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Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh ¡presente!

This editorial first appeared on on May 18, 2018.  

We celebrate on May 19 the birthdays of two world-bending revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X.

Born in 1890 in central Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was the Marxist-Leninist communist who forged and led a people’s movement and army that defeated the invading imperialist might of both France and the United States and ultimately liberated Vietnam from colonialism.

Born in 1925 in the U.S., Malcolm X was the African-American leader who raised to global attention the concepts of Black nationalism, Black self-defense and the right of self-determination of Black peoples. Malcolm X also made a major contribution to the global movement for Pan-Africanism.

Neither met the other, yet their deeds and words intertwine, and together they continue to inspire us toward revolution.

At this moment, as the U.S. ruling class fans the deadly fires of racist hatred, Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh unite to give a profound lesson in building international solidarity with oppressed people and nations.

In 1924 — the year before Malcolm X was born — at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in Moscow, Ho Chi Minh made a presentation during a session on the “National and colonial question.” He emphasized the importance of support for the Black liberation struggle in the U.S., saying in part: “It is well-known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family. It is well-known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery. … What everyone does not perhaps know is that after sixty-five years of so-called emancipation, [Black people in the U.S.] still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings.” (

Forty years later, in 1964, Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, put the Black liberation struggle in a worldwide context, saying: “It is incorrect to classify the revolt of [Black people] as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely [U.S.] American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.” (Malcolm X Speaks)

And he acknowledged the centrality of the national liberation war led by Ho Chi Minh to that global rebellion, saying: ”Viet Nam is the struggle of all third-world nations — the struggle against imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism.” (1972 interview with Yuri Kochiyama,

The voices of both these revolutionaries ring out with the clarion call of SOLIDARITY as the path to a future of justice and liberation.

They remind us that we of the multinational, multigendered, global working class have a common oppressor in imperialist capitalism.

We can resist its racism, its anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ bigotry, its anti-immigrant hatred.

We can — and must — rise up in resistance.



source: Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh ¡presente!

Amerikan Crime: May 13, 1985: The MOVE Massacre

THE CRIME: 5:35 am, May 13, 1985. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor aims his bullhorn at the house at 6221 Osage Avenue and declares: “Attention MOVE! This is America.”

Seven adults and six children, members of the MOVE organization, were in their home. Outside, hundreds of heavily armed police and city officials surrounded them.

Fifteen minutes later the police assault began. Explosives blew holes in the side of the house and tear gas was pumped in; fire hoses streamed water onto the roof. Police opened fire with over 8,000 rounds from handguns, Uzis, and anti-tank weapons. There was no solid evidence that the people inside ever fired a shot.

When the occupants still did not come out, a police helicopter hovered over the roof and dropped a powerful bomb. The roof burst into flames so hot that homes across the street ignited. Flames raced downward through the MOVE house toward the people huddled in the basement. The fire trucks on hand did nothing to stop the fire, which then quickly spread to the surrounding homes.

The MOVE house became an unbearable hell of intense heat, fire, tear gas. and smoke. Some residents burst outside, but were met by police gunfire and either killed or forced back into the flames, to be burned alive.

By the end, five children ages 9 to 14 were murdered by the police, as were six adults, their bodies mostly in pieces. Sixty-one homes were burned; 250 people rendered homeless. The one adult who survived—Ramona Africa—was arrested and served seven years in jail. The one child survivor was torn from those who love him and put in foster care.

Above: Osage Avenue burns after Philadelphia police dropped bomb on MOVE house. May 13, 1985. 11 people died and 61 homes burned down.

THE CRIMINALS AND CO-CONSPIRATORS: Mayor Wilson Goode, the first Black mayor of Philadelphia, authorized and oversaw the massacre, along with other city leaders, which included former generals, and FBI agents.

The Philadelphia Police Department carried it out.

The FBI took part in the months of planning that went into this atrocity, and provided the city with the military-grade C-4 explosives for the bomb and other heavy weaponry.

