By Judy Greenspan | February 27, 2012
San Quentin, Calif. – Despite police blockades and freeway ramp closings — forcing demonstrators to hike to the rally site in front of the prison — activists occupied the front of San Quentin Prison for several hours on Feb. 20. That day had been designated as the National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners.
Demonstrations were also held in about 15 cities around the country, including New York, Boston and Los Angeles. In New York hundreds of mostly youth in the multinational crowd rallied at the Lincoln Correctional Facility in Harlem and then at a Wells Fargo bank.
Chanting “Inside/outside, we’re all on the same side,” hundreds of Occupy Oakland activists, former prisoners and human rights supporters converged on the Bay Area’s San Quentin Prison, home to death row for male prisoners and the prison where Black Panther and author George Jackson was assassinated in 1971.
Today’s event represented a partnership between Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco and a coalition of prisoners’ rights groups. The rally was chaired by former prisoners Linda Evans, of All of Us or None, and Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
The day began with the American Indian Movement’s “National Anthem” and a Native drum ceremony. Morning Star Gali read a moving statement of solidarity from Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier. Gali thanked everyone for coming out “to San Quentin, the belly of the beast, housing 700 men that the state wants to kill.”
People read statements from California Security Housing Unit prisoners who had been on a hunger strike to protest the inhumane and torturous conditions of lockdown confinement. A group of Pelican Bay Human Rights Hunger Strikers expressed solidarity with the Occupy movement and labeled “banks and the ‘prison-industrial complex’ corporate enemies that prey on the souls of humanity.”
Tati, a young woman who had served time in a juvenile prison, read a poem by a woman prisoner from the Central California Women’s Facility and addressed her remarks to the youth at the protest when she said, “We have to fight back. We have the power!”
Jabari Shaw, an Oakland activist, led a small rap group that chanted, “Lock it down for liberty. This is prison slavery.”
A moment of silence for George Jackson and several statements by members of the San Quentin 6 and other former prisoners who knew Jackson highlighted today’s protest. The day ended with a spirited march back to the buses.
Anne Pruden contributed to this article from New York.