#31: ICE Buses Blocked! Hooray!

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installed in downtown Berkeley

We are so inspired by the courage and creativity of the immigrant rights movement.  Especially the young people who have grown up in the U.S. have been willing to risk losing everything they have ever known.

In mid-October, activists in Tucson, Arizona, took one of the most dramatic actions yet, blockading a number of buses as they tried to leave an Immigrations & Customs Enforcement facility to take people to detention centers or airports to be deported.  (Arizona activists had done a similar blockade in August.)

One week later, a group in San Francisco did the same thing.  The action was not publicized, requiring a certain amount of secrecy to enable it to come off, but one of us happened to be walking by the ICE building at the time that it was blockaded, and was so inspired, she was late to an event where she was meeting friends.

Let a million such actions bloom!

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ice posgter fruitvale with people

In Oakland’s Fruitvale district, where daily ICE patrols create a climate of terror for families

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Week #29 – Praise Ms. Manning

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In coming out as transgender, one day after receiving the longest sentence ever handed down for releasing information to the press, Chelsea Manning once again started a difficult conversation that this country needs to have.  In the media frenzy following Chelsea’s announcement, even the case of Cece Macdonald got some attention.  Cece is a transwoman doing time in a men’s prison in Minnesota, for defending herself and her friends against a racist, homophobic and transphobic attack.

Some supporters have suggested that Chelsea should have waited to make her announcement, in order not to deflect attention from “the broader issues.”  But we feel that the rights of trans prisoners is not a narrower issue than U.S. imperialism and war.  It’s all connected.

We support Chelsea for starting many hard convversations and for being who she is.

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Weeks 26-28: Emmett – Oscar – Trayvon – NO MORE!

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When George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, it brought home to all of us how little has changed since Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi, nearly 60 years ago.  Emmett, like Trayvon, was visiting relatives in a place where he was not known.  Like Trayvon, he was murdered after a trip to the grocery store.  In Emmett’s case, he was killed for speaking to the wife of the store owner’s white owner.emmett_oakland

The Zimmerman verdict came down ironically the weekend that “Fruitvale Station” opened in Oakland.  Watching the film, as well as protesting the failure of justice for Trayvon’s family, reopened the pain and anger of the days following New Year’s Eve 2009, when Oscar Grant was killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.

But what the film does not portray is that it was popular resistance that forced the district attorney to prosecute Mehserle, and led to his conviction, although he received a very light sentence.  (See an interesting perspective on his sentence in Mother Jones.)

Ultimately, it is not the criminal courts which will ever deliver justice for oppressed people in this country.  Courts and prisons exist to perpetuate racism and inequality, as Michelle Alexander has so devastatingly documented.  Only our unity, determination and creative energy can create a world in which murders like Emmett’s, Oscar’s and Trayvon’s can never happen again.

The creators of the brilliant website and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter ask the question, “what are you doing to make sure that #blacklivesmatter?”

This is the beginning of our answer.  We need, first of all, to make sure no one can forget.

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Week #25 – Support Prisoner Hunger Strikes!

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On July 8, 30,000 California prisoners began a hunger strike to demand an end to the state’s use of long-term solitary confinement and other forms of cruel and unusual punishment.

California holds nearly 12,000 people in extreme isolation at a cost of over $60 million per year. The cells have no windows, and no access to fresh air or sunlight. The United Nations condemns the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days as torture, yet many people in California state prisons have been caged in solitary for 10 to 40 years!

In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their family and community members participated in statewide hunger strikes protesting the inhumane conditions in the SHU. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised meaningful reform. In February 2013, prisoners announced that another hunger strike would begin July 8th because of CDCR’s failure to fulfill that promise.

strike-1-rThe hunger strikers demand:

The hunger strikers** have developed these five, straight-forward, core demands, as shown below in their own words:

1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria -

  • Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement.
  • The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
  • The validation procedure used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employs such criteria as tattoos, readings materials, and associations with other prisoners (which can amount to as little as greeting) to identify gang members.
  • Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo v. Alameida settlement which restricted the use of photographs to prove association.

