Assata: Revolutionary Relatability

 

"Examining the theory, practice, and rhetorical strategies of Assata Shakur's powerful autobiography, ASSATA, this essay from a Kasama supporter reflects on Assata's text as an exemplary work of revolutionary pedagogy, a work that relates radical and revolutionary ideas to concrete experiences, and represents the revolutionary project in ways that are both bold and yet relatable to wide sectors of the people. This story of how revolutionaries who are also educators can provoke discussion using accessible and inspiring radical texts helps contextualize the process of developing revolutionary consciousness.A version of this article appears at Red Wedge. Part one can be viewed on Kasama here. 

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“I was a puppet, and I didn’t even know who was pulling the strings.”

 Assata’s long line of social self-criticism starts in the living room, with a discussion of Television, and how watching it as a child led her to internalize dominant images of beauty, domesticity, and (white) middle class normativity, so pervasive and insidious in 1950s America. Shakur harshly recounts her unsympathetic and judgmental attitude towards her own mother for “failing” to recreate the middle-class consumer ideal as depicted on TV. “Why didn’t my mother have freshly baked cookies ready when i came home from school?” she writes, “Why didn’t we live in a house with a backyard and a front yard instead of an ole apartment? I remember looking at my mother as she cleaned the house in her old raggedy housecoat with her hair in curlers. ‘How disgusting,’ i would think. Why didn’t she clean the house in high heels and shirtwaist dresses like they did on television” (37). She shows her younger self to be an ingrate and a complainer, an unfair judge of her working-class, single mother. “I was a puppet,” Shakur reflects later, “and i didn’t even know who was pulling the strings” (38).

At the same time, Shakur frames this embarrassing self-critique as a social commentary on the cultural apparatus that enabled and encouraged her anti-social and deluded ideology. It was not something she came to “on her own”; she is both an object and a subject in this process. In framing matters so, Assata not only offers a model of humility and self-critique, she targets particular – and pervasive — social institutions and ideologies in such a way as to welcome readers to interrogate (and perhaps confront and transcend) the influence of these same institutions and ideologies in their own lives. The influence of mass media commodification and consumer ideology, of course, is as pervasive today as ever, making her discussions all the more relevant to contemporary readers.

A particularly memorable self-critical exposure comes soon after this, with Shakur’s account of how, as a child, she publicly denigrated her close friend—and would-be boyfriend — Joe, a boy she honestly likes. She tells off Joe, stating that he is “too black and ugly” to ever date. The young Joanne does this to avoid the scorn of peers, who make fun of Joe at school as looking like a “black frog.” “I will never forget the look on his face,” Shakur writes, reflecting on her own opportunistic complicity. “He looked at me with such cold hatred that I was stunned. I felt so ugly and dirty and depraved. I was shaken to the bone. For weeks, maybe months afterward, I was haunted by what happened that day, the snakes that had crawled out of my mouth. There was nothing I could do but change myself. Not for him, but for me” (72). Across the board, students were moved by this moment, as well as by Assata’s later historical and theoretical reflections on how such internalization of racism and black-on-black dehumanization can be traced all the way back to habits and rituals forcibly imposed on Black people in the context of plantation slavery. Again, Assata’s (self-)critical reflection on a particular bad practice is tied to an argument that foregrounds the larger structural and institutional forces at work through these practices. In the process, the text offers us living proof of how important a grasp of history and of social power relations can be for a critical navigation of everyday life, even as it also lays the basis for imagining an inclusive and welcoming political collectivity, one that will include not just those subjects who have somehow (allegedly) come through racist-imperialist, patriarchal capitalism unscathed, but also, crucially, those who have been in various ways damaged by this process, even to the point of victimizing others. Shakur presents herself as having been ensnared in the very contradictory net that traps so many others, and that she is working to escape, and to shred for good.[1] By connecting, contextualizing and politicizing the “personal” wounds that the system has inflicted on herself and on others (including those wounds that she has helped to inflict on others!), Assata challenges readers to refuse the divide and conquer strategies — both ideological and repressive — that serve ruling class-ends, by turning people with so much in common against one another, and against themselves. Shakur’s narrative shows us how humble yet bold reflection can transform what turns us against one another into what unites us, laying the basis for building a common, revolutionary strength.

Notably, in this early episode with young Joe, Shakur describes her participation in this black-on-black “colorism”without herself believing in it; her only drive is to “desperately be one of the pack” (71). In pursuing this goal, Joanne harms not only Joe, but herself, insofar as she and her family both have grown fond of Joe’s innocent flirtations and affections. Thus, in a manner that once again welcomes readers into parallel self-interrogations,Assata’s self-critique extends from the phenomenon of internalized racism (in particular, racism within the oppressed community) to the broader practice of succumbing to peer pressure, cynically going along with the dominant fashion, even when at some level one knows better.

As Shakur puts it later, provocatively, if in a different context: “Everything is a lie in amerika…the thing that keeps it going is that so many people believe the lie” (158). Shakur’s account of denigrating young Joe shows us that it is not necessary for people — be they kids or adults — to actually believe the “lie” in order keep to that lie going; all that is necessary is to act as if one believes. Objective belief — and the reproduction of ideology — does not require subjective sincerity, but only a cynical going through the motions, a willingness to stifle one’s own true(r) feelings and thoughts for the sake of keeping up appearances, and avoiding conflict with other “believers.” Adding to the tragic irony here, but also laying further basis for revolutionary rupture, is the distinct possibility that those “believers” whom one fears offending are themselves not sincere subjects of the bad ideology (racism, colorism, etc), but are equally cynical — which is also to say cowardly — participants in the performance of a ritual that they don’t “really believe” in either. The revolutionary hope here lies in the potential implied by this shallow shell of cynical conformity; once one of these tight-packed eggs cracks…others may quickly do the same.[2]

Later, in a more overtly political vein, Shakur discloses how she was spurred toward rethinking her views of “America” and its foreign policy, in 1964, before the anti-war movement really blew up, not first by her own studies, but by being publicly embarrassed, confronted with her own ignorance — and her cynical parroting of half-baked ideology. Fancying herself “an intellectual” coming out of high school, she spouts off patriotically to a group of African students regarding the Vietnam War, saying that both the war and the broader American struggle of “Democracy” against “Communism” are “all right.” The African students leap to refute her. After hearing all the historical and political knowledge they bring to bear regarding French and US colonialism, corporate interests, and more, Shakur recalls that “my mind was blown.” Yet,” she adds:

I continued saying the first thing that came into my head: that the u.s. was fighting communists because they wanted to take over everything. When someone asked me what communism was, i opened my mouth to answer, then i realized i didn’t have the faintest idea. My image of a communist came from a cartoon.… The Africans rolled with laughter. I felt like a bona fide clown. (151)

Again, Shakur follows up this account with a more general reflection on her particular embarrassment, one that welcomes readers to apply her general insight to the texts of their own lives: “I never forgot that day,” she writes,

We’re taught at such an early age to be against the communists, yet most of us don’t have the faintest idea of what communism is. Only a fool lets somebody else tell him who his enemy is.… I never thought i could be so easily tricked into being against something that i didn’t understand. It’s got to be one of the most basic principles of living: always decide who your enemies are for yourself, and never let your enemies choose your enemies for you.

