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American State of the Union: A Festival of Lies February 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Trade Agreements, War.
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Roger’s note: here are two articles from the same source, the black agenda report web site, analyses you are not likely to find in the mainstream media.

Wed, 01/29/2014 – 14:37

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Before the nation and the world, President Obama pledges to take “action” against “economic inequality,” while simultaneously holding secret negotiations on a Trans Pacific Partnership trade scheme that will quicken the pace of the global Race to the Bottom, deepening economic inequalities. “Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide.”

 

When you say ‘jobs,’ he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares.”

“Believe it,” said the current Prevaricator-in-Chief, in the conclusion to his annual litany lies. President Obama’s specialty, honed to theatrical near-perfection over five disastrous years, is in crafting the sympathetic lie, designed to suspend disbelief among those targeted for oblivion, through displays of empathy for the victims. In contrast to the aggressive insults and bluster employed by Republican political actors, whose goal is to incite racist passions against the Other, the sympathetic Democratic liar disarms those who are about to be sacrificed by pretending to feel their pain.

Barack Obama, who has presided over the sharpest increases in economic inequality in U.S. history, adopts the persona of public advocate, reciting wrongs inflicted by unseen and unknown forces that have “deepened” the gap between the rich and the rest of us and “stalled” upward mobility. Having spent half a decade stuffing tens of trillions of dollars into the accounts of an ever shrinking gaggle of financial capitalists, Obama declares this to be “a year of action” in the opposite direction. “Believe it.” And if you do believe it, then crown him the Most Effective Liar of the young century.

Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide. The potentially most devastating Obama contribution to economic inequality is being crafted in secret by hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers and their revolving-door counterparts in government. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as “NAFTA on steroids,” would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom that has made a wasteland of American manufacturing, plunging the working class into levels of poverty and insecurity without parallel in most people’s lifetimes, and totally eviscerating the meager gains of three generations of African Americans. Yet, the closest Obama came to even an oblique allusion to his great crime-in-the-making, was to announce that “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help [small businesses] create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” Like NAFTA twenty years ago – only far bigger and more diabolically destructive – TPP will have the opposite effect, destroying millions more jobs and further deepening worker insecurity. The Trans Pacific Partnership expands the legal basis for global economic inequalities – which is why the negotiations are secret, and why the treaty’s name could not be spoken in the State of the Union address. It is a lie of omission of global proportions. Give Obama his crown.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as ‘NAFTA on steroids,’ would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom.”

The president who promised in his 2008 campaign to support a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and then did nothing at all to make it happen, says this is the “year of action” when he’ll move heaven and earth to get a $10.10 minimum. He will start, Obama told the Congress and the nation, by issuing “an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.” Obama neglected to mention that only new hires – a small fraction, beginning with zero, of the two million federal contract workers – will get the wage boost; a huge and conscious lie of omission. The fact that the president does not even propose a gradual, mandated increase for the rest of the two million shows he has no intention of using his full powers to ameliorate taxpayer-financed poverty. We can also expect Obama to issue waivers to every firm that claims a hardship, as is always his practice.

What is Obama’s jobs program? It is the same as laid out at last year’s State of the Union, and elaborated on last summer: lower business taxes and higher business subsidies. When you say “jobs,” he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares. “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” Actually, Obama wants to lower tax rates for all corporations to 28 percent, from 35 percent, as part of his ongoing quest for a Grand Bargain with Republicans. For Obama, the way to bring jobs back to the U.S. is to make American taxes and wages more “competitive” in the “global marketplace” – the Race to the Bottom.

In the final analysis, the sympathetic corporate Democrat and the arrogant corporate Republican offer only small variations on the same menu: ever increasing austerity. Obama bragged about reducing the deficit, never acknowledging that this has been accomplished on the backs of the poor, contributing mightily to economic inequality and social insecurity.

Obama offers nothing of substance, because he is not authorized by his corporate masters to do so. He takes his general orders from the same people as do the Republicans. That’s why Obama only speaks of minimum wage hikes while Republicans are in power, rather than when his own party controlled both houses of Congress. Grand Bargains are preferred, because they are the result of consensus between the two corporate parties. In effect, the Grand Bargain is the distilled political will of Wall Street, which feeds the donkey and the elephant. Wall Street – the 1 percent – believes the world is theirs for the taking, and they want all of it. Given this overarching truth, Obama has no choice but to stage a festival of lies.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com

 

Barack Obama, the State of the Union and the Prison State

Wed, 01/29/2014 – 14:18 — Bruce A. Dixon

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

For a generation now, predatory policing, the war on drugs and the prison state have been government’s most frequent intersection with young black Americans. The gossip before this year’s State of the Union was that the president would now do by executive order all those good things Republicans have blocked him on the last 3 years. Does that include reining in or rolling back the prison state? Should we hold our collective breath?

