California prison hunger strikers propose ‘10 core demands’ for the national Occupy Wall Street Movement
by Heshima Denham, Zaharibu Dorrough and Kambui Robinson
“The Constitution, then, illustrates the complexity of this American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the Blacks, the Natives, the very poor Whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law – all made palatable by this fanfare of patriotism and unity.” – Howard Zinn
Most of you, at this point, are familiar with the NARN Collective Think Tank (NCTT) from the many progressive programs and ideas that have come out of this body from both Pelican Bay SHU and here in Corcoran SHU, most recently our work in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. Like the Arab Spring, which is still rocking the Middle East, and our own struggle to abolish indefinite confinement in sensory deprivation SHU torture units (see the five core demands from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity), the Occupy Wall Street Movement expresses a fundamental rule of materialist dialectics as they apply to social development – i.e., the transformation of quantity into quality – expressed eloquently by the Honorable Comrade George Lester Jackson some 40 years ago: “(C)onsciousness is directly proportional to oppression.”
“(C)onsciousness is directly proportional to oppression.” – Honorable Comrade George Lester Jackson
The purpose of the NCTT primarily is to act as a clearinghouse for progressive and meaningful solutions to the ills of society from our unique and scientific perspective. As we have followed and supported the Occupy Wall Street Movement, discussing its great potential, analyzing its character, composition and socio-economic motive force, predicting the inevitable violent reactionary response of the fascist state in defense of its capitalist masters, the ruling 1 percent have never, nor will they ever, concede anything, surely not substantive changes, without struggle which requires unity of purpose, broad-based organization, fluid strategy and effective tactics.
Populist and progressive movements in this nation have succeeded or failed, lived or died, based on how effectively they understood and adapted to this reality. We learned this in the epoch following the Civil War as reconstruction gains were effectively repealed and Jim Crow law was introduced.
The populist movements that gave birth to the People Party, the power of organized labor and the Dorr Rebellion learned this very hard lesson on the heels of the Haymarket Massacre. The Civil Rights Movement taught us the necessity of broad-based organization and accurate agreement of the opposition’s center of gravity: their point of weakness. Only a few years later we learned not to underestimate the power of the ruling 1 percent and insidiousness of its state tools when the Counter-Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) dismantled the Black Liberation Movement, imprisoned many of us, and ushered in the world of individualistic pursuits, greed, corruption, gross inequality and mass incarceration you all have now inherited.
As we watched the National (International) Day of Action unfold and the days that have followed, witnessing the predictable brutal response of the tools of the 1 percent as they beat young men and women bloody, pepper sprayed and pummeled peaceful youth at UC Davis, destroyed the people’s property across the nation, and even peppersprayed and dragged away 68-year-old women and pregnant ladies alike, with great effort we detached from our rage and analyzed the comments, ideas, and responses of various political pundits, common people on the streets, agents of the state and our protestors themselves.
Three things immediately became obvious from that analysis: 1) The mass media and far too many of the various pundits were in essence counting on the national Occupy movements to just peter out and fizzle away. It was this message that those who own these mass media outlets – the 1 percent – want to be disseminated as broadly as possible to undermine mass support for the movement.
The mass media were counting on the national Occupy movements to just peter out and fizzle away. It was this message that those who own these mass media outlets – the 1 percent – want to be disseminated as broadly as possible to undermine mass support for the movement.
2) We, the 99 percent, have no intention of going anywhere until substantive change is realized, and though most in this nation not involved directly in the occupations themselves agree with our ideas in opposition to corporate greed and institutional inequality, there were no clearly articulated demands around which the movement could organize the broader masses. 3) This lack of clearly articulated demands and coherent strategic and tactical organization by the national Occupy Movement was undermining its intent, diluting its potential, and degrading its motive force.
It must be understood that substantive, radical, progressive social change is no different than warfare and warfare is a form of power. Power systems, no matter their myriad manifestations, share the same basic structures. The most visible thing about them is their appearance, what is seen and felt.
