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Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation

An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

By Angola 3 News
On Monday, June 8, 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial. The next day, at the request of the Louisiana Attorney General, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of release set to expire on Friday, June 12.

As the week intensified following Judge Brady’s ruling, both Albert Woodfox and his family, friends & supporters wondered if he would finally be released over 43 years after first being placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International USA launched a petition calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to honor Judge Brady’s ruling.

On June 9, US Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02) issued a statement declaring that “Attorney General Caldwell must respect the ruling of Judge Brady and grant Mr. Woodfox his release immediately…This is an obviously personal vendetta and has been a waste of tax payer dollars for decades. The state is making major cuts in education and healthcare but he has spent millions of dollars on this frivolous endeavor and the price tag is increasing by the day.”

On June 11, eighteen members of the Louisiana House of Representatives voted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution (H.R. 208) urging Attorney General Caldwell to stop standing in the way of justice, withdraw his appeals, and let Judge Brady’s unconditional writ and release ruling stand.

However, on Friday, June 12, the Court responded by scheduling oral arguments for late August and extending the stay of release at least until the time that the Court issues its ruling later in the Fall.

Among those who communicated with Albert during that emotional week was Southern University Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell. In the days following Judge Brady’s ruling, she was a featured guest on several television and radio shows that focused on Albert’s case, including National Public Radio. In this interview with Angola 3 News, Prof. Bell discusses her new law journal article and reflects upon the latest developments in Albert’s fight for freedom. She argues that recent Angola 3-related media coverage in the US is becoming “more substantive,” and that this month “the media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.”

Literally hundreds of news websites around the world published articles about Judge Brady’s ruling. The New York Times, who in an earlier editorial from 2014 declared Albert’s four decades in solitary to be “barbaric beyond measure,” chose a headline for their June 10 article that cited Albert’s “Torturous Road to Freedom.” The next day, the NY Times reprinted an Associated Press article entitled “What Has Louisiana Got on the Last of the Angola Three?” Answering the question posed by the headline, the articles states: “Woodfox’s long-simmering story has been the subject of documentaries, Peabody Award winning journalism, United Nations human rights reviews and even a theatrical play. It’s a staggering tale of inconsistencies, witness recants, rigged jury pools, out-of-control prison violence, racial prejudice and political intrigue.”

Media coverage in the state of Louisiana itself also seems to be improving. For example, writer Emily Lane of the NOLA Times-Picayune responded to Brady’s ruling with a series of in-depth articles, focusing on the specifics of how and why Albert has been in solitary for over 40 years, as well as the physical and mental impact of such treatment. In another article, the Times-Picayune quoted extensively from a statement made by Teenie Rogers, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller. “I think it’s time the state stop acting like there is any evidence that Albert Woodfox killed Brent,” Rogers said. Meanwhile, Albert remains in solitary confinement, with Louisiana authorities “not letting up on” the “last of the ‘Angola3.'”

Our first interview with Prof. Bell, entitled Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial, followed the release of her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind.”

Our second interview, entitled Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party, examined her 2014 article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil.”

This new interview, now our third, is timed with the release of of Prof. Bell’s latest article, published by the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, entitled “A Prescription for Healing a National Wound: Two Doses of Executive Direct Action Equals a Portion of Justice and a Serving of Redress for America & the Black Panther Party.”

Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha TwoThe Black Panther Party and Revolutionary ArtDylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas“We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,”  Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy.

Angola 3 News:      How does your new law journal article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, relate to and ultimately build upon your previous two articles, Perception Profiling and Activism Unshackled?

Angela A. Allen-Bell:      The three articles share a common thread and that is that the Angola 3 case was the inspiration for each of the articles. The Angola 3 case is a fusion of complexities, including race, justice, corrections practices, abuse of power, official misconduct and politics. Each of the three articles explores a different theme in the case.

The 2012 publication, Perception Profiling, explores the constitutional implications of long term solitary confinement.

The 2014 publication, Activism Unshackled, exposes the harsh response of the government to the Black Panther Party (BPP) and declares the BPP to be victims of something akin to domestic terrorism.

The 2015 publication, A Prescription, calls for redress and offers a solution for the nation and the BPP to heal from the traumas experienced during the historical period of the BPP’s existence.

A3N:      You write that “Redress is the aim because it is broader than justice. Redress is also the goal because, when delivered, it has the impact of bringing distant human rights aspirational goals to a local and identifiable place in our society.” For folks that have not yet read A Prescription, can you please explain what you mean by “redress?”

AB:      When I use the term redress, I simply mean “remedy.” In this section of the paper, I am calling people’s attention to the fact that the pursuit of justice is largely personal. It involves personal vindication.

Contrarily, redress, through a restorative justice model, is much more expansive. Restorative justice not only considers the victim; it also considers the impact on society. It seeks to heal both simultaneously.

We have never healed from many of the racial traumas that afflict this nation. The evidence of this is on display in the media consistently. Unaddressed traumas are the underlying explanation for some police feeling comfortable gunning down African American males in absence of a legitimate threat of bodily force. That psyche developed during the lynching era.

Unaddressed traumas explain educational and discipline policies that fast track poor children and children of color from schools to prison. Long ago, it was decided that certain groups were intellectually inferior and, as such, could best serve as an underclass.

Unaddressed traumas explain the decision to select an African American church as the setting for an act of domestic terrorism, as with the recent massacre in Charleston. That happened so many times during the Civil Rights Era, it almost became sport. We must recognize that patterns continue unless and until a conscious choice is made to stop them. That is why I advocate for redress through a restorative justice approach. It is my attempt to reconstruct the paradigm and pursue a path of healing.

A3N:      Why do you feel that redress is an appropriate response to the political repression faced by the BPP and other leftists groups during the era of the FBI’s COINTELPRO and beyond? What are the benefits of redress?

AB:      In my opinion, it is the only appropriate response because of the state we presently find ourselves in as a country. We excel at technology. We are masters at warfare. We are an international might. We have accomplished all these things, but we have yet to master the art of loving each other. I am not using the word love in a superficial way. I am using it as a verb. I mean love in a profound way. I mean love that blinds your view of the outside and affixes your eyes on the heart of your brother or sister. This is a terrible indictment on us collectively. This is the legacy that racism, subjugation, oppression and dehumanization left behind.

We need collective healing from a number of social traumas, such as lynchings, racist medical, educational and criminal justice practices, all of the vestiges of slavery, and the neutralization of or attempts at neutralization where civil rights activists and organizers are concerned. These things have caused us not to be well. This article picks one social trauma to address and that involves what was done to the BPP. It serves as a template to addresses the others.

The article discusses several benefits to redress. They include: the timely ability to shape good policy; the achievement of accountability; the furtherance of human rights goals and objectives; and the prevention of history repeating itself. Redress in this instance will help society and the BPP. It will allow us to move pass this chapter onto the next chapter then the work must begin again and again until we have peeled away the many layers to this dysfunction that we are experiencing as a human family.

A3N:      You write further that “the goal is to achieve restorative redress—for America in general and the BPP in particular—through executive direct action correcting official history by way of a proclamation and an executive order granting amnesty—with a focus on healing for the nation, victims and perpetrators (as opposed to focusing on the limiting notion of punishing the perpetrator).” Why do you focus on Executive Direct Action as the best means for redress?

AB:      Executive direct action is a presidential power that is highly effective because it can accomplish a goal without the paralyzing complication that a bureaucracy involves. It is used more than many people know and was chosen in this instance because of the expediency of the process and the complexities of this historical ordeal. It was also chosen because traditional methods have failed and/or will not work.

In the article, I share detailed reasons why courts, hearings, legislation and executive action on the state level were all eliminated as possible forms of redress.

A3N:      Over two years ago, on Feb. 26, 2013, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. However, today, even following last week’s ruling by Judge Brady, Albert remains behind bars and in solitary confinement! Reminiscent of fictional stories by George Orwell or Franz Kafka, how does something like this actually happen? What does it say about the legitimacy of the broader so-called criminal ‘justice’ system in the US?

AB:      Like the United States Constitution, our criminal justice system was born in sin and iniquity. Our modern criminal justice system has very little to do with dispensing justice or keeping citizens safe. It was designed as a tool to further a caste system that was started before slavery. It has become a lucrative enterprise for many. Many laws were written with these considerations in mind. This system is now a machine. Add the utter disdain that this country has had for African American men to this assembly line environment and you might be able to rationalize what Albert Woodfox is experiencing.

The justice system has dealt an unjust hand to many people of color and poor people, but it has been particularly harsh when it comes to the BPP.  They were arrested regularly and locked up often, but, in most cases, charges were dropped or the BPP member won the case. The criminal justice system was intentionally used as tool to disrupt their political and social activities. That detail has largely been suppressed from the public.

This is not to suggest that we don’t need a justice system or jails. I feel both are needed. My only point is that there is a design defect. When that happens, demolition must follow. In my view, this is where we are in our criminal justice journey.

A3N:      Any other thoughts on this month’s events?

AB:      Last week, I saw members of the international community intensify their response. That was beautiful and their support has been consistently present and helpful. That is greatly appreciated.

There were several welcomed, new developments at home. One was the more substantive media coverage that took place in the United States. The media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.  Much of the coverage explored the actual evidence (or lack thereof) in the case and many outlets courageously did a critical analysis of America’s solitary confinement practices.

Most impactful of all is the fact that, last week, Americans reclaimed their power.  Grassroots activism and direct citizen participation is the key ingredient in any social change movement.  That happened last week.  Even more significant, a heightened interest took place in Louisiana, which is a very conservative, “tough on crime” kind of place.

The new development is that Louisiana citizens who, in spirit, support locking folks up have become opposed to the State’s decision to spend well over six million taxpayer dollars on the criminal prosecution and the civil litigation in the Angola 3 case. Many more Louisiana citizens, after realizing this case was built on deals with criminals and false testimony and official misconduct, voiced their opposition to what State officials have done and continue to do in the case.

Others have begun to see that corruption has played a part in this case as contracts for legal work on the Angola 3 case have been awarded to associates who have a financial incentive to engage in dilatory tactics at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Other citizens were called to act because the global reputation of the United States is being compromised as the world looks at us in judgment for this human rights abuse. The next step is to see this channeled and to see mobilization follow.

A3N:    While it is important to examine how Albert and the Angola 3’s story represent much broader issues of injustice, we also do not want to forget that above all, Albert is a human being. Shifting to a more personal level, can you tell us about your visits with Albert? What have you learned from Albert?

AB:    It is my personal feeling that the Angola 3 were anointed and called to do the courageous and significant work they have done both collectively and individually. It is a message I often speak to them. In my view, this is why they weren’t murdered or harmed behind bars by other inmates.

It is also my feeling that this is the source of grace that Albert displays. He has his vulnerable, grief-stricken moments, but he has many more days of peace. The suits the Angola 3 filed and the organizing they did has led to better conditions for many others.

Albert has taught me: how to speak mightily with a few words; how to be patient while never waiting; that freedom has more to do with liberation than it does location or station; that Christ, who was a carpenter himself, consistently uses the least valued people (in man’s terms)─people who the world could see little value in─to accomplish some of the most profound changes; how to fight evil without ever balling a fist or loading a weapon; how a liberated mind in the head of an African American man often results in a symbolic, social warning label; how to resist the urge to allow fear to serve as an excuse for lack of service; how to manifest the Biblical teaching that love is the greatest commandment of all; and, how to minister without preaching.

A3N:    How much physical contact, if any, has been allowed during visits? Based on your experience visiting Albert, how important is it for prisoners to be able to hug and express friendship through human touch with their visitors?

AB:    Louisiana officials have branded sixty-eight-year-old Albert Woodfox, who is afflicted with a litany of health problems, the most dangerous man in America, despite their own records documenting that he is and has been a model prisoner.

In fulfillment of this marketing strategy and act of wordplay, Albert’s visits are restricted.  They are no contact, limited to an hour and are observed closely.  Even the Bible recognizes that man was not born to be alone.  Isolation violates biblical principles, as well as medical research, legal precedent and human rights principles.

The practice of prolonged isolation even runs counter to the thinking of Pope Francis, US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, certain doctors, academics, human rights advocates and architects, Human Rights Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez, the American Bar Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Defense Association and many other credible voices.  It especially makes no sense when a person is elderly and harmless as was the case with Herman Wallace and as is the case with Albert Woodfox.

Society is better off when inmates maintain humanity and also when they do not become totally institutionalized.  Innocent human touch and meaningful interaction are quintessential ways of preserving humanity.

A3N:    Any further reflection on the personal impact of both your research & writing about the Angola 3 as well as your relationship with Albert?

AB:    These things have impacted me profoundly. They have made me keenly aware of our social regression in this country. The shift from us being somewhat of an interconnected unit during the 1960s and 1970s to a self-driven population has crippled progress where social gains are concerned. This is not meant as a judgment or an indictment. This is meant partially as a plea and partially as a call for introspection.

A3N:   Returning to your new article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, how does Albert’s case further illustrate the US government’s mistreatment of the BPP? Conversely, how do you feel that Albert’s release would contribute to the healing of our nation?

AB:  This case centers attention on the plight of the BPP at the hands of then FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI from 1924-1972 with unchecked authority and who ran the FBI without concern for the constitution or best practices. He ran the FBI as a personal enterprise to silence minorities, activists and anyone else who he could produce a reason not to like. Many times, his reasoning was not sound. He used his power to crush and silence people and he regularly violated the law in order to do so.

We, as a society, have never assessed the harm that flowed from this–the lives and careers that he wrongly destroyed; the current leaders who rode their way to the top doing what he groomed them to do and who have continued what he started; the impact that this had on activism and dissent in America; and the many people who lost their liberty as a result of his abuses of power. The Angola 3 case illuminates these concerns.

The Angola 3 case also brings attention to the growing problem of prosecutorial misconduct in this country and especially in Louisiana. Evidence was suppressed and testimony was induced. Inmates who initially denied knowledge of the murder changed testimony in exchange for favors. When asked about this under oath, state officials denied this, but proof now exists. Several courts have now concluded that grand jury discrimination was at play in Herman Wallace’s trial and also in Albert Woodfox’s trial. A grand juror who was married to a former Angola warden ended up serving on one of Albert’s grand juries and she actually brought a book she authored into deliberations, which contained negative overtures about the case.

Not only does this create a distrust for the judicial system, much of this created additional victims as some of the inmates whose testimony was “bought” were rewarded with freedom. Some of these criminals went on to commit additional crimes. The release of these criminals also re-victimized victims who were forced to live with the knowledge that the person who victimized them was back amongst them in society.

This case is a powerful educational tool for citizens who have thus far placed great faith in the words “convicted” or “a jury found him guilty.” Many people naively take these words at face value. For a large population of American citizens, convictions are obtained without any credible evidence. Many people, after seeing the “evidence” used against Albert Woodfox, now understand this point.

In Albert’s case, there was a bloody crime scene. It was one of the most ideal crime scenes imaginable because where else are fingerprints of every person on the property on file? None of the forensic evidence, including a bloody fingerprint found at the scene, matched Albert Woodfox or Herman Wallace.  (See Woodfox v. Cain, 609 F.3d 774, 810 (5th Cir. La.), Jun 21, 2010). The authorities’ outrageous refusal to check this fingerprint against their own database of inmates’ fingerprints continues to this day. In 2008, NPR asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell why the state refuses to test the print. “A fingerprint can come from anywhere,” Caldwell explained. “We’re not going to be fooled by that.”

Albert even passed a polygraph test. In absence of any physical evidence, what was used against him was “bought” testimony from dangerous criminals, such as a legally blind man who, under oath, swore he saw things on the day of the murder, a robbery convict who was released in exchange for his testimony and then committed more robberies. This was done, not once, but twice. In Louisiana, state appellate courts signed off on this, not because of a conspiracy, but because of their design. When a criminal case is appealed, the court can’t revisit all the facts and evidence and act as a de facto jury. They must use standards of review and they are only allowed a narrow window into the case.

When insufficiency of evidence is raised in a criminal case, the state appellate court in Louisiana can only consider, in the light most favorable to the prosecution, if the record suggests any reasonable juror could have found the defendant guilty. Under this standard, it is rare to see a criminal case reversed on appeal. The state appellate process is much like a sniff test. They take a quick sniff then move on to the next one in line.

In Albert’s second trial, then Warden Henderson, while under oath, swore no incentives had been offered to the serial rapist, Hezekiah Brown, who they used to testify against Albert. The prosecutor stood before the court and praised this lying rapist. Specifically, he said he was proud of the lying rapist and he remarked that the lying rapist was courageous. This issue was brought up in an appeal before the federal court. That court agreed that this conduct was troubling, but no official action has ever been undertaken to address it.

This sets the stage for the next unsuspecting defendant to walk into the grips of the same cast of characters and the show begins all over again. Under a system that dispenses justice in this fashion, any one of us could be Albert Woodfox. That lesson is finally resonating.

