Saturday afternoon I joined a group of about 150 protestors gathered to stand in solidarity with thousands of prisoners who have spent some (or in about forty cases, all) of the past 43 days on a hunger strike in protest of barbaric conditions in isolation. At the start, over 30,000 prisoners refused food- about a quarter of the entire state prison population.
The unified demands from all the groups in different prisons are both few and reasonable (http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/the-prisoners-demands-2/). In fact, I assume most people who don’t pay attention to prison policy would think they had already been met. They have not. Other groups have more specific or location-relevant demands- Pelican Bay has forty additional demands.
This is the sign I made. Mass incarceration (the highest rate in the world) and mass injustice in prisons leads to one obvious course of action- resistance and protest on a mass scale.
Last Tuesday, Bradley Manning, the soldier who leaked documents about the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was found guilty of 17 different counts in a military tribunal. Several charges came from the Espionage Act of 1917, which traditionally covered spying rather than leaking of this type (to the media rather than enemy states).
Pictured is a 1922 protest against the Espionage Act, which had been used against many anti-war leftists- who these protestors considered political prisoners.
The Syrian city of Aleppo has been the site of fierce fighting between various rebel groups and the forces of Bashar al-Assad. Taken recently, it shows two rival flags within a couple hundred feet of each other. The left is from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the right belongs to the Syrian government.
Credit to /r/syriancivilwar on reddit.
As the nation is meditating on the Voting Rights Act, and what the status of racial discrimination is in the United States it’s important to note that the original efforts to register blacks in the Deep South had a body count. People died to empower others. Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney are only the most famous- the fights before, during, and after racial integration were violent and their effects long-lasting.
Regardless of whether the VRA is needed in the present, it should be considered in context with the past.
(courtesy of the civil rights era digitizing effort of the University of Southern Mississippi)
Erdem Gunduz engaged in a form of protest that emphasizes power not by motion, but by the lack of motion. For eight hours he stood silently in Taksim Square- which had been violently cleared out by riot police earlier. Passers-by went from indifferent, to annoyed, to amused, and finally began to emulate him. By the time police moved in at 2am, there were three hundred people standing still, looking at the Ataturk Cultural Center- where a large picture of the famous secular president is displayed.
He is now called “duran adam,” Turkish for “standing man.” Many followup actions throughout Turkey take his lead.
The theme is emerging- a small protest is met with a draconian response. In Istanbul it was a small park slated for redevelopment. In Brazil it’s a fare increase on public transpiration.
It’d be silly to say these small issues lead to such fierce protesting down the road. But a harsh police response (point-blank pepper spray, water cannons, huge amounts of tear gas) can open a much larger, more powerful resentment.
In Turkey, it was the feeling by some that PM Erdogan has become autocratic and unfair. In Brazil, it is that the police are deeply corrupt, and the country wishes to build massive soccer stadiums rather than help its people.
Who will be next?
I took the day off yesterday to march in one of the three major May Day marches in the Bay Area. The San Jose one was by far the largest- local news station KGO cited several thousand protestors. May 1st is International Workers’ Day, and has special importance to socialist and anarchist groups. After the splintering of large leftist groups in the decades after World War I, the holiday stopped being a major event in the United States
However, starting in 2006 in reaction to the caustic immigration debate in Washington D.C, immigrant groups have used the day to march in favor of immigration reform and against business exploitation of undocumented workers.