50 days, why would Georgia create martyrs of the Hunger Strikers?
The leadership shared by Miguel Jackson reminds me of an earlier hunger striker. When you have read this, I hope you will join me in a solidarity fast for Miguel Jackson.
Bobby Sands once said "Our revenge will be the laughter of our children." Sands died at the age of twenty-eight, as a Member of the British Parliment, on the sixty-sixth day of the hunger strike he led in H-Block at the Long Kesh Prison, a British Gulag in occupied Ireland. Nine more Republican Hunger Strikers would follow him to the grave before the occupation forces relented and acknowledged that the Irish nationals they interned there were indeed political prisoners, not the common criminals which the Thatcher Administration painted them as.
Miguel Jackson's rap sheet includes convictions for shoplifting, armed robbery and two years into his sixteen behind bars, an aggravated assault. Barring an earlier (and given the current makeup of the Board, politically unlikely) parole, existing court orders provide that he might not see the outside of a prison before 2048, thirty-six years from now.
Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein and a Teachta Dála (member of the Irish Parliment) commented on the life and matrydom of Bobby Sands, telling the story of how Prime Minister Thatcher's government pursued a strategy of (1) 'criminalization', (2) 'Ulsterization' and (3) 'the primacy of the police'. Dismissing as criminal terrorism the resistance movement to their eight-hundred year occupation of the Northern Isles, the Thatcher regime prosecuted the native Irish resistence as if they were common thugs, motivated by personal economic gain, rather than as a legitimate political resistence motivated by a campaign for democracy and justice in the face of the British occupation of their homeland. 'Ulsterization' was likened by Mr. Adams to our own nation's policy of 'Vietnamization', in which we sought to gloss over the foreign intervention inherent in our war against the people of Southeast Asia by enforcing Washington's occupation policies with indigenous faces based in Saigon. Applied to the Irish Occupation, this meant that the policies of Downing Street were to be enforced by residents of Ulster who, if not actually native, were at least descendant of the Scotts and Brits sent centuries ago to govern occupied Ireland for the Monarchy. Applied to American communities, we now let black and latin cops arrest people, even arrest white people from time to time; such is the progress we've made.
I have never met Miguel Jackson and can not speak to his motivations, not then when he committed three armed robberies in a couple of months; not now that he has gone without food for nearly two months. I suspect that had his short lived crime spree been motivated by a desire to fund political organizing, I would have heard about it by now.
What we can all know from the public record is this: Mr. Jackson's offenses (in which no one in the pawn shops he robbed were hurt, by the way) were committeed two months after the effective date of Zell Miller's "Seven Deadly Sins" mandatory minimum sentencing legislation which explicity named his crime, armed robbery, as among those sins. Mr. Jackson was sentenced in the wake of the Clinton and Miller demoguogic politics around the passage of their 1994 and 1996 crime bills and their own election campaigns which filled the airwaves and made it possible for them to deliver. And deliver they did. Zell Miller in his two terms as Governor tripled Georgia prison capacity and put into motion the privatization of the state's Prison system. Roy Barnes nearly doubled it again in his one term.
Under the sentencing regime which existed before the Governor's successive crime packages ratched up sentencing and began passing out contracts to the asphalt lobby and finance class which funded Zell Miller's election, Miguel Jackson would likely by now be out of prison working to make up for the time his incarceration has torn his family apart.
The 'primacy of the police' which Jerry Adams speaks of ought to be well understood on these shores where our nation has long used armed agents of the state to enforce the economic privileges of the few over the democratic interests of the many; as well as a means of exerting social control over those who would dissent from the status-quo.
Miller's 'sentencing enhancements' as they were euphemistically called in discussions around the Capitol became a part of that evolving status-quo which has always been premised on our collective subjugation, both inside and outside the prison walls. By our, I mean poor and working people everywhere to be sure. In this false austerity the banksters have enforced on most anyone not a bankster or their attorney, we must face up to the fact that at core the ideological frameworks for our publicly funded institutions has been, remains, and without our determined action shall forever remain white supremacy. Miller and Clinton and Gingerich and Bush and Obama have all cleverly found their own race neutral ways of continuously recreating white supremacy as the organizing principle of foreign and domestic public policy.
