Friday, November 23, 2018

Ashley Akunna: On Lynching, Police Brutality, and Anti-Black Terrorism

Now This Opinions feature short but provocative videos offering real deal perspectives on controversial issues. I often appreciate them. But in the effort to make one clear point, the speaker sometimes has to leave out the broader context. And this frustrates me. I know that only so much can get said in a few short minutes (which is, unfortunately, all many viewers in the U.S. will give a topic, no matter how complicated or crucial). Yet, in my opinion, to leave out the context is to weaken the argument.

I am sharing the op-ed above because Ashley Akunna's voice is one that needs to be heard on lynching, police brutality, and anti-Black terrorism. But after watching it the first time, I broke into tears. Not because of what was said, but because expecting cops to have and demonstrate empathy for Black people sidesteps the point that most cops are not rogues operating individually or exceptionally.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Do You Fear Black Men?

I know very few bloggers I have followed as long as I have followed Brotha Wolf. It's probably because somewhere along the line, he contacted me directly and we have formed a distant, yet personal relationship of sorts, a concern for each other as comrades in a struggle to fight White Supremacy on either side of a line of demarcation.

A couple of days ago, he posted this film. I am so glad he did. And if you watch it, you will be, too.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

On Being Schooled

Over the past year, despite the fact that I've been trying to fight my own internalized White Supremacist training for decades, the Universe has employed a whole stream of fearless and forthright Black women to try to get across to me my place in the anti-White Supremacist struggle. It has not been easy on any of us.

As a person born with a vagina, my trajectory beginning at birth has been strewn with the detritus of a life of much suffering. And I'm not talking about hurt feelings or lost loves. I'm talking about torture and rape, brutality and betrayal, the murder of my first born and attempts more than once to kill me, too. So I think fast. I'm tough. And I'm not given to flinching. It's few, indeed, who will take me on.

In many cases, this has been a good thing. At 72, I've had the opportunity and done the work to have faced down my familial demons. I'm not intimidated by wardens or cops. I don't roll over for "colleagues" with penises. I know what I value and what I don't. I'm not interested in power. And I'm not trying to be anybody's new best friend. Overall, I guess you could say, I like who I am and what I'm doing. But this doesn't mean I have nothing left to learn. In fact, the lessons I'm learning now are more difficult.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Marilyn Buck: "Black August"

On August 19th last year, I was in Washington, D.C., across the street from the White House with hundreds of other people from all over the country marching, chanting, speaking, and hanging out in support of the incarcerated people of America. Called the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March, it had been planned for more than a year and inspired similar marches and demonstrations across the United States that weekend.

I got to catch up with other prison abolitionists I know well but don't see often. I got to meet formerly incarcerated leaders in the struggle, some of whom had been heroes of mine for a long time. And I got to connect face-to-face with some wonderful and dedicated younger people committed to prison abolition going into the future. I had already been to both Cuba and Montreal that summer and had just begun a new semester of teaching, so I was beyond exhausted. But I felt strongly that I needed to be there, needed to say my piece, needed to represent those I knew that are gone now, needed to renew my vow, as it were, to fight till I can't no more.

I knew I would only have five minutes. So I read a rant I wrote in the 1970s and then a poem by Marxist revolutionary Marilyn Buck who spent decades as a political prisoner before she was released in 2010, less than a month before she died of cancer. Comrade Marilyn went to prison in the first place at least partly for her role in helping to spring Assata Shakur from prison in 1979. Thirty years later, her poem "Black August" appeared in Issue 13 of 4StruggleMag, a publication featuring the written work of political prisoners.

I am posting it here in memory of Comrade Marilyn, to look back for a moment to the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March last year, and to honor those who live or have died in the struggle to set themselves and others free. May those who are striking inside the walls across this country right now feel the love and the solidarity out here that is focused on them. And may we never forget that nobody's free until everybody's free.

"Black August"
by Marilyn Buck

Would you hang on a cliff's edge

sword-sharp, slashing fingers
while jackboot screws stomp heels
on peeled-flesh bones
and laugh
"let go! die, damn you, die!"
could you hang on
20 years, 30 years?

20 years, 30 years and more
brave Black brothers buried
in US koncentration kamps
they hang on
Black light shining in torture chambers
Ruchell, Yogi, Sundiata, Sekou,
Warren, Chip, Seth, Herman, Jalil,
and more and more
they resist: Black August.

