Blog #4: When Food Becomes a Weapon

Over the last several decades, governments have used food as a bargaining chip to secure power and authority. They have stored food, they have subsidized farmers, telling them what to grow or destroy, and they have set tariffs inflating the price and expense of food. Governments have used food as a weapon to determine who will be fed and who will starve. There is no greater example than how many sub-Sarahan African peoples suffer at the hands of Western nations’ control and genetic engineering of agriculture seeds subject to African governments’ adherence to Western style democratic demands of governance. Here in the U.S. farmers are told what and when to plant a crop, or how many cattle to bring to the market in order to influence and control the commodity markets. As a political and economic weapon, those who control food dictate the course of humanity.

But what is to be said of those who forego the taking of food, who voluntarily deprive themselves of food? They are also using food as a weapon. Not a weapon of government aggression, control or oppression. Rather, for them food becomes a reminder to the rich and powerful of their oppression and greed. It speaks to avarice and corruption. So is the course of the California prisoners’ hunger strike originating at the Pelican Bay Special Housing Units.

The hunger strikers are taking the power into their own hands and defining how food will be used as a tool of salvation and liberation. I remember in the 1980’s myself and 5 other prisoners in Comstock, New York prison went on an 11-day hunger strike to change conditions in its Special Housing Unit. After 7 days on nothing but water, we were moved to the hospital for observation. When the prison authorities saw we were serious, they relented and ensured that our demands for changes in the conditions in Comstock SHU would be met. It was our unity and steadfastness that served to inform and instruct prison authorities that they had taken everything they possibly could from us except our human dignity. When we collectively decided not to take in food, it became our weapon to fight back.

The Pelican Bay and California prisoner hunger strikers must be supported in every conceivable way possible to ensure their sacrifice is not in vain. They must be empowered by California political activists to demand the government stop using food as a weapon in the SHU’s to maintain prison authorities’ capacity to oppress and repress prisoners’ humanity. While I am not in a position to instruct California activists on how to support the prisoner hunger strikers, it is obvious California prison authorities are irreconcilable to the demands of the prisoner strikers. Hence, the California activist supporters must be just as resolute; in fact, they must become more adamant in exposing the lies, alibis and excuses of prison authorities for not recognizing their own inhumane treatment into a formidable anti-racist prisoner support movement, supporting the prisoner hunger strikers, ensuring their demands are granted. There must not be a single prisoner’s death as a result of this protest. Which ultimately means that time is the enemy of the prisoner hunger strikers and California activists. These activists must become extremely vocal, establish a constant presence in numbers, and be adherent in principle to the demands of the prisoner hunger strikers.

In closing, permit me to say to all California activists in support of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers, here, food is a weapon, and none deserve the right to enjoy any of it for as long as the Pelican Bay hunger strikers suffer and sacrifice. So, let the hunger of freedom swell in your bellies, knowing that with every morsel you will be liberating a prisoner from the racist tyranny of the California Department of Corrections.

Humbly submitted,
Jalil Muntaqim
October 7, 2011