In a recent issue of [El] Tecolote I read of the Mission Peace Collaborative, which is seeking peace in the Mission District.
Growing up in the Bay Area, I am no stranger to street violence. Most of my life has been spent behind bars, going back to Juvenile Hall and the California Youth authority. My time in prison has allowed me to educate myself to the people’s struggles and learn why the Chicano nation, like all Latinos, lives in conditions in which violence between the people is allowed to thrive. But this phenomenon of violence is not confined to the Mission, nor to any barrio across America, as even in prisons violence plagues the people.
Most recently a call was issued from within Pelican Bay S.H.U. [Special Housing Unit, or solitary confinement] that called for the “end of hostilities” between all groups and nationalities within prisons and on the streets. This call was not done spontaneously, rather it was forged from the decades of oppression and the understanding that often it was the state itself, which instigated violence among the people. Many of us in prison have grown consciously and have begun to find ways to build this collaboration and to end the hostilities that have devastated our people for decades.
For us, unfortunately, it has taken the loss of freedom and much pain and even torturous existence in order to finally grasp what is taking place not only in our communities–in our barrios–but also behind prison walls, particularly in the S.H.U.s.
Latinos here in prison see a link to our oppression within prisons, where S.H.U. is used for social control of the larger prison population and to inflict terror in the prison population, and the ICE raids on Latinos out in society, where the barrios are terrorized. Our oppression comes from the same source; it is two sides of the same coin.
In 2011, prisoners across America embarked on hunger strikes, which at the peak reached 12,000 participants. Prisoners here spearheaded this hunger strike in Pelican Bay S.H.U., and currently we are set to continue the hunger strike on July 8, 2013. The upcoming strike is expected to be the largest prison strike in American history, which will include hunger strikes, and work strikes statewide. Our efforts are based on the state refusing to meet our five demands, but we also realize that our oppression does not stop at the prison gates, what most prisoners face is national oppression no matter where we rest our head at night,
S.H.U. only highlights this reality.
Our call “to end hostilities” mirrors the Mission Peace Collaborative. It is a united front inside and outside the prison walls, which is at the heart of what we are all trying to accomplish, where peace arises in our respective “communities” and where real struggles can commence to create real concrete change to our living conditions. We support the Mission Peace Collaborative and call for an “end to hostilities” in the Mission District!
La Lucha Sigue,
Jose Villarreal, Pelican Bay State Prison, Security Housing Unit, Crescent City, CA
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To the Editor:
A statement in your story about the BART plaza redesign (Feb. 28-March 13 issue) says the changes being made on Cesar Chavez Street are to “accommodate new inhabitants while imposing a sensation of change on longtime Mission residents.” This was never the goal of CC Puede, the community group formed in 2005 to organize for these changes, and I hope Mission residents don’t see these changes as simply intended for new whiter and richer residents.
In reality, one of the sparks for our campaign was an incident in 2003 when two young children from the Bernal Dwellings, who were crossing Cesar Chavez on foot, were hit by a truck running a red light at Harrison. They were students at Leonard Flynn Elementary School and attended the Precita Community Center after school. They survived, but the girl missed a year of school. The thrust of our campaign has always been to make the street safer for pedestrians, cyclists and residents.
CC Puede reached out to community organizations like PODER, MEDA and the Day Labor Program, as well as residents of the Bernal Dwellings and other longtime neighbors. Although questions and concerns arose about possible spillover traffic onto side streets and parking issues, we generally found neighbors to be supportive. Our most virulent opposition came from drivers from more affluent neighborhoods like Noe Valley, who looked at Cesar Chavez as nothing more than a fast way to get to the freeway. The people who actually live on the street or cross it with their children to go to Flynn or the Precita Center understood that the street is more than a freeway extension.
CC Puede’s loose organization incorporates different viewpoints, so it’s true we never took a position on the potential gentrifying aspects of the project we were supporting, but our literature stated clearly that we were campaigning for changes that would improve conditions for the people already living along Cesar Chavez. We were not seeking to sweep them aside and usher in a new population.
Everyone who walks or lives near Cesar Chavez should benefit from this project. The changes being implemented should reduce flooding, which has been a problem at the Bernal Dwellings since the site reopened a decade ago. Noise should be reduced by the addition of street trees and bike lanes that will move traffic away from homes. Speeding and red-light running should drop. CC Puede has also campaigned, unsuccessfully, for more Muni service on Cesar Chavez. We have consistently said that we want to make this major street more deserving of the man it’s named after.
As a renter who has been evicted twice and lives in fear of another displacement, I understand the concern about changes that make the neighborhood more attractive, and I’m appalled at the ongoing purge through evictions and rent increases of neighbors I’ve known over the 30 or so years I’ve lived in the Mission. I hope the Cesar Chavez Street project does not help gentrify the Mission. That was never the intent.
Fran Taylor, Co-chair, CC Puede