I want to take this time to respond to the recent article that appeared in Revolution newspaper What is Actually Revealed in the California Prisoner Hunger Strike?: Responding to Jeffrey Beard’s Los Angeles Times Op-ed as the California prisoner hunger strike enters its second month and 55 men at Guantanamo remain on hunger strike, I am wrapping up my 4th week of a weekly 3 day fast. I chose to do this weekly fast in solidarity with my revolutionary brother, Gregory Koger, who is currently locked up at Cook County Jail’s maximum security division.
Gregory is a former prisoner who transformed himself into a revolutionary while still locked up in prison. Like many of the prisoners on hunger strike in California, Gregory spent many years in solitary confinement, which is one of the many injustices the hunger strikers are protesting. He knows the torture that solitary confinement inflicts on people. He knows what is like to have this system try to rip away one’s dignity and humanity. On July 23rd Gregory was sent back to Cook County Jail for videotaping a political statement in November 2009. For his first two weeks in jail, Gregory was on hunger strike and was punished for it by being sent repeatedly to the psychiatric ward for evaluation and then placed in the maximum security division. On the advice of his doctor, he suspended his hunger strike last Monday. I have chosen to continue the weekly fast in solidarity as long as he remains there and as long as the prisoner hunger strikes in California and Guantanamo continue.
Why is Gregory being punished, or rather why has Gregory continued to be punished, from his conviction for the videotaping of a statement to his decision to go on hunger strike? Because like the California prison hunger strikers, Gregory is a direct challenge to this system that has created conditions in which many people are forced to make choices – choices that are not of their own but the only ones available to them under this system – which land them in the U.S.’s vast prison system. To make this clearer, I will quote an important point made in the article:
First, it reveals the complete bankruptcy of a system that has no future for generations of Black and Latino youth except confining them into inner cities without hope of employment, flooding these neighborhoods with drugs, setting people against each other, pumping out a culture and morality whose sole purpose is to hammer home the need to “get rich or die trying” in a capitalist system where that can only be done at the expense of others just like you. Then blames these youth and incarcerates them in huge numbers when they act in the ways this system has confined, shaped and set them up to act. Warehousing hundreds of thousands of people in prison and torturing them, and threatening them with torture once they are inside. And when they fight to lift their heads and come together to step out of this: further brutality and criminalization. This oppression is built into the nature of this system and it needs to be done in and done away with through revolution at the earliest possible time.
While in prison, Gregory came to understand this – how he and millions of others just like him came to be inside the gulags of the U.S. and, in transforming himself politically and being introduced to Revolution newspaper and the work of the Revolutionary Communist Party U.S. chairman, Bob Avakian, he committed himself to becoming the grave digger of this capitalist-imperialist system. He has taken to heart Avakian’s “An Appeal to Those This System Has Cast Off” found in *BAsics 3:16 *
Here I am speaking not only to prisoners but to those whose life is lived on the desperate edge, whether or not they find some work; to those without work or even homes; to all those the system and its enforcers treat as so much human waste material.
Raise your sights above the degradation and madness, the muck and demoralization, above the individual battle to survive and to “be somebody” on the terms of the imperialists—of fouler, more monstrous criminals than mythology has ever invented or jails ever held. Become a part of the human saviors of humanity: the gravediggers of this system and the bearers of the future communist society.
This is exactly what the ruling forces of this capitalist-imperialist system are afraid of…people this system has cast off raising their sights beyond their own conditions to see the world how it really is and making a commitment to struggle to change it. Just like how [some of] the California Prisoner hunger strikers have lent their solidarity to those men still held at Guantanamo by the same system that has sought to disappear them.
Anyone who raises their sights beyond their own individual struggle to survive under this horrific system and commits themselves to the struggle for the emancipation of others has my deepest respect and solidarity. This is why I chose to fast. While my weekly 3 day fast is nothing compared to what the California prison hunger strikers and the Guantanamo hunger strikers go through, I can say that I have had a little taste of what it is like. On all 3 days I permit myself a nutrient shake under 250 calories and lots of water. While I may feel a little hungry on the first day, it is relatively easy. On the second day I wake up feeling tired and by evening the hunger pangs are so intense that I must drink lots of water just to try to get them to subside. By the third day my cognitive functioning has
started to slow; for example I may be talking and stop mid-sentence because I have forgotten what I was going to say next, and normal tasks take a little more thought and effort. I may also feel dizzy and shaky.
A fast doesn’t have to be long term… it can be 12 hours or it could be a determined number of days, and it can also be a rolling fast where two or more people commit to take up the fast where one person left off. The purpose of fasting is to let those who on hunger strike know that they are not alone and it can be another way to get the message of the hunger strikers out to the world and demand justice for them. Organizations and individuals who have done a lot to get the word out about the injustice to prisoners at Guantanamo have participated in rolling fasts for example. I’ll end by telling you that I did get to visit Gregory yesterday in the dungeons of Cook County jail and I did share with him my decision to continue my weekly fast, which did put a big grin on his face. If you are fasting or decide to fast in solidarity please write to Stop Mass Incarceration Chicago and share your stories at email@example.com.
Jill McLaughlin is a member of the Steering Committee of World Can’t Wait.