The news last week of the FBI increasing its bounty on Assata Shakur seems to have reignited (for at least a couple of days) a discussion about current U.S. political prisoners. Matt Meyer edited an excellent book titled “Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners” that I often use for reference. Anyway, today I wanted to share an essay from the book written by Ashanti Omowali Alston that offers a mini-primer about contemporary American political prisoners.
After the Afterword:America Means Prison
by Ashanti Omowali Alston, 2008
Dear to our hearts: the political prisoners. In fact, not just dear to our hearts, but—in the words of New Afrikan People’s Organization founder Ahmed Obafemi—they are the heartbeats of our movements. They are the red ink dripping on the pages of our ongoing, unfolding stories of liberation within the confines of this prison called the United States of America.
Whether we are talking about Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement or the Black/New Afrikan liberation fighters, the Chicano/Atzlan liberation fighters or the independentistas of Puerto Rico, the white anti-imperialists or the earth/animal liberation fighters, we are essentially raising up the very foundational horrors of the American Empire. It’s a fact that nothing can be truly done about changing our world or creating a new one without acknowledging and joining with these representatives who stood up to resist.
Land? “Free Leonard!” is also about coming to terms with the theft of this land and continuing genocide of the Indigenous peoples. ”Free the San Francisco 8!” is also about coming to terms with the kidnapping, enslavement, and continuing judicial and social mass confinement of people of African descent. “Free Alvaro Luna Hernandez!” is also about coming to terms with the U.S. war on Mexico, the theft and incorporation of Mexican lands into the present-day U.S. You’ve heard the slogan: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”
“Free Oscar López Rivera!” is about coming to terms with the 1898 U.S. war with Spain, taking as its spoils the islands of Puerto Rico—still a colony to this very day. “Free Marilyn Buck!” is about coming to terms with revolutionary white folks who are not only post-modern-day Jane and John Browns giving unconditional support to folks of color liberation struggles, but who totally understand that their own humanity and liberation is tied to their frontline sacrifices. And “Free the shac 7!” is about coming to terms with new generations of folks who link their vision for nonoppressive, liberatory relations between human beings with all living things and the very planet. We have here the most ancient messages and wisdoms. Think of this, these political prisoners and their visions—their political vision quests—in light of all that is going on in the U.S. and the world empire today. In spite of how bad it looks, folks come forward to act. How can we not support them and work for their total freedom from judicial confinement?
Movements today extend from our political prisoners. Antiwar activists, do you know David Gilbert and the Vieques political prisoners? Environmental and animal rights activists, do you know Rod Coronado and Lauren Gazzola? Do you know the move 9? Cop-watch activists, do you know Abdul Majid and Bashir Hameed, the Queens Two? Do you know Chip Fitzgerald? International solidarity supporters, do you know Leonard Peltier? You, who feed the hungry, demand housing for the homeless, and work for the best and free treatments for those with hiv/aids, do you know who came before you?
The political prisoners tell us by their very presence that the Empire will not disappear or give in. It will not even compromise. Whatever it offers as a solution will only “fix it” to last a little longer. Those crumbs will solve or resolve nothing. Yet the political prisoners say that “Power to all the Peoples” is the only solution. And victories, real victories, can only happen when those who came before us are put on the top of our agendas. We cannot just fight for the future. We must fight for the past, present, and future.
We must figure out how to bring it all together. This issue is not just about freedom for the confined revolutionaries. It is about freedom with dignity for all of us that can only come about through rejuvenated struggle. Freedom for the political prisoners can only come about when grassroots movements are organized for our lives and use the act of putting political prisoners on the top of our agendas as a momentous and monumental seizing of hearts from judicial confinement. This issue is for communities and for the people’s institutions in our communities. It is for the revival of dignity amongst the Elders. It is for nurturing a dignified and righteous anger amongst the young. At the bottom line, we are at war!
We are at war, and they are closing in on us. They are using all the mechanisms at their disposal: the prison-industrial complex, the continued segregation and militarization of the police, the increased police occupation and murder of our communities, the underground drug economy’s use as mass social control, and the increasing distance put between people and formal mechanisms of power. We are living under a system that has no more need for Black, Asian, Latin@, and Indigenous peoples and poor Whites. It is a system that criminalizes youth, hip-hop culture, attempting to unravel any hope for self-determination. It is a system that uses the “drug war,” the “war against terrorism,” and the patriot Act to stimulate fear of so-called dangerous people. It is obvious that one key function of the democratic fascist state is to pre-empt revolutionary consciousness and organizing from gaining any ground. And one key to turn this back has to be free all political prisoners.
Free those whose armed points-of-entry into the brain of the Monster in the 1960s and 1970s led directly to their political confinement. They gave their all to struggle, to glorious revolution, to (as the Indigenous Elders would say) the next seven generations still unborn. We must fight aggressively for their total freedom, as powerful, organized grassroots movements!
In asking you to join us, we are asking you also to reclaim the honor of the phrase “revolutionary” for yourself. We must join together as revolutionaries who still believe in the dreams of our peoples. Our peoples… with many dreams flowing like rivers. We are asking that you not only be able to envision wonderful “after” scenarios, but that you also envision ourselves as daring to take on this Monster empire more assertively, more daringly. We are about reclaiming our lives, reclaiming the desire to live dignified lives. We are diverse peoples, respectful of each other and all living things. That’s all, that’s all. But to be willing to resist like a Geronimo, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Brad Will, Richard Williams, Nuh Washington, Safiya Bukhari, Judi Bari, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos is a way of honoring those who sacrificed so much to prepare the way. To be willing to sacrifice like an Assata Shakur is a way of preparing your way, preparing our ways.
Thus we say that revolution ain’t over, that no empire is invincible, and that the final determinator of all social dreams is the people, all the people.
FREE THE POLITICAL PRISONERS,
BECAUSE WE WANT OUR HEARTS BACK.
FREE ALL THE POLITICAL PRISONERS,
BECAUSE WE WANT TO NOURISH OUR DREAMS.
FREE ALL THE POLITICAL PRISONERS,
BECAUSE WE ARE STILL EXCITED ABOUT THE NEW WORLDS.
WE WILL CREATE ON THE ASHES OF IMPERIAL EVIL.
THE STORY CONTINUES… WE WILL WIN!
Source: Let Freedom Ring:A Collection of Documents From the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners. Edited by Matt Meyer (2008)