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A Truly Revolutionary Chronicle of Women’s Resistance Behind Bars

by Sasha
Earth First! Newswire
May 22nd, 2013

In her latest edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggle of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2012), Victoria Law offers us a whole-hearted chronicle of despair and resistance in the modern prison industry. It is worth a good read by anyone interested in the sociology of American life, as well as any radical with friends or comrades behind bars. Law’s accounts of women prisoners taking action are so inspirational that you will never be the same after reading them.

With an approach resembling the old underground chronicles of the Soviet samizdat press, Resistance Behind Bars carries no piece of frivolity in its tight, hard-hitting prose. Law moves from facts to facts, drawing out broad truths about the prison industry’s systematic oppression of women throughout the United States of America. What we find is rampant sexual abuse, neglect, and manipulation—the holding of women in shameful conditions where prison becomes an almost airtight container for misogyny and patriarchy. But there is hope in resistance.

Law’s work is crucial, because the greatest recent works on the prison industry (for instance, Ruth Gilmore Wilson’s Golden Gulag, Micelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and the Let Freedom Ring anthology) are more focused on male prisoners. “Many activist-oriented publications mirror the mainstream media’s masculinization of prisons and prisoners, contributing to the invisibility of women behind bars,” states Law. “Because they receive much less attention than their male counterparts, women in prison receive much less support from both individual activists and prisoner rights groups.”

By revealing the obscured facts of prisoners’ oppression, Resistance Behind Bars exposes immediately the need for such a work. During an investigation of two women’s prisons in Michigan in 1994, the Justice Department found that “nearly every woman… interviewed reported various sexually aggressive acts of guards,” while a 1996 Human Rights Watch report exposes commonplace reprisals of guards against women who complain. In one mind-blowing statistic, Law explains, “[i]n both men’s and women’s prisons, prisoners are more likely to experience sexual violence at the hands of prison staff than from their fellow prisoners.

In his vital text The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Victoria Law’s impressive chronicle opens the heart of humanity with stories of resistance—stories of love and patience more than rage and riot, which are most commonly associated with prison resistance.

Law’s intensive investigations obviate exhaustive knowledge of the day-to-day situations of resistance, such as the spreading of information, the slow motion of court cases, and the relationships of people involved. She discusses the surges of women’s movements behind bars, the media, communications, and alliances formed between heroic women willing to risk their bodies and their access to others for mutual aid and basic rights. Law notes the critical and lasting impact of magazines like Sojourner: A Women’s Forum, which helps women resist “feeling as if their words, thoughts and actions are meaningless. For these women, having their words and thoughts taken seriously is, in and of itself, a major achievement.” Media also presents “an act of subversion against both their own lack of agency and the isolating effects of prison.”

So much of the struggle against oppressive conditions takes place in the battle for information. Information being shared between people, on personal levels as well as through magazines, leads to liberation. One crucial chapter in Resistance Behind Bars illustrates this point through a discussion about detention facilities and women subject to incarceration awaiting deportation. Many of these women do not speak English, yet prison officials often place them among English speaking populations without any translators. The ability of prisoners to then work together to create unity beyond the language gap indicates the compassion and tender, careful relationship-building that accompanies being together in prison.

In a welcome addition to the second edition of Resistance Behind Bars, Law presents a stirring analysis of incarcerated trans people. Authorities place trans people in prisons according to their sexual organs at birth, a practice which leads directly to increased abuse and alienation. In one tragic example, Dee Farmer, a trans woman, was placed in Terre Haute (an institution that will ring a bell for ecodefense activist), where she was repeatedly beaten, raped, and infected with HIV. Trans men in women’s prisons have traditionally been confronted with abuse from guards, including even forced segregation. Cis-privilege, in general, is reified within the patriarchal container by the guards. Law declares, “[n]arratives of transgender, gender variant and intersex people’s resistance in prisons are rare. This should not be interpreted to mean that they do not resist prison abuses. Instead, researchers, activists, and abolitionists should see the conspicuous absence of transgender, gender variant and intersex stories of resistance behind bars as a challenge to dig further, figure out why such tales are absent and do what isneeded to both end the silence and support their struggles.”

Resistance Behind Bars is replete with such harrowing stories of women acting out of their own agency, against assault and neglect, with little tools to win the fight. One example is that of Stacy Barker, whose successful lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections led to an onslaught of cell searches yielding “contraband violations” for iron pills and Ibuprofen. When the corrections officials used the violations to keep Barker from visiting her daughter, she joined a large suit against the regulations keeping mothers from their children—and won.

Much of women’s resistance in prison stems from letter writing campaigns, newsletters, and law suits. These efforts are forwarded by education efforts behind bars. Law discusses the awesome work of Marcia Bunney, who used her job in the prison library to teach herself law, eventually becoming one of five prisoner representatives of the National Steering Committee of the National Lawyers’ Guild’s Prison Law Project. The classes taught behind bars, Law shows, are frequently degrading, humiliating, and repressive, but offer rewards for those who can work through the system.

Even working through the system can bring new roadblocks, however. A request for medical treatment can bring unwanted reactions from authorities, for instance. “Women in prison face not only medical neglect and malpractice,” writes Law, “but also retaliation from the prison administration should they advocate for themselves and demand adequate treatment.”

Underlying the lack of care is a basic lack of counseling and information available to prisoners with AIDS and hepatitis C, but Law notes that prisoners team together to pass on their knowledge, speak out, file lawsuits, and make their daily lives livable. One example is that of Charisse Shumate, whose work with other inmates with sickle-cell anemia led to a class-action lawsuit, Schumate v. Wilson, that resulted in preventative care (although Shumate would succumb to her illness before the case was settled).

In the seminal In Russian and French Prisons, Peter Kropotkin declares, “No autocracy can be imagined without its Tower or Bastille.” The symbol of the central prison, and the possibility of its rupture, makes history. The U.S., with its tentacle-like prison industry complex provides multiple histories of oppression and autocracy. Law shows that much of the most important work to benefit prisoners comes from the prisoners themselves, in a heroic movement with support groups around the world working to fight the system. The hard task abolishing the prison industry is upon us, and it builds from the kind basic communication of facts and truths presented in Resistance Behind Bars—this is a method steeped in the feminist tradition, and it is one worth taking up at once.


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Asia's Unknown Uprisings V1: A Review in Socialism & Democracy

By Michael Munk
Socialism & Democracy, 2013
Vol. 27, No. 1
pg. 203-207

George Katsiaficas, the prolific student of mass movements, offers an ambitious and well documented study of modern South Korean social movements. The central question he poses is to what extent they arise spontaneously from masses of “ordinary” people. His key concept is the “eros effect,” which he developed during the worldwide uprisings in 1968 as described in his first book, The Imagination of the New Left (1987). This effect is achieved when “ordinary people take history in their own hands,” and unite in an insurgency so powerful that it causes “the basic assumptions of society to vanish overnight.”

During periods of the eros effect, masses of people come together in “beloved communities of struggle” and “live according to transformed norms, values and beliefs” (xxi). For Katsiaficas, “The outcome of spontaneous and massive occurrences is often far better than [that of] deliberately planned ones” (144), because uprisings are “a form of ordinary people’s wisdom that exceeds the shortsighted decision-making powers of world corporate and political elites” (3).

Applying this perspective to the history of Korean social movements, Katsiaficas was “amazed” to find the eros effect embodied in “what has been called the ’absolute community’ of the Gwangju Uprising” – a massive popular takeover of a South Korean provincial capital against the military dictatorship for several weeks in May, 1980.

Throughout the arc of Korean history, he finds early evidence of “self-directed” struggles in the 1894 Tonghak Uprising (his term is the “Farmers’ War”) against Yangban landlords and the Japanese troops they invited to crush the uprising. More recently between 2002 and 2008, he cites the “candlelight” demonstrations against US beef imports and the reactionary Lee Myung-bak regime.

Katsiaficas sees Korean popular struggles as directed primarily toward national independence against foreign domination – a nationalist objective not so clearly encompassed by the kind of anarchist theory which his approach suggests. In any case, this broad understanding has a sound basis: for most of the twentieth century through today, much of Korea has been occupied by foreign military forces – first the entire peninsula by Japan as its (Western-approved) colony from 1905 – 1945 and then by the US, whose occupation troops arrived after the Japanese surrender in September, 1945 and still number over 28,500 in the Republic of Korea (ROK) today. By contrast, Soviet troops actually liberated the country from Japan north of the 38th parallel in several weeks of bitter fighting in August 1945. They left when the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established in 1948 (although some of their air force returned during the Korean war). Similarly, China withdrew most of the “People’s Volunteers” – who expelled the US from the DPRK – soon after the Korean war ended in 1953, although the last contingents, which assisted in reconstruction, went home in 1958.

Koreans responded to these occupations in a series of political and armed struggles for national independence, first against the Japanese occupation and then against the American one in South Korea (primarily from 1946 – 1953). Although his book is concerned with South Korea, Katsiaficas suggests that the DPRK, which pursues a resolutely independent (critics say “isolated”) path in international affairs, aspires to represent a defiant Korean nationalism in opposition to US/Japanese cultural penetration of the ROK nourished by their military and economic alliances.

Katsiaficas begins his analysis with the critical 1945 – 1950 period in the South, during which the US occupation, operating through former Japanese collaborators in the military and police, brutally suppressed

Socialism and Democracy the popular local People’s Committees (PCs) and their national expression in Seoul as the Korean People’s Republic (KPR). He contrasts that imperial policy with the Soviet Union’s occupation in the North, which recognized (and influenced) the PCs in its zone. He believes that if the US had not intervened against the October Uprising in 1946 – “the most significant armed popular movement since Tonghak” – it would have “toppled the Seoul administration and installed the KPR as the sole government” (72).

The October Uprising (also called the “Autumn Harvest Uprising”) consisted of massive public protests against suppression of the KPR and against the imported regime of Syngman Rhee. It included rural seizures of power and workers’ strikes and finally formations of “armed revolutionary power in entire regions.” Katsiaficas attributes the defeat of the October Uprising to “massive firepower directed by the US” and finds that the absence of American casualties, in contrast to thousands of Korean ones, was due to the PCs’ wrong expectation that the US would negotiate with them.

At this point, Katsiaficas shifts into high gear his running argument with Bruce Cumings, the leading US scholar of post-World War II Korea. Although Cumings views the Autumn Harvest Uprising as “a last, massive attempt by the PCs to seize power in the provinces,”

Katsiaficas finds that Cumings overemphasizes the role of Rhee’s “national police network” in their suppression (79), while giving insufficient weight to the role of US troops. Katsiaficas also criticizes Cumings’ treatment of the 1948 Jeju Island and Yeosun (Yosu) insurrections.

