Exactly 400 years ago, in August 1619, enslaved Africans touched foot in the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States for the first time. The centuries since have seen the development of a racial system more violent, extractive, and deeply entrenched than any other in human history. Yet where there is oppression, there is also resistance. Since 1619, Black radicals and revolutionaries have taken bold collective action in pursuit of their freedom, threatening the fragile foundations of exploitation upon which the United States is built. These heroic struggles have won tremendous victories, but they have also produced martyrs—heroes who have been imprisoned and killed because of their efforts to transform society.
“Black August” is honored every year to commemorate the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, to call for the release of political prisoners in the United States, to condemn the oppressive conditions of U.S. prisons, and to emphasize the continued importance of the Black Liberation struggle. Observers of Black August commit to higher levels of discipline throughout the month. This can include fasting from food and drink, frequent physical exercise and political study, and engagement in political struggle. In short, the principles of Black August are: “study, fast, train, fight.”
George Jackson and the origins of Black August
George Jackson was a Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party while he was incarcerated in San Quentin Prison in California. Jackson was an influential revolutionary and his assassinations at the hands of a San Quentin prison guard was one of the primary catalysts for the inception of Black August.
A 19-year-old convicted of armed robbery, in 1961 George Jackson was sentenced to a prison term of “1-to-life,” meaning prison administrators had complete and arbitrary control over the length of his sentence. He never lived outside of a prison again, spending the next 11 years locked up (seven and a half years of those in solitary confinement). In those 11 years—despite living in an environment of extreme racism, repression, and state control—George Jackson’s political fire was ignited, and he became an inspiration to the other revolutionaries of his generation.
Jackson was first exposed to radical politics by fellow inmate W.L. Nolen. With Nolen’s guidance, Jackson studied the works of many revolutionaries, including Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Frantz Fanon. Nolen, Jackson, and other prisoners dedicated themselves to raising political consciousness among the prisoners and to organizing their peers in the California prison system. They led study sessions on radical philosophy and convened groups like the Third World Coalition and started the San Quentin Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. Jackson even published two widely read books while incarcerated: Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye.
Unfortunately, if predictably, these radical organizers soon found themselves in the cross-hairs of the California prison establishment. In 1970, W.L. Nolen—who had been transferred to Soledad prison and planned to file a lawsuit against its superintendent—was assassinated by a prison guard. Days later, George Jackson (also now in Soledad Prison) and fellow radical prisoners Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette were accused of killing a different prison guard in retaliation for Nolen’s death. The three were put on trial and became known as the Soledad Brothers.
That year, when it was clear that George Jackson would likely never be released from prison, his 17-year-old brother Jonathan Jackson staged an armed attack on the Marin County Courthouse to demand the Soledad Brothers’ immediate release. Jonathan Jackson enlisted the help of three additional prisoners—James McClain, William Christmas, and Ruchell Magee—during the offensive. Jonathan Jackson, McClain, and Christmas were all killed, while Magee was shot and re-arrested. Ruchell Magee, now 80 years old, is currently one of the longest held political prisoners in the world.
On August 21, 1971, just over a year after the courthouse incident, a prison guard assassinated George Jackson. The facts regarding his death are disputed. Prison authorities alleged that Jackson smuggled a gun into the prison and was killed while attempting to escape. On the other hand, literary giant James Baldwin wrote, “no Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”
While the particular circumstances of Jackson’s death will likely forever remain contested, two facts are clear: his death was ultimately a political assassination, and his revolutionary imprint can’t be extinguished. Through the efforts and sacrifice of George and Jonathan Jackson, Nolen, McClain, Christmas, Magee and countless other revolutionaries, the 1970s became a decade of widespread organizing and political struggle within prisons. Prisoners demanded an end to racist and violent treatment at the hands of prison guards, better living conditions, and increased access to education and adequate medical care. Tactics in these campaigns included lawsuits, strikes, and mass rebellions. The most notable example may be the Attica Prison rebellion, which occurred in New York State just weeks after George Jackson was murdered. In protest of the dehumanizing conditions they were subjected to, about 1,500 Attica Prison inmates released a manifesto with their demands and seized control of the prison for four days, beginning on September 9, 1971. Under orders from Governor Nelson Rockefeller, law enforcement authorities stormed Attica on September 12 and killed at least 29 incarcerated individuals. None of the prisoners had guns.