Nat Turner insurrection chief executed: Black August
Jonathan, George dead in battle's light: Black August
Fred Hampton, Black Panthers, African Brotherhood murdered:
Black August
Kuwasi Balagoon, Nuh Abdul Quyyam captured warriors dead:
Black August
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells
Queen Mother Moore -- their last breaths drawn fighting death:
Black August

Black August: watchword
for Black liberation for human liberation
sword to sever the shackles

light to lead children of every nation to safety
Black August remembrance
resist the Amerikkan nightmare
for life

NOTE: The photo at the top is of me at last year's march with my close friends Robert King and Albert Woodfox, two of the Angola 3. The photo at the bottom is of Marilyn Buck and co-defendant Mutulu Shakur in the early 1980s.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rest in Power, George Jackson

“Right now, we are in a peak cycle. There’s tremendous energy out there, directed against the state. It’s not all focused, but it’s there, and it’s building. Maybe this will be sufficient to accomplish what we must accomplish over the fairly short run. We’ll see, and we can certainly hope that this is the case. But perhaps not. We must be prepared to wage a long struggle. If this is the case then we’ll probably see a different cycle, one in which the revolutionary energy of the people seems to have dispersed, run out of steam. But – and this is important- such cycles are deceptive. Things appear to be at low ebb, but actually what’s happening is a period of regroupment, a period in which we step back and learn from the mistakes made during the preceding cycle.” ~ George Jackson
NOTE: The graphic above was done by artist and social justice warrior Kevin "Rashid" Johnson More of his work can be seen here.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Aretha Franklin: "I Say a Little Prayer for You"

I was in my mid-20s when I had my first conversation with a man who had just gotten out of prison (San Quentin) about the inside organizing incarcerated people were trying to do. It was 1970. I was in San Francisco. The BPP was visible. And I was about the work of finding my place in it all. Within six months, I had joined a prison abolition collective and within a year, I had dedicated my life to that cause.

I met the fathers of both of my children (the one who was murdered while he was the shotcaller for a gang in Ft. Lauderdale and the one who is the Vice President of Engineering for a multi-national media company) while they were incarcerated. And my last "relationship" was with a man who had just come out after doing 28 years flat. But my commitment to the incarcerated men, women, and children of this country is not rooted in a personal "relationship." It is rooted in a lifetime commitment to the principle that NO human being deserves or is best served by incarceration in prisons such as exist in their current form.

The commitment I made in 1971 when I stared into the night sky and invited the Universe to use me to serve the incarcerated of this world has burned in me ever since. In nearly five decades, it has never gone away. And no matter where I was geographically, what job I was performing, or what was going on in any other area of my life, the work to be of service to the incarcerated and their families has always been present. It sometimes compromised the "professional" reputation I built. It sometimes got in the way of my being a "good mother." And it sometimes put me in incredibly dramatic situations. But it never went away.

I'm not a "Christian." And I don't assume the presence of a "God" per se. But I believe in an energy that we can tap into (whether we mean to or not). I believe that energy can drive us to be bigger than we are and accomplish more than one person can accomplish. I believe hope is prayer. And I believe that working for the greater good can produce powerful results. So even though I don't get on my knees or beg some ole White guy in the clouds to bring down the walls, I know in my soul that walls do come down.

So today, in honor of Aretha Franklin, who passed to the other side this week, I offer this video of her performing, "I Say a Little Prayer for You" dedicated to all those who are incarcerated. You are not forgotten. And I am not the only one out here who cares.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Dear Warden

This has been a complicated week. I somehow wound up at the center of just the kind of situation I long ago learned to avoid like the plague. Nevertheless, as is not always but sometimes the case, I think it has all turned out (so far) fairly well. The end result (I hope against hope -- I have other urgent business to attend to) is the following letter, which I just drafted to send to a warden I spoke with at some length this afternoon. I don't typically talk a great deal to wardens at all, but on occasion have felt it necessary and have always used the opportunity to accomplish as much as possible, under the circumstances. One never knows when a little dropped knowledge can ultimately bear fruit.

I have decided to publish the letter for several reasons, which I am not going to discuss, and I am publishing very nearly all of it, except for details that would specifically identify any of those involved. So I do not call names, but I think the points I made during my conversation and then repeated in my letter were important and general enough to apply to what is building in prisons from coast to coast in the United States. Please feel free to share it as appropriate. 

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Call for Immediate Action!

The following communique was received today (handwritten) from men incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center. We need to get these brothers some immediate attention, aid, and relief. The Governor's website literally has a heat warning listed.