Although he sees in the Island’s stiff resistance to the occupation “a kind of living anarchism,” he recognizes that the 1948 uprisings were largely organized by the communist South Korean Labor party (SKLP). He cites the flying of DPRK flags over liberated towns and villages as evidence that the 1948 uprisings were linked with the North through the SKLP. Their exceptionally hideous suppression under the notorious US Captain James Hausman, the author says, brought “tears to the eyes of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung,” who had urged South Koreans to rebuild their PCs. He even suggests that Kim’s June 1950 attack across the 38th parallel was an effort to rescue the remaining organized radicals (now guerrilla detachments forced up into the mountains).

Was the war a response to their pleas for fraternal help and an effort to answer broad demands for intervention from the South Koreans? Katsiaficas views the period between the 1948 uprisings and the “outbreak” of the Korean war as a time when “guerrilla warfare became of necessity the anti-imperialist movement’s tactical approach”(106). His beef with Cumings continues as he insists that the 1948 uprisings were “revolutionary” because their participants “wanted to change the world” whereas Cumings views them as mere “rebellions” in which Koreans rose up against the existing order but without a clear vision of what to replace it with (105).

The highlight of the book is its intimate and detailed analysis of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising. Katsiaficas spent several years in the city since 1999, and regards it as his “Korean hometown” where, in his words, “I was a public figure whose views were well known because my books were translated and I therefore had the privilege to be granted insider status in movement circles.” He regards the significance of Gwangju to be “comparable to the Paris Commune of 1871” (xxii) and a paradigmatic example of the eros effect. “Historically speaking,” he writes, “the Gwangju People’s Uprising of 1980 is the pivotal moment around which dictatorship was transformed into democracy.” Students joined with workers, even the white-collar “necktie brigade,” to take over the city from the brutal military junta. That junta had come to power through a US-backed coup against the short-lived popular government that followed the student-inspired overthrow of Rhee in 1961. For several weeks in May, according to Katsiaficas, the Minjung4 community demonstrated “the spontaneous chain reaction of people coming to each other’s assistance, the erotic occupation of public space, and the loving embrace in which the city united nearly everyone in it,” all of which constituted “one of the twentieth century’s clearest expressions of the capacity of millions of ordinary people to govern themselves beautifully and with grace” (164). His analysis of the Gwangju uprising comprises about 100 of the book’s 420 pages, but its impact informs the entire work.

Although the insurgency was bloodily suppressed by the military and the US, Katsiaficas notes that many Koreans regard its legacy as “the birthplace of Korean democracy.” With the end of the military dictatorship in 1987, they celebrate the end of 25 years of suffering and pay homage to the heroic people and the martyrs of Gwangju city and province.

The author’s deep investment in the wisdom and instincts of “ordinary” people contrasts with his contempt for elites and suspicion of “movement theorists” (including revolutionary ones), “academic experts,” and “professional revolutionary groups.” Foremost among those “experts” are Cumings and Martin Hart-Landsberg. Katsiaficas calls out Cumings (whose “trailblazing work was initially welcomed by Koreans when it appeared”) for erroneous dates, for failing to address charges that the US engaged in biological warfare, and for other issues already mentioned. But his most fundamental difference with Cumings is over how to describe the Korean War. Cumings views it as a “civil war”; Katsiaficas, as a war of national liberation.

One element of the underlying dispute is over whether Cumings ignores or minimizes the dominant role of the US in suppressing the Korean people’s uprisings, starting with the KPR and PCs in 1945, the Autumn Harvest Uprising of 1946, and the Jeju and Yeosun insurrections, and extending through the Korean war and the military regimes of 1961 – 1987 whose doom was sealed at Gwangju. The other element of dispute is over the strength and scope of the Korean uprisings, which Cumings finds weaker, less coherent and more subject to suppression by reactionary ROK elements (albeit with US support) than does Katsiaficas. This difference in assessing the social movements of Korea reflects the anarchistic faith and hope that the author invests in the capacity of “ordinary” people to organize society independently of party-leaders or governments. And when in the day of Occupy he reminds us of Rosa Luxemburg’s preference for the “superiority of the worst mistakes of a truly democratic workers’ movement to the best dictates of a party’s central committee” (106), we should pay attention.

3. Katsiaficas rejects its common title, the Tonghak Uprising, because that “synthetic religion” did not account for the masses of farmers fighting for their economic rights against the Yangbans of the feudal class of elite landowners. Tonghak traditions carry on to this day through Chondogyo institutions and believers in both North and South Korea.204

4.Minjung literally means “the mass of the people,”. In Korea, it carries a radical connotation denoting those who are oppressed politically, exploited economically, marginalized sociologically, despised culturally, and condemned religiously.

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Good ideas are not enough: Towards Collective Liberation, A Review

by Yutaka Dirks
Briarpatch Magazine
May 1, 2013

Chris Crass is a longtime activist originally from California where he was active in San Francisco Food Not Bombs (FNB) and the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. As an educator and organizer with the Catalyst Project for over 10 years, Crass supported anti-racist politics and leadership development in the U.S. left, working to foster and support multiracial alliances. Towards Collective Liberation collects several of his essays from the last decade about anti-racist feminist practice and anarchist leadership and intersperses them with material written from his new home in Tennessee.

After a short essay on what anarchism might offer those attempting to enact a visionary left politics, Crass provides a fulsome, critical history of FNB, a group that has introduced thousands of young, mainly white, people into radical politics. He offers an engaging insider’s account of the class struggle in San Francisco in the early ’90s, as well as a frank discussion of the struggles within FNB around organization and strategy and internal sexism and racism.

Crass sees “collective liberation” – a term borrowed from an essay by bell hooks – as a “vision of what we want and a strategic framework to help us get there.” Acknowledging his debt to feminists of colour, he shares honest, personal reflections on challenging male and white supremacy. While he does not offer a developed analysis of the difference between “anti-oppression” and “collective liberation,” he seems to prefer the latter term and critiques the tendency to focus on “what not to do, rather than what to do.”

Towards Collective Liberation
includes interviews with a variety of activists from organizations that are leading anti-racist efforts in white communities and in majority-white campaigns. Amy Dudley from Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project explains the group’s success in strengthening anti-racism and queer-liberation politics in primarily white, rural communities, contesting the idea that these places are a ready-made base for the right. Carla Wallace describes how Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign intervened in electoral and policy issues in a relatively conservative, mid-sized city to develop long-term multiracial alliances that were able to mobilize a grassroots base to defend queer rights and fight racist police abuse.

The experiences of these two organizations offer Canadian radicals valuable lessons as they grapple with the reality that, while Canada is becoming increasingly urban, half of the people in Canada still live outside major urban centres where the right tends to dominate, and, apart from a few large cities, the country is predominantly white.

Also of interest is the work of the Groundwork Collective, which played a leadership role in amplifying a racial justice analysis during the recent uprising in Madison, Wis., something only possible after building bridges with people of colour who were leading ongoing, local racial justice organizing. Groundwork provides a reminder that newly politicized people who are directly experiencing economic oppression want to shrug off their alienation and connect with their humanity. The white anti-racists Crass interviews understand that “struggle is the greatest teacher” and encourage anti-racist activists to show leadership and help develop a movement committed to collective liberation during moments such as the Madison mobilization or the anti-immigrant battles in Arizona.

Crass leaves the reader with eight practical lessons. Among them, he reminds us of the importance of setting concrete and measurable goals and cultivating a “developmental organizing approach that is reflective and supportive of all its members’ political and skills development.”

Crass understands that “good ideas are not enough,” but the short essays he includes addressing “strategic, liberation organizing praxis” are somewhat disappointing. Written in the early 2000s during the height of the anti-globalization movement, they highlight the importance of critical leadership and an organizing culture that works to build and nurture new leaders and strategic thinking, as exemplified by Ella Baker’s work in the civil rights struggle. However, given the importance of building our movements’ capacity and power, a more in-depth and substantive discussion would be welcome.

It takes hard work to create and refine “liberatory processes and practices in the here and now while we fight for the future.” Crass has given white activists and others an excellent resource to continue this work. Towards Collective Liberation is a powerful and honest work that underscores the importance of confronting racism and sexism and nurturing the leadership skills of new organizers to reach their full potential as a force that can radically transform society.

Yutaka Dirks is a tenant organizer and writer living in Toronto. His fiction and essays have appeared in literary journals and activist publications including the White Wall Review, Rhubarb Magazine and Beautiful Trouble: A toolbox for revolution. He has a serious love for stories of all stripes.

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Spreading the Good Word: "Towards Collective Liberation" by Chris Crass

By Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz
The Feminist Wire
May 4th, 2013

Have you read Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy by Chris Crass yet?  Well, if you haven’t gotten around to it, put it on your reading list STAT!

I don’t often agree to do book reviews. Because I have dyslexia, it takes me a long time to make my way through a book. Then when I get around to writing a review, the book is no longer hot off the press. But this time around I really wanted to participate in spreading the good word about Towards Collective Liberation because I believe it is critical to further building our movement’s racial, gender, and economic justice thinking and practice.

Chris Crass takes us on a deeply honest and strategic learning journey about the history of anarchist struggle and tactics, movement building, racial justice organizing, and the work that gender privileged people must do to collectively challenge sexism.  If you are looking to understand much of the history, tactics, and thinking about anarchism, you will find it in Towards Collective Liberation.  If you are looking for deeply direct and honest analysis about the work that white people must do together to challenge white supremacy, you will find it in Towards Collective Liberation. If you are looking for a treasure trove of movement building tools, strategies, mistakes made and learned, and ideas for your daily justice praxis, you will find it in Towards Collective Liberation. The best part of Towards Collective Liberation is that Chris doesn’t make this learning journey easy, simple, or theoretical.  This brilliant collection of essays is the real organizing deal because with each essay the message is clear: working for justice is deeply intersectional, vulnerable, and messy work. Now that’s my kind of book!

I learned so much from reading this book, but there are a couple of things that moved me and expanded my thinking.

As a long time movement builder and racial justice organizer, I have not been called to anarchist community even though much of the thinking turns me on!  Although I have deep appreciation for the economic justice/anti-capitalist analysis that I have often encountered in anarchist communities, my experience has been that anarchist efforts are predominantly white and cis-gendered male dominated.  I have often felt unwelcome in anarchist circles and that there has been very little space for feminist intersectional thinking and practice.  Towards Collective Liberation breaks it all down!  I now have a greater understanding of anarchist thinking and history. More importantly, I have as a new frame Chris’s story of awakening and struggle around gender and racial justice in an anarchist context. In a searingly direct way, Chris shares the pain and joy of struggling around racial and gender justice across some critically important anarchist efforts including his many years as an organizer with San Francisco Food Not Bombs.

On a related note, my thinking was challenged and expanded greatly by a deeper explanation of prefigurative politics.  Chris defines prefigurative politics as “the strategy of incorporating the vision of the future society into the struggle to get there. If the fight is for a democratic society, then revolutionaries must incorporate as many democratic practices as possible into the struggle to get there. Through the experience of utilizing democratic methods in the course of struggle, people build their individual and collective skills and experience to live democratically and in the process create democratic cultural values, and generate democratic practices to be utilized and improved upon.”