This is the context out of which Black August was born in 1979. It was first celebrated in California’s San Quentin prison, where George Jackson, W.L. Nolen, James McClain, Willam Christmas and Ruchell Magee were all once held. The first Black August commemorated the previous decade of courageous prison struggle, as well as the centuries of Black resistance that preceded and accompanied it.
Political prisoners and the prison struggle
Observers of Black August call for the immediate release of all political prisoners in the United States. That the US government even holds political prisoners is a fact they attempt to obscure and deny. In reality, dozens of radicals from organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, the American Indian Movement, and MOVE have been imprisoned for decades as a result of their political activity. As Angela Davis, who was at one time the most high profile political prisoner in the US, explains:
“There is a distinct and qualitative difference between one breaking a law for one’s own individual self-interest and violating it in the interests of a class of people whose oppression is expressed either directly or indirectly through that particular law. The former might be called criminal (though in many instances he is a victim), but the latter, as a reformist or revolutionary, is interested in universal social change. Captured, he or she is a political prisoner… In this country, however, where the special category of political prisoners is not officially acknowledged, the political prisoner inevitably stands trial for a specific criminal offense, not for a political act… In all instances, however, the political prisoner has violated the unwritten law which prohibits disturbances and upheavals in the status quo of exploitation and racism.”
Prisons in the United States are a form of social control which serve to maintain the status quo of oppression. Over the last few decades, prisons have become an increasingly important tool for the US ruling class. Prisons not only quarantine revolutionaries, but also those segments of the population who have become increasingly expendable to the capitalist system as globalized production, deindustrialization, and technological automation decrease the overall need for labor-power. These shifts, which began in earnest in the 1970s, have hit Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities the hardest, as exemplified by the sky high unemployment and incarceration rates those communities face. These groups are also historically the most prone to rebellion. Angela Davis noted in 1971 that as a result of these trends, “prisoners—especially Blacks, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans—are increasingly advancing the proposition that they are political prisoners. They contend that they are political prisoners in the sense that they are largely the victims of an oppressive politico-economic order.”
Though that definition of political prisoner is unorthodox, it illustrates the political and economic nature of criminalization. This is why observers of Black August connect the fight to free “revolutionary” political prisoners to the broader struggle against US prisons. Mass incarceration is a symptom of the same system that political prisoners have dedicated their lives towards fighting.
As increasing numbers of the US working class are “lumpenized,” or pushed out of the formal economy and stable employment, the potential significance of political struggle among the unemployed and incarcerated increases. George Jackson wrote in Blood in My Eye that “prisoners must be reached and made to understand that they are victims of social injustice. This is my task working from within. The sheer numbers of the prisoner class and the terms of their existence make them a mighty reservoir of revolutionary potential.”
George Jackson’s own journey is a perfect example of that revolutionary potential. Jackson didn’t arrive in prison a ready-made revolutionary. He had a history of petty crime and was apolitical during his first years in prison. He would have been dismissed by many people in our society as a “thug.” But comrades who knew that he held the potential inherent in every human being found him and took him in. They helped him understand his personal experiences within the context of capitalism and white supremacy. In turn, George Jackson dedicated his life to doing the same for others incarcerated individuals.
Black August today
August, more than any other month, has historically carried the weight of the Black Liberation struggle. Of course, enslaved Africans were first brought to British North America in August 1619. Just over 200 years later, in August 1831, Nat Turner led the most well-known rebellion of enslaved people in US history. This historical significance carried into the 20th century, when both the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Watts Rebellion—an explosive uprising against racist policing in Los Angeles—occurred in August during the 1960s.
Even today, the month remains significant in the struggle. John Crawford, Michael Brown, and Korryn Gaines were three Black Americans who were murdered in high-profile cases of police brutality; Crawford and Brown in August 2014, and Gaines in August 2016. Their deaths have been part of the impetus for a revived national movement against racist police brutality. Finally, on August 27, 2018, the 47 year anniversary of George Jackson’s death, thousands of U.S. prisoners launched a national prison strike. They engaged in work stoppages, hunger strikes, and other forms of protests. The strike lasted until September 9, 47 years after the Attica Prison Uprising began. Like the Attica prisoners, the 2018 prison strike organizers put forth a comprehensive list of demands that exposed the oppression inherent to the U.S. prison system, and laid out a framework to improve their conditions.