Great power systems first try to ignore challenges to them, to dismiss them. When this fails, they opt to crush them. This is exactly what the Occupy Movement has experienced thus far. But all too often this outward display is a deceptive fabrication, a manifestation of insecurity, since power dares not expose its weaknesses.
The key lies in determining what their point of vulnerability is, and to do so you must understand the structure of the power system and the culture in which it operates. I began this discussion with a concise analysis of just this point by Howard Zinn.
The real point of vulnerability in American democracy is the social and political support of its citizens. Unfortunately, the key apparatus in influencing public opinion is the American mass media – yet, ironically, they are equally vulnerable to the power of the mass support of the people. The key factor thus far in failing to harness this mass support is the lack of broad-based, articulable demands around which the uncommitted people who may support our message but not our movement can be educated, organized and mobilized to join the movement and transform not only the nature and structure of U.S. society, but the WORLD.
The key factor thus far in failing to harness the mass support of the people is the lack of broad-based, articulable demands around which the uncommitted people who may support our message but not our movement can be educated, organized and mobilized to join the movement and transform not only the nature and structure of U.S. society, but the WORLD.
To that end the NCTT Corcoran SHU has made a comprehensive analysis of statements from participants of all the national Occupy movements and some of those abroad and compiled these ideas into 10 core demands of the Occupy Wall Street Movement national coalition. We call on you brothers and sisters to disseminate these 10 core demands to all the Occupy movements across the nation and the world, and we call on all the Occupy movements to convene a national forum – which can take place online or at a national convention – to discuss the adoption of these 10 core demands as the definitive goals and organizing points around which the movement is based and the next level of our struggle is to be waged. These 10 core demands can be modified, augmented or amended to take into account the broadest cross-section of the 99 percent possible and the collective will of the movement:
The 10 Core Demands of the Occupy Wall Street Movement National Coalition
1. We want full employment with a living wage for all people who will work, and for employment to be enforced as the right which it is. The U.S. Declaration of Independence states in part “that all men … are endowed … with certain inalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” “Life” is thus a right guaranteed by this nation and the means to live – work, making a living wage for all of those who will and can work – must be equally guaranteed as the right which it is – as must a guaranteed income for those who can’t work. This is the responsibility of the federal government. If the corporate U.S. businessmen will not provide full employment even as they sit on trillions of dollars in cash reserves fleeced from the surplus value of labor, then the means of production should be taken from them and placed in the community so the 99 percent of the people can organize and employ all the people, ensuring a quality standard of life for all.
2. We want an end to institutional racism and race- and class-based disparities in access to, and quality of, labor, education, health care, criminal defense, political empowerment, technology and healthy food. We recognize institutional racism – the U.S. race caste system – and systemic class disparities in the U.S. capitalist structure as not simply an obstacle to equitable educational opportunities, labor access, wage equality, proportionate rates of chronic disease management, access to quality and preventable health care services, non-predatory community policing, equitable treatment of criminal offenders, access to the political process for all, access to communications technology, the internet and fresh, unprocessed foods but as structural features of U.S. market capitalism primarily designed to prevent broad class cooperation between the 99 percent from various racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We will no longer allow this divide and rule arrangement to govern the socio-economic relationships upon which the nature and structure of U.S. society is based.
3. We want decent and affordable housing for all people and for it to be enforced as the right which it is. We recognize that housing, like living wage employment, is a fundamental necessity of life and as such a right that we have invested this government with securing on our behalf. Instead, government has consistently sided with those on Wall Street, who are responsible for the single greatest loss of housing in the nation’s history, while federal, state and local officials have in essence criminalized homelessness and chronic poverty and made a practice of attacking, destroying the property of and displacing the homeless wherever they’ve tried to erect shelters in this locked, anti-poor society. Since it was corporate greed, government deregulation and financial speculators that led to the creation of exotic financial instruments like credit default swaps and sub-prime loan bundles which fleeced the 99 percent of much of their wealth and home equity, the government should mandate a “cost of living” readjustment to home equity debt on all U.S. homes so what the people owe actually reflects what these properties are now worth. This would eliminate “underwater” homeowners and bail out the 99 percent of the people for a change. Simultaneously, vacated and empty federal housing authority properties (FHA) should be made into cooperatives so that our communities, with government aid, can create and build decent housing for all.