“After that,” she adds, “I began to read about what was happening in Vietnam” (152).

assata-shakurObviously, as a wanted “terrorist” who continues to be subject to character assassination (and perhaps to actual assassination attempts) by the US government, Shakur’s warning about believing in “bogeymen,” and especially in “bogeymen” constructed by one’s enemies, resonates not only in relation to the issue of communism — though students were still sparked by this aspect — but also in relationship to her particular case, and, by extension, to the entire contemporary US discourse around “terrorism.” She implicitly asks readers to reflect critically on the extent to which the US government continues to do our thinking for us, deciding who is an “enemy” and who is not. She prompts readers to admit how they too, like the young Joanne, may at times have found themselves mouthing official ideologies that they don’t even understand — and how these very moments of cynical, quasi-robotic conformity may, if brought to consciousness, mark out fault-lines of potentially radical self-shattering. Being able to admit such embarrassing, complicit moments is key to Assata’s process of transformation, and to the effective radical pedagogy of her text. She models the humility and the courage of self-critical practice.

At a typographical level, Assata’s revolutionary humility is symbolized by her refusing the convention of capitalizing the first person singular, “i” throughout her book.[3] In this way, Shakur sets off her narrative from more self-congratulatory accounts by self-proclaimed political “leaders,” including various “cults of personality” that afflicted so much of the New Left, and even the BPP itself. With this move, she refuses the mantle of individual heroism, suggesting that her “self” is but a moment in an evolving and collective process of constant, self-reflexive struggle and transformation. The “self” she has become was not something she was born into, or something that she herself determined through sheer will or wisdom, but a product of collective struggle.[4] In bringing out the necessarily contradictory nature, and the transformative potential of both her own subjectivity and that of others — and of their mutual dependence — Assata provides us with an account of becoming revolutionary that is as relatable as it is radical, as humble as it is hopeful. It is, I believe, an exemplary mode of revolutionary self-representation for dark, cynical times like ours.

Assata’s Political Lessons

What makes Assata an outright revolutionary text, and not just a radical one, is that Shakur does not confine critical thinking to her own private or personal experiences, but applies it also to her self-consciously political, collective, outward-oriented activities, as an organizer in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, a member of the Black Panther Party, and a cadre in the Black Liberation Army. Her story of “personal” transformation is one that includes extended discussion of revolutionary theory and practice, strategy and tactics. Her rhetorical and pedagogical strategies, as detailed above, are of interest in themselves, for the humble-hopeful method they enact, but also because they function as effective means for stimulating broad and sustained engagement with radical and revolutionary “contents.”

A full discussion of the strictly political content of Assata’s autobiography falls beyond the scope of this essay. But her key insights include the following:

*We must be clear about what we mean by “revolution.” For Shakur this means “the revolutionary struggle of Black people had to be against racism, capitalism, imperialism and sexism and for real freedom under a socialist government” (197).

*We must define the enemy in a sharp yet open way. “One of the most important things the [Black Panther] Party did was to make it clear who the enemy was, not the white people, but the capitalist and imperialistic oppressors. They took the Black liberation movement out of a nationalist context and put it in an international context” (203).

*Colonialism is not just about race, but about class. Blacks can become oppressors and exploiters just as whites have (191).

*Being for racial equality or black liberation in the USA requires being anti-capitalist, for as long as there is a class hierarchy race will be used to justify and reproduce the exploitation at the bottom of it.

* Those who speak of “climbing the ladder of success” are accepting class inequality, a system with a “top” and a “bottom,” where some stand over others. Such “ladder” schemes are to be rejected (190).

*Multi-racial unity among and across oppressed and exploited groups is necessary for a revolutionary alliance that can win, but must be built upon the basis of independent strength within the Black revolutionary movement itself (and in the other oppressed groups as well), not by ceding leadership to others outside that community (192).

*Black (or any) nationalism that is not fundamentally internationalist is reactionary.

*There can be no revolutionary theory divorced from practice (180).

*Listening is primary, often more important than speaking. Many of the best “teachers” are to be found on the street, in prison, and in other unexpected places.

*Revolutionaries need to build and maintain close ties to the masses of people; the isolation of revolutionaries from the people is a great danger, and is one of the enemy’s primary goals (181).

*Revolutionaries cannot depend on dominant institutions (such as the existing educational structures) to do our work for us; new and independent institutions must be constructed, even as struggle is carried on within and around the existing ones.

*The movement for community control over schools and local resources quickly and necessarily raises the question of who controls economic and military power; serious mobilization for reform soon brings up the question of state power and of revolution, and of the need for something like a People’s Liberation Army (182-83).

*Such a People’s Liberation Army needs to be thought of as primarily political, secondarily military. “No people’s war can be won without the support of the masses of people. Armed struggle can never be successful by itself; it must be part of an overall strategy for winning, and the strategy must be political as well as military” (242).

*It is not enough to want to “rebel,” one must want to actually “win.” And to win, one must study so as to develop ascientific approach to making revolution possible. (242).

*Humility and Respect for the People is key, and must be a matter of daily practice; Leftist “revolutionary” arrogance is a major obstacle (218). “I hate arrogance whether it’s white or purple or Black,” Shakur writes, reflecting on a rude and foolish Panther cadre she encounters, “Some people let power go to their heads. They think that just because they have some kind of title in front of their name you’re supposed to bend over and kiss them on the ass.” As she elaborates: “The only great people I have met have been modest and humble. You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for political unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day” (218).

*Effective revolutionary education means transforming “students” into teachers and “teachers” into students (189). Teacher-student hierarchies may become another form of oppression; restructuring pedagogical approaches can unlock hitherto untapped potential of what appear to be “bad” or resistant students.

*The process of creative, collective struggle itself can function as “medicine” for the people, as they emerge from the existing society with all their wounds and worries: “The more active I became the more I liked it. It was like medicine, making me well, making me whole” (189).

*Political education should meet people where they are at, through dialogue, and by speaking to questions that are on people’s minds, not through the imposition of dogmatic principles and phraseology, and should teach them their own history, not only the history of radical movements elsewhere. An awareness of history is crucial to breaking people from their old (bad) habits of slavish identification with their oppressors.

*The Black Panthers’ audacity captured the imagination of the masses, and drew many cadre to them, but this bold and provocative approach could turn into ahindrance when working among the people. As Shakur reports, “I preferred the polite and respectful manner in which civil rights workers and Black Muslims talked to the people rather than the arrogant, fuck-you style that used to be popular in New York. I said they cursed too much and turned off a lot of people who would otherwise be responsive to what the Party was saying” (204).

*Despite various problematic tendencies, many people in the BPP were sympathetic and responsive to such sharp internal criticisms; such an ability to absorb and encourage criticism and self-criticism must be a key feature of any healthy revolutionary organization.

*The cult of macho personality and martyrdom needs to be rejected, as does the macho approach that encourages non-strategic and non-viable direct confrontation with the state. As Assata paraphrases Mao’s writings on guerrilla warfare: “Retreat when the enemy is strong and attack when the enemy is weak” (227).

* Both the fear and the actuality of state infiltration, disruption, and repression pose real threats to maintaining the culture of revolutionary creativity, openness, and trust that is necessary to any healthy growing organization (231).

* Revolutionaries must work collectively and in a spirit of love to overcome inevitable and often acute differences and misunderstandings. A sectarian failure to reconnect and regroup on the basis of fundamental unities played a key role in the fragmentation and stagnation of the BPP.

*Criticism and Love are not mutually exclusive categories; criticism of other revolutionaries and of one’s own revolutionary organization should come from a place of seeking a new and better unity, which is not at all to say that such criticism should not be sharp, honest, and direct (232).