Throughout Towards Collective Liberation Chris emphasizes the importance of the interconnectedness between prefigurative politics, democratic processes and collective struggle. In essence, what Chris is inviting us to do is to deepen our commitment to a radical praxis that is intentional, consistent, and yet imperfect because collective struggle always is. 

His message is that perfection is not the goal but rather the goal is collective learning, organizing, accountability, and liberation.  As a result, it challenged me to think about the kinds of strategies and democratic processes I need to continue building in my own life and organizing work.  Chris’s emphasis on prefigurative politics was such a powerful affirmation for me that I have begun copying whole chapters of Towards Collective Liberation and passing them out like candy to every revolutionary organizer I know.

Finally, I was deeply moved by Chris’s essay entitled “Going To Places That Scare Me: Personal Reflections on Challenging Male Supremacy.” I loved this chapter becauseit’s so rare to read somethingwritten by a“mostly heterosexual” (Chris’s language), cis-gendered, able bodied, middle class white man that is deeply vulnerable and direct about sexism. Chris’s understanding of sexism is personal and political and, as a result, he does not shy away from letting all of his shit hang out there.  This chapter embodies some important modeling for anyone, including myself, who is on a life long journey of intentionally examining, struggling with, and owning their privilege accountable ways.

As I said earlier, I’m not a fan of writing book reviews.  On the other hand, I am a fan of putting organizing resources, tools, and analysis in the hands of revolutionary organizers.  So here is my pitch: get your hands on a copy of Towards Collective Liberation. Buy it at your radical/feminist bookstore, get a copy from a friend, share your own copy with organizers you love, make bootleg copies, get it from your local library, donate a copy to your local library, sit on the floor at your beloved radical/feminist bookstore and read it when and if you can or read it to/with an organizer for whom reading is inaccessible.  Just do it my beloved organizers…and keep spreading the word!
Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz is the founder ofintersections/intersecciones consulting. Weiner-Mahfuz has worked in several movements for social justice with a particular emphasis on building grassroots political power across movements, issues, identities and communities. As a capacity builder, movement builder, cultural worker and writer she has dedicated much of her organizing life to challenging oppression at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

Her writings can be found in Colonize This! Young Women of Color and Feminism (Seal Press, 2002), Fireweed Magazine’s “Mixed Race Issue” (Issue 75), through the Bilerico Project Blog, and a web-based project entitled BustingBinaries, which she co-authors with Ana Maurine Lara. You can also frequently catch her tweeting about a wide range of justice issues at @MovetheMovement!

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We All Come Up Together: “Towards Collective Liberation” reviewed on

By Laura Campagna
May 30th, 2013

In his new book, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy, Chris Crass rightly points out that there are more men influenced by feminism today than at any other time in history. While this may be so, and I believe it is, a book written by a man about his deep commitment to feminism is still radical, and far too rare. Especially because these books are able to speak to readers with gender privilege in a unique and effective way. The good news is with his first book, Crass is able to do just that, and more.

His feminist credentials are immediately established in the foreword by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, who Crass lists as a mentor, but who argues that she has learned as much from him as he has from her. In the introduction, Chris Dixon calls Crass a voice of his generation who has given expression to such fundamental feminist questions: “How can we overcome the interconnected systems of oppression and exploitation that structure our society? How can we struggle towards collective liberation?”

Crass tackles these daunting challenges and offers concrete strategies in “Towards Collective Liberation,” which blends personal stories and lessons learned through decades of activism, with critical race, feminist, and anarchist theory to create a compelling and accessible read for anyone interested in social justice. His work gives an overview of the revolutionary movements and moments he has been apart of over the past twenty years: fighting for Ethnic Studies while attending community college in Orange County, organizing with Food Not Bombs in San Francisco, shutting down the WTO in Seattle, and founding the Bay Area based Catalyst Project to train the next generation of anti-racist white organizers. What makes “Collective Liberation” so important, is that Crass not only describes what he did and why, but how his thinking changed through the process.

When I first encountered Crass in the Bay Area nearly ten years ago, he was a leader in a community of activists that I was just becoming acquainted with. From my vantage point on the outside, he appeared to have it all figured out: highly intelligent, well read, thoughtful, eloquent, and passionately committed. As many young activists have done to those they admire, I looked at Crass and assumed that he had just been born with more information than I had, that comprehension of complicated theories of social justice had come naturally to him. Here was a white man who had unlearned his internalized superiority, and now worked effortlessly in multi-racial alliances. My belief in his inherent superiority, and others like him, was one of the reasons I felt intimidated to get involved in the movement.

One of the lies that capitalism tells us is that everything should be easy, and that if life is difficult then it’s your fault and you’re doing something wrong. “Collective Liberation” directly contradicts that pervasive ideology by outlining the challenges Crass faced in becoming the formidable activist he is today. As he insightfully writes in the chapter, “What I Believe.”

Capitalism and other systems of oppression are designed to make almost everyone feel inadequate, isolated, and powerless. The power of these feelings is that even though many of us experience them, and they are ingrained in the culture, most of us think we are the only ones who feel this way. Such feelings remain with us, even as we question these systems of oppression and work to end them.
This is why, Crass says, he has found reading the stories of other activists going through similar challenges so helpful, and why he chooses to share his own story. He believes that facing awkwardness, contradictions, and vulnerability is a necessary part of the work. This type of work takes courage, and his bravery shines through in his writing.

When reflecting on the San Francisco chapter of Food Not Bombs, Crass gives a thorough overview of the group’s development, their political strategies and campaigns, and their struggles to deal effectively with racism and sexism when it manifested in their ranks. In “Going to Places that Scare Me,” Crass describes how his self of self was shaken when his friend and partner confronted him about contributing to the creation of a sexist culture in their group, the United Anarchist Front. Coming to terms with privilege is often a painful experience because it means removing our blinders to suffering. However, we can’t get stuck in the hurt and hard places. Crass quotes Martin Luther King Jr.: “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

Crass seeks to bring his white audiences to consciousness about racism through articulating how white supremacy instills an internalized sense of superiority over people of color. This work is not easy as it requires confronting feelings of fear, guilt and shame. However, Crass believes that everyone is needed to build a powerful and successful movement. He states that his overall goal in writing is “to help turn race, class and gender into catalysts to help us build our progressive Left movement rather then have them continue to divide us.”

There will inevitably be victories and set backs in the struggle to bring about a new society in which everyone has access to “quality housing, healthy food, dynamic education, meaningful work, accessible healthcare, and vibrant communities with infrastructure that serves people of all ages and abilities.” The most important thing, is that we keep moving. Crass does a wonderful job of articulating a new feminist vision of collective liberation, of an irresistible movement for social justice, in which we all come up together.

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A Review of Towards Collective Liberation, on Earth First!

by Sasha
Earth First! Newswire
May 9th, 2013

Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy
, by Chris Crass (PM Press 2013), is a challenging collection of essays and interviews. The concept of collective liberation, gleaned initially from radical scholar bell hooks, connotes a struggle lodged deep in the tradition of liberation movements—black liberation, GLBQTTI liberation, women’s liberation, and so on. CC insists, “we need liberation movements of millions of people, from all backgrounds, from all walks of life, with a wide range of experience, playing many different roles… everyone reading this book is needed in the process of building the powerful and successful movements we need to make the changes crucial for our future.” For liberation movements to connect at crucial strategic and ideological intersections, activists must overcome the problem by which “processes of inclusions and exclusions are reproduced in our organizing.” For collective movement organization to succeed, we need “a commitment to use different strategies and approaches.” The message of Towards Collective Liberation is that love, openness, and patient determination will prevail. It is an imperative lesson for everyone.

Chris Crass begins the book with essays steeped in the anarchist tradition: “there has never been a monolithic anarchist theory, tendency, or movement throughout history;” he explains, “there is not one anarchism, but many.” Towards Collective Liberation tells a history of non-hierarchical organizing throughout the world, leading to the modern notions of dual power and prefigurative politics exhibited by CC’s autobiographical discussion of the emergence of the San Francisco Food Not Bombs. The analysis of Food Not Bombs in San Francisco feels forthright and sensitive, mixing anti-oppression theory with a systematic conceptualization of major problems into an easy-to-digest text with stimulating tastes that travel to the untrammeled recesses of the heart. Perhaps the decisive declaration of CC’s proposal is to “imagine and create prefigurative organizing practices that work for people of different ages, cultures, capabilities, economic classes, responsibilities, and capacities.” While he does not delve into the more overarching, systemic critiques of Food Not Bombs, CC’s detailing of his personal experiences with the difficulties of patriarchy and white supremacy opens space for “new theorizing and practice.”

Reading Towards Collective Liberation is a lesson in patience, accountability, and praxis more than a lesson in Food Not Bombs. “A group can choose to also have anti-racism shape its politics and practice,” says CC, “but that must be a conscious decision with a plan for moving it forward… The point is not to become ‘perfect’ but to become praxis-oriented and understand change as a long-term process.” Chris Crass’s ideation of praxis adapts decision-making to objectives and experiences within a non-hierarchical framework, and superbly deployed in several examples and models. Practical gems, such as the twenty careful steps towards anti-sexist action, make Towards Collective Liberation a book to pass around amongst friends as well as a greater organizing and educational tool. Its simplicity of style, which indicates the diligence of CC’s writing as well as organizing with the Catalyst Project, will benefit radical collectives as much as any work place.

The last section of Towards Collective Liberation is comprised of several interviews with anti-oppression activists operating in extraordinarily difficult environments. Several members of the Heads Up Collective discuss the founding labors of collective organizing. The Rural Organizing Project in Oregon answers questions on broaching political issues with tact and confidence, while maintaining the radical patience that it takes to communicate with people on their level. The thrust of these interviews leads to a kind of acknowledgment of generalized oppression, and a willingness to transform the social relations by any (non-violent) means necessary. Kentucky-based organization, Fairness, puts forward an incredibly interesting example of equalizing antiracism and anti-homophobia over and against of the problems that activists face of “divide and conquer,” where a person of color’s voice is marginalized in the GLBT movement or visa versa. These interviews provide extraordinarily interesting insights into radical organizing on a personal level, and Chris Crass is to be commended for stepping back and allowing other voices to emerge, making the book a real experience in collective liberation.

Though Earth First! is acknowledged several times throughout Towards Collective Liberation, the arc of the book avoids the politics of animal and earth liberation. Because the book focuses directly on liberation movements, themselves, we do not have stories of the radical ecology movement working towards earth liberation with an antiracist analysis. If Towards Collective Liberation keeps biocentric analysis at the periphery, the question remains: are animal and earth liberation movements peripheral, or should the very problem of their marginalization within collective liberation struggles motivate us towards strengthening our absolute commitment towards the collective liberation of all species. The marginalization of animal and earth liberation movements is not simply a symptom of a Popular Front style of organizing; it is a serious problem within the movements themselves (ie, self-marginalization) that must be openly discussed in order to ensure that our movements stand unequivocally with other movements for collective liberation.

