In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Ahjamu Umi. Umi is an organizer for the All African People’s Revolutionary Party. He has engaged in many elements of revolutionary political work, including mobilizing protection for communities against violent white supremacist groups. He has authored five books and is a prolific blogger. His book is A Guide for Organizing Defense against White Supremacist, Patriarchal, and Fascist Violence.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Ahjamu Umi: My name is Ahjamu Umi. I’ve spent my entire adult life as an active organizer for the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). The A-APRP is an independent, revolutionary, Pan-African political party based in Africa. We argue that the wealth and power of the capitalist system is devised and maintained primarily by exploiting Africa’s cheap human and material resources. Examples to support this position can be easily found in the internet device industries which rely on Congolese coltan for televisions, cell phones, lap top computers, etc., to give and receive signals. The Cocoa industry in Ghana which supplies 75% of the chocolate products to the U.S. The steel and zinc industries in Central and Southern Africa that anchor automobile manufacturing, and the diamond industries of Central and Southern Africa that prop up the Zionist state of Israel through it producing up to 40% of the polished diamonds on the world market. Without Africa, western capitalism lacks the ability to sustain its dominance. So, for us, the key to justice in the world is liberating Africa. I’ve spent plenty of time on the ground throughout Africa working to build A-APRP, but one question that has always intrigued me is how to get Africans within the U.S., where I was born and raised, to strike a blow against this oppression of Africa without ever having to leave the U.S. My book, A Guide for Organizing Defense against White Supremacist, Patriarchal, and Fascist Violence, is designed to serve as a bridge for people in the U.S. to realize that police terrorism, poverty, mass incarceration, and other issues against our people in the U.S. are directly linked to the exploitation of our people in the Congo, Ghana, Zimbabwe, etc., because all of this oppression/exploitation serves the purpose of upholding the capitalist system on a worldwide basis.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
There are multiple specific messages coming from the book that are not widely discussed currently. I’ll chronicle two of those messages from the book here. First, the capitalist system is highly organized. One of their most effective weapons against our movements for social justice is their consistent ability to shape how people think. They do this by institutionalizing pro-corporate propaganda on a 24/7/365 basis. An example here are the values that have surfaced as a result of the pandemic. Working people are being told that any economic problems they experience result because they did not properly plan their economics “for a rainy day” while corporations like KOHLs filed bankruptcy within weeks of the pandemic and no one is talking about their poor economic planning. Instead, the majority of everyday people accept the capitalist propaganda that corporate welfare is a societal necessity while any type of safety net for working people is widely viewed as a handout. Clearly, this is a reality where people are trained to place corporate interests above what’s best for them. My book argues that the most essential way we must combat this phenomenon is for us to create organized and consistent political education programs within our communities that are designed to provide a people’s focused political education to the masses of people that directly challenges the narrative that any solution that exists outside of the capitalist system is insane and that bourgeoisie educational institutions are here to properly educate us. Secondly, the book seeks to suggest, and provide a blueprint, for how work we do within communities within the U.S., can – without anyone physically going anywhere else – connect and work in conjunction to struggles going on among African people worldwide (as well as non-African struggles for justice that are anti-imperialist such as the Palestinian struggle and the self-determination of the Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere).
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
The dominant ideology being promoted in my book is anti-capitalism. For example, within the capitalist system we are taught that the concept of democracy is synonymous with capitalism so by default, anyone not pursuing a capitalist pathway is automatically against democracy and freedom of thought and practice. Also, since the book argues that democracy and capitalism are actually incompatible (because people must have information in order to make healthy decisions and people in the capitalist world have little actual information), the book seeks to get people thinking about just how little we actually learn and how little we actually know about what is happening in the world today, why it’s happening, and the degree to which our isolation from the rest of the world is by design and makes us unwittingly complicit with the capitalist agenda the countries we pay taxes too have in exploiting the majority of the planet. Another example of anti-capitalism and what my book seeks to help people unlearn is the constant belief that the only activism we can ever consider is activism that seeks reform of the capitalist system i.e. police wearing cameras or even being convicted when they kill us in cold blood. Instead, the book aspires to help people learn that since we know police were never created as institutions to “protect and serve” us, we should be challenged to think of solutions to the problems of police terrorism that don’t rely on the same systems that govern police to create solutions for us. Also, that we don’t need the political and social institutions of the capitalist system to organize within our communities. We can do that organizing work on an independent basis and that work, although happening locally, can connect with similar efforts happening everywhere on earth.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
As a teenager, I was initially inspired by the fierce independence and dignity of Malcolm X’s transformation. As I grew as an activist and became involved with the A-APRP, I came to understand how Malcolm’s political development was inspired by many people. I learned to respect the contributions of people like Marcus Garvey and I grew to understand the international and scientific ideological contributions of people like Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Ture, and Amilcar Cabral. Those Pan-African revolutionaries provided the historical and cultural foundation that helped me recognize that African people have our own worldview and as Nkrumah pointed out – our differences based upon where we were born are far outweighed by our similar historical and cultural circumstances due to the colonialism and slavery systems. Also, the revolutionary African personality/ideology of the A-APRP is anti-patriarchal which provided the social revolutionary consciousness that led me to understand that capitalism oppresses women and marginalized genders on a higher plain than cis-gendered African men and that any true revolutionary man has to recognize that in order to have any potential of becoming a strong and principled revolutionary thinker and actor. The flexibility and dynamism of the revolutionary Pan-Africanist ideology that guides my book permits the book to feature an anti-patriarchal, anti-homophobic, and anti-white supremacy perspective while defining those anti-human systems as vestiges and/or appendages of the capitalist system. So, consequently, it is impossible to say you are for African liberation while being patriarchal and homophobic just like its impossible to say you are a Marxist/Leninist, Maoist, etc., and you are for revolution, while you know nothing about African and other revolutionary theorists and actors from colonized communities. The default for everything is always capitalism and white supremacy, so my intellectual influences are always fueled around prioritizing the dismantling of those oppressive systems as the impetus for any other positive changes.
In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?
The book is all about stepping outside of pretty much everything we have learned in order to envision a reality where we believe we can start in any community within the U.S., no matter how impoverished and oppressed, with nothing except our will, and we can organize within those communities. We can build capacity that empowers us beyond all of the power wielded by the institutions within the capitalist system. The book helps readers create this belief by providing the tools needed to engage the work and the methodology for how to implement those tools in easy to use and effective ways. As a result, readers see the book as a manifesto. They take the contents of the book and they go out and practice utilizing the components expressed within the book. Since I released the book in February of 2021, I’ve worked closely with groups of activists in Pennsylvania, Maine, California, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Guyana, Germany, and Southern Africa. What I’ve seen is people inspired by the book learn how to develop a new vision of the world, but within that, learn to accept the true concept – purposely hidden from us by the capitalist system – that the masses of people are the only true makers of history. In other words, we have been taught to believe that without a corporate financed non-profit budget, it is impossible to make any tangible change for the better. I think my book shatters that misconception. Instead, all that’s needed is the will. That will connected to the components of the book provides the blueprint for how anyone, welfare mothers, former drug addicts, college students, elders, physically challenged people, people who never graduated from high school, people who have a history of being abused, everyone can reach their full potential and everyone has a valuable contribution to make. This creation of a new vision for how all of us see ourselves and each other is essential and once we can begin to get even 20% to 30% of people engaged in practicing this approach, the days of the oppressor classes are numbered.
Roberto Sirvent is editor of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum.