Thursday, January 15, 2015

K.O.S. (Determination): Black Communities Keeping It Real and Right

By Liz Derias

Jackson Rising The New Economies Conference“…among those that have least, beat hearts of hope, fly sparks of overcoming.” ~ Mumia Abu Jamal, Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience

Like many other cities across the US in the 1980’s muddling through the residue of Carter’s liberalism and the immorality of Reganomics, Philadelphia, PA was a hotbed of violence and crime, was riddled with the emergence of crack cocaine, faced ravishing poverty, and was burdened with the dismantling of social, health, and economic services for its majority Black working class and poor residents.  My family emigrated to this country amidst this context in 1982, and settled in Philly in 1984.  One year later on May 13, 1985, a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter ordered by then mayor Wilson Goode and the Philadelphia city government, dropped two bombs (supplied by the FBI) on the Africa, or the MOVE, family, who resided at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia.  The Africa family was a collective of African descended people living in the city, dedicated to Black Liberation.  The explosion and ensuing fire burned down more than 60 row homes, and killed 11 people, including MOVE leader John Africa.  Hypocritically enough, Goode called for an investigation of the bombing.  In addition to two grand jury hearings that found the bombing illegal, and the Philadelphia MOVE Special Investigative Commission that issued a report in 1986 which stated,  “Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable”, no one in the Philadelphia city government has ever been criminally charged.
I was too young to recall the bombing, but at the age of 12 after learning about MOVE and Mumia Abu Jamal from elders who recalled the “before” and “after” Philadelphia, I realized that the City has never been the same.  During the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s, the MOVE bombing incited demonstrations and resistance and a fightback that whenever I recall my home city, I feel most viscerally proud to have witnessed.  Hip Hop, through groups like Public Enemy, served as a weapon organizing the voices that inspired the collective fightback during the late 1990’s into the 2000’s.  For instance, in 2002 Public Enemy was banned from MTV for not removing audio recording and visual images of Mumia Abu Jamal in their video, ‘Give the People What they Want’.
Many years after the bombing, when I was in college, I worked with an organization in North Philadelphia named Reconstruction, Inc.  Reconstruction, Inc. seeks to, “…build communities where people are proud to live in by reestablishing a sense of shared community life through collective work, individual responsibility, and mutual respect.”  Reconstruction founders used the maintenance and rehabilitation of neighborhood homes as a strategy for youth leadership and community development.  Youth learned architecture and carpentry skills, while developing self-discipline and loving relationships amongst each other, and with adults. Reconstruction’s work rested on the belief that the process of self-determination was a bedrock to building a healthy and functional community.  One of Reconstruction’s founders, a comrade to the Africa family, took me and my colleagues to Osage Ave., and to the new home of the Africa family.  I had never been to Osage Ave till then. I recall a solemn community that still bore the scars from 1985.  To this day, the Osage homes are not in tact; practical issues resound, such as irreparable foundations, plumbing and sewage problems, and most astounding, residents who are weary of people coming onto the block who they don’t recognize.  Seeing Osage Ave. put the work of Reconstruction, Inc. into perspective for me, and deepened my analysis of the necessity to build (literally and figuratively) self determined communities.
Pam Africa at African-American Day Parade, 2005. Photo by Hakima Abbas
The Africa family has since relocated from Osage Ave, but continue to live in Philadelphia.  They remain rooted in principles such as family, interdependence, unity, and love.  Sisters Pam and Ramona Africa advocate across the world for the release of their family members who were incarcerated prior to the bombing, and for the release of Mumia Abu Jamal, a Black Panther Party member and journalist who is an active supporter of the family.  Mumia has spent the last 30 years in prison, almost all of it in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row, for the alleged 1982 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.  Despite inconclusive evidence, the retraction of testimony by witnesses, and 29 appeals by his defense lawyers that the trial did not meet Mumia’s constitutional rights, he is still confined.  From behind the prison walls, he advocates for self-determination and the liberation of African descended people, and all oppressed peoples.
Even at a young age, what most resounded with me about the MOVE bombing was not the outrageousness of white supremacist forces to drop a bomb on a community, knowing that it would cause death and destruction, nor the fact that the state would incarcerate Mumia for decades, but that the Africa family seemed so similar to my own immigrant African family.  The ways in which they practiced inter-dependence, communalism, unity, and focused on cultural traditions, demonstrated that the spirit of African people has indeed traveled across oceans with our people.  This is what Dr. Marimba Ani, anthropologist, professor and cultural warrior who coined the term Ma’afa to describe the African holocaust, asserts in a 1999 article To be Afrikan: “ ‘We are an Afrikan people,’ simply reveals that there are values, traditions and a heritage that we share because we have a common origin. The cultural process is naturally ongoing, which allows people to continuously affirm their connectedness through being linked to their origins.”  This understanding is foundational to self-determination.  We must come back to these basics, and engage in the process of self-determination if we are to successfully build strong African/Black consciousness and a strong Nation, and traverse the current context of a “post-racial” US.
Articulations of a “post-racial” society under US President Barack Obama, has this country stuck on stupid.  We (read: African descended people) are confused about self-determination, and mistakenly believe that we as a whole (read: American people) have advanced through the election of a Black man as president.  In May 2008, before President Obama’s first term election, Black Agenda Report executive director, Glen Ford, wrote an article titled, Barack Obama versus Black Self Determinationin which he stated:
If racism is merely an aberration in American life, as Obama believes – and which is the greatest concession that general white society is prepared to make to Blacks – then all the fuss about institutional racism, endemic police brutality and such are insults to the ‘national honor.’ Certainly, Obama behaves as if he thinks so. Every manifestation of Black entitlement to self-determination – that is, the right to rely on one’s own people’s collective memory and sense of the truth – must, from Obama’s standpoint, be resisted, denounced and suppressed as ‘divisive’ and, in general, against the national interest.
Ford continues and states that the most important contribution of the Black Freedom Movement is the, “…embrace of the right to self-determination”.  Obama as a purveyor of white supremacy, however, is in direct opposition to this.  Take the fact that in his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama asserted that “…there is no Black America”.  If there is no Black America, then how can and why would, any administration possibly support the agenda or demands of Black people?  It would be illogical.  Yet, what we have been slow to accept during Obama’s presidency, is that white supremacy and its agents will always, hands down, without waver, I mean forever ever, ever, be an enemy to Black people and Black self determination.  In the words of Andre 3000: “Foreva, eva”.  The sooner we come to accept this, the more clear about, and the more urgency we can take, to forge a path forward amongst our own people.  This worldview is best summarized in the words of Dr. Neely Fuller, “If you do not understand white supremacy-what it is and how it works-everything else that you understand will only confuse you.”
African descended communities have a keen understanding of white supremacy, and have exercised self-determination prior to slavery and colonization, and amidst imperialism and neo-colonialism.  African people have practiced Kujichagulia (self-determination) since the beginning of time; self-determination is not a novel idea. The United Nations sets legal standards for international accountability to (self determined) peoples and in the United Nations International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights defines self-determination as:
The right by virtue of which all people’s are entitled freely to determine their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
This standard has informed proponents of the international reparations movement, for instance, as well proponents of self determination, such as Malcolm X who championed action by bringing the collective grievances of Black communities to the United Nations. And collective action we have brought.
Communities that aim to exercise self-determination are rooted in the spiritual and cultural understanding that African people are a righteous people. These communities aim to resist white supremacy, the legacy of slavery, imperialism, and other systems that seek to kill them.  We pray with our feet. Several of the most noted Black historians and scholars to advocate for such invocations are Dr. John Henrick Clark, Dr. Claud Anderson, and Dr. Amos Wilson.  These scholars and leaders drew from examples of African resistance fights.  Accordingly, some of the first self determined communities are the Maroon communities, namely the Quilombolas in Brazil, whose settlements date back to the 17th century.  The most well known quilombo was Palmares, a self-sustaining community made up of large settlements of formerly enslaved Africans near Recife, Brazil.  Palmares was founded in approximately the 1600’s and sustained itself for almost an entire century, nearing 30,000 inhabitants who fled from the brutality of Portuguese led slavery in the region.  What is most famously known about these Maroon societies is their mastery of Capoeria, a martial arts form, that served as a military and cultural resistance tool across Brazil, whose roots can be traced back to Western Africa.  Along the lines of resistance, the first slave insurrection in the US occurred 203 years ago on January 1st, 1811 in Louisiana.  An article published in the Times-Picayune by Rusty Costanza noted that “The uprising started in what is now LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish in 1811 and rolled eastward, with a goal of reaching New Orleans banding with other[s]…to take the city.”  If it were for this history alone that places New Orleans as the site of the largest uprising, the losses of the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are so devastating.