I don't have to excuse that Miguel Jackson used a weapon in robberies sixteen years ago give or take, to imagine the economic choices he must have seen around him to make holding folks up look like a good plan. He was convicted in Fulton County, I'd bet in a city I know well as one too busy to acknowledge how much it hates. His 'Offender Search' page on the Georgia Department of Corrections website shows a photo of him likely as the young man they locked up at twenty-one to face perhaps 54 years behind bars. I doubt it accurately represents the 37 year old man he has grown into.
When Miller and Ginerich and Clinton and the rest of their gang all ganged up and started talking about predators, they were talking about young men like the Miguel Jackson in that old intake photo. That is not to say that Miguel Jackson was a predator. Maybe he was. Its not like I've read the trial transcript, or even know if there was a trial. But I'd bet the odds are good he was probably just young and foolish; at a loss for options likely. I do not know the man's story.
But who among us have not been at one time or another young and foolish. Its how we grow up, by somehow surviving that phase of our lives. And if we manage to avoid killing or maiming ourselves or someone else, if we can get past the 'sentencing enhancements', and avoid falling victim to the political capital earned with the profiteers who finance the election campaigns that advance the careers of criminals who rob with fountain pens; if our very skin does not brand us criminal with every newscast; if we enjoy economic opportunities and access in our race and class segregated lives; if we can enjoy polite conversations pretending that being color blind has somehow changed the economic disparities which have hardly advanced since the abolition of 'involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted'; if we can ignore the profound degredation of living in a country where the Supreme Court opinion in Terry v Ohio is used as an invitation to racial profiling and police occupation; or whose cops kill a black man every forty hours.
If we manage to avoid all those hurdles, we can one day call our kids and ask them to come pick up our grand children so we can enjoy a quiet dinner with our partner. But due to political choices we have collectively made or tolerated, not every twenty-one year old wishes for such happy days in our future.
Our nation's forty-some year war on drugs is a prime example, but so too is our nation's history of political repression, since before the Palmer Raids, through the HUAC hearings, COINTELPRO and now to include the PATRIOT Act prosecutions including its assault on the Critical Arts Ensemble, the Holy Land Foundation and the FBI entrapment campaigns involving Federal employees enticing plans for and providing materials to support violent attacks against domestic targets. Let us not forget the growing surveillance state, ramped up under the Bush Administration and made legal by the Obama Administration.
So what does all of this have to do with the fact that Miguel Jackson, now a 37 year old married man with a family who loves him, went with a single exception fifty days with out food before ending his hunger strike in a prison in Jackson Georgia?
One-in-thirteen of our Georgia neighbors are under judicial supervision, including incarceration in our state prisons and county jails to be sure, but also on probation or on parole. At one in thirteen, that puts Georgia at the bottom of the heap in a nation where one in thirty-one of us nationally face judicial supervision of one form or another. With five percent of the global population, our nation accounts for roughly a quarter of the worlds prisoners.
Miguel Jackson was beaten by guards in the wake of the sit down strike involving at least eleven Georgia prisons in December 2010. He has been locked down now for 18 or 19 months. He still waits for the medical attention appropriate for a man who suffers daily migraines and has hammer indentation in his skull left there by correctional officers on the state payroll.
The issues of Mass Incarceration grow from our cultural commitment to the ideology of white supremacy. Michelle Alexander has documented in frightening detail the nature of the political and legal framework crafted to justify these insane policies, the Terry stop is only the tip of the iceberg. And as in so many other spheres of our corporate occupied existence, there are a handful who turn significant profits, redistributing the scarce income of working people through the tax system into the hands of the wealthiest and most cold-hearted shareholders who reap their profits from the incarceration of our friends, our neighbors and our family members.
I can not know whether Miguel Jackson was singled out because he helped organize the strike, or whether he was chosen to make an example of, facts be damned. The timeline as we know it says that he was beat down by the guards, after we had been informed of the Georgia 37 rounded up for 'protective custody' on the basis of possessing cell phones smuggled in by the guards. We know of two other men who were taken to the super max unit since then, apparently in the aftermath of the strike. They call themselves the Hidden Thirty-Seven. But in truth they are not quite sure who they all are or how many they are. They are being held in solitary confinement for 19 months and change already. We have reason to believe there were at least forty among them based public statements and the timeline we have assembled.