“…Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage…”

In the days before this year’s State of the Union address, we heard a lot about how Barack Obama was finally about to unleash the mighty executive powers of his office to accomplish some of the many great things he’s always wanted to accomplish, those mostly unspecified things which evil and immoral Republicans have prevented him from doing. From long experience dating back at least to the Clinton era, the White House and Democratic party know this is an attractive picture to many, one that conveniently excuses Democrats in office from even trying to accomplish the real demands of the millions who vote them into office.

Barack Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage and making it easier to organize unions so people could stand up for their own rights in the workplace. The president apparently lied. Once in office with a thumping majority in both houses of Congress the president promptly froze the wages of federal workers, and made no move to protect union organizing or to raise the minimum wage. Four and five years later, with the House of Representatives safely under Republican control, the president has begun to make noises about how “America deserves a raise” and has finally declared that federal contract workers will soon have to be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour.

Although Barack Obama’s career, and those of the entire black political class are founded on the notion that they and the Democratic party somehow “represent” the aspirations and political power of African Americans, the policy concerns of black America were nowhere to be found in last night’s state of the union. The speech contained no mention of the persistent gap between black and white unemployment, or the widening gaps between black and white wealth, and reaffirmed his commitment to “Race To The Top” an initiative to privatize public education in poorer communities across the country.

” Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison…”

And of course, no cluster of issues impact black America more savagely and disproportionately than police practices, the drug war and the prison state. African Americans are one eighth the US population, but more than 40% of its prisons and jails. Together with Latinos, who are another eighth and make up nearly 30% of US prisoners, people of color are a quarter of the US population and more than 70% of the locked down. No cluster of issues would benefit more from a few presidential initiatives and well placed strokes of the pen than police practices, the drug war and the prison state.

Here are just a handful of things President Obama and his party could and would do, things that Republicans are powerless to prevent, which would make a large and lasting impact upon the communities they purportedly represent.

With the stroke of a presidential pen, Barack Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison at ADX Thomson in Illinois, also called “Gitmo North.” Citizen activists in the president’s home state last year managed to close down the state’s brutal supermax prison at Tammsbecause they know that supermax prisons do not rehabilitate, they are instruments of torture pure and simple. Ordinary citizens know that torture should not be a career, or a business governments engage in. Even Obama’s own Bureau of Prisons is on record as wanting to examine whether the regimes in supermax prisons across the country constitute torture. It’s time to look for that presidential pen.

The president could take public notice of the alarming militarization of police forces across the country and the wave of police shootings of civilians. Far more persons die in the US of police gunfire than of terrorist incidents and school shootings. The feds play an enormous role in the funding, training and arming of thousands of local police departments across the country, through its grants to the state-level training and certification agencies, and its authorization of the sale of military equipment to police departments. The result is that every county and town in the US now has a SWAT team, employing shoot-first-question-later tactics, and although African Americans are far from the only victims of unchecked police violence, a black person is killed by police, security officers or vigilantes once every 28 hours. Again, this is a case for a presidential statement, a few orders to underlings and that mighty executive pen.

The president could order his Justice Department to reconsider its objections to the retroactive reduction of unfair and disproportionate sentences to crack cocaine defendants. When the president signed the so-called Fair Sentencing Act reducing the crack to powder cocaine penalty ratio from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 thousands of defendants should have been eligible for immediate release. But Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Justice Departments have gone to court repeatedly to keep them behind bars. Our civil rights establishment from the Mark Morials and Al Sharptons down, seem more invested in the prestige of the president than doing justice to prisoners, and so have politely refused to call Obama and Holder on this glaring disconnect between their public pronouncements and their actual policies. The mighty presidential pen in the hands of Barack Obama could have made a big difference here any time in the last several years, and still can, if only he will.