What could have been a current manifestation of a quilombo or a fortified New Orleans was “Africa town”, the proposed central Black business, social, cultural, health, and financial district of Detroit advocated by Detroit’s majority Black residents.  In his 2004 report commissioned by the Detroit City Council titled,  “A PowerNomics Economic Development Plan for Detroit’s Under-Served Majority Population”, Dr Claud Anderson argues for the establishment of Africa Town to be financed with $30 million and land to be allocated by the mayor.  Due to opposition from Council members, citing “reverse racism”, the plan never culminated. Detroit is left with exorbitant poverty, unemployment and incarceration rates of its majority Black population.  Historically, majority Black counties and cities, such as Detroit, have been at the forefront of self-determination strategies and tactics.  Georgia State Professor of African American Studies and New Afrikan elder, Dr. Akinyele Umoja, recently published a book titled, “We Will Shoot Back”, in which he gathered oral and archived testimonies of Mississippians who defended themselves against the attacks of white supremacist groups including the Klu Klux Klan, from the 1950s-1970s.  For them, armed resistance was not solely a means for self determined communities; it was a survival tactic.
It can be argued that in the 20th century, the Black (Nationalist) organization, which has best demonstrated moving Black people from survival to thrival by way of self-determination projects, is the Nation of Islam (NOI).  Their organizing model draws from the teachings and principles of NOI founder Elijah Muhammed, and advocate working with the most marginalized sectors of the Black community, including those who are formerly incarcerated, as a necessary way to develop a sense of self, of racial and cultural pride, of community and of national identity.  Using this paradigm, the Nation has opened countless businesses, employed their religious members, generated monies that flow within Black communities, rehabilitated substance users, and most importantly, developed an alternative reality for many Black communities.
We must study the organizing models of the Nation in more detail as it serves as a viable model to exercise self-determination.  We must also develop strategies that replicate their work to develop ownership in our communities as a necessary step towards Nation building.  But, Nation building is no easy task!  In his poem “It’s Nation Time”, the Black Arts Movement leader, who recently transitioned to the ancestors, Amiri Baraka wrote:
It’s time to get together.  Time to be one fast Black energy space, one pulsating positive magnetism, time to get up and be come, be come, time to be come, time to get up, be come, Black genius rise in spirit muscle, sun man get up rise heart of universes future of the world, the Black man is the future of the world, be come, rise up, future of the Black genius spirit reality.
What will we become and what will be our new reality?
In order to have a sophisticated and viable process for self-determination, one must understand one’s local, state and regional land base and political economy because imperialism today won’t allow for Maroon communities to escape “off the grid” in the same way as in Brazil or Louisiana.  Imperialism and the military forces that uphold it are everywhere.
movement_mxgmThe Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s (MXGM) Jackson-Kush plan is an attempt to exercise self-determination and economic democracy.  The objectives of the Jackson Plan are to deepen democracy in Mississippi and to build a vibrant, people centered solidarity economy in Jackson and throughout the state of Mississippi that empowers Black and other oppressed peoples in the state. The Jackson Kush Plan seeks to transform the lives of Black Mississippians in particular (the city of Jackson is 85%, it is located in Hinds county which is 80% Black, and a part of the Delta region of which 17 of the 18 counties are majority Black). Specifically, the Jackson-Kush Plan aims to:
…introduce several critical practices and tools into the governance process of the Jackson city government that will help foster and facilitate the growth of participatory democracy to include Participatory Budgeting, Gender-Sensitive Budgeting, Human Rights Education and Promotion for city employees, a Human Rights Charter, Expanding Public Transportation, Solar and Wind-Powered Generators, and a “South-South Trading Network and Free Trade Zone….
These objectives are in line with MXGMs overall mission.  MXGM is a national organization that upholds the dignity and human rights of New Afrikan people (African descended people whose immediate ancestors were enslaved in the US), aspires to independence as a Nation, and promotes self-sufficiency through self-determination.  We know that self-determination is neither a starting or ending point, and should be understood as a process towards Nation building.  We understand that people of African descent, namely those in the US, are a Nation. Self-determination helps us to see that our Nation’s culture and interests are not just distinct as African people, but in opposition to that of the North American empire.  Embracing self determination gives us the will and understanding that if we do not control our own affairs, if we don’t control access to the landmass in which our ancestors toiled and bled-the land in which we have a connection from which “all wealth and health flows”-we are at threat of genocide.  Thus, self-determination calls us to create and control the institutions by which we participate in public life.
Having worked in the policy and advocacy fields over the last 10 years, I have seen the shortcomings of narrow strategies that solely challenge the state to impact public life, yet don’t have an eye on seizing state power and fundamentally altering power relationships between oppressed peoples and their governing structures.  Namely, I’ve witnessed the lack of resources, monies, and capacity to implement policy changes won through organizing. Or, in the case of the backwards racial integration strategies of the late 1950s and 60s in the US, policies that altered the consciousness and conditions for our people into a dramatically worse state.  In line with a dual power strategy, and perhaps what is most important, is to engage in processes of self-determination in which we sustain relationships, networks, ways of exchanges and services that act as resources, examples and sanctuaries for our people.  In the midst of these processes, we must re-socialize our people to reclaim a sense of self, of dignity, of integrity, of unity, and of African identity.  It is best said in Dr. Ani’s statement:
We as a people are still suffering…. because we have not been allowed to find our way back to the sense of cultural identity and continuity which would transform us into a unified and whole people. We have not been able to function in the world with a collective consciousness that naturally imparts a strong sense of cultural roots….We must use the most valuable asset that we have: That is the spirit of our people. It is that spirit that connects us to our Afrikan roots.
A cornerstone to the Jackson-Kush Plan is the People’s Assemblies, a key site to expressing self-determination.  The Plan states:
The People’s Assemblies model advanced by MXGM has a long, rich history in Mississippi and in the Black Liberation Movement in general. The roots of our Assembly model are drawn from the spiritual or prayer circles that were organized, often clandestinely, by enslaved Africans – to express their humanity, build and sustain community, fortify their spirits and organize resistance. The vehicle gained public expression in Mississippi with the organization of “Negro Peoples Conventions” at the start of Reconstruction to develop autonomous programs of action to realize freedom as Blacks themselves desired it and to determine their relationship to the UnionThis expression of people’s power remerged time and again in Black communities in Mississippi as a means to resist the systemic exploitation and terror of white supremacy and to exercise and exert some degree of self-determination. The last great expression of this vehicles power in Mississippi occurred in the early 1960’s. It was stimulated by a campaign of coordinated resistance organized by militant local leaders like Medgar Evers that drew on the national capacity and courage of organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). This campaign created the democratic space necessary for Black communities in Mississippi to organize themselves to resist more effectively….One of the most memorable outgrowths of this wave of Peoples Assemblies in Mississippi was the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MSFDP), which tested the concrete limits of the Voting Rights Act and challenged white hegemonic control over the Democratic Party in the state of Mississippi and throughout the south.
The Jackson Kush plan has seen early successes including the election of MXGM elder, Chokwe Lumumba as mayor of Jackson in 2013.  We anticipate we will see many more victories under the Plan, and a fundamental and long-term shift in the conditions of the communities there. Moreover, we anticipate this Plan to serve as a model for self-determination projects across the country.
In honor of Mumia who has championed self-determination for African descended communities, each day the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement grows its commitment and willingness for self-determination, and our eye towards Freedom and Liberation.  This is best summarized in our mantra: “We will be free. Toward that end, we will work to honor the legacy of our ancestors, for our own progress and for future generations.”
Free Mumia! Free ‘em all!  Free the Land!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"I won't call you woman. I will call you everything."~ Mahmoud Darwish

