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, www.freedomarchives.org.
Free em all!

For more information on the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, visit www.mxgm.org.

Black-Arab solidarity: What Could It Mean?

This article was originally featured in September 2007 on the online publication, the a-rab, http://a-rab.net/september-2007-black-arab-solidarity-what-could-it-mean-liz-derias

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 http://urbanhabitat.org/node/1180.

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 soul@schoolofunityandliberation.org.

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 (www.mxgm.org), 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.