Albert’s release could also highlight an ugly chapter in our history where the BPP is concerned. It could show the type of selfless work they did and the type of harm that came to many of them as a result. It could also aid in bringing an end to this era of social purgatory they have lived in and under since the 1960s.

In each of these contrasting ways, people will become informed then empathy and dialog will follow.  These things lead to societal healing.

Septima Clark and the Role of Civil Rights Education in South Carolina and Beyond

African American woman played a prominent role in linking mass literacy to politics

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Libya 360°

In the aftermath of the massacre of nine African Americans at the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) by a white racist on June 17, we must continue the examination of the legacy of the Civil Rights struggle in Charleston, South Carolina.

A previous article recounted the resistance role of the AME Church in Charleston with co-founder Denmark Vesey as his comrades being targeted by the slavocracy for plotting insurrection in 1822.

Other leading organizers in the African struggle against slavery and institutional racism were from the state of South Carolina, one of the most notable being AME Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915), who was born in the antebellum period and rose to prominence as a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War, a politician during Reconstruction and a proponent of Pan-Africanism during the latter years of life in late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Leading Role of Septima Clark

An often overlooked figure in the African American movement was Septima Poinsette Clark. Born on May 3, 1898 in Charleston, Clark studied education and became a teacher.

She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which during the early 20th century was considered a dangerous militant organization by the southern ruling class. Legalized segregation was the law of the South and many areas of the North of the United States.

In an entry published by biograpy.com, it says that “Clark qualified as a teacher, but Charleston did not hire African Americans to teach in its public schools. Instead, she became an instructor on South Carolina’s Johns Island in 1916. In 1919, Clark returned to Charleston to teach at the Avery Institute. She also joined with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in trying to get the city to hire African-American teachers. By gathering signatures in favor of the change, Clark helped ensure that the effort was successful.”

Septima Poinsette married Nerie Clark in 1920 however he died of kidney failure five years later. She then relocated to Columbia, South Carolina, the capital, and continued her education career.

There she joined the local chapter of the NAACP. Clark worked consistently with the organization along with Atty. Thurgood Marshall, leading activist. In 1945 they initiated a legal case demanding equal pay for African American and white teachers. Clark later described the case as her “first effort in a social action challenging the status quo.”

After winning the case her salary as a teacher increased threefold. Similar cases were filed in various states throughout the South during the 1940s.

She then went back to Charleston in 1947, securing another teaching position, and continuing her activism in the NAACP. Nonetheless, in 1956, the racist state government in South Carolina made it illegal for public employees to hold memberships in civil rights organizations. Clark, being a principled organizer and fighter in the anti-racist movement refused to resign from the NAACP and consequently was fired from her job after decades of service.

Civil Rights and Mass Education

Despite these setbacks, Clark continued her pioneering work in the Civil Rights Movement which was gaining mass support during the mid-to-late 1950s. She realized the necessity of adult literacy in the struggle for voting rights and advancement within the labor market.

After being terminated as a public school teacher in South Carolina, Clark went to work for Tennessee’s Highlander Folk School, an institution that trained organizers in the labor and the Civil Rights Movements. She was not a newcomer to the Highlander School having led workshops there during breaks from teaching in South Carolina. In fact Rosa Parks, popularly known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” had attended workshops conducted by Clark in 1955 prior to the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott later that same year.

Clark was appointed as the director of the Highlander’s Citizenship School program. This program assisted working people and farmers in learning how to instruct others in their communities in the fields of basic literacy and mathematics. As a result of these projects more people were able to register to vote, since Southern states often utilized literacy tests to exclude African Americans from the franchise.

By 1961 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other ministers in 1957, adopted the education project. Clark soon joined the SCLC as its director of education and teaching. Under her direction, more than 800 citizenship schools were established.

Clark became the first woman to occupy a seat on the board of the SCLC. She had to deal with an organization which was male-dominated and still burdened with paternalism.

Another leading African American woman organizer Ella Baker, who had also worked with the NAACP during the 1930s and 1940s, served as the first executive director of the SCLC but left the organization after differences with its leaders. Baker convened the South-wide youth conference in April 1960 at Shaw College in Raleigh, North Carolina which led to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Significance of Septima Clark Today

A pioneer in mass education, Clark’s work linked adult literacy to the struggle for Civil Rights and political representation. Political education in needed desperately in 2015 as African Americans renew the struggle against racism and for self-determination along with full equality.

Since the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the ruling class has waged a campaign to reverse all the gains won during the period between the 1940s and 1970s. Today the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been stripped of its enforcement provisions while in many states affirmative action programs designed to re-correct historic disparities in education, housing, employment and women rights have been eviscerated.

In order to wage these necessary struggles workers, oppressed people and women must be organized and politically educated. A study and recognition of the lives and contributions of Septima Clark, Ella Baker, Rosa Parks and countless other African American women should be evoked.

Septima Clark died in 1987 after publishing two autobiographies, one in 1962 entitled: “Echo in My Soul and a later one “Ready From Within” in 1987, the year of her passing. She would win recognition for her contributions in the literary field as well.

Her legacy is a well-secured within the history of the African American people and all forces fighting for an end to racism and inequality.


Abayomi Azikiwe has written extensively on African affairs with specific reference to historical studies and political economy. He has done research on the origins and political ideology of the African National Congress, its leaders as well as other national liberation movements and regional organizations  in Southern Africa.

Related:
Charleston Massacre and the Revolutionary Legacy of Denmark Vesey

Gender, Resistance and Radical Democracy : Meet the Women of the HDP

By Elif Genc

“We are women; We are youth; We are the rainbow; We are children; We are defenders of democracy; We are representatives of all identities; We are defenders of a free world; We are protectors of nature; We are builders of a safe life economy; We are workers; We are labourers; We are the guarantors of social rights.”

— from the election manifesto of the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), declared by the co-presidents Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.

HDP Co-Presidents Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.

Following a period of increased political violence in the Kurdish regions of Turkey leading up to the federal elections of 2015, the worst being a recent bombing of the HDP rally in Diyarbakir (Amed) which left at least three people dead and hundreds wounded, there has been a watershed of party politics in Turkey. For the first time since 2002, there is evidence of the demise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s despotic rule over the country since he was not able to form a majority government. More importantly, the radical left-wing, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), passed the threshold of 10 per cent (a barrier implemented during the 1980 military coup, with the precise purpose of keeping the Kurds out of parliament), thereby becoming the first pro-Kurdish party to enter the Turkish parliament.

Furthermore the fact that 32 out of 82 HDP members of parliament (MPs) are women marks a radical shift in the political culture of the country. The significance of this nearly trumps the actual results of the election – or so it would appear. HDP recently has been likened to the Turkish version of SYRIZA or Podemos in their anti-capitalist platforms; however as of recently, it had essentially received no international media attention. Given that Greece and Turkey are neighbours, this oversight illustrates the euro-centric focus surrounding politics of the Left. In fact, in many respects HDP is more progressive than either of these European parties, particularly regarding women and minority rights. With roots in the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), a platform composed of various groups including leftist parties, feminist groups, LGBTQ groups, trade unions and groups representing Alevis, Armenians, and other ethnic minorities, HDP aims to create an alternative radical democratic space and culture as an alternative to global capitalism and neoliberalism, regardless of race, gender or religion in Turkey.

Transformative Class Aspirations

Though representation as a party in parliament is essential, there remains a lot of scepticism, toward the ability of originally socially progressive movements to maintain their transformative class aspirations once they enter party politics. However in the case of HDP, since its formation in 2013, there is a lot of evidence indicating that it may actually be capable of realizing or fostering substantive social change in Turkey. This can be attributed to many factors that are distinctive to the HDP compared to any other party in Turkey, stemming from a decades long tradition of the radical feminist Kurdish social movement which they have come to represent in parliament. Though recently there has been an outpouring of analysis of the HDP, there has yet to be a thorough examination of the role that radical feminist politics in the Kurdish social movement have played in the development of the party.

Any understanding of this case must take into account the interrelated oppression that Kurdish women face through their direct lived experiences, which predisposes them to a political consciousness evident in the women of the HDP. As a result of their ethno-cultural identity, Kurdish women have undergone especially harsh levels of class oppression, patriarchal violence, and subordination to the state; in response, they have developed their own unique forms of political agency (Wilson 2013). Nothing illustrates this transformative process better than HDP’s embrace of egalitarian principles, gender equality, and radical democracy.