Louisiana prison officials have a Constitutional obligation to provide conditions of confinement that comport with present day concepts of Human Dignity and we are requesting State and Federal Louisiana Public Officials, the media and Legal Aid Organizations to use their Official and Regulatory Powers to immediately investigate the foregoing Conditions of Confinement at the David Wade Correctional Center N-1, N-2, N-3 and N-4, 670 Bell Hill Road, Homer, Louisiana 71040, United States of America.

Warden: Jerry Goodwin

Phone: 318-927-0400

Governor: John Bel Edwards

Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121

State Speaker of the House: Taylor F. Barras

Phone: 225-342-7263 or 225-342-8336

Friday, August 03, 2018

Workers Work and Sometimes Die to Make the Bosses Rich

As incarcerated citizens make plans to initiate a worker's strike from sea to shining sea in the United States on August 21st (the day George Jackson was shot to death by guards in San Quentin in 1971), the Southern Poverty Law Center has released a night-marish report concerning the use -- and abuse -- of immigrants and incarcerated workers at chicken processing plants.

I first learned about the chicken processing industry because there's a plant near the small town where I live and I was talking to a guy who had gone to work there when he was released after doing 28 years in the Louisiana Department of Corrections for a $74 robbery. He explained what it was like to work there and by the time he finished telling me about standing in guts, blood, and slime; about being pressed to work rapid fire with sharp knives; about the Mexicans who were not allowed to speak to anyone else and were whisked away on a bus somewhere at 5 pm, I was stunned.

"That's not a job," I said. "It's a sentence."

"Pretty much," he responded.

And the next day, I saw a photo in the paper of a broadly smiling blonde (representing the family who owns the plant) handing a check to a local charity. Hmmmm....

So when I saw the SPLC article I'm re-posting today, I wasn't surprised that the prison-industrial complex has started skipping the part about waiting until people are released. Why bother? If it's good enough for Victoria Secret and Starbucks, why should chicken processing plants not climb on the gravy train?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Personal Is ALWAYS Political

I've always heard that Emmett Till, at 14 years of age, was lynched in ghastly fashion because he whistled at a White woman. Actually, the trial transcript says she testified in court -- meticulously and in detail -- that he grabbed her hand and then grabbed her body, telling her outright that he wanted to have sex with her. Now she says she lied.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Free Henry Montgomery Now!

There are many ways to lynch a man. The one most people think of when they hear the word is by hanging. If you're more historically well-informed, however, you might know that -- in earlier periods -- it often involved more complicated and even ghoulish processes that left a body mangled and mutilated, all of which might have been accomplished in broad daylight in front of hundreds of White people who brought picnics and their children and showed up for the express purpose of enjoying the show.
We shudder to imagine such a thing today, though I would argue that any time a law "enforcement" officer kills a person (particularly a Black person) in cold blood without due process, it is, in fact, a lynching, no matter what they call it officially and whether or not there are any repercussions. The article I am re-posting today is about a different kind of lynching: the continued incarceration of a man who has spent the past 54 years just ninety-minutes up the road from where I live in Louisiana.
He committed the crime of murder in 1963 as a juvenile, a crime of which he was convicted and for which he was sentenced to life without parole, an option Louisiana uses at four times the national rate. But then, in 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that cases like his could end in release. Yet he still sits in Angola and I think he's being lynched. The story was reported by Aviva Shen in The Appeal in February and I am re-posting it here.

Friday, July 06, 2018

FreeQuency: "The Gospel of Colonization"

When Mwende "FreeQuency" Katwiwa started speaking this piece, I thought, "Oh, good! This is going to be about immigration. We need that so much right now."

And then she dropped the words "Jesus Christ" into a sentence and I thought, "Oh, dear. I didn't know she was into that."

See, the thing is, FreeQuency is located in New Orleans (about 45 miles from where I live) so we've been in contact about her coming to my campus in the spring. But while there's nothing wrong with being a Christian, of course, in Louisiana, it's often connected to a particularly conservative -- and even oppressive -- worldview. So I was startled and momentarily disappointed, but she quickly moved on.

Only a matter of seconds later, she was channeling Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and I was, again, a FreeQuency fangirl.

FreeQuency is the current Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion. If you haven't been exposed to her before, you're about to find out why.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

America, the Beautiful...or Not

All this needs today is "America, the Beautiful" playing in the background while Porsha O. gives it to us from her perspective.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"The Slave Detective of the South"

When you've been blogging for twelve years, you get a lot of emails from all sorts of strangers. They're all promoting some product or entertainer or idea and most of them I just delete based on what's in the subject line because they're not a good fit for what I publish. But a few months ago, I got one from VICE, a digital media and broadcasting company and when I opened it, I discovered that it offered a 20-minute video featuring a woman I've known for a decade. In fact, I had only been in Louisiana a few months when Antoinette Harrell approached me, put me on television, and undertook the project of educating me about the "old" and "not-so-old" South.