4. We want affordable and equal access to higher education for all and access to education that teaches the true history of colonialism, chattel slavery, repression of organized labor, the use of police repression and imprisonment as tools of capitalist exploitation, and the perpetuation of imperialism in the development and maintenance of modern U.S. power systems and corporate financial markets. As current trends in the national unemployment rate indicate – for the 99 percent nationally, the rate is 14 percent for Latinos, 17 percent for New Afrikans (Blacks), yet only 4 percent for those with a college degree – higher education has a direct correlation to socio-economic opportunity and prosperity. Since equal opportunity is a fundamental right of U.S. citizenship, the 99 percent should have equal access to higher education without speculative corporate profiteering in industries related to higher education driving up tuition costs and student loan interest rates to usurious levels, leaving most in perpetual debt and simply pricing the very prospect of higher education out of reach for those in communities of color and the poor.
5. We want an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of oppressed people in the U.S., particularly in the New Afrikan (Black), Latino, immigrant and underclass communities and among those protesting in this nation. We recognize the police and other state paramilitary agencies – sheriffs, FBI, correctional guards etc. – are, and have always been, the enforcement army of the ruling 1 percent. This was again proven when these fascist forces moved nationally, en masse, to attack, pepper spray, beat, destroy the property of, arrest and attempt to crush the national Occupy Movement and its supporters at the two-month anniversary of the worldwide action and every day since. We recognize such brutal and unwarranted treatment is the daily existence of New Afrikan (Black), Latino, immigrant and underclass communities and people in this nation now, and historically, all to ensure the 1 percent “keeps us in our place,” the unfortunate victims of the race/class arrangement.
We recognize the police and other state paramilitary agencies – sheriffs, FBI, correctional guards etc. – are, and have always been, the enforcement army of the ruling 1 percent.
Self-defense is a human right and both the action and means are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and state laws (see the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and California Penal Code Section 50). We believe community organized oversight and self-defense forces should be organized to monitor and record all police interactions with the people and defend them against ruling class directed and racist attacks when necessity dictates. The hypocrisy of the government and media is exposed as they criticize Syria, China and Iran for attacking peaceful protestors while they do the same across the U.S. daily. We will suffer no more attacks like those at UC Davis, no more Scott Olsens, Fly Benzos or Oscar Grants to be injured or killed at the hands of the tools of the 1 percent.
The hypocrisy of the government and media is exposed as they criticize Syria, China and Iran for attacking peaceful protestors while they do the same across the U.S. daily. We will suffer no more attacks like those at UC Davis, no more Scott Olsens, Fly Benzos or Oscar Grants to be injured or killed at the hands of the tools of the 1 percent.
6. We want an end to the expansion of the prison industrial complex, as a profit base – from our tax dollars – for the disposal of surplus labor and the poor. We want an end to the use of indefinite solitary confinement torture units in the U.S. as they are inhumane and illegal. The mass incarceration of people of color and the poor will no longer be tolerated as an acceptable alternative to enforcing socio-economic equality in America. The disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in a society is the origin of all crime. The U.S. has one of the greatest disparities between haves and have nots on earth. As a result, the U.S. has the largest prison population on the planet with some 2.7 million of our citizens in prison, 67 percent of them New Afrikans (Black) or Latinos, though they constitute only 26 percent of the nation’s population.
The prison population in the U.S. has exploded some 600 percent since 1981, with state and federal prison budgets in excess of hundreds of billions of our tax dollars a year lining the pockets of corporate interests that build, supply and maintain these prisons, jails, courts and staff, not to mention the labor aristocrats like the CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) guards union, who’ve created a socio-economic and political power base that guarantees their job security and ever increasing salaries and benefits, while maintaining a lobbying stranglehold on state politicians. We recognize, in the face of such a corrupt cabal of government and business, the purpose of imprisonment in the U.S. now has little to do with public safety and rehabilitation and more to do with the development of a self-perpetuating, poverty-fueled, recession-proof industry and an accompanying socio-political accommodating labor aristocracy of prison guards, cops and staff as a support base for the interests of the ruling 1 percent.