I caught up with Chris Crass by email, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about non-anthropocentric liberation.

Towards Collective Liberation
(of all species): An interview with Chris Crass
“There is no doubt that environmentalists need more training on antioppression, but do you think that earth and animal liberation thought have a place in collective liberation as well?”

Absolutely. Earth and animal liberation both bring critically important insights, visions, strategies and ethics for the world we want to live in, the way we live in harmony with all life, and how we can take steps here and now to get there. Animal liberation was actually really important to my early activism. Going vegetarian was a concrete way I could practice my politics and animal liberation was an important gateway for tens of thousands of young people to come into radical politics.

I moved away from animal liberation as a central part of my politics as I focused more on systemic inequality in capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. I did that because I found that many with a central focus on animal liberation regularly ignored or trivialized struggles in working class communities and communities of color. Nevertheless, I do think that animal liberation is important in an overall collective liberation vision, and when we talk about a socialist and cooperative economy and society, ethics of animal liberation should be part of that vision.

“What can animal and earth liberation groups do in their own hermetic (protesting HLS, for instance) to gain recognition within the broader CL analysis as more than a marginal opinion-oriented ideology—as part of the general movement for collective liberation?”

I worked closely in the 1990s with many who had a strong animal liberation and earth liberation politics. A significant split happened at the time of the global justice movement following Seattle in 1999. There were those who held an animal and earth liberation politics that largely dismissed and trivialized systemic inequality and struggles in working class communities and communities of color. Then there were many who united animal and earth liberation with a larger vision, analysis and strategy of working for justice for all people, and the need to build broad-based mass movements of everyday people.

Many animal and earth liberation activists who went towards a broader movement orientation to work for collective liberation joined with the environmental justice movement rooted in working class communities and communities of color. There are so many incredible examples of animal and earth liberation activists bringing their experience with direct action organizing into their community organizing efforts. The Ruckus Society that trains hundreds of people in direct action is a great example of this. They went from an almost exclusive focus on direct action-based environmental struggles and expanded into a direct action justice struggles-based group that supports communities of color, Indigenous communities, and working class communities to use creative and courageous direct action tactics. I believe this is what is needed.

We need the militant direct action orientation of the animal and earth liberation movement, but grounded in a larger strategy and practice of community organizing that is working to build up popular people’s power to win and create systemic change. Another good example of the kind of union of earth liberation and liberation for all people politics is Movement Generation. They are a political education and movement building group that is putting forward cutting edge analysis and strategies on how to work for the world we want in the face of ecological and economic crisis. A good resource on this analysis and approach is the booklet “Organizing Cools the Planet: tools and resources to navigate the climate crisis” by Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn Russell.  

“What is the difference between revolution and collective liberation, and is a popular front-style mass movement the apparatus of collective liberation (as the cover art seems to suggest)?”

I believe in the need for revolutionary change. I believe that revolution will include periods of mass popular uprising and change, but it also needs to be rooted in everyday struggles to transform conditions and consciousness in all our communities.

I do not believe that there will be a mass insurrection that will change everything. We cannot focus only on demolishing existing institutions of exploitation and oppression and expect that new liberating institutions capable of long lasting self-governance will simply emerge. Many anarchists and socialists have believed and some continue to believe this will happen. But history has shown, over and over again, that this is not the case.

I believe in the power of everyday people’s movements as the primary force for moving our societies towards collective liberation, and revolutionary politics, vision, and strategy are an important part of that. I don’t think that revolution is something that will just happen, and revolution will take care of all our problems. With that thinking we get into ends justifying the means, because if revolution will take care of all our problems, then whatever we do to speed up the process of revolution us justified. A good essay that explores this in more depth, that is really worth studying is “You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism”. If we see revolutionary change as an on-going process, one marked by periods of mass uprising and popular resistance, then the means of working towards liberation are actually helping us create the ends we want. Therefore the values of a liberated society are values we work to live in the here and now.

Yes we need popular mass movements. Yes we need revolutionary politics and strategy to help us win and create collective liberation. Yes, out of everyday people’s struggles, new forms of social organization will emerge. And yes, we need to actively incorporate anti-racist, feminist, queer liberationist, socialist values and politics into our education, organization and institution building, and our work in our families, communities, and lives as part of an on-going process of social and personal revolution.

Reviewer Conclusion:
If Towards Collective Liberation challenges people in the movement to face the problems of patriarchy and white supremacy, EF!ers will accept and welcome this challenge, while upping the ante not only by insisting on a safe(r) space to talk about animal liberation and earth, but by actively working on campaigns for economic, food, and environmental justice with our allies.

The Earth First! Journal has an antioppression policy, and Earth First! is serious about accountability and antioppression organizing. Towards Collective Liberation will help EF!ers take the next step in working in rural and urban environments, and it is time to move forward with the analysis to help realize collective liberation against anthropocentrism with a biocentric analysis.

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Book Release Event Review: Russell Maroon Shoatz “Maroon the Implacable” – The Book Launch of An American Political Prisoner

By  Dawoud Kringle
DooBeeDooBeeDoo NY
May 13th, 2013

Date: May 3, 2013

Venue: The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York City

“There is a war going on in America.” Thus began the book release event for Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz.

Russell Maroon Shoatz is a political prisoner who was unjustly accused and convicted of a violent crime in association with black militants against the Fairmount Park Police Station in Philadelphia that left a police sergeant dead. He was kept in solitary confinement for approximately 30 years. The Pennsylvania Department of Correction unlawfully altered the consequences of Shoatz’ conviction; essentially sentencing him to die in solitary confinement.

The event was produced and hosted by Scientific Soul Sessions. SSS is a collective dedicated to the prefigurement of a new society free of imperialism, colonization, racism, heteropatriarchy, and capitalist exploitation. They oppose all forms of social inequality, and stand for the dignity and self determination of oppressed people. Their political ideologies are, to quote their literature, “based on excellence and experimentation.”

The ceremonies began with a reading by Matt Meyer of War Resistor’s International from the Maroon’s writing set the mood for the event. He was joined by Iyanna Jones of Black Waxx.

Matt Meyer’s anouncement:

Rebel Diaz, a hip hop duo, was the first musical performer. They led the crowd in the kind of techniques usually used to elicit an audience response. Their politically, socially conscious lyrics were delivered in classic hip hop fashion.  They conveyed their message in a clear and unambiguous manner, and performed a well executed show. They were well acquainted with political struggle; their father was a political prisoner in Chile under Pinochet.

After this, while hats were passed around to collect donations for the movement, Meyer introduced Judith Malina, founding member of the Living Theater. She spoke about non-violent revolutionary action against the prison industrial complex.

Judith Malina speech video:

Hip hop artist Majesty was next. His style was more personal, more autobiographical, and placed this perspective on the setting of social corruption, and his experiences in it. His other poetry mixed politics, historical revisionism (in the sense that the “official” interpretation of history is a lie that serves the agenda of the ruling class) with a sense of the necessity of a foundation of morality and compassion.

Gary Bartz went on next. The legendary saxophonist spoke about his early years with Miles Davis, Max Roach, etc. and the likes of Malcolm X; mentioning that the FBI was watching him all the while. Then he played “It’s Time”. His solo rendition was absolutely beautiful; lyrical and emotionally eloquent. Then he offered an improvisation; a blues in Bb that was both passionate and playful. He finished with an original piece, “The Song of Loving Kindness.” Bartz proved once again his mastery and beautiful spirit.

Soffiyah Elijah speech:

After some speech by Meyer and Jones, Soffiyah Elijah, NY Corrections Associate Director, and former law professor at Harvard Law, spoke, giving an overview of Maroon’s legal situation. She offered a review of the legal and political basis for the call for Maroon’s immediate release; and emphasized the inhumane treatment Maroon suffers.

Maroon’s daughter, Theresa Shoatz, was next. She spoke about her personal experiences as the daughter of a non-violent political activist who was imprisoned for no reason other than that he spoke his mind.

Saxophonist, composer, writer, activist and co editor of this book Fred Ho was asked to speak. Along with speaking about the need to continue the struggle, he reiterates the need for financial support for Scientific Soul Sessions: and donated $1000 cash.

The final performance was from Jamal Joseph and the Impact Repertory Performance Company. Impact is an R&B soul / gospel / hip hop vocal group consisting of a lead singer and ten teen singers/ dancers / poets. Their performance was very professionally conceived and executed. They all exuded a feel of enthusiasm and sincerity that was infectious.

The whole of the presentation inspired an enthusiasm to participate in activism. It is essential that the injustices inflicted upon Maroon and others like him, regardless of what nationality or political affiliation, be addressed and stopped. Let it be hoped that their efforts bear good results.

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The Color Maroon

by New Clear Vision Editor
New Clear
April 29th, 2013

Lessons on Life, Liberation from Imprisoned Activist Russell Shoatz

Russell Maroon Shoatz is a former leader of the Black Panthers and the Black freedom movement, born in Philadelphia in 1943 and originally imprisoned in January 1972 for actions relating to his political involvement. With an extraordinary thirty-plus years spent in solitary confinement — including the past twenty-three years continuously — Maroon’s case is one of the most shocking examples of U.S. torture of political prisoners, and one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations regarding prison conditions anywhere in the world. His “Maroon” nickname is, in part, due to his continued resistance — which twice led him to escape confinement; it is also based on his continued political analysis, including recent writings on ecology and matriarchy that are found in his recently published book: Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz.

This interview was conducted via correspondence by Lisa Guenther, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.

Lisa Guenther: What does “maroon” mean to you?

Maroon Shoatz: Historically a maroon was a fugitive slave of the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries Americas — and even on the west coast of Africa, where most enslaved Africans were shipped from.

In Latin America they were generally referred to as cimarrones in the Spanish speaking colonies, marrons in the French colonies, the Dutch word for Bush Negroes in their colonies, and in the British colonies of the Caribbean and the southern areas of what would become the USA, either outliers or maroons. Yet maroon is an accepted generic name for all of these fugitives.

The word is sometimes capitalized when it’s used to identify an ethnically adopted designation: like the Jamaican Maroons, or the Boni Maroons.

Usually it’s assumed that all maroons were of African origin. In fact, for centuries all over the Americas there were many, many maroons of both European and indigenous/Amerindian origin.

Maroons differed from the runaway slaves who tried to blend-in or fully integrate themselves within the otherwise “free” societies. And that’s where the true distinction lies between maroons and the other fugitives! Whether the maroons term their communities quilombos, ladeiras, palenques, cumbes, Nanny Town, Trelawny Town, or one of the scores of other designations we know of, they all were clear on the fact that direct integration into the surrounding oppressive settler colonial communities was something they did not desire.

One could argue that their fugitive status militated towards making that choice. Yet the historical record clearly shows that for centuries thousands of runaway slaves and indentured servants successfully integrated themselves within the free communities. Among those of European origin, untold numbers blended-in to join the periodic expeditions that were mounted to explore, exploit the riches of, conquer or settle vast areas that had previously only been inhabited by Amerindians.