These elements are mirrored in the cultural revolution of Rojava (Western Kurdistan) in Syria which claims to have overcome the reproduction of statist patriarchal relations altogether (Ocalan 2011). Currently in Rojava power is equally distributed between one woman and one man at all political levels from party presidencies to neighbourhood councils through its co-chair principle. The women’s movement is autonomously organized, socially, politically, and militarily. Similar to this framework, the HDP has created a popular grassroots feminist movement which provides a political platform for women’s rights groups, and signals a commitment to gender equality. The party is led by female and male co-chairs – Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag respectively – and the party charges female candidates half what it does men to run for office. Around 40 per cent of the HDP’s newly elected members of parliament are women – a remarkably large percentage in comparison to the other Turkish parties, where women hold only 17 per cent of the seats.

Many of the elected prominent Kurdish women figures of the HDP have been themselves political prisoners associated with feminist armed resistance as a result of their interlinked oppression and direct lived experiences. Leyla Zana, the newly elected MP of Agri, was imprisoned for 10 years for her political activism, and in 1991 she became the first Kurdish woman to win a seat in the Turkish parliament. She created a scandal when she spoke Kurdish on the floor of the parliament after being sworn in, even though it was illegal at that time. In 1994, she was arrested and charged with treason and membership in the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK – Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan). The former co-chair of the party, Sebahat Tuncel, went on trial for being a member of the armed guerrilla group PKK in 2006, accused of making frequent trips to PKK camps, and was subsequently imprisoned. She ran for parliament from prison and after winning a seat in Istanbul was released from custody in 2007. She is the first person in Turkish history to be elected to parliament from prison and the youngest woman to serve in the Turkish parliament. These women’s political struggle as representatives of the Kurdish social movement, and subsequent involvement in party politics, was often met with state violence, centered around a combination of racism and sexism, used to delegitimize their cause.

Dilek Ocalan, recently elected to represent the HDP in Urfa, is the niece of the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, whose conceptions of “democratic confederalism” seem to be emulated in the party’s platform. He claims that the root to overcoming capitalism and state oppression are through female emancipation:

“All the power and state ideologies stem from sexist attitudes and behaviour[…]. Without women’s slavery none of the other types of slavery can exist let alone develop. Capitalism and nation-state denote the most institutionalized dominant male. Capitalism and nation-state are the monopolism of the despotic and exploitative male.”

He further claims:

“Nothing in the Middle East is as gruesome as the social status of the woman. The enslavement of the woman is similar to the enslavement of the peoples, except it is even older… The project of women’s liberation goes far beyond the equality of the sexes, but moreover describes the essence of general democracy, of human rights, of harmony with nature and communal equality,” (Öcalan 2010).

In addition, the party appears to embrace Öcalan’s ideas of “social ecology.” A significant part of the party’s platform is focused on environmental protocol, stemming from the original initiatives of the Occupy Gezi movement, which entailed massive protests against the ruling party and state authoritarianism during the summer of 2013.

Radical Pluralism

Lastly, seemingly as a result of living various forms of oppression, the Kurdish women of the HDP are predisposed to being more sympathetic to other oppressed peoples of Turkey. The HDP moves beyond the dichotomy of Turkish and Kurdish ethnic and national identity politics and homogeneous religious or ethnic identities by embracing politics and practices embodying a “radical pluralism.” Among the HDP there are members of parliament that are from Armenian, Roma, Aramean and Yezidi minority groups, as well as the first openly queer MP in Turkish history. The HDP has also called for a new constitution that enshrines minority rights for Kurds, Alevis and other religious and ethnic minorities. The HDP has also been unwavering in their fight for the rights and support of the LGBTQ community in Turkey – by far one of the most oppressed groups of the Turkish state.

Clearly the elements accounting for the success of the HDP in the recent elections are many, among them the aftermath of the Occupy Gezi social movement, AKP’s lack of response to the battle for Kobane and the social conservatives switching their allegiance from AKP to HDP in their determination to see an end to Erdogan’s reign over Turkey. Still, as far as the representation and tradition of the party are concerned, the role that radical feminist politics represented by the Kurdish social movement has played should not be overlooked. The women of the HDP, through their direct lived experiences and political consciousness in the Kurdish social movement, show promise of many of these principles and practices being translated into Turkish party politics for the future. •

Elif Genc is a graduate student from York University and will be doing her Ph.D. in Politics at the New School for Social Research in New York. She is also an activist of the Kurdish social movement in Toronto and her research interests include the women of Rojava and the movement.

References:

  • Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom: The Rise and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Palo Alto, Calif.: Cheshire Books, 1982); and The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship [later retitled Urbanization Against Cities] (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1986).
  • Öcalan, Abdullah. Prison Writings: The Roots of Civilization, trans. Klaus Happel (London: Pluto Press, 2007); and Prison Writings: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century, trans. Klaus Happel (London: Transmedia, 2011). Neither Bookchin nor Öcalan was an archaeologist or anthropologist; rather, in their accounts of prehistory and early history, they use such professionals’ published findings.
  • Wilson, Angelia R., and Ebscohost E-Books – York University. Situating Intersectionality: Politics, Policy, and Power, 2013.

Related:

Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution
Democratic Confederalism
The Road Map to Democratization of Turkey
The Roots of Civilisation
The Ocalan Case
War And Peace In Kurdistan
Why Jineology? Re-Constructing the Sciences Towards a Communal and Free Life
Peacebuilding as Counter-Insurgency | Self-Determination vs Global ‘Counter-Terror’ Operations
The Kurdistan Woman’s Liberation Movement
Kurdish Women’s Unknown History of Struggle
Stateless Democracy : How the Kurdish Women’s Movement Liberated Democracy from the State
The Double Standards of the Western World According to PKK
ISIS Seen Through the Eyes of PKK Guerrilla Forces
Killing the Dominant Male
Revolutionary Women: Zapatista and YPJ-STAR Embrace New Gender Politics
Feminism and the Kurdish Freedom Movement

Closing the Historical Circle : White Terrorism at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

By

“…It is time for you and me now to let the world know how peaceful we are, how well-meaning we are, how law-abiding we wish to be. But at the same time we have to let the same world know we’ll blow their world sky-high if we’re not respected and recognized and treated the same as other human beings are treated.”  ~Malcolm X

Two hundred years ago, it is quite likely that Denmark Vesey, an enslaved African who managed to purchase his freedom and co-found the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, met in the relative safe space of that church to plan the slave rebellion that marked his entry into history. Set for June 17 1822, his audacious plan was to free as many Africans as possible, commandeer a ship from the Charleston Harbor and set sail for the free territory of Haiti, which had defeated Napoleon’s army and established itself as the first African republic on the planet. After Vesey was betrayed and his plot uncovered, local whites burned the church to the ground, only to be rebuilt again by the Africans of Charleston.

In what can be seen as a metaphor for the African American experience in the U.S., almost two centuries later, Dylann Storm Roof, a militant white nationalist, stood up in the sacred space of Emanuel AME church on June 17, the anniversary of Vesey’s planned rebellion and unleashed a murderous attack on a small gathering of Black worshippers.

This latest outrage followed on the heels of the execution of Walter Scott by a Charleston police officer a few months ago. The video of the Scott murder and the constant images of brutal cops behaving with an air of impunity as they murder and beat Black men, woman and children across the country have generated a growing sense among African Americans, even the pro-American apologists, that Black people are under a racist siege.

Yet, for Dylann Storm Roof, the Black people in that church were the aggressors and he was the defender of white civilization, the “American” way of life and spirit that President Obama praised in his speech in Selma. Obama pushes the liberal version of the white nationalist narrative of inclusiveness and integration into the U.S. settler project by the subordinate racialized peoples., But Roof and many other white settlers are committed to upholding an unaltered view of the U.S. shared by the “founding fathers,” who established the U.S. as the first racist republic in history.

Roof is reported to have said that black people are rapists and are taking over HIS country. While it is easy for everyone to condemn and even pathologize Roof for his views, an honest assessment of the racialized discourse used to mobilize public support for U.S. military interventions would reveal an ideological consistency between Roof’s fear and loathing of the non-European “other” and the messages conveyed in recruitment posters for the U.S. military that depict soldiers waging war in far-off places to protect OUR freedoms in the U.S. Military propagandists know that the representation of the “non-white other” informs the imagination of most Americans when they think of foreign threats to the “homeland.”

A new generation of African Americans are slowing coming to the conclusion that it does not matter if it is the streets of Baghdad or Ferguson — they/we are the enemies, who, as Roof said, must be stopped. The irrational, violence-prone racialized “other” occupies a permanent space in the consciousness of so many in the U.S., which is why it has been so easy to mobilize public support for U.S. military interventions and campaigns of political subversion, from Iraq to Venezuela.

