“Everything is a lie in amerika, and the thing that keeps it going is that so many people believe the lie.” – Assata Shakur
Love 4 the People
“As we left the courtroom, [a friend] was standing in the hallway with K’Sisay, Kamau’s two-year-old daughter. As Kamau walked near her, she held out her arms to him. Kamau took two steps toward her and the marshals jumped him and began beating him. … I will never forget the haunting scream of that child as she watched her father being brutally beaten.”
–Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography
That two-year-old, K’Sisay Sadiki, is now in her forties with kids of her own. She has lived her life in two worlds. She’s attended prestigious dance and film schools, holds down a steady job, pays taxes. And, as the child of Black Panthers, she’s lived underground, raised by people dedicated to overturning white supremacy. Her father, Kamau, also has a daughter – K’Sisay’s sister – by Assata Shakur, who famously escaped from prison in 1979 and now lives in Cuba as a “dangerous fugitive,” hunted by the US government. Kamau is in a Georgia prison, serving a life-plus-ten-years sentence for the 1971 fatal shooting of a police officer – a cold case, resurrected in the post-9/11 world.
K’Sisay tells me about how she’s making sense of her life. “I need people to know who my parents are. Who I am, too, as a woman who has lived in the background, not feeling comfortable with sharing my father’s story.” On January 31 and February 1, she will perform “The Visit,” her one-person show, at University Settlement in Lower Manhattan. Part of an installation by the artist Sophia Dawson, “The Visit” is K’Sisay’s work in progress, an exploration of her double reality – and a way to educate people about her father.
K’SISAY: I was born into activism. Both my parents were Black Panthers in the Queens branch of the Party. When I was a baby, my father was arrested for a robbery and served five years in prison. He wrote me letters, like, “Oh, my baby’s sick. When I get out I’m going to be there for you.”
My mom and I would visit my father when I was a toddler. Once we went to visit – my mom said he’d gotten his GED. So I thought we were there to celebrate something. They put my mother and me in a room and said he’d be out soon. But he didn’t come. My mother and I were there for hours, so long that I peed on myself and started screaming. Then they brought my father in.
My mother didn’t want him to react with anger: “This is my family – look what you did to them!” She tried to calm him down, calm me down, make the best of the situation. My mom would always try to make things brighter. She’d pack picnic lunches. “We’re going to see your father, then we’re going to the lake!” But there are photographs of me as a little girl, and you can see the stress. Going to court and stuff, I experienced trauma. My grandmother told my mother, “You can’t expose her to that, you have to make a decision.”
So I was also raised going to art camps, being exposed to theater, knowing my family wanted the best for me: “Whatever your dreams are, let’s cultivate them.”
SD: Is there’s a similarity between you as a Panther kid and kids growing up in the 1950s Red Scare, whose parents were Communists?
KS: Yeah, we definitely couldn’t say certain things, and we were taught a code. At school, I never stood up to say the Pledge of Allegiance. That was something my mom taught me as a little girl.
I went to a predominantly white school in Queens, and I thought, “Damn. Why are these teachers so mean to me? Like they loved their little white girls, but they hated me. Then there was me not standing up to say the Pledge…
My mother was comrades with this other woman from the Panthers. Her daughter and I were raised together. They would dress us up and take us to Broadway plays and stuff, and we’d wear these little pink dresses or whatever. They just liked dressing us up.
But I was raised around kids of Panthers, and taught that we were blood cousins. It was like, OK, we know we’re different.
SD: Your father got out of prison in 1979. In an earlier version of your show, you talked about him training you as a kid in Panther drills and calisthenics.
KS: It’s funny, my father did want me to be this soldier. But my mom said, “This is a little girl. She likes dancing school. Your approach has to be different.”
SD: Your dad was released about the time Assata escaped and went underground.
KS: I barely knew that; my mom and dad kept some things from me. I didn’t know that my parents were being threatened. The FBI was telling my mom, “We’re going to kidnap your daughter.” I had no idea. I lived through a child’s lens.
My mom did have a room where she kept old Panther newspapers and articles. I would look at them but they made me afraid.
SD: A few years later, from Cuba, Assata published her autobiography. In it she wrote about your dad – and you.
KS: A lot of my friends on the block read Assata’s book. They said, “K’Sisay, how come you didn’t tell me you’re related? What’s your story?”
I’d say, “I don’t want to talk about that.” Because I felt shame. Yeah, I felt like I was living two lives.
SD: Tell me about your dad.
KS: He worked for the telephone company. He was a man of the community. He loves storytelling and reading, especially science fiction, parallel worlds and stuff. He used to show up in his truck and gather the kids around him, “Come on, everybody…” and he’d tell the kids these stories. They were all [mimes amazement] “WOW!” He exposed me to Octavia Butler, like Wild Seed: “K’Sisay! I got this BOOK…”
I moved to Brooklyn in 4th grade, but my father and I always lived close. He and my mother could never live together but he always lived in the neighborhood. I had a key. He just liked life simple. He loved his books. He’d be into Apple gadgets, the latest stereo system.
SD: So you grew up, went to school, got a job, got married, had kids. You’re in your 30s, and suddenly, in 2002, your father is arrested for child abuse. Then he’s charged with the 1971 killing of a police officer.
KS: By now, he’s a grandfather, thinking about retiring. I couldn’t believe this was happening. To see my father in the newspapers – humiliated that way. Even for people who support the Panthers, to question whether that was true. I think that the woman he’d been seeing set him up
SD: The molestation charge didn’t stick, but it must have made it hard for people to support his case. Your dad was convicted in 2003 of the shooting.
KS: Even though they had no direct evidence. They tried to get him to turn Assata in, but of course he wouldn’t. I went to see him at court in Brooklyn.
My dad kept looking at me so very apologetic. He just put his head down, like, “I’m so sorry this is happening.” The kids, we were all there. Then my mom and I went to see him at the Brooklyn House of Detention. I had not been in that situation for years, going through security, being patted down. I never got to see him again in New York.