The news media collaborated, before and after the crime, in painting MOVE as “dangerous terrorists” who left the authorities “no choice” except a full-scale military assault.

Dozens of political leaders, including U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, defended and praised Mayor Goode for his handling of the assault. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates called Goode a “hero.” Not a single major political leader—Democrat or Republican, Black or white—denounced it.

THE ALIBI: Philadelphia authorities claimed that MOVE was a violent terrorist organization, holding a peaceful neighborhood hostage. The city claimed that it “just wanted to protect the neighborhood,” and that MOVE was digging a network of tunnels, building a weapons stockpile and plotting a major incident, perhaps a hostage taking. They further claimed that MOVE “wanted a violent confrontation” and the city was just responding to that threat. According to then-district attorney Ed Rendell, “These are people who essentially committed suicide, and murdered their own children.”

Above: As the neighborhood burned, hundreds gathered in the street, indicting the police and chanting “Murderers! Murderers!”

THE ACTUAL MOTIVE: MOVE was a Black radical organization formed in the early 1970s that refused to respect present-day America and its prevailing values. It exposed the rulers of this society for the liars, racists and murderers they are, denounced their brutal police, and talked about “revolution.”

MOVE thought of revolution as changing people’s thinking and behavior, not overthrowing the whole system, and MOVE’s political actions were peaceful. But when MOVE members were threatened and confronted by the authorities, they did not back down. The rulers of this system considered this to be intolerable, especially coming just a few years after the U.S. had been rocked by mass rebellions of Black people.

Over a year before the May 13 attack, city authorities began meeting and planning how to put a stop to MOVE once and for all—these plans included building models of the MOVE house and practicing exploding it!

Mayor Goode said: “If I had to make the decision all over again, knowing what I know now, I would make the same decision because I think we cannot permit any terrorist group, any revolutionary group in this city, to hold a whole neighborhood or a whole city hostage. And we have to send that message out loud and clear, over and over again…” (Emphasis added.) Never mind the fact that the most common definition of terrorism is the murder of innocent civilians for a political purpose—and that MOVE never did anything remotely resembling that, while Goode committed exactly that crime in his bombing.

Ramona Africa
While the perpetrators of this horrendous crime – the mayor and the police – walked free, the only adult survivor, Ramona Africa (shown here speaking in 2014), was arrested and spent seven years in prison for refusing to renounce MOVE, while the surviving child, Birdie Africa, was seized by the system and taken away from his family. Photo: YouTube

Addendum: Repeat Offenders

The MOVE massacre is not the first time this system has bombed and burned out rebellious Black people.

In June 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a white mob attempting to lynch a Black prisoner was stopped, partly by Black residents armed with shotguns. In response, white supremacists went on a rampage. A mob of over 1,000—and including police—stormed the Greenwood area, at that time known as the “Negro Wall Street” because of its vibrant Black-owned economy. Looting, burning, and shooting people, the mob met fierce resistance from armed Blacks. The police commandeered a half-dozen small planes, supposedly to provide surveillance for their attack, though many reported that the planes also dropped explosive and incendiary devices on the Black community.

By the time it was over, up to 100 Black people had been murdered, and perhaps two dozen of their white attackers killed. The population of Greenwood had been rounded up by police and forced into detention centers. The whole neighborhood, including 1,256 homes, had been burned to the ground; only a few buildings survived.

Taken in by an unending media and police campaign against MOVE and shocked by the scale of violence unleashed against MOVE, too many people stood by paralyzed and did not rise up in response. A “Draw the Line” statement, initiated by Carl Dix and others, was signed by more than 100 prominent Black figures and others denouncing the collusion of Black elected officials in the repression of the Black community.
Draw the Line Statement about MOVE Massacre
Download JPG | PDF


Remembering Black Panther’s Bunchy Carter and John Huggins who were assassinated on UCLA

The path to greatness has no specific way as the life of slain activist Malcolm X showed. Another notable fellow for the African cause whose life and contribution too deserve attention is Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter.

