Saturday, August 28, 2021

BLACK AUGUST BUILDS ON OUR BLACK RADICAL TRADITION


words by Charles Brooks

The 31 days of August hold a particular and special meaning you will not find in the celebrations that come with Juneteenth, Black History Month or Kwanzaa. For 42 years now since 1979, Black August commemorates and highlights political prisoners and their crucial role in the Black liberation/freedom struggle.  Black August is directly tied to the Black prison movement that started in the San Quentin prison and through relentless organizing spread to other prisons as well as to the streets.  

The story of Black August  begins immediately behind the prison walls after Jonathan and George Jackson were killed in August 1970, and 1971 respectively, as well as W.L. Nolan (killed January 1970), James McClain, William Christmas (killed with George) and Khatari Gaulden (killed August 1st, 1978). Back in August 1979, the prison newspaper, Arm the Spirit, dedicated the first issue establishing Black August, “To commemorate the lives of George and Jonathan Jackson, Black prisoners at San Quentin have set aside the month of August as a month of Black cultural and revolutionary development. Through educational and other activities efforts will be directed toward transforming the Black "criminal mentality" into revolutionary mentality to making the popular prison masses conscious of their social, political, economic, and racial oppression, and to elevating the already existing revolutionary consciousness” 

From the beginning, Black August was intended to be cathartic, reflective and rooted in disciplined behavior. Early followers of Black August began to coalesce around guiding principles such as unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance. From here, participants wore black armbands on their left arm, establish political education/study groups, refrain from using drugs, and alcohol while engaging in daily exercise, “It's a time to dedicate and rededicate ourselves to our freedom struggle and build and prepare ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually for the struggle ahead. August is most definitely a month of great historical and spiritual significance to our people and fasting during this month should keep this foremost in our minds,”  wrote the Arm the Spirit Editorial Collective.

During the early years as August 21st coalitions and committees were in formation and organizing Black folk in and outside of the prisons around Black August, these Black activists, radicals and revolutionaries were subjected to and targeted with relentless and harsh attacks via police harassment, brutality, surveillance, and arrest. Once arrested, and incarcerated, they were again targeted with vicious torture, hostility and mistreatment; deprived of sleep, medical care, and imprisoned in segregated housing units for 23 hours a day. But they maintained and advanced their political struggle behind the walls making demands for their human rights.  Supporters on the outside formed committees and filed lawsuits while the prisoners on the inside organized, went on strikes and rebelled. We saw this in Attica in 1972.

Photo credit: Nemo Rodriguez
This the foundation and legacy Black August set and 42 years later, the radical and revolutionary spirit of Black August continues to resonate more widely today. That is a result of the work of organizations such as the Black August Organizing Committee, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, New Afrikan Independence Movement, and the Jericho Movement, who are amongst those organizations and formations around the country committed to securing the freedom for all political prisoners. Along with month-long activities holding up political prisoners, Black August has evolved through the years to include historical markers in radical Black history also occurring in August that includes the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619, the Haitian Revolution in 1791, Nat Turner's 1831 rebellion, birth of Marcus Garvey and establishing the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and Watts uprising are just a few examples. 

Today, the issue of political prisoners brings into focus not only the devastating impact of COINTELPRO but the relationship between the prison industrial complex to Black people via racism, capitalism and imperialism on one hand and targeted surveillance, harassment, arrest and imprisonment, on the other. Today’s political prisoners serve the longest sentences and have to endure the harshest of prison conditions eventually leading to serious debilitating health issues that include tuberculosis, deteriorating skin disease, cancers, cirrhosis and now COVID,  

Ruchell Magee is 82 years old and is currently the longest held political prisoner serving 58 years in prison – and was recently denied parole, again.  Mumia Abu-Jamal is 67 years old, incarcerated since 1981, Russell Shoatz is 78 years old and incarcerated since 1972, Sundiati Acoli is 84 years old and incarcerated since 1973, Mutulu Shakur is 71 years old and incarcerated since 1986, Imam Jamil Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown is 77 years old and incarcerated since 2000.  But the list doesn’t stop here, there’s more

The recent health concerns aggravated with contracting COVID, have prompted campaigns demanding their immediate release. The outright denial of the release for these aging prisoners in declining health during this horrific COVID period, not only deepens our clarity of the state’s sustained attack on political prisoners, and draws a picture of the fight ahead, but also deepens the resolve to secure their release from prison.  We’re reminded of what, former political prisoner Dhoruba Bin Wahad wrote his seminal essay, In Speaking Truth to Power: Political Prisoners in the United States, where he wrote in part: “The existence of political prisoners in the United States goes to the very heart of the racist nature of this society. To not deal with the issue of political prisoners in the U.S. is to not deal with the true 'nature of America”

Additional Reading:






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Thursday, August 19, 2021

Progressive Critics Say Investors in US Weapon-Makers Only Clear Winners of Afghan War


As the hawks who have been lying about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan for two decades continue to peddle fantasies in the midst of a Taliban takeover and American evacuation of Kabul, progressive critics on Tuesday reminded the world who has benefited from the "endless war."

