Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sexual Violence Against Indigenous Women

i am reposting this horrific news, without commentary except to say that obviously i do not share the authors' insistence on nonviolence, but equally obviously that is not the most important thing here in this post. Sexual violence, from India to Turtle Island, has always been used by the powerful to terrorize subject peoples, just as it has been tolerated and encouraged amongst oppressed peoples as a safety valve for male distress and (more importantly) as a direct attack on women, who have regularly formed the backbone of resistance movements here as elsewhere.

The following press release details the a sexual assault on a woman from the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in "canada". This takes place not only in the context of the current upsurge known as "Idle No More", but also in the context of the ongoing and longstanding attacks (sexual and otherwise) on Indigenous women across canada:

December 30, 2012 (Thunder Bay) The family of a woman who was brutally attacked on Thursday evening has come forward to issue a warning to people of First Nations descent living in the Thunder Bay region.

On Thursday evening Angela Smith (not her real name to protect her identity) was walking to a store in the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Two Caucasian men pulled their car up along side her as she walked on the sidewalk and began issuing racial slurs while throwing items at her from the car.  When she continued to walk, the car stopped and the passenger of the vehicle got out of the car and grabbed the woman by her hair and forced her into the back of the car where she was held her down in the back seat by one of them and driven out of the city.

They drove her to a surrounding wooded area where they brutally sexually assaulted, strangled and beat her.  During the attack they told her it wasn’t the first time they had committed this type of crime and added, “it wouldn’t be the last.”  They also told her “You Indians deserve to lose your treaty rights.”  Making a reference to the current peaceful protests being undertaken by First Nations in Thunder Bay and throughout the country under the banner of Idle No More.

Left for dead in the wooded area, Angela managed to walk for four to five hours back to her home, where police were called.  She was taken by ambulance to the hospital and the crime is currently under investigation.

Speaking from her home in Thunder Bay on Friday, Angela said, “The only thought that came to my mind were my children.  I thought I would never see them again.”

She said she also wanted to get the information out to community members in Thunder Bay,  “It’s a cruel world out there and right now with the First Nations trying to fight this Bill (Bill C-45) everyone should be looking over their shoulder constantly because there are a lot of racists out there and to be careful.”

Her mother added, “We felt it was important for us to get the word out because we are very concerned about the safety of our women in the community.  And as well we want to tell people that even though this happened to my daughter, we are not the violent ones.  We want to tell people not to get angry or to be violent.  Its very important that the Idle No More movement to remain peaceful.”

Angela is a member of a community of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in Northwestern Ontario.


Christi Belcourt                                                                       Tanya KappoEmail:                                        

New Interview by David Gilbert

This interview originally appeared in Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture, 5:2, 259-270.  For a PDF of the interview, go here. It is also mirrored on the Kersplebedeb site here.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many activists looked to the prisons for political leadership, while viewing prisons themselves as institutions of repression and social control integral to larger systems of oppression. Around the world, the prisoner emerged as an icon of state repression and a beacon of liberation. If the prison served as the bricks and mortar of oppression, the prisoner became the flesh and blood of movement iconography. Black American prisoners held special sway within this global visibility of confinement, in part because so many prisoners became prolific authors connected to wider social movements of the time. In prison, black activists from Martin Luther King, Jr to George Jackson and Assata Shakur penned tracts that offered trenchant insights into race, class, and American power. Black activists proved the most incisive, the most creative, inheritors of a deep and multiracial tradition of political critique behind bars. These imprisoned author-activists articulate a profound paradox: one of the best places to understand the "land of the free" is the place where freedom was most elusive. It was both a sobering and inspiring message for a generation on the move.

More than 40 years later the world is once again experiencing the tremors of large-scale, global change. And the prison accompanies this new burst of struggle. For a generation that has never known an America without mass incarceration, never known a world without Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, without indefinite detention and pre-emptive war, the prison may seem an even more fitting metaphor for the contradictions of American power – internationally and within the United States – than it was during the 1971 Attica rebellion, the most dramatic of the dozens of riots rocking American prisons during that time. When prisoners at Attica proclaimed their humanity against the brutality of the prison, the United States incarcerated some 300,000 people. Today it imprisons more than 2.3 million, often serving Draconian sentences, with another 5 million under some form of correctional control. The scale of America's carceral state is even more gruesome when one considers the demographics of those incarcerated: almost exclusively poor, majority black or Latino, and with women and gender-nonconforming people being hard hit both by incarceration and its collateral consequences.

Prisoners themselves are crucial participants – if often unacknowledged by the outside world – in the renewed activism most commonly associated with the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. The conditions of confinement have given a life-or-death character to much of this activism. Massive labor strikes shook Georgia prisons in December 2010, coordinated through smuggled cell phones. The next month, five prisoners in Ohio launched a hunger strike to protest their conditions; a year-and-a-half later, other prisoners in Ohio's "supermax" facilities also staged a hunger strike over inhumane conditions. Between July and October 2011, thousands of prisoners throughout the sprawling California prison system staged an unprecedented hunger strike in protest of the long-term solitary confinement that is now a significant part of everyday life in American prisons. The hunger strike seems to be emerging as a tactic of this burgeoning collective discontent with confinement; in May 2012, prisoners in Virginia's supermax prison at Red Onion launched their own hunger strike, issuing 10 demands for better conditions, modeled after the five demands raised by California prisoners a year previously.

Then as now, the prison is a global icon of oppression. The detention facilities at Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base continue to draw international condemnation. More than 2000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons staged a hunger strike for between four and nine weeks in the spring of 2012 to protest the conditions of their detention. Self-described political prisoners in Cuba have likewise engaged in hunger strikes to protest the denial of human rights and basic freedoms. And in much of Latin America, notoriously overcrowded and violent prisons are drawing new, critical attention.

The new prison protest in the United States confronts the particularities of mass incarceration, while calling upon a deeper history of prison resistance. Although it may seem as if each political generation discovers its mission in an historical void, reality is more dialectical. With varying degrees of awareness, movements emerge in contexts established partially by prior movements, enabling conversations with various legacies of struggle.

The following interview with David Gilbert is one attempt at such an intergenerational conversation across prison walls. David Gilbert was a founder of Columbia University's Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapter. His campus organizing for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam in the first half of the 1960s helped lay the foundation for the historic student strike at Columbia University in the spring of 1968. Part of the so-called "praxis axis" of SDS, Gilbert developed a reputation as a theorist and writer. He co-authored the first pamphlet within the 1960s student movement to explain the Vietnam War and American foreign policy more broadly in terms of imperialism. In 1970 he joined the Weather Underground, a militant and clandestine offshoot of SDS. The group pledged its solidarity with the black freedom struggle and national liberal movements of its day. It claimed responsibility for two dozen or so bombings of empty government and corporate buildings between 1970 and 1976, done to protest American political-economic violence throughout the world – including inside US prisons. Gilbert was one of several people who returned underground after the group disbanded in 1977. He was arrested in Nyack, New York, in October of 1981 following a botched robbery of a Brinks truck by the Black Liberation Army, itself an offshoot of the Black Panther Party. Two police officers and a security guard were killed in the robbery. An unarmed getaway driver there as a white ally, Gilbert was charged under New York's felony murder law that holds any participant in a robbery fully culpable for all deaths that occur in the course of that robbery. The judge sentenced him to serve between 75 years and life in prison. Under current New York state law, there is no time off for good behavior, no parole possibilities in a sentence such as his.

During his more than 30 years in New York state's toughest prisons, Gilbert has published several pamphlets on race and racism, social movement history, and the AIDS crisis. He helped start, in the 1980s, the first comprehensive peer education program in New York prisons dealing with HIV/AIDS prevention. He appeared in the 2003 academy award-nominated documentary The Weather Underground and corresponds with dozens of activists throughout North America. He has also published two books: a 2004 collection of essays and book reviews entitled No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner, and the 2012 memoir Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond. The memoir offers David's examination of his life as an organizer and the choices that ultimately led him to prison – an assessment of the paths taken and not taken, of the triumphs and mistakes made in a life on the left. Writing for today's generation of activists, Love and Struggle is his attempt to summarize the lessons he learned as an organizer in SDS, in the Weather Underground, and, well, beyond.

