California prison hunger strikers propose ten demands for Occupy movement

Three inmates at Corcoran state prison who participated in this year’s California prisoner hunger strike— Zaharibu Dorrough, Heshima Denham and Kambui Robinson—issued a statement Dec. 6 proposing “10 core demands” for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The communiquĂ©, issued from Corcoran’s supermax Secure Housing Unit (SHU), says the demands were hashed out by prisoners at Corcoran and Pelican Bay under the name of the NARN Collective Think Tank. It states, “These 10 core demands can be modified, augmented or amended to take into account the broadest cross-section of the 99 percent possible and the collective will of the movement.” The demands are online at San Francisco Bay View:

1. We want full employment with a living wage for all people who will work, and for employment to be enforced as the right which it is. The US Declaration of Independence states…”that all men…are endowed…with certain inalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” “Life” is thus a right guaranteed by this nation and the means to live—work, making a living wage for all of those who will and can work—must be equally guaranteed as the right which it is—as must a guaranteed income for those who can’t work. This is the responsibility of the federal government. If the corporate US businessmen will not provide full employment even as they sit on trillions of dollars in cash reserves fleeced from the surplus value of labor, then the means of production should be taken from them and placed in the community so the 99 percent of the people can organize and employ all the people, ensuring a quality standard of life for all.

2. We want an end to institutional racism and race- and class-based disparities in access to, and quality of, labor, education, health care, criminal defense, political empowerment, technology and healthy food. We recognize institutional racism—the US race caste system—and systemic class disparities in the US capitalist structure as not simply an obstacle to equitable educational opportunities, labor access, wage equality…but as structural features of US market capitalism primarily designed to prevent broad class cooperation between the 99 percent from various racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We will no longer allow this divide and rule arrangement to govern the socio-economic relationships upon which the nature and structure of US society is based.

3. We want decent and affordable housing for all people and for it to be enforced as the right which it is. We recognize that housing…is a fundamental necessity of life and as such a right that we have invested this government with securing on our behalf. Instead, government has consistently sided with those on Wall Street, who are responsible for the single greatest loss of housing in the nation’s history, while federal, state and local officials have in essence criminalized homelessness and chronic poverty… Since it was corporate greed, government deregulation and financial speculators that led to the creation of exotic financial instruments like credit default swaps and sub-prime loan bundles which fleeced the 99 percent of much of their wealth and home equity, the government should mandate a “cost of living” readjustment to home equity debt on all US homes so what the people owe actually reflects what these properties are now worth. This would eliminate “underwater” homeowners and bail out the 99 percent of the people for a change. Simultaneously, vacated and empty federal housing authority properties (FHA) should be made into cooperatives so that our communities, with government aid, can create and build decent housing for all.

4. We want affordable and equal access to higher education for all and access to education that teaches the true history of colonialism, chattel slavery, repression of organized labor, the use of police repression and imprisonment as tools of capitalist exploitation, and the perpetuation of imperialism in the development and maintenance of modern US power systems and corporate financial markets. As current trends in the national unemployment rate indicate—for the 99 percent nationally, the rate is 14 percent for Latinos, 17 percent for New Afrikans (Blacks), yet only 4 percent for those with a college degree—higher education has a direct correlation to socio-economic opportunity and prosperity. Since equal opportunity is a fundamental right of US citizenship, the 99 percent should have equal access to higher education without speculative corporate profiteering in industries related to higher education driving up tuition costs and student loan interest rates to usurious levels, leaving most in perpetual debt and simply pricing the very prospect of higher education out of reach for those in communities of color and the poor…

5. We want an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of oppressed people in the US, particularly in the New Afrikan (Black), Latino, immigrant and underclass communities and among those protesting in this nation. We recognize the police and other state paramilitary agencies—sheriffs, FBI, correctional guards etc.—are, and have always been, the enforcement army of the ruling 1 percent. This was again proven when these fascist forces moved nationally, en masse, to attack, pepper spray, beat, destroy the property of, arrest and attempt to crush the national Occupy Movement and its supporters at the two-month anniversary of the worldwide action and every day since. We recognize such brutal and unwarranted treatment is the daily existence of New Afrikan (Black), Latino, immigrant and underclass communities and people in this nation now, and historically, all to ensure the 1 percent “keeps us in our place,” the unfortunate victims of the race/class arrangement…

6. We want an end to the expansion of the prison industrial complex, as a profit base—from our tax dollars—for the disposal of surplus labor and the poor. We want an end to the use of indefinite solitary confinement torture units in the U.S. as they are inhumane and illegal. The mass incarceration of people of color and the poor will no longer be tolerated as an acceptable alternative to enforcing socio-economic equality in America. The disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in a society is the origin of all crime. The U.S. has one of the greatest disparities between haves and have nots on earth. As a result, the U.S. has the largest prison population on the planet with some 2.7 million of our citizens in prison, 67 percent of them New Afrikans (Black) or Latinos, though they constitute only 26 percent of the nation’s population.