Carter was described by those close to him as a renegade and the unsung true hero of Los Angeles California. In the early 1960s, he was a member of the Slauson street gang in Los Angeles. He became a member of the Slauson “Renegades”, a hard-core inner circle of the gang, and earned the nickname “Mayor of the Ghetto”.

Imprisoned for armed robbery in Soledad prison for four years, he would be swayed with the message of the Nation of Islam and the teachings of Malcolm X converting to Islam. He would renounce the faith and dedicate himself to the black liberation struggle.


Image result for bunchy carter

Charismatic and intelligent, Carter would meet Black Panther Party leaders Robert George Seale, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton in Oakland in 1967 taking up the cause of the party.

Carter formed the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in early 1968 and became a leader in the group.

Roland Freeman, a former Black Panther Party member stated “his mannerisms were street but his mind had been developed. He became political. He was called the mayor of the ghetto. He was a natural leader.”

Carter was able to recruit new members from gangs. Turning Slauson’s members to revolutionaries having the ability to bring gangs together and redevelop and redirect them.

Freeman added that there were dances every Friday night with a couple of 100 people in session who partied, sweated and danced adding, “in the middle of it, we cut the music off, Bunchy will jump off on a table and start talking about 10 to 15 minutes touching on history, facts. People be stunned, be like wow and hey throw the music on. He get to do the Philly dog, the party be back on and the people will come back on Monday, 10 to 15 lining up to join the Black Panther Party. That was the type of person he was.”

Image result for bunchy carter

A Bunch Carter quote held that “do something…. If you only spit.” Longjohn Washington, a former Slauson and BPP member reckons he exemplified the leadership “we all needed and that is what we try to follow.” He continued that Carter conditioned the people to rise above the gang criminal mentality and rather live a life for the communal good.

For Ericka Huggins, a former BPP lady, Bunchy’s time “was a big, huge time in history.”

While the BPP recruited from the Slauson gang, other gang members flocked to the US Organization headed by Ron Karenga. They had different philosophies with some describing the US approach and ideals as being abstract while some saw the BPP as confrontational.

Joe Hicks of the US said he joined because the founder’s message resonated with him. “To seize political power through organizing and self-affirmation of who Black people were,” he rendered in the Bastard of the Party visual.

Image result for bunchy carter
Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter

Given that both organizations were recruiting from gang structures, confrontations arose as things escalated and body counts mounted in Los Angeles. However, the animosity was exacerbated by the FBI using Edgar Hoover’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).

Former FBI Agent, Wes Swearington held that in the agency under Hoover, the Black Panther Party was labeled as the most dangerous party to the internal security of the US.

To that end, the FBI ordered the party’s destruction and for Bunchy Carter to be neutralized. Using letters, caricature and cartoons, the FBI stoked animosity between the two organizations to a stage where when parties from both groups meet on the streets, there was hostility.

Even the “Free Breakfast for Children” program which provided meals to the poor in the community so successful that the LA chapter gained 50–100 new members each week by April 1968 was labeled as a threat by the FBI.

On January 17, 1969 on the UCLA campus at Campbell Hall, Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter together with another BPP member John Huggins were gunned down by a Claude “Chuchessa” Hubert. Hubert, the suspected murderer of the two men, was never caught.

The Black students at UCLA still commemorate Bunchy Carter born in 1942 and John Huggins yearly where they were slain in Campbell Hall. It’s been 51 years since the assassination of the two students.



Educational Mission: Raising Revolutionaries



source: Educational Mission: Raising Revolutionaries

Women of All Red Nations W.A.R.N. Ride

WOMEN OF ALL RED NATIONS are riding to protect the sovereign border of Cheyenne River Reservation as a call out to the world. TransCanada #KXLPipeline and Man Camps: you are not welcome here.

For more information and resources see Check out the W.A.R.N. Ride and share with your networks!

Video by Warrior Women Project Community Media and directed by Elizabeth A. Castle and Marcella Gilbert.