This interview is principally concerned with the "beyond." A voracious reader, Gilbert has been paying close attention to the recent uprisings that have dotted the globe. In the discussion below, Gilbert offers his perspective as an activist for more than 50 years, on the challenges for contemporary social movements.

This interview was conducted through the mail between February and July of 2012. I have, where appropriate, added explanatory footnotes or parenthetical notes.

Berger: Since the fall of 2011, the Occupy movement has emerged in the United States, joining many similar movements against austerity worldwide and now creating its own ripples. Its participants are disproportionately white and include many college students or graduates struggling with student debt. You've offered supportive statements to the Occupy movement while also trying to call its attention to other issues and dynamics. What do you see as its existing strengths, its potential, and its limitations of perspective?

Gilbert: The Occupy movement is a breath of fresh air. After 30 years of mainstream politics totally dominated by racially coded scapegoating – you know, directing people's frustrations against welfare mothers, immigrants, and criminals – finally a loud public voice is pointing to the real source of our problems. And I think they were wise, despite the conventional wisdom of many organizers, not to come out immediately with a set list of demands. That would have narrowed the scope of support, and holding back on specifics implies that the issue is the system, capitalism, itself. There are now plenty of opportunities – through demonstrations, teach-ins, occupations, whatever – to show the range of ways this system is oppressive and destructive.

At the same time, such a spontaneous and predominantly white movement will inevitably have giant problems of internalized racism and sexism. I couldn't help but notice that the first public statement that came out of the general assembly of OWS talked eloquently, and quite rightly, about the injustice of animals being kept in cages ... but said nothing about the 2.3 million human beings in cages in the US today, with mass incarceration the front line of the 1%'s war against black and Latino/a people. And then there is the terminology of "occupy," which does invoke a certain militant tradition, but people need to be aware of the colossal injustice that we are living on occupied Native American land. So far there has been little about the 1%'s rule over a global economy, wreaking terrible destruction on the vast majority of humankind. And that's the basis for why the USA is now engaged in pretty much continual warfare, which not only is tremendously damaging to the people who get bombed but also reinforces all the reactionary trends here at home. So it's vitally important that we oppose those wars.

Also I've heard that at many of the assemblies the speakers are almost all males. So the problems of white and male supremacy are endemic and usually prove debilitating. But flowing streams of protest provide a lot healthier basis for growth than the previously stagnant waters; people in motion against the system are a lot more open to learning. And in particular I want to salute the people of color (POC) groupings who, despite how galling some of the backwardness must be, have hung in there and struggled – groups like the POC Working Group at Occupy Wall Street and Decolonize Portland and the very strong POC presence and role in Occupy Oakland. So the 20 February 2012 day of protests in support of prisoners and the 19 April 2012 teach-ins about mass incarceration are important steps forward. There is still a long, long way to go, but overall I feel very heartened, even excited, by this new wave of protests.

Berger: In writings and interviews since your incarceration, you have described the radical potential of the 1960s era as being rooted in a combination of the success of anticolonial revolutions in the Third World and the centrality of the black freedom struggle within the United States. We are now in an era of renewed global struggle, yet the terms have changed. How would you characterize the tenor and impact of this global upsurge? How do you see it in relation to, or even as a commentary upon, the successes and limitations of earlier national liberation movements?

Gilbert: We still live in a world of totally intolerable destruction and demeaning of human life and of the environment. The most oppressed and vast majority of humankind live in the global South, and they tend to be the most conscious and most active against the system. The national liberation struggles that lit the world on fire in the 1960s and 1970s were not able to fully transform the conditions and lives of their peoples. Learning from the setbacks, people are trying to fight in ways that are less top–down, with stronger democratic participation. So it makes sense that new forms of struggle have emerged, like rural communities resisting dams in India, which combine the needs of poor farmers, the leadership of women, and critical environmental issues; or like the taking over of factories in Argentina.

In the past year-and-a-half, the "Arab Spring" has electrified the world. These mass uprisings for democracy in countries hit hard by neoliberalism in Northern Africa and the Middle East have been tremendously exciting and were a big inspiration for the Occupy Wall Street movement in the USA. But it's important to recognize both the pluses and minuses of this kind of spontaneity. The strength is that even in situations where all organized opposition was crushed, people found a powerful way to rise up. The weakness lay in an inadequate analysis and program on the nature of the State, especially the role of the military, for example in Egypt, and its very close ties to the Pentagon. Such mass outpourings, as we also saw with "people's power" in the Philippines in 1986, are not in themselves adequate to liberate people from the stranglehold of imperialism.

And imperialism is never a passive spectator but rather employs its massive resources and wealth of techniques to distort and reshape such movements: from funding pro-western elements with major infusions of cash to the ways the global corporate media defines the issues, from direct trainings of favored groups to covert CIA operations to outright military involvement. Libya is a recent example. Qaddafi was a tyrant, even while more progressive in terms of health, education, and the status of women than the US-imposed and backed dictators of the region. NATO's "humanitarian" intervention killed far more of the civilians they were mandated to "protect" than did the old regime. It seems clear that the massive, destructive NATO military intervention was not wanted nor requested by the overwhelming majority of Libyans, regardless of their stance on the Qaddafi regime. The brutal bombing campaign and the empowering of factions favorable to NATO may well lead to the USA getting its long-coveted military base in Africa.

In Iran and Syria, the repressive regimes are in big part a result of earlier imperialist interventions, while the current international campaigns against them are very much about strengthening the USA and Europe's geopolitical position. Genuine people's opposition forces are undermined and caught in the cross-fire, while imperialist proxy forces proliferate.

In this complicated world, our loyalty is always with the people. We can't glorify tyrants just because they come into conflict with the West but neither can we forget that imperialism is by far the greatest destroyer of human life and potential. We have to be ready to cut through the rationalizations about "weapons of mass destruction" or "terrorism" or "humanitarian emergency" and oppose what is now a pretty much constant state of warfare against countries in the South – which is brutal for the peoples attacked and also serves to reinforce all the reactionary trends here at home. Many current situations are very painful, with no major organized force of "good guys" to root for – from Assad's killing of civilians to the Taliban's misogyny. But to respond in an effectively humanitarian way, we have to study history. It is the West, first with colonialism and then innumerable CIA interventions, that has decimated Left secular forces who could build unity and instead has both fostered religious sectarianism to divide the oppressed and empowered tyrants to contain mass anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist fervor. Then imperialism uses the backward situation it did so much to create to justify even more intervention, which only will serve to deepen those problems. The best way to help progressive forces in the region have some space to re-emerge is for us to do our part to back off US and NATO intervention. And it can be done in the context of popular struggles in the South; it did happen by the end of the Vietnam War. We need to build a strong antiwar movement in the USA.

So no to tyrants, no to wars, no to imperialism; yes to popular demands for political and economic emancipation. Right now there is no clear, visible strategy on how popular movements can win qualitative change. That will only develop as struggles push forward and learn from advances and setbacks. But the uprisings of "Arab Spring" and the people around the world fighting for independence, democracy and economic justice have shown awesome courage and spirit and provide tremendous inspiration. For us in the North, solidarity is an essential cutting edge, both to ally with the most oppressed and to learn from the most advanced. The devastating damage being done to the planet intensifies the great urgency of anti-imperialist struggle.

Berger: In the 1960s, you coauthored the first SDS pamphlet naming the system as imperialism, and you continue to identify as an anti-imperialist. Many people think of imperialism as a system of domination among nation-states, yet political antagonisms today are at once more local and more diffuse than the nation-state. For instance, talk of the "99%" points to the undue influence of corporate power upon American political processes while the Arab Spring mostly targeted the corrupt leaders and dictators of their nation-state, and alter-globalization campaigns have challenged the global reach of transnational corporations. Do you still think imperialism is an adequate way to "name the system?" If so, why? Can an anti-imperialist emphasis help us, for instance, confront global climate change, promote queer liberation, or engage other issues that have historically been outside the purview of "imperialism?"

Gilbert: I noticed that you used the word adequate, because I emphatically believe that "imperialism" is the best summary term, but it isn't adequate. The value of "imperialism" is that it emphasizes that it's a global system whose main axis is an incredible polarization of wealth and power between a few controlling "centers" (in Europe, the USA, and Japan) and the impoverished "periphery" of the global South. And of course within each of those arenas there is the class polarizations with ruling elites in the South who collaborate with imperialism and many who are oppressed in the North. But it is a global economy; the great wealth and power comes by means of the super-exploitation of the peoples of the South, and that's where we can expect the fiercest battles and strongest leadership for change. And the very rapaciousness of such a system is the basis for a reckless and now extremely dangerous destruction of the environment. At the same time, that center/periphery divide helps frame why the struggles of people of color within the USA, a country built on the genocide of the Native Americans and mass imposition of chattel slavery, are so central.

