Hunger Strikers, Gavin Newsom’s Citizenville and the Frontline
Years ago a defense attorney, who was contemplating acceptance of her first death row client, talked to me about how hard it would be to keep this person from ending up in San Quentin’s Death Chamber. But she was anxious to take on the task. I asked her why? She simply and eloquently explained that in every society there must be people who are willing to stand in the way of those who abuse the power they have over individuals under their control. If there is no one there to point out that abuse, to push back against those powerful forces, the abuse will spread and deepen and will become unstoppable.
On Day 44 of the prisoner hunger strike, we are watching a real-life display of that lawyer’s philosophy—prisoners are starving themselves to disrupt the abuse of power displayed by the CDCR’s inhumane policies and practices involving indeterminate solitary confinement.
They have put themselves on the frontline of protest to demand to be treated like human beings.
Meanwhile, not long ago some of the family members of the hunger strikers attempted to meet with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom about these important matters. At the time, Newsom was temporarily serving as Acting Governor while Jerry Brown was traveling out of the country. The meeting never happened: Acting Governor Newsom said he would not have any more to say about the prisoner hunger strike than the Governor had to say about it, which, thus far, has been nothing helpful. Well, pretty much nothing at all.
Ironically, the Lieutenant Governor recently released a book he authored called Citizenville. His promotional email states that “Citizenville shows how we can make government as useful and engaging as your iPhone.” He adds: “I talked to technology pioneers, entrepreneurs, and social media stars for Citizenville to come up with clear steps we can take to reshape our government and engage ordinary citizens.”
Perhaps the “usefulness” of government as depicted in Newsom’s marketing material for his book would be better measured by him and Governor Brown agreeing to talk to the hunger-striking prisoners themselves. The two elected officials could learn of some meaningful fixes to CDCR policies and practices that would do more than merely “engage ordinary citizens,” such talks could actually save lives—those of the protestors as well as those prisoners who are being made morose or insane or both by indeterminate solitary confinement for decades.
On behalf of the Mediation Team,
Barbara Becnel 510-325-6336
Hunger Strike Mediation Team
Dr. Ronald Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org
Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus
Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children