Oppression, Resistance, Unity, Power: A Statement in Support of the Virginia Hunger Strike

June 21, 2012

self-portrait by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

In protest against the ongoing foul and inhumane conditions at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison – one of Amerika’s most notoriously abusive and racist prisons – dozens of men at the prison went on a hunger strike. The strike began on May 22, 2012 and lasted several weeks.
I had spent over a decade imprisoned at Red Onion. Much of that time was spent in political growth, and my writing and circulating reports and articles to publicly expose abuses there, and trying to help build us a support structure on the outside.

I also struggled to to my peers the truism that while oppression does breed resistance, resistance without unity and public support is futile. Which is why our captors promote division and individualism among prisoners – a “mind your own business” and “don’t concern yourself with others” mentality – and manipulate us to misdirect our frustrations and ‘resistance’ against and between ourselves. It is also why they maneuver at every turn to alienate the general public against us with fear and hatred. The old Willie Lynch game.

To repress my efforts, officials kept me in solitary, often isolated from other prisoners. They routinely censored, destroyed and ‘lost’ my correspondences; imposed increased repression and abuses on me; and finally, on February 11, 2012, transferred me cross-country without notice or explanation to the Oregon prison system.

But I’d like to believe that despite their attempts to undermine and frustrate this work, my efforts, in collaboration with others of like mind, took root and bore fruit.
Many of the hunger strikers are men whom I had the honor of serving as both student and teacher. Many are members of street tribes (so-called gangs) whose traditional rivalries kept them divided against and at odds with each other – divisions and conflicts which Red Onion officials acted at every turn to fuel and perpetuate. However, as one of the representatives of the hunger strike stated:

“We’re tired of being treated like animals. There are only two classes in this prison: the oppressor and the oppressed. We, the oppressed, despite divisions of sexual preference, gang affiliation, race and religion, are coming together. We are rival gang members, but now are united as revolutionaries.” Continue reading