The president could use his mighty executive powers to release some long-time political prisoners. There’s Iman Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown who distinguished himself laying the foundations for what passes for black political empowerment, risking his life registering voters and conducting Freedom Schools in rural Alabama with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid and early 1960s. After repeated attempts by Georgia officials in the 1990s to frame Al-Amin for shootings, one of these stuck long enough to get a shaky conviction in 1999. As pressure for a retrial from local community activists built up and even in the face of protests from establishment figures like former Atlanta mayor, congressman and ambassador Andy Young, Georgia officials transferred Al-Amin into federal custody in the dead of night, and the feds spirited him away to the hellhole at ADX Florence in Colorado where he has been for more than a decade. With a stroke of that might executive pen, President Obama could send Al-Amin back to Georgiawhere his family and attorneys could visit him, and pressure would mount on Georgia authorities to give him a new trial, in which he might well prove his innocence.

The president could pardon or grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader who has served a decade longer in prison than Nelson Mandela did for an offense that nobody at his trial even alleged he actually committed. Peltier is recognized around the world as a political prisoner. His continued imprisonment shows that many wounds from the 60s and 70s were never healed, and his release would demonstrate that this president acknowledges the need for this healing. After almost 40 years, Leonard Peltier surely deserves to come home.

President Obama could acknowledge the wave of hunger strikes and protests in prisons across the country, and name a commission to investigate how we can reverse the expansion of prisons, guarantee the re-absorption of former prisoners into society, and reverse the culture and law which discriminate against and punish former prisoners and their families for the rest of their lives. Right now a number of prisoners at Menard Penitentiary in the president’s home state of Illinois are waging a hunger strike, with demands that differ little from those raised by prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay last year, and those in Virginia, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere.

We must not imagine that rolling back the carceral state is something no government on earth has ever done. Right now in Venezuela, that nation is confronting a crisis of crime, the practical limits of prison expansion, and of what kind of society they want to build. They’re taking a different path than so-called “progressives” here, who seem upset only about prisoners who are factually “innocent” and only about prisons if they’re privatized. Venezuela is frankly committed to shrinking its prison population and exploring models of restorative rather than punitive justice. There really are other ways to go, if we have the will and the vision our Democrats and Republicans lack.

Obama’s Attorney General has learned how to let the words “mass incarceration” roll off his lips fluently, after his recent discovery that such a thing actually exists. The president opined that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son, minus the status, the privilege, the neighborhood and a few other things. But that mighty presidential pen that can call commissions, impose directives, re-set priorities and make all manner of changes by executive order, changes that no evil and immoral Republicans can block or reverse, at least until they re-take the oval office, is still in that desk drawer, or wherever Barack Obama keeps it. He hasn’t found it the last five years in office. Maybe he will discover it in these last three.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be contacted via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.e pointed out repeatedly the last five years, there are boatloads of things a president anxious to serve the will of the people could do with the stroke of a pen

Obama Visits Mandela’s Old Cell, But Won’t Free His Own Political Prisoners July 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, South Africa.
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obama_wont_free_political_prisoners
Tue, 07/02/2013 – 22:22 — Glen Ford

 

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

Obama sees no irony in making a pilgrimage to Nelson Mandela’s place of political imprisonment, while holding 80,000 human beings in solitary confinement. “Racist South Africa’s treatment of Mandela and his co-revolutionists was downright benign and enlightened, compared to fate of U.S. prisoners who are deemed a threat to the prevailing order.”

 

“Obama has no sympathy, however, for political prisoners of any race in his own country.”

President Barack Obama, a man of infinite cynicism, made a great show of going on pilgrimage to Nelson Mandela’s old prison cell on Robben Island, where the future first Black president of South Africa spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. With his wife and daughters in tow, Obama said he was “humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield…. No shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit,” said the chief executive of the unchallenged superpower of mass incarceration, a nation whose population comprises only 5 percent of humanity, but is home to fully one-quarter of the Earth’s prison inmates.

True sociopaths, like the commander-in-chief who updates his Kill List every Tuesday, have no sense of shame, much less irony. Obama feigns awe at Mandela’s suffering and sacrifice in the prisons of apartheid South Africa, yet presides over a regime that, on any given day, holds 80,000 inmates in the excruciating torture of solitary confinement. During Nelson Mandela’s nearly three decades of imprisonment by the white regime, he spent a total of only about one week in solitary confinement. The rest of the time, despite often harsh treatment, backbreaking labor, and unhealthy conditions, Mandela and other political prisoners at Robben Island and other South African jails were typically housed together. Indeed, Mandela and his incarcerated comrades called the prisons their “university,” where they taught each other to become the future authorities over their jailers.