Whatever Mr. Jackson's political consciousness when he was robbing pawn shops in the Spring of 1995, Miguel Jackson today is a political prisoner. And if we are clear that it was political decisions which 'enhanced sentences' and bloated Georgia's prison population, it is hard not to see all inmates in the state and US gulags as political prisoners.
We have permitted the enactment of these policies in our names, funded by our tax dollars, through our failure to take a stand and to insist that enough has long since been too much. Only building and educating a mass movement ready to say no to mass incarceration, to the demagogues parading about as public servants, the propaganda and mental poisons masquerading as news and popular entertainment; to the theft of our tax dollars to fund the surveillance state and the racist wars against not only our global neighbors but also domestically in our own communities, targeting our neighbors and ourselves.
A couple of weeks back, the AJC reported that "(t)he Department of Corrections told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it would look into the allegations and respond shortly," as if they were unaware that ten inmates in solitary confinement had been refusing meals since June 10th. On Wednesday the same paper reported that "A hunger strike by 10 inmates at the Georgia Classification & Diagnostic Prison has ended, according to the Department of Corrections."
But their families are sharing reports from these men's attorneys that the hunger strike continued until its fiftieth day, on Monday July 30th. As I heard it, Miguel and the other men took one meal, after the Atlanta daily paper finally acknowledged that they had possibly been six weeks without food. And several of the men went right back on the hunger strike. I also heard later that two men remained on the hunger strike, one of them being Miguel Jackson and finally that he and his collaborator chose to live. I hope that they did so knowing that people on the outside are speaking up for them.
The demands of the Hunger Strike are simple, that the Department of Corrections comply with their own standard operating procedures for the custody, care and control of inmates.
They get specific about the elements of those SOP's which the DoC has failed to comply with: all related to medical care, personal hygiene, access to exercise, access to phone and mail and visitation.
Its hard to get word out of the prisons. After the letter declaring the hunger strike, what we have heard is grounds that we be gravely concerned. And while the threat of Miguel's dropping into a coma from malnourishment is over for the moment, the hunger strikers' demands still hang out their, an unanswered question.
We cannot permit our fellow Georgia citizens to be treated in these ways and pretend its ok because we call them felons. Its like pretending that slavery is ok for some human beings if we have some derogatory N-word to call them. or that its ok to pretend that reparations are not due because we have agreed to stop using derogatory N-words. But besides felon, we also have found it ok to call our neighbors alien, or illegal or predator or frightening, and use any of those as justification for their no less racist oppression.
Its time we tear the hood off the polite veneer which suppresses a broad discussion about the torture being commited daily with our tax dollars.
I'm inviting all Georgians of Conscience to join me in a one day fast each week, until the demands of the hunger strikers are met, until Miguel receives medical attention and these men are reunited with their families in the visiting room, until they exercise and shower regularly and until they enjoy the simple due process promised by the SOP to a monthly review of their confinement in 'administrative segregation'.
Please use your weekly fast as a public witness to spread the word about the conditions we subject Georgia inmates to.
Urge that people call the Governor's office at 404-656-1776, Commissioner Owens at 478-992-5258 and Warden Humphries at 770-504-2000.
Public institutions act in our names and expend our tax dollars and until we put our bodies on the line to say not in our name, white supremacy will recreate itself anew, and we'll pretend we don't have to avert our eyes and go on pretending that there is not some sort of direct link between our few privileges and the oppression which makes possible the vast privileges of the bankster class our silent acquiescence makes possible.
A hunger strike is an act of someone bereft of options. Even the warriors among us are likely to weigh lots of other possibilities before considering leaving their own emaciated corpse at the foot of their oppressor. Its certainly a weapon of last resort. Bobby Sands lasted sixty-six days. It was fifty days before Miguel Jackson heard the support of those outside. Don't make it take that long before you invite others still to speak up.
Make your voice and your word and your actions be your weapon of choice. Speak now for Miguel Jackson, for the Hidden-37, no matter how many there may be. Do not give your silent complicity to the crimes being committed in your name by your government.
They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break
the spirit of one fisherman who does not want to be broken.