It was more devastating for me as an adult to see him in prison than it was when I was a child. I was in denial. That took years to deal with.
SD: Your dad is now turning 67 at the Augusta Medical State Facility in Georgia. Tell me about your last visit.
KS: I visited him last summer. It was wonderful to see him. But he has serious health issues and the conditions there are horrible.
SD: What, above everything, have you learned from your father?
KS: Strength. Humility. He’s my hero. He made a commitment to deal with injustice. He was that person even before he joined the Black Panther Party.
I couldn’t always talk about this. I’ve been silent for a long time. Now, I am his voice. I may not be able to physically see him, but he’s with me always. I dream about him and he’s free – I never dream about him in prison.
OK, he’s free – but he’s WANTED. [Laughs]. I’m always looking for an Underground Railroad. “Come on, Daddy, we can go here!”
But he’s always free.
© susie day, 2020
Last month, five days after the former police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced in the fatal shooting of Botham Jean, an unarmed twenty-six-year-old black man, whom she shot in his home, and five days before Atatiana Jefferson, a twenty-eight-year-old black woman, was killed in her home by the police officer Aaron Dean, “Queen & Slim” began previews in a small theatre just off Bryant Park. The film is the product of the vision of two black women: Lena Waithe, who wrote it, and Melina Matsoukas, who directed it. (Waithe and James Frey, the shamed memoirist, collaborated on the story.) It means something that a movie that was conceived years ago could land so squarely in the midst of dual tempests involving firearms, police, and black people whose lives expired violently, prematurely, at the hands of white people who were sworn to protect them. The fact that both Jean and Jefferson were at home when they were killed underscores a central conceit of the film: that a system capable of dispensing such arbitrary deaths cannot be trusted in any context, least of all to administer justice on behalf of those whom it also victimizes.
The recognition of this fact changes the implications of the story that Waithe and Matsoukas tell with this film: about a couple on a first date who kill a police officer in self-defense, and their subsequent life as fugitives. Early buzz around the movie pegged it as a “Bonnie and Clyde” tale for the Black Lives Matter set, but that would be an entirely different film from “Queen & Slim.” “Bonnie and Clyde” is the story of two outlaws who are fleeing justice; “Queen & Slim” is a meditation on a system of justice that treats innocent people as outlaws. This is not a novel undertaking. It’s hard to overlook, for instance, that this movie arrives in theatres in the same year as the thirtieth anniversary of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.”
That film follows the events of a single day in Bedford-Stuyvesant and culminates in the death of a neighborhood fixture named Radio Raheem, at the hands of the N.Y.P.D. In 2014, in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death from a choke hold administered by a New York City police officer, Lee spliced together video from Garner’s and Raheem’s deaths, one cinematic, one chaotically real, both somehow true—a diptych of life and art relaying the same subject matter. As I wrote at the time, however, Lee conceived of the Radio Raheem scene after the death of Michael Stewart, a black graffiti artist who died in police custody, possibly as the result of a choke hold, in 1983. “Do The Right Thing” was not prescient in forecasting Garner’s death, it was archival in rendering a version of Stewart’s. But eight, years before Stewart’s death, the film “Cornbread, Earl & Me,” which features a fourteen-year-old Laurence Fishburne, tells the story of a rising basketball star, played by Jamaal Wilkes, who is shot by police in a case of mistaken identity, and it shows the ways in which the system protects the officers who killed him. And so it goes, act and depiction, tumbling all the way back to some unknown original insult. The capricious loss of black life is so common a reality as to have inspired an entire body of art addressing its implications.
The story of “Queen & Slim” is propelled by an arbitrary traffic stop, in which a white officer detains a couple, whose names we do not know yet, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. When the officer fires his gun to prevent Turner-Smith’s character from recording the incident on her cell phone, we are anticipating a scenario that has become a dispiriting cliché of social injustice, the indefensible but somehow bureaucratically justifiable death of a black civilian. But the gun is wrestled away and goes off during the struggle, killing the officer. The shooting, captured on the squad car’s camera, is a Rorschach test that asks all subsequent characters, and, by extension, the audience, what they see when they look at the incident. The officer himself is like Patient Zero in an outbreak: his actions set in motion the decisions made by everyone else whom Queen and Slim encounter en route to the film’s finale. Each television screen or cell phone upon which the footage plays serves as a kind of exposure to a pathogen, as everyone reacts to a different reading of the situation. Everyone is moral but no one is right.
Matsoukas has touched upon these themes previously. She directed the much-lauded video for Beyoncé’s “Formation,” which was criticized by police groups for provocative imagery of a police car sinking below water in a Hurricane Katrina-like flood. In “Queen & Slim,” the system is inundated by a metaphorical flood. In the opening scene, Turner-Smith and Kaluuya are on an awkward first date. She, we learn, is an attorney whose client was sentenced to death earlier that day. It’s the intimacy of her relationship to the criminal-justice system that makes it all the more damning when she demands that they go on the run rather than attempt to explain to other officers what happened. The hypothetical implicit in the scene itself is: what would have happened if someone like Eric Garner had fought back? What would have happened had Botham Jean or Atatiana Jefferson shot first? And what are the probabilities that anyone fighting back against unsanctioned police violence could be thought of as anything beyond a thug or a murderer by the greater public?
The connections between “Cornbread, Earl & Me” and Michael Stewart and “Do the Right Thing” and Eric Garner form a daisy chain in which the question is less about whether art or life is imitating the other and more about the ways in which art serves as a bridge between tragedies that occur at irregular intervals but with such similarities that they have formed a canon of the wrongly dead. This is part of what makes “Queen & Slim,” such a brilliant, indelible departure, and it’s most of the reason that I continued to think about it obsessively in the weeks after I saw it in that theatre in midtown. There is an accidental homicide, but it is not committed by a police officer. There is no template of bureaucratic responses, no corps of surrogates deployed to dispel the innocence of the victim in the media, no hedging of the deaths with reminders of how dangerous the shooter’s line of work is and what he means to the rest of society.