"Never has it been more important to end war profiteering."
—Public Citizen

"Entrenching U.S. forces in Afghanistan was the military-industrial complex's business plan for 20+ years," declared the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Public Citizen.

"Hawks and defense contractors co-opted the needs of the Afghan people in order to line their own pockets," the group added. "Never has it been more important to end war profiteering."

In a Tuesday morning tweet, Public Citizen highlighted returns on defense stocks over the past 20 years—as calculated in a "jaw-droppinganalysis by The Intercept—and asserted that "the military-industrial complex got exactly what it wanted out of this war."

The Intercept's Jon Schwarz examined returns on stocks of the five biggest defense contractors: Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics.

Schwarz found that a $10,000 investment in stock evenly split across those five companies on the day in 2001 that then-President Georg W. Bush signed the authorization preceding the U.S. invasion would be worth $97,295 this week, not adjusted for inflation, taxes, or fees.

According to The Intercept:

This is a far greater return than was available in the overall stock market over the same period. $10,000 invested in an S&P 500 index fund on September 18, 2001, would now be worth $61,613.

That is, defense stocks outperformed the stock market overall by 58% during the Afghanistan War.

"These numbers suggest that it is incorrect to conclude that the Taliban's immediate takeover of Afghanistan upon the U.S.'s departure means that the Afghanistan War was a failure," Schwarz added. "On the contrary, from the perspective of some of the most powerful people in the U.S., it may have been an extraordinary success. Notably, the boards of directors of all five defense contractors include retired top-level military officers."

"War profiteering isn't new," journalist Dina Sayedahmed said in response to the reporting, "but seeing the numbers on it is staggering."

Progressive political commentator and podcast host Krystal Ball used Schwarz's findings to counter a key argument that's been widely used to justify nearly 20 years of war.

"This is what it was really all about people," she tweeted of the defense contractors' returns. "Anyone who believes we were in Afghanistan to help women and girls is a liar or a fool."

Jack Mirkinson wrote Monday for Discourse Blog that "it is unquestionably heartbreaking to think about what the Taliban might inflict on women and girls, but let us dispense with this fantasy that the U.S. has been in Afghanistan to support women, or to build democracy, or to strengthen Afghan institutions, or any of the other lines that are deployed whenever someone has the temerity to suggest that endless war and occupation is a harmful thing."

"We did not go into Afghanistan to support its people, and we did not stay in Afghanistan to support its people," he added. "It is astonishing, given what we know about the monsters that the U.S. has propped up time and time again around the world, that the myth persists that we do anything out of our love for human rights. We went in and we stayed in for the same reason: the American empire is a force that must remain in perpetual motion."

As Common Dreams reported Monday, while the Taliban has retaken control, anti-war advocates have argued diplomacy is the only path to long-term peace, with Project South's Azadeh Shahshahani emphasizing that "the only ones who benefited from the U.S. war on Afghanistan were war-profiteering politicians and corporations while countless lives were destroyed."

Responding to Shahshahani's tweet about who has benefited from two decades of bloodshed, Zack Kopplin of the Government Accountability Project wrote, "Adding war-profiteering generals to the mix too."

Friday, July 23, 2021

Book Review: We Do This 'til we FREE US

We Do This ‘til we Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice

By Mariame Kaba
Edited by Tamara K. Knopper
Foreword by Naomi Murakawa
Haymarket Books: 206 pages


Book Review words by Charles Brooks

In the last year during the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, the demand to defund the police pushed the discussion around policing in a way that just hasn’t been witnessed before. Police departments across the country were now under public pressure to review and cut spending priorities while reallocating dollars to community based interventions. The avalanche of poor reporting and misinformation caused confusion and misunderstanding around the defunding issue allowed the narrative to be redefined as well as coopted to conveniently fit within the liberal reformist narrative.  Then there’s the manufactured hysteria and heightened racial anxieties resulting from the backlash linking recent reports of rising violent crime to defunding the police.    

Is there a more perfect time for a book to step into this moment of confusion and crisis with a 
Mariame Kaba at an 2018 event. Credit madison365
blast of clarity?  Mariame Kaba does that with her book, We Do This ‘til we Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice.  As an organizer and activist, Kaba began her work with political prisoner defense campaigns, “And, particularly the MOVE Nine, Ramona Africa, and all the women who were either killed or were imprisoned, some of whom are still in prison today, over a mass terroristic police attack against Black people in the United States. Something that does not get talked about as a form of police violence. But it’s the ultimate form of state violence throwing bombs on a bunch of people in their homes. That really was a radicalizing event for me. And it helped me to start to think about state violence in a different way.” 