Sermons have already started condemning violence in the U.S., while the U.S. continues to send arms to known Islamic extremists in Syria, provide logistical and political support to the Saudi’s brutal and illegal war in Yemen, arm and train neo-Nazi fascists in Ukraine while militarily pivoting to Asia – and no one in the corporate media will call it hypocrisy.

Obama and the ruling class in the U.S. are not concerned with violence. Obama just wants to make sure that the violence is state-sanctioned. While he moralizes about gun violence and the availability of weapons, he continues to allow massive military arms to be passed from the federal government to police forces through the government’s 1033 program. And the fact that the U.S. is the biggest arms merchant in the world is information that Obama will never share with the public.

Quotes by Dr. King about the need for a non-violent response to the racist assault we are under in the U.S. are once again being pulled out. The Dr. King quotes they don’t repeat, however, are those about the U.S. being the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. And they certainly will not remind the people that Dr. King argued that the only way the U.S. might hope to cure itself of the maladies of racism, materialism and militarism is through a radical restructuring of society. No, we won’t hear that Dr. King, and few will know about Vesey and his connection to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But we know Malcolm, and Malcolm’s words bring the clarity we need today to close the circle of struggle.



Malcolm X Message to the Grassroots

 Malcolm X, c. 1964 “Anyone who stands in the way of your freedom is your enemy”


Related:
The Strategy of Malcolm X
Malcolm X: Speeches and Interviews (1960-65)
Malcolm X: “Message To The Grass Roots” Speech, Detroit on November 10, 1963
The Vision of Malcolm X: The Program of the Organization of Afro-American Unity
Malcolm X: “Pan Africanism or Perish”
Malcolm X: Not Just an American Problem, But a World Problem
Malcolm X Returns In An Inspiring Exhibit
Famous Speeches of Malcolm X

Charleston Massacre and the Revolutionary Legacy of Denmark Vesey

South Carolina has a centuries-old legacy of racist violence and economic exploitation

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Libya 360°

A racist attack on the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston was a planned and premediated assault on the legacy of struggle waged by the African American people for two centuries in South Carolina.

Corporate media reports on the shooting seeks to minimize its significance featuring politicians and moderate elements within the community who express shock that such an incident would occur in a church in the state of South Carolina. The governor has said that South Carolina was a “loving community” and that the attack resulting in the assassination of a State Senator Clementa Pinckney and eight other African American church members who were workers playing a leading role in community affairs, was so somehow at variance with the social culture of the area.

Nonetheless, South Carolina has a long history of slavery, Jim Crow, racial capitalism and terrorist violence against African Americans. The former British colony and slave state reaped massive profits through the exploitation of Africans during colonial the antebellum period.

However, Africans have resisted their enslavement since the 18th century from West Africa all the way to the Carolinas in the southeast region of what become known as the United States.

“According to an article published in the South Carolina Gazette on July 7, 1759:

“A Sloop commanded by a brother of…Captain Ingledieu, slaving up the River Gambia, was attacked by a number of the natives, about the 27th of February last, and made a good defense; but the Captain finding himself desperately wounded, and likely to be overcome, rather than fall into the hands of merciless wretches, when about 80 Negroes had boarded vessel, discharged a pistol into his magazine and blew her up; himself and every soul on board perished.”

There was much at stake for the slavocracy in South Carolina. In a posting by the South Carolina Information Highway it notes of the history of the state that “The slave traders discovered that Carolina planters had very specific ideas concerning the ethnicity of the slaves they sought. No less a merchant than Henry Laurens wrote: The Slaves from the River Gambia are preferred to all others with us [here in Carolina] save the Gold Coast…. next to Them the Windward Coast are preferred to Angola.” (http://www.sciway.net/hist/chicora/slavery18-2.html)

The site goes on saying “In other words, slaves from the region of Senegambia and present-day Ghana were preferred. At the other end of the scale were the “Calabar” or Ibo or “Bite” slaves from the Niger Delta, who Carolina planters would purchase only if no others were available. In the middle were those from the Windward Coast and Angola.”

This same source continues stressing that “Carolina planters developed a vision of the ‘ideal’ slave – tall, healthy, male, between the ages of 14 and 18, ‘free of blemishes,’ and as dark as possible. For these ideal slaves Carolina planters in the eighteenth century paid, on average, between 100 and 200 sterling – in today’s money that is between $11,630 and $23,200! Many of these slaves were almost immediately put to work in South Carolina’s rice fields. Writers of the period remarked that there was no harder, or more unhealthy work possible: “[N]egroes, ankle and even mid-leg deep in water which floats in mud, and exposed all the while to a burning sun which makes the very air they breathe hotter than the human blood; these poor wretches are then in a furnace of stinking putrid effluvia: a more horrible employment can hardly be imagined.”

It is quite obvious from the web and social media posting of suspect Dylann Storm Roof that he was well aware of the long tradition of African people fighting their oppressors targeting the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) which was founded in the movement against slavery and for self-determination as early as 1818. Efforts by the federal and state officials have sought to ignore any possible links by Roof to white supremacist organizations which are in existence in South Carolina and neighboring North Carolina where he was captured.

Attacks on Emanuel AME Calculated and Ideologically Driven

Charleston Massacre: Yet another terrorist act against Blacks in America
Racist terrorist Dylan Storm Roof, wearing the flags of the apartheid regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia

The perpetrator was an ideological racist who championed the system of settler-colonialism in Southern Africa and the United States. In a posting over the web, Roof wore a jacket with the insignia of the former apartheid regime in South Africa and the overthrown settler-colony of Rhodesia, founded in the attempted genocide, forced displacement and virtual enslavement of the people of Zimbabwe during the 19th century, which won its independence in 1980.

The fact that this church with such a valiant history of resistance to slavery was targeted illustrated that this was an attempt to intimate the African American nation as a whole and its institutions. Despite the legacy of slavery and segregation, the people of South Carolina have engaged in political activity since antebellum and Reconstruction period.

History of Emanuel AME Church Rooted in Rebellion During Slavery

Emanuel grew out of the resistance to slavery during the early 19th century. A co-founder of the church was Telemaque, better known as Denmark Vesey.

His plans for a major slave revolt in Charleston in 1822 sent shockwaves throughout the antebellum South and other slaveholding areas of the U.S. Vesey and his comrades were hung after a secret trial while the church was destroyed by the slave masters. The church operated underground for decades only to resurface after the Civil War.

Vesey was first enslaved in the Danish colony of St. Thomas in the Caribbean in the late 18th century. He was reportedly taken to Haiti during the same period where a revolution against French colonialism and slavery was carried out during 1791-1803, becoming the first successful slave revolution against chattel bondage in history establishing an African republic in 1804.

He and his master re-located in South Carolina during the latter years of the 18th century. South Carolina was a profitable state for the slave system where due to the intensity of agricultural production, Africans far outnumbered whites in the 19th century.

It is reported that the Africans organized by Vesey had planned to burn down plantations and kill slave owners liberating the enslaved and taking people to Haiti to join the independent Black government there in 1822. The plot was revealed to the ruling slavocracy, resulting in the arrest of Vesey and dozens of others who were tried in secret hearings leading to the initial execution of 35 people and many others later.

The Emmanuel Church grew out of the movement for independent self-rule among Africans as represented by the Free Africa Society that created the conditions for the formal founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Philadelphia during the period of 1787 and 1816. The founders of the Church included Richard Allen and Sara Allen along with Absalom Jones. Emanuel is reported to have been the third AME Church founded in the U.S. being the earliest of such institutions in the South during slavery and its aftermath.

This act of terrorism on June 17, just one day after the 193rd anniversary of the Denmark Vesey plot being revealed to the ruling class, represents a profound provocation to African Americans and progressive forces in general. The confederate flag which still flies on the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia must be taken down as demonstrators called for on Saturday June 20.

A ruthless campaign against racism and racist organizations must be waged by the African American people and their allies across the country. Until racism and national oppression is overthrown there can be no real transformation of U.S. society from capitalism to socialism.


Abayomi Azikiwe has written extensively on African affairs with specific reference to historical studies and political economy. He has done research on the origins and political ideology of the African National Congress, its leaders as well as other national liberation movements and regional organizations  in Southern Africa.