March is woman's history month, and although I don't usually give additional attention to commemorative months like this and Black history month, I woke up thinking a lot about a different world for women. Here's a quick laundry list in no particular order. A sista can hope ya know :) Please add :)

1.) For sisters to reclaim an identity that puts them directly back in tune with their divine nature.

2.) For brothers to reclaim an identity that puts them directly back in tune with their divine nature.

3.) For people that don't fit neatly into these identities to feel the respect and dignity they deserve as humans.

4.) For sisters to know the healthy love, sisterhood, and acceptance of one another free of competition, jealousy, loose tongues, and internalized sexism.

5.) For the genius, contributions, and leadership of women to always be recognized, upheld and central to a liberation agenda.

6.) For sisters to have the courage to listen to their intuition, always.

7.) For brothers to struggle with sisters free of violence and harm, that elevates our intrinsic relationship to one another as Aftican people (40% of cases involving murder started with the intent to harm a wife, girlfriend, or ex).

8.) An end to war on African women and women in third world nations where US led imperialism starts, sanctions, and condones dropping drones, civil war, rape and pillage and death.

9.) For pregnancy, child birth and child rearing to be free of complications and illness (the leading cause of death for women in the world, ages 14-19 is from preventable pregnancy related complications).

10.) For the fortitude to stand alone when we need to, and the strength to ask for support in other times.

11.) An end to the institutions that uphold male supremacy and blind us to the fact that women's liberation entails economic freedom.

12.) For Queen Latifah to reclaim the Queen part (Thumbs down cover girl)!

13.) For sisters to free themselves of chemicals and products that not only brainwash them to accept Euro images, but cause deadly health problems (There is an average of 27,000 new cases of breast cancer amongst Black women each year).

14.) For sex to feel safe, and reciprocal, and good all the time. Pow! Yes!

