A group of Mission activists announced today that they will stage a hunger strike, beginning Thursday, April 21, until San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee steps down or Police Chief Greg Suhr is fired.
Rapper Equipto (whose legal name is Ilych Sato), Ike Pinkston of the Valencia Street–based Black and Brown Social Club, and Sato’s mother, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, will begin their hunger strike in front of Mission Police Station at 17th and Valencia streets Thursday at noon. They intend to remain at the site, camped out on the sidewalk or the street in a van and consuming only liquids, until the chief or the mayor are no longer in office.
“We are demanding for Chief Suhr to be fired or Mayor Lee to step down… To bring publicity to what’s going on out here, to take a stand,” Sato said. “Hopefully these murderers can be on a headline on CNN… Because the ones who lost their lives are not on any mainstream channel, because they still want people to move here.”
The strike, Sato said, was his mother’s idea. Gutierrez, 66, runs the Compañeros del Barrio preschool on Valencia Street, where Sato also teaches, and has been an active advocate for tenant rights and immigration reform for years. Her son, 44, said he could not let her do it alone.
Max Le Young, who originally intended to participate but has since pulled out because of a death in the family, said the activists intend to remain at Mission Station for as long as they can hold out, leaving only for bathroom breaks – whether their demands are met or not.
“If they get arrested, then they get arrested,” he said. “I dunno how realistic [Suhr or Lee stepping down] is but it makes a statement.”
Sato said he hopes that by highlighting the issues that San Francisco is grappling with, others in power may be moved to “listen to its people.”
He also said that he is seeking celebrity support and plans to invite Danny Glover and Carlos Santana to join the movement and “help shine light on the situation.”
“There are different definitions of justice when it comes to a hunger strike. If it becomes a mass movement and we end up having 500 to 1,000 people on 17th and Valencia streets, and if we get the star power, I truly believe [Suhr or Lee] will step down,” said Sato. “But it won’t happen without people power.”
Activists said they are not actively seeking additional participants, though they would not turn them away. Sato said he hopes to stay in place at least a week, or as long as he can hold out.
“I envision people coming out and joining. To me, it takes every-day actions, whether it’s being on the steps of City Hall every day… Some people don’t have the time for that. But people can find ways to stand in solidarity for that,” Sato said.
Sato said he and fellow organizers have been reading about hunger strikes and studying their use. Some have been training to see how they would fare.
The Bay Area has seen its fair share of hunger strikes over various political issues, from the one-man strike outside city hall in 2004 by pastor Roger Huang, who wanted to close a strip club next to his mission in the Tenderloin, to the 2013 hunger strike by prisoners at Pelican Bay, to nationwide hunger strikes over a controversial immigration law in Arizona in 2010 and, four years later, strikes to protest immigration policy which women in the Mission also participated in.
“It’s drastic measures but I believe in change. Why not in our lifetime? We romanticize things and we honor and look up to legends, people that did things and helped shift and change things. We are never ready to take those actions,” Sato said. “We are ready to take these actions. For us, doing that, it’s a stand. It’s a statement.”
A police spokesperson said the department had no comment on the plans for the hunger strike.