So, "imperialism" is the best summary term, the clearest way to name the dark dungeon currently confining and brutalizing humankind. But that prison was built on the pre-existing foundation of patriarchy and class rule. And there are all the bars on the cells that confine and divide us. So we have to be very explicit about naming and fighting all the major forms of oppression: white supremacy, xenophobia, class rule, male supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, cruelty to animals, environmental destruction.

Berger: You speak about the world using a center/periphery divide. But is such a dichotomy appropriate to today's conditions? Can all countries be categorized as only imperialist (and collaborators with imperialism) versus anti-imperialist? Isn't China an economic super-power? How do you assess the economic growth in India and Brazil or the economic positioning of countries in the former Eastern bloc?

Gilbert: Yes, China's rapid emergence as a world power is very impressive and creates some new dynamics. China has moved effectively to gain access to oil and other strategic resources, especially in Africa, and the USA has been making a lot of geopolitical moves to be in a position to contain China. That's a big part, to take one example, of why the USA has been so intent on getting a major military base in Africa, which they may soon realize behind NATO's massive bombings of Libya. Of course this isn't the first time that imperialism has had to contend with a "state capitalist" rival. From 1945 to 1991 the Soviet Union was formidable military power, and it provided critical aid to many national liberation struggles.

China couldn't have achieved its tremendous economic growth under the neoliberal model that imperialism imposes on most of the South. The very comprehensive role of the State has been essential. At the same time, the development has accompanied an obscene new polarization of wealth, under a very repressive regime. And China's industrialization hasn't removed its working class from super-exploitation by imperialism. When you buy an iPhone, only 4% of the price goes to the wages of the workers who made it in China – meanwhile Apple has a 64% gross profit over manufacturing costs. Also I doubt that China's economy will continue to grow at the current rate. You know, mainstream pundits often make predictions by taking current trends and projecting them forward, like they'll proceed on a straight line. But reality is much more complicated and contradictory than that. It's very possible that China could well be approaching some major limits on its current model of growth; it faces some severe challenges, including the potential for powerful class struggles, and the ways the global economic recession could impinge on its export-driven economy.

India and Brazil's economies are growing rapidly, but still within many of the strictures set by the world capitalist market. That framework, along with the strength of their own reactionary classes, is likely to block a full breakthrough to strong, self-determining economies that can put their peoples' needs first. Remember, imperialism has always had a few intermediary, semi-dependent nations – Lenin even talked about this, I think in terms of Argentina, 100 years ago; several Eastern European countries also seem to be destined for that niche today.

Imperialism has changed dramatically from the terms of the first three-fourths of the twentieth century. The stark divide is no longer around industrialization as a lot of manufacturing has been moved to the South to take advantage of starvation wages. In today's global economy, as Samir Amin has explained, the domination of the center is exercised through five other crucial monopolies: the control of (1) technologies, (2) financial markets, (3) the planet's natural resources, (4) information and communications, and (5) weapons of mass destruction.

So yes, it is a complicated world with various intermediate forms of dependency and development. Also, the emergence of China entails the potential of a rival, especially if it can ally with Russia, with its high level of military technology. Containing China is a major factor in US geo-military maneuvering. But at this point China is nowhere near capable of directly challenging the global dominance of the imperial triad of the USA, Europe, and Japan. The more relevant issue is the USA's economic decline and how that might limit its military might, its ability to intervene and enforce imperial interests in countries throughout the world. The most exploitative aspects of the global economy and all of the USA's plethora of wars over the past 60 years have been around that main axis of imperial domination of the South. That's at the heart of the colossal polarization of wealth, the awesome power of the ruling 1%, the intolerable oppression of the majority of humankind, and the resulting leading forces of resistance.

Berger: Are you optimistic about a new wave of revolutionary advances in the South and a growing radical movement in the North?

Gilbert: I'm neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Right now the world is fraught with peril. It's scary, for humankind. (Although this is not the first time: I grew up in the 1950s, with the threat of cataclysmic nuclear war hanging over our heads.) Global climate change and the collapse of some key ecosystems could destroy the basis for sustaining a human population even a fraction of our current numbers. And even more immediately, we may have entered a period of severe and sustained global recession. We, and the earth, need less production. But under imperialism it won't involve cutting back on the colossal – multi-trillions of dollars worth – of wasteful and destructive goods and services. Instead the worst, deadliest costs will be imposed on the wretched of the earth. Not only would that entail massive deprivation and suffering but also such stresses can be fertile ground for vicious reactionary movements in the North and bitter internecine battles – tribal or ethnic or religious conflicts – in the South. So what Engels said in the nineteenth century can be raised several orders of magnitude in the twenty-first: the choice is between socialism and barbarism.

What we have to hope for – and even more than that, work for with all possible passion and intelligence – is for people to understand that choice, to see that these horrendous problems are generated by a rapacious system and that the only viable alternative is for people to get together and replace a system driven by corporate greed with one in harmony with nature and centered on human needs.

Berger: Within the United States, one of the biggest and most visible signs of mass movement in recent years has been a largely Latino immigrant rights/migrant justice movement: from the mass marches of 2006 to recent struggles against what some are calling a system of Juan Crow in places such as Arizona and Alabama. Clearly these struggles are reflective of the ways the United States is more multiracial and multiethnic than it was when you came to political consciousness. And of course, the United States now has a black president – something that only recently became thinkable. Do these changes alter the significance you've always given to race as a structuring feature of the United States? Do you still think that black social movements will be the strongest catalyst for political action in the United States?

Gilbert: You're right about the importance of immigration and the Latino/a population. And I want to add that, in addition to the so-called "borders" being illegitimate, the whole disruption of families and mass migrations are being driven by the very destruction of the economies of the South by imperialism.

While the modalities of race have changed in significant ways, the fundamentals of a system based on white supremacy haven't. Now, as opposed to the 1960s, there are a lot more Blacks in the middle class, although still not in proportion to their percent in the population, and many more multiracial individuals. We now have a Black president; while it was nice to see that aspect of Jim Crow shattered, it doesn't mean much in practice since politics in the USA, including Obama, are so completely controlled by big money. But the erosion of Jim Crow has been more of a neocolonial strategy than a qualitative change for the majority. Many educated Blacks who would have been vociferous spokespeople for the struggle now live in greater comfort.

Meanwhile conditions in the ghettoes and barrios have in many ways gotten worse, with cascading epidemics: the loss of manufacturing jobs; mass incarceration; broken families; the internal violence that comes with making drugs illegal; then the violent "war on drugs;" the health epidemics of HIV, hepatitis, asthma, and so much more.

So I'm sure that race will remain central, although probably radical struggles will not be as predominantly defined by revolutionary nationalism, as other forms have also become important: immigration, women of color, LGBT and queer movements, and other alliances among various peoples of color. The black community, with its cohesion and stunning culture of resistance, has been under relentless and full-scale attack for decades, with virtually nothing in terms of an anti-racist white movement to provide solidarity. The relentless attacks have taken a toll. But given the centrality of the black struggle to opening up almost every period of protest and advance in US history and given their legacy of humanity and resistance, I believe that black social movements will continue to be the strongest catalyst for radical political action in the USA.

Berger: As the movements of the 1960s receded, something called "identity politics" emerged in their place. At its most caricatured, the debate over identity politics has positioned parochial identity groups (e.g. women, people of color, LGBT communities) against the universalism of emancipating all people, or at least of the entire working class. How do you see this debate?

Gilbert: I don't understand why there is a debate, since both are essential and they're so complementary. Movements or unions that are dominated by straight white males are far from universal. I haven't kept up on all the literature; evidently, there are examples of identity politics that are all about narrow sectors competing to be "the most oppressed." Nonprofit organizations, with their funding power, have fostered and rewarded such a narrow and competitive approach. But the thrust of the Combahee River statement and the women of color movement since the 1970s, 1 as well as more contemporary queer movements, have been about those who are oppressed being the ones who can best articulate their needs and aspirations and also the important ways those oppressions intersect. That enriches rather than detracts from our movements.

What's divisive is racism, elitism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism. We face mammoth barriers to progress in the myriad ways that people oppressed in one way will still have contempt for those who are oppressed in other ways and even partake in keeping them down. The challenge for us as organizers is to achieve unity among all who have an interest in overturning the current, horribly destructive and demeaning order. That can only be done by breaking through the various forms of oppression, from the bottom–up, led by those who understand the issues best, to overturn the entire set of mutually reinforcing structures of domination. In short, the long march to universal human liberation must smash through each of the various specific barriers of oppression.

Berger: Your recent memoir, Love and Struggle, seeks to explain and uphold what you see as the best aspects of 1960s-era activism, while also chronicling the mistakes of the New Left and other movements of the era. You are quite self-critical as well, writing of the need to "struggle against our own weaknesses" in the fight for social justice. What has that struggle been like for you? Is it something that can only be done in retrospect, or how might you encourage young activists today to engage in this kind of struggle now?

Gilbert: While retrospect can afford added perspective, the struggle is always very much current and ongoing. For me personally, well, I look at some of my mistakes and my efforts to learn from them in Love and Struggle. When such issues were [first] raised with me, I'd get defensive; it would feel difficult, almost impossible, to change. But in the long run I've found the process to be very enriching and hopeful. I would absolutely encourage activists not to approach the struggles against our own weaknesses, which are inevitable growing up in this society, as grim or self-flagellating, as a question of guilt. Instead, the more we identify with and learn from other people, the more fully human we become and the better our chances for achieving real change.

Berger: You were imprisoned just as the war on drugs and mass incarceration became structuring tenets of life inside the United States. And since the "war on terror" began in 2001, prisons have become central to American foreign policy as well, epitomized by the prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram Air Force Base. Yet there has also been a renewed attention to American prisons domestically and abroad – due to the organizing of prisoners, as well as interest from journalists and scholars. What hope do you see for an end to mass incarceration? Have prisoners, in your experience, drawn connections between the domestic penal system and "war on terror" prisons? How have prisoners responded to the emerging movements in the Arab world and across the United States?

Gilbert: There are some very advanced prisoner struggles in places like California, Georgia, Ohio, and Virginia. 2 But where I'm at right now there has been a major decline in political consciousness since I came in. Prison is very much affected by what's happening in the outside world. I think the combination of the destruction of leading organizations like the [Black] Panthers, AIM [American Indian Movement], and the Young Lords [a Puerto Rican militant organization in the late 1960s and early 1970s]; the loss of manufacturing jobs combined with the massive influx of drugs; and the relentless barraging of people with ads that encourage consumption have all set back consciousness outside and in. Also certain right-wing groups are working to undermine people's ability to understand the system. The prisons have been flooded with conspiracy theories that divert from the analysis of how the imperialists rule. One destructive example is AIDS conspiracy theories that appeal to well-founded distrust of the public health system to then discourage black youth from HIV prevention and treatment. When we traced these back, the source was from the fascistic LaRouchite movement. 3

Despite all those setbacks, the legacy of the Panthers has a strong cachet, and prisoners are more aware than the general population about the dangers of the "war on terror" and how it has promoted torture, preventive detention, and warrantless surveillance. I mean, that's always existed under imperialism, but institutionalizing these human rights abuses makes them more "accepted" and more widespread.

I think that part of the reason prisoners haven't been more active comes from a sense of isolation and vulnerability, so a developing movement on the outside will have an impact in here. For both inside and outside it's important to recognize that mass incarceration isn't simply counterproductive in how it reproduces harm and violence and how it drains resources from positive and more effective programs. The "war on crime," since President Nixon first proclaimed it at the end of the 1960s has been the spearhead for attacking and turning back the black liberation struggle and the related movements for social justice it had inspired. 4 So opposing mass incarceration and the war on crime is central, completely strategic, to rebuilding momentum for fundamental change.

Berger: You've been incarcerated for more than 30 years, much of it spent between New York's most restrictive prisons: Attica, Auburn, Clinton, and Comstock. During that time, you've authored two books, written dozens of articles, started the first peer-education program for prisoners around HIV/AIDS, and mentored many young activists outside of prison. How have you been able to stay politically connected from inside prison? And what keeps you going after all these years?

Gilbert: Well "mentored" isn't exactly the right word. I learn a lot from the young activists who write and/or visit. So I hope that our exchanges are very much a dialogue. And those dialogues, as well as the connections with so many wonderful old friends and comrades, are a major way I've stayed politically connected. Also, thanks to the struggles of a preceding generation of prisoners, I'm allowed to get a lot of, although not all, political literature. So all of that has helped keep me going. And I'm blessed with a tremendous amount of love in my life: my son, my family, old friends, younger-generation activists. So I'm very, very fortunate. Most broadly what keeps me going is a feeling of connection with, love for, and hope in humankind.

Notes on contributors
David Gilbert is a former member of SDS and the Weather Underground, currently serving a life sentence at Auburn Correctional Facility in New York state. He is the author, among other titles, of Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond, published in 2012 by PM Press.

Dan Berger is an assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington at Bothell and a founding member of Decarcerate PA. He is the author, among other titles, of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, forthcoming from the University of North Carolina Press.

The authors would like to thank Naomi Jaffe and Jeremy Varon for their many insightful comments and suggestions on this interview.

1. The Combahee River Collective was a Boston-based black feminist organization that existed between 1974 and 1980. Its political statement remains an influential legacy to the rise of women of color feminism and paved the way for later theories of "intersectionality" that view race, gender, sexuality, and class as mutually constitutive elements of identity and social status. For more on Combahee as part of a black feminist movement, see Springer, Living for the Revolution.

2. Since 2010, prisoners in Georgia, Ohio, California, and Virginia have protested their conditions through coordinated strikes. The biggest of these has been the hunger strike inside California prisons, which began in the "supermax" prison at Pelican Bay. For more on that strike, including a list of the five basic demands prisoners developed, see the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition website, The San Francisco Bay View has printed several statements by prisoners involved in the strike, including messages to Occupy Wall Street activists; see The Black Agenda Report has reported on all of these prison struggles; see On 20 February 2012, coalitions of OWS and anti-prison activists held a national day of actions under the banner "Occupy for Prisoners." Statements from prisoners and a listing of actions can be found at

3. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr is a former Trotskyist who founded the National Caucus of Labor Committees in the 1960s. Since the early 1970s, however, LaRouche has been a far-right propagator of conspiracy theories rooted in anti-Semitism on a range of issues. LaRouche and his followers have used emotional and physical manipulation to ensure the compliance of members, and they have a history of physical attacks, spying, and dirty tricks against leftist groups while presenting themselves as being on the left. Several LaRouchites and LaRouche himself have run for office on the Democratic Party ticket, and they often try to recruit among leftwing events. For more on LaRouche, see King, Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism; Berlet and Lyons, Right-Wing Populism and America, 273–6; and the articles about LaRouche on the Political Research Associates website, (Thanks to Matthew Lyons for alerting me to these sources.) Gilbert wrote an essay in the mid-1990s debunking the conspiratorial thinking around AIDS. See Gilbert, "AIDS Conspiracy Theories."

4. Several emerging studies on the rise of the carceral state confirm Gilbert's view. See, for instance, Thompson, "Why Mass Incarceration Matters;" Gilmore, Golden Gulag; Rodríguez, Forced Passages; Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Parenti, Lockdown America. Historian Michael Flamm points out, however, that the war on crime first began under Lyndon Johnson, not Richard Nixon. Flamm's argument feeds a broader concern with the ways in which liberals and the Democratic Party share similar if not equal blame as Republicans for the rise of mass incarceration. See Flamm, Law and Order.

1. Alexander, Michelle . 2010 . The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness , New York : The New Press .

2. Berlet, Chip and Lyons, Matthew N. 2000 . Right-Wing Populism and America: Too Close for Comfort , New York : Guilford Press .

3. Flamm, Michael . 2005 . Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s , New York : Columbia University Press .

4. Gilbert, David. "AIDS Conspiracy Theories: Tracking the Real Genocide". In No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner, 129–50. Montreal: Abraham Guillen Press and Arm the Spirit, 2004.

5. ———. No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner. Montreal: Abraham Guillen Press/Kersplebedeb, 2004.

6. ———. Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond. PM Press, 2012.

7. Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

8. King, Dennis . 1989 . Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism , New York : Doubleday .

9. Parenti, Christian . 1999 . Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in an Age of Crisis , New York : Verso .

10. Rodríguez, Dylan. Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

11. Springer, Kimberly. Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968–1980, 1977. Reproduced under its original title, "A Black Feminist Statement". In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, ed. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, 210–18. New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983.

12. Thompson, Heather Ann. "Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History". Journal of American History 97 (2010): 703–34.

Friday, December 21, 2012

at a loss of words but immersed in fury

It was a cold wintery Montreal Sunday last week, when sixty or so people joined a Solidarity Across Borders (SAB) caravan/roaming demo, starting at Rosemont metro and making its way to the Immigration Prevention Center in Laval. As SAB had explained in its callout:

For over a decade, Mohammad Mahjoub, Mohamed Harkat, and Mahmoud Jaballah have been fighting their detention in Canada. The three were arrested under immigration “security certificates”, which allow the government to arrest people without charge according to their profile, detain them indefinitely, and eventually deport them.

Although their cases are extreme, Mahjoub, Harkat and Jaballah are only three of the thousands of migrants who are imprisoned because they don’t have citizenship. Furthermore, Bill C-31 will be implemented this week, permitting the government to automatically detain groups of migrants for up to a year if they are deemed to have entered Canada by “irregular means”. This will likely mean that more migrants will be detained for longer periods of time.
It was against this reality, of borders becoming ever more deadly as canadian imperialism revs up its engines for new cycles of accumulation/devastation, that we rallied, chanted, waved our banners and tried to keep warm. That this demo took place outside a prison where targeted migrants are detained, at times for years on end, is all the more appropriate given the significance of incarceration in the strategy of the current government for the times to come.

Many of the speeches at the rally were really good, but i must admit one of the best was that of  Farha Najah Hussain on behalf of the South Asian Women's Community Centre (SAWCC). It is reposted here with permission:
Je fais partie du Centre communautaire des femmes sud-asiatiques, qui est un centre qui a débuté comme collectif de jeunes femmes d'origines sud-asiatiques afin de confronter le patriarcat et les manières dont cette violence ce manifeste, soit au niveau interpersonnelle ou celle de l'état, particulièrement pour les femmes et commaunautés immigrantes.

Le centre continue d'être solidaire avec Mohammad Mahjoub, Mohamed Harkat, et Mahmoud Jaballah contre les lois et conditions
d'arrestation injustes et inhumains.

As we discussed the endorsement of this event, we gathered at the South Asian Women's Community Centre (SAWCC). One woman declared, “Is this even a question? Of course, we must endorse this caravan to the detention centre”. Another said “For years, we have been supporting the struggle to abolish security certificates – which were unanimously voted as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007 – the struggle clearly continues”.

The discussion did not end, “Now, an increase in detention because of Bill C-31, which is now law, further precarity, more family separation, increased desperation amongst migrants, gendered and racialised bodies.” Suddenly, it seemed as though silence overcame a dozen fierce Womyn sitting around the meeting table that night. Many whose friends, family and community members have faced layers of interpersonal and state violence, including having gone through detention, and subsequently being deported.

Like that SAWCC monthly meeting, I come here today being somewhat at a loss of words but immersed in fury, recognising that for generations people have declared that no human being is illegal, that people continue to fight against a racist immigration system, after hundreds of years of Indigenous people fighting a war against colonialism and risking their lives for land sovereignty from the Canadian state's flawed borders, recognising that people with precarious immigration status courageously confront barriers to accessible housing, education and health, after voices have denounced prison walls that keep people from migrating, from living, from breathing.

And so in the midst of being speechless, I bring today solidarity and rage, utter rage, rage rooted in reading a sign for the nth time that reads “Immigration Prevention Centre,” rage that manifests through the memories of visiting friends and community members in detention. Reminiscing over a conversation with a fierce ammi. In September 2009, she told me her story when border agents abducted her and her kids in a window-tinted car while they were walking the streets of Parc-Extension, and were subsequently detained. “Jub seh mera panch saal ka bacha geriftaar hwa heh jub seh vo baat nahee kartah heh”. Ever since my 5 year child was imprisoned, he no longer speaks. Trauma.

This rage is rooted in the beginning of a friendship, with a strong, funny, intelligent, and fierce young woman, having taken steps to confront the sexual assault she has faced while confronting state violence, and living with precarious immigration status. We first met behind these walls as she struggled to breath in the context of a neurological condition, and the inhumane conditions she and other detainees faced. Yeh to ek Ked khana heh. “This is a prison” she said.

This rage is affirmed in the voices, the stories of people with beating hearts who were or are caged and traumatised, every day as they- as you - struggle for dignity.

There is tremendous collective rage amongst us here, across concrete walls, and across borders. Perhaps my speechlessness comes from knowing that words may not fully be able to articulate the depth and degree of collective fury, but our actions have, do, and will. And I trust that one day, we will see a world where people can migrate freely. Just like the kids in my life cross the street when they play street hockey, so will people be able to move across what were once imaginary lines drawn on the asphalt, without fearing persecution or detention.

I will end my speechlessness by words inspired by poet June Jordan, We will win Against the State (of things).

Monday, December 03, 2012

On Correct Terminology

Sanyika Shakur, who was released from Pelican Bay SHU this August, wrote this essay to explain some of the specific spellings and terms used by members of the New Afrikan Independence Movement. It is a good contribution to developing mental and cultural resistance to patriarchal racist imperialist system. It is also posted on the Kersplebedeb website. More about, and by, Sanyika Shakur can be found at

On Correct Terminology and Spellings
En Route to Conscious Development and Socialist Revolution

There has been some dialogue generated recently that has come to focus on the way the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) uses certain spellings, particular words, phrases and slogans to distinguish, apply energy, weight and clarity to the ongoing and ever-increasing need for sharper, more critical, words of power to describe the socio-economic phenomena of national oppression.

What We’d like to do here is go through a few of these in use now which are generally accepted as a standard for cadres of NAIM, but may not be so obvious to others. And, too, the thing We’d like to do is open up a deeper line of dialogue, in this regard, in hopes of developing a unified field theory of comprehensive terminology to enhance the depth, breadth and momentum of revolutionary consciousness to the flow as We build for Peoples War (Vita Wa Watu [1]).

In our struggle to regain independence as a self-determining people, with dignity and pride, We overstand that We must have a national identity, a name. One that is neither given by our oppressors nor predicated on a racialist color. We must have a nationality, as a pre-requisite, if We are seriously forging the socio-economic constructs of a State in which to govern the nation(ality), i.e. the people/citizens. We necessarily begin at the beginning. We know We are descendants from peoples forcefully removed from the West Coast of the Afrikan continent. We know We haven’t fallen from the sky. We also have sure knowledge of the reasons We were brought here. But, Afrika is a continent of many people, and not a homogenous nation. It isn’t now, nor was it when the predators and destroyers came and probably hadn’t been since the early, early days of life.

On the continent there are nations and nationalities. There are various languages, cultures, politics, religions and customs. So, we know what when the predators and destroyers came they found many different people. We know they made deals with some to work in concert against others. It was a socio-economic arrangement -- a class alliance. Supply and demand. We often heard growing up, by amerikans, who wished to distance themselves from colonialism, that “your own people sold you into slavery.” Well, this is not altogether true, since essentially We’d never really all been one people -- certainly not by the time the predators came. And even among those of the same nation, there were class divisions and other contradictions. What We all were, however, was dark. Darker in complexion by far than the Europeans or the Arabs who came assailing Us. And thus it was this apparent “difference” that theyseized upon to make us “one people” -- black people first, then Afrikan, as a whole. Much like capitalism is now making all Spanish-speaking people into Latinos and/or Hispanics. Or how colonialism made into Indigenous people all “Indians”. But underneath this generalization were Nationalities and Nations. We knew this, certainly. For had you asked a captured woman who she was, say in 1580, she would not have said “I’m black”, nor would she have said “I’m Afrikan”. She’d have said “I am Akan” or “I am Fante”, or Hausa, Ibo, Fulani, Ewe, Yoruba, etc.

It was these various peoples, hailing from numerous nations and nationalities, that were brought together under colonialism and transported to the so-called “New World” to be utilized as a proletariat for the new European nations being built on stolen and occupied lands. By dint of brutal transport and collusion We were brought together under conditions less than human and barely tolerable. By our own internal dynamics and self-motion We essentially combined in these conditions to become a new people. No longer Ibo, Fulani, Ewe, Fante or Yoruba -- but Afrikan still. Our cultures weren’t so much destroyed as they were transformed. We survived and remade Ourselves on the residue of self-consciousness/self-motion. In a 100% hostile environment.

Of this We have sure knowledge. That from Los Angeles to New York and all areas in between, New Afrikans share the same culture Our ancestors forged in the cauldron of old colonialism. You know how the bourgeois media likes to parrot Boy Bush by saying “9-11 changed everything?” Well, in actuality, colonialism is really what changedeverything -- really. For just as We became a New Afrikan nation in North America, Indigenous nations were being decimated and a newEuropean nation-state called america was coming into existence.
This is how nations are really formed -- how nationalities come to be. They don’t mysteriously fall, ready-made, from the sky. It is human nature to bring into existence new unities (nations/nationalities) based on need or greed. So, while We may have come here as Fulani, Ewe, Ibo, etc., this is not who We are today. While simultaneously the Fulani, Ewe and Ibo people still exist in Afrika. The reality is, however,We can’t go back to the past. We’d be insincere running around Oakland or Brooklyn talking about “I’m Yoruba”, “I’m Hausa” -- cause We are not. Not anymore. We have Our own customs now. Our own culture, too. And even though We are saddled with the colonial language, We have Our own ways of using it to suit our needs. We now have Our own set of contradictions that are unique to Our particular social development here. And yet We are still Afrikan. Though We’ve come to overstand that being Afrikan wasn’t enough to describe Our particular experience and social development here. Nor was it sufficient to point Us in the direction of where We need to go -- that is, when and where We enter -- again -- onto the world stage of nations.

We keep emphasizing nationality and nation here because if you think about it -- meditate on it -- We can’t enter the world community of nations as “minorities”, as “blacks” or as “African Americans”. This would be absurd. Why, it’s akin to Us going out reppin’ amerika, the u.s. government, capitalism/imperialism and all that this entails. We’d be bourgeois amerikan nationalists. And don’t fool yourself, you’d stillbe a nationalist -- you’d just be a bourgeois nationalist. That is a representative of the new unity that amerika is under its ruling class. And, again, with all that this entails. So, We emphasize nationality and nation in order to bring the reality out that it is a choice one has on whether to side with the colonizer, or to struggle with the oppressed, which is essentially a struggle against oppression. Against u.s. capitalism/imperialism. Against being colonized and prevented from being yourself.

We have chosen New Afrikan as our Nationality because it adequately defines our experience. It brings the reality of Our transformation and new unity right down from and where it needs to be. It also affords Us an identity of our own, out and away from that given to us by our oppressors:
“‘New Afrikan’ reflects our identity as a nation and a people -- a nation and a people desiring self-determination. New Afrikans have been called ‘colored Americans’, ‘American Negroes’, ‘Black Americans’ and ‘Afro-Americans’.
“‘New Afrikan’ reflects our purpose as We desire freedom, self-determination and independence. By stating We are New Afrikans, We clarify We want to be independent from the amerikkkan empire. We want Land and National Liberation. We no longer want the ruling class of the amerikkkan empire to determine Our political, economic, socio-cultural affairs”.[2]
We also have the New Afrikan Declaration of Independence, the New Afrikan Creed and the Code of Umoja written and ratified in 1968, with a subsequent review completed by the People Center Council, on November 3, 2007. These lofty documents point to the reality of our national existence.

Comrad-Brotha Owusu Yaki Yakubu has pointed out on many occasions that: “The Nation exists both in potentiality and actuality - it’s just not free.” [3]

The reason We need to get past the usage of labels like “black” and “African American” is because they only serve to distort Our reality. These labels confuse and misdirect the colonialism of the u.s. into an “Everything’s better now” fog of narcolepsy. One way this is done is by calling our experience here, from 1619 to 1865, mere “slavery”. When, of course, it was much worse, more complex and binding that any slavery ever could be.

By saying our condition was mere “slavery” is an easy way out; it is to say “slavery was abolished in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th amendment”. Which then leads to the 14th amendment to make New Afrikans “citizens” -- thereby violating Our human right to self-determination, but also liquidating the reality of our nation by incorporating Us into the Empire as “minority citizens” -- as “Negroes”, “blacks”, “colored”, “African Americans”. As those who cannot govern themselves -- whose productive forces are harnessed by the empire for its own interests. What they never want Us to overstand is that We are a nation inside the belly of the beast.  No, this reality must always be distorted, disguised, laughed at, slapped away or crushed.

In a way, our finding and usage of the correct terminology to facilitate an overstanding of colonialism, comes as a means to combat the enemy’s mass distortions of our reality. Yes, this is true. You see, the conscious instinctively go East when the enemy insists the right way is West. We refuse to move along its path; We stop, stand Our ground and struggle against the stream because We know Our truths. Our interests stand in stark contrast to the enemy’s. So, We dig in search of the tools We’ll need to end its life. And isn’t that what it does in order to oppress Us? We’re in the same war -- We're just on different sides.

Just as We are not black, Negro, or African African, Our condition was not “slavery”. Which is not to say Our condition didn’t have the outward appearance of slavery. Nor are We trying to take anything away from the awful conditions which Our ancestors endured. We are saying that “slavery”, like those “minority” labels, is a distortion of facts and in order to fully apprehend the reality, We cannot use the deliberately faulty tools given Us by Our enemies. When using their analyses of Our condition We’ll get their results -- which favor their distortions and continuing oppression of Us as “minorities” or “disenfranchised second class citizens”. How can anyone be dis-enfranchised when they’ve never been en-franchised?! Oh, but We were en-franchised, as a colony - like, individuals can own a McDonald’s, but have to go to Ronald McDonald’s College in order to learn how to run the business in accordance with the overall standards of established order of the corporation. But the same food, same colors, same uniforms, same culture of the corporation permeates all. But now check this out, in real dis-enfranchisement wouldn’t that mean to leave the corporate orbit -- to get free of it? That’s what We should be struggling for: disenfranchisement, no? We’re looking for correct terminology. For ways out. We’re not struggling to be en-franchised. But We want true disfranchisement and not some fake, paperweight, Banff Funston, flag freedom.

We’ve been told that being born here makes us americans. We reject that foolishness. We are more apt to ride with the sobering words of Malcolm X: “Being born here doesn’t make you an american. Why, that’s like saying if a cat has kittens in the oven that makes them biscuits.” You might want to read that one again.

Having made the points We have We’ll move this along. Though not without a quote from Comrad-Brotha Owusu Yaki Yakubu:
“The ‘Native’, the ‘Negro’, the ‘colored’, the ‘black’ and the ‘African-American’, have no identity apart from that given them by the colonizer -- that is, not unless they RESIST colonialism, which entails: (1) their maintenance of an identity that is separate and distinct from that of the colonized and from that given them by the colonizer; (2) they begin to develop a NEW identity, through the process of “de-colonization” -- though having remained separate and distinct, colonized people aren’t who they were prior to colonization, and they can’t return to the past. Colonization has arrested their independent development, distorted who they are, and now they must become (a) NEW people during the process by which they regain their independence.” [4]
The NEW people need a new, more critical (and radical) set of words, of terminology, to bring the “arrested development” of our independence into sharper focus. A focus so clear as to give us the ability to read the earth signs and guideposts towards national independence and socialism. The struggle, lest We forget, is not justagainst capitalism/imperialism, but also for socialism. We are not trying to get a seat at the table, or an office in the Whitest House. That’s called reform. That’s called collusion, collaboration and neocolonialism. That’s not our bag. We suggest strongly that all New Afrikans seek to obtain, study and meditate on the following documents:
  • the New Afrikan Declaration of Independence
  • the New Afrikan Creed
  • the Code of Umoja (Republic of New Afrika’s National Constitution)
These, of course, are the general laws, ethics and obligations of New Afrikan nationals. Individual collectives and orgs in the NAIM will necessarily have their own particular bylaws, codes of ethics and points of authority to frame their practice vis-à-vis the masses and other collectives orgs. Nonetheless, We all function under the general/objective laws established by the Provisional Government.