Related:
United States Foreign Policy a Reflection of the Legacy of Racism and National Oppression

United States Foreign Policy a Reflection of the Legacy of Racism and National Oppression

Charleston massacre represents a long line of crimes against humanity that expand the globe

Author’s Comment: This presentation was delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) which was held on Thurs. June 18, 2015 at the Our Lady of Fatima Church located in Oak Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Azikiwe serves as an executive board member of the organization having previously occupied the positions of both chairperson of the board of directors and president during 2007-2014. Also speaking at this event was Dr. Saaed Khan, a professor at Wayne State University and also a member of the MCHR Board of Directors.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Libya 360°

We are here for our annual meeting in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR). Our yearly dinner was a resounding success in April with hundreds in attendance under the theme of the need to link various struggles against racism, economic exploitation and for social justice and self-determination for the majority of people who live within this society and the world.

The topic this evening focuses is on the relationship between United States foreign and domestic policy. Why is the government constantly at war with one enemy or another abroad and at the same time failing to foster peace and stability here inside the country?

Today we witnessed the arrest of a suspect in the gruesome massacre of nine African Americans in one of the leading historic churches in the U.S. Even those within law-enforcement and the corporate media have characterized this incident as a hate crime.

Obviously this mass killing was politically motivated. The most prominent person killed in the massacre was Pastor Clementa Pinckney who is also a State Senator in South Carolina. He was in a prayer meeting and bible study at the church when a white 21-year-old male entered and stayed for some time before declaring that he was there to kill Black people.
Charleston Massacre: Yet another terrorist act against Blacks in AmericaReports indicate that he had a criminal record for drugs and other offenses. His links to white supremacist organizations is being examined with each passing hour. He has been shown in a photograph wearing a jacket with the insignia of the former apartheid regime in South Africa and the previous settler-colony of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Ongoing problems of racist violence and other hate crimes are consistently ignored or played down in the corporate media. The administration of President Barack Obama has been rightly criticized for not addressing the continuing, and many would say, escalating phenomenon of racist violence, hate speech and institutional racism.

History of Mother Emmanuel AME Church and Struggle Against National Oppression

This church where the shooting took place occupies a proud history in the legacy of African people in the U.S. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) was founded in Philadelphia by Richard Allen, Sara Allen, Absalom Jones and others in 1787 beginning as the Free Africa Society.

When the church was formed the United States was in its infancy as a nation. The country had inherited the institution of slavery as an economic system. Slavery existed in the Northeast as well as the South. Africans who had accepted Christianity were still subjected to racism and sought to set up their own independent places of worship.

In the Southeast during the later decades of the 18th Century an African Baptist Church was formed. Later in Philadelphia the AME Church went in the same direction. These places of worship did not just deal with the spiritual needs of the people but the desire for genuine freedom. The formation of the early African churches was in themselves acts of self-determination and defiance against slavery.

Perhaps the most famous co-founder of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church was Telemaque, better known as Denmark Vesey. He was born in the Denmark colony of St. Thomas in the Caribbean and later lived as a slave in Saint Domingo (Haiti). Reports of his life say that he was influenced by Africans in Haiti when the revolution erupted in 1791. He along with his master Vesey, had re-located to South Carolina by the late 1790s. He was able to win his freedom from slavery remaining in South Carolina and serving as a co-founder of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in 1818.

In 1822 Denmark Vesey was the engineer of an elaborate plot to liberate his people from slavery. He had tried for many years to purchase the freedom of his wife and children yet the white slave masters would not free his spouse or children who were automatically placed in bondage following the rules of the system where the offspring would inherit the status of the mother.

Vesey was influenced by developments in Haiti. The Charleston County revolt was scheduled to take place on July 14, Bastille Day in France. However, a decision was made by Vesey and his comrades at the Church to move the date forward to June 16.

Demographically as a result of the slave system of agricultural production in Charleston, Africans far outnumbered whites in the area. Such a slave revolt would have sent shockwaves throughout the South and shaken the system to its core. Nonetheless, the plans for the revolt were leaked to the slave masters and Vesey along with many others were arrested, tried in a secret court and hung.

Many others were deported to Caribbean islands and other U.S. states. Morris Brown, another early leader of the AME Church was forced out of the state. I do not believe that it was a coincidence that this horrendous act of hate last evening took place just one day after the 193rd anniversary of the plans for the Charleston Rebellion.

Later in August 1831, Nat Turner in South Hampton County, Virginia led another revolt which was not uncovered until the actual day of the uprising. Turner was also motivated by the Bible and notions of the fulfillment of prophecy.

The Nat Turner Revolt led to the deaths of numerous slaveholders. Turner and other were eventually apprehended and brutally executed. Nonetheless, this rebellion created a reaction on the part of the slavocracy in the South resulting in the Abolitionist Movement being born. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was a desperate measure to maintain what even many slave masters knew was a dying system of exploitation.

When John Brown attacked Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859, it represented the initial skirmishes of the Civil War which began in earnest in 1861 extending to 1865, breaking the back of the antebellum slave system and ushering in Reconstruction. The failure to build democracy in the aftermath of the dissolution of slavery and the defeat of the Confederacy is still with us today. It would take another century for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act to be passed.

Nonetheless, today much of the turmoil inside the U.S. is related to the inability of the American system to eradicate institutional racism and national oppression.

Direct Relations of Domestic and Foreign Policy

How do these historical developments rooted in slavery provide insight into modern U.S. foreign policy? Is there a direct link between the ongoing racial oppression and the character of Washington’s relations to the former colonial, semi-colonial and socialist states?

All modern wars waged whether Cold or Hot have been directed against the states within the regions of the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe since the conclusion of World War II. Today we witness the re-emerge of another Cold War with the escalation of tensions between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, Yemen and other geo-political areas.

In Yemen today, the Saudi Arabian monarchy is bombing the country, the most underdeveloped in the region. The Saudi Arabian and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance war against Yemen is in actuality a proxy war against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which had a popular revolution in 1979 in response to the U.S. support of a monarchy which repressed its people for decades. The nationalist government of Mohamed Mossadegh was overthrown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1953 simply because he sought to take control of Iran’s oil resources.

In Palestine, the U.S. has supported the State of Israel which maintains its occupation after 67 years. The people of Gaza and the West Bank are daily subjected to the armed might of the Israeli Defense Forces and the police.

These wars in Yemen and Palestine are supported through direct U.S. tax dollars and weapons. The F-16 fighter planes now bombing Yemeni residential, communications, transport and port facilities are produced in the U.S. The same is true of the Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), phosphorous bombs and other ordinances utilized by the IDF against the people of Gaza in Operation Protective Edge during 2014 right through additional attacks in recent weeks.

U.S. Imperialism Escalates Its Interference in North Africa

In North Africa the situation is growing more desperate every week. Many of us have followed the tragedy of mass migrations where thousands have died just this year off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean in desperate attempts to reach Malta and Sicily.

The current situation in Libya is a direct result of the CIA-Pentagon and NATO war of regime-change in 2011. There were over 26,000 sorties flown over Libya in 2011 and some 10,000 bombs were dropped on the North African state, previously the most prosperous on the continent under the Gaddafi government.

In Libya today there are two contending regimes claiming legitimacy as the government. Human traffickers take advantage of the chaos to funnel migrants fleeing the impact of wars in Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Syria, and as far away as South Asia. The European Union and the U.S., which have initiated these wars, act now as if they have nothing to do with the current crisis. The EU response has been a military one which will only result in more deaths and displacement.

Also in the region, the militarized regime in Egypt is another case of failed U.S. foreign policy. Since the late 1970s, Washington and Wall Street have funded the Egyptian government under the former President Hosni Mubarak right through the present junta led by military-turned-civilian ruler Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. Thousands of Egyptians have been killed since the military coup in July 2013. The former elected President Mohamed Morsi has been sentenced to death by a court that makes a mockery of due process.

However, these failed policies continue unabated. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sudan, the impact of U.S. foreign policy is still very much in evidence. Iraq is still at war and the administration of President Barack Obama is carrying out bombing operations against the Islamic State and re-deploying Pentagon forces ostensibly as advisers and trainers. This is the same president who ran for office in 2008 saying he would end the war in Iraq.

The U.S. support of the armed rebels in Syria led to the formation of the Islamic State which has spread into Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Despite the spending of hundreds of billions during the Iraq war by U.S. tax payers carrying out a campaign of regime-change that met popular opposition, the country is still in deep crisis.

The billions spent on weapons to arm the new Iraqi army which was crafted in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, have mainly been wasted through the capturing of these guns, tanks and other equipment by the Islamic State. At present U.S. warplanes are bombing their own weapons sent into the theater based upon untruths and psychological warfare against both the people of Iraq and the U.S.

Which Way Forward in Domestic and U.S. Policy?

Therefore, we have much work to carry out in the upcoming year. Our organization faces the challenge of both addressing the need to cherish both lives here in the U.S. as well as throughout the world.