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – CDCR shall implement the findings and recommendations of the US commission on safety and abuse in America’s prisons final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as follows:

  • End Conditions of Isolation (p. 14) Ensure that prisoners in SHU and Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) have regular meaningful contact and freedom from extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm. (pp. 52-57)
  • Make Segregation a Last Resort (p. 14). Create a more productive form of confinement in the areas of allowing inmates in SHU and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious, and other productive activities relating to having a sense of being a part of the community.
  • End Long-Term Solitary Confinement. Release inmates to general prison population who have been warehoused indefinitely in SHU for the last 10 to 40 years (and counting).
  • Provide SHU Inmates Immediate Meaningful Access to: i) adequate natural sunlight ii) quality health care and treatment, including the mandate of transferring all PBSP- SHU inmates with chronic health care problems to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food – cease the practice of denying adequate food, and provide a wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals, and allow inmates to purchase additional vitamin supplements.

  • PBSP staff must cease their use of food as a tool to punish SHU inmates.
  • Provide a sergeant/lieutenant to independently observe the serving of each meal, and ensure each tray has the complete issue of food on it.
  • Feed the inmates whose job it is to serve SHU meals with meals that are separate from the pans of food sent from kitchen for SHU meals.

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.

The Department of Corrections (CDCR) has refused to negotiate with the prisoners.  Some of them are already in serious medical distress.

Call Governor Jerry Brown and demand that he meet with the prisoner hunger strike representatives and agree to their five demands.
(916) 445-2841 (510) 289-0336 (510) 628-0202 Fax: (916) 558-3160

Suggested script: I’m calling in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The governor has the power to stop the torture of solitary confinement. I urge the governor to compel the CDCR to enter into negotiations to end the strike. RIGHT NOW is their chance to enter into clear, honest negotiations with the strikers to end the torture.

Get more information about the California prisoners’ hunger strike

13 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons are also on open-ended hunger strike, some since April.  They are protesting the Israeli government’s use of administrative detention, which allows Palestinians (but not Israelis) to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.  This is similar to the situation of the prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo, over half of whom have been on hunger strike since February.  At least 45 of the 120 men on hunger strike at Guantanamo are being force-fed, which is painful and dangerous and a violation of international law.  86 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for release for six years, but the Obama administration is not moving forward with releasing them.  Only a handful of the 500+ inmates who have been held at Guantanamo since the prison opened in 2001 have ever been charged with a crime.

We demand an end to unjust imprisonment and all forms of torture, including solitary confinement.  Tear down the walls!

Week #24 Whose Independence Day?

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Fourth of July is always such a difficult time for people who are ever-conscious of how far this country has always been from promoting the ideals we espouse.

As people sing about “the rockets red glare” we hope to get them to think for a minute about the people who have borne the brunt of all the rockets we’ve sent down on people around the globe.  The above graphic recalls the heroic action of Muntadher al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, to protest “the violations that are committed against the Iraqi people.”  Al-Zaidi shouted “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,” as he threw the shoes, which is a traditional sign of contempt in Arab cultures.  He was sentenced to three years in prison for his action, and spurred solidarity demonstrations all over the world.

The poster below first made its appearance nearly six months ago.  At that time, prisoners in Guantanamo had just begun their hunger strike.  Now, the medical staff and guards at Guantanamo have announced they will only force-feed the hunger strikers at night during Ramadan.  Force-feeding is condemned by international law as a form of torture.  Although four months into the hunger strike, Obama finally renewed his promise to close the prison and repatriate most of the detainees — over half of whom have been cleared for release by every authority — none of them have been released.  What will it take?  When will we rise up and demand justice?