Among the Amerindian runaways, they most often could find refuge and protection among kindred or other sympathetic Amerindian ethnic groups.

Those fugitives of African origin could at times find “free black” communities — who themselves were in league with sympathetic anti-slavery abolitionists — who would offer them a certain amount of refuge and protection.

And it’s known that these things were generally known and understood by the maroon communities in their regions. And by definition a rejection of these attempts to integrate oneself within the mainstream of either of these free communities — while establishing one’s own maroon communities — meant that such maroon efforts accepted the idea that their former owners would aggressively seek to return them to enslavement, or kill them if that failed. This was primarily because all maroon communities represented a direct threat to the idea and practices of slave and indentured labor, in other words, a threat to the engine that made the colonies in the Americas exploitable and fantastically profitable for the ruling elites.
Thus, in essence, all maroon communities — men, wimmin and children — were communities at war with their former masters. We know this to be true because for centuries various settler colonial regimes sought to violently stamp out numerous maroon communities all over the Americas. Even going so far as to sign peace treaties — which came with autonomy and land grants and material subsidies — in return for these maroon communities’ promises to reject any further acceptance of new fugitives into their ranks, as well as their aiding the slavers in capturing the latter (a stipulation that was not always followed through on).

More convincingly, till our times, the direct descendants of some of these maroon societies in South America (Surinam), the Caribbean (Jamaica) and the USA (among the Negro Seminoles of Texas and along the Mexican border, and in Oklahoma; and the Amerindian Seminoles in Florida) still stubbornly cling to the remnants of their ancestral ways and speech.

So it must be recognized that — in spirit — a maroon was one who not only rejected oppression, but went further to help establish an alternative, even though such an effort could be avoided by simply removing themselves from the direct effects of that oppression. While at the same time being fully conscious that seeking to establish such an alternative will mean being attacked by those who benefit from the rejected oppressive arrangements.

Lisa Guenther: How can we learn from the history of maroon communities to “escape” from the prison industrial complex? This must be a different process for prisoners, for their families, and for others who have no personal connection to prisons. I’m interested in sketching out a kind of “escape manual” for those who want to build on this tradition of resistance.

Maroon Shoatz: The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a modern day form of slavery! Michelle Alexander says it’s a part of “the New Jim Crow,” and she’s correct in saying that. Yet we must recall that the original Jim Crow itself was simply a way to continue to derive the benefits from the exploitation of a segment of society that chattel slavery earlier provided. Similarly, the PIC serves to benefit segments of today’s society at the expense of others. It’s held up by those who derive these benefits as a necessary social mechanism to control the criminal elements in society: so much of the “tough on crime” posturing can be found here.

When one gets past that scare tactic and simply follows the money trail, it’s easily recognized as the giant con game that it is. A tool that helps the economic and social elites — the “one percent” (if you will) — to use the PIC to serve as a lid to keep the most volatile economic and social elements from boiling over, in reaction to the dysfunctional and exploitative policies the one percent have set in motion and oversee. At the same time, using the police power associated with this drive to construct a — not so subtle — terroristic police state in order to also keep in check the other “ninety nine percent” who do not find themselves to be direct victims of the PIC, but are, nevertheless, indirectly terrorized into feeling they too must accept the economic, political and social policies put forth by the one percenter’s advocates. If not, they too will fall victim to the terrifying specter of themselves becoming prey to the paramilitary police and spy agencies; the unaffordable legal system and the dreaded jail/prison archipelago that they’ve all seen on reality TV shows, and which are fodder for pop culture comedians.

The ninety nine percent are living in a fool’s paradise. One that cons them into subsidizing their own oppression by allowing the one percent to yearly spend billions upon billions of their tax dollars to support this police state and its PIC. Most will object to my terming the USA a police state for one simple reason: They periodically get a chance to vote for whichever politician the one percent’s massive outlay of money propels to the front of the — otherwise — easily recognized millionaires voting club… The give-away is that whoever is voted into office, the one percenter’s interests are always given preference over the ninety nine percenter’s.

Still, there is hope of using the “maroon spirit” to help us find our way forward. Even so, as Michelle Alexander points out in her “New Jim Crow” book, such an effort demands a collective type of energy and creativity in order to form a movement that is capable of getting the job done. And any process to accomplish this must be launched, refined, protected and sustained simultaneously among the prisoners within the PIC, the parolees and probationers, their collective families and loved ones, and by other members of the ninety nine percent who are not personally (bodily) connected to the PIC and its supporting police, spy, and court arms. An effort consciously directed towards building on the maroon tradition of resistance to oppression and exploitation.

Ironically, the segment of the population that presently has the most potential to effect change in the PIC is those who usually have no direct — bodily — connection to this system. That is the taxpayers among the ninety nine percent. Without their massive yearly outlays of billions in taxes (taxes they’ve been bamboozled into believing serve a good purpose, but instead serve [to] keep active a police state machine) the whole house of cards would collapse!

These taxpayers have allowed themselves to be painted into a corner — as already pointed out — and must be broadly encouraged to join an effort to construct a national campaign to vote out of office any and all politicians who will not pledge to help us abolish the PIC and its supporting police state terror arms, while simultaneously using their tax dollars to prepare the millions of prisoners, parolees, probationers, prison staffs, police/spy and court arms for new lives.

Such an effort will help educate these taxpayers to the extortion con game that the “tough on crime” political hucksters have been playing on them, as well as help reign-in the out-of-control police/spy state apparatus, which will allow this taxpaying public to feel less terrorized in order to more aggressively pursue all of the other pressing problems the one percenter’s policies have allowed to collect in their living rooms.

Among the prisoners, parolees and probationers — at the same time — they must spearhead a campaign to educate their peers to the fact that their pursuit of the gangsta lifestyle and its petty crimes must be abandoned, for the simple reason that they’re being played for fools; when they kill and are killed to make money and gain status, only to lose the money, their freedom and all too often their families as well — while going in and out of the PIC.
Their only hope rests with organizing themselves and using their time and creativity to develop intelligent ways to get the taxpaying citizens to recognize that they must demand that their tax dollars be used to prepare them to fully join their communities as productive individuals — in a win-win situation for both groups.

The families and loved ones of prisoners, parolees and probationers are dying to become a part of such an effort, as already laid out. Moreover, the adult members of these families are themselves voters and taxpayers. As such they will form the nucleus to lend a backbone to a nationwide effort to get other taxpaying voters to force the politicians to pledge to work on abolishing the PIC, while initially channeling their tax dollars into programs designed to really prepare prisoners, parolees, probationers, prison staffs, police/spy and courthouse workers for their new lives.

Here the academic community must be brought into this undertaking. We must get them to see that it’s also in their interest — as taxpayers and voters — to forcefully interject themselves into such a movement because — nationwide — colleges and universities are progressively being sidelined and hollowed-out in favor of the neoliberal education for profit model; one that most administrators will be forced to pursue, because they are being starved of tax dollars that presently are being shoveled into the PIC.

Where else will the prisoners, parolees, probationers, prison staffs, police/spy and court workers find individuals who are able to perform such a Herculean task?

Further, it’s abundantly rational to fight for such a initiative, seeing how the material aspects are already in place: The archipelago of jails and prisons can serve as learning quarters. There are millions of people who need to be prepared for new productive lives — or remain negative tax burdens. Tens of thousands of unemployed or underemployed college and university graduates. And, finally, it all can be accomplished by intelligently using the billions of tax dollars that today are being wasted on prisons, jails, parole, probation, police/spy and court activities that only serve to terrorize and keep in check the ninety nine percent.

All that’s missing is the clarity that such an effort is needed, and the political will to struggle to build such a movement. The same way that the historical maroons set theirs sights on being free from chattel slavery, then developing the will to run away and struggling to stay free.
Lisa Guenther: One of the things I love about your work is that it reveals another history of the Americas underneath the story of “discovery” and colonization. This is a history of struggle and resistance, which is as old — if not older — than colonial domination. What can we learn about political resistance from our own history, read “against the grain” in this way?

Maroon Shoatz:
 One cannot fully appreciate the history of the maroons without first taking the time to read about them. Even then one cannot gain this knowledge by reading a single book on them. For myself, I began to seriously study them after escaping from a Pennsylvania prison and living in the surrounding mountains and forest in 1977. After a month I slipped-up and was captured and returned to prison. It was at that time I was given the nickname Maroon by an older prisoner who had studied maroon history. Up until that point all i knew was that the “maroons were escaped slaves in Jamaica….” Nothing more.

Nowadays I can say that I’ve read many books about the maroons, even though it took a bit of an effort to locate the material, since I had no access to the internet and was in prisons that restricted the books that i could get. Yet I’m still learning more about them as enterprising scholars and researchers are making that history available.

Jane Landers, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee recently provided me some fascinating original research and publications surrounding the maroons she’s contributed. Further supporting what I’ve long ago discovered: The various maroon communities and a number of Amerindian communities stand alone as the only peoples who’ve withstood the crushing and absorbing effects of the colonial, “manifest destiny” imperialist and genocidal movements that have overwhelmed most of the rest of the Western hemisphere.

Though considered “backwards” by most people, it’s becoming clearer everyday that such elements — like the maroons and Amerindians spoken of — people who’ve learned to live alongside of the environment without destroying it, show the rest of our civilization as those ‘who are backwards’! Moreover, the remnants of these Amerindian and maroon communities steadfastly resist efforts by outsiders to co-opt or submerge their communities within the complexities of the modern state.

Even though the jury is still out on their choices in that matter, it’s also becoming crystal clear that the huge and complex undertakings like the old Soviet Union, the European Union, the USA and China and India are in for some truly rough sailing, as their ruling elites lose more and more of their ability to use the state to exploit and oppress/repress. This level of resistance was almost impossible to accomplish prior to modern technological wizardry, which is serving to demystify the “why’s” and “how’s” of what being done to the global ninety nine percent by this elite minority.

Indeed, I believe there are things that can be learned by studying how the maroons and certain Amerindian societies have been able to navigate their way forward until now. That knowledge and wisdom is sorely needed because we’ve allowed the global ruling elites to place us on a runaway train, that if not arrested, will present a clear existential threat to our existence!

Lisa Guenther: What’s the relationship, in your view, between anarchism and the decentralized structure of maroon communities?

Maroon Shoatz: The historical maroons, as well as the anarchists, have many things in common. Both also have many variations that have to be studied in order to prevent any errors in addressing this question. Nonetheless, they all share a deep-seated rejection of oppression/repression emanating from any state structure.

That said, the maroons differed from most anarchists — at least during their classical “fighting maroon” stage — because unlike most anarchists, they lived their ideal of rejection. Most anarchists, on the other hand, aspire to protect that ideal — short of what’s needed to realize it on a higher level.

