by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Veteran activist Carl Dix discusses his early incarceration and how he became a revolutionary and a major figure in the fight against mass incarceration. The capitalist system has no place for Black and brown youth in this country. Its solution has been “to unleash its police like occupying armies in the ghettos and barrios across the country, to pass laws that target Blacks and Latinos and to build prisons to warehouse them in.”
Carl Dix: Revolutionary Communist – Fighting the Plague of Mass Incarceration
by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“Going into and out of prison a rite of passage for growing numbers of Black and Latino people.”
Carl Dix will be leading the #RiseUpOctober - STOP Police Terror & Murder, a mass mobilization in New York City, October 24, 2015. He has played a major role in exposing state-sponsored murder and mass incarceration of Black folks. Carl does not approach these issues from a theoretical perspective. He has experienced, first hand, the violence of occupation and the American empire.
Carl is a co-founder, with Dr. Cornel West, of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, and has spent his life opposing injustice. He is a representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party. In 1970, Carl was one of the Fort Lewis 6, the largest mass refusal to go to Vietnam by US soldiers during that war. He spent two years in a US military prison for this stand. Carl has been a leader in the fight against police terror and of the annual October 22 marches to stop police brutality.
In 2011, he and Cornel West called for mass, nonviolent protest at New York City police precincts with the highest rates of “stop and frisk,” contributing to mass public opposition to the practice. Along with Dr. West, Carl put out the Call for the October 2014 Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. In August and October 2014 Carl joined mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri, against the police killing of Michael Brown, and was arrested while standing with the “defiant ones” on the first night of the National Guard mobilization. With Cornel West, he issued a Call for a national Shut Down
on April 14 of this year to Stop Murder by Police.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: How did you get involved in radical politics?
Carl Dix: It was the Vietnam War against the backdrop of the savage oppression Black people were being subjected to and the resistance being waged to that oppression. I got drafted into the army in the late 60's and got orders to go to Vietnam in 1970. Here I was being asked by this country to fight a war they said was to bring freedom to Vietnam, when Black people didn't have freedom here. I decided I couldn't be a part of that war, and I refused the orders to Vietnam. Five other GI's refused orders to Vietnam along with me, making us the largest mass refusal by US soldiers to go to Vietnam.
I have to give credit to a lot of other folks for me being able to see that Black people had no reason to go around the world fighting for the US. I have to credit the Black Panther Party for the way they called out the US as an imperialist power that used Black soldiers as cannon fodder for its wars. I have to credit Muhammad Ali who stood before the world and declared “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.” And the folk in SNCC who were out there opposing the war in Vietnam while Martin Luther King was counseling Black people to be non-violent in the struggle against their oppression and saying nothing about the far greater violence of this system here in this country and around the world.
Going to prison was a turning point in my political development. I was terrified to go to jail and throw away my future, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Once I had taken that step, I made use of being confined in prison to dig into why the wrongs I saw in society were happening. I came to see that the Black Panther Party (BPP) was right when they said the source of wars like Vietnam and the oppression of Black people was the system we were living under and that revolution was needed to end those and all the other horrors facing humanity
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: You have been the victim of mass incarceration. Please provide your insight into the political structure behind mass incarceration and police murders?
Carl Dix: I spent 20 months in Fort Leavenworth military penitentiary in the early 1970's for refusing to go to Vietnam. That was before this country began to implement mass incarceration. There were less than 300,000 people in prison back then. Today there are more than 2.2 million people in prison in the US.
This mass incarceration is the system's response to the reality that it has no future for whole generations of Black and Latino youth in the inner cities across the country. The backdrop to this is the way capitalism's chase after maximum profits has led to moving the factories that Black people used to work in across the globe; to Mexico, to Asia and other parts of the world where they can force impoverished people to work for far less pay and in far worse conditions than people in the US. This means workers in those countries are subjected to more vicious exploitation, and youth in this country grow up looking at futures where legitimate ways to survive and raise families have disappeared. The system's answer to this is not to retool the economy to create opportunities for these millions of young people. It has been to unleash its police like occupying armies in the ghettos and barrios across the country, to pass laws that target Blacks and Latinos and to build prisons to warehouse them in.
The result of all this has been the huge leap in the numbers of people in prison in the US, making it the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. This has made going into and out of prison a rite of passage for growing numbers of Black and Latino people. And it has meant the youth being treated like criminals, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence. And as we see today, many people aren't able to survive to prove their innocence. I have said again and again that this amounts to a genocide targeting Black people and large sections of Latinos. And I don't say that to hype things. This is a scientific assessment.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: My understanding is that you were the victim of solitary confinement while you were incarcerated. Under international law, solitary confinement is considered a form of torture. How did you survive solitary confinement?