“A social death alien to the human species.”

Racist South Africa’s treatment of Mandela and his co-revolutionists was downright benign and enlightened, compared to fate of U.S. prisoners who are deemed a threat to the prevailing order. At U.S. high security facilities, the slightest evidence that an inmate is of a political bent of mind is cause for him to be condemned to a solitary existence for decades – a social death alien to the human species. At California’s Pelican Bay and the state prison at Corcoran, thousands of inmates are held in isolation, 80 of them for more than 20 years, the very definition of barbarism. Yet, Obama journeys across oceans and continents to stand for a photo op in the cell of a prisoner whose ordeal was nowhere near as horrific as the standard fare for political prisoners in his own country.

On his trip to South Africa, Obama proclaimed that “the world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island.” And, that’s certainly true, although it was a U.S. intelligence agent who lured Nelson Mandela into a trap in 1962 that ultimately led to his capture and imprisonment. Obama has no sympathy, however, for political prisoners of any race in his own country. Former Black Panther Herman Wallace is thought to be the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the United States, having spent 40 years alone in a cell in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison. Obama could free him at any time, but of course, he won’t. He could emancipate Black Panther captive Russell Maroon Shoatz, who has spent nearly 30 years in solitary, or Republic of New Africa political prisoner Mutulu Shakur or any and all of the scores of other aging political prisoners – people whose dedication to human freedom is no less than Mandela’s, yet have been subjected to far worse treatment at American hands. Instead, Obama has doubled the bounty on Shakur’s comrade and sister, Assata, in exile in Cuba. She might even be on Obama’s Kill List – which is the real and authentic legacy of this country’s First Black President.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Four Decades of Cruelty and Inhumanity to U.S. Political Prisoners June 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Race, Racism.
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Published on Sunday, June 26, 2011 by Black Agenda Report

A Black Agenda Radio commentary

  by  Glen Ford

For almost 40 years, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison, in what is thought to be the longest period of enforced solitude in America’s vast prison gulag. Amnesty International says their treatment is “cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US’s obligations under international law.” Woodfox is now 64 years old, and Wallace is 69. They are two of the original Angola 3, convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. The other member of the trio, Robert King, was released after 29 years in solitary confinement after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

Under the conditions of solitary confinement, Woodfox and Wallace are restricted to their tiny cells for 23 hours a day. Three times a week, for an hour, they are allowed to exercise in an outdoor cage, if weather permits. For 40 years, they have not been allowed access to work or to education. And there has been no legitimate review of their cases in all that time.

There was never any physical evidence of the men’s guilt, only the very questionable testimony of other inmates, one of whom was bribed by officials and another of whom retracted his testimony. Woodfox and Wallace and King have been subjected to the greatest cruelties Louisiana has to offer because they became political prisoners after entering Angola, when they formed a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. One prison official says flatly, that “there’s been no rehabilitation” from “practicing Black Pantherism.” In other words, the prison considers their politics to be their crime.

Albert Woodfox’s conviction has twice been overturned by lower courts on the basis of racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense and suppression of evidence. But the U.S. Court of Appeals decided that Woodfox’s fate was Louisiana’s business. Amnesty International demands only that the two elderly prisoners be released from solitary. Woodfox and Wallace, it should be pointed out, became political prisoners after initially being incarcerated for criminal offenses.

There are scores of U.S. political prisoners that have languished behind bars for three or four decades. The National Conference of Black Lawyers has been pressing for their outright release, especially those who were wrongfully imprisoned due to the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation, which sought to “neutralize” and destroy radical political activists and organizations – most notably the Black Panther Party. In the cases of those targeted by COINTELPRO, it was the federal government’s lawlessness that led to a lifetime in prison. Therefore, the U.S. government is obligated to free them. But the United States continues to deny that there is such a thing as a political prisoner within its borders. The Obama administration is always eager to claim that other countries are abusing their political prisoners. It also says it wants to play an active role in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. But that will require the U.S. to answer charges that it imprisons people for political reasons, holds them under cruel and inhuman conditions, and that racism pervades its criminal justice system.

