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On the Road
Hunger Strike Starts TODAY!
Sickboy, Mar 23, 2006

San Francisco March 21, 2006, 3:15pm

In a city virtually plagued with protests and marches, a city where people are nonplussed when a protest blocks their commuter bus, it�s easy to miss fifteen people crowding one corner of the block with a few tents and even fewer supplies. At noon today, just a few hours before I arrived, such a group gathered at the corners of Polk Street and Golden Gate Avenue in front of the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Court House. Armed with nutrient enriched water and having constructed their habitat for the week (including tents and a portable bathroom), the protesters identified themselves as members of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition. They are planning to remain right where they are for an entire week, without food, protesting The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (HR 4437) that just passed in the House of Representatives. The House vote was 239 to 182. The bill now continues on to the Senate.

On December 16, 2005 the US House of Representatives passed the �Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act� - HR 4437, one of the most egregious anti-immigrant bills in recent times. Introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), HR 4437 promises to erode judicial review, expand the definition of an aggravated felony, criminalize U.S. citizens and legal residents who have routine contact with undocumented immigrants, and increase the potential for employer discrimination and abuse of workers.

HR4473 would place new barriers on legitimate asylum-seekers, put millions of immigrants at higher risk of deportation, eliminate judicial review of several immigration decisions, prohibit immigrants from using consular identifications or obtaining driver�s licenses, and remove foreign nationals back to persecution or torture in countries with histories of human rights abuses. An example of such abuses can be seen in the shameful actions of the State of California in allowing the Minutemen a vigilante organization to begin their own patrols of the Mexico-U.S. border on September 16, 2005. A group that Gov. Schwarzenegger openly supports, which only suggests the validity of accusations made against the Governor of a racist and elitist agenda.

At the moment the strikers are already in danger of losing their message in the mess, the San Francisco Police department and Federal Protective Service Officers were on-hand and their seemed to be some debate upon the legality of their protest, or at least their methodology. After being rerouted to the SFPD by Lt. Javier of the Federal Protective Service who is not actually claiming jurisdiction over the protest, I spoke with Sgt. Ewins. After being allowed to listen in on a conversation with building managers it seemed that for now the question isn�t whether or not they can be present; the question is whether or not their tents, blankets, chairs and portable facilities will be allowed to remain and to partially block the sidewalk. The municipal code that Sgt. Ewins said covered this type of situation is City Municipal Code 22A which Permits the Regulation of Hazardous Waste on Private Property (i.e. the portable bathroom the protesters have had installed on the sidewalk right next to the curb). What they plan to say about the tents and other amenities is yet to be seen. The next move is left to the SFPD and building managers. Should the protesters be asked to leave however, they have already made the firm decision to remain, even should some be arrested. One organizer said that the best strategy is for them to simply allow themselves to be arrested and return once they�ve been released.

Hunger strikes are a form of protest that has been used throughout this century. Most famously was Mahatma Gandhi protesting British Rule of India and again to protest the Autocratic Government in the newly independent India. It was also a common tactic of Irish Republicans during the Anglo-Irish War and again when 8000 IRA prisoners protested their continued detention at the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923. Most recently however, are detainees of the United States at Guant�namo Bay Naval base � also having initiated two hunger strikes � the first of which ended on July 28, 2005. As of December 30, 2005 the second of the two hunger strikes consisted of eighty four strikers who are currently being force-fed and restrained for many hours each day to prevent them from dying in U.S. custody.

In a country that rarely stands up for the �little-guy�, it�s an even more harrowing sight to see the �little-guy� stand up for himself. The methods by which common everyday people ask for their rights and fair treatment vary greatly, although to me it seems that when everything else has been taken away or is in danger of being taken away, to refuse even that which sustains one�s body and mind shows the utmost devotion to their cause. Frankly I applaud the effort and pray that some good come from this. Whatever the tactics or methods used, this group of protesters seems determined to have their voices heard by this city and their government and it just might be a good idea to listen.

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