Assata Shakur

Assata’s political lessons take the form of criticism (and self-criticism) of tendencies within the radical movement in which she herself participated. She offers a number of criticisms of the BPP, its leadership, culture, and methods of work, while making clear her love for the organization, foregrounding her gratefulness for the way it “really opened my horizons a helluva lot,” and reminding readers of the important barriers to Party work created by COINTELPRO disruption and repression (221). But while recognizing the impact of massive state repression, Assata also reflects on practices that were within the BPP’s power to control. For instance, she asserts that the group — and the radical movement generally — tended to under-emphasize, in both theory and practice, the necessity of serious and mass political education. Further, she argues that even when it did happen, much of the educational work of the Black Panthers and other revolutionary groups was too dogmatic and too focused on conditions, texts, and experiences from elsewhere (such as in revolutionary Russia or China). As she puts it, “They were reading the Red Book, but didn’t know who Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, or Nat Turner were. They talked about intercommunalism but still really believed that the Civil War had been fought to free the slaves. A whole lot of them knew barely any kind of history, Black, African or otherwise” (221). She also laments that political education tended not to focus enough on spreading the tools of organizing beyond the main cadre. While giving a moving account of her participation in Panther breakfast programs and freedom schools, Shakur still laments how the BPP became isolated from the people, not only because of the vicious state attacks it faced, but because it failed to forge new roots with masses beyond the ranks of radical and progressive allies.

She criticizes the arrogance, egotism, and machismo of particular radical leaders, black and white alike, even as she offers a persuasive argument that interracial alignments are essential to any united front strategy. Pointedly, she laments the ways in which sectarianism and dogmatism afflict the movement, as different wings and regions of the BPP itself are not able to resolve their differences internally, and the revolutionary movement fails to maintain unity amidst the strife exacerbated by state repression.

More generally, Shakur criticizes herself and others for having acted primarily as “romantic” and “emotional,” rather than “scientific” revolutionaries, overestimating the revolutionary force of spontaneous mass anger and rebellion. As she writes of her political attitudes in Cuba: “I was no longer the wide-eyed, romantic young revolutionary who believed the revolution was just around the corner…. I had long ago become convinced that revolution was a science. Generalities were no longer enough for me.” She elaborates: “I believed that a higher level of political sophistication was necessary and that unity in the Black community had to become a priority. We could never afford to forget the lessons we had learned from COINTELPRO…. I couldn’t see how we could seriously struggle without having a strong sense of collectivity, without being responsible for each other and to each other” (266-67).

At the same time, Shakur does not disown the idealistic thrust of her own narrative. She gives us a vivid account of both the revolutionary optimism and the rage of the late 60s, particularly in a long italicized section describing her immediate reaction to the news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. “I don’t want to rebel, I want to win” she writes (195). Reflecting on the brutal police suppression of the urban uprisings that follow, she adds, “I am tired of watching us lose. They kill our leaders, then they kill us for protesting. Protest. Protest. Revolution. If it exists, I want to find it. Bulletins. More bulletins. I’m tired of bulletins. I want bullets” (196). She embraces this revolutionary passion and anger even as she reflects on the need to give it more disciplined and strategic form.

In the end, although Shakur writes the closing lines of her autobiography from the hopeful shores of socialist Cuba, citing the ten million revolutionary people who have “stood up” there as proof that “The cowboys and bandits didn’t own the world” (274), Assata offers no facile optimism, and no easy formulas. Despite her expressed faith in the tradition of struggle, she continues to pose the question of revolution precisely as a question, not as a set doctrine, nor a dogmatic catechism. She certainly offers lessons and warnings for radical-minded readers today — but principally she invites us to think and to discuss for ourselves how to answer this question theoretically and practically (with both passion and a scientific critical consciousness) for our own time. Her book sets the table for a conversation that is very much needed, and does so in such a way as to welcome new participants to that table.

Footnotes

  1. Remarkably, at one point, Shakur goes so far as to offer humanizing reflections on how the African American youth who attempt to gang rape her have come to the point of “hating her” so much. Ready to fight these would-be rapists to the death — she is able to drive them off — Assata still concerns herself afterwards with thinking about their dastardly actions not just in moral terms, but in terms of the social and historical forces that are at work through such wretched, violent, sexist ambitions. This astonishing act of understanding reminds me of Marx’s favorite proverb: “Nothing human is alien to me.”
  2. The allegory of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” is useful here. What shatters the naked, deluded Emperor’s hegemony over his subjects is not the imparting of any particular new knowledge to the populace, but ratherthe shifting status of already existing knowledge, prompted by the naïve actions of a child, who says aloud and publicly what everyone else is only thinking silently and privately: “The Emperor has no clothes!” It is in a sense not just the Emperor who is exposed in this moment, but the cynical, cowardly people themselves, who now, stripped of cover by the spontaneous blurting of a child, can (must!) see one another for what they really are. Once this occurs, turning against an Emperor is all but inevitable. See my discussion in “Revolutionary Underground: Critical Reflections on the Prospect for Renewing Occupation,” Socialism and Democracy, vol. 26 No. 3, November 2012; also my discussion of Occupy, written as this event unfolded, in the introduction toCultural Logic’s special issue, Culture and Crisiswww.clogic.eserver.org.
  3. She also refuses to capitalize the names of her enemies, and enemy institutions, from the u.s.a. to the names of various judges, police, US presidents, and district attorneys she discusses. The refusal to capitalize in these cases, while it represents a similar refusal of Authority, has a more provocative and antagonistic quality. Shakur does capitalize the names of her friends and allies (and allied organizations).
  4. Indeed, Assata’s adopted Yoruban name means literally “Woman in Struggle” or “She who struggles.”

Youth Rising — Denver Walkouts Point to a New Wave of Anti-Police Violence Protest

A comrade from Denver has forwarded us an article of interest on student walk-outs in protest against police brutality that we are sharing here.


by Clayton Dewey and Eneri Rodriguez

Ferguson forced the issue, New York escalated it to no business as usual, now Denver youth are helping usher in a new wave of youth of color-led resistance. Today, Friday December 12th will mark the eighth consecutive day of thousands of students walking out of dozens of schools across multiple cities in the Denver Metro area. These demonstrations are the largest youth-led protests happening in the country right now and they are taking place in the face of intense smear campaigns by the police and mainstream media.

It started Wednesday, December 3rd, when 1000 East High school students walked out of class in Denver, joined thousands across the country protesting the non indictment of Darren Wilson in the murder of Mike Brown. On Thursday over a thousand more walked out. Over 400 students from Lincoln High Schoolhundreds more from George Washington High School, and still hundreds more from Montbello High School and Bruce Randolph High School School. George Washington students marched to Thomas Jefferson High School in hopes of joining up with students and protesting together. Instead the Thomas Jefferson administration put the school on lockdown.





1000 East High School students walked out of class in protest over the Ferguson decision. They unexpectedly set off waves of walk outs across dozens of schools that have lasted for days.

 

By Friday it was clear that the walkouts were not letting up, in fact they were growing. Now the protests had spread to Aurora and Commerce City. Hundreds of students from three middle schools and five high schools marched through the streets to the Aurora Municipal Building.

On Monday walkouts continued with hundreds from South High School marching for seven miles to East High School where they hoped to meet up and march on the capitol together. Instead, like at Thomas Jefferson, administrators put the school on lockdown. Still more walked out from Denver School of the Arts in protest.

 

Thousands of youth, mostly Black and Latino, have repeatedly taken to the streets in protest of police violence against communities of color.

 

On Tuesday the walkouts didn’t stop. On Wednesday they didn’t stop. On Thursday walkouts spread to the Auraria campus in Denver. Today students from across Denver are organizing the Colorado Unity March, which may be the largest protests we’ve seen to date.

Not like this, day after day.

 

And so to say that these walkouts are historic is not an exaggeration.

Denver police commander Matt Murray stated that in his 25 years of law enforcement, these walkouts are like nothing he has ever seen.

 

“Not like this, day after day.”

 

It’s true. To see the level of youth organizing for justice on this scale we need to go back almost 50 years. In 1968 Chicano youth in Denver joined thousands of other students across the country in walkouts protesting the Vietnam War. One year later Denver youth made history when they hosted the first National Chicano Youth Liberation conference. It was here that “El Plan Espiritual De Aztlán”, was drafted, a plan forward for the liberation of brown people that is considered one of the most formative texts in the Chicano movement.