She remains not only one of my heroes, but a primary inspiration to me. Sort of a cross between a saint and a locomotive. You don't want to get in her way.

I've written so much about Antoinette and her work through the years that I'm not going to bring you up to speed. Besides, anything I write today will be old news tomorrow. But if you're interested, you can find out more by reading what I've written in the past. Just be ready to spend some time because you'll be a minute.

Anyway, I'm glad VICE found this woman and did her justice. She deserves every bit of spotlight she gets. She never lets up no matter what. And I, for one, am honored to call her my friend. Regardless, though, I'm posting the film VICE did with reverence. Antoinette Harrell will be joining Harriett Tubman and the other greats one day and you'll want to be able to say she touched your life, as she has mine.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What's Behind the Immigration "Crisis"?

Apparently, some folks don't know the back story on Mexico. Here it is: When Clinton pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, U.S. corporations were put in a position to gut the Mexican economy, which they have done. Those corporations (and even individual rich Americans) have bought up land in Mexico, displacing Mexicans who have been living on that land and growing the food for their families on it for thousands of years.

This forced poorer Mexicans to work for the corporations for pennies a day while we buy the products made by them for the same price we would be paying if they were made by U.S. workers (tens of thousands of which lost their jobs when NAFTA was signed -- see below). The corporations make out like bandits (literally) and the Mexicans starve.

The rampant poverty NAFTA produced in Mexico is what gave birth to the drug cartels (which were originally formed with the assistance of the CIA, by the way, as outlined in the movie "American Made"). And this is why Mexicans (and other Central Americans) come here like they do. Some leave their families behind. Some can't bear to do that. Besides it's dangerous. And so-called "legal" migration takes decades and costs a lot of money.

The real reason Trump is locking up immigrants is because millions of dollars (our money) is going into the pockets of those who created private prisons expressly for this purpose while U.S. farmers are going belly up because their crops are rotting on the ground and we're going to pay $5 a pound for imported food immigrants used to pick right here in our country.

Then, while we're all utterly focused on babies in cages, the present Administration is using Congress to push through legislation that will leave us without health care, without higher education, without workplace and environmental regulations necessary to the common good, and without protection from a run-amok criminal injustice system. Now you know.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"Born and Livin' With The Blues"

I recently listened to The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois on Audible and one of the essays was on how Black people have created a historical record of their experience at the hands of White Supremacy through the legacy of their music. It was scholarly and detailed, but it was so interesting that it made me want to chase more information on the topic, which I did. And that made me spend some time on YouTube reveling in the kind of music DuBois was talking about.

The video above features Brownie McGhee playing guitar and singing, Sonny Terry on harp, and the legendary Willie Dixon on bass. And if you want to check out other music I've posted through the years, you may scroll down to "Labels" on the right and click on either "music" or "blues." Or both. (*wink*)

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Truth About the Cash Bail Industry

If you've seen "13th" (and if you haven't, why not?), you already know the information this little video produced by Color of Change provides. But options are excellent. This could be used for courses at any level from high school on up or for training on a range of topics for professionals in a number of fields or for community organizing, among other things.

I remember when I first started this blog twelve years ago, there was nothing on it but words. Part of the reason was that I wasn't technologically savvy enough to use much, but even as that improved, the pickins were slim except where music videos were concerned. So I unexpectedly found out at one point early on that I ranked fairly high in use of music -- something I wasn't trying to do, but that just happened because I was illustrating ideas by using great music videos with a message.

Now, however, I could probably post a very well produced video everyday that could easily take the place of a blog post. That seems like cheating. But if it accomplishes the purpose, what the heck...?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Warsan Shire: "Home"

by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it's not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did -
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage -
look what they've done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child's body
in pieces - for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don't know what
i've become.

but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.
NOTE: The graphic above is Holy Family Icon by Kelly Latimore.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Waging Revolution One Act At A Time

Yesterday morning, after yoga class, I broke down in tears over breakfast because the world is so full of suffering and I can't fix it. There are no magic answers. I've been telling my students for years I got no pixie dust. I know it's not a sprint; it's a marathon. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the world's so full of suffering and there seems to be so little I can do.

It's not that I've never done my part. In fact, I've always been altruistic. At six, I won a dollar in an art contest (at a time when you could buy a camera for a dollar) and I took my whole family out for ice cream. My father was stunned.