15.) For women to have access and control of the food they grow, buy or consume (the leading factors in obesity in the US is lack of, or inadequate, transportation systems that prevent purchasing healthy food at local stores, and the bombardment of baby formula that prevents healthy breast feeding).

16.) For women's art and song and music and dance to bring joy and happiness, and shift energy.

17.) For children to be raised by women (and men) who are healthy in spirit and mind.

18.) For elder women who have been involved in revolutionary movement work to guide and mentor younger women.

19.) For babas to love their lioness cubs in a way that teaches them to never long for, or seek a replacement in a man.

20.) For mothers not to use their sons as a replacement for an absent husband.

21.) For mamas and daughters to be able to see themselves in each other.

For women to be able to make choices that don't force them into inadequate housing, endless relationships with the state, imprisonment, or making money that degrades their divinity.

23.) For sisters to express themselves through word and in writing and be fully understood (Nina Simone said it best).

24.) For families, communities and nations to be self determined.

25.) For everyone to experience a woman's love and touch at least once in their lives.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What Will it Take to Free Our Political Prisoners?

This was written for an event I presented at sponsored by the International Committee to Free the Cuban Five and the Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in DC September 2012.  It was later adapted for the National Black United Fund's annual Black Power Conference at Howard University in October 2012. 
What Will it Take to Free Our Political Prisoners?
By Liz Derias, MXGM

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a revolutionary human rights organization based in the u.s. that fights to uphold the self-determination and rights of Black people in the world has been working to free political prisoners for over three decades. The organization has actively worked on the cases of Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, the San Francisco 8, the MOVE 9, the Cuban 5, and more. 

This article will describe the history and current context of political prisoners in the u.s., the conditions for them while incarcerated, and the organizing strategies to free them.

The Legacy of COINTELPRO
We cannot discuss the case of political prisoners in the u.s. without having an understanding of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO, or the COunter INtelligence PROgram, was the federal government’s secret program during the 1950s-70s used against many forces of the Black Liberation movement, leftists, and political dissidents in the U.S. including the Chicano Nationalist Movement and the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. It was secret because it was illegal.

Under COINTELPRO, the FBI and local police forces assassinated, arrested, tortured and framed hundreds of leftists, particularly Black leftists, who were considered to pose the greatest threat to the racist status quo of US society. The tactics of COINTELPRO can be categorized in four main areas: infiltration of organizations, psychological warfare from the outside, harassment through the legal system and extralegal force and violence, and extrajudicial killing and murder. FBI’s stated motivation was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.”
The program was revealed to the public after a group of activists retrieved documents from an FBI office in Media, PA about the program, and forced news agencies to publish them.   

In 1976, a major investigation was launched by the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, commonly referred to as the "Church Committee", under committee head, Frank Church (D-ID), which found that the program indeed violated constitutional rights.
With funds made available by Homeland Security’s post 9/11 “war against terrorism”, an Anti-Terrorism Task Force housed in the Dept of Homeland Security was strengthened.  This Task Force is COINTELPRO on steroids. Detectives, many who had been agents of COINTELPRO, came out of retirement to serve on this Task Force and worked with local police forces to conduct sweeps across the country that primarily arrested former Black Panther Party members.  These Panthers were faced with grand jury subpoenas, as we saw in the case of the SF8 in 2006.  These grand jury subpoenas continue today, and as recently as a year ago many activists have been summoned, particularly those who are working on environmental issues in the North West states, and those working on issues of Palestine, including Hatem Abudayyah renowned Executive Director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, IL.

Isolation in u.s. prisons
A key and defining characteristic of political prisoners’ incarceration in u.s. prisons is their forced isolation.  Additionally, the severity of the conditions that PP’s are subjected to and the extraordinary lengths of time that have been imposed on them, have sparked international campaigns, such as in the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, Russel Maroon Shoaltz, and others, to be released. Their campaigns have also been championed by leading national u.s. based human rights orgs such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and the National Lawyers Guild.

In many cases, PP’s their natural leadership qualities is seen as a threat to the facility, and they are consequentially isolated in solitary confinement. In an article, “Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries”, written August 10, 2012 by the Human Rights Watch, a PA based human rights organization, authors state,

Any discussion on solitary confinement begins and ends with a number: a prisoner is kept in his or her cell 23 or 24 hours per day, allowed three showers every week and served three meals a day. According to a report by United Nations Special Rapporteur [on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Juan] Mendez prisoners should not be held in isolation for more than 15 days at a stretch. But in the US, it is typical for hundreds of thousands of prisoners to pass in and out of solitary confinement for 30 or 60 days at a time each year.”

Human Rights Watch estimated that there were, “… approximately 20,000 prisoners being held in Supermax prisons, which are entire facilities dedicated to solitary confinement or near-solitary. It is estimated that at least 80,000 men, women and even children are being held in solitary confinement on any given day in US jails and prisons.”

It’s simply inhumane-the physical and psychological tactics used against PP’s: sensory deprivation, lack of social contact, and restricted access to all intellectual and emotional stimuli. The Prison Discipline study, a mass national survey assessing formal and informal punitive practices in u.s. prisons conducted in 1989, revealed that, “Black prisoners and the mentally ill were also targeted for especially harsh treatment.” Perhaps the most notorious case of this is the case of the Angola 3, three Black Panthers who have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana. Robert King was released after 29 years in solitary, but his comrades - Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace - recently began their 40th years in solitary confinement. The three have spent a combined 100 years in solitary confinement.

Additionally, in working with political prisoners, the issue of torture in prisons and detention facilities were explicitly highlighted for me. These have come to light in the world’s eye in cases of Abu Ghrahib and Guantanamo. My colleagues on the panel- lawyers or who have dealt with international law-know that this is in direct violation of international law. In my experience working with the SF8 the bros shared experiences of when they were first arrested in 1973 and tortured for evidence. What became a challenge in the case of the SF8 in 2005 was that the law had changed under the Patriot Act so that any evidence extracted under torture became admissible, meaning it could be unearthed and in that case from the late 70s in that case to be used in the 2005 case.

