Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval

 

On his book Starving for Justice: Hunger Strikes, Spectacular Speech, and the Struggle for Dignity

Cover Interview of September 18, 2017

A close-up

I would hope that readers would flip to chapter two, titled “Speak About Destruction.” In the mid-1980s, a band called “Time Zone,” featuring former Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten and hip-hop artist Afrika Bombatta, released their most popular hit titled “Speak About Destruction.” Its lyrics include these lines: “Speak about destruction. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, nationalities fighting amongst each other. Why? Because the system tells you to.”

The 1980s and 1990s were destructive. Key gains that people of color, workers, queer people, and students made some two decades earlier were being rolled back. Outside the United States, especially in Latin America, people’s everyday lives were harsh, as mass repression existed particularly in nations such as Guatemala and El Salvador. In South Africa, millions pressed for abolition of apartheid, with activists all over the world working in solidarity for that same cause.

Chapter two chronicles what was going on in the world, in the United States, and in California. It identifies the larger coyuntura or conjunctural moment that existed in the early 1990s that led up to these three hunger strikes. In Frantz Fanon’s memorable words, 1994 was the “year of the boomerang,” when marginalized communities rose up, with arms initially in Chiapas, with bodies on university campuses in California. Fanon’s comment suggests, as Malcolm X once stated, the “chickens have come home to roost.”

Relatively powerless people can only be pushed around for so long before they say “no.” Within that “no” is a powerful “yes”—a yes to a world without poverty, injustice, violence, racism, and sexism. Thus, what these students were saying was NO. They were screaming for a new world, putting their bodies and lives at risk. They were willing to die so that they and others could simply live.