Since August 2014 with the unrest in Ferguson, the incomplete revolution in racial equality has been further exposed for the world to see. The reluctance of the Obama administration to discuss race and to develop policies that specifically address the continuing disparate class and social divide in the U.S. has borne an ever worsening situation.

Comments by Obama at the White House on events in Charleston seemed to focus more on the need for gun control. Although gun control is important, the underlying racial hatred and hostility is not fully explored.

At the same time there is almost no debate over the redeployment of military forces in Iraq. There is almost no information about the ongoing war in Syria. Most people in the U.S. who watch the news originating from inside the country are barely aware of the war in Yemen and the role of Washington in this genocidal process.

Consequently, we need to intensify our activism aimed at ending racism domestically and imperialist militarism around the world. These two imperatives merge when we look at the growing militarization of the police in the U.S. and the vast prison industrial complex.

Many of the same weapons and tactics utilized in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia and Palestine are being unleashed against African Americans and others inside this country. Police kill African Americans and Latinos at an alarming rate and in most cases the authorities go unpunished.

The massive impending evictions by Wayne County due to property tax foreclosures and the renewed water shut-offs of thousands in Detroit indicate clearly that the rebuilding of Detroit is taking place in contravention to the majority of people who live there. We must continue our vocal opposition to these crimes against humanity.

We look forward to our new members of the board of directors. This is a working board that seeks to make a difference in the broader movement for social change in the U.S. and internationally. Let us move forward into the coming year with the necessary vigor and vision that will ensure the fundamental change that is needed in the present period.


Abayomi Azikiwe has written extensively on African affairs with specific reference to historical studies and political economy. He has done research on the origins and political ideology of the African National Congress, its leaders as well as other national liberation movements and regional organizations  in Southern Africa.


Related:
Charleston Massacre and the Revolutionary Legacy of Denmark Vesey

Imperialism and the Making of the Migration Crisis

The unprecedented scale of global migration and migrant deaths are deliberate, not coincidental.

By Harsha Walia

Leading up to World Refugee Day on Saturday, the United Nations unveiled a devastating and damning report on the scale of global displacement. The U.N.’s Refugee Agency data reveals a total of 59.5 million people are displaced around the world. With one in every 122 people being internally displaced or seeking asylum in a new country, this is the highest level of displaced people ever recorded. It is also the largest leap recorded within a single year, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres calls it “a staggering acceleration” that will only worsen.

This 56-page report illuminates the context for Angela Davis’ remarks in Germany last month, when she declared that the “refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century.” Patterns of displacement and migration reveal the unequal relations between rich and poor, between North and South, between whiteness and its racialized others.

Roots of the Migration Crisis

Aptly titled “World at War,” the U.N. report names wars and persecution as the drivers of forced displacement. Almost 14 million of the 59.5 million are newly displaced people over the past year, with an average of 42,500 people becoming refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced every single day primarily due to military conflicts.

The four-year civil war in Syria has created 11.6 million refugees, giving Syria the unfortunate honor of being the leading source country of refugees. Turkey, which neighbors Syria to the north, has become host to the world’s largest refugee population with almost 2 million refugees within its borders. Due to the ongoing occupation of Palestine by Israel, there are an estimated 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with a separate U.N. agency, UNRWA, in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

While militarization and persecution are typically understood as primary forces of migration, forces of economic violence, climate change and gendered violence are all also causing displacement. The forced privatization and neoliberalization of subsistence farming has resulted in the loss of rural land for millions, particularly women peasants, across Asia, Africa, and South and Central America.

Though the U.N. report does not tackle displacements due to corporate interests and free trade deals, a recent study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Huffington Post found that over the last decade, World Bank-funded projects physically or economically displaced 3.4 million people, forcing them from their homes, taking their land or damaging their livelihoods.

According to statistics by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, by the year 2020 there will be 50 million climate refugees. A day after the U.N. report on displacement, Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change in which he articulates the connection between the climate, capitalist, and migration crises. He writes:

“Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry … There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world.”

Border Militarization

“you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you”
– Nayyirah Waheed

Despite the popular myth of First World benevolence toward refugees, 86 percent of refugees are actually in countries of the global South. Yet some of the most intense border enforcement policies – informed by long-standing racial fears of brown and Black migrants – are being undertaken by countries in the global North.

Immigration detention centers are the most visible sites of border enforcement policies, with migrant detainees forming one of the fastest growing prison populations around the Western world. In Canada, an immigration detainee being held in a maximum-security facility died June 11 in a local hospital after being restrained by officers. There have been at least 11 documented deaths in immigration detention custody in Canada since 2000. This week in Arizona over 200 migrant detainees at the Eloy Detention Center launched a hunger strike in response to the death of Jose de Jesus Deniz-Sahagun, who was beaten by guards. In the U.S., 106 people have died in immigration detention centers since 2003, and since 1998, more than 6,000 migrants have died trying to cross the U.S.–Mexico border.

Geographer Reece Jones documents how three countries alone, including the U.S. and Israel, have built over 3,500 miles of walls on their borders. An estimated half of all displaced people are children and a fraction of these children – around 50,000 children – traveling as unaccompanied minors primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border last year.

Other countries, such as those in Western Europe, have pushed their border outwards to create  “Fortress Europe.” The EU spent about US$2.2 billion between 2007-2013 to fortify its external borders through naval surveillance. Such “prevention-by deterrence” strategies have received international condemnation, with Amnesty International declaring, “The human tragedies unfolding every day at Europe’s borders are neither inevitable, nor beyond the EU’s control. Many are of the EU’s making. EU member states must, at last, start putting people before borders.”

The International Organization for Migration has recorded 40,000 migration-related deaths around the world since 2000. Since that year, over 22,000 migrants have lost their lives trying to reach Europe. In the 2014 alone, over 3,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean, while this year over 800 died off the coast of Libya in a devastating boat wreck in April.

Recently, some European politicians suggested military operations to intercept and destroy boats transporting migrants and refugees off the coast of Libya. Perversely, these interventions were justified as humanitarian ones to target human smugglers, deemed modern-day slave-traders. Hundreds of academics immediately challenged this putatively progressive rhetoric, writing: “To attempt to crush [people-smuggling] with military force is not to take a noble stand against the evil of slavery, or even against ‘trafficking’. It is simply to continue a long tradition in which states, including slave states of the 18th and 19th century, use violence to prevent certain groups of human beings from moving freely.”

Indeed, border militarization policies make migrants’ journeys precarious and perilous. Bodies battering onto the shores and blistering in deserts may invoke sympathy and international discussions on how to “manage” the fatalities, but rarely do they invoke our collective sense of complicity and responsibility for migrant displacement and death. Geographer Mary Pat Brady describes migrant deaths as “a kind of passive capital punishment” where “immigrants have been effectively blamed for their own deaths.”

It is not a coincidence that migrant deaths are increasing every year, or that they happen at all. Migrants are dying at borders and in detention centers precisely because militarized borders and exclusionary immigration policies are intended to make their bodies, journeys and humanities vulnerable and expendable.

Harsha Walia (@HarshaWalia) is a South Asian activist and writer based in Vancouver, unceded Indigenous Coast Salish Territories in Canada. She has been involved in community-based grassroots migrant justice, feminist, anti-racist, Indigenous solidarity, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements for 15 years. She is the author of Undoing Border Imperialism.

Zero Tolerance for Racism


June 18, 2015

An historic Black church in Charleston, S.C., has been hit by an act of racist terrorism. The nine people killed on June 17 may not be victims of the systematic racism of the police and courts that the Black Lives Matter movement has been combating. They also may not be the victims of an organized conspiracy — that remains to be seen. But their deaths were not accidental.

The killings took place in a local atmosphere where it is normal for the state government to fly the flag of slavery on its lawn. Where the local cops have mingled with the Ku Klux Klan and recruited their members. And vice versa.

It’s a national atmosphere where capitalist corporate media hacks can call African-American youths “thugs” on network and cable television. An atmosphere where cops gather in demonstrations to demand their “right” to shoot Black and other people of color at will, without question or redress. A country where the airwaves and written words are still heavy with racism 150 years after slavery’s official end.

Those in power are already calling the suspect, Dylann Roof, a “lone, deranged individual.” If this individual is guilty of pulling the trigger, however, there is no doubt that his “derangement” was crafted in a society steeped in racism. Assuming the media reports are accurate, the suspect felt comfortable wearing the symbols of apartheid South Africa and racist, colonial Rhodesia — the country that is now independent and named Zimbabwe. And according to survivors, he repeated the vile lies racists have used for centuries to focus anger at Black men.