When the eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was killed by the police officer Darren Wilson, five years ago, in Ferguson, Missouri, the Times ran a piece that led with the description of Brown as “no angel,” to which outraged critics in Ferguson and beyond shouted that they didn’t know he had to be. The system here is no angel. It is the story of two people—a black everyman, played with sublime reserve by Kaluuya, and an attorney who is both sincere and cynical in equal measure, compellingly brought to life by Turner-Smith.
There are a great number of other implications to this story: the brilliant inversion of a slave narrative, in which two people flee from a Northern free state into the Deep South to seek freedom; the thorny and complicated ways in which other African-Americans respond to them en route; a twist in the middle of the film that unsettles any sense of moral simplicity that the viewer might have indulged up to that point. Most provocatively, the incident at the heart of “Queen & Slim” is framed in the context of a May, 1973, incident on the New Jersey Turnpike, in which members of the Black Liberation Army, including Assata Shakur, were involved in a shootout in which the police officer Werner Foerster was killed. Shakur, who is referenced multiple times in the film and serves as a kind of historical inspiration for the decisions Turner-Smith and Kaluuya make after the shooting, escaped from prison, in 1979, and has remained a fugitive in Cuba for nearly four decades. The State of New Jersey and the F.B.I. maintain rewards for her capture; she has been denounced by successive New Jersey governors. At the same time, her memoir, “Assata,” is a mainstay of African-American-studies courses and has remained in print for thirty years.
This is not a divergence in the responses to Shakur; it’s a divergence in people’s views about the credibility of the system that arrested and imprisoned her and of its representative who pulled her over that day. These different points of view are implicit in “Queen & Slim”—it is emphatically told from the vantage point of people with the vindicating view of Shakur. If we’re unaccustomed to grappling with these questions in film, it is because it’s been so long since they were raised. Matsoukas did not create a gangster-moll story for the modern era; she created a blaxploitation movie. The reference is not “Bonnie & Clyde,” it’s “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” Melvin Van Peebles’s indie film, released in 1971, is another audaciously black story that grapples with an African-American who attacks police officers and goes on the run. It, too, was a movie that took its audience’s understanding of systemic injustice as a given. It, too, recalled history, albeit not the strand of it we prefer to highlight in the United States.It was raining the night that I saw “Queen & Slim” and, after the screening, I stood outside the theatre beneath a construction scaffold sorting through the layers of the film. The movie reminded me of a historical reference buried deep in my memory. A hundred and nineteen years ago, a black man named Robert Charles sat with a friend on the steps of a building in New Orleans near where his girlfriend lived, waiting for her to get ready for a date. He was approached by several police officers, one of whom grabbed him. When a fight ensued, Charles fled after he and the officer both opened fire. Police tracked him to his apartment, where he killed two officers. A police manhunt terrorized black communities in New Orleans, but Charles evaded capture for several days, until he was tracked to an empty building, where, in the course of a standoff, he shot more than twenty more white men. The official versions of this story held that the men who set the building on fire and shot Charles as he exited were heroes. Black people chose a different protagonist. The journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote of Charles that “white people of this country may charge that he was a desperado, but to the people of his own race Robert Charles will always be regarded as the hero of New Orleans.” People subject to the same abuses Charles suffered were unconcerned with whether he was an angel. What mattered was the number of white men who would now think twice before trying to pull the same stunt.
“Queen & Slim” is an extrapolation of thoughts that run through the heads of black people each time we’re called upon to mourn publicly, to request justice like supplicants, to comfort ourselves with inert lies about this sort of thing stopping in the near-future. That kind of insular honesty is rare in any kind of art but particularly perilous in cinema. This is a film that stands as strong a chance of being hailed and lauded as it does of being denounced and picketed, but it understands the inescapable fact that heroism is entirely a matter of context, that heroes need not be concerned with explaining themselves, and that it—like the characters at its center, like the history it draws upon—stands a great likelihood of being misunderstood. And, gloriously, neither its writer nor its director appears to give a damn.
Read: Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
0:08 – Today is Chairman Fred Hampton’s birthday. Fred Hampton was an activist, revolutionary and chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. This year will also mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination on Dec. 4, 1969, by the Chicago Police Department. We’ll speak with Fred Hampton Jr. about his father’s birthday, legacy and saving the Hampton House, the house that Fred Hampton Sr. grew up in that has been in the Hampton family for generations.
0:34 – This week, we close out our ‘Black August’ series profiling political prisoners with a look at several women political prisoners from Rev. Joy Powell to honorable mention of freedom fighter Assata Shakur currently living in exile. For more we’re joined by Efyia Nwangaza (won Gaza), human rights and prisoners advocate, founder and director of the Malcolm X Center for self determination.
Interview with NABPP Chairman Shaka Zulu by Heather Warburton of New Jersey Revolution Radio
Heather Warburton: This is Wine Women and Revolution with your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on New Jersey Revolution Radio. You can find us online at http://njrevolutionradio.com/. Get us wherever you get your podcasts from and follow us on all the social media.
Today I am really excited about this interview. I have someone with me that the group he’s with is probably doing some of the best organizing I’m seeing in the state of New Jersey right now. And I do not say that lightly. They really are doing really impressive work up in the Newark area. Welcome to the show, Chairman Shaka Zulu of the New African Black Panther Party.
Chairman Zulu: All power to the people! Glad to be here and I’m glad to talk to your audience.
Heather Warburton: I’m so happy that New Jersey Revolution Radio was able to support you guys and help get your message out. And that’s one of the things I’m probably most proud of that we’re doing here on NJRR. Because like I said, you guys are doing amazing organizing. I’m just not seeing the kind of organizing you’re doing – that grassroots neighborhood empowerment organizing – by many other groups in the state.