And so what does this mean for us as those working to free political prisoners? It means that despite the international outcry, and as a result of 9/11, the u.s. has attempted to legitimize torture as a necessary and acceptable practice in a domestic case. We must pay attention to this as movement workers, and actively employ strategies that counter our current context.

Strategies and Objectives to Free Political Prisoners
We must develop sound objectives and the strategies to free our prisoners. In the case of the SF 0, MXGM employed these strategies that effectively freed the brothers, and can be replicated in other cases of political prisoners.

In 1973 several former Black Panthers, had been arrested in New Orleans due to an unidentified shooting of a SF officer. With no justifiable charges they were detained and tortured, including being subjected to electric probes to their genital areas and severe beatings while blindfolded. Frank McCoy and Ed Erlatz were the two arresting and questioning officers. All charges were dropped in 1975 because of the torture and because of lack of evidence. In 2003, these same arresting officers came out of retirement, were promoted to the US anti-terrorism task force and deputized to interrogate the bros once again. On January 23, 2006 several police officers and government authorities desperately in need of upholding Cointelpro, arrest 5 bros, Hank Jones, Harold Taylor, Richard Brown, Ray Bodreaux, Ronald Bridgeforth, Francisco Torres, and Jalil Muntaquim and Herman Bell who were already incarcerated were also implicated in the case. They were subpoenaed to appear in front of grand juries, and after refusing to cooperate spent many months in jail. Bail was set between 3 and 5 million for them, until we had a hearing to reduce it.

Our objectives in supporting the case were to:
1.    defeat the prosecution of the 8,
2.    to build a culture of non-compliance to their prosecution,
3.    to build a case for the parole of the 2 of sf 8 who were incarcerated since the 70s on non-related cases, and
4.    to weaken the political and social initiative of the advancing war on terror.

In order to meet our objectives, our strategies included:
1.    broadly politicizing the case in general and build a multi-racial alliance that would support the bros (especially in the Asian community, as that was a rather large community of potential jury members in SF)
2.    exerting constant pressure on the court and impact the jury (both the pool and the sitting jury itself),
3.    questioning the motives of the attorney general and isolate his position, and
4.    raising considerable media coverage

Lessons Learned
  • One thing that was on our side, was that the bros were held in SF County Jail, and so it made establishing a support committee, The SF committee for the defense of human rights easier. In the case of the Cuban there was a political intent to isolate the brothers from each other and their families. Of which I’ve read that the wives of two of the bros have been denied visas to see their husbands after applying up to 12 times.
  • Visits often times keep the bros spirits high.
  • We were intentional about building with white allies who had capital or wealth to contribute to bail funds and other related court costs.
  • Legacy of Torture video, a 27 minute video that features footage of the brothers, family members, supporters speaking on the case.
  • Education of supporters across California to draw in college student in particular, as in many cases they were able to provide a physical presence of support by attending court hearings, organizing actions on their campus or their cities.
  • Fundraising particularly to help pay bills, etc. as in many cases they were the primary income provider in their homes, buy phone cards for family members, purchase medicines.
  • Advocate for their care-physical care.
  • Organizing strategy that included conducting surveys to gather supporters, particularly on police brutality, police repression, and conditions in prison. In some cases, this helped us to engage regular folks convos that related to the treatment of those incarcerated, and garner more supporters.
  • Four and a half years of mass support for the brothers, including resolutions from the San Francisco Central Labor Council, the Berkeley City Council, and several San Francisco Supervisors.
  • When the bros were released on bail, we actively spent time with them on strategizing sessions to determine who we needed to put pressure on for their release and who were strategic communities to organize with.
  • Community awareness and celebration when a victory, even minor, was important as it replenished the spirit of the organizers and the bros.

In January 2008, charges of conspiracy were dropped against five of the defendants, and Richard O'Neal was removed from the case all together, changing the name of the case to the San Francisco 7. On June 29, 2009, Bell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Young. The following month, charges were dropped against Boudreaux, Brown, Jones, and Taylor, and Muntaquim pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter.

What We Have to Do

In closing, well resourced, strategically timed, intelligent legal strategies coupled with grassroots organizing today is a necessity to free political prisoners. Moreover and on a larger scale, we have to challenge the mass incarceration and imprisonment of peoples in this country, and we have to challenge the post 9-11 war on terror that spread. Additionally we have to keep alive the legacy of political prisoners to u.s. led imperialism, white supremacy and u.s. hegemony. The u.s.’ attempt to erase the stories of PP’s is an attempt to erase the legacy of resistance of the Black Liberation Movement. 

Movement workers should stay updated on cases of political prisoners by signing up for updates on various support committee websites, connect with international committees to free PP’s such as the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, creating your own support committee, attend and host local events in support of PP’s, raise awareness with friends, family, and community members through fact sheets, organizing events, letter writing parties, and concerts such as MXGM’s annual Black August concert.  Additionally, video and media are always good resources, such as COINTELPRO 101, which can be purchased from the Freedom Archives website,
Free em all!

For more information on the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, visit

Black-Arab solidarity: What Could It Mean?

This article was originally featured in September 2007 on the online publication, the a-rab,

black-arab solidarity: what could it mean?

by liz derias

I am a daughter of two Coptic parents from Egypt. We moved to this country when I was less than a year old. My family first lived in Los Angeles, moved to Philadelphia, and finally settled in a town right outside of Philadelphia. I’ve grown up around all sorts of Egyptian people (immigrants and 1st generation residents) and Black people (descendants of enslaved Africans, Caribbeans, and African immigrants). I identify as both Coptic/Egyptian and African/Black.

Inside my home I had the Arab immigrant experience: hearing the back and forth Arabic and English in the same sentence so much so that that I only speak Arabic that way; perfecting my interpretation skills to my parents who struggled to understand American slang; eating falafel and baklaawa and kushari and fuul; dismissing the repeated warnings from elders to not cause ‘too much trouble’; and listening to the never ending stories that started with “In my country….”