Those who fell from his bullets were women and men, churchgoers and political activists, union members and people who fought for their rights. Their church was the church of Denmark Vesey, whose name will live in the history of the fight for freedom because he made plans in 1822 for a massive slave uprising in the city of Charleston. Only torture and executions by the slave masters were able to prevent it.

As with all those who have died on the front lines of the struggles for rights, the cause of those just murdered in Denmark Vesey’s church should be taken up by all who want justice in this country and in the world.

Trade unions, rights organizations, progressive political organizations from all communities in the United States should rally together and bring this message to the streets across the country:

Zero tolerance for racism against Black people and any people of color! Solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with all who are victims of racist police violence! Class solidarity of all working people, who must stand together to win rights for all!

International Action Center

The atrocity in Charleston: ‘Let this trauma drive the struggle for Black Liberation’

By Lamont Lilly
June 18, 2015

When nine defenseless people are killed in a church, it’s not a “shooting,” it’s a massacre. When a 21-year-old white male who wears racist hate badges on his jacket walks into a church and murders nine unarmed Black people, I don’t call that just a “hate crime” by a lone wolf. It’s a terrorist attack by a white supremacist.

Unfortunately, the following description is exactly what happened on June 17 in Charleston, S.C., between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.

According to witnesses and recent reports, the accused 21-year-old gunman, Dylann Roof, walked in to Emanuel A.M.E. Church around 8:00 p.m. Local police were called around 9:00 p.m. According to witnesses and on the scene survivors, Roof reloaded five times. Eight people died at the scene, including the church’s pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.

After a 14-hour hunt, Roof was finally arrested in Shelby, N.C., just a few miles west of Charlotte, N.C., which is the former home of police shooting victim Jonathan Ferrell.

Adding insult to painful injury, the flag on South Carolina’s Capitol lawn — the flag of the Confederacy — is now flying at half-staff to “commemorate” the nine Black lives, dead at the bloody hands of a racist terrorist. Such a gesture is nothing less than a slap in the face to human dignity — acid to an open wound of injustice and inequality.

We don’t need to have a conversation about race. We need to have a conversation about revolution and Black Liberation. There’s a difference, a political and very serious difference. Ironically, Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church has a deeply entrenched history in the struggle for Black Liberation and people’s resistance.

In 1822, Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s original founders, was investigated and captured by slave authorities for his plan of organizing a slave revolt there in Charleston. After being sold out by an informant, Vesey and 36 other enslaved African descendants were hanged.

For the church’s involvement in a plot to resist, it was burned to the ground by local authorities and vigilantes. Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were quickly enacted to restrict all forms of slave assembly, including churches statewide. Traveling passes became required, while the slave patrol became the first form of organized and paid U.S. policing. Black people were literally forced to worship underground in that church for over 30 years until 1865. Common sense says you don’t fly a “Confederate flag” at half mast to commemorate a history like this.

Anyone who knows the history of the U.S. South is well familiar with the ruthless legacy of the state of South Carolina. Charleston was at one point the largest and most important slave port in North America. This same city and local municipality is directly responsible for the brutal death of Walter Scott just a few months ago. Scott was shot eight times in the back by a Charleston police officer. Only because that killing was captured on live video was truth able to reach the masses.

When Black youth from the oppressed communities of Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Oakland, Calif., decided to stand on courage and rebel against police brutality, racism and the capitalist system, they were called “thugs,” “rioters” and “hoodlums.” For some reason, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, a well-trained white supremacist, is being referred to by corporate media as a “lone wolf” who must have been “mentally ill.” That media completely fails to address the core issues, nor have they used the correct language.

Now is the time for the Black Church to return to its roots of organized resistance, of freedom fighting and liberation. As we also remember the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, let us channel this anger into movement building just as our ancestors did. Let this pain inspire us to rally our communities and organize every block. Let this trauma drive a new generation to pursue their freedom and complete liberation.

May the people rise above their oppressors.



Chairman Omali Yeshitela (African People’s Socialist Party), Rev. Bruce Wright (Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign) and Penny Hess (African People’s Solidarity Committee) point out the colonial relationship Africans in the U.S. and the nine Africans killed by a white American terrorist in Charleston, SC.

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Assata Shakur Mural Removed Following Unrelenting Right-Wing Campaign

By Workers Worldtumblr_mke1nvaB9n1rtvsvno1_1280

A mural depicting Assata Shakur was removed in May by Marquette University officials after an unrelenting right-wing campaign.

Shakur, a people’s hero and icon of the Black Lives Matter movement, is a former Black Panther falsely accused and convicted of killing a cop in New Jersey in 1973. She escaped prison and has been in exile in Cuba for more than 30 years. The U.S. government has a $2 million bounty out on her.

The mural had been on display in the Alumni Memorial Union near the Marquette Gender and Sexuality Resource Center since March. Shortly after the center posted photos of the mural on its Facebook page, a longtime conservative professor, John McAdams, joined a campaign to have the mural removed. McAdams critiqued the center on his blog for “glorifying a black militant cop killer.”

Under mass student, faculty and community protest, McAdams, an associate professor of political science, was suspended in 2014 for criticizing a graduate student teaching assistant on his blog for how she handled a discussion of gay marriage in her class. He faces possible termination.

Charlie Sykes of the WTMJ radio ­station in Milwaukee, one of the most rabid right-wing media personalities in the United States, helped the campaign to have the mural painted over. Sykes has a daily radio show and a TV program, and edits “Wisconsin Interest,” a magazine from the right-wing Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This think tank for decades has participated in the destruction of social safety nets such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the public school system, and unions and called for the privatization of public ­services.

Despite a mission statement proclaiming that the university encourages a diverse community with “vigorous yet respectful debate,” university spokesperson Brian Dorrington spoke for the Wall Street interests that really run Marquette University, the administrators and their servants, and the cops, on May 20, when he said: “The facts in this instance are clear: A mural of a convicted murderer has no place here.”

Dorrington, of course, said nothing about the innumerable photos, statues and memorabilia littering the Marquette campus and Milwaukee generally that glorify real criminals and murderers such as slave owners, those who’ve committed genocide on Native peoples and plundered whole continents, and the bankers and industrialists responsible for the vicious exploitation, oppression, and murder of workers and oppressed peoples.

Shortly after the mural was removed, the director of the center, Dr. Susannah Bartlow, either resigned under pressure or was fired. There is now a campaign to have her restored to her position. Supporters can email Dr. Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University, at michael.lovell@marquette.edu or call 414-288-7714. A petition can be found at ipetitions.com.

We will not be silenced!

The Coalition of and for Students of Color at Marquette University issued a statement May 18 after the mural was removed:

“Marquette University does not waste a moment. They painted over a mural with inspirational quotes from activist Assata Shakur without asking anyone (the students) if it was ok the same day of graduation. This is an attempt to erase our voice and silence the people, but we refuse to be silenced MU! Remember you are only functioning because we pay tuition and the Coalition doesn’t believe the mural should have been painted over. This is disrespectful and unacceptable!”

The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center was built after the university administration rescinded a job offer to Jodi O’Brien, a lesbian professor and noted author of gender and sexuality books. The center offers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students and allies space where they can seek counseling and resources. It is also designed to address issues of sexual violence on campus. The center, under Dr. Bartlow’s leadership since 2012, has also become an oasis for students of color on the majority white and affluent campus.

At a time when every progressive law, every policy, every organization and every resource is under attack by the right wing in Wisconsin, the destruction of the mural must be seen as part of the overall effort by Wall Street and their servants to attempt to smash what’s left of the labor-community movement and to make the state a Jim Crow, low-wage, nonunion, deregulated playground.

Besides the usual seething racism by right-wing forces against people’s warriors such as Shakur and against all people of color, the mural attack is also an attack on Cuba and the burgeoning youth- and student-led Black Lives Matter movement in Wisconsin. These inspiring forces have been connecting race, class, gender, sexuality and other issues such as the environment and supporting unions. The right wing is also attempting to divide white workers from their direly needed allies.

As the students, faculty and their supporters fight back, the two quotes from Shakur on the original mural are giving them inspiration to continue the struggle:

“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.”

“Before going back to college, I knew I didn’t want to be an intellectual, spending my life in books and libraries without knowing what the hell is going on in the streets. Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory. The two have to go together.”

https://i0.wp.com/www.workers.org/articles/wp-content/uploads/assata-shakur-mural.jpg

For more information: tinyurl.com/qdkcc74, tinyurl.com/GSRCMarquetteFB and #ASSATAMU #HANDSOFASSATA

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