What tends to bother us is when comrades from other movements and nationalities, who’ve struggled with Us in various capabilities, do interviews or in their writings, refer to us as “African Americans” or “blacks”. And We’re not talking about the average comrades on the street who have no real clue about Our ideology -- No, We mean comrades who, in some instances, were captured with some of Our nationals. It’s not cool to do that. We feel that if you want to be “politically correct”, then side with the revolutionaries and not with the distortionists. We are New Afrikans. In 1968, over 500 New Afrikan nationalists signed the New Afrikan Declaration of Independence and named Our nation the Republic of New Afrika. We feel when Comrades do that they are going along with Our oppression. At least some form of it. They are conscious, they know better. And, too, we have to step up Our ideological struggle to deepen the correct usage of Our national identity. Even in low tides we must stand firm push forward.

Some Terms/Spellings

* We, as a rule, capitalize the “W” in we to emphasize the collective/mass importance of the people. We overstand that capitalism and the degenerate culture that inherently flows from it, incites, facilitates and rewards rank individualism. It fosters the “me, me, me”, “look out for number 1” and “I am more important than all of you” mentality.

In amerika, for example, one individual can own 10 (or 100) supermarkets and feel or have no obligation to feed one hungry person. In fact, owners have had poor people prosecuted to the full extent of bourgeois law, for taking food; or homeless people for panhandling on his/her premises. Individualism, gluttonous consumerism and naked greed are the inherent hallmarks of capitalism. We necessarily reflect this and thus capitalize Our W’s and simultaneously de-capitalize (cut the head off) the “I” , when it’s used in a “normative case singular of the first person pronoun” or as“the word used by a speaker or written in mentioning [herself]/himself.” [5] We feel that doing so not only keeps Us focused but is also instructive to our readers. Some Comrads have decapped their whole names to further illustrate their submergence in the people. [6]

* We spell Africa with a “K”, as opposed to a “C” because as Comrad-Brotha Sundiata pointed out:
 “… the New Afrikan Independent Movement spells Afrikan with a ‘K’ as an indicator of our cultural identification with the Afrikan continent and because Afrikan linguists originally used ‘K’ to indicate the ‘C’ sound in the English language.” [7]
We also use the “K” in our national identity to illustrate our break and necessary distinction with Our colonizers. The “K” represents resistance, rebellion and our need for critical distance from normative constraints of colonialism.

* We, by and large, de-cap the “A” in amerika for several reasons. Principal among these, however, is the fact that the colonial state is an illegal settler government/empire fastened, my dint of genocide and colonialism (colonial violence), onto the backs of indigenous nations/land and other internal colonies. We overstand the u.s. as a virtual -- nay, as an actual -- prisonhouse of nations which are culturally and economically held in check by a complicit garrison population of citizens who believe in amerikan exceptionalism, manifest destiny and the inherent inferiority of everyone but themselves. These amerikans are fortified ideological shocktroops holding the genocidal quilt of u.s. imperialism together with boundless acts of blind-ass patriotism and loyalty. We reject that and refuse to give this (or any) empire any acknowledgment as a place of peace, liberty and democracy. Amerika is not so much a place, deserving a capital letter at its helm, as it is an experience, like a wild and horrifying ride at an amusement park -- only this ride is more lethal, a thousand times more harmful and totally mind-warping. “The ride of a lifetime,” where whole nations are strapped in for the violent twists and turns of Empire. The more we try to get off, the faster it goes, the higher it climbs, the deeper it plunges -- Welcome to the Terror Dome!!! We are not in the habit of giving respect to those who don’t respect us. Decap the “A”.

* We use a “K” (or three “K”’s) in amerika -- as We do in the word “kountry” when referring to amerika and its capitalist allies -- to emphasize Our awareness that it is the prototype, the archetype, of the Ku Klux Klan. Its overall reactionary, racialist, and theological schematic is Klannish! And just because the state employs functionaries from its colonies means nothing. The ruling class is a seething cauldron of alabaster menace. Sitting, as it does, atop the planet, in a predator’s pose, ready to pounce on the next crime to make a profit; the pathological bourgeoisie is the brain trust of every two-bit supremacist on the planet. The Klan foremost among them. We think it was the Amazon Butch Lee who said “amerika is what nazi germany wanted to be.” We agree and would go on to add that the ruling class is who the Klan aspires to be like and keep in power. So, We necessarily associate the two in our writings because it keeps Us focused on the fundamental contradiction in Our way. Would you want to integrate into a Klan society?

* Some of us younger comrades will use a capital “O” on Our or “U” on Us when referring to New Afrikan people. This is but a particular style used by those of us in the trenches doing ideological combat on a daily basis. It is a good concept to promote the unitarian ideal, however, it often brutalizes the written text by detracting from the smooth flow of a sentence. Not to mention being a virtual nightmare for some of our comrades who help in transcribing our work. And, too, We’ll often use these caps this way to stand to the left of those who’ve come before Us. However, all ideas are not of equal value and any theory which cannot stand up to objective reality is dead. While We don’t think the concept dead, We do, however feel it’s not practical. For as long as we wrap up the “W” and cut the head off of that big-ass “I” We’ll be fine.

* As revolutionary nationalists We are, without question, anti-racists. We work diligently to exclude all language (and practice) that promotes or perpetuates the false social construct of “race”. We first of all get past this by overstanding who concocted this foolishness. Oh yeah … it was the same class of predators who constantly told us to go west -- “it’s the right way. The only way out.” No bet. Trust and believe when they say go west -- your surest path is in any otherdirection. Let’s check in with the wise counsel of Comrad-Brotha Owusu Yaki Yakubu:
“Racism is used to justify and facilitate the exploitation of peoples, and it’s based on the false belief that humanity is divided into a plurality of ‘races’ that stand in relation to each other as ‘inferiors’ or ‘superiors’ based on physical and/or cultural differences. There are no ‘races’ -- only people(s) and groups of people(s), united and distinguished by common history (social development), habits, interests, etc. -- sometimes We call all of this ‘nationality’ or ideology. To be ‘anti-racist’ is, first of all, not to hold the false belief in an alleged plurality of ‘races’, to be ‘against racism’ is to combat all beliefs and practices that facilitate the exploitation of peoples, particularly when such explication is supposed by the social construction of ‘race’.” [8]
What We do is stop calling ourselves “black”. This goes along with the false construct and perpetrates the erroneous belief. Not to mention the colonial relationship of oppressed and oppressor. Saying “black” is to promote the “plurality of race”; the “black race”, “white race”, etc. People have national identities. We are not racists, so why promote racist beliefs? Now, We are not naïve, either. We know that while the science behind the division of humanity into races is, without question, junk science and crackpot engineering, We also overstand the average folks ain’t got that memo. The masses of all colonies inside the beast still function under this guise. And so while Weoverstand it’s not real, people are still quite willing to kill and die for it. But We have to lead the way of “de-colonizing”, “dis-enfranchising” and de-programming them. So, “race” is both false and to an extent “real”.

Let’s go over to the dictionary and see what it says about the two words in question. We’re using a 2006, Webster’s Integrated Dictionary and Thesaurus:
Black: adj. of the darkest color, like coal or soot; having dark-colored skin and hair, especially Negro; without light; dirty; evil; wicked; sad, dismal; sullen...
We could go on with the description, but it only gets worse. Let’s flip over to the word “white” (same source) and see what We find:
White: adj. of the color of milk or pure salt; stainless; pure; bright; light-colored, as of caucasoid skin; color of anything white, innocent…
Well, We know these are wholly inadequate terms to use in referring to people, any people. And We overstand, too, that “black” was sort of necessary in the 1960s to distinguish the revolutionaries from the neo-colonialist Negroes. However, we now know that it was insufficient and should now be rested. Along with white. We are more concerned with one’s politics than We are with anyone’s complexion. We unite with those whose practice and sincerity bears them out to be worthy. We are birthed into this world with no control over Our complexions (pigmentation) -- Our nationality and Our politics, however, we can choose. That’s the basis of the get down. The content of character, practice and the company one keeps are always the surest indicators of who’s who.