Revolutionary Daily Thought

”You see Martin Luther King is dead and Huey Newton is not. And Malcolm X is dead and Bobby Seale is not. And Vernon Jordan was shot. The thing that revolutionaries, or even people who want to claim they’re revolutionaries, often forget is that it doesn’t make no difference what kind of wardrobe you wear, and if you speak up about Black people doing better you just risked your life.” Gil Scott-Heron 

Long live the greatest threat to the internal security of the US (united snakes), the Black Panther Party

There was and still is a lot of hunger in the hood. Founded in 1966, the Black Panther Party soon expanded beyond “policing the police” to “survival programs.” The Free Breakfast Program was the best known of more than 60 survival programs. By 1969, the Panthers were serving breakfast to about 20,000 children in 19 cities around the country. As David Hilliard says, “Food is a very basic necessity, and it’s the stuff that revolutions are made of.” – Photo: Sal Veder, AP

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

“I never thought I could be so easily tricked into being against something that I didn’t understand. It’s got to be one of the most basic principles of living: Always decide who your enemies are for yourself, and never let your enemies choose your enemies for you.” – Assata Shakur, from her autobiography, “Assata”

Revolutionary greetings, Comrades!

In the late 1960s, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said that the members of the original Black Panther Party presented the greatest threat to Amerika’s national security. This was propaganda designed to drive people away from the Party, but it had the opposite effect.

I want you to picture in your mind a chilly morning in 1969 – we could be in Oakland, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Detroit or Washington, D.C. Little Black children across the U.S. were preparing to go to school. Their stomachs were empty.

However, in a nearby church, community center or school, there were members of the Black Panther Party preparing grits, eggs, toast, orange juice and milk in order to provide a nutritious meal for hungry bellies. The Panthers’ thinking was this: A child with a full stomach performs better in school and has a greater chance to succeed in becoming a valuable member of the community.

FBI agents didn’t come into our hoods to feed our children. They came to lock them up! So you tell me who was the greater security threat.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was no internet and there surely weren’t any iPhones. Political education was needed desperately in the Black community. Once again, the Black Panther Party met the needs of the people by creating their party organ, known as the Black Panther newspaper.

There are some who believe that the radical theory and revolutionary practice of the Black Panthers died years ago, but that line of thought is for only those with blinders on. Almost 20 years ago, a young journalist whose grandmother, with a house full of children, had always made room at the table for Panthers needing a home-cooked meal and a safe place to gather, began to write stories about Panther veterans, breathing new life into the Black Panther Movement. That journalist, whose stories were published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, became know as the People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey.

Comrade Malik

In 2005, two politicized prisoners by the names of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson and Shaka S. Zulu founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Prison Chapter. They modeled the party after the original Black Panther Party, and now, in 2019, Chairman Shaka S. Zulu is back home in his community of Newark, New Jersey, building a free-world chapter of the NABPP and doing an incredible job of expanding the United Panther Movement.

Political education is key to creating the leaders of our future. Not too many people survive intact the torture and abuse that currently permeates American’s slave kamps and gulags. Some part of the human being dies when constantly subjected to cruel, unusual and inhumane conditions of confinement.

Of course, I’m not telling you what I’ve heard; I’m telling you what I know. I’ve spent nearly 12 years inside prisons operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. My last three years were spent in solitary confinement, with no access to the phone, no TV, no internet and, in the past year, from 2018 to 2019, I received more than 100 denials of incoming mail.

Like thousands of prisoners across the United States, my main source of political education and updates on the struggle came from the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. Most prisoners in the U.S. don’t have access to the internet. The Bay View helps prisoners who are attempting to “stay woke,” to stay abreast of the development of “The Movement” and allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of our Prison Abolition Movement.

My belief in the Bay View has become so strong that I now have committed to coming to the Bay Area in order to help Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff keep the Bay View in print. The huge cost of printing, distributing and mailing each month’s Bay View is a staggering $7,000 that is no longer covered by advertising – the decline in ad revenue having put many newspapers out of business in recent years. Yet, for the Bay View’s core readers, who live in prison or the hood with little or no internet access, the print edition is essential, a literal lifesaver.