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Week #23: A Triptych for Pride

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pride triptychOfficial LGBT Pride celebrations, both in San Francisco and all over the country, have been coopted by assimilationist liberals demanding equal rights.  Along with many other queers rooted in broad social justice struggles, we were especially distressed this year by celebrations of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage while the court’s assaults on voting rights and affirmative action threaten so many in our various communities.  We posted these three images along the route of the Dyke March and Trans March in San Francisco, to remind people of our history of queer liberation militancy.

These three posters commemorate three important moments of joyful, powerful queer revolt.  The Stonewall Rebellion is iconic, but is in danger of being sanitized from consciousness.  When groups calling themselves “Stonewall Democrats” ally themselves with politicians like former SF mayor Gavin Newsom, who supports gay people as long as they’re not poor, it’s obvious that the spirit of Stonewall is being perverted.  Stonewall was a fight-back led by street trans sex workers, working class bar dykes and queer youth who openly identified with the Black Panthers and the Vietnamese people.

lesbian avengersLesbian Avengers, formed in 1992, was a direct action group focused on lesbian visibility and survival. Inspired by the success of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), and with chapters in dozens of cities throughout the country created fabulous street actions that inserted lesbians into public life, forced political change, and redefined dykes as the coolest, most ferocious, girls on the block.  Lesbian Avengers organized the first Dyke March at the 1993 March on Washington.  At least 20,000 women participated in the semi-spontaneous march, which had no permit and no official sanction.

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“Fight AIDS Not Arabs” was the slogan shouted by the group from ACT UP New York when they took over a CBS news studio in 1991, interrupting Dan Rather’s nightly news broadcast.  The action preceded the “Day of Desperation” at the start of the first Gulf War, as bombs rained down on Iraq.  In San Francisco, Dykes and Gay Guys’ Emergency Response (DAGGER) joined with Queer Peace (part of Queer Nation) and members of ACT UP to organize an all-queer march of over 1000 people and a queer blockade of the Federal Building, to protest the war against Iraq.

We will not forget.

Week #22: Frameline Don’t Pinkwash Us!

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photo 2A message to Frameline (San Francisco LGBT Film Festival) for opening weekend.  The opening night gala was greeted by a rowdy demonstration protesting the film festival’s ongoing relationship with the Israeli government.Frameline demo glitter banner

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We thought we would add a visual reinforcement to amplify the protesters’ message.  Apparently someone didn’t like it:

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Weeks #20-21: Films Bring Us Together, But Apartheid Divides Us!

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For six years, Bay Area activists have been pressuring Frameline, the oldest and largest LGBT film festival in the world, to end its partnership with the Israeli government.  Although Frameline publicly claimed that they are “neutral,” last year, a packet of documents was leaked (our very own Wikileak!) documenting Frameline’s close collaboration with the consulate and Zionist organizations to suppress progressive queer voices.

Five years ago, Frameline staff met with activists and queer Palestinians and seemed to distance itself from the consulate.  But three years ago, under new leadership and increased pressure from the consulate, they renewed the relationship.  Since then, they have refused to meet with activists on the issue.

This year writers Angela Davis and Alice Walker and filmmakers Susan Stryker, Barbara Hammer, Roya Rastegar and Kim Klausner joined many others in calling on Frameline to drop Israeli sponsorship.  And for the first time, filmmakers declined to show their work at the festival over the issue.  But Frameline once again chose to ignore our cry for justice and partner with apartheid.

Activists will gather outside the opening night gala for a rousing and rowdy protest.  Frameline:  Stop Pinkwashing Apartheid.

apartheid divides us with other posters

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Week #19 – Life, Freedom & Justice in Two Tongues

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From Tahrir Square to Berkeley

From Tahrir Square to Berkeley

Our goal with this project is to inspire.  The Arab Spring inspired all of us.  This graphic was inspired by a chant which rang through the streets of Cairo during the first anniversary of the uprising.  The artist brought the chant home to remind everyone that all it takes is a spark, belief and a communal spirit to change our world.

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