So I wanted to take a little trip back to your origin story. How did you come to be a revolutionary? How did you get this thought, revolutionary thought, in you? And you’re going to start empowering communities? Where did that come from?
Chairman Zulu: Well, I think that how I became a revolutionary was my encounter with the criminal justice system. I think that the police encounters, the prison cell, that kind of kicked me into the revolutionary movement. When I initially went to prison, I was a common criminal. You know, I sold drugs. I robbed. I’d steal. I did all the things that people that are cut off from the economy do to survive.
But when I went to prison, that’s when I encountered a hardcore revolutionary idea – that with study with time and practice one can change their behavior, one could change their ethics and morals, their values, and join with the rest of humanity trying to make a better place for everybody. So I began to read books. I began to talk to political prisoners. I began to do a lot of writing. And in that process, I discovered the importance of ideas – what it meant, how can we apply it?
And in essence, how can I relate to those ideas in a meaningful way? So I encountered books that I still read to this day, “Soledad Brother” by Comrade George Jackson, Huey P. Newton’s “Revolutionary Suicide” or “To Die for the People,” Bobby Seale’s “Seize The Time.” Obviously, I read Assata Shakur, I read Angela Davis’ “If They Come in the Morning.” So I read a lot of revolutionary books that dealt with the Black condition here in the United States.
But as I began to delve deeper into ideas, revolutionary ideas, I began to become familiar with Mao Tse-tung, Lenin and Marx, Che Guevara and their lifestyle, their ideas; the ideas match their action. So I said in order to be a true, genuine revolutionary, I had to marry theory with practice. And so I became a revolutionary within the enemy prison system.
Heather Warburton: And so obviously, you’re reading a lot of early, you know, the Black Panther movement stuff? And is that really … had you had any familiarity with the original Black Panther Party before you were in prison? Or did you really come to finding their ideology while you were in prison?
Chairman Zulu: Oh no. I think that the average Black person, whether they are part of the Black lumpen class or the Black working class or the Black petty bourgeois class, knows of the history of the Black Panther Party in a superficial way. Because our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers had some kind of encounter with the Black Panther Party, whether they saw it growing up, or they experienced it by participating in the many programs that the Black Panther Party had.
So I always knew that the Black Panther Party existed. I didn’t know its ideology. I didn’t know its membership. I didn’t know its international reach. And I certainly didn’t know its theoretical practices. But I knew of the Black Panther Party name.
It’s similar to old folk tales that we have within the Black community. Especially during slavery, there will be periods where the African slaves would get together, and they would talk about Old Jack, or they would talk about Old Kennedy. These are Black slaves that rose up in rebellion. They escaped the plantation, and they raided the slavemaster’s house for the corn for the chicken. But they were never caught.
And so 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the line, this tale is still being told to African slaves, about the behavior of Old Jack or Old Kennedy, who was able to outmaneuver the slavemaster, in fact, the slave state, but he was never discovered. And in some instances, it’s a fairy tale. Because with African culture, you want to inspire. You want to motivate. You want to put people in a position where they believe they can win.
So the Black Panther Party has that sort of mysticism, that sort of mystique within the Black community. Some of us don’t understand its ideology and think that all it is is a hate whitey party. You know, others, perhaps thought it was, or still think that it’s about kill police or guns, you know.
But it was only when I begin to read that I begin to understand that the most important aspect to the Black Panther Party was the social programs. Was this ability to empower people who were hopeless, who had no sense of what it means to be agents of change, and not depend on the enemy state, not depend on charity, not depend on handouts, but become proactive, transforming your conditions where you at right now.
You may not have all the resources, but you have something to start with, and that idea of the Black Panther Party, that you can empower yourself, empower the community, empower the nation, empower the world through a revolutionary thrust for freedom inspired me. And that’s where I became enamored with social programs as a prerequisite to the liberation of all oppressed people.
Heather Warburton: Well, I think that leads really well into my next question: We obviously know the problems with capitalism; we know the problems of imperialism; we know the problems of racism in this country right now. So what does a good functional society look like to you? We know what we’re struggling against, but what are we struggling for? What do you want to see reflected in society?
Chairman Zulu: Yeah, I think that one of the most beautiful things about being a communist is that we have over 150 years of solid practice to look back on to determine what kind of society we want. Obviously, the first socialist society in 1917 did not get the chance to fully develop as a socialist society, because it was constantly under attack. It was surrounded by imperialist enemies.
And from 1917, really to 1953, we saw a microcosm of a world that we want today. We saw woman liberated from the household, and Russia’s situation, liberated from the peasant life, the peasantry, the backwardness of that kind of life, so they could become leaders of the society. We saw free healthcare. For the first time in history, we saw housing become a human right. The means of production, the resources under the earth, and on the earth, was put into the hands of the state, and the state used it to lift up the living conditions of its people.
So I think when we look at capitalism, and try to compare it to the kind of world that we envision today, the most important aspect that everybody can agree with is that all of the resources under the earth belong to all up the people on top of the earth. That these resources will give us a world that is free from militarism, racism, a world that is free of negative isms.
Because if you look at resources, resources are primarily responsible for the way that the world is constructed. Today, there’s uneven economic development, because there is a part of the world that hordes and monopolizes the resources and the Earth. So that gave birth to racism. That gave birth to wars. That gave birth to a sort of seeking refuge in a religious understanding.
So if the resources were in the hands of the people, we won’t have a Congo that has been at war essentially all of its life since Leopold invaded during a scramble for Africa. But I’m talking about since 1996, when Laurent Kabila assumed power in the Congo and was assassinated. Since the next year, there has been a low intensity war taking place in the Congo over the resources – the gold, the diamonds, the tantalum – that go into cell phones, airports, jets etc.