Outside of my home I had the little Black girl experience: feeling alienated by white people especially when I didn’t speak “proper” English; eating cornbread and sweet potato pie and fried chicken; getting down with the “oh-uh-uh” street politics of other little Black girls; attending annual Caribbean and Odunde festivals; dismissing the repeated warnings from elders to not cause ‘too much trouble’; and listening to the never ending stories that started with, “Back in my day…”.

Generally for me, the similarities outweighed the differences. The differences (which on my own, I only subconsciously paid attention to) were brought to light for me by others--for instance, when Black people having found out that I was Egyptian, told me I looked like Neferetiti, or when Arabs to whom I openly identified as African/Black sighed with disapproval, giving me the “…we are not THOSE people” look.

Solidarity between these communities has meant interesting, and often vague, things to me over the course of the years. In June 2006 I attended the 1st Arab Women’s Movement Arising for Justice (AMWAJ) conference in Chicago. There I participated in a Black-Arab solidarity workshop where another Egyptian sister, who also identified as Arab and African, said, “…that’s a weird concept-am I trying to build solidarity with myself?”

Although a simple and funny question, I realize now it’s a bit more complicated and serious.

I became an organizing member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Oakland chapter (MXGM) in 2004. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is a mass based organization that works to uphold the self-determination of all Afrikan people in the Diaspora, with a particular focus on Black/New Afrikans here in the u.s. My organizing experience is primarily with MXGM, primarily with New Afrikans, and primarily rooted in lessons from the Black Liberation Movement in the u.s.  Growing up, I don’t recall ever seeing or being involved with a legitimate, politically focused Arab organization engaged in community organizing or youth leadership development. Sorry ya’ll, those all-day Sunday School sessions don’t count. That is, till I came in contact with some radical Arabs who are part of the Arab Organizing and Resource Center (AROC) in San Francisco, CA. These Arabs are taking the lead in putting out important historical and current day analyses of the state of Arab leadership and organizing both in our home lands and in the u.s. They are serving Arabs with legal issues, are building links with various Immigrants rights forces in the Bay Area, and are helping to build a viable Arab/Arab American movement. 

As I begin to work more intricately in the movement-building activities of both organizations, I’m beginning to think more critically about political solidarity.

Kali Akuno, also of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, wrote the following on solidarity between New Afrikan and Arab, primarily Palestinian, peoples: “For revolutionary New Afrikans our understanding of solidarity starts with the position best stated by Mozambican revolutionary Samora Machel; ‘solidarity is not charity, but mutual aid in the pursuit of shared objectives’ “. Kali continued,

“As a people also confronting containment through mass incarceration, ethnic cleansing, and genocide we share a number of mutual enemies and objectives with the Palestinian people. White supremacy and European settler colonialism and imperialism, in its US and Zionist variants, is an enemy of both our peoples. We are both fighting for the recognition of our humanity, we are both fighting for self-determination, we are both fighting for economic and human development, and we are both in pitched battles for the right to return. So, to us solidarity consists of struggling together to defeat the reactionary forces of imperialism and fulfill the demands and aspirations of our people. But, let’s be clear and honest, this is not an easy task, as our enemies comprise some of the most dominant and destructive forces to ever exist in human history. We should have no illusions about the protracted nature of our struggles. Nor should we elude ourselves into believing that time is necessarily on our side given the genocidal inclinations of our enemies. We have to act and we have to act in the here and now with all we have to push back the forces of reaction.”

Historically, there are several examples of solidarity between both peoples, which include written solidarity statements from the African Liberation Movement to the Palestinian resistance in 1967, and the recognition and active support of Arab nationalist forces of the struggles against Apartheid in South Africa. Kristy Feghali of the AROC wrote the following in an email to New Afrikan and Arab comrades preparing to go to the united states Social Forum.

“These expressions of solidarity demonstrate the deep recognition of politically aligned struggle between the New Afrikan and Arab communities throughout the years, but do not attest to the practical working relationships necessary to strategically implement the movements we are working to achieve. In order to build solidarity in the here and now, it’s going to take a lot of work and relationship building.”

At the ussf, anti-imperialist, anti-sexist, anti-racist (and therefore anti-Zionist) New Afrikan and Arab forces met with the intention of creating and strengthening such practical working relationships. The objectives of the discussion included:

• Analyzing the historic and current conditions in our communities;
• Providing an overview of the historical intersections and alliances between both communities;
• Discussing the state of both liberation movements;
• Understanding the legacies and manifestations of colonialism, imperialism, and Diaspora
In both communities; and
• Creating next steps towards building solidarity.

From this gathering we realized there’s more work to do within and between both communities!

So what is it going to take? A re-framing of “Black/Brown unity” politics to include the plight of Arab countries, especially pushing left and progressive forces to take clearer more anti-imperialist stances on the occupation and genocide in Palestine as one of the most important national struggles of our times; a focus on relationship building with an eye on challenging the prejudice in each community towards one another; sustained training in organizing skills; joint political studies; an acknowledgement of differences and a focus on true solidarity which allows for each community take up the lead for their own community; and a commitment to see the liberation of both communities, and of all oppressed people.

In Unity and Struggle!

Educating with Soul

This article was featured in, Race Poverty & the Environment: a Journal for Social and Environmental Justice,  Vol. 14 No. 2, Fall 2007, and can be found at

Educating with Soul

For nearly 11 years, the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL)—an organizing skills and political education training center in Oakland, California—has conducted workshops for people around the Bay Area and across the nation, with the goal of building power within oppressed communities. For the most part, we are self-taught as educators, facilitators, and curriculum developers. We have learned what we do through years of political study and experimentation, and our mistakes.

The belief that education is an important component of movement building underlies all of SOUL’s programs and is reflected in our trainings and workshops. Political education focuses not only on understanding the systemic roots of oppression and developing a conscious action response, but also on providing a context for our (working class, immigrant, queer, and transgender communities and communities of color) experiences with oppression.

The Methodology of SOUL
SOUL’s political education and trainings are based on a methodology that encourages participants to reflect on their own experiences as a way to understand the importance of political education. Our definition of Popular Education is taken from the series “Training for Transformation: A Handbook for Community Workers,” produced in Zimbabwe by Anne Hope and Sally Timmell. It is “…a method and a philosophy of education that holds oppressed people at the center of the learning process.”

