Unless folks are under the delusion that victory over the “fascists” is imminent, the condition of political prisoners should be a deeply personal, as well as political, concern to all activists.
“Movement activists of today will inevitably become the political prisoners of tomorrow.”
It has become a righteous ritual: the recitation of the names of those whose lives were snatched away by the armed agents of the U.S. state. Mass movements were assembled around the names Oscar Grant (2009) ,Trayvon Martin (2012) and Michael Brown (2014), prompting women of the movement to launch the #SayHerName campaign in 2014, to “lift up” the stories of Black women victims of police violence, “who they are, how they lived, and why they suffered at the hands of police.”
The ancient ritual of “pouring out” libations on the ground to memorialize the beloved dead was popularized by Boyz II Men and Tupac Shakur in the Nineties, and has long been incorporated in formal and informal recognition of the deceased heroes and heroines of the Black liberation struggle.
But what of the scores of political prisoners that the U.S. state has condemned to a social death in the world’s largest gulag? These men and women still struggle under the most hellish conditions against the same enemies of humanity that hundreds of thousands rallied against in the George Floyd mobilizations. “Free Huey,” “Free Bobby” and “Free Angela” were once rallying cries that energized millions. But seldom are political prisoners’ names shouted during today’s mobilizations against the murderous U.S. mass incarceration state or the global imperialist killing machine. Who is “lifting up” their stories and telling a new generation “who they are, how they lived, and why they suffered at the hands of police” and jailors?
“’Free Huey,’ ‘Free Bobby’ and ‘Free Angela’ were once rallying cries that energized millions.”
This is a grave political error, not an oversight. Movement activists of today will inevitably become the political prisoners of tomorrow. Some have already been sentenced to long terms in prison for alleged “crimes” in Ferguson and Baltimore during the rebellions of 2014-15, and agents of the state have doubtless drawn up lists of “Black Identity Extremists” (whatever the current official categorization) and their non-Black allies, for surveillance and arrest when the political time is right. Others have died mysteriously. Unless folks are under the delusion that victory over the “fascists” is imminent, the condition of political prisoners should be a deeply personal, as well as political, concern to all activists and their families and friends. The cage doors will clang shut for many of us before this struggle is over, in addition to all the libations that will be poured for the dead.
Neglect of our political prisoners exposes a discontinuity in the Black Liberation Movement, revealed in the shouting of “orphan” slogans, whose political ancestors seem unknown to the sloganizers. The men and women that fought for Black community control of the police and self-determination for all peoples half a century ago are Malcolm’s children, and therefore the political grandfathers and mothers of today’s George Floyd protest organizers. Whenever marchers chant, “Whose Streets? – OUR Streets!” or some variation on that theme, they are building on the struggles of a previous generation of fighters, some of them in their 80s and still locked up. Say their names, goddamit!
If you need help finding these still living, breathing, fighting political ancestors, the Jericho Movement has a list:
Mumia Abu Jamal
Imam Jamil Al-Amin aka H. Rap Brown
Kojo Bomani Sababu
Fred “Muhammad” Burton
Byron Chubbuck Shane (Oso Blanco)
Romain “Chip” Fitzgerald
Alvaro Luna Hernandez
Hanif Shabbazz Bey
Abdullah Malik Ka’bah aka Jeff Fort
Jaan Karl Laaman
Ruchell Cinque Magee
Rev. Joy Powell, community activist
Russell Maroon Shoats
Although the bulk of the Jericho Movement list are former Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army members, there are also Republic of New Africa activists; the former SNCC leader once known as H. Rap Brown; surviving members of the Virgin Island 5; a community organizer serving life plus 16 years -- the lone woman on the Jericho list; Native American and Chicano freedom fighters; and class war, anti-imperialist and anarchist political prisoners – enough still-living political ancestors to engage the voices of all the social sectors that have been mobilized around George Floyd’s death and the deepening crises of the capitalist imperial order.
“Black August” is the month when genuinely “woke” activists redouble their efforts to free our political prisoners – for all of our sakes, and for the continuity of our struggle. The Black Is Back Coalition is therefore dedicating its annual conference, August 15 and 16, to the fallen and imprisoned. As the Call to Conference states:
“If today’s resistance appears unusual it is only because the U.S. has succeeded in hiding evidence of our anti-colonial struggle in the 1960s when, unlike the movement of this era, protest achieved a revolutionary character.
“During that time courageous men and women boldly stepped forward, sometimes with arms in hand, to challenge the cruelest and most powerful opponent of our freedom, the hegemon that bestrode the world of poverty and broken dreams it had created.”
Half a century later, the carceral state refuses to set these aged freedom fighters loose. The Black Is Back Coalition is honored to Say Their Names.
Go to BlackIsBackCoalition.org to see how you can participate.
Power to the People!
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].
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