The Ratcliffs have dedicated decades of their lives and their bottom dollar to produce this uniquely revolutionary newspaper. Now I believe that revolutionaries of all races, creeds and genders actually have a duty to help me come up with a viable plan to sustain the print edition of the Bay View so that we may continue to provide this invaluable teaching and networking tool and information source to the hoods around the Bay and to thousands of prisoners all across the U.S.

I say this today for everyone to hear: If you give me your support, I’ll give you the rest of my life. I’m telling you that I will dedicate the remainder of my life and all my energy to the publishing of this national Black newspaper. This is what Dr. Huey P. Newton meant when he coined the term “revolutionary suicide.”

For the prisoners of Amerika to live, some of us must make sacrifices. I have absolutely no regrets about the journey I’m about to embark on.

Can you believe that this “spirit” which exists inside me today began in 1966 at a small college in Oakland, California, known as Merritt College?

Comrades, on this 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program, let us meditate on the incredible legacy of the original Black Panther Party. Although this is a plea for help and a call to action, this piece is also a dedication.

I dedicate this essay to the memory of Safiyah Bukhari, Kiilu Nyasha and Afeni Shakur. These three sisters certainly spent some time serving up some hot meals to hungry children, but their legacy lies in their remarkable revolutionary political practice. May they rest in power!

The Bay View and I would also like to take this moment to recognize our comrade and friend Billy X Jennings, who has passionately sought to preserve and protect the legacy and true revolutionary spirit of the original Black Panther Party. I believe every child of color in Amerika should be taught the real history of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Thank you, Comrade Billy X!

I end this piece with a quote which really got my attention. The quote is from a wrongly convicted politicized prisoner in Marquette, Michigan, named Lecino Hamilton, who contributes articles to the Bay View.

Lecino wrote: “Most of the time when a person is exonerated and released from prison, they pose for a picture or two, thank a few people, then become footnotes in the pantheon of criminal justice horror stories. I’m not going out like that!”

The print edition of the Bay View must be preserved and protected! Let’s do this together.

Dare to struggle! Dare to win! All Power to the People!

Send our brother some love and light: Keith Washington, 34481-037, USP Beaumont, P.O. Box 26030, Beaumont TX 77720. Malik has been paroled from the Texas system but has a short sentence to serve in the federal system before he can come to California.





Radical politics

This sign from the 1960s, quoting Muhammad Ali on why he refused to be drafted to fight the Vietnamese, shows that the enormous movements for Black civil rights and Black power and against the Vietnam war, both of which filled the streets with protesters, strongly influenced each other.

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

I’m often amused when I read, hear or see a politician criticize his opponents as “radical.” That’s meant to isolate his opponent as somehow weird.

But, guess what? Radicals are as common as crabgrass in American history. That’s because without radicals, how could the nation be born, based as it was on militant opposition to British kings? At the time, Europe was dominated by hereditary royalty.

And after the US Civil War, the radicals were the Republicans, who opposed slavery and fought for Black votes, while the Democrats were the party of the Ku Klux Klan. So, radicals fought for freedom from kings and from slavery.

In 1877, Republican presidential candidate Rutherford Hayes sold out Black Republicans and Black Southerners to allow Democratic ascendancy and political autonomy. The Army left the South, and Blacks were exposed to white terrorism … again. Radicalism, it seems, only went so far.

In the 1960s, Blacks embarked on a radical freedom struggle, North and South. Predictably, they were again betrayed, often headed by Republican politicians.

Radicals like Rev. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton and thousands of others fought for Black freedom. Others fought for an end to the Vietnam War.

The point? Radicals and revolutionaries fought for freedom from all forms of oppression. And the last I looked, that was a good thing.


Study, fast, train, fight: The roots of Black August

Study, fast, train, fight: The roots of Black August

George Jackson

This article originally appeared on Liberation School

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.”