At eleven, I stomped out of Sunday School after telling off the girls in my class -- in front of our teacher -- for talking mean about a little girl because she was poor. At thirteen, I opted out of joining the church (a very radical stance in my world) about the same time I started dancing with Black guys at school (because the White guys didn't know how and I loved to dance). At sixteen, I did an all-interview term paper on racial discrimination in the city where I lived -- garnering me the class's "National Association for the Advancement of Cows and Pigs Award" at the end of the semester.

By the time I was in my late 20's, I had dropped out, blazed my way through San Francisco, and joined the National Prison Center in Iowa City, Iowa (the collective putting out the Prisoners Digest International and the headquarters of the Church of the New Song, a religion that formed in the federal joint in Atlanta and won all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court). Needless to say, this connection offered me many opportunities to put myself out there on front street. Such as the time I got Chief of Classification and Parole Witkowski at Leavenworth so worked up, he had a goon squad carry me to the edge of the concrete steps out front and threaten to throw me down them while he was screaming.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lesle' Honore': "We Already Made America Great"

"We Already Made America Great"
by Lesle' Honore'

on our backs
with our blood
on our souls
with our hands
on our shoulders
with our strength
with our tears
with our ancestors
and our legacies
on our hopes
with our will
on our prayers
with our courage
on our screams
with your lash
on our scars
on our lives
with our might
with our genius
with our light
with our magic
in spite of your hate
the children of slaves
have already made america great
NOTE: This poem is from Fist & Fire: Poems That Inspire Action and Ignite Passion by Lesle' Honore' (2017).

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Racist History of Laws Against "Loitering"

It's amazing how much information can be squashed into three or four minutes of film. It's also amazing how brutally cold-blooded and intentional White Supremacist oppression has been as it developed its stranglehold on North America over the past few hundred years. The next time somebody who's been taught to believe they're "White" says "racism" is a thing of the past or they "just don't see color," show 'em this little video.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Call For Action by IDOC Watch

IDOC Watch has issued a call for action on behalf of co-founder and Chairman of the New Afrikan Liberation Collective Kwame Shakur (Michael Joyner), presently incarcerated at Pendleton (Indiana) Correctional Facility. IDOC Watch has received word that Chairman Shakur has been attacked by Pendleton staff for the second time recently. It is thought that he may have sustained serious injury to the head.

IDOC Watch writes:

The assault comes shortly after Shakur was dismissed from a medical examination after insisting he be treated for an auto-immune condition caused by a TB outbreak in Pendleton. It also follows the most recent assault on him during a punitive shake down in retaliation for his political activity. 

Pendleton has made Kwame Shakur a primary target in their suppression of inmate struggle and if they are not stopped, the violence against Shakur will only escalate. Pendleton was most recently in the news for the arrest of three corrections officers caught on tape severely beating an unarmed inmate. Warden Dushan Zatecky assured the public that their arrest was proof of Pendleton's commitment to inmate safety. Yet assaults on inmates, of which Kwame Shakur is just the most recent is a constant occurrence at Pendleton. 

Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner Robert E. Carter
at 317-232-5711. 
Press 0 for operator and ask for the Commissioner; then leave a message if no one answers. Ask for the commissioner, but if you are routed to a secretary, leave a message.

"I am calling because I am concerned about the safety of Michael Joyner #149677 of Pendleton Correctional Facility. Yesterday, he was assaulted by staff and likely has a severe injury to the head. I would like to know his whereabouts and request an investigation into the incident."

You do not have to say more than that and you do not have to give any information about yourself. Expect lies and dodges. The point is to make them aware that they are being watched and that Chairman Shakur has supporters on the outside.

Interestingly enough, the town of Pendleton has a long history of White Supremacist violence. According to Wikipedia, in 1824, three White men massacred a group of Seneca and Miami Natives. And in 1843, Frederick Douglass and two other men were brutally attacked by what Douglass called "mobocrats" when they visited Pendleton in response to an invitation to speak to the townspeople. Douglass was knocked unconscious, beaten while he was on the ground, and suffered a broken right hand that never properly healed. Realistically though, I guess any town that has less than 5000 residents -- 97% of which have been socialized to believe they're "White" and probably most of whom work at one of the three (count 'em, three) prisons -- may not have come too far.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

When the Choir Preaches Back

"I don't want to be told
what to write
I can excavate my own content
I want to be pushed into
digging deep wells
in unheard of lands.
I want you to give me eyes
in the back of my head.
Be a thunder clap
and rouse me.
Be an earthquake
make me tremble
Be a river raging rampant
in my veins.
Shock me shitless."
~ Gloria Anzaldua (1974)*

If you find Gloria Anzaldua quoted in the Foreward to a book you just began reading (as I did when I began reading the one this post is about), you should probably pause to buckle the seat belt of your psyche or you might find yourself suddenly flying into the air and free-falling down whatever personal mountain you're currently on. Gloria Anzaldua is no one to play with. And Deborah Santana, author/editor/film producer and philanthropist, who believes that people of gentleness and faith can change the world, is no one to play with either. The latest proof of this is a hugely important new anthology of short essays by Women of Color representing a range of ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences.