Each of these historical and contemporary events reveal a truth that the Black radical tradition has always recognized: there can be no freedom for the masses of Black people within the white supremacist capitalist system. The fight for liberation is just that: a fight. Since its inception in San Quentin, Black August has been an indispensable part of that fight.
In the current political moment, when some misleaders would have us bury the radical nature of Black resistance and instead prop up reformist politics that glorify celebrity, wealth, and assimilation into the capitalist system, Black August is as important as ever. It connects Black people to our history and serves as a reminder that our liberation doesn’t lie in the hands of Black billionaires, Black police officers, or Black Democratic Party officials. Those “Black faces in high places” simply place a friendly face on the system that oppresses the masses of Black people in the United States and around the world, often distorting symbols of Black resistance along the way. Black liberation lies, as it always has, in the hands of the conscious and organized masses. Study, train, fight, and in the words of George Jackson, “discover your humanity and your love of revolution.”
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.
“Hugo ‘Yogi Bear’ Pinell” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson
This was posted in the SF Bay View on Feb. 19, 2016, and posted here in memory of Hugo Yogi Pinell, who was murdered a year ago today, August 12th 2016. Thanks to Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community who made the webeditor aware of this.
By Kevin Rashid Johnson
Comrade Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell was murdered on Aug. 12, 2015, at California’s New Folsom State Prison. He was a veteran and much loved leader of the Prison Movement against oppressive prison and social conditions. On behalf of the New African Black Panther Party‑Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC), I would like to share some thoughts in his honor and memory and also to point out important lessons our movement must learn and carry on from his legacy.
Enough has been reported about circumstances surrounding Comrade Hugo’s death for us to conclude that he was set up by California prison officials and assassinated by their inmate lackeys. But by murdering him, the pigs have given our struggle yet another martyr and hero whose memory and example will inspire us today and for generations to come, just as his own comrade and mentor George L. Jackson’s has.
In death as in life, Hugo stands out as a shining example of one transformed by a love and dedication to the cause of the oppressed and to “serve the people,” that only a conscious revolutionary awakening and practice can bring.
He was confined in California’s inhumane solitary confinement units for 43 years. Places whose primary purpose was to break the will and sanity of those who dared to oppose the oppressive order and divisive prison culture created and cultivated by our captors. But Hugo was never broken.
He had been a leader, alongside Comrade George, of the first wave of the Prison Movement – in the 1960s-1970s – that was based largely in California’s prison system. Following Comrade George’s own assassination by prison guards on Aug. 21, 1971, Comrade Hugo faced the system’s backlash against and suppression of that movement, which included an unprecedented wave of construction and expansion of “super-maximum” security and solitary confinement prisons and units across the U.S. – places designed and used to isolate and torture participants in that movement and those with potential to revive it in future, including Hugo.
Ironically, it has been resistance against these very places and their torturous conditions that sparked today’s second wave Prison Movement, again based largely in California, and which comrade Hugo, in his advanced years and even while in uncertain physical health, joined and helped lead without hesitation. He continued to set the example, as he had for decades, of practicing and building unity and giving freely of himself to the cause of all oppressed people regardless of nationality or race.
Today’s movement has united tens of thousands of prisoners in three historic hunger strikes – in 2011 and 2013 – to end racial and group conflicts and has prompted prisoner-initiated lawsuits, all of which have won broad and international public support for prisoners and opposition to the widespread use of torturous solitary. As a result, prison officials in California and across the country have been induced to change their policies on the use of, and to release many prisoners from, solitary. Comrade Hugo was among those released, but with sinister designs.
Just within two weeks after he was released to general population in New Folsom, he was killed.
Since his death, an outpouring of letters, articles and poems from both prisoners and non-prisoners have paid tribute to his memory and the infectious love and integrity he extended to others.
It was this love and his political awakening that gave him the fortitude to endure the system’s cruelest oppressions in its failed attempts to crush his spirit, and inspired him to struggle relentlessly to transform himself into a revolutionary “new man,” to embody in himself the principles and morality of the future cooperative, people-centered – not property-centered – society and world that our broader revolutionary struggle aims to create. As he stated in 2013:
“In 1967, when I joined the liberation movement in San Quentin, one of the goals was to build a new man, the way Brother Malcolm X showed we could. We don’t know how long it will take to create that new, beautiful world. It might take generations. But if we continually work at it and try to create the new man in ourselves, we can achieve a personal freedom. I go through different changes to stay human for I will never get used to isolation and desperation.”