SOUL understands that education and good ideas alone cannot bring about radical change in society. It takes a grassroots movement of community organizing. So, we strive to develop leaders in the movement to fight against the systemic roots of oppression. Akua Jackson, an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, says that SOUL has helped her to “…think of organizing as a science, and to think about organizing in a politically and historically grounded way. The process has mirrored the type of leadership development and the new political reality we’re fighting for.”
As facilitators and educators, it is our role to always move people to the next level. The multi-step process for raising consciousness through political education is different for all oppressed people. And consciousness itself is not a static thing, but a continually evolving process that requires developing conscious organizers. SOUL’s Educational Alternatives Program attempts to raise consciousness through a series of 16 workshops on understanding systems of oppression and identifying community solutions to combat them. Another approach focuses on developing a framework for analysis, otherwise known as “coming into consciousness.” Our 10-week summer internship program brings 12 young organizers from around the world to engage in political education and organizing skills training. This advanced study course is designed to raise the analytical, critical thinking, and assessment skills of participants. In addition, SOUL offers a three-day training for trainers to build and strengthen facilitation skills.

Finally, SOUL offers two programs that attempt to develop the analytical and assessment skills of people trying to become conscious organizers. They are, a five-day intensive training for youth organizers at our National Youth Organizers Training Institute, geared towards new lead organizers and youth leaders transitioning into formal lead organizing positions, and Sunday School. We hope these programs help people to commit to becoming lifelong movement leaders.

To date, SOUL has trained over 5000 people. We engage in regular evaluations of our work, drawing primarily on participant feedback and by tracking the impact of our work on individuals, organizations, and the movement as a whole.

Says Malachi Larrabee-Garza, SOUL’s advanced political education coordinator, “SOUL trains people in frameworks that will help them to develop their analysis and to engage the Left. The whole process, which is very Freierian, is based on input and evaluation from participants, which requires constant refining of the curriculum. It has taught me about the broader process of consciousness raising because it forces you to check in with your base. You tailor your stuff based on what’s in people’s heads and… on reflection, action, and evaluation—not what’s solely on… paper, which is the traditional model… in the United States.”

Educating the Next Generation
SOUL’s aim is to develop youth leaders with effective political analysis and organizing skills, and an organizational capacity to create leaders who impact policy with field-wide knowledge and collaboration.

According to Yu Tong, a SOUL summer school graduate who starts law school at Santa Clara University next fall, “SOUL has made me think about educational access for the poor. I personally have been motivated to access different things… instead of waiting and… not being proactive because of my oppression. I’ve found different outlets… to do what I want to do and get where I want to go. My time with SOUL has provided certain bridges, and in some ways, outlets to help me organize and realize I can do what I want in life.”

Educating the next generation of leaders for our movements is a key element in building social movements. Transformative change takes a long time—many generations long. At SOUL, we are in it for the long haul, providing opportunities for developing consciousness and taking action for 21st century youth.

For more information about SOUL’s programs and instruction manuals, contact

Liz Derias is the educational alternatives program coordinator at SOUL. Originally from Egypt by way of Philadelphia, she began educating and organizing at the age of 17 with Sankofa Community Empowerment, Inc.

A Response to the Oakland Art Murmur shooting

Woke up Saturday am to news of the shooting at Oakland's Art murmur on Friday, Feb 1st. While I'm not in Oakland anymore, my heart in many ways is still in the Town, particularly with the Leadership Excellence fam and young people I've worked with. Sending love to our LE brother Jesus who felt that ish up close and personal....we are grateful for your life. Sad that another man (reports are saying it was a young brother) lost his life, and several were injured. I’m also sad that the conditions exist in Oakland that allowed for someone(s) to carry a gun to a space that was (originally) intentioned to celebrate the city’s artists, culture, and community.

I've read a couple pieces (Davey D, Jesse Strauss, another from 38th notes-which I am less familiar with) and spoke with some folks that put some things in perspective. Since I will be back in Oak more often now, I'm grateful that I can still get a sense of what's happening in there from (Black) folks that are from there, are vested in the people there, and still love the town despite its un-beauty at times.

I wanted to offer, from afar, some thoughts that will hopefully contribute to a systems approach to "stopping the violence" in Oakland, and building a community where all of our people feel safe. Many will say, "Oakland people have to do better", or our "young people need to get it together" or "see we can't never have shit". I remember folks said these things when the City shut down Karijama in the mid 2000s by sending out “Oakland’s finest” to mass pepper spray young people at 14th and Broadway. Oakland lost a gem when Karijama-a space for people to celebrate Black art and culture downtown-was shut down. Many Oaklanders tell me that Oak cultural and social life shifted even  as the early 90s. To all this I say, we must push to understand both the interpersonal (between groups of people and individuals) and systemic (between peoples and institutions) problems that breed violence. Between community members, yes we can do better ya'll, and Oakland (young) people deserve a space that's better-free of harm and violence, and full of love and peace amongst each other. If young people were involved in the events that night, and surely they are impacted, it's because we failed them as adults and because a system failed them. Let us support our young people to be better but not only through our word, but through our deed. We owe it to them to guide their development through love, build and sustain their self-esteem, and fight for resources and organizations that are within their human rights to have. We owe it to them to have a strategic approach to changing systems in Oakland, and it can be done with love, effort, commitment, (racial and class) analysis, political maturity, and through REAL organizing.

The Heavy Hand of Bad Policy is About to Slam the Town 

Let me start by saying if you ain’t talking about race, racism, racial justice, or white supremacy in Oakland, you ain’t talking about nothing. Period.Violence is a fruit of bad policy that is rooted in racism and colonialism.  Policies govern our lives, day in and day out. The most recent racist policies are the “Stop and Frisk” coming to the Town. Surely that night’s events will bring the fist of "Stop and Frisk" policies down heavy-these policies will assuredly target young Black and Latino men. Timing is sometimes the most determining factor for us as movement workers-more than conditions and organizing momentum. Bad timing for real with this one.

