Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and the Civilian Soldier Alliance celebrate the resistance demonstrated by California prisoners at the suspension of their third hunger strike organized to protest the cruel, inhumane and tortuous conditions of their solitary confinement. After growing participation since 2011, 30,000 people on the inside joined this strike and many continued for 60 days (Roughly 23% of the entire prison population of CDCR, according to the CDCR website from June 2013). At the close of the strike, led by the Short Corridor Collective, many of the demands of the organizers still have not been met. The struggle continues, and is far from over. IVAW and the Civilian Soldier Alliance honor the resistance by the prisoners and express our continued solidarity.
We see many parallels between the strikers’ resistance within the Prison Industrial Complex and our own work of resistance within the Military Industrial Complex. Jeffrey Beard, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, stated that many of the hunger strikers were only participating in the act of resistance because they were under “extreme pressure to do so from violent prison gangs, which called the strike in attempt to restore their ability to terrorize fellow prisoners, prison staff and communities throughout California.” This particular type of lie about the dedication and purpose behind the personal sacrifices of the resisters is similar to the lies spread by military command against war resisters, an attempt to discredit resistance as “a few bad apples.” Contrary to a claim like Beard’s, we know individuals cannot be coerced into resisting a system so oppressive as the military or the prison system, but must act at great risk, with much personal reflection and from values and commitment to justice.
The California prisoners are resisting the tortuous conditions of their imprisonment, and many of us, as veterans of the Global War on Terror, have played a part in the torture of thousands of people. As part of boundless war, the United States military would capture prisoners and turn them over to parties, such as the Iraqi Security Forces or third-party countries, which the United States military knew would torture them. After learning the truth of our military’s role in the torture of prisoners, and sometimes our own personal role in this, we have an intimate connection to the torture happening within our nation’s own prisons. The conditions experienced by some of California’s prisoners amount to torture. This includes people who are forced to live within Security Housing Units (SHU), with little or no contact with other people for weeks, months, years, even decades.
There are many ways in which the lines between the Prison Industrial Complex and the Military Industrial Complex overlap and blur. For example, our prison industry and domestic police force is another extension of US militarism. They are profit-driven, and made possible by dehumanizing “the other” through racism, sexism, and xenophobia. It is through the guises of Wars on Terror and Drugs that these powers are able to strive towards higher and higher profit margins through the exploitation of “the other.. Stopping these oppressive systems takes people who have experienced it first-hand, taking action through all kinds of resistance and self-sacrifice. We have seen this with whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, also with the Short Corridor Collective hunger-strikers in California prisons and the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who are also on hunger strike.
We are inspired by the unity developed and demonstrated by the strikers under such repressive conditions, and we ourselves as war resisters have much to learn from these fellow resisters. We look forward to seeing what progress Senator Hancock and Assembly Member Ammiano will make through legisltative hearings in challenging Governor Brown and the CDCR’s policies of solitary confinement and inhumane conditions. We will be watching these next steps closely and are prepared to take further action to support the Short Corridor Collective in their resistance and struggle.