We must hold comrades like Hugo aloft as standard bearers of the sort of character, consciousness, commitment and love that we must cultivate within this struggle for the elimination of all forms of oppression against all peoples and not merely for those who look like us or have similar backgrounds.
Like Comrade George, who founded the first prison chapter of the original Black Panther Party, Comrade Hugo came to the struggle from the streets. They were not from the traditional layers of the working class (proletariat) nor academia, not any privileged strata of society.
Instead, they came from the criminalized element that many in society look down on and reject as social pariahs, predators, and the “underclass” – the “lumpen proletariat” – whom Karl Marx recognized as politically malleable and thus “as capable of the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices as the basest banditry and the foulest corruption.”
Comrade Hugo represented that “heroic” element, while those who were used to kill him represented those subject to the “foulest corruption.”
In this we find the significance of his and Comrade George’s mission within the prison movement and the BPP-PC, to “transform the criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality” (to paraphrase Comrade George). We in the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) recognize this as a fundamental principle of “Pantherism,” and it means remolding the lumpen proletariat.
By no means is that a trivial matter. In fact our success in reaching and remolding the lumpen is essential to the success or failure of our struggle against this oppressive system. Why? Because if we don’t transform or remold the class values and world outlook of the vast numbers of lumpen in favor of the broader revolutionary struggle, the Establishment will bribe, manipulate and use them against the struggle and its organizers just as it did in assassinating Hugo and many other comrades.
They tried it for many years with Comrade George. As his editor, Gregory Armstrong wrote in the preface to his book, “Blood in My Eye”:
“[Comrade George] paid a heavy price for his activities. When the prison couldn’t break him through solitary confinement, they attempted to have him killed by other inmates: ‘They were forced to frame me and set me up for the final kill.’ The word was out among white convicts: ‘Get Jackson. It will do you some good.’ Once he remarked that there had been 20 setups on his life inside prison. It got so that when he left his cell he was always ready to parry an attack.”
I’ve also faced the same pig games upon being interstate transferred from my home state of Virginia to the Oregon prison system in 2012, and then to Texas in 2013, where I remain. Indeed, it is standard operating procedure of police and prison “gang” unit officials to manipulate and instigate oppressed community youth to endlessly war with each other while regarding the pigs with fear and awe.
In this manner the youth have been converted from struggling against the oppressive system and uniting to improve their communities, to fighting each other, destroying their own communities, and thereby giving the pigs the needed pretexts to justify the system’s increasingly militaristic and police state posture, occupation, surveillance, murderous violence and mass imprisonment targeted against us all.
As Crips co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams observed in his 2004 book, “Blue Rage, Black Redemption”:
“Yes, America, as unbelievable as it may seem, ‘hood cops, with impunity, commit drive-bys and other lawless acts. It was common practice for them to abduct a Crip or Bounty Hunter and drop him off in hostile territory, and then broadcast it over a loudspeaker. The predictable outcome was that the rival was either beaten or killed on the spot, which resulted in a cycle of payback. Cops would also inform opposing gangs where to find and attack a rival gang, and then say, ‘Go handle your business!’ Like slaves, the gang did exactly what their master commanded. Had they not been fueled by self-hatred, neither Crips, Bounty Hunters nor any other Black gang would have been duped.
“The hood cops were pledged to protect and serve, but for us they were not there to help, but to exploit us – and they were effective. With the cops’ Machiavellian presence, the gang epidemic escalated. When gang warfare is fed and fueled by law enforcement, funds are generated for the so-called anti-gang units. Without gangs, these units would not exist.”
The same games are played by prison officials to foment racial and gang violence inside U.S. prisons.
Furthermore, it has been specifically admitted in response to congressional investigations that the government has manipulated such groups to violently target and kill members of revolutionary groups like the BPP in its efforts to destroy them and counter their struggles to help the urban poor meet their economic, political, social and security needs that this racist, imperialist system will not, and cannot. This practice was exposed in congressional investigative reports on the FBI-led Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) – a secret war waged against the BPP and other New Afrikan/Black civil rights and liberation groups.
The report by Congress admitted: “This report does demonstrate … that the chief investigative branch of the federal government, which was charged by law with investigating crimes and preventing criminal conduct, itself engaged in lawless tactics and responded to deep-seated social problems by fomenting violence and unrest ….