© 2011 Black Agenda Report

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Glen Ford

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Justice In America: A Tale Of Two Crimes June 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Race, Racism.
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06.24.11 – 7:00 PM

by Abby Zimet

Consider Paul Allen, 55, a former mortgage CEO who defrauded lenders of over $3 billion. This week, prosecutors celebrated the fact they got him a 40-month prison sentence. Consider Roy Brown, 54, a hungry homeless man who robbed a Louisiana bank of $100 – the teller gave him more but he handed the rest back. He felt bad the next day and surrendered to police. He got 15 years. Justice in America has a ways to go.

 

Published on Sunday, June 26, 2011 by Black Agenda Report

Four Decades of Cruelty and Inhumanity to U.S. Political Prisoners

A Black Agenda Radio commentary

  by  Glen Ford

For almost 40 years, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison, in what is thought to be the longest period of enforced solitude in America’s vast prison gulag. Amnesty International says their treatment is “cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US’s obligations under international law.” Woodfox is now 64 years old, and Wallace is 69. They are two of the original Angola 3, convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. The other member of the trio, Robert King, was released after 29 years in solitary confinement after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

Under the conditions of solitary confinement, Woodfox and Wallace are restricted to their tiny cells for 23 hours a day. Three times a week, for an hour, they are allowed to exercise in an outdoor cage, if weather permits. For 40 years, they have not been allowed access to work or to education. And there has been no legitimate review of their cases in all that time.

There was never any physical evidence of the men’s guilt, only the very questionable testimony of other inmates, one of whom was bribed by officials and another of whom retracted his testimony. Woodfox and Wallace and King have been subjected to the greatest cruelties Louisiana has to offer because they became political prisoners after entering Angola, when they formed a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. One prison official says flatly, that “there’s been no rehabilitation” from “practicing Black Pantherism.” In other words, the prison considers their politics to be their crime.

Albert Woodfox’s conviction has twice been overturned by lower courts on the basis of racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense and suppression of evidence. But the U.S. Court of Appeals decided that Woodfox’s fate was Louisiana’s business. Amnesty International demands only that the two elderly prisoners be released from solitary. Woodfox and Wallace, it should be pointed out, became political prisoners after initially being incarcerated for criminal offenses.

There are scores of U.S. political prisoners that have languished behind bars for three or four decades. The National Conference of Black Lawyers has been pressing for their outright release, especially those who were wrongfully imprisoned due to the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation, which sought to “neutralize” and destroy radical political activists and organizations – most notably the Black Panther Party. In the cases of those targeted by COINTELPRO, it was the federal government’s lawlessness that led to a lifetime in prison. Therefore, the U.S. government is obligated to free them. But the United States continues to deny that there is such a thing as a political prisoner within its borders. The Obama administration is always eager to claim that other countries are abusing their political prisoners. It also says it wants to play an active role in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. But that will require the U.S. to answer charges that it imprisons people for political reasons, holds them under cruel and inhuman conditions, and that racism pervades its criminal justice system.

© 2011 Black Agenda Report

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Glen Ford

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Taking a Stand for Political Prisoners in the U.S. May 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Afro-American, Criminal Justice, History, Race, Revolution.
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AlterNet / By asha bandele
 

A former Black Panther’s new book explores American politics and the fight for justice.

April 30, 2010  |  
 
Photo Credit: safiyabukhari.com
 

It is 1990 and I am the newly elected student government president at Hunter College of the City University of New York. My political worldview, largely shaped heretofore by my active opposition to apartheid, Ronald Reagan and nuclear proliferation, is about to make a mighty leap forward. I know, then, that racism is a vise still choking Black people, even those of us born post the Civil Rights movement. I know the philosophy of Martin Luther King. I love Nelson and Winnie Mandela, and have even traveled Zimbabwe in the wake of its liberation struggle. I know some feminist theory, some feminist history. But for all the knowledge I have gathered at this point, I do not know enough to predict the learning curve I am about to embark upon, in large part because it is in this period that I meet Safiya Bukhari.

