By: Pat Foley

For nearly three decades, Kevin Cooper has been fighting to prove his innocence from California’s death row. He is an artist, a writer and an activist who speaks on many issues. You can read Kevin’s essays by going to savekevincooper.org/pages/essays.html

Recently, Kevin wrote an article entitled “Occupy Death Row” which sparked the idea to hold rallies in different cities across the country calling attention to the plight of prisoners. The CEDP along with Occupy in Oakland established “Occupy for Prisoners” (occupy4prisoners.org).

We passed a resolution at Occupy Oakland to support this call and urged other activists across the country to do the same.

On February 20, actions were held in at least 16 cities across the country. Prisoners in the SuperMax in Ohio fasted in solidarity.

At our Occupy San Quentin Event, over 700 people participated, even though the police closed the bridge and roads to the event, preventing many from coming. The police overreacted so much that even residents of the area had to park blocks away and walk into their neighborhood. 

According to a report on Occupy4Prisoners.org about the event:

The crowd that day, combining formerly incarcerated people, loved ones of those currently inside, Occupy activists and prison abolitionists, was family-friendly and included children and elders. Crowd estimates averaged around 800, and the colorful banners, artwork and passionate speakers created a liberated zone, even in the “valley of the shadow of death” that is San Quentin.

Having an opening invocation by First Nation activist Lenny Foster and drumming by youth firmly established the peaceful and sacred intent of the gathering—to show that with the consciousness of unity and liberation, we have the power to make great changes. This unity was also reflected in the words chanted as Occupy Oakland arrived—”Inside, outside, we’re all on the same side.”

The program provided a rarely seen public space for amplifying the voices of incarcerated people. Throughout the day, words from well-known political and politicized prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Kevin Cooper, the Pelican Bay hunger strikers and Yassin Aref, in addition to less well-known voices from inside the walls, filled the air. 

devorah major, former San Francisco poet laureate, shared a powerful spoken word piece, and Jabari Shaw performed a rap on the prison system as modern day slavery. Linda Evans and Dorsey Nunn from All of Us or None and Barbara Bechnel from the STW Legacy Network were the emcees.

San Quentin prisoners were locked down the day of the protests. The wife of a death row organizer wrote us the following about the event: “He told me he asked his tier officer about the crowd, and was told, ‘Oh, it’s about 50 people out there’ and ‘It was total overkill, with officers out there in riot gear, etc.’ And then they started seeing the news and hearing that there were over 700 people in attendance. They had been on lockdown all day as the prison prepared for the event.

“He said it was so worth being locked down for this event, and he so appreciated the work of all the people and the organizations, and even the neighbors of SQ that were interviewed who questioned exactly what was going on behind prison walls today! This is the one time he didn’t mind being locked down!”

Since the Occupy San Quentin action, Occupy4Prisoners activists have continued to meet and plan events. We showed the documentary Broken on All Sides to a crowd of hundreds at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. We participated in the Occupy the Capitol demonstration in San Quentin. And on April 24, we are having a solidarity action with the Occupy the Justice Department action on Mumia’s birthday in Washington, D.C.