“The select committee’s staff investigation has disclosed a number of instances in which the FBI [manipulated] violence prone organizations … in an effort to aggravate ‘gang warfare’ … equally disturbing is the pride which these officials took in claiming credit for the bloodshed that occurred ….
“Approximately 28 percent of the [FBI’s domestic covert action] efforts were designed to weaken groups by setting members against each other or to separate groups which might otherwise be allies and convert them into mutual enemies. The techniques used included … encouraging hostility up to and including gang warfare between rival groups ….”
Remember, the German Nazis’ original armed enforcers and shock troops (the “SA,” in full Sturmabteilung, also known as Storm Troopers or Brown shirts) came from the Freikorps, which was composed largely of Germany’s youth gangs and lumpen (poor unemployed and “criminal” street youth), whom the Nazis used to stir up racial discord and violence, attack and terrorize their political opponents and enemies, violently suppress revolutionary elements, and generally foment the social chaos and race-based hysteria, fear and animosities that carried the Nazis to power.
But as Frantz Fanon recognized, the power structure recognizes the lumpen are ideologically weak, and while they may therefore be manipulated so long as they remain politically ignorant and opportunistic, this also makes them unreliable and impulsive. For this reason they are typically bribed and used by the pigs, but once their purpose is served, the pigs violently repress and/or imprison them for the “crimes” they were used to commit.
This is what Hitler did to the SA. Once the SA served his violent ends, he turned on them and their leadership and used his well-indoctrinated elite “SS” corps (in full Schutzstaffel) to slaughter and “purge” the SA.
Those of us who live in oppressed communities and prisons see these tactics used every day by the pigs at all levels. But mainstream Amerika does not – and therefore suffers cognitive dissonance when the true murderous face of the overall police and prison establishment is put on display, as it has been of late, due to mass protests and social media exposures by the victimized communities.
It should be noted that the police response to these exposures has been to foment and “allow” a heightened level of violence and insecurity to reign in our communities, in efforts to silence and quell protests and make their own militaristic posture and murderous violence appear justified and needed to “control” our communities.
The BPP’s theoretical leader and co-founder Huey P. Newton understood the essential need to transform the lumpen from a force of mass reaction, subject to the misuse and abuses of the pigs, into a revolutionary force that would instead serve their oppressed communities and expose the true role of the pigs within them.
Comrade Huey grasped Frantz Fanon’s insights on the lumpen, that if those struggling to change oppressive conditions did not win the lumpen over to their cause, then the enforcers of that oppressive system would organize the lumpen against those fighting for change. Comrade Bobby Seale, who co-founded the BPP with Huey, pointed this out:
“Huey understood the meaning of what Fanon was saying about organizing the lumpen proletariat first, because Fanon explicitly pointed out that if you didn’t organize the brother who’s pimping, the brother who’s hustling, the unemployed, the downtrodden, the brother who’s robbing banks, who’s not politically conscious – that’s what lumpen proletariat means – that if you didn’t relate to these cats, the power structure would organize these cats against you.”
This is why we must actively reach the lumpen, open their eyes, and remold their world outlook.
Recognizing this, we can understand why when the pigs could no longer keep Comrade Hugo locked away, isolated from the prisoner masses in solitary, they opted to kill him. He could not be allowed to awaken those in the general prison population, to transform their criminal, lumpen and “gangsta” mentality into a revolutionary mentality.
This too is why since the first wave Prison Movement, Comrade George’s books have been increasingly banned from entering the prisons, especially California’s, as has my own book and NABPP-PC literature. The pigs want to nurture and preserve the gangsta and criminal mentality amongst us.
They have worked actively to counter efforts to politically awaken the oppressed. And they have largely succeeded. This is why the system expended more resources and manpower on destroying the BPP than against any other group in U.S. history.
And alongside its assault on this leadership, the gangsta and criminal mentality was promoted. “We” didn’t do this. The gangs didn’t do this. The pigs did! And BPP comrades saw it in the making. As BPP Comrade Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt) reflected in a 1993 interview:
“Huey Newton gave a lecture on that one time and we had foreseen that this was gonna happen. After the leadership of the BPP was attacked at the end of the ‘60s and the early ‘70s, throughout the Black and other oppressed communities, the role models for the up-coming generation became the pimps, drug dealers etc. This is what the government wanted to happen. The next result was that the gangs were being formed, coming together with a gangster mentality, as opposed to the revolutionary progressive mentality we would have given them.”