So if we can grab hold of the resources that are in the hands of the 1,670 billionaires, if we can grab hold of those resources, we can change the world that we live in, and we can start giving people housing as a human right. We could give them education as a human right. We can abolish prisons. We can abolish warfare as a means of resolving contradictions between nation states and individuals.
So I think that the kind of world we want is a socialist world; it is the only viable alternative to capitalism. There have been others who try a third way, you know, monarchies, and others who sort of mix capitalism and socialism. None of that stuff works.
We know that socialism gives us the ability to put humanity on the right course and on the right foot. Capitalism, from the get go, put humanity on the wrong course. So I think [we can] envision a world that is free of pollution, free of sexism, patriarchy, a world that is free of militarism, a world that gives humanity the opportunity to live in peace and harmony and to enjoy the fruits of the earth in an equal way. So that’s the kind of world we want: We want a socialist world.
Heather Warburton: And I was really hoping that’s what you’d touch on. Because everything you said just makes sense. People don’t always understand what communism or socialism means. And they build things up in their head. But really everything that you said I think everyone can relate to.
I think everyone can see the contradictions of their current life, and how some other way of forming society just makes sense. That we’re actually living collectively as opposed to constantly in conflict with each other. And conflict comes out of capitalism or any class society really.
Chairman Zulu: Exactly, man, if you look at the earth, it’s been around a long time, almost a billion years. States, the modern construction of a state where you have people existing on top of one another, the working class, the ruling class – that is a new invention. And it came into existence as a result of dividing up the resources of the world.
Prior to that, for thousands of years, people lived in a kind of world where intercommunally everything was shared amongst the people. So if we wanted grapes, it wasn’t a grape store down the street that monopolizes the grapes. You know, if we wanted apples, we didn’t have to go to Chiquita and ask them, can we buy a pound of apples. You simply went and plucked some apples off the tree.
You got enough to make sure that the whole village got some apples when they wanted some. So this is the kind of world that we can only create. This is the kind of world that we can only create, through a revolutionary struggle of the working class, against those who seek to continue to hoard, control, dominate, monopolize the resources of this earth that belong to everybody.
Heather Warburton: And I think to that end is where you’re doing really amazing organizing work. And I’m hoping you can tell us a little bit about some of the work that you started doing. You’re building an actual base of revolutionary power in the city of Newark. So can you tell everybody a little bit about what you started doing there?
Chairman Zulu: Oh, that’s beautiful. I think. This base, this base area, this idea that there’s liberated territory, that revolutionaries here in the United States can go to and strategize, come up with tactics, come up with ways of clarifying theories, and values and ethics and more rules came out of my study.
It came out of the fact that the Black Panther Party created base areas in the country where all people who were struggling for justice could come and meet and talk. Sometimes, in these areas, discussions got heated, you know; they were intense, but they were meant to clarify the conditions that oppressed people were struggling with.
So what we want to do is rebuild that infrastructure of revolutionary thought, a revolutionary structure – revolutionary into communalism. We want to rebuild that because it gives us the opportunity to extend that revolution outwardly from a base area. I think that a lot of revolutionaries and progressives have moved away from the construction of a base area, because of the way that helter skelter politics is organized nowadays.
There is a need to respond to so many conditions of brutality and exploitation. And as a result, the painstaking work of doing what Antonio Gramsci called “building the organic leader in the community” working with the grassroots who have suffered.
So we’re trying to re-institute that infrastructure. And we have been moving in that direction for the last few months. Our first campaign was to stop a prison that they was trying to build. Here in the City of Newark, they wanted to build a prison smack in the heart of the oppressed community. They wanted to tear down houses in that particular community in order to build the prison.
So we put together what we call a No Prison Friday Rally. And for nearly two months, we were on South Orange Avenue here in the city of Newark protesting and rallying every Friday. And we got the governor, the enemy governor, to state that there will be no prison built on South Orange here in the city of Newark. That was the work of the New African Black Panther Party and the United Panther Movement.
Others have come along, the Johnny-come-latelys, and claimed responsibility; that’s okay. But the community in which we stage these rebellions knows who put the groundwork down. Know who was there every week, to stand in solidarity with them. So that was one of our initial programs. And we still continue that program under a different set of work conditions.
We no longer focus strictly on the prison, per se. But now we incorporate mass incarceration, criminal justice, you know, there’s 2.5 million people in the enemy prison today. There’s 6.5 million people on some form of criminal justice supervision. There’s 500,000 people waiting right now in county jails across the country. So we exist, we live in a mass incarcerated state. And any revolutionary organization that truly wants to liberate the ground has to take on this ugly behemoth of mass incarceration.
So Fridays, we call it “No mass incarceration; we want liberation!” That’s our new project.
Our other project is Empower the Block. That is something that we put together two weeks ago – and a Saturday survival program. We go out into the community, not to bring charity, not as an act of pity.
But we do it as a way of empowering the people in the community. Letting them know that you don’t have to wait on the garbage truck to come. You don’t have to wait on the mayor to come. You don’t have to wait on the state to come.
You could simply get on your block, pick up a broom, and empower each other by cleaning the neighborhood. And then talk about why did you need to clean the neighborhood, because the resources that other communities have are not available in these poverty stricken communities that are left out of the national economy.
So it’s the means of revolutionizing the minds of the people. Let them know that we could start with something small and build that project into a mighty revolutionary force. And so that’s what Empower the Block does. It gives the people the opportunity to come out of their house to meet one another again, and to begin to talk to each other about why our blocks (are the way they are).
Why would communities of nations have to suffer the way they are suffering? It’s because of capitalism, white supremacy. It’s because of an idea that, in order for capitalism to maximize the rate of dollar, it must exploit the labor power of the masses of the people. We have to teach that.
They have to understand that economics is primarily responsible for their condition. It is not individual white men. It is an economic system that has privileged white society over Black society. So we get rid of capitalism; then we could sit down all of us – Black, white, Latino, Asian and the indigenous people – and talk about the kind of world we could build. But it starts with grassroots organizing.