City officials will also use this as a reason to further roll back people’s access to public space. Public space is facing repression, especially in the face of fiscal crises in cities where everything from schools to parks are being privatized. We must fight for that public space, such as Art murmur, as a part of a different vision of governance that has our community at the center, not the gentrifiers, hipsters and corporate interests of Oakland. At the same time public space is becoming increasingly dangerous for our people. How do we address this meaningfully ? How do we put the "public" back in public resources and services? Do we even know the policies in Oakland that govern public space ? How do we work now with the (perhaps) competing or reactionary interests of business owners in Oakland, some of whom may call for more police for the public areas near their businesses?

I’m rooted in revolutionary politics, and because of that I believe that challenging the state is an important approach as much as building our communities. I believe that government should be held accountable, and has a role to play in changing conditions for our community. I believe that our people have solutions and that these alternatives must be presented. We as movement workers can’t keep shouting “Eff the police”, “No more police” and not come with an alternative. That’s a joke ya’ll for real. What is people’s vision there for a viable people centered way to govern that does not include the state in our neighborhoods ?

What Can Be Done: Sometimes We Gotta' Take it Back to Basics and Turn it Up a Notch at the Same Time

We must develop a vision. The Black Panther Party had so much right. They came together to develop a platform that spoke to their vision for their community. We must learn from these things, and not be a-historic. How strategic (and cool) would it be if we build a united front, or a coalition, or a sustained group of organizations and people (not just non-profits) that developed a platform and worked from there to change Oakland? The non-profit industrial complex has siloed our work, so that education justice work happens here and environmental justice work happens here, and cultural workers are here, etc. Our work is issue specific and isolated. This in no way will build a movement. So, we must actively build across issues and sectors-we must build a movement where all the actors in a community are involved, and where all roles are invited and respected. For instance, what if we made the critical intersections between failing Oakland schools, slashing of public funds for youth programming, and the costs of healthcare for people affected by violence, to guide our development of strategy? In this scenario, what if we brought together students who face being pushed out of their school from repressive, racist and punitive school discipline policies (and are often left to the streets), with ER doctors who have to deal with some of these young people as gunshot victims in Oakland? That would kind of be a powerful thing for Oakland City Council to be confronted with that “stop the violence” image than what is currently going on. This of course take strategic efforts to organize people. This makes building relationships with allies, unlikely as they may seem, take on a whole different meaning.

We must be thoughtful in the research and analysis that we present to back up our work. National human rights organization of which I am a member, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (, released a report last year, “Every 36 Hours” that detailed the extra judicial murders of Black people across the country. This could serve as a useful tool for organizers to politicize and educate our people when folks start to drink the kool aid that stop and frisk is necessary. In addition to MXGM’s research, are we utilizing resources in Oakland to research the impacts of police misconduct in Oakland, or calling on City Council officials to convene a committee or task force to do this? These are representatives that must bound to political will of people, but will only do so if pushed. We must look at the lessons from other cities who have challenged the stop and frisk, particularly organizers in NY. Are organizers in Oak talking to organizers in NY? Movement building y'all.

We must become self-taught students of economics.  I always believed some power could be built in Oakland, even with the existing challenges of power consolidated into the hands of a few, as Oakland is a port city. Oakland is not that big, and its political history not as old or entrenched as cities like Philly or NY or Chicago, arguably. I believe that the political machines in these cities are harder to navigate in some respects. We as movement workers must study the relationship Oak city officials have to port officials, and the resulting economic agenda of a few in Oakland. I was recently corrected by a comrade that the Bay Area has a deeper and more complex economic history, that can't be understood in a vacuum. He noted that, "Oakland is part of three nodes [that make up the Bay Area regional economy]-San Francisco (Finance) San Jose (Innovation), and Oakland (Transport)." In order for us to effectively analyze economic systems and power, we need to rely on critical tools as organizers.  For instance, do we use a power analysis when doing our work?-it's hands down one of the most powerful tools for organizers. All in all, if I had more time I’d do some research on the relationship to the port, but surely folks there have-surely there are some OG organizers that have an analysis of this that they can contribute to younger movement workers.

We must understand that culture is a weapon. Cabral had it right for real. What our people hear, see and smell will affect how they think and feel. In that respect, are we supporting the revolutionary cultural workers and artists in Oakland that are contributing to ending violence everyday in our communities, and not just on their own esoteric tip? I can think of several-Dignidad Rebelde, Oakland Maroon Collective, East Side Cultural Center, amongst others.  These are the forces that are reshaping how we think and understand the world, and in turn shaping our values and vision.  These are often the most powerful weapons against us-led hegemony.

We must support the parts of Oakland that are attempting to address violence and be the voice for change, but don’t get credit for "organizing".
These parts of Oakland are the local residents, and church members, and grandmothers also dodging bullets in their neighborhood.  Supporting a people's agenda is part and parcel to practicing self-determination. Self-determination is not an activist, not connected to any organization, shouting slogans at a City Council meeting in a brazen attempt to appear powerful. This is meaningless in the eyes of existing power, because it isn’t unified. There are groups that, although we may not agree ideologically with, we must find ways to forge unity to move forward a people’s agenda. Look at the local churches for example or some of the neighborhood councils. It is more often than not that instances on violence are happening in their neighborhoods-in the east or the west, and not downtown.

Lastly we must grow our political sophistication. I ask folks: Have you tried to organize your neighbors, or parents in your child’s school, or the members of your religious community around an issue that affects them? Are you tied to a radically grounded organization that isn’t your 9-5 non-profit job that is doing that face to face, door to door local organizing? Are you spending time building critical relationships with people in order to win resources and build power in the city? Are you rooted in Oakland’s revolutionary political history, and pulling lessons from there to guide your current work? Are you a real student of the current crises happening in Oakland? Do you understand the crises through the lens of race, class, gender, etc? Things to consider. All these things make us better movement workers.

It is hard work, truly it is. Especially in a time of low-level movement work, and shifting conditions from the 60s and 70s that have moved our communities social attitudes considerably over to the right. But, we owe it those that came before us, those people struggling now, and those that will come to commit ourselves, to the long term process of change.

Love you Oakland, with all you are and all you will be.