Phone interview for the Black Political Imprisonment Symposium at University of Texas (April 2011)

free-all“Black Political Imprisonment, Here and Now!” recognizes that repression and resistance appear on the same path. Within the United States, millions of Black people are ensnared—in foster care, juvenile detention, prisons, jails, half-way houses, wearing ankle bracelets, on parole. Incarceration itself is political and its constituent element, the truth though not the totality of incarceration, is anti-Black racism and gendered violence. We recognize that debates abound among activists and intellectuals, inside and outside the “prison industrial complex (PIC),” about political prisoners and social prisoners, as well as reformist and radical responses to the PIC’s racial-sexual bias. There is also an international aspect to discussions of mass incarceration; yet rarely do these discussions and strategies adequately address anti-black violence in democracies such as Brazil and the United States, and the importance of international coalitions that seek more than reformist policies to address suffering in the black diaspora.

This symposium participates in those debates, and supports our focusing on that sector of the Black incarcerated population imprisoned for its deliberate, organized, opposition to state violence; and those incarcerated who were and are politicized to become progressive activists. We hope to address both the mobilizations and resistance dating from the 1970s and the social and anti-family violence that dictate today’s mobilizations for justice. We seek a constructive critique that animates the activism and scholarship around political prisoners, in order to address the plight of Black political prisoners and the levels of anti-black, anti-female, anti-queer, anti-child violence faced in a democracy.
We need to think the “unthought;” to move beyond the museum of political imprisonment in order to ask “Why?” Why is Black political incarceration so unchallenged? What is its meaning in our relation to violence from and within a democracy shaped by poverty, racism and (hetero)sexism?

The “Black Political Imprisonment, Here & Now!” symposium is unique not only because of its topic, but also because of its approach. First, this symposium presents an opportunity for international connections and dialogue between Brazilian intellectuals and activists and their African American counterparts organizing to end racist violence and exclusion in their respective nations. Second, it devotes a sizable portion of its program specifically to the intersections between political imprisonment and sexist, homophobic and domestic/anti-family violence, and resistance to these violations. Third, its closing session on sustainable commitments, with no formal presentations, seeks an open dialogue through skype and conference calls as a planning stage for future endeavors.

The following is part two of a phone interview on April 23, 2011 between Professor Frank Wilderson, his students and Dr. Mutulu Shakur as part of the Symposium.  A transcript of part one is unfortunately currently unavailable.

Dr. Mutulu Shakur: Hello

Professor Frank Wilderson: Hello.  Welcome back.

MS: You ok? I got about 10 minutes that I can work it out.  Can I say something now?

FW: Go right ahead.

MS: Alright.  The things that I am presenting up for discussion, I am not stuck on stupid on anything.  I think we need to have these types of debates.  I’ve written a couple of pieces.  I’m tired of writing the same old stuff over and over so people should go through it, make their determination, and let’s have a dialogue.  One is the New Afrikan Policy Initiative Lobby.  I wrote that in January 2009.  Then the Toward the TRC discussion paper we wrote in May 5, 2010.  I wrote a paper in response to the questions raised concerning the discussion paper and that was January 1, 2011.  Now you should pull it together.  Sooner or later I am going to try to publish all this stuff, but basically for the activists you should get this together.  Some of the strategies in terms of electoral process, in terms of lobbying and developing a lobby with the New Afrikan Initiative for the Pan Afrikan objective.  A new Pan Afrikan paradigm is a new, novel way of looking at it.  Because generally, we look at it independent or isolated from all those structures that developed in the Pan Afrikanist movement.   But it is very clear that the impact of the US legislature on international issues is so impactful that it would be absurd for us to not have some kind of impact on at least on our legislative representatives so that even if we do not win a vote or an issue on the policy we will have representatives in these halls of Congress speaking to our issues based upon our ability to impact their election.  That’s just a method.  Its not a strategy, it is a tactic towards moving to a new narrative.  Because we are just hell out of luck; we are not doing nothing.  Maybe its just because I’m here I always say that.  I don’t mean any harm- I know people are doing a lot of struggling, but I’m just saying that we need to do what makes an impact.  The other thing is that if we do not free political prisoners all of this shit is fried ice cream.  Excuse my language.  We’ve got to free them.  You know what I mean?  We have to memorialize our history.  We have to allow people who have been suffering to have a way express that suffering within a political context as opposed to a criminal context, or it is just that they are mentally deranged and that they could not hold up, they are so weak and all that other stuff.  We have to look at our whole struggle realistically.  And I think the South African model of allowing people to share their stories and how they were impacted helps create the drama of struggle for the generations who are coming up behind us.  It helps to put that narrative into some kind of expression.  Yes, that is what I want to say, some form of expression.  So please do what you will.  This is my little two cents into the conversation.  I am not opposed to a COINTELPRO hearing, but I just don’t think that’s it in and of itself.  We’ve done that time and time again.  In fact, I think the first time the New Afrikan community used the Audubon ballroom was when the national task force of COINTELPRO litigation and research back in 1978 opened up the Audubon ballroom for the all the movement to discuss how the Counterintelligence program affected our organization.  It was one of the first steps toward unifying post Malcolm X’s assassination and the Black Panther Party disintegration between Ron Karenga and the BPP and the east-coast west-coast.  We used that for that process. We still have to teach people how we healed our internal contradictions in order to move forward to expose the external forces against us.  Where does it take us?  Where are we trying to go?  If these young vibrant minds don’t have an understanding of that then it is our responsibility for our failure.  That’s my two cents.

