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Sekou Odinga: ‘The right to struggle by any and all means’

These slightly edited remarks were given April 24 at the “U.S. Empire vs. Political Prisoners” webinar teach-in sponsored by Mobilization4Mumia and held in honor of the 66th birthday of political prisoner and revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal, incarcerated for 39 years by the U.S. state.

By Sekou Odinga

I’m a representative of the Northeast Political Prisoner Coalition and also a former political prisoner of war. I’ve been home for some five and a half years now. I’m honored to be here among so many other great folks to speak about political prisoners.

Let me start out by saying happy birthday to Mumia Abu-Jamal. We go way back. I don’t know if he remembers me when I was on the ground in Philadelphia, but I met him years ago with one of his leaders, Reggie Schell.

It’s important that we realize that, without our help, some, if not all, of our political prisoners will die in prison. Probably that’s something that most of us have already heard or know. So the question becomes: Well, what are we going to do about it?

I think this event is a great example of solidarity. The way we could all come together and speak about the things that are on our minds and wish brother Mumia a happy birthday. But we have to do something else. We have to do more — we need to really come together in solidarity.

The best resource that we have access to is people power. We need to commit to unifying and organizing the power of the people. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who already support freeing political prisoners, prisoners of war. We have to find a way to unify and organize ourselves to speak and to demand collectively the release of our political prisoners.

All the people, all the political prisoners, all the groups, committees, individuals need to come together under one banner to demand release of political prisoners. Maybe something like the Jericho Movement; maybe we can come together and organize ourselves and come up with something that we can all agree on.

Anyhow, we just have to! We just have to come together and do more than just talk. Talk is not enough. We need to do more. If we don’t, we’re dropping the banner for our political prisoners.

And all these governors talking about releasing nonviolent prisoners. We can’t allow them to take the narrative and decide how we can struggle. We have a right to struggle by any and all means, and we can’t consider our political prisoners criminals if they took to the battlefield. That don’t make them a criminal; that makes them a hero. We have to remember that.



Kuwasi Balagoon Video Interview

Many years ago, when working on what was originally envisaged as a pamphlet, a short collection of writings by Kuwasi Balagoon, i was told of a television interview with Balagoon, conducted while he was incarcerated following the failed Brinks expropriation of 1981. These were in the days before youtube or streaming or social media, and we didn’t even know what station had interviewed him or exactly when. So while the idea of an actual video interview existing somewhere was intriguing and tantalizing, we had no idea how to find it.

Fast forward almost twenty years, and as i was working on what would be (depending on your count) the third or fourth edition of Kuwasi Balagoon A Soldier’s Story — now a book, copublished with PM Press — a simple google search turned up a video, uploaded to the vimeo website. “Donald Weems 1980’s Interview” — this being the slave name Kuwasi was given at birth.*

While only a few minutes long, this interview by Alec Roberts of Independent Network News (WPIX-TV) is a precious opportunity to hear Balagoon speak, in his own voice and his own words. Well worth watching.

Donald Weems 1980’s Interview from Alexander Roberts on Vimeo.


* On the question of names, Balagoon explained in his July 11, 1983, Opening Trial Statement:

Donald Weems, the name that the prosecutor likes to use, is an alien european name. Donald is a Christian name—and i am not a Christian; and Weems is a Scottish name, and i am not Scottish. It’s a name that some slaver decided to brand what he considered his property with, and it is the name the state likes to use to propagate a colonial relationship. The english translation of Weems is “cave dweller.” i reject all that it means. […]

District Attorney Gribetz, Judge Ritter, and the state’s propaganda arm, the establishment media, have sought to obviate this by calling me a defendant, as well as my comrade Sekou Odinga, as if we were American citizens negotiating an internal domestic legal system. We reject this, as well as the insistence on calling us, as well as Assata Shakur, Abdul Majid, and other POWs by slave names. We know that it is not just a case of racist arrogance or legality and note that Zayd Malik Shakur changed his name through the courts years before he was killed by State Troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike and was still called by the state and the media by his slave name. This is to propagate a colonial relationship. (From: Kuwasi Balagoon A Soldier’s Story, pages 95, 101)



source:Kuwasi Balagoon Video Interview