In our writings, speaking and organizing We make that National distinction between Us and amerikans based not on “race” -- “black” or “white” -- as if We were all “Americans” with just different complexions, who suffer or prosper as a result of a few bad men/women in office. No, We clarify the reality based on oppressor and oppressed nations. On capitalism versus socialism. On national independence versus colonialism. As soon as We fall into the trap of “race”, we lose momentum -- We stop pushing Our line and start pushing the colonizers’ line. We heighten awareness by exposing the falsehoods. The contradictions are plentiful and there are no shortage of angles for us to attack. The fundamental contradiction is not “race”, but National oppression, with fat-ass u.s. imperialism sitting on Our back preventing Us from moving in our own national interests. The struggle is to destroy this overbearing bully, get free and in the process rebuild ourselves into productive people who are about world revolution and socialism.

* We are anti-patriarchal -- which entails us being against all forms of male supremacy and suppression of women. Women hold up half the sky -- and in most oppressed nations, it’s more like three quarters. This is especially true in New Afrika. We necessarily combat any and all forms of gender oppression; while we’d like to say this is a result of capitalist economics, that would unfortunately not be true. We believe and have sure knowledge that men turned women and children into the first oppressed populations on the planet, long before capitalism appeared on the scene. Patriarchy is a backwards, oppressive and exploitative form of social (and personal) relations that infects and warps the activity of otherwise progressive or potentially revolutionary women and young girls. So, what We do is be pro-actively corrective in not only Our practice, but also in Our writings and Our speeches.

Male-centered language runs rampant through most cultures as does practice. Have you ever stopped to ponder any of the words we think are “normal”
Words like:
mankind etc. etc.
And these are but a couple of the more flagrant ones. But think about organized religion too. What effect does it have on women and young girls, on boys and men for that matter, who feel an inherent sense of entitlement, due to its unflinching patriarchy? For in every one of the major religions God supposedly only picked men (in one his son) to be prophets or saviors. The last person god spoke with or communicated to, or called upon to lead, was a man. One major religion takes the mother totally out of the equation making for only the father, the son and the “holy spirit”. Some others offer “virgins” as rewards for martyrdom -- owned and possessed even in paradise. The major organized religions are in fact good ol’ boys networks that relegate women and children to near chattel status as submissives and victims of men. It is as if in order to get into “heaven”, “paradise” or whatever land of pleasure and ease one believes in, women and children must have been good submissives and supporters, mere bit-players, to their husbands, brothers and fathers. Or loyal to their priest, imam or rabbi. Well, We reject that. We refuse to see women as inferiors, or objects and needing and having to have the guards, protection or sympathy of men in order to “get along” -- or to some far-off paradise. Fuck that!

We believe and have sure knowledge that women possess the very same potential, like any man, to change the world. Perhaps even more so. We know women can (and have) govern, guide, lead, fight, struggle, conspire, shoot, theorize and everything else any man can do. And yet women have been so oppressed by men that they are very distrustful and suspicious and We say rightfully so. But We overstand that unity of purpose, of need and necessity grows out of steadfast practice and righteousness. Simultaneously We overstand that women and children need and must have a military strategy of their own. Must always stand ready. We recognize this. Revolutions, too, can and have turned into good ol’ boy networks. To be cautious is to be aware of all this. Be mindful of social relations that do harm to the unintended, to those We must unite with; to those who are the most oppressed. It is about being accountable and responsible.That’s revolutionary!

What We do is change words like “mankind”, to humankind. “History” to social development, or Ourstory. Or to emphasize that it is a lie told by our colonizers, We’ll spell it as His-story (as in male-centered and just “his” version).

Women in the collectives, orgs and movement will use Her-story. Which is perfectly natural, really, given how much of the social development of women -- especially Amazons -- has beenmanhandled, buried, distorted or lied about. We encourage women to do the damn thing! Right on! When We write We need to be mindful that the Nation ain’t “he”, or “him”. Not made up of just males. Use the slash mark to always include both genders. And these are but the rudiments of this -- mere seeds beneath the snow. We’ll necessarily build on these as we grow and develop -- and as women/Amazons push out front and exert themselves so their own reality is widely representative of the whole. Learn how they wish to be related to by them.

* We are against homophobia. But deeper still, we are about combating heterosexism. See, homophobia -- the irrational fear of someone because of their sexual orientation -- is but one side of the equation. One can be “in fear” and use this to run away, or avoid the natural in order to make themselves feel better, but this will only give rise to homophobia’s evil twin -- heterosexism. Which is not just fear of, but oppression and exploitation of someone based on their sexual orientation. It points to a degenerative set of politics. See, it always comes back to Our politics. Our politics are revolutionary, naturally against oppression and yet here We are oppressing someone based on their natural self. If We kept our politics in command We’d know better. We’d do better.

We need to be clear and focused here cause people will try to get by on this and if We are going to be the message We bring We have to stand firm on Our politics. People, collectives and orgs will profess that they are not homophobic -- have no fear of gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered people -- and yet go right on to practice staunch  heterosexism by having not one post in their orgs held by gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people. All those in position of any power are so-called “straight” people. To Us, any org claiming to be revolutionary or representative of the people, that doesn’t actively recruit, promote and cultivate gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people/cadres, is not really pushing a revolutionary line for change and freedom -- let alone socialism. They are perpetuating the backwardness of the bourgeoisie -- hell, We can hardly say thatanymore since even reactionaries have repealed their heterosexist policies.

We are concerned about a person’s character, politics, practice and the company they keep. Not of their complexion, gender or sexual orientation. The question is -- and should always be -- are they down for revolution? Are they with Us or against Us? Do they overstand that We are about armed struggle? We are not those to sit-in, love-in, cry-in or hold hands and sing “We shall overcome”. That’s not Us. We are about armed struggle.

So, in our writings We don’t just condemn homophobia -- We also shine the light on heterosexism. On so-called “straight” domination of things as if being hetero is any indication of being always right or somehow real. Give Us a break! What’s going to guide Us is revolutionary consciousness, informed by our political line. And the fact of the matter is if you’re not ready to let consciousness guide you -- truly, you’re not ready for revolution. Complete change.

* We recognize koncentration kamps (“prisons”) in the u.s. as tools of colonial violence used to further arrest the development of national independence. Koncentration kamps, like the kourts, the bourgeois law and the political police are all tied into the matrix of imperialism. For settlers these places are prisons. For colonial subjects, citizens of the internal nations, these are koncentration kamps -- intentional, political, containing and genocidal. In a monopoly capitalist society with a deeply entrenched ruling class, such as exists here in amerika, no facet of its system is beyond the pale of economic pressure and control. That is, all parts, importantly related to the whole for oppression are subject to the scrutiny of the ruling class. In other words, they serve the needs of the beast. Profit and disposal. Everything worthwhile is tied, in some way, to the profit motive/margin of monopoly capitalism. Koncentration kamps in this regard are major holdings for the bourgeoisie because they serve two purposes: they pen up potential “social dynamite” -- or those most likely to resist and rebel and revolt. And then they also exploit this same legion as industrial laborers in the kamps. But deeper still, this system also gives jobs to settlers who work in those kamps as guards, managers, nurses, doctors, counselors, etc. We spell koncentration kamps with a “K” for the same reasons We use the K’s in amerikakourt andkountry. It’s all Klannish.

And so it is that We’ve come to the end of these notes. We hope to have brought some light and reason to some of the things We are about, that We struggle around and that We tend to bring to completion. We are under no illusions -- have no thoughts of anything being easy or quick. We are committed for the duration, come what may. We shall enter with Our heads up, backs straight, focused and conscious. We urge you to join the revolution and get down for the freedom you so richly deserve. We have nothing to lose but our chains


[1] Notes - Vita Wa Watu: Swahili meaning People's war. [return to text]
[2] From the New Afrikan Peoples Organization’s  newspaper By Any Means Necessary[return to text]
[3] Meditation On Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Owusu Yaki Yakubu (Kersplebedeb, 2010). [return to text]
[4] Meditations… Owusu Yaki Yakubu. [return to text]
[5] Webster's Integrated Dictionary and Thesaurus[return to text]
[6] asha bandele, of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, dream hampton and the late General geronimo ji jaga. [return to text]
[7] Updated History of the New Afrikan Prison Struggle - Sundiata Acoli, BLA-POW. [return to text]
[8] Meditations… Owusu Yaki Yakubu. [return to text]