Under her mentorship I will come to have not only an intimate understanding of which political prisoners are in the U.S., but I will learn how to organize and run a defense campaign for them. Under her mentorship and because she led by example, I will learn never to downplay my leadership as a nod to the patriarchy that shapes, both silently and loud, the role of women in too many of our movements and organizations. Under her leadership, I will learn the power of human touch, the holding of hand of a man or woman who is about to enter their second generation locked down. I will learn patience; the first political prisoner case I worked on was for the New York 3 and it was 1991 and we were fighting to get them an evidentiary hearing; we did. But to get there, Safiya and I worked for months, including one long night where we stood for hours in a downtown New York law school and copied non-feedable onion skin page of transcript after another until all the thousands of them were done and we could get them to the attorneys who were volunteering their time. We lost that hearing but because we came within a hair’s breadth of winning, and because we were just off the victories of Mandela on one side of the planet and Dhoruba on another, and mostly because I had come to deeply love Herman Bell, Jalil Muntaquim and Albert Nuh Washington, the loss shook me in all my naivité to the core. But at the moment when I could have given up, perhaps would have given up, I learned from Safiya Bukhari that we do indeed soldier on, that we come from a long-line of women and men who were kicked down, beaten down, shut down, shut up but got up and got up and got up again. She got up again and made me get up and went on to forge the New York Chapter of Mumia abu Jamal’s support committee and organize the Jericho Movement, a call for the liberation of all U.S. political prisoners and prisoners of war.

The organization exists still today and is known nationally and internationally despite her death in 2003, a loss that put many of us, both behind the wall and not, on our collective knees. I was a pallbearer that mean August day we buried her and I remember feeling so profoundly as we carried her coffin up the stairs of the House of the Lord Church, what many of us feel when someone important to us dies: please God, can have just one more day, one more hour, one more hug or touch or kiss or moment in silence or laugh or cry or anything. Anything.

My call out to the Universe didn’t come to pass that day, but on this day it has because I have my Safiya back with me when every time I pick up this important, this urgent new collection, The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping the Faith in Prison, & Fighting for Those Left Behind (The Feminist Press, 2010).

Edited by former political prisoner and former Weatherman Laura Whitehorn, this book which includes a forward by Angela Y. Davis, and an afterword by Mumia abu Jamal, has pulled together the political writings of woman who lived the sprit of transformation and with the unshakeable belief that a new world was possible. After her untimely death, Laura and Safiya’s daughter, Wonda Jones, undertook the work of collecting and collating the organizer’s writings and interviews into a comprehensive volume that is now this book, The WarBefore. Here I sit down with Laura to discuss who Safiya was and what we can learn from the vision of a woman, a wise and committed, loving and giving worker woman.

asha: What was your relationship to Safiya Bukhari?

I first met Safiya in the late 1990s, when I was in prison in California and she came to visit. She came in to see all the women political prisoners who were there at the time — the Puerto Rican Independentistas Carmen Valentin, Alicia and Lucy Rodriguez, and Dylcia Pagan; my sister anti-imperialists (and my co-defendants) Marilyn Buck and Linda Evans; and me. It was one of many visits she made to prisoners during the organizing for a 1998 Jericho rally at the White House demanding recognition and amnesty for U.S. political prisoners. After my release in 1999, Safiya and I talked together at conferences and events, but I was not permitted to see her much because I was on parole. She died in 2003 while I was still on parole.

What was one of the most important things Safiya taught you?

From Safiya I drew a model of how to be serious about the work of supporting political prisoners. She knew from her own years behind bars the danger of promising prisoners you’ll do things you can’t deliver. She knew the critical importance of outside support. In her writings she says that while she was serving her eight-plus years in Goochland, Virginia, her biggest challenge was maintaining her sense of her own identity as a political person–as someone committed to fighting for justice. That is so opposite to what prisons are, it sometimes can feel like you are in a dream world. Her hard work in support of political prisoners, and the energy and joy–the sense of optimism–she brought to all of us was something I felt in my bones to be critical.

Again and again as I do this work, I remember what she said at a party when I got out of prison: When you leave prison, and you leave those others behind, it’s like you leave part of you inside the institution. So you have to continue to do the work, because as long as there’s a political prisoner — any prisoner — inside this country, that means that you’re not truly free.

Given that this book was published posthumously, would you please talk a little bit about the process of gathering her papers and putting them into one collection?

Safiya had left a small manuscript of essays, including her own autobiographical narrative and a paper on sexism in the Black Panther Party, among other articles. Once those were all put into the computer and edited, though, it became clear that a huge part of Safiya’s work was missing — years of speeches, articles, and interviews reviewing the history of the Panthers and arguing that the people still doing time from those years should be supported and freed. We found some little-known pieces, such as a debate over whether the U.S. should grant amnesty to political prisoners — the opposing team included some high-power government attorneys. We also found an article Safiya wrote describing post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the government attack on the Panthers.