Launched in January of this year, All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World ~ Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Santana, hit the ground running, its cover and first few pages decorated with blurbs from the likes of Isabel Allende, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Alfre Woodard, among others. Invited to speak with Santana myself(!) before adding my review to such dignitaries' comments would have been daunting indeed had I not already been shocked shitless by the essays and very excited by the opportunity.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Assata Shakur: "To My People" (1973)

After a couple of months of dividing my time between attention to my teaching position and attempts to restore my badly decomposed physical and emotional well-being after trying to do way too much for way too long, I slipped quietly onto my blog site the other day and discovered that -- while I was among the missing -- Why Am I Not Surprised? crossed the line into its second million pageviews. It now stands at 1,034,127 hits in 200 countries. I am grateful that the Universe moved me to take on this task twelve years ago. I am inspired to imagine that there are so many "out there" who share my passion for justice. And I am humbled by your support.

We all share in this remarkable feat because I could write till the cows come home, but if you don't care, there's no point. We are engaged in a daily practice of living our commitment to change the world. Thank you for being a part of my life and letting me be part of yours.

To celebrate this remarkable feat, I'm posting the stirring statement Assata Shakur recorded from jail in 1973. She had been shot, tortured, brutalized, vilified, humiliated, held incommunicado, and finally locked in solitary confinement. Nevertheless, despite the possibility of dire repercussions for such a bold act, she and her lawyer recorded this statement and released it publicly to those who were waiting -- breathlessly -- for a word from one of their most fearless leaders.

The day I discovered that you and I had crossed the million mark together, I was listening to Assata's Autobiography while I drove around in my car. Suddenly, I felt so connected to her and to the struggle to overcome White Supremacy, a struggle that has continued since the first European took it into his head that "White" people are superior to everyone else on the planet. Assata Shakur's words are just as powerful, just as true, and just as reasonable as they were 35 years ago. May they burn themselves into our consciousness as we read them over and over that we might honor her ongoing sacrifice and earn our own place in history.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Will California’s Governor Block Parole For Soledad Brother John Clutchette?

BREAKING: John Clutchette was released on parole from a California prison on Wednesday, June 6th. As he re-entered society, Mr. Clutchette had a few words for his supporters.

On January 12, 2018, the California Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to an elderly inmate named John Clutchette. However, supporters of parole for Clutchette are concerned that California Governor Jerry Brown will reverse the Board's decision, and Clutchette will not be released.

Supporters have a reason to be concerned. After all, this is exactly what happened in 2016 when Clutchette was similarly granted parole by the Board but Governor Brown chose to reverse the Board's ruling.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Shadowproof: Florida Officials Deny Operation PUSH Is Ongoing, Even As They Retaliate Against Prisoners

OperationPUSH supporters demonstrate in Gainesville, Florida, on January 18th
(Photo by FightToxicPrisons

On Thursday, January 25th, I posted about Operation PUSH and the Florida Department of Corrections' attacks on Kevin "Rashid" Johnson for publicly reporting earlier in the month on the conditions in the FDC. The following article, which was written by Brian Sonenstein and appeared that same day at, provides more detail about the development of this situation over the past three weeks. It is re-posted with permission. Where details have been duplicated in my earlier post and this one, I have indicated abridging.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Stand For Prisoner Being Tortured For Speaking Out

On January 15th (Martin Luther King, Jr., Day), the prisoners in the Department of Corrections in the state of Florida kicked off a mass multi-prison month-long work stoppage to protest their conditions. They have called the action #OperationPUSH and their demands are: "(1) payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement; (2) an end to outrageous canteen prices; and (3) reintroduction of parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates." According to The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, 150 organizations coast to coast now stand in solidarity with #OperationPUSH and the Florida prison strike. But such actions always create a backlash and this one is no different.