Of course much of that has to do with the extreme level of oppression/repression the maroons had to confront. That’s usually missing in the case of the anarchists. The notable exceptions being the anarchists involved with struggles during the period of czarist/revolutionary Russia and during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War of the 1930s. There one cannot distinguish any difference between those anarchists and the earlier fighting maroons.

Those instances also highlight another striking difference between the two camps — other than during the Russian Revolution and with Spain during its own struggles — and that is the premium the fighting maroons placed on always developing and maintaining a high level of organization! Forms of organization that were usually highly decentralized, creative and organically connected to those it served. Yet one that was sophisticated enough to be able to coordinate various decentralized formations in order to give the coordinated collective a critical mass when needed. Sorta like a swarm of bees.

Usually anarchists have not been confronted with the level of threat that the fighting maroons always had to live with, and that has hindered them in developing a need or desire to organize on such a high level.

Lisa Guenther: In “Black Maroons in War and Peace,” you write about the difficult relationship between maroons and slaves, and the many examples of betrayal and complicity, where slaves were used as pawns by both the colonizers and the maroons. What can we learn from these struggles about the possibilities for solidarity and community-building today?

Maroon Shoatz: I’ve read a lot in this area but am hard pressed to recall any instances of fighting maroons betraying other slaves. In fact, take Suriname; there they even had a “Code of the Forest” that strictly militated against such betrayals. And in the fighting maroon formations in Jamaica, Mexico, Haiti and the United States (southern colonial areas) we see the same practices. Such betrayals were not in their interests, seeing as how solidarity with all slaves generally served to increase their numbers and ability to avoid capture and death.
That’s not to say that the fighting maroons always got along with each other. They didn’t. But that was usually settled by agreeing to go their separate ways.

The treaty maroons were the parties that indulged in such betrayals! Such treachery was the fruit that their cooptation by their former enslavers yielded. The European imperial and colonial enslavers discovered after generations of all but useless wars designed to capture or kill maroons that the most sophisticated fighting maroons could not be overcome by warfare. They therefore settled on a broad strategy of cooptation, a more subtle way to both neutralize the fighting the maroons and turn them into another auxiliary to help their other forces hunt, capture and kill new runaways.

In Mexico the Spanish slavers successfully implemented the cooptation of the famed and feared Yanga and his followers among the fighting maroons; and even today “Yanga the African rebel slave” is lauded in Southern Mexico.

In both Jamaica and Suriname the British and Dutch slavers (respectively) also came to adopt the same methods and had success doing that. In each case the cooptation of the most sophisticated and powerful fighting maroons worked to the detriment of those still fighting maroons and the new runaways as well.

One lesson we can draw from that is a need to be more vigilant in our efforts to both identify and struggle against cooptation. And we know from the maroons’ experiences as well as more contemporary experiences brought about by struggles within the global anti-colonial struggles, the US Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s (in particular), that those in power will resort to cooptation against strong movements they cannot defeat otherwise. One rule of thumb is we must continue to struggle as long as the most adversely affected have not been relieved of the causes of oppression and repression they suffer under.

Lisa Guenther:
 In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon writes: “The party must be decentralized to the limit. This is the only way to revive regions that are dead, the regions that have not yet woken up” (128). This made me think of your hydra model. What is the influence of Fanon on your thought and practice?

Maroon Shoatz: Franz Fanon had for decades been one of my guiding lights. His writings that highlight both his “revolutionary” theories and practice still hold much truth. Yet I’ve come to learn that Fanon also was in need of a worldview that was not shaped by the patriarchal fixation on a malignant ego-based form of violence, a type of violence that he conflated with the otherwise necessary defensive revolutionary violence that the best of his theories and practice uphold.

This is a shortcoming that I outline in an essay in the upcoming anthology of my writings. The essay entitled “The Question of Violence”, and a subsection labeled ‘Towards a Matriarchal Prefigurative Praxis in Controlling Male Violence’, contain my thesis that separates ego-based violence from defensive revolutionary violence, and how and why Fanon and others have conflated the two. As well as my theory about how to arrest that shortcoming.

Lisa Guenther: The connection between prisons and capitalism is clear. But can you spell out the connection between prisons, capitalism, and environmental issues such as food security, climate change, respect for animals, and so forth?

Maroon Shoatz: As was pointed out in answer to question #2, the ruling one percent has constructed a police state — with prisons at its core. Thus it follows that without that and the threat of the paramilitary police/spy networks, backed up by a awesome array of weapons, military vehicles, helicopters, drones, reality police and jail TV shows — which daily sow terror in the minds of the ninety nine percent — the bulk of the citizenry would more seriously question all of those things. But they fear that if they go beyond voting (where that is allowed), or peacefully demonstrating (where that is allowed), they could easily wind up in a prison hellhole or be gunned down in the streets!

In the USA a huge segment of the ninety nine percent own firearms — allegedly for hunting or to simply exercise their rights to do that. In reality, so many millions owning these weapons is itself a testament to the fear felt by them; a fear that they cannot rationally understand is grounded in their inability to understand the complexities of a society that otherwise point to the bankruptcy of the one percent’s accumulation mania, and the ninety nine percent’s inability to stay afloat in this game. Thus the owning of weapons is a way to achieve a small amount of psychosocial relief from the everyday fears and terrors that torment them.

Periodically one of these tormented individuals will snap under the strain and shoot and kill another one of the ninety nine percent over a minor dispute, or more dramatically, shoot and kill as many as possible — before the feared paramilitary police SWAT team shows up…
The global ninety nine percent would also act in a similar fashion — being subjected to similar pressures — but mostly weapons are not as available; unless you are willing to be cannon fodder in some drug or resource warlord’s army…

Lisa Guenther: You write about matriarchy, and suggest that it is a better word than “feminism” to describe your own approach, which you share with Fred Ho and Stan Goff. Could you explain what matriarchy means to you? I must admit, the word makes me uneasy for a number of reasons. For example, it is possible to admire and even worship mothers without actually granting them social or political power. Mothers are often romanticized as wonderfully caring, responsible, even self-sacrificing people — which creates an impossible standard for most women to live up to. And not every woman wants to become a mother; feminists have worked hard to distinguish between being a woman and having to be a mother, so it seems like we risk backsliding if we suddenly replace feminism with matriarchy. But at the same time, much of the history of feminism has been dominated by white, middle-class straight women who still have a lot to learn about the many different ways of being a woman, being powerful, and working with others in solidarity. For these reasons and more, I prefer to focus on the promise of “global feminisms” rather than matriarchy. But I’m interested to hear more about why this term appeals to you.

Maroon Shoatz: My outlook on this is a work-in-progress. For most of my life I was a male supremacist, faithfully following the patriarchal paradigm that permeated all areas of my life, even after becoming what i thought was a “revolutionary”, someone struggling to achieve an egalitarian social order.

Then about eight years ago I was introduced to radical feminist writings by another former male supremacist. And since that time radical feminist ideas and practice have turned my worldview upside-down! Nowadays I too consider myself a radical feminist, but one who believes our worldview and practices are better served by drawing a line in the sand by opposing everything that patriarchy champions! In the words of Fred Ho, “the goal is not gender equality, but the abolition of gender as a social differential completely, and the restoration of Mother Right: procreation and nurturance of humans and Nature, not ownership and domination of people and the earth for private property”.

The use of the much misunderstood and maligned word matriarchy is a way to present that revolutionary challenge to the age-old ruling patriarchal order. A clear line in the sand!
The word feminism is also maligned, misunderstood and attacked, but I believe — in the long run — it would serve us to do the hard work of returning to the source of the birth of both words (matriarchy and patriarchy) in order to better grasp the essence and ramifications surrounding the need to do battle on this front. Something we’re much less likely to do by shying away from a word (matriarchy) that has a lineage and pedigree that cannot be fully or properly understood without such an intense struggle.

My use of the word matriarchy is no attempt to either directly or indirectly romanticize mothers, set any “impossible standards for most women to live up to”, or demand that all wimmin become mothers. All of which are patriarchal ideas, which a struggle over these words will make clear. Ideals that were introduced in order to help defeat the then-prevailing matriarchal order, during what Frederick Engels wrote was the era of “the overthrow of mother right [which] was the world-historic defeat of the female sex” in his neglected and little-studied The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. A work that has stood the test of time.

Though a work-in-progress, like all “new believers” I too am zealous about confronting, struggling with and ultimately helping to defeat the patriarchal worldview, which I’ve termed “the father of oppression”.

So I ask you to bear with me as you weigh and examine my positions.

Lisa Guenther: 
How have you managed to stay sane and clear-headed after 21 consecutive years of solitary confinement?

Maroon Shoatz: Perhaps my ego will not allow me to be destroyed by this experience (smile). In the sense that my captors can kill my body, but as long as I breathe air they’ll never kill what all I’ve learned about the nature of oppression and repression and why I must stand against both.

Lisa Guenther: In “Liberation or Gangsterism,” you explain how the black radical resistance of the 1960s and 70s gave way, under the pressure of police oppression and programs like COINTELPRO, to gang violence in which young black men fight each other for power and money, rather than joining together in resistance to the system that oppresses them. What do you think of the growing movement within prisons to put aside racial differences and gang affiliations in order to increase pressure on prison administrators through hunger strikes (as in California) and labor strikes (as in Georgia)? Are we witnessing a rebirth of radical political resistance within prison? How might this affect possibilities for addressing street violence within communities, and creating alternatives to police surveillance through policies such as Stop and Frisk?

Maroon Shoats: I’m thrilled to know that the actions of the prisoners in Georgia, California and elsewhere have been taking steps to end the monstrous conditions they face. For them to be able to overcome the decades of bloody prison staff provoked and sanctioned violence between the various ethnic, racial and regional affiliations is truly historic, and points to the potential to move forward.

That said, I fear that the prisoners’ overseers will take steps to derail this growing movement by reducing the potential for the prisoners to continue providing much needed direction on their end. The way the prison staffs usually do that is by separating and transferring the most sophisticated thinkers amongst the prisoners to other prisons, while allowing most of the prisoners a measure of relief from their present harsh conditions. While at the same time replacing them with a new, younger, less savvy group of prisoners. While not initially making the mistake of treating the new prisoners so bad until they too will be forced to come to grips with the primary contradiction, which is: the PIC and the prisoners “gangsta culture” are two sides of the same coin; a giant con game that ultimately serves the one percent’s accumulation pursuits, as I’ve already pointed out.

Consequently, we must return to question #2 [above] and my comments. My view is that the “manual” you would like to produce is something that would be very valuable in helping prevent the prison staffs in places like Georgia and California (and elsewhere) from continuing to use the PIC as a tool of repression. Your use of the word “escape” in such a manual, however, will certainly guarantee that it will not reach most prisoners! Think along the lines of producing something free of inflammatory anti-PIC catchwords, but still drives home the organizing points i suggested in my answer to question #2. Though you first must make direct contact with a savvy prisoner or two in each state’s isolation units in order to solicit their advice on how to fine-tune your message to their area, and for advice on the best way to circulate such a manual in their area and region.