The prison population in the US has exploded some 60 percent since 1981, with state and federal prison budgets in excess of 100 percent of billions of our tax dollars a year lining the pockets of corporate interests that build, supply and maintain these prisons, jails, courts and staff, not to mention the labor aristocrats like the CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) guards union, who’ve created a socio-economic and political power base that guarantees their job security and ever increasing salaries and benefits, while maintaining a lobbying stranglehold on state politicians. We recognize, in the face of such a corrupt cabal of government and business, the purpose of imprisonment in the U.S. now has little to do with public safety and rehabilitation and more to do with the development of a self-perpetuating, poverty-fueled, recession-proof industry and an accompanying socio-political accommodating labor aristocracy of prison guards, cops and staff as a support base for the interests of the ruling 1 percent…

7. We want an end to all corporate and financial influences in the political process in the US. We recognize, since its inception, the nature and structure of US society has been one of the rich, for the rich and by the rich, in which the 99 percent have served as a source of exploited labor and a consumer market for the goods and services of those who own the means of production. This pattern of usurpations has evolved into a political process in which public policies and elected officials are more often than not determined by lobbying dollars, manipulation of public opinion by corporate-controlled mass media, and the overwhelming influence of financial markets and industries on policies and policymakers, effectively marginalizing the people, their interests and their will, reducing them to pawns in a game of corporate pandering. This will stop now. The US will finally become a nation of the people, for the people and by the people, where only individual citizens may have any influence in the nature and structure of the democratic process in the U.S. This means banning all lobbyists, donors, financial market proxies, strategic advisers and special interest groups from local, state and federal electoral and legislative processes in the US. We are sick of this “legalized” corruption.

8. We want an end to imperialist wars of aggression and sending our youth off to kill and die to enforce the economic interests of big oil and other corporate concerns seeking new resources to exploit, new markets to open for sale of their goods and services and as an impetus to keep from addressing domestic ills. We recognize, as Bolton Hall said, “If there is a war, you will furnish the corpses and the taxes and others will get this glory. Speculators will make money out of it, that is, out of you (us).” Thousands of our young men and women died in Iraq and across the Middle East and caused the deaths, either intentionally or unintentionally, of many thousands more Third World people, all based on the lies of greedy and bloodthirsty politicians with multiple ties to big oil and corporate interests. The current administration has only slightly modified this same imperialist tendency by shifting it to a more palatable target at the cost of billions of our tax dollars and thousands of our youth that could have been contributing to the prosperity of the nation and its people. We support our young men and women, but we do not support imperialism.

9. We want a bottoms-up approach to economic development and labor-capital relations in the US. This nation is empowered by “we the people,” the 99 percent, to secure our rights to life, liberty, and prosperity; yet we recognize the state has aligned itself so intimately for so long with the exclusive interest of the ruling 1 percent that it has become enamored exclusively to a top-down approach to socio-economic and political solutions which always favors the rich first and everyone else when or if possible. This has resulted in a 281 percent increase in the growth of wealth in the top 1 percent of this nation, while the bottom 90 percent have seen their incomes flat over the past 20 years. We recognize that this fascist alliance between corporate capital and government has become obstructive to the ends of securing the rights of life and prosperity to the 99 percent of this nation’s people and will now come to an end. Socio-economic and political policy must now uplift the quality of life from the bottom rung up—empowering the disenfranchised, providing opportunities for those with no options and directing bailouts and subsidies to the people, not banks and billionaires. We recognize the state has thus far been a tool to guarantee the dominance of one class over others, of the 1 percent over the 99 percent, and that arrangement will now come to an end.

10. We want a more equitable distribution of wealth, justice and opportunity at every level of society, reflecting the objective reality that it’s the socio-economic, political, intellectual and cultural contributions of the 99 percent upon which this society stands. We recognize that there is enough food in this nation that no one need be hungry, enough unoccupied structures in this nation that no one need be homeless, enough educators, institutions, knowledge and technology in this nation that no one need be without a degree or skilled trade, enough work to be done that no one needs to be without a job; and it is only due to the insistence of an entrenched, super-rich 1 percent and their stranglehold on every institution and apparatus of this nation’s infrastructure from the government to the mass media that their opulence and privilege be maintained at the expense of the 99 percent. We recognize that this is not our national reality, the ruling class has mismanaged our society—woefully and criminally mismanaged—and those in power at every level are either unable or unwilling to change the nature and structure of capitalist society. So it falls to us, the 99 percent, to forge a new basis upon which socio-economic relationships will be based, ushering in a new social order in Amerika and around the world, that serves the interests of all the people and not simply the privileged few.

Thousands of California inmates went on hunger strike for 20 days in July, asserting that prison conditions had become inhumane due to overcrowding and harsh security measures. In addition to better treatment and more access to sunlight, they demanded the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) revise its policies on gang identification, under which prisoners are segregated. Inmates went on strike again in September until the CDCR issued a memo pledging that it was working on meeting prisoners’ demands. The hunger strikes succeeded in moving the CDCR to launch a review of its “gang validation” policy and use of solitary confinement in the SHUs. Advocates in the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity group are demanding an investigation into four apparent suicides of prisoners who participated in the strike—two at Pelican Bay, one at Calipatria, and one at San Quentin. (ColorLines, Nov. 21; SF Weekly, Nov. 18)

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  1. Rights group sues over California prison solitary confinement
    The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit May 31 on behalf of several inmates over solitary confinement policies at a California prison Security Housing Unit (SHU). The defendants are California Gov. Jerry Brown, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the Chief for the Office of Correctional Safety and a warden at the Pelican Bay State Prison. The complaint alleges that the SHU violates prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by placing the plaintiffs, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison, in solitary confinement for 10 to 28 years, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Such confinement allegedly denies basic human rights, resulting in detrimental physical and psychological effects on prisoners. The plaintiffs argue that California engages in such practices solely based on prisoners’ alleged association with a prison gang. They are seeking class action status as well as injunctive relief requiring the prison to amend its current policies. (Jurist, June 1)

    New prison hunger strikes have meanwhile broken out around the country. Some four dozen inmates were on hunger strike for several days in May in protest of harsh conditions, abuse and solitary confinement. (WP, May 29) Several Muslim prisoners in the Communication Management Unit (CMU) at Marion federal penitentiary in Colorado went on hunger strike in April in protest of what they say are restrictions in their religious freedoms, such as being able to carry out prayer five times a day. Several non-Muslim prisoners have since joined the strike in solidarity. (Prison Abolitionist, June 1)