Kevin "Rashid" Johnson (#158039), a prisoner who has been moved from prison to prison in state after state because of his history of speaking truth to power, wrote an article about the impending strike that was published online January 6th. The following day, Warden Barry Reddish retaliated against Johnson's use of his 1st Amendment rights, ordering that he be given a disciplinary infraction for "inciting a riot."

On January 19th, Johnson wrote to his lawyer:

 "Need your and folks' immediate mobilization. Am being literally tortured in retaliation for article on prison strike and conditions, by the warden. No heat. Cell like outside, temp in 30s. Toilet doesn't work. Window to outside doesn't close and cold air blowing in cell. Copy everyone with this letter! Just put into this cell. It's daytime and so cold I can barely write. This is obvious set up [...] This is a genuine emergency! Take care, Rashid"

Florida State Prison Warden Barry Reddish can be reached at 904-368-2500. He needs to move Johnson immediately to a climate-controlled cell with a working toilet. He needs to give Johnson continuing contact with his lawyer. And he needs to stop all retaliation against Johnson for reporting on conditions at the prison. Now.

Most prison wardens are notoriously agitated by any sense that they are not in complete control of everything in their purview. (One can only imagine what the lives of their spouses and families must be like.) So when a prisoner challenges their power  -- however reasonably and Constitutionally-mandated that challenge is -- it must be brutally addressed. This is what Barry Reddish is doing. But Reddish needs to be reminded that when a person in a position of authority tries to "make an example" of a human being just because they claim their human rights, it threatens all of us.

It appears that not only does Reddish, as a representative of the Florida Department of Corrections, want complete control over "his" prison, so that he can implement policies and practices that are both inhumane and illegal, but he wants to operate in secrecy while he does it. We will not allow that to be an option.
NOTE: Report back to on your actions and anything you may learn in the process.

UPDATE: Rashid Johnson was able to see one of his lawyers on Friday. There are no specifics released as yet, but he is okay and his conditions have improved. On Thursday afternoon (before I published this post), I ranted at spoke with the warden's secretary for long enough (threatening mayhem on this blog) that she gave me a another number to call. I called and left a message -- again referencing this blog. On Friday afternoon, I received a call back, but I wasn't able to return that call until after the close of business. I left another message, assuring them that I would be back in touch Monday morning for an update. Don't ever think they don't listen. Even if they don't admit it, if enough sand is raised, some of it will go in their eyes. I promise.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What A Difference A Day Makes

Yesterday, I got out of bed at 6 am. It was 66 degrees in my apartment. It was 16 outside. And -- when I looked at the clock, I realized that I didn't have electricity. That meant: no heat, no coffee, no hot breakfast, no hot shower, no internet, no way to charge my phone, no Netflix or Amazon Prime, and no music. Then, after taking my morning poop, I found out the pipes had frozen and I had used my one flush getting rid of my 6 am pee. 

This morning, I got out of bed at 6 am. It was 71 degrees in my apartment. It was 20 outside. As I turned up the heat, turned on the lights so I could read the paper, made coffee and breakfast, booted my laptop, and settled back into my my dark blue leather desk chair, I remembered how un-fun yesterday's get-up had been. "Wow," I thought, "I take a lot of things for granted."

And then I thought about those who woke up in an ice cold cell this morning, behind bars, without enough clothes or blankets, standing on a concrete floor, hungry (but still recuperating from the food poisoning they got from what they were given to eat yesterday), out of snacks, out of stamps, out of soap, out of money, facing two consecutive dimes with nobody left who cares...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Prisoners Have No Patience Because They Have No Choice

The Powers-That-Be in this country have made an art form out of using the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to turn humans (a disproportionate number of them Black) into slaves so that corrupt prison administrators, corporations, and their stockholders can enjoy ever expanding financial gains. It occurs to me as I write this that, while the 13th Amendment does make this practice legal (as immoral as it is), what it does not make legal is the multiple forms of prisoner degradation, humiliation, violation, and abuse that most U.S. prisons have made a standard operating procedure in the way they treat millions of incarcerated men, women, and even children.

It is not only the prisoners who suffer. It is their loved ones, as well, who must agonizingly observe the brutality against and sometimes death of their missing family member or friend while enduring the separation they fight to overcome.

In the early 1970s, when I first became aware of what was going on in the prisons and jails across this land, I was instantly and horrifically aghast. What kind of monsters would so relish tormenting other humans, I wondered. I became ballistic in my rage, working tirelessly to raise consciousness about the matter as often as possible. One ex-prisoner, trying to help me really get my brain around the situation, reminded me that people in this country lock up animals in cages who haven't done anything to anybody. "As long as they do that," he pointed out, "they're not going to care about people they think of as criminals." But I refused to listen.