Heather Warburton: What you were saying reminded me a lot of Thomas Sankara when he says, people who just give us food, you’re not helping our community really. [The ones] giving us fertilizer, giving us plows, so we can empower ourselves is who’s really helping us.
And you know this confusion of like, charity is great – you’re filling a temporary need – but you’re not really teaching people how to empower themselves and do it themselves. And that’s really where revolution comes from, is enabling people to know that they really hold the power. And you know, that’s your slogan, right? All power to the people.
Chairman Zulu: And that’s beautiful, that’s beautiful, because that’s the difference between a capitalist society; they individualize heroic acts. As a socialist society, we make heroic collective work.
So if there is a village or an urban setting that is suffering from a lack of resources and the state is unwilling or unable to provide those resources, then we have to come up with a methodology to pool what little we have to make sure that our brothers or sisters can eat or have access to health care or stop police brutality or get a decent education.
So Thomas Sankura was right. You know, giving us a bowl of rice, it’s not the same weight as teaching us how to plant rice in order to feed the whole community. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to hand out a bag of food and simply say, that’s the work of revolution.
We’re trying to build confidence in the idea that you could start a community garden, and plant your own vegetables, plant your own food, and utilize that as a way of empowering your community. So charity is an act of capitalism. Empowering people, allowing people to become agents of change, is an act of socialism.
Heather Warburton: I think you just said that beautifully. Really, I think that was perfectly stated. And I hope that’s going to resonate with some people.
One other thing that I did want to touch on with you is historically, when we think about revolutionaries, it kind of is more from a masculine viewpoint. You know, we think about some of the great revolutionaries throughout history, it’s always men. And I know you’re specifically working on empowering women as well in your community to make them revolutionary leaders. It’s not just a men’s only club for the New African Black Panther Party.
Chairman Zulu: You know what, Comrade? That is very important to us. We have we have a multiplicity of rules and regulations that prohibit discrimination or sexism or patriarchy against not just revolutionary women, but women in general. We find it a stamp of disapproval that we should subject the other half of humanity to psychological chains or to physical chains – to a tradition that denied them their full stature as human beings.
So we make it a case to put qualified, qualified sister comrades in leadership positions. And we have in place currently, within our various two organizations, sisters, revolutionary sisters, who are leading, who are making decisions, who are highly qualified to move this revolutionary struggle forward.
And all of the men within our organization respect, adhere to and push forward with this idea that half of humanity cannot be in chains, while the men sit, eat apples, drink water and talk about freedom. We can’t do that. So it would be reinforcing a kind of bourgeois tradition to say that only men can pick up rocks. Or only men can write a dissertation. Or only men can speak eloquently to move the masses.
I know that history shows us definitely and we have those examples that we teach to one another on a day to day basis. So some of our comrades lead these particular study groups; female, woman comrades lead study groups. You know, they lead the protest rallies that we organize.
So it’s a wonderful opportunity to show the rest of the country – and by extension the world – what mighty power lies dormant in a woman when they’re given an opportunity to lead revolutionary movements and to express revolutionary ideas, because all of the ideas, all of the projects that we have been doing have come from our female comrades.
I’m the face of the revolution. But behind me is a cadre of women revolutionaries who prod me every day, who tell me every day, be mindful of how you speak. Be mindful of what you do, because you have to represent everybody, not just men.
And we’ve just elected to the branch committee of the New African Black Panther Party a deputy minister of finance, who is a female. She is from Delaware, and she and hopefully the world will get the opportunity to see her pretty soon, but she is a wonderful revolutionary leader.
So we’re making sure that anyone who’s qualified within our organization and within our ally organizations are that if you don’t push women forward who are qualified, we don’t want to have anything to do with you. Because we’re not going to a set a new form of slavery within a socialist framework. It’s not going to work.
We’re either for the total freedom of humanity, or we’re for the continuation of the division of humanity that we have today. We are for total freedom – the New African Black Panther Party is for the complete and total liberation of all humanity. And that includes our significant, mighty force of woman revolutionaries.
Heather Warburton: And I think that’s great that you’re putting that into practice and not having ally organizations that are upholding misogyny and upholding male supremacy. If you’re going to be an organization that affiliates with you, you’ve got to put this stuff into practice. You can’t just talk about it; you’ve got to do it. So I thank you for that.
You had said something to me at – I think it was at – the Green Party convention. It was a quote about women, something about holding up half the sky. What was that called?
Chairman Zulu: Ah, Mao Tse-tung! Let me tell you Mao Tse-tung said that first. And it’s a famous quote that women hold up half the sky, now bound up with that as a whole lot of ideas of values and ethics.
But Malcolm X said it in a way where he made it more plain. He said that you can tell the political development of a people by the political development of its women. So what he meant was, an equal and virtuous society will prioritize the most disenfranchised and victimized people within that society [and help them rise] to a level where they are on an equal footing with others. And for us, since we’re talking about women, they have been the most brutalized in this society, because they have always been under the foot of a patriarchal, dominating kind of structure.
Heather Warburton: Yeah, I thought that was a great quote. So I wanted to make sure that you said that again. So what if people want to help? How can they get involved and help you? How could if somebody wanted to start organizing a revolutionary base somewhere like Philadelphia or other cities? What can they do? How can they get involved?
Chairman Zulu: Well, the easiest thing is you can visit the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Facebook page. And we have an email address: You can email ZuluS6003@gmail.com. And we will talk to you about what are the requirements, how you go about opening up a collective or a branch within Pennsylvania or any other state.
There is a prerequisite to that: You have to go through an orientation process. So we will explain all of that to anyone. All you have to do is send me an email at ZuluS6003@gmail.com.
Heather Warburton: And you accept donations as well?