Prison is a socially hostile microcosm of society’s contradictions, possessing the same race/class and state/class contradictions that currently define the socio-economic inequality that is capitalist Amerika. Prisons serve as warehouses for surplus labor, the poor and those who have been forced to the bottom rung of society. It is the systemic race/class disparities, intentional criminalization and underdevelopment of poor communities and social apathy which have forced most offenders into the underground economy as the only viable option to survive. This is unacceptable and unsustainable, equally repugnant, fundamentally inhumane, and illegal as the continued gross violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture – to which the U.S. is a signatory and we agree is the law of the land – which prohibits long-term solitary confinement for extracting information, political views or as punishment for any reason – which is the very purpose of SHU units – as torture, but it is being practiced in numerous U.S. prisons with government approval. The continued indefinite confinement of human beings in SHUs, SMUs and other supermax torture units must be abolished in the U.S., as they violate the basic tenets of human rights this nation has sworn to uphold. The basis of true rehabilitation, such as tech and computer-based vocational programs, access to higher education for prisoners and community-based parole boards must become the new order of the day. This is the only way to guarantee true justice in an unjust social arrangement and see our imprisoned citizens are capable of making a meaningful contribution to our society and prosperity.
The disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in a society is the origin of all crime. The U.S. has one of the greatest disparities between haves and have nots on earth.
7. We want an end to all corporate and financial influences in the political process in the U.S. We recognize, since its inception, the nature and structure of U.S. society has been one of the rich, for the rich and by the rich, in which the 99 percent have served as a source of exploited labor and a consumer market for the goods and services of those who own the means of production. This pattern of usurpations has evolved into a political process in which public policies and elected officials are more often than not determined by lobbying dollars, manipulation of public opinion by corporate-controlled mass media, and the overwhelming influence of financial markets and industries on policies and policymakers, effectively marginalizing the people, their interests and their will, reducing them to pawns in a game of corporate pandering. This will stop now. The U.S. will finally become a nation of the people, for the people and by the people, where only individual citizens may have any influence in the nature and structure of the democratic process in the U.S. This means banning all lobbyists, donors, financial market proxies, strategic advisers and special interest groups from local, state and federal electoral and legislative processes in the U.S. We are sick of this “legalized” corruption.
8. We want an end to imperialist wars of aggression and sending our youth off to kill and die to enforce the economic interests of big oil and other corporate concerns seeking new resources to exploit, new markets to open for sale of their goods and services and as an impetus to keep from addressing domestic ills. We recognize, as Bolton Hall said, “If there is a war, you will furnish the corpses and the taxes and others will get this glory. Speculators will make money out of it, that is, out of you (us).” Thousands of our young men and women died in Iraq and across the Middle East and caused the deaths, either intentionally or unintentionally, of many thousands more Third World people, all based on the lies of greedy and bloodthirsty politicians with multiple ties to big oil and corporate interests. The current administration has only slightly modified this same imperialist tendency by shifting it to a more palatable target at the cost of billions of our tax dollars and thousands of our youth that could have been contributing to the prosperity of the nation and its people. We support our young men and women, but we do not support imperialism.
9. We want a bottoms-up approach to economic development and labor-capital relations in the U.S. This nation is empowered by “we the people,” the 99 percent, to secure our rights to life, liberty, and prosperity; yet we recognize the state has aligned itself so intimately for so long with the exclusive interest of the ruling 1 percent that it has become enamored exclusively to a top-down approach to socio-economic and political solutions which always favors the rich first and everyone else when or if possible. This has resulted in a 281 percent increase in the growth of wealth in the top 1 percent of this nation, while the bottom 90 percent have seen their incomes flat over the past 20 years. We recognize that this fascist alliance between corporate capital and government has become obstructive to the ends of securing the rights of life and prosperity to the 99 percent of this nation’s people and will now come to an end. Socio-economic and political policy must now uplift the quality of life from the bottom rung up – empowering the disenfranchised, providing opportunities for those with no options and directing bailouts and subsidies to the people, not banks and billionaires. We recognize the state has thus far been a tool to guarantee the dominance of one class over others, of the 1 percent over the 99 percent, and that arrangement will now come to an end.
