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Movements for Racial Justice Enter New Phase in Florida, Chicago, and California

Lauren Taylor • Aug 16, 2013

Yesterday, a 31 day sit-in at the Florida state capitol ended, and the student-led campaign announced its next steps.

Starting four days after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, the Dream Defenders occupied the Tallahassee government building to demand a special legislative session and the passage of Trayvon’s law. The group, led by Black and Brown youth, proposed the law as a way to address the root causes of Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal. The law would not only repeal Stand Your Ground, but would also confront racial profiling by police, and put an end to Florida’s zero-tolerance school policies that create a school-to-prison pipeline – particularly for students of color.

Republican governor Rick Scott was not receptive to the Dream Defenders’ demands, and lawmakers recently voted down the special session in a poll. But, after weeks of pressure from the sit-in, the Florida Speaker of the House agreed to convene a hearing on Stand Your Ground this fall. And the student movement has said they will continue to push for the law.

High profile celebrities backed the defenders, including Harry Belafonte, Talib Kweli, and Jesse Jackson. Earlier this week a supporter and veteran delivered tens of thousands of signatures in support of the Dream Defenders – and in support of a campaign to free Marissa Alexander. In a press conference yesterday, the Dream Defenders announced a number of significant accomplishments, and laid out their plans for the coming months. They scheduled meetings with the Department of Education, of Juvenile Justice, and of Law Enforcement to address racial profiling and the school to prison pipeline. They plan to launch an ambitious voter registration drive, and to join the 50th anniversary March on Washington later this month.

In Chicago, a group of undocumented immigrants turned up the heat on area hospitals who denied transplants to patients who are uninsured and undocumented.  Following an eleven day hunger strike for health care, which called for an end to discrimination in evaluating patients for organ donations, the campaign moved into its second phase – “fighting for our lives.” As the name suggests, the stakes are high for this group of protestors: those who participated in the hunger strike are either patients in need of a kidney or liver transplant, or have a loved one who is in need of such a transplant.

Last Friday, one member of the campaign, 25 year-old Saraí Rodriguez passed away because she was not able to receive the transplant necessary to survive.  On Sunday, the group held a 7 mile funeral procession to downtown Chicago, carrying caskets with Saraí’s name and the names of the other thirteen members of the campaign who need a transplant to survive. The march ended at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where protestors held a funeral service and blamed the hospital for Saraí’s death.

On Monday, protestors heard that at least two members of the campaign would be evaluated for eligibility to be on the transplant lists. Despite this initial victory, participants state their campaign will not end until all fourteen patients are put on the transplant wait lists; additionally , they demand that all patients be evaluated for organ transplants based on need and not based on ability to pay or on immigration status, and that all low-income patients have access to affordable medication after transplant surgery.

In California, the prisoner-led hunger strike, initiated on July 8th by 30,000 prisoners, continues despite the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s refusal to negotiate with the strikers. Prisoners have now been on strike for 40 days, and are demanding the governor and the CDCR meet five basic demands, including an end to long term solitary confinement.

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