Chairman Zulu: That’s right. In fact, we can’t do anything without donations. The word … they say that revolution ain’t free. Freedom isn’t free. So we collect the nickels and dimes of the masses of the people.
If anybody wants to donate, they could CashApp $Szulu. Again, they could CashApp $SZulu. And we will certainly appreciate whatever contribution you could make to us building this base area of social, cultural and political revolution here in the city of Newark.
Heather Warburton: All right, you guys, like I said, you really are doing some of the best organizing I’m seeing. So it’s just a different spirit you’re organizing with, and I think it’s starting to show that people are starting to really pay attention. You didn’t brag about it yet yourself. And I asked you to brag a little bit about some of your work you’re doing. You had 500 people show up to an event?
Chairman Zulu: Yeah, that was wonderful. Mao Tse-tung got a saying that a small spark can start a prairie fire. That sometimes revolutionaries and progressives around the world, especially in the West, which is Britain, France, United States, they get discouraged. They get discouraged when lot of people don’t show up. They get discouraged when their ideas don’t readily take off. They get discouraged when they don’t see immediate gratification.
And as a result, their work suffers. They may have a great idea. But because we have this immediate gratification mentality, we end up not staying with the idea, not sticking to the idea. When we started the prison rallies, it was only 15 of us, mostly from our organization. But each week, it increased. It gradually increased. It brought more people in.
So we can’t simply take credit for all of those people coming out. We know that the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice also participated in that rally, and their voice was able to help persuade a lot more people to come.
So we was just happy that folks stood up; they raised their voice of condemnation of the prison by putting their bodies on the line. And this is the kind of work that we want to do, we will continue to do.
I think that we’re building a beachhead, a true genuine beachhead in New Jersey, and there are gonna be folks coming from all around this country watching what we do. And I mean this in the collective sense, watching what we do. And we hope that this small, small spark, here in the state of New Jersey and the city of Newark becomes a prairie fire around the country.
Heather Warburton: And Brian and I have always joked here of calling New Jersey the great nation of New Jersey, and the thought was that we would start the communist nation of New Jersey or the People’s Republic of New Jersey. But you guys are actually doing that. You guys are starting your own area that can spread and I think it will.
I really genuinely believe in the work you’re doing and that it’s going to spread. And you’re going to build an actual revolutionary base here in New Jersey and spread out from here.
Do you have any closing words today before we wrap it up?
Chairman Zulu: No, I just want to say all power to the people and encourage our brother and sister organizations out there, the masses of the people, that change can only come through small incremental steps. That we shouldn’t automatically be enamored with the glitz and glamour of struggle, but get our hands dirty, get on our knees, and turn some screws, and knock some nails to some wood. That’s how you build an infrastructure of revolution.
And I’m excited. I’m happy. And we’re just getting started. Hopefully, like I said, we build this thing into a dual and contending power with the enemy system. And it leads to a true genuine revolutionary overturning of capitalism and imperialism.
Heather Warburton: And I ask a lot of people if they’re an optimist, and I genuinely believe you are because you see, in practice and in theory and practice, change happening. Time is short, and we need this change to happen. And I don’t see a lot of other movements that could bring about this change that we all need.
[Without it] we will die ultimately; capitalism is killing us. It will wipe out humanity. And we need revolution now. And you’re one of the only organizations I see that’s even remotely making that happen. So, so much for the work you’re doing.
Chairman Zulu: Thank you. I appreciate this interview, and any time you need us, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party will be there. We will be on the scene. And we appreciate the work that you’re doing at this radio station as well.
Heather Warburton: And same thing: Whenever you need publicity or you want to talk about anything, our air waves are your airwaves. You know that that anything you want to talk about, we’re here for.
Chairman Zulu: All power to the people!
Heather Warburton: All power to power to the people! To my listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. This interview should be inspiring to you. This interview is probably the breath of fresh air a lot of you need right now. Because things are grim. And it’s easy to get bogged down in how grim things are. And that’s why we’re here. We want to inspire you. We want to help elevate the voices of the people that are doing the actual hard work of changing society.
We appreciate you so much here as our listeners and our family at NJRR and we do unfortunately have to ask for your help occasionally. We take no corporate money; we can’t be your voice if we’re being paid off by the corporations. So we only can rely on donations from the activist community.
If you can go on to our website, www.njrevolutionradio.com, click on that Donate button, even if it’s only $2 a month. That really helps us budget and know what we’re going to have coming in so we can get more people out to cover events, so we can get more places.
You know, Brian and I are the only two of us. We need to be able to hire more people to get out and cover these events. So anything you can do, we really appreciate it. The future is yours to create; go out there and create it.
New Afrikan Black Panther Party Chairman Shaka Zulu can be reached at ZuluS6003@gmail.com.
The US long war on the Black liberation movement is far from over.
“Puerto Rican liberation activist William Morales is included in the latest resolution to lynch Assata Shakur.”
During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Assata Shakur’s name saw increased recognition. A section of her autobiography was used as a slogan in demonstrations against racist policing throughout the country, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.It is our duty to win.We must love each other and support each other.We have nothing to lose but ourchains.” This statement, while powerful, was unable to ignite a broad conversation in the Black Lives Matter movement or U.S. society in general on the plight and condition of Assata Shakur. As Executive Editor of BAR Glen Ford noted, the “soft power” of U.S. imperialism in the form of corporate philanthropy has played a significant role in watering down the politics of what is now a much quieter movement than what existed in the twilight years of the Obama era. Yet Assata Shakur’s current situation is a reminder that the U.S.’ long war on the Black liberation movement is far from over.
Senate Democrat Bob Menendez and Senate Republican Marco Rubio have introduced a resolution in the Senate that demands for the immediate extradition of Assata Shakur from Cuba. The resolution comes as U.S. aggression toward Cuba has escalated in the form of tighter sanctions and travel restrictions. There is no better time for the lynch mob in the U.S. imperial state to intensify their hunt of Assata Shakur. The Democratic Party is seeking to regain the Oval Office from the Republicans in the 2020 election. Furthermore, U.S. imperialism has failed in its attempt to overthrow the socialist government in Venezuela. Gusano Cuban voters in the U.S. know that the fate of Venezuela is intimately tied to Cuba’s and base their electoral decisions on which candidate is most hostile toward the Cuba-Venezuela alliance.