Comrade Hugo represented the sort of political consciousness that officials need to ensure doesn’t take root amongst broad numbers of prisoners and especially not within the oppressed communities.
To this end prison officials have applied a dual tactic of not only suppressing literature which would open prisoners’ eyes politically, but they’ve worked to portray “gangsta” values as revolutionary. In the void of revolutionary consciousness, various youth groups have been able to pass off lumpen behavior and ideas as resistance to “oppression” and even “revolutionary.”
Often this has come from officials isolating the groups’ more conscious leaders and “allowing” apolitical and opportunist ones to rise in their place. As I’ve written elsewhere, many of today’s so-called gangs began with or at some point pursued noble aims of serving their communities but were derailed and led down counter-productive paths.
Indeed, on many, many occasions, after I’ve talked and/or shared literature on the NABPP-PC and the BPP with prisoners who belong to various groups, they express they’d joined those groups under the misguided belief that they were liberation groups like the Panthers actually were, and that they’d been falsely taught that the Panthers were/are criminal gangs.
This has come about because the system has, since the 1960s and ‘70s, engaged in a campaign of disinformation, a program counter to the work of Comrades Hugo, George and the BPP-PC. The system’s aim has been to transform the revolutionary mentality that gained prominence under their leadership back into a criminal mentality.
This is why we must, along with memorializing the life and memory of these comrades, also reclaim and consciously carry on their work and legacy of revolutionizing the values and practice of prisoners and our oppressed communities. In this way we give the highest honor and praise to their lives and sacrifices, and ourselves embody the values they exemplified and showed us can be lived by us today, in pursuit and reflection of the beautiful world we are building toward for tomorrow.
Dare to struggle, dare to win!
All power to the people!
Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107.
 George Jackson, “Blood in My Eye” (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1990)
 In 2009 the Virginia State Police in collaboration with federal agencies compiled an “intelligence” (sic!) report purporting to identify “terrorist threats” in Virginia. I, as co-founder of the NABPP-PC, was identified as such a “threat” under the bogus profile of a Black separatist and racial “hate group” – although we specifically oppose both racial separatism and discrimination. The reason I was thus profiled was because (get this!) I’d had numerous articles published exposing officials’ abuses of prisoners.
The report found this objectionable because my writings were receiving significant public attention and generating negative public views of the law enforcement (sic!) establishment. There was no concern about the abuses nor that they were the actual cause of the lowered public opinion.
The report then criticized me – totally contradicting its bogus claim that I am a separatist – as a proponent of a “brotherhood of the oppressed” philosophy and because the NABBP-PC aspires to carry on the work of the BPP. Recall, one of the tactics of the illegal FBI-led Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) against the BPP was trying to discredit the group by falsely portraying it as an anti-white racist “hate” group. So this game rings familiar. Another of its dirty tactics – most relevant here – was to try to violently incite other groups and gangs against the BPP and its leaders.
In this regard, after falsely profiling me as a Black racist, Virginia officials had me interstate transferred across the country in 2012 to the Oregon prison system, one of Amerika’s very few systems that has a predominantly white – and small Black minority – prisoner population. Oregon’s system also boasts over a dozen white supremacist prisoner groups.
After having spent 17 years in solitary in Virginia, I was immediately released to Oregon’s general prisoner population, whereupon officials began circulating false rumors to the white groups claiming I was the leader of an anti-white group that wanted to engage whites in a race war and that I was a sexual offender. I’ve never been charged with, nor convicted of any sex crimes.
Their intentions were obvious but didn’t pan out as they’d planned. Instead of a racial clash occurring, I was able to politically engage many of the prisoners and groups and link them up with the prison movement in California. Oregon prisoners joined the 2013 California-based prisoner hunger strike.
That same year I was interstate transferred again – this time from Oregon to Texas, where I remain, and where the same sort of pig games and bogus racial profiling of me continues.
 See Book III, especially of Church Committee, “U.S. Congressional Report: Intelligence Activities and the Right of Americans,” 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Report No. 94-755 (1976).
 Bobby Seale, “Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton” (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1991), p. 30
 Quoted in Mumia Abu-Jamal, “We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party” (Boston: South End Press, 2004), pp. 237-238.
 See Kevin Rashid Johnson, “Kill Yourself or Liberate Yourself: The Real I.S. Imperialist Policy on Gang Violence vs. The Revolutionary Alternative,” http://rashidmod.com/?=626; also, “Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson” (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2015), pp. 97-131.