1500 Chicano youth marched to the steps of the Capitol rallying for brown liberation.

Today in 2014, the movement for liberation continues, and Denver youth of color are again on the front lines. The school walkouts have been by far the largest, most diverse and most vocal demonstrations against police violence in the city. And they’ve done this almost entirely on their own, using word of mouth and social media to coordinate themselves into actions hundreds strong. Their organizing is already making an impact. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced that the city will be establishing community meetings to discuss race and policing. This is the first direct response from the city to any of the protests that have taken place (youth or adult led).

 

Hundreds of Middle School and High School students march on the Aurora Municipal Building.

Still, while concessions have been made, youth have refused to allow the mayor, school officials or others force them out of the streets. The walk out has opened up space for youth to tell their stories, recite poetryspeak truth to police, vent, chant, and sit in silence. To create a space with so much power without the permission of school officials, in front of a police force that for many is one they must be fearful of, is nothing short of transformative.

Incredibly, this is all taking place against the backdrop of hostile media coverage and a campaign of guilt tripping, deception and even lies on the part of the Aurora and Denver police. It calls into question, or more accurately it highlights how broken our nation truly is, when institutions are willing to vilify young people in order to save their own reputation or normalize a grossly misrepresented image about who and why and what young people are doing.

It’s time to show up

And while it’s inspiring to see youth accomplish so much with so little support from adults, it’s also time to show up for them. It’s time to stop questioning youth and start asking them questions. It’s time to stop talking for them and start talking with them. It’s time to call out the police when they release false statements, to challenge the media’s hostile reporting, tocreate and share independent media that amplifies the voices of youth, and when asked to, join them in the streets.

Independent media makers such as Brother Jeff provide rare coverage of youth voices during these walk outs.

 

We have an opportunity to do this today at 3pm at City Park. Adults are encouraged to bring signs, offer support in transporting youth and make themselves available in their own capacity.

Denver youth of color are showing a way forward that is pushing movements for racial justice and liberation into new directions. They are demonstrating their ability to carry out widespread actions (both coordinated and spontaneous), exposing the links between policing, prisons and failing school systems and they are creating spaces of resistance outside of the classroom where they have a voice. We’ve seen signs of similar actions taking shape in other cities: BerkeleySan Jose, and elsewhere. Whatever the future might hold, the youth of Denver are clearly leaders in the fight for racial justice. The question for adults is whether we will stand with them.

Greek translation: Lecturing Ferguson? Again, are communists rebels or not?

The following is a Greek translation a previous polemic that appeared here. This translation appeared in Dromos (Greek for The Road), the newspaper of the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE). 

ΗΠΑ: Είναι οι κομμουνιστές υπέρ των εξεγέρσεων ή όχι;

Απ’ άκρη σ’ άκρη των ΗΠΑ έχουν εξαπλωθεί οι διαμαρτυρίες με αφορμή τη μη παραπομπή σε δίκη του αστυνομικού που εκτέλεσε, εν ψυχρώ, τον Μάικ Μπράουν στο Φέργκιουσον. Πλήθη ανθρώπων, κυρίως νέων, διαδηλώνουν και συγκρούονται, καίνε περιπολικά, αποκλείουν αυτοκινητόδρομους και απαιτούν δικαιοσύνη. Η προσπάθεια του Ομπάμα να παρέμβει κατευναστικά, απειλώντας ταυτόχρονα τους «ταραξίες», δεν αποδίδει. Την ίδια στιγμή, οξύνεται η αντιπαράθεση και μέσα στους κόλπους της οργανωμένης (και πολύ αδύναμης) βορειοαμερικανικής Αριστεράς, θυμίζοντας πολύ ανάλογες αντιπαραθέσεις στη διάρκεια της εξέγερσης των γαλλικών προαστίων το 2005 ή της ελληνικής νεολαίας το 2008. Στο κείμενο που ακολουθεί ο Έρικ Ριμπελάρσι, στέλεχος της νεολαιίστικης κατά βάση συλλογικότητας Kasama Project, απαντά στις άκαιρες και δογματικές επικρίσεις άλλων αριστερών στον ξεσηκωμό που έχει προκληθεί με αφορμή την αδικία στο Φέργκιουσον.

ΗΠΑ: Είναι οι κομμουνιστές υπέρ των εξεγέρσεων ή όχι; 

Δασκαλεύοντας το Φέργκιουσον…

Του Έρικ Ριμπελάρσι

 

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After Ferguson: Snapshots from a wave of protest

This empire is splitting open over the faultline that it was built upon: the humanity of Black people.”

After Ferguson: Snapshots from a wave of protest

by ISH

Three years ago, Occupy Wall Street set off a wave of national protests. The Occupy encampments set up from coast to coast were soon smashed by a wave of repression, and the movement faded from the headlines. That movement was complex and contradictory, but it seemed to mark a sea change shift in attitude toward structurally challenging the rules of US politics, especially among increasingly precarious young people. That movement also didn't actually go away. After this summer's brutal slaying of an unarmed Black youth by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, long-simmering tensions between communities of color and the forces of state repression boiled over into an urban rebellion in Ferguson itself and a wave of protests nationwide, especially now after the refusal of a majority-white grand jury to indict young Michael Brown's killer.

It's clear to observers and participants now that just as the Occupy movement was bolstered by the outrage over the judicial murder of Troy Davis back in 2011, so today's movement over Ferguson has been deepened by the experience of people working on Occupy and then moving on to focus on justice for Trayvon Martin or other issues where the white supremacist capitalist system is on full display. OWS was criticized by some for being too white and too middle-class, but in a healthy evolution we now see a burgeoning national movement forefronting survival issues for communities of color.

What's unfolding in the protests over Ferguson, and now, suddenly, over the protests over yet another refusal to indict a badge-wearing killer — this time the murderer of Eric Garner — suggests game-changing potential.

We asked friends and comrades to report on some of what they've seen over the past weeks of protests sweeping the country. We don't get to speak very often in this country of weeks of waves of protests, but here we are.

From Boston, one comrade writes:

When I first heard that Darren Wilson was not going to be indicted, it wasn’t that I was surprised, so much as stunned into a cold rage. Here was the system proving once again that it lets cops get away with murdering defenseless Black kids. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day, I did my best to avoid the news, knowing that I would hear racist apologists trying to spin it all.

The night after the verdict I, and so many others, finally had a chance to vent our anger. I made my way down to Dudley Square and was stunned at the enormous crowd – probably close to two thousand who were there – Black and white, young and old, men and women. Normally at a lot of protests, I don’t listen to the speeches, but I did here. The speakers, young and old from oppressed Black neighborhoods spoke of how “America was guilty” and that the “system didn’t protect them.” There was open talk of revolution and taking liberation into “our own hands because no one is going to give it to us.” Once those speeches were over, we stood for four and a half minutes in dead silence to honor Michael Brown and all the other victims of police brutality and white supremacy.

Then we took to the streets, marching and chanting. I stayed with the protest, far in the rear, until we reached the South Bay House of Corrections, where we stood in solidarity with the inmates. The prisoners could be seen through their barred windows saluting us and waving. In one cell, the prisoner spelled “Mike” (backwards). I am not sure if he was saying “Mike Brown” or giving his own name. But I like to hope that “Mike” stood for all of those, Mike Brown, the South Bay prisons, and millions of others who suffer under the jackboot of this racist capitalist system.

From another comrade in Boston:

I wasn't able to attend the huge Wednesday night protest march in Boston — this one nearly shut down Rt. 93, Boston's major highway — but I was quite literally swept up in a spontaneous protest march on Tuesday night in downtown Boston, immediately following the verdict.