Carl Dix: I spent more than 10 months in Leavenworth in administrative segregation, most of that time in solitary confinement. About 50 prisoners were “arrested” and put in an unused part of the prison. Their official reason for this was that we were “undermining the operation” of the prison. Actually, a few of us were publishing an underground newsletter highlighting the prisoners' demands, one of which was ending the brutality of the guards in the segregation wing of the prison. Another demand was that the prison establishes a Black Studies Program.
As the authorities discovered, most of those they had put in this new segregation unit weren't involved in any plot and they started releasing people back into general population. In a week, they had released all but those they saw as the ringleaders. Three of the guys finished their sentences and were released from prison. The other two asked to go back into general population, but I refused to ask to be released so I was kept in solitary confinement for months.
At first, I only had contact with the guards, but we got a visit from a congressman who demanded to know why we were being held in segregation. The prison said it wasn't for punishment but just to keep the prison operating efficiently. I used this to demand that I have access to everything the other prisoners had access to. So they had to escort me to the library, to the gym, to the weekly movie showings, even to the Black Studies classes. (We won that demand and got the first Black Studies in a federal prison.) I had to use the gym and library when no other prisoners were there and sat alone at the movies. These activities meant that I wasn't spending all my time alone in my cell. For these reasons, I didn't endure the most tortuous effects of solitary confinement. However, solitary confinement is literally driving tens of thousands of people insane in US prisons.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: What are the goals and demands of the October 24th demonstration? How can the progressive community support this action in their local communities?
Carl Dix: The goal of the National March, STOP Police Terror – Which Side Are You On, on October 24 in New York City is to change the way people in this country look at, and act in response to, the ugly reality of killings of Black people by police. The authorities have unleashed their cops to brutalize and even murder people and exonerate them when their murderous deeds get dragged into the light of day. We have seen the police, with backing from the highest levels of the system, continue to murder people and the whole system goes into motion to exonerate them. There has been a level of resistance to these crimes that we haven't seen in decades, but the killings continue. This is a plague, and it's the spearhead of genocide. Yet, far too many people still sit on the sidelines.
Rise Up October, culminating in a massive march in New York City on October 24, is aimed at mobilizing thousands upon thousands of people from around the country to descend on NYC, joining with thousands upon thousands of people in the NYC area; shutting the city down with the sheer weight of our numbers. This will mobilize many more people from all walks of life more actively into the fight to STOP the horror of police getting away with murder, and it will awaken millions more people to the fact that there is a large section of people who see this official murder as intolerable and are determined to fight to end it NOW. This will challenge these millions of people to get off the sidelines and join in the resistance.
Our demand is simple: STOP KILLING US! And everyone who sees these murders as horrors that must be stopped needs to join us. People can get involved, or get more information-and then get involved-by going to the web sites: Stopmassincarceration.net and RiseUpOctober.org. If they want to go old school, they can use a phone and call us at: 646-709-1961.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: Why are you affiliated with a communist organization led by a Euro-American?
Carl Dix: I became a communist through digging into what it would take to end the horrors humanity suffered. The savage oppression of Black people, the war in Vietnam, the way the overwhelming majority of humanity lived in abject poverty while a handful of rich people enjoyed obscene wealth. I came to see that capitalism was the source of all these problems and that communism was the answer to those problems, not the boogeyman I had been taught it was. Some of the really great things being done in revolutionary China at that time helped solidify my understanding that we could end the horrors people faced today through communist revolution and bring into being the kind of world that people would want to live in.
The death of Mao Tse-tung, the leader of the revolution in China and the arrest of his close followers in China dealt a blow to my sense that we could make revolution. I didn't want to give up on the goal of revolution, but if the society that had gone farthest along the path to revolution could be turned back and capitalism restored, did we really have a chance to make revolution here in the belly of the beast?
The work of Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, was crucial to addressing this question, for me and for revolutionaries all over the world. His decades of grappling with everything that stands between humanity and its ultimate emancipation enabled Avakian to see that the revolution in China had been overthrown in its test of strength with counter revolutionaries there, but that revolution itself had not failed. Further, he has been able to identify errors and shortcomings in the approach of the revolutionaries in China and address them. Through doing this, Avakian has developed a new approach to revolution and communism, a new synthesis that has taken the understanding of how to make revolution, bring a far better society into being and continually transform that society until exploitation and oppression are ended once and for all. This is why I am a follower of Bob Avakian. It's not a matter of whether he's white, Black or some other nationality. He has developed an approach that can bring about the emancipation of all of humanity.
I urge everyone to check out the work Avakian has done and get with the movement for revolution and the party he leads.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: Thank you for your incredible contribution to the movement.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the DC-based Hands-Up Coalition.