The first round of challenges was to choose amongst all these materials. At first I tended to want to include everything, because finding the items was sort of a process of discovery, and so many of them are historic. But it was clear that what was needed was not a recapitulation of every word Safiya had written or spoken, but rather a selection, to reflect the development of her thinking and, more importantly, the history of the movements she was part of. For example, Safiya considered at various points the nature of divisions within Left organizations, and how those allowed the government to use provocateurs and informants to divide groups and ultimately destroy them. She returned several times to that theme, and to the question of how individual weaknesses played a role. She tied those themes, again and again, to the overriding theme of how Black people and other oppressed people can struggle for justice in this country. No small task.

At each point, Wonda and I tried to be objective and yet faithful to what Safiya might have wanted. She did not set out to write a book; she was an organizer. We hope that the book will not only be educational but also agitational–that, as Angela Davis writes in the foreword, “readers of The War Before will commit themselves to the campaign to bring Assata Shakur home, and to freeing Mumia, Leonard Peltier, and every one of the human beings for whom Safiya Bukhari so passionately gave her life.”

What makes this book different than other books written by Black Panthers?

This book is unique precisely because Safiya did not try to write a book. The War Before consists of primary source material–Safiya’s accounts of life in the Black Panther Party as it was happening; her thoughts and reflections at several points during her history — rather than a retrospective summing up of the history and her conclusions about it. Safiya’s writings about the Panthers have an in-the-moment quality that I think is similar only to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s book, We Want Freedom. Safiya allows the reader to participate in the conclusions she is suggesting, rather than presenting a summary of those conclusions.

The War Before is also not a polemic. Safiya considers various points of view about the history of the liberation movements. She is above all self-aware, self-critical, honest. She is not protecting her own decisions and role, she is questioning those, looking for answers rather than asserting them. Unlike many books about the 60s and 70s, Safiya’s writings assert again and again that the history of that era is not frozen in the past. She talks intimately about the members of the Black Panther Party who remain in prison, and how that reality belies any sense that the battles the Panthers fought are over and done, relics of the past. One of the most moving sections of the book involves a discussion between Safiya and a former Panther who was then dying in prison, Albert Nuh Washington. In the discussion, only a few months before his death, Nuh talks about their shared history and its significance. He, too, is re-evaluating, considering the past as living history that continues to exert influence on what we do now and how we see the world.

What do we learn as women about the Panthers and the Black Power movement from this book?

In addition to a thoughtful essay on sexism and the Black Panther Party, Safiya writes and speaks frequently about the role of women. From those specific writings, we glean a sense of how women influenced the Party toward programs dealing with the basic needs of the Black community. But her writings elucidate a much deeper importance of the role of women in the Black Power movement: She shows that militancy is much more than standing up to U.S. state power in demonstrations, or with guns. By the end of “The War Before” I think readers will understand that true militancy does not exist in how we act, but in what we struggle for–and in how consistently we struggle. Safiya’s power lay very much in her willingness to keep fighting. She kept fighting for political prisoners when many others had given up. As Cleo Silvers, another former Black Panther, put it, Safiya showed not only how to be a revolutionary woman during a revolutionary period but, more important, how to be a revolutionary woman during a very non-revolutionary time. The other thing I think Safiya teaches us about the role of women concerns the nature of solidarity. The way Safiya writes about political ideals is not abstract. What we are fighting for, she shows us, is an extension of the best in human beings who rise out of oppression and construct liberation. She shows us her feelings, too, and reflects a depth of collectivity very different from what we see in other histories of the second half of the twentieth century.

What do you think Safiya would say the most urgent issue for people to be working on today is?

For Safiya, the continued incarceration of people like Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Russell Maroon Shoatz and Eddie Conway — former Black Panthers who remain behind bars for up to 40 years and more–demanded urgent attention and action. I think she would say that many struggles are critical, but that if we do not fight to release our comrades then our movements will suffer. But from Safiya’s writings you get a sense of an ongoing struggle. And I think you get a picture of a struggle that has not been won, but has not been lost. That is a very different sense of the history of the Black Panther Party than you get from many other sources. So I think that really Safiya would say, if you are fighting for justice, you are doing the most urgent work there is to be done.

asha bandele is an award-winning author and journalist whose most recent book is Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Journey (HarperCollins, 2009)

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