Socio-economic and political policy must now uplift the quality of life from the bottom rung up – empowering the disenfranchised, providing opportunities for those with no options and directing bailouts and subsidies to the people, not banks and billionaires.
10. We want a more equitable distribution of wealth, justice and opportunity at every level of society, reflecting the objective reality that it’s the socio-economic, political, intellectual and cultural contributions of the 99 percent upon which this society stands. We recognize that there is enough food in this nation that no one need be hungry, enough unoccupied structures in this nation that no one need be homeless, enough educators, institutions, knowledge and technology in this nation that no one need be without a degree or skilled trade, enough work to be done that no one needs to be without a job; and it is only due to the insistence of an entrenched, super-rich 1 percent and their stranglehold on every institution and apparatus of this nation’s infrastructure from the government to the mass media that their opulence and privilege be maintained at the expense of the 99 percent. We recognize that this is not our national reality, the ruling class has mismanaged our society – woefully and criminally mismanaged – and those in power at every level are either unable or unwilling to change the nature and structure of capitalist society. So it falls to us, the 99 percent, to forge a new basis upon which socio-economic relationships will be based, ushering in a new social order in Amerika and around the world, that serves the interests of all the people and not simply the privileged few.
In addition, we call on each individual Occupy Movement to begin organizing in and with the underclass communities in your city or town and for all my brothers and sisters in the ghettos, projects, barrios and trailer parks across this nation to begin organizing with Occupy Movement coalition reps around collective programs that can serve to begin realizing these 10 core demands by our unity and contributions alone. The NCTT, both here in Corcoran SHU and Pelican Bay SHU are committed to making meaningful contributions to the development of such community action programs, which we will outline in our next communication.
We call on each individual Occupy Movement to begin organizing in and with the underclass communities in your city or town and for all my brothers and sisters in the ghettos, projects, barrios and trailer parks across this nation to begin organizing with Occupy Movement coalition reps around collective programs that can serve to begin realizing these 10 core demands by our unity and contributions alone.
But what must be understood is social movements of this nature are supported only to the degree that their ideas find resonance in the psychological structures of the masses, but even this is not enough. To ensure the realization of any substantive change in the nature and structure of U.S. capitalist society and to prevent this movement from being isolated and neutralized by the forces of repression, it must be firmly embedded in as broad a cross-section of this population as possible.
There are some 47 million people in Amerika living below the poverty line, another 150 million or so barely getting by – two thirds of this nation’s population, all of them part of the 99 percent. It is here that we will find our most lasting support, and thus it is here that you must begin forging meaningful ties. These are overwhelmingly New Afrikan (Black), Latino, immigrant and poor communities.
You champion us all with your ideas and the courage of your convictions, just as we continue to support you with our sacrifices and insight. It is now time to take the movement to its next evolution and ultimately to its inevitable conclusion: victorious revolutionary change.
Your greatest power lies in your unity and cooperation and ultimately your organizational ability. The power of the people far surpasses all the repressive violence of the Babylons attacking you/us or the wealth of the 1 percent, who will stop at nothing to silence us all.
The power of the people far surpasses all the repressive violence of the Babylons attacking you/us or the wealth of the 1 percent, who will stop at nothing to silence us all.
This is a protracted struggle; there will be no 90-day revolution here. Victory will require sacrifice, tenacity and competent strategic insight. The question you must ask is, Are you prepared to do what is necessary to win this struggle? If you answer in the affirmative, commit to victory and accept no other alternative. The people, as we are, are with you. Until we win or don’t lose, our love and solidarity to all those who love freedom and fear only failures.
Send our brothers some love and light: Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-46, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; and Kambui Robinson, C-83820, CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212. And read their previous stories: “A brief hunger strike update from the front lines of the struggle: Corcoran-SHU 4B 1L C-section Isolation Unit” (second story in that post), “From the front lines of the struggle,”and “We dare to win: The reality and impact of SHU torture units.” This story was typed by Adrian McKinney.