FW: Thank you, Mutulu.  This is Frank Wilderson.  When you rang, we were just having a discussion that was leading to a discussion about a holistic approach to revolution.  One of the things many people know but many people don’t know about you is your work in the medical field and acupuncture.  Can you be specific about why acupuncture and what are your suggestions about health and struggle?

MS: I think we should talk about it- Our movement should be deeply involved in the health struggle, but we should talk about the cost of healthcare as supposed to just the policies they are talking about in terms of the deficit and all that.  It just costs too much damn money for no reason.  The ability to heal and be treated prior to operation and to have a grassroots approach for testing like the BPP used in Chicago, Bronx, NY, in CA – acupuncture clinics collaborating with peoples health centers around the country is what the organization should be involved in.  I think once people see that you can provide fundamental services in the face of all of the economic downfall, losing of jobs, the 401k, whatever people might have, then people have more inclination to listen to us.  I think people should praise the work of the Lincoln Detox drug program.  It is because of our acupuncture program at BAAANA that every hospital in NYC has acupuncture as a modality for the treatment of drug addiction.  That is supposed to be honored.  That is supposed to be respected.  But we just see it as a movement, not as a novel, innovative application of healthcare to deal with the poor.  These students that will learn to be involved in acupuncture.  At the same time, we have to confront the costs. We have to confront the pharmaceutical companies, these insurance companies, and we have to make that a battle cry.

FW: What are the benefits of acupuncture?

MS: Well the benefits of acupuncture are that you are able to intervene into chronic issues without interjecting pharmaceuticals which have a debilitating effect on the liver and the kidneys and where you end up fighting the so-called cure has so much more prolonged effects than the symptoms themselves such as a lot of pain build up and other kinds of failures.  Prolonged use of other types of drugs to deal with blood pressure and chronic illnesses.  Acupuncture is effective in most issues prior to surgery and it would be a disservice not to use it for a whole host of healthcare.

FW: There is another question or comment.

MS: Okay

Student: What can be done to heal the relationships of members of organizations affected by COINTELPRO such as the U.S. organization and the BPP.

MS: From the past or the present?  Are they still having a problem?

Student: Still.

MS: We are too old to be in the middle of that.  Whatever contradictions of counterintelligence, FOIA files help reveal what role people played.  And sometimes the FOIA files can’t be believed.  But the issue is, it only means something if these organization re not involved in work and are confusing the masses.  If these people are not involved in work and have no impact on what the masses see and no impact on relieving their condition, then that stuff years ago is fried ice cream.  You need to know it and understand it because it is part of the history, but it must be guided by work.  We must be doing things.  You need to be doing work and not just beefing all of the time.  We have to be doing the work.  Some of you all are too young to be caught up in our old nonsense.  You have to do what you have to do, and if you have contradictions see how it was resolved.  That’s what I was talking about with the task force on COINTELPRO litigation and research.  It means that everyone has to be honest.  Everyone has to be self-critical.  Everyone has to be doing it for the purposes of building a new foundation upon which to advance our struggle and identify what is the struggle?  What are we fighting for?  What are we trying to do?  What is realistic?  And the impact of the diaspora all over the world, what is it that we are going to do?

Listen – I love you all and do you think this was worth it?

All: Yes!

FW: One more.

Student: After all this, nobody mentioned the almost a trillion dollar person power we have as a Black people.  Could you speak on coming together from an economic standpoint because it seems like the things we go through nationally or internationally seems like we don’t respect ourselves and stand up on our own to feet and try to own something.  And if that does happen, then the system tries find a way to bring us back down into our place and being dependent on the system.  And the other thing is the hip-hop generation.  I believe that we need to start approaching these record labels and record companies instead of these artists because they are about making money.

MS: I don’t mean to cut you off because I respect exactly where you are coming from.  As you know my son was killed by the result of homicidal aggression and the agencies involved in stopping the hip-hop generation becoming a value to our community.  I truly understand where you are coming from.  In terms of economic development and self-determination, I have no issue with that.  The only issue I have is that it has to become a mindset among us as a people.  We get these little organizations, financially we build, and the next thing you know we create no obligation to put back into the community.  Its bigger than economic organization – economics and politics have to go hand in hand.  We have to know where it is we are going with it.  And we have to use that economic power to inflict political consequences on things that are not in our interest – just like the Jewish community does, just like the Cuban community does, just like the Irish community does, just like the Catholic community does.  Everyone uses their economic to develop their political power.  Just like the Chamber of Commerce, how they wrecked the 2010 midterms.  They pushed their money behind the people they believe in.  Thats in terms of electoral politics, but the same goes to grassroots efforts.  You have to put your money where your mouth is in order to have more economic development and stature.  Forget the contracts and the trade agreements with Africa, with Zimbabwe.  We don’t even deal with these people.  If they are not for Zimbabwe, then we don’t do anything with them.  We don’t deal with South Africa.  I mean I am sure we do something with South Africa.  But we have no political front to challenge; we have no economic front to challenge.  Let’s be realistic and lets be fundamental.  Let’s do the fundamental things to make fundamental change to advance the masses and build a foundation that the masses can relate to.

FW: Mutulu, can you take one more question?

Student: My question is about collective trauma.  For people who have had so much thrown on them who just want peace and safety from violence, how do we talk about self-defense particularly since violence comes in many forms domestic violence, violence against children, COINTELPRO?

MS: I think that that is so significant in terms of understanding trauma and how it impacts how we think, how we process information and how we process our responsