Building a Movement from the Inside: An Organizational History of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Network to Support Prisoner-Led Resistance at Pelican Bay

Summer 2015

Rosella Bearden : Interdisciplinary Studies Field

Mentor: Catherine Cole, Performance Studies

In Spring of 2011, prisoners inside Pelican Bay State Prison contacted prisoner-rights and anti-prison activist organizations announcing prisoners would be beginning a rolling hunger strike and that they needed support making sure their voices and demands were heard and acted on outside prison walls. The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition (PHSS)- originating in the Bay Area and made up of grassroots organizations, family members, formerly incarcerated people, lawyers, and individuals- to amplify the voices of CA prisoners on hunger strike was formed. Though the hunger strike has ended, the demands of the prisoners have not been met, and prisoners alongside PHSS continue to fight to get these demands met. My research will create an organizational history of PHSS in order to determine whether this model of prisoner-led resistance can be replicated elsewhere, keeping in mind the unique history of radical bay area social movements. I hope to aid organizers and academics in thinking about strategies of prisoner-led resistance against the Prison Industrial Complex.

I want to thank my faculty mentor, Professor Catherine Cole, as well my friends and mentors in my community, and everyone in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Network for sharing their wisdom and support. I am also very grateful to the Wishek Fund donors for their generous support. As a low-income transfer student, the funding provided by SURF will allow me to focus on my research over the summer and in the next year allowing me to work fewer hours per week, giving me more time to devote to my studies and writing my thesis. This project did not start with me and nor will it end with me but is a merely one, very small piece in a long and continuous history of collective struggle to end torture, solitary confinement, and eventually the prison system as a whole. My teachers and accomplices in this project above all are those whose lives are dedicated to resisting the prison system: those who live and die every day in in its clutches. I believe that we will win!