of protests and actions for Trayvon Martin and absolutely nothing about the hunger strike.
Not. One. Thing.
I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Is what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin more tragic than when a cop shot an unarmed 14-year-old hiding in a shed? Is it more racist than the school to prison pipeline where 90% of New York school arrests are children of color? Is it more infuriating than the rapes and murders that regularly occur in juvenile detention centers?
For a whole lot of people it seems to be. And I really don’t understand it. But I saw something on Facebook this weekend that gave me pause. It said something like “calling Trayvon a thug is like calling JonBenet Ramsey a whore”.
I get it. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong. But what if he was? What if he had gotten into a fight or stole a car or sold drugs? Would we be talking about him? What if George Zimmerman had a badge and a gun? Would we still be talking about it? As of 2011, there were 63 police shootings in Miami-Dade county alone that were under perpetual “investigation.” Twenty-five of those involved fatalities. Who is talking about them?
Sometimes people need a symbol to get them motivated. And the temptation is to chose one that is pure and innocent. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat for a white person. But some leaders of the civil rights movement didn’t want a pregnant teenager who was too low class and too dark to be their rallying cry.
But this isn’t 1955. Our injustice systems depend upon criminalization. They depend upon us accepting that “thugs” deserve what they get. Or at least some people don’t merit a public outcry when they are shot in the street, or executed by the state, or tortured and raped in prison. It isn’t o.k. to only rally around the pure and innocent any longer. We have so many laws that nobody can even count them anymore.
The whole game is to make sure that they can discredit people to keep us in check.
I really hesitated to write this post. I was hoping somebody else would do it. I try to write mostly about things I have some experience with. And I have absolutely no way to wrap my head around what it must be like to have a child, much less one that has to face so many risks. But getting shot in the street by a vigilante is a lot less likely than ending up behind bars being tortured by the state.
I know that many of the people organizing Trayvon Martin protests are focused on the bigger picture. They are connecting this shooting to systemic issues of policing, racial profiling, the school to prison pipeline… I love those kids who occupied the Florida governors office.
But not everyone is making those connections. And too many of the emails I am getting are from people who have their necks permanently stuck looking up at power. Lobbying to overturn stand your ground laws or protesting ALEC or getting those few people who have disposable income to stop buying things is not going to smash this system. But a movement led by the people who have been most pummeled by the system just might. These people have signed do not resuscitate documents. They are ready to die for their rights and we are ignoring them.
Not to mention that, while they have managed to coordinate 30,000 people across prisons, we (who are in relative freedom) can’t even manage to coordinate amongst ourselves enough not to have competing Trayvon protests.
I really don’t want to shit all over the organizing that is going on right now. I hope that this case starts something huge. I hope all the actions are successful. But I can’t bring myself to focus on them and ignore the hunger strikes. So I’ll be spending my free time contacting prison officials and prisoners. I hope some of you will make some time to do the same. The addresses and phone numbers are here.