“U.S. aggression toward Cuba has escalated in the form of tighter sanctions and travel restrictions.”
Of course, Assata Shakur is not merely a domino in the U.S.’ war against Cuba and Venezuela. She is a Black revolutionary whose escape from prison in 1979 has forever been an embarrassment for the U.S. ruling class. Assata has lived in Cuba under legal asylum since 1984. Since then, the U.S. has failed to bully Cuba into releasing her into the hands of the U.S. national security state. Cuba has made it clear that its loyalty resides with the dictates of international law, not with U.S. imperialism. While few in the U.S. recognize the existence of political prisoners in the United States, socialist Cuba has provided safety for Assata Shakur in part because the Cuban people have firsthand knowledge that only torture, abuse, and death awaits her in the United States.
Rarely in the toxic political environment of the United States is the question asked: Why is Assata Shakur so despised by the U.S. state? The ruling class describes Shakur as a “cop killer” who needs to be brought to justice. What lies beneath the accusation is the U.S. imperialist war against the Black liberation movement. Dozens upon dozens of former members of the Black Panther Party have been accused of murdering police officers with little to no evidence and assigned to permanent incarceration. This includes Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli (who was with Assata Shakur on the day of the “shootout” on the New Jersey turnpike), and Russell Maroon Shoatz.
“There has been no peace treaty in the U.S. war on the Black liberation movement.”
The question of innocence is not the principle contradiction in the lives of the U.S.’ prisoners of war. Innocence is a moral value that, when taken in the abstract, can fit the needs and interests of those who define the term. Prisoners of war such as Assata Shakur were engaged in a struggle to ignite a revolution in the United States that would grant Black Americans and the rest of the oppressed the right to determine their own destiny. For this, they were brutally and violently attacked by the full weight of the police state. There has been no peace treaty in the U.S. war on the Black liberation movement and the most recent bipartisan resolution to lynch Assata Shakur is an indication that the war won’t end until imperialism is put to rest.
The struggle to free political prisoners and prisoners of war is critically important in the larger goal of overthrowing the ruling capitalist oligarchy of U.S. imperialism and replacing it with a socialist system capable of meeting the needs of the masses. Assata Shakur’s contribution to this struggle goes far beyond the popular slogan taken from her autobiography. Assata is a former member of the Harlem chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). She would go on to leave the BPP and join the Black Liberation Army (BLA). The BLA conducted guerrilla activities in service of the waning Black liberation movement and was the principle force that freed Assata from prison.
“The left must not only ‘say her name,’ but also join organizations that are committed to fighting back.”
Black leaders such as Assata Shakur are feared by the ruling class in its entirety. Assata Shakur’s continued suppression speaks to the enduring influence of the Black Radical Tradition on the political class in the United States. In 2013, the FBI increased the bounty on Assata’s head from one million to two million US dollars . Menendez and Rubio’s resolution to extradite Assata is thus no aberration. It is but another phase in the ongoing war on U.S. political prisoners and prisoners of war—a war that seeks to smother the flame of socialism and self-determination before it can gather strength in the current period.
The case of Assata teaches new left organizers, scholars, and activists many lessons in the struggle to come. First, even though their names are rarely mentioned, the U.S. effort to murder and erase political prisoners such as Assata Shakur and her comrades continues into the present day. This means that the left must not only “say her name,” but also join organizations that are committed to fighting back against the ongoing effort to destroy and neutralizeU.S. political prisoners. Second, Assata’s historical trajectory shows the importance of developing solidarity with oppressed nations and peoples under attack from U.S. imperialism. Assata is not the first Black revolutionary protected by the Cuban people. Robert Williams, Huey P. Newton, and Puerto Rican liberation activist William Morales have also received protection from the socialist nation. William Morales is included in the latest resolution to lynch Assata Shakur. With the U.S. on a path of endless war abroad, the left will need to cultivate relationships with organizations and nations abroad to leverage the political power of the struggle for self-determination and socialism in the United States.
“Both corporate political parties in the United States are loyal soldiers in the war.”
Lastly, Assata teaches us that the technologies of the state used to destroy the Black liberation movement have been expanded to consume the entire infrastructure of the U.S. national security state. U.S. imperialism has the most expansive military apparatus in human history. Every person within the U.S’ colonial borders is the target of surveillanceby the NSA. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 gave sitting U.S. presidents the ability to place an individual under indefinite military detention without cause or due process . One in three Black men can expect to spend time in the mass incarceration regime in their lifetime. This is not to mention that the concrete war against the Black liberation movement has birthed a new program all together in the form of the FBI’s systematic targeting of “Black Identity Extremists.” As the newly organized Black Identity Extremist Abolition collective points out, it is difficult to trace the impact of the FBI’s Black Identity Extremism program. However, the mysterious deaths of several Ferguson activists appear to indicate that the program is fully operational and represents a serious threat to the lives of Black Americans across the country.
Thus, the long war on the Black liberation movement continues. Both corporate political parties in the United States are loyal soldiers in the war. Menendez and Rubio’s collaborative effort to lynch Assata Shakur is a show of force against the socialist nation of Cuba, which has steadfastly defended the human rights of U.S. political prisoners. The resolution is further rooted in the understanding that Black leaders such as Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal present a dangerous alternative to the stagnant and dead-end political and economic conditions of U.S. imperialism. The ruling class will stop at nothing until the memory and lessons of the Black liberation movement are fully buried from consciousness. We must remember that the war on the Black liberation movement did not end in the 1970s and to stop at nothing to free our political prisoners.