We are nearing the start of the 2013 prisoner strikes in the united states, set to begin in just six days.
This will be the next chapter in the book of resistance that – for many of us – began in 2011, when thousands (and at one point, over 12,000) people held in California prisons went on hunger strike, for 21 days in July and 17 in September/October. A rebellion the scope of which is unique in recent history, organized illicitly, carried out in the face of violence and medical abuse, mobilizing many more than the “left” on the streets generally even dared dream of rallying…
The 2011 hunger strikes have been chronicled elsewhere, including on this site, and so i won’t recap what happened here.
Looking forward to what is about to break out in less than a week, what i want to emphasize is the importance of sustained, consistent, and yet also escalating solidarity from those of us on the outside. While it is the prisoners who must eventually succeed in this struggle, the cost and speed at which they do so will be in large part determined by the presence or absence of solidarity, and of the overarching presence or absence of revolutionary and militant liberation movements, on the outside.
If the California Department of Corrections and “Rehabilitation” (CDCR) had there way, they would be lying and claiming nobody was on strike a week from now. It is because we will be active on the ground that this will be impossible. The speed at which we break through the media’s wall of silence – whether it takes weeks or days or hours for the strike to be reported on – will be the first significant test for those of us on the outside.
CDCR’s next line of defense will be to take the repression that they already engage in – sleep deprivation, potty watches, disciplinary write-ups and threats of validation – and ramping it up, as a way of communicating their lie that they won’t back down. They will also engage in misinformation, perhaps as in 2011 they will go so far as to tell prisoners that they won and the strike is over, all in an attempt to disrupt what is going down. And of course, right up until the very last minute, they will lie and say they will not negotiate. Then when they do negotiate, they will lie and say that it is in good faith.
Exposing these lies is one part of our job.
Another part, of course, is exposing and protesting the inevitable abuse.
It did not take long in 2011 for prisoners to begin suffering serious health effects from not eating, and in many prisons staff (both guards and medical staff) were complicit in withdrawing medical care (i.e. not giving sick prisoners medicine as punishment for their being on hunger strike) and in some cases actively working to aggravate their situation (i.e. withholding liquids, transferring alleged “leaders” to units where the temperature would be kept at freezing levels, etc.).
As one of the “lessons learned” from 2011, outside supporters have established an Emergency Response Network. People who sign up to the network are making a commitment to take one action every week – a phone call or an email – to protest in support of the prisoners demands. (You can sign up to the ERN at this website here.)
At the same time, for the prisoners, this struggle is about to enter a stage of rapid escalation, as things get “for real” very quickly. Especially in the case of a work stoppage, they will be thrown into a dynamic of action-reaction in which things will potentially spiral beyond what we saw in 2011. As such, any and all support on the outside – protests, pickets, noise demos, civil disobedience, disruptions, graffiti, whatever – will be of potential significance, and may even help save lives.
As a very small part of this effort to support the strikes that are about to begin, a Hungerstrike Newsletter similar to the one that was sent out in 2011, will once again start appearing. This will be a once-a-day newsletter containing links to news articles about the strike; background research on the penal state, supermaxes and solitary confinement; and a calendar of upcoming actions in solidarity with the prisons.
To subscribe to the Hungerstrike Newsletter, send an email to [email protected]
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