Still, here we are nearly fifty years later and it appears he was right.

So the prisoners are left no recourse but to riot or to strike -- which in most prisons would be seen as the same thing and treated the same way. This is why Florida prisoners announced recently that they intend to meet the brutality and exploitation with resistance starting today. My heart is with them.

I know that many in the U.S. have no sympathy. They think the prisoners deserve whatever they get, that organizing to rise up in any way that attempts to claim their human rights "proves" their recalcitrant nature. But the article I am re-posting today (with permission of the author) is about why that's the only option prisoners have left.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Why Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Murdered

All over the United States tomorrow, people will be listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, as if that's all he ever said. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know -- or at least have probably guessed -- that I was more of a Malcolm girl than a Martin girl. Still, if you scroll down the labels list and click on King's name you'll find a number of posts through the years I've been blogging, including a post of a six-part film wherein Dick Gregory tells us the real story of King's murder, if you're interested.

But the little film clip above, which I discovered in 2014, is my favorite of all. I watch it regularly to remind me not how he died, but why.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

From The Belly Of The Beast Near Dallas, Texas

A message to us from Rakem Balogun (dated 1/10/18):

Peace, Power and Prosperity, Comrades and love ones.

I'm very eager to inform you that I'm doing well during this time of trials and tribulation for me, my family and comrades. I'm truly thankful for all of your love, support, and prayers. This situation has us closer in solidarity and has proven that we are ONE body as people fighting for liberation. I’m honored to see those around the country rally for my release and for the boost of my morale. I thank every single person who has brought awareness to this situation. This proves that attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
I take pride in this hardship due to the fact that our elders and ancestors have prepared me for this struggle through their hard sacrifice for our liberation. Brothers and sisters such as Geronimo Pratt, George Lester Jackson, Assata Shakur, Afeni Shakur, Mutulu Shakur, Marilyn Buck, Mumia Abu Jamal, H Rap Brown, and the list goes on and on. Studying history through political education made me accept my fate ten years ago. I used my time as wisely as possible through exercise, reading, meditating and fellowshipping with our brothers who are also detained by the United States of Amerikkka Federal Institutions. My goal is to educate those within the belly of the beast one conversation at a time with love and patience.

They can jail me but they cannot jail our movement, which is thousands strong national and world wide. I'm grateful to have GMF, GJU, BEM, Geronimo Tactical, NBPP, HPNGC, The People's Brigade, Harambee Culture, APSP and so many others in support and solidarity. Thank you for all you have done and the effort brings warmth to my heart and tears to my eyes to see love for our unity.

Thank you and I will be seeing you soon.

Rakem Balogun

You can support Rakem by writing him at:
Christopher Daniels #56601-177
Federal Correctional Facility
PO Box 9000
Seagoville, TX 75159

You can keep in touch with the movement to free him at:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

An Open Letter To The Parole Board

Last week, I received a phone call from the office of the local District Attorney asking if I wanted to offer the Board of Pardons and Paroles some input. Apparently, sometime in the near future, they're going to consider the possibility of early release for a young man who was locked up a few years ago for the crime of robbing me at gunpoint.

I gave it serious thought, since I believe that the criminal "justice" system in this country is grossly over-used and badly broken. I even drafted a letter. But when I read it over the next day, I decided that it probably wouldn't get the prisoner released. It might even get both him -- and me -- in more trouble. So I'll just put a modified version of it here and walk quietly away.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Public Service Announcement: Cointelpro 2.0

In the early 1990s, when I was in grad school, a young El Salvadoran revolutionary came to campus to talk about why she had joined the guerilla forces fighting to overthrow the repressive right wing government that had already killed more than 70,000 of her fellow citizens. One of the students in the audience raised her hand and said timidly, "I'm uncomfortable with the idea of using violence to create social change. How do you know when to pick up a gun?"

The young revolutionary didn't hesitate a moment as she replied matter of factly, "When they start shooting at you."

The audience laughed, but it is unlikely that any of them -- all being  young and White, as I recall -- were considering the possibility that their government, their military, their local and state law enforcement officers would boldly and unapologetically turn on them one day. Sitting there, thinking back to experiences I had twenty years before, I recalled seeing blood shed in just such confrontations in the streets of America. And I recalled the four students killed for demonstrating at Kent State in 1970. But when that happened, the shock ripples were palpable from coast to coast.

The deaths (even the blatantly public deaths) of People of Color, however, and most particularly Black people, haven't historically created the same reaction. And this is what I'm blogging about today.