More importantly, such a manual must be small, free, and mass produced! Seeing how they will have to flood the prisons in order to assure enough of them reach their destinations.
Such an effort will benefit prisoners throughout the USA, but the prisoners in isolation in California and Georgia should have priority because they are the most advanced in their broad based organizing and resistance at the present time.

Things have the potential to develop into “a rebirth of radical political resistance within the prisons.” Also, the “possibilities for addressing street violence within communities…,” etc.
My view, however, is that the main problem here is not the resistance that will come from the prison staffs and their supporting police/spy/court arms but from our own continued failure to adopt to a worldview and practices that are capable of fully unleashing the wimmin and girl half of the ninety nine percenters, that the bulk of even the most committed and advanced males on our side don’t realize they’re holding back. Primarily because these males are still wedded to the patriarchal worldview, which leads to patriarchal thinking, planning, actions and results. All of which — sooner or later — will (again) alienate the wimmin and girl half of the ninety nine percent, who will not benefit from such an arrangement, except for a minority of coopted individuals.

In order to overcome that problem, along with everything else we must do to immediately better combat the PIC, we must also introduce the male prisoners and the males in the streets to our radical feminist/matriarchal views, literature and ideas — along with also introducing all of that to the wimmin and girls they’re associated with… in case the latter is not familiar with the same.

There is no other way I can imagine we can fully tap into the necessary creativity and energy needed to tackle this problem.

For more information, visit the Free Russell Maroon Shoatz website, and consult the new anthology: Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz.

Buy Maroon the Implacable now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Matt Meyer's Author Page now

Why Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz Must Be Released From Solitary Confinement --An interview with Theresa Shoatz and Matt Meyer

Angola 3 News
April 22nd, 2013

Take action by telling Secretary Wetzel that you want Russell 'Maroon' Shoatz to be immediately removed from solitary confinement!

This month, a 30-day action campaign was launched demanding the release of Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz from solitary confinement, where he has been held for over 23 consecutive years, and 28 of the last 30 years, in Pennsylvania prisons. On April 8, when the campaign began, Maroon’s legal team sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC), demanding his release from solitary confinement and promising litigation against the PA DOC if he is not transferred to general population by May 8.

The action campaign describes Maroon as “a former leader of the Black Panthers and the Black freedom movement, born in Philadelphia in 1943 and originally imprisoned in January 1972 for actions relating to his political involvement. With an extraordinary thirty-plus years spent in solitary confinement…Maroon’s case is one of the most shocking examples of U.S. torture of political prisoners, and one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations regarding prison conditions anywhere in the world. His ‘Maroon’ nickname is, in part, due to his continued resistance—which twice led him to escape confinement; it is also based on his continued clear analysis, including recent writings on ecology and matriarchy.”

Writing that Maroon “has not had a serious rule violation for more than two decades,” the campaign argues that he has actually been “targeted because of his work as an educator and because of his political ideas; his time in solitary began just after he was elected president of an officially-sanctioned prison-based support group. This targeting is in violation of his basic human and constitutional rights.”

On March 28, just before the campaign was launched, Maroon was transferred from SCI-Greene to SCI-Mahanoy  An update released by the campaign on April 15 reported that Maroon had been told by officials at SCI-Mahanoy that he had been transferred there with intent to move him into general population. Responding to the news, campaign co-coordinator Matt Meyer (also interviewed below) said: “We are encouraged by the words of the officials at Mahanoy, but we cannot rest until those words are followed by deeds: by the ultimate action which will end the current torture of Maroon.” Bret Grote, from the Pittsburgh Human Rights Coalition, who is himself a longtime legal and political supporter of Shoatz, added that, “while we are pleased that some of the concerns raised by the demand letter have been met,” including Maroon’s “access to his anti-embolism stockings and to a typewriter, we remain concerned that the timeline for release from solitary has been left vague.”

The April 15 update also reports that “the assistants at the office of PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel have confirmed that the Secretary personally ordered Maroon’s recent transfer from SCI Greene to SCI Mahanoy for the purpose of placing him in the general prison population. In conversations with some of the many people who have called in to the DOC central office on the first week of the 30-day pressure campaign, DOC personnel have suggested that Maroon supporters be patient as the process to get him into general population work its course. But Maroon and his family have been misled in the past about these issues.” While the campaign began by asking supporters to contact both Secretary Wetzel and SCI Mahanoy Supt. John Kerestes, it is now asking supporters to just focus on Secretary Wetzel, since he is the “ultimate decision-maker.”

This month also marked the release of the new book, entitled Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (PM Press), co-edited by Fred Ho and Quincy Saul, with a foreword by Chuck D. The collected essays examine a wide range of topics that are perhaps most striking for their honest self-criticism and for his commitment to confronting male supremacy and misogyny in all its forms. For example, in one essay entitled, “The Question of Violence,” after Maroon criticizes “the worldwide misogynist ‘gangsta’ genre of the hip hop culture” for being “a male, macho parody of exhibitionist violence,” Maroon writes:

“More troubling is the fact that this male exhibitionist violence has also permeated the minds, practices, and circles of otherwise brilliant and well-meaning revolutionary thinkers. Such theorists as the renowned Frantz Fanon, icons like Malcolm X and Kwane Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and others have unconsciously conflated the necessary utilization of defensive revolutionary violence, in seeking meaningful revolutionary socioeconomic and cultural change, with what they believed was a need for males to use ‘revolutionary violence’ to also ‘liberate their minds and spirits’ from the subservience imposed on them by the vestiges of slavery and the colonialism /neocolonialism of their times. These individuals failed to recognize that their ‘revolutionary’ worldview would still leave in place the entire male-supremacist /patriarchal framework, an edifice that we can term the ‘father of oppression.’ The destruction of this edifice will signal the true liberation they sought. Otherwise, the ‘revolutionary violence’ they formulated must also be recognized for what it is: exhibitionist, ego-based male violence.”

Featured below is our interview with Theresa Shoatz and Matt Meyer. Theresa Shoatz is the daughter of Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz. Theresa has worked for decades as a public advocate for her father and through the Human Rights Coalition, she fights for all prisoners in Pennsylvania and beyond. This month, Theresa has been traveling around the US as part of a book tour promoting Maroon the Implacable, and this week she is in the SF Bay Area.

Matt Meyer, a native New York City-based educator, activist, and author, is the War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator, and a United Nations/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. Now the co-coordinator of the Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz, Meyer also has a long history in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. In 2009, Meyer edited Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners (PM Press), and in 2012, co-edited another book entitled, We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America (PM Press).

Please keep an eye out for part two our report on the 30-day action campaign, which will further examine the legality of Maroon’s placement in solitary confinement and take a closer look at his recently published book, Maroon the Implacable. In the meantime, you can stay updated on the campaign for his release from solitary here. Below is a video interview with Theresa Shoatz, released by Solitary Watch in 2011.

Angola 3 News: Political prisoners are often seen as symbolic of what is wrong with the US government, but we don’t usually hear about the actual person and how their imprisonment has affected their families. As fellow Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has commented, “I am a man, not a symbol.” To begin our interview, can you please describe your father, Maroon, for us, so we can better understand who he is as a person?

Theresa Shoatz: Honestly, I can only define part of the man that Maroon is because I only know the man from which I engage with from behind the bullet proof glass. He is the man who pleads with me to save his life when he is not getting proper medical attention, and to fight for him when his living conditions are unbearable and his grievances aren't addressed.

However, there's so much more to Maroon. He loves his people. It’s what's keeps him going. His wisdom protects our family. Even while in solitary confinement today, he is still putting others first by denying any support for his freedom until his comrades are freed throughout the United States.

Maroon is extremely concerned with issues affecting single mothers and their children. He is drafting ways to not only put food on the table, but also to grow and prepare meals for the community. He's the man. Even when he's in no position to help, he connects to the outside with his attempts to heal the Black communities.

A3N:   How old were you when he was first forced underground?

TS:      I was about nine years of age when my dad was forced underground.

A3N:   What do you remember about Maroon from your early childhood?

TS:      My sister and I lived with him until I was five years old. I remember that back when my sister and I were only three and four years old, there was a black board hanging in the living room. Every morning, Daddy used that black board to teach us political education alongside physical education classes. Man, I love and miss those classes.

Daddy was cultivating young minds. With anything he did, I was right behind him. He was preparing us to be future leaders, but this preparation was halted when at the age five we were separated, and I stopped living with him.

A3N:   What has your relationship with Maroon has been like as you’ve grown older?

Ever since the age of nine, I have honored and admired my Dad. Today, he is still my hero. Maroon is a leader, educator, and father to many young black males behind bars. At his core, he is about peace and love for his people.

As Maroon approaches 70 years of age, he's a grandfather of ten. Since I can remember, he has tried to educate his biological children from behind bars. I can remember a prison contact visit from some thirty years ago, when I sat on my dad's lap, comparing our physical similarities, and him using the opportunity to update me on present-day issues.

After those few years of contact visits, I grew into womanhood and was forced to visit him from behind a thick bullet-proof glass. During one of our visits, I pointed this out, and through the thick glass while chained at the wrist and ankles, he said: "I had to step away from my family to protect my family and my community. I stepped away to secure a better future for you and the youth coming behind me. I couldn't allow you to be brutalized like those who came before and will come after you. I stepped away from my family for the love of my people.”

A3N:   How did that visit influence you?

TS:      Wow! That was so powerful. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Ever since that visit with Maroon, I’ve been motivated by the love of my people to do everything in my power to help us move forward, including my work with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) in Philadelphia, and the HRC FedUp! chapter in Pittsburgh, which Maroon started from behind bars.

I am also the Director of a free after-school program for youth with a loved one in prison.  Last year, I became a foster parent and I have since fostered eight kids in my home, caring for two seventeen-year-old teenagers, a thirteen-year-old, a three-month-old, a two-year-old, a six-year-old, a four-day-old, and a pregnant teen. This is all for the love of my people.

Some think I’m crazy, but they're crazier than I am when they pretend not to see how so many youth in our community are lost and headed towards the prison system. If they pretend not to see what the system is doing to our youth, shame on them. I love my people. I'm just like my daddy Maroon--it’s in my blood.

(PHOTO: Theresa Shoatz at a protest for Mumia Abu-Jamal in Philadelphia on July 4, 2008, outside the Constitution Center, across the street from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.)

A3N:   A key feature of your father’s being held in solitary confinement at, until recently, SCI Greene, a supermax prison, is to not allow contact visits with family and friends. If Maroon is transferred to general population, he will then be able to have contact visits once again. How long has it been since you had a contact visit with him?

TS:      It’s been almost thirty years since I've been able to touch my father.

A3N:   How has this aspect of his imprisonment affected you personally?

TS:      It is extremely painful and mentally challenging. I am still that little girl who craves hugs, and reassurance from her daddy.

A3N:   How has the policy of no contacted visits affected the rest of your family?