I left the restaurant/pub where I had been decompressing after work and in the distance I heard chanting. Pausing to listen, as the chanting came closer, I could tell it wasn't random noise, and I could make out the words: Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” They turned the corner on Beacon Street and before long I was falling in and chanting alongside them, work-bag swinging at my side, raising my fist. A comrade I've known since Occupy greeted me with a marching one-armed hug. It was a young crowd, mostly college students, interracial and often led by young people of color, though majority white, I would say. And predominantly female, led by Black women, as it seemed to me.

The march had taken the street, stopping traffic, and garnering an occasional honked horn of solidarity from vehicles we passed. We turned up hill and headed for the Massachusetts Statehouse, 150–200 of us, I'd say, but growing, this demonstration called by individuals via Facebook just the minute before. Other friends and comrades I know would show up shortly — word was spreading. Outside the steps of the Statehouse — a short phalanx of state troopers already posted by the locked gate, blocking the steps — organizers stopped the march and directed us into a circle, encompassing and blocking the road. All the time chanting continued: “Black Lives Matter!” “No Justice? No Peace! No Racist Police!”  Then organizers led us in a moment of silence for the slaughter of Michael Brown. We held hands, our heads bowed, for several minutes. United in our silence, in the spirit of loss and injustice.  

Still holding the road — police directed traffic elsewhere — we evolved into an open mic rap session, reminiscent of Occupy, speakers addressing the crowd, expressing emotions, personal stories, concerns, political philosophies, strategic outlooks, and local connections to the events in Ferguson.

A comrade in New York City says,

I went with some comrades to one of the Ferguson solidarity protests in New York on November 24. There were several protests that day, 3–4, and each shut down major streets, highways, bridges, and tunnels. Thousands of people came out in the cold to aggressive defy the police and shut parts of the city down so that the police and state occupiers would have to reckon with the people they occupy. It was inspiring to see so many people angrily defying both the cops and the sell-out “community leaders.” People are now seeing that police repression and violence in the US has a direct link to the drug war casualties in Ayotzinapa, the Israeli apartheid in Palestine, and America's ongoing imperialist wars.

From Brooklyn, New York:

Tuesday night I attended a meeting at St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. St. Jacobi was the original home to Occupy Sandy and strongly supported Occupy Sunset Park in the heyday of OWS. The occasion was preparation for an action to tie the ongoing movement around Ferguson with the Palestinian resistance and the Ayotzinapa movement in Mexico around the murder of 43 students by the narco-state, and it included a video conference with activists in Mexico. The meeting was really well attended, and some of the young people I talked to there were really clear on the connection between these three issues. Their approach to connecting these issues was sophisticated and organic, and they were also clear that these movements are not about making demands of the government, they're about organizing the people to fight. People were making stencils and stickers with terrific artwork and slogans like, “From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson, the State Protects Killer Cops.” Many of them were veterans of Occupy Wall Street, but cross-pollination with movements around immigrant rights and indigenous peoples was really evident. The meeting, held in English and Spanish, was a mix of activists and community folks, and unlike many Occupy meetings, was majority Latin@. People seemed upbeat and excited about sustaining and developing a real movement making the most of such obvious connections. In New York City we're waiting for the imminent decision whether to indict the cops who killed Eric Garner, and it will be really interesting to see how this strongly radical movement counterposes itself to the 'peaceful, legal' response being called for by pacifiers like Sharpton.

From Albany, Georgia:

We had a small but really pissed-off turnout at the police department downtown at 2am on the night of the verdict. Later on some of us went to the courthouse for a prayer vigil held by civil rights movement old-timers.

Next day a couple of us went to the Albany State Campus and we got a lot of support. One student told us “I'm not really into protests. What we really need here is a riot.”

Officials here claimed that we do not have a police problem because the police here have the body cams. Likely that is an outright lie. In the past, dash cam evidence mysteriously disappeared or happened to be corrupted at exactly the important moment.

From Portland, Oregon:

At 4pm on the day after the announcement, we rallied (as was pre-arranged), downtown. I think about a couple thousand people showed up for the initial rally and short march around the area, but I didn't have a good vantage point. After the initial rally and march, the group split in two; roughly half moving to demonstrate rage, the rest singing a song and dispersing.

The militants scuffled with police for a few hours with some, short freeway blockages, lots of blocked traffic, police charges, pepper spray and about a half dozen arrests.

Saturday night, pretty much the same crowd returned for a similar level of street confrontation, this time with the cops trying out their flash bangs and about 10 arrests.

Some things I think are notable:

• The Tuesday event was organized by a coalition of black clergy (with a lot of quotes from MLK) and the radical community, especially the AAPRP.

• The coalition failed to make a break-through in bringing out people in its target communities in north and northeast Portland.

• The break-away on Tuesday and the event on Saturday were agitated for and lead largely by a small number of new emerging young Black activists.

Today there was a significant high school walk out this afternoon of at least 1,000 students near downtown. I'm headed down after work in a few hours to try to catch the tail end of the announced demo at the capitol.

Another comrade in Portland writes in:

Monday night was like a punch in the gut to anyone in the United States who cares about justice and humanity. The Ferguson grand jury's failure to indict was a declaration of open season on Black people; a declaration of war.

A demonstration was called for the following day by a coalition of local peace and justice groups. Several thousand people turned up Tuesday evening, in a mood of anger and rage. After listening to speakers from various organizations, the crowd marched through downtown, chanting "No Justice, No Peace" and "Hands Up Don't Shoot!" The crowd returned to the Justice Center. While preparing to disperse, while "We Shall Overcome" was sung from the stage, a group of Black youth shouted that they were not done and led a breakaway march of several hundred that marched through the city, shutting down bridges and highways and confronting the police for several more hours.

On Saturday morning there was a rally in Northeast Portland (a historically Black residential neighborhood). The crowd was genuinely multiracial and made up primarily of families there with their children. The "radical activist" milieu was noticeably absent. After speeches from educators and high school students, the group marched for several miles through the gentrified "Alberta Arts District." Marching peacefully on the sidewalk, and obeying traffic laws the group disrupted the peaceful brunches of many a white person who preferred not to notice that the country is burning. Upon reaching the destination, the listened to a final speech and dispersed.

On Saturday night a crowd of about 500 met again on the steps of the Justice Center. After an hour or so of speeches, the Reverend Jesse Jackson (who happened to be in town on other business) arrived and spoke to the crowd about redemption and reconciliation, demanded a Federal Grand Jury and urged the crowd to be peaceful. The crowd then marched through downtown Portland, blocking traffic and shutting down business as usual for four and a half hours, the amount of time that Mike Brown lay bleeding in the street. At one point outside of a shopping mall there was a particularly tense stand off with the riot police that culminated in the police throwing flash bang grenades into the crowd and then charging. The crowd continued to march. The night ended in a die-in behind the police headquarters. At this point riot police moved in from all sides and declared that everyone was under arrest. The crowd tightened up, locking arms and called loved ones to report their situation and make arrangements for the following days. After about a half hour of chanting "Let us go!" the police made 10 arrests and let the rest of the crowd leave one by one through their armed cordon.

From marching peacefully through neighborhoods with my four month old son, to running from flash bang grenades and preparing to spend the night in jail it has been a powerful week. Portland, one of the whitest cities in the US, stood up and declared that Black Lives Matter. This empire is splitting open over the faultline that it was built upon: the humanity of Black people. We must continue to march, to rebel, and to build a movement that can fight militantly and creatively for Black liberation and for the destruction of this murderous system.