In this collection of 31 essays and media interviews, We Do This ‘til we Free Us outlines Kaba’s analysis and views within an abolitionist framework.  She describes prison-industrial complex (PIC) abolition as a political vision with a structural analysis of oppression and as a practical organizing strategy: “PIC abolition is a vision of a restructured society in a world where we have everything we need: food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, clean water, and more things that are foundational to our personal and community safety.” 

 Kaba’s analysis covers the school to prison pipeline, sexual violence, restorative justice practices, state surveillance, and transformative justice.  We Do This ‘til we Free Us also includes Kaba’s insight around the campaigns for Marissa Alexander, Rekia Boyd, Cyntoia Brown, and Bresha Meadows, to name a few.  She rejects the idea of relying on the Department of Justice for “justice”, that police reform works as well as the idea that prison addresses the systemic causes of violence. Her analysis is informative as well as instructive as she
clearly outlines the abolitionist principles, the steps to securing freedom for the incarcerated, and provides guidelines to drive and support organizing work in the community. 

With the years of political experience/knowledge Kaba has in activism and organizing, she understands the challenges that folks are facing as they process what they hear and read about “defunding the police” in real time. She readily admits not having all the answers but there’s still the pursuit in her work to grapple with the question(s) at hand. Kaba talks about being openly conflicted about civilian review and challenges herself in a way that provides a pathway and a model to transformational change: “None of us has all of the answers, or we would have ended oppression already.  But if we keep building the world we want, trying new things and learning from our mistakes, new possibilities emerge.” 

We Do This ‘til we Free Us not only highlights but informs the need for self-review to reframe our thinking.  This is a paradigm shift when she speaks about thinking about a transformative society, what that looks like and how do we get there. Kaba writes, “First, when we set about trying to transform society, we must remember that we ourselves will also need to transform.  Our imagination of what a different world can be is limited. We are deeply entangled in the very systems we are organizing to change.” 

We Do This ‘til we Free Us is written in the abolitionist tradition that not only speaks to the compelling
Artist credit: Micah Bazant
need for a shift in thinking but the book is also grounded in self-determination. Throughout the book, Kaba discusses the transformative role the community has in determining accountability, transformative and restorative justice.  Here, Kaba writes about the essential role of community accountability and community work on a grassroots level -  collective organizing, participatory defense campaigns, mutual aid and community-based interventions.  As abolitionists, Kaba says the goal to dismantle and abolish the prison industrial complex is based on rendering the PIC obsolete by changing the conditions by which people live.  This is connected to a deeper premise based on the idea of building – building relationships, building community, and building a vision for the future. Kaba writes, “People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all”? 


Related Posts: 


Further Reading:
Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.

Project-NIA, is a grassroots organization that works to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices.

Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action is an initiative led by researchers Woods Ervin, Mariame Kaba, and Andrea J. Ritchie. The project aims to interrupt and end the growing criminalization and incarceration of women and LGBTQ people of color for criminalized acts related to public order, poverty, child welfare, drug use, survival and self-defense, including criminalization and incarceration of survivors of violence.






Saturday, July 10, 2021

Haiti Assassination Raises Red Flags Among Observers Fluent in History of US Intervention


"
It's quite striking that the arguments being made for a U.S. intervention in Haiti are so alike the ones that were used to justify the 1915-34 occupation."

BRETT WILKINS
July 8, 2021


In the wake of Wednesday's assassination of Jovenel Mo├»se, the unpopular, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian U.S.-backed Haitian president, observers fluent in the history of foreign interference in the hemisphere's first truly free republic sounded the alarm over the same sort of calls for intervention in the name of "stability" that preceded so many previous American invasions of Haiti.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Lost funding, lost history?

 FCN 1/26/99

    National News

    Lost funding, lost history?
    African Burial Ground Project may be cancelled by federal agency

    by Charles Brooks

      NEW YORK-When hundreds of artifacts and 427 skeletal remains of Africans brought to America were unearthed in May 1991, it threatened the construction of a 34-story, $276 million federal office building in lower Manhattan. In response to intense pressure from the Black community, the General Services Administration (GSA) made a commitment to preserve the historical legacy of this discovery.

      But the African Burial Ground Project, which has yielded important evidence about the 18th century slave presence in the north, may shut down by April 30, if additional funding from GSA isn't obtained. The project team, led by Dr. Michael L. Blakey, is locked in a heated dispute with the federal agency.