TS:      The no-contact visits cause stress, leading to emotional and physical breakdowns.  The fear this creates often paralyzes family members, and is so debilitating that it prevents some from visiting him.

A3N:   What is a no-contact visit with him like?

To reach the solitary no-contact visiting room, there’s a tunnel spanning two city blocks, and a barbed-wired fence surrounds this ‘prison inside of a prison.’ The visiting room is cold and 99 percent of the time there are no other family members visiting prisoners.

It is mind blowing to think of this 69-year-old man with both ankles shackled, both wrists shackled, all attached by a chained waist belt. This contraption forces him to walk hunched over, and appear older than his real age.

A3N:   To underscore the importance of the new campaign to have Maroon transferred to general population, how significant will it be, if he’s transferred, to have contact visits with him after all these years?

TS:      After so many years of no-contact visits, I could really use some contact with my daddy. It’s well overdue. Contact visits would be nourishing. My soul is constantly in an uproar and the pain runs deep, yet I continue straight ahead, keeping my eye on freedom.

Outside of my daddy, there’s no man on this earth who could turn this pain around. The remedy is an end to all control units, the present day prison system, and freedom for Maroon and all my extended family: the political prisoners who stood on the front lines for our freedom.

A3N:   Thank you, Theresa, for sharing such a personal story with us.

The second part of this article now begins by interviewing longtime activist Matt Meyer. Matt, the afterword for Maroon the Implacable that you co-wrote with Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge asserts: “We believe that all people who believe in peace and nonviolence must work for justice, especially in these most grievous cases of injustice and especially at times when oppressive forces would have us distanced from colleagues and comrades such as Maroon, who are cast as ‘violent criminals’ unworthy of our support...Russell Maroon Shoatz must be freed now. His release must become a priority for all human rights activists, peace activists, pro-democracy advocates, environmentalists, anti-imperialists, students, churchgoers, and even progressive Parlimentarians.”

Building on the quote above, why is it that you are going beyond the immediate call for Maroon’s transfer to general population, and also calling for his release from prison?

Matt Meyer:   For me, the position for peace activists working in the context of restorative justice is clear: there can be no reconciliation without release.

Nozizwe and I also say in our afterword that “we must face the truth about the uprisings of forty years ago.” As you know, Nozizwe herself was a chief negotiator in the process which ended legal apartheid in South Africa, and the two of us respect the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose commitment to truth and reconciliation has always been coupled with a commitment to ‘heal’ by working for people’s power and the rights of the most oppressed.

Here in the US, we must face the truth that the legacy of the 1960s and 1970s remain an open wound so long as key leaders such as Maroon are invisible to the majority of us, tortured in dungeons for decades upon decades.

Even one day of the type of treatment Maroon has faced would be wrong in any human rights framework that is not centered on simplistic revenge, hatred, and a cycle of murder and violence. The US criminal justice system, filled with the injustices of centuries passed--based as it is on land theft, slavery, and greed--cannot be understood as ‘democratic’ in any sense of that word so long as Maroon remains behind bars.

Aside from many questions which could be raised about the political context of the initial charges and court case against him, the length and nature of his sentence and the way it has been carried out signal grave injustices which make a mockery of any attempt to characterize US jurisprudence as fair or color-blind.

A3N:   What is the significance of Maroon’s identification of himself as a ‘prisoner of war’ (POW)? How is this different than simply identifying as a political prisoner?

MM:   The United Nations outlines the specific legal definition of the prisoner of war position, definitions which are generally accepted by most participating nation-states, including the US. This definition is rooted in history which goes back as far as 1660, when international military protocol accepted that anyone who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict, whether combatant or non-combatant, should be classified as a POW. After World War Two, with the Geneva Convention of 1949 to which the US is a signatory, conditions were clearly outlined which require that POWs be treated humanely.

For those who lived through the tremendous upsurge of the Black liberation movement of the late 1960s, the position underscores a clear analysis of the relationship between “the Black nation” and the US empire. That relationship, simply put, is one AT WAR. Though the battles may appear to many as covert, and the military powers deeply imbalanced, the position of extreme conflict is nonetheless expressed. This includes the position taken by some people of African descent (i.e., “Black folk, New Afrikans, African-Americans, etc.) that the political status of US citizenship was never chosen by them, but rather, was imposed.

In any case, by using the international legal term ‘prisoner of war,’ the question of humane treatment and appropriate jurisdiction in a case of extreme conflict must be squarely faced.

A3N:   You edited the book Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners and co-edited We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America. In your opinion how do popular movements resisting US military aggression abroad relate to movements at home seeking the release of COINTELPRO-era political prisoners & opposing the rise of the police state and mass imprisonment since COINTELPRO’s official end in the 1970s?

MM:   We must connect the dots between the military-industrial-complex and the prison- industrial-complex. We must begin with the fact that, on the one hand, the military has for too many become the job of choice in an era of vast economic depression and crisis. On the other hand, the ever-increasing rates of incarceration--where now there are more men of African descent behind bars than there were enslaved in the years leading up to the Civil War--suggest that cheap labor is being replaced by forced free labor as authorized by the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, except for prisoners.

We must do more than understand that an empire in decline requires ever-cheaper means of producing whatever it can still produce and an ever-stretched military to police its dwindling holdings.

We must act, in ways faithful to the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called for a “true revolution” in the American practices of racism, militarism, and materialism. We must be moved to go beyond the false dichotomies of race, and the false splits of tactical difference which seek to make Martin and Malcolm into irreconcilable opposites.

We must build coalitions and united fronts against empire, ones which understand that the many US political prisoners represent not only acts of repression from past generations but reminders to current and future movements that we must never stray beyond the confines of polite protest, OR ELSE.

Freeing all US political prisoners is both a just and basic human rights demand, but it is also a necessary step in building future movements which can act with militancy, creativity, soul, and a free spirit which we need to envision the ‘beloved communities’ which will build just and peaceful tomorrows.

A3N:   How does Maroon’s case fit into this? What is the broader political significance of Maroon’s imprisonment and his contributions to radical political movements since?

MM:   One should not be reading this interview for the answer to that question. Maroon’s broader political significance, and his contributions to current movements, is well revealed through a careful reading of the essential new essay collection Maroon the Implacable.

His writings on his own reflections on the Black Panthers, on the nature of sexism and matriarchy, on the environment and the need for eco-socialism, on the Occupy movement and how to build effective new movements, go far beyond the current discourse which we find in blogs and what passes for the left press. It is a challenging course in building for lasting social change.

(PHOTO: Matt Meyer, LaKeisha Wolfe, Fred Ho and Theresa Shoatz at a Pittsburgh event for We Have Not Beeen Moved in February 2013)

--Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

Buy Maroon the Implacable now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Matt Meyer's Author Page now

Pay People to Cook at Home

By Kristin Wartman
The New York Times
May 10th, 2013

The home-cooked family meal is often lauded as the solution for problems ranging from obesity to deteriorating health to a decline in civility and morals. Using whole foods to prepare meals without additives and chemicals is the holy grail for today’s advocates of better eating.

But how do we get there? For many of us, whether we are full-time workers or full-time parents, this home-cooked meal is a fantasy removed from the reality of everyday life. And so Americans continue to rely on highly processed and refined foods that are harmful to their health.

Those who argue that our salvation lies in meals cooked at home seem unable to answer two key questions: where can people find the money to buy fresh foods, and how can they find the time to cook them? The failure to answer these questions plays into the hands of the food industry, which exploits the healthy-food movement’s lack of connection to average Americans. It makes it easier for the industry to sell its products as real American food, with real American sensibilities — namely, affordability and convenience.

I believe the solution to getting people into the kitchen exists in a long-forgotten proposal. In the 1960s and ’70s, when American feminists were fighting to get women out of the house and into the workplace, there was another feminist arguing for something else. Selma James, a labor organizer from Brooklyn, pushed the idea of wages for housework. Ms. James, who worked in a factory as a young woman and later became a housewife and a mother, argued that household work was essential to the American economy and wondered why women weren’t being paid for it. As Ms. James and a colleague wrote in 1972, “Where women are concerned their labor appears to be a personal service outside of capital.”

She argued that it was a mistake to define feminism simply as equal pay in the work force. Instead, she wanted to formally acknowledge the work women were already doing. She knew that women wouldn’t stop doing housework once they joined the work force — rather they would return home each evening for the notorious “second shift.”

Many feminists at the time ignored the Wages for Housework campaign, while some were blatantly antagonistic toward it. Even today, with all the talk of the importance of home cooking — a huge part of housework — no one ever seems to mention Ms. James or Wages for Housework.

But ignoring this idea once again devalues housework and places a premium on working outside of the home. Since women first began to enter the work force, families have increasingly relied on processed foods and inexpensive restaurant meals. Those foods tend to have more calories and less nutritional value than fresh vegetables, fruits and meats, so it’s easy to see how the change in meal patterns led to a surge in obesity.

In 1970, Americans spent 26 percent of their food budget on eating out; by 2010, that number had risen to 41 percent. Over that period, rates of obesity in the United States more than doubled. Diabetes diagnoses have also soared, to 25.8 million in 2011 from roughly three million in 1968.

It’s nearly impossible for a single parent or even two parents working full time to cook every meal from scratch, planning it beforehand and cleaning it up afterward. This is why many working parents of means employ housekeepers. But if we put this work on women of lower socioeconomic status (as is almost always the case), what about their children? Who cooks and cleans up for them?

In the Wages for Housework campaign, Ms. James argued for a shorter workweek for all, in part so men could help raise the children. This is not a pipe dream. Several Northern European nations have instituted social programs that reflect the importance of this work. The Netherlands promotes a “1.5 jobs model,” which allows men and women to work 75 percent of their regular hours when they have young children. In Sweden, parents can choose to work three-quarters of their normal hours until children turn 8.

To get Americans cooking, we need to make it possible. Stay-at-home parents should qualify for a new government program while they are raising young children — one that provides money for good food, as well as education on cooking, meal planning and shopping — so that one parent in a two-parent household, or a single parent, can afford to be home with the children and provide wholesome, healthy meals. These payments could be financed by taxing harmful foods, like sugary beverages, highly caloric, processed snack foods and nutritionally poor options at fast food and other restaurants. Directly linking a tax on harmful food products to a program that benefits health would provide a clear rebuttal to critics of these taxes. Business owners who argue that such taxes will hurt their bottom lines would, in fact, benefit from new demand for healthy food options and from customers with money to spend on such foods.

If we truly value domestic work, we should also enact workplace policies that incentivize health, like “health days” that employees could use for health-promoting activities: shopping for food, cooking, or tending a community garden.

We can’t democratize good food without placing tangible value on the work done in the home. So while proponents of healthier eating are right to emphasize the importance of home-cooking and communal meals, we will never create an actual movement without placing a cultural and monetary premium on the hard work of cooking and the time and skills needed to do it.

Kristin Wartman is a journalist who writes about food, health, politics and culture.

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