Eric Garner, Mike Brown: Shut it down, Shut it down

As we marched toward Columbus Circle I ran into an old friend. This friend and I used to give know-your-rights trainings about interactions with the pigs. We worked in a copwatch together. As we quickly caught up with each other about our more recent past, this friend gave me a look, and said ‘here we are again.’ We then both paused and about the same time we said to each other, ‘But it feels different this time.’

 

It certainly did feel different. We were smack in the middle of a sustained resistance to police brutality that was not seeking justice from the ‘legitimate’ political and legal channels. We were there for Eric Garner, but there was a larger context. There was a clarity, among thousands of us, many thousands around the country, that this system is killing Black people with impunity. And that even when people are awakened to the senseless taking of Black life by the racist police forces around the country, the justice system still won’t indict its police officers, the same officers who are unleashed to enforce the violent authority of the one percent. The system sleeps on us. They think they can do whatever the fuck they want and get away with it. But it was different this time. Since Ferguson we have all been wide awake.”

 

Eric Garner, Mike Brown: Shut it down, Shut it down

by Nat Winn

 

Another unarmed Black man is murdered by the police. Another grand jury refuses to indict the pig. The story is getting old, yet the outrage and determination not to accept this shit is growing and growing. Like everyone I know here in New York City, I am filled with that rage.

Wednesday a grand jury refused to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death in Staten Island for the unspeakable crime of selling loose cigarettes.

The refusal of a grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, the police murderer of Mike Brown, has already sparked mass outrage around the country and the world. Hot on the heels of that outrage, the US justice system has again spit on our collective faces, telling us that in their twisted logic Black lives don't matter: They will simply not indict one of their police officers for murdering a Black man.

Shut it down!

But thousands of people in New York were ready for this decision and prepared to act. The decision around Garner's murder was rightly seen as a continuation of the injustices that have roused our discontent in Ferguson. More and more of us are beginning to understand that the murder of Black men by the police and its justification by the powers that be is to be expected. And related to this expectation is the understanding that we cannot seek justice through the racist American justice system – we must seek our own justice in the streets!

When the decision came down that Garner's murderer would not be indicted, calls for protest spread like wildfire. I ended up going to a protest in Times Square at 5pm. It turned out to be the same day that the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was to be lit. The goal of many of the protesters was to “shut down” the lighting of the tree. Shit was on!

When I got to the protest there were about a hundred people present. Like other protests I've been to since the Ferguson decision came down, this crowd was younger, multi-national and militantly anti-establishment in its orientation. Chants were yelled out in English and Spanish and I was struck by what appeared to be a Latino worker I saw who was wrapped in a Palestinian flag. The connection between Ferguson, Palestine, and Ayotzinapa, Mexico — where 43 student protestors have recently been disappeared causing a huge wave of protest — has been a prominent internationalist feature of this wave of rebellion in the United States.

Chants included “No indictment is denial, we demand a public trial,” “I can't breathe” (Eric Garner's last words), and “If Eric don't get it, shut it down!” among others.

As time passed the crowd grew larger. After an hour, there were a few hundred more protesters in Times Square. By then another march that had started at Union Square converged with our protest and people started calling out “Shut the tree down!” We took off and marched toward Rockefeller Center, a few blocks away. When we got half way there, the streets between us and the Center were barricaded. The pigs were out in full force, and as we then marched north on Sixth Avenue we were blocked from that direction as well. At 51st Street, we were able to break through some barricades and take the street. We marched in the street from then on, turning onto Madison Avenue and clogging up a key vein of the midtown traffic grid. The protest seemed to grow much bigger: The traffic was stopped and we owned the streets.

We stopped at Madison and 47th Street and demanded to be let through the barricades that prevented us from getting to our destination. The protesters and many onlookers shouted their indignation at the cops. “How do you spell racist – NYPD!” (for New York Police Department), “Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Shut it Down, Shut it Down!”, “Hands Up! Don't Shoot!”, “I can't breathe, I can't breathe!”, “I got my hands above my head! Please don't shoot me dead!” Suddenly word got through the crowd that there was an opening a block away. Protesters headed there and broke through the barricades one more time. As we headed west, this time off the sidewalks and on the street, our numbers had doubled at the very least. Sixth Avenue was shut down.

The pigs dug in near the entrance to the block where the tree lighting was going on. Protesters demanded “let us through!, let us through!” The pigs announced that everyone in the street was now under arrest. Many of the protestors refused to back down. All of us chanted at the pigs, “I can't breathe, I can't breathe!” and “Shut it down, shut it down!” Eventually the pigs bum-rushed us and arrested whoever they could. They undoubtedly had targeted some people out. There remained hundreds of us who had crept up on the sidewalks. We continued to express our outrage to the pigs. Many started chanting “Fuck your tree!, Fuck your tree!” There was a standstill between the cops and the crowd of young people.

At one point a young protestor called an Occupy-style mic check. Another march was headed to Columbus Circle, and the Occupier asked all of us to march to Columbus Circle and meet up with the other march. And so we went, into the night, determined to shut shit down, to register our decision about the worth of the life of a Black man named Eric Garner.

Running into an old friend

As we marched toward Columbus Circle I ran into an old friend. This friend and I used to give know-your-rights trainings about interactions with the pigs. We worked in a copwatch together. As we quickly caught up with each other about our more recent past, this friend gave me a look, and said “here we are again.” We then both paused and about the same time said to each other, “But it feels different this time.”

It certainly did feel different. We were smack in the middle of a sustained resistance to police brutality that was not seeking justice from the “legitimate” political and legal channels. We were there for Eric Garner, but there was a larger context. There was a clarity, among thousands of us, many thousands around the country, that this system is killing Black people with impunity. And that even when people are awakened to the senseless taking of Black life by the racist police forces around the country, the justice system still won't indict its police officers, the same officers who are unleashed to enforce the violent authority of the one percent. The system sleeps on us. They think they can do whatever the fuck they want and get away with it. But it was different this time. Since Ferguson we have all been wide awake.

Shutting down the West Side Highway, again

We got to Columbus Circle, by the south edge of Central Park. We headed west and converged with another march. When we got to the West Side Highway we were well over a thousand. We shut that shit down again! For the second time in as many weeks the West Side Highway was shut down. A statement was made again that could be heard around the country: You may kill Black people and let your filthy pigs walk away from it, but from here on in, this disdain for Black life won't go unchallenged. You will kill and we will shut shit down! We will gather strength until you will no longer be able to do what you do. And we create a better world in the process, without the pigs and without the one percent they serve.

There were dozens of arrests on this night. When we took West End, the pigs came at us full force. But they could not shut us down. They could not crush us. There's something brewing here. The country and the world are watching. People of all races and nationalities are standing together to say that our lives are precious, Black lives are precious, and if you take one needlessly, hatefully, we will fight you. We will not stand down. We will not get out of the street. We will shut shit down. We will take your power and build something beautiful.

Alas, here we are again, but shit is different this time.

Ferguson: Indict the system, turn anger into organization

This is a revised version of an article posted last night that was open to being read as counterposing support for the immediate task of spreading the Ferguson rebellion with the longer term tasks of communist organization. We do not view these tasks in opposition to each other. Rather we see them as intimately connected. It is precisely through participation in and support for the spontaneous struggles of the people that revolutionaries develop the networks among the oppressed that form the foundation of the communist organization which we believe remains critical to actually bringing down the system responsible for the death of Michael Brown and so many other young Black men.

by Nat Winn

The system has laid down THEIR verdict. Now, and in the coming days, the people will give OUR verdict.

It has been a long time since the people, in their broad mass, have anticipated and prepared to respond to the oppression and disregard that the United States government has shown Black youth. The police murder of Michael Brown in August of this year in the small midwest town of Ferguson, Missouri, has served as  a rallying call to young Black people and all who support their fight against oppression. Both the racist authorities and the people in the streets have been anxiously awaiting this decision on whether to indict Brown's murderer, which is now here. The national guard has already been called out. The emergency has already been declared. And the people in the streets have been building together to insure that the mockery of justice that is now upon us doesn't go unchallenged.

Predictably, yet another Black life is deemed expendable, and the right of the police to wage a reign of terror over Black communities has again been validated by the grand jury's decision.

Now those of us who stand with the young people of Ferguson must tell the truth: in order to seek justice, to end oppression — the people themselves must unite and rise up. There will be no condescending saviors. We must decide our duty and do it well.

There are times in history when “the people” run ahead of the revolutionary forces in society. While it is clear that many communists, anarchists and other revolutionary-minded people have been strengthening ties with the people in Ferguson and preparing to respond to the grand jury decision that was just laid down; it is also true that the decision may potentially lead to events that we as an emerging revolutionary ecosystem are not yet prepared to influence. And yes — revolutionaries should seek to engage movements such as the one in Ferguson to help lead them in a revolutionary direction.

What then is it that revolutionaries can provide to the people of Ferguson and their allies?

A crack in a faultline

The rebellion in Ferguson and its aftermath is reflective of a larger problem that the government (at national and local levels) cannot easily resolve or co-opt. Look at how many times the brutality of the police has led to these kind of rebellions within Black communities: Police brutality was the cause of urban rebellions in the 1960s including Watts, to Rodney King in the 1990s, to Cincinnati in 2001, to East Flatbush last year after Kimani Gray was killed, to Ferguson today.

Why is this? Why can't the government and its lackeys like Al Sharpton contain and satisfy the anger of Black people, especially youth? Wouldn't it be easy for the government to just arrest this cop, bring him out in handcuffs and take him to jail? And yet this doesn't happen – and that has been a pattern.

The answer with this has to do with the role of police in relation to Black people.

Black people have been pushed to the margin of societies. The US rulers have not figured a way in which to integrate Black people into the economy since the turn toward de-industrialization. Increasingly many Black people are unemployed for most of their lives and targeted for prison and ethnic cleansing. They are being isolated, frequently being pushed out of urban cores with the poor enclaves in which they live surrounded and occupied by police forces.

Why are the police given all the military equipment we now see them using in Ferguson? What is all that for?

The fact is that it is the job of these police to terrorize Black people. This is what they are trained to do. They are taught during their training, just as we are taught through mass media, that Black youth will not work, that they are criminal, and that they must be controlled. This is not a question of “some bad cops” or of “hiring cops from the communities they patrol.” The pigs are the pigs. Their role is to terrorize Black people and there is no reforming that basic fact.

This is why the county police in Ferguson think that it was okay to murder Michael Brown. This is why no branch of government will just arrest him. What kind of message would it send to their police, bedrock of this system of repression? If police were prosecuted for brutalizing and executing Black people, then police couldn't do their job, there would be no trust between the police and their political leaders and the system that oppresses Black people wouldn't work.

It must first be realized that the events in Ferguson represent a faultline in the broader society. That is, it is a problem of the capitalist system of oppression that cannot be easily resolved or co-opted by the ruling classes.

Rebellion is right, but it is not revolution

The rebellion in Ferguson has inspired all who care about human liberation. It's right to rebel and to spread the spirit of rebellion. Solidarity actions have broken out across the country to express the rage felt against this display of contempt for Black life. It's encouraging to see people challenging officially-approved channels of “nonviolent” protest.

While the spread of rebellions to other cities could have a positive effect on the consciousness and fighting spirit of the people, such rebellions alone will not, by themselves, lead to liberation. Obviously we think solidarity actions, including urban rebellions with a real base in their community, are good. But are riots enough to take the struggle to the next level?

Street-fighting alone, however, is not itself the same thing as making revolution. We need to begin to take the steps to turn the righteous anger of Black youth, and everybody else in this society who identifies with the spirit of the Ferguson rebellions, into the kind of politically serious and disciplined organization that it will actually take to overthrow this system and replace it with something much better.

Our responsibilities

What Ferguson exposes is the urgent need for communist organization.

We need to do real work to develop networks of people that can respond to events like Ferguson and have real influence over the debates in the broader society when events like Ferguson pop off. Pretending like such networks already occur will not work.

To be clear, there are emerging networks being formed among revolutionaries and this is obviously positive. However this will not replace networks between revolutionaries and the broader people, which are currently primitive. If the people engage in street fighting, then they should be supported and joined, but this cannot be replaced by small revolutionary networks spread out around the country seeking to ignite such rebellions through sheer force of will.

The outrage of the people needs to be transformed into revolutionary organization, not merely courageous yet unorganized fighting. The people in Ferguson are seeing the need for organization and creating it. But there needs to be revolutionary organization. These can include organizations at many levels: Street level organizing projects, mutual aid projects, strong media projects, revolutionary art, music, the capacity for rigorous investigation into 21st century political economy, and more.

All this involves fusing communist ideas with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. We need to have a sense of direction – direction toward developing the strategy and program that can challenge the existing order of things, and truly begin to liberate Black people and all those who suffer from the inequality, alienation, and misery of capitalism.

Faultlines as spaces where communist organization can take root

Openings to connect communist ideas with a section of the people are not spread evenly throughout society. Those problems in society that are very hard for the ruling classes to resolve have disproportionate potential for communists to develop connections with broader sections of the people. The brutalization and murder of Black people by the police has provoked militant resistance time and time again, It is correct to organize around this faultline.

In Ferguson the people have stared down the barrel of the police gun and have stood their ground. There are those who have argued that there is no potential for revolutionary change in the United States. They say that the majority of society is bought off, more concerned with owning the new iPhone or Nike sneakers than with fighting for liberation.

What would such skeptics have to say about Ferguson, about the willingness of the people to risk arrest and physical harm to demand justice for a young man gunned down by police in their small town? It seems clear that Ferguson in fact reveals something deep about the potential for struggle. But how fundamental the nature of this struggle becomes is now key.

We communists work from the understanding that the people in Ferguson and around the world need liberation. Our responsibilities are not merely to tail behind the spontaneity of the rebellion. We need to be building the types of organization and developing the sophisticated networks that can challenge this society and its rulers that perpetrate police murder of Blacks. What we can offer at our best is a strategy and program for liberation that many people can unite around.

Illusions about the potential for justice in the capitalist USA are worn thin in places like Ferguson. This is a moment when it's important to crystallize what oppressed people are teaching us every day about the way the world works with ways of sustaining the fight and pointing it toward victory.

California Prisoner Hunger Strike Suspended

 

Below is the statement on the suspension of the California Prisoners Hunger strike.  More updates, news and statements can be found on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website.

 

Statement Suspending the Third Hunger Strike

Greetings of Solidarity and Respect!

The PBSP-SHU, Short Corridor Collective Representatives hereby serve notice upon all concerned parties of interest that after nine weeks we have collectively decided to suspend our third hunger strike action on September 5, 2013.

To be clear, our Peaceful Protest of Resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system’s solitary confinement units is far from over. Our decision to suspend our third hunger strike in two years does not come lightly. This decision is especially difficult considering that most of our demands have not been met (despite nearly universal agreement that they are reasonable). The core group of prisoners has been, and remains 100% committed to seeing this protracted struggle for real reform through to a complete victory, even if it requires us to make the ultimate sacrifice.  With that said, we clarify this point by stating prisoner deaths are not the objective, we recognize such sacrifice is at times the only means to an end of fascist oppression.

Our goal remains: force the powers that be to end their torture policies and practices in which serious physical and psychological harm is inflicted on tens of thousands of prisoners as well as our loved ones outside.  We also call for ending the related practices of using prisoners to promote the agenda of the police state by seeking to greatly expand the numbers of the working class poor warehoused in prisons, and particularly those of us held in solitary, based on psychological/social manipulation, and divisive tactics keeping prisoners fighting amongst each other. Those in power promote mass warehousing to justify more guards, more tax dollars for “security”, and spend mere pennies for rehabilitation — all of which demonstrates a failed penal system, high recidivism, and ultimately compromising public safety.  The State of California’s $9.1 billion annual CDCR budget is the epitome of a failed and fraudulent state agency that diabolically and systemically deprives thousands of their human rights and dignity. Allowing this agency to act with impunity has to stop! And it will.

With that said, and in response to much sincere urging of loved ones, supporters, our attorneys and current and former state legislators, Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock, and Tom Hayden, for whom we have the upmost respect, we decided to suspend our hunger strike.  We are especially grateful to Senator Hancock and Assembly Member Ammiano for their courageous decision to challenge Governor Brown and the CDCR for their policies of prolonged solitary confinement and inhumane conditions. We are certain that they will continue their fight for our cause, including holding legislative hearings and the drafting legislation responsive to our demands on prison conditions and sentencing laws. We are also proceeding with our class action civil suit against the CDCR.

The fact is that Governor Brown and CDCR Secretary Beard have responded to our third peaceful action with typical denials and falsehoods, claiming solitary confinement does not exist and justifying the continuation of their indefinite torture regime by vilifying the peaceful protest representatives. They also obtained the support of the medical receiver (Kelso) and Prison Law Office attorney (Spector—who is supposed to represent prisoners interests, and instead has become an agent for the state) to perpetuate their lie to the public and to the federal court — that prisoners participating in the hunger strike have been coerced — in order to obtain the August 19, 2013 force feeding order.

We have deemed it to be in the best interest of our cause to suspend our hunger strike action until further notice.

We urge people to remember that we began our present resistance with our unprecedented collective and peaceful actions (in tandem with the legislative process) back in early 2010, when we created and distributed a “Formal Complaint” for the purpose of educating the public and bringing widespread attention to our torturous conditions.

After much dialogue and consideration, this led us to our first and second hunger strike actions in 2011, during which a combined number of 6,500 and 12,000 prisoners participated. We succeeded in gaining worldwide attention and support resulting in some minor changes by the CDCR concerning SHU programming and privileges. They also claimed to make major changes to policies regarding gang validation and indefinite SHU confinement by creating the STG/SDP Pilot Program. They released a few hundred prisoners from SHU/AD SEG to general population in the prison.  But in truth, this is all part of a sham to claim the pilot program works and was a weak attempt to have our class action dismissed. It didn’t work.

In response we respectfully made clear that CDCR’s STG-SDP was not responsive to our demand for the end to long term isolation and solitary confinement and thus unacceptable.  (See: AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES)

Our supporting points fell on deaf ears, leading to our January 2013 notice of intent to resume our hunger strike on July 8, 2013 if our demands were not met.  We also included Forty Supplemental Demands.

In early July, CDCR produced several memos notifying prisoners of an increase in privileges and property items, which are notably responsive to a few of our demands, while the majority of our demands were unresolved, leading to our third hunger strike, in which 30,000 prisoners participated and resulted in greater worldwide exposure, support and condemnation of the CDCR!

From our perspective, we’ve gained a lot of positive ground towards achieving our goals.  However, there’s still much to be done.  Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights.

Respectfully,

For the Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement
Todd Ashker, C58191, D1-119
Arturo Castellanos, C17275, D1-121
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671, D1-117
Antonio Guillen, P81948, D2-106
And the Representatives Body:
Danny Troxell, B76578, D1-120
George Franco, D46556, D4-217
Ronnie Yandell, V27927, D4-215
Paul Redd, B72683, D2-117
James Baridi Williamson, D-34288. D4-107
Alfred Sandoval, D61000, D4-214
Louis Powell, B59864, D1-104
Alex Yrigollen, H32421, D2-204
Gabriel Huerta, C80766, D3-222
Frank Clement, D07919, D3-116
Raymond Chavo Perez, K12922, D1-219
James Mario Perez, B48186, D3-124

 

No, that racist vigilante did not rescue a family

 This first appeared at IVN.

This was a suspicious story from the beginning.

We have seen news reports of protesters doing thousands of dollars of damage to be wrong. The claims of separate attacks by protesters over the Zimmerman verdict turned out to be false. Now added to the list of  false news reports appears to be the story of George Zimmerman heroically rescuing a family of four from a burning SUV.

The initial report was that George Zimmerman was ‘just coincidentally’ driving by after a car accident occurred, that he leaped out of his vehicle, fire extinguisher in hand, to come to the rescue of the family of four trapped inside as the vehicle caught fire, pulling them to safety. That was followed by the claim that the family he rescued had planned a press event to thank George Zimmerman, but that they canceled due to threats from Trayvon Martin supporters.

It appears they may have canceled the event because they did not want to be part of the fraud of making Zimmerman out to be a hero, when that story was not precisely true.

Read more...

We Remember Manuel: Photos from Anaheim's Struggle Against Police Brutality

On July 21st, 2012, a young man named Manuel Diaz was shot and killed by the Anaheim Police Department. Diaz was unarmed, but--as the story often goes--the killer cop felt that his life was "in imminent danger" nevertheless. Diaz was hit once in the buttocks and again in the back of the head, and was reported dead shortly thereafter.

Anaheim erupted into protests shortly after, and the police response only angered the community further: video evidence shows cops unleashing a K-9 unit on children and firing rubber bullets at crowds filled with angry mothers, youth, kids.

A year later, hundreds of community members and their supporters--along with the families of over 30 victims of police violence in California--assembled in Anaheim to express our continued outrage not simply at last summer's crimes, but at the continued assault by cops everywhere against particularly young Black and Latino men.

Read more...

Irrationality of love - Chris Crass on Zimmerman verdict

The following was a facebook status of Chris Crass after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin.

by Chris Crass

Zimmerman acted logically in a white supremacist society viewing a Black boy as a dangerous threat who needed to be contained and punished if necessary. The jury's verdict is logical in a white supremacist society in which Black people's lives have been and are so systemically devalued and denigrated that when Black people call injustice, the logic of white supremacy is to say "those Black people create racial hostility". When police forces intimidate, harass, threaten and arrest people across the country for protesting and rising up against this verdict they will be acting logically in a society designed to serve the interests of the ruling class and maintain white supremacy as a key principle that helps organize and maintain systemic inequality.

This is why we and all who believe in justice and equality for all people are "irrational", "illogical", "emotional". This is why we so often feel crazy in these moments of profound injustice. And this is why we must tap into our emotions, into our love and our rage, our seditious emotionality that connects our hearts to one another (against the divisions that work so hard to keep us apart), that connects our pain to the collective pain of people everywhere who know what this verdict means in the lives of children of color who are targeted and the lives of white children and non-Black children who are socialized to hate Blackness (even though we are suppose to feel alone and alienated). This is why we must expand wisdom and historical knowledge and speak truth against the logic of white supremacy (even though we are suppose to believe ourselves incapable of understanding the world around us, let along being actors shaping it).

Rage against this verdict and every verdict that tells my white son to devalue the lives of the Black children in our community. Love our people and act with courage, vision, and the logic of liberation that beats in our hearts. Solidarity is the tenderness of the people. Revolutionary struggle building mass people power for systemic change is the soul of the people. White supremacist logic wants us to feel powerless in the face of this verdict. Liberation logic wants us to go deeper into the sources of positive power to advance systemic change.

To my white people, let us step up in this moment and provide a different leadership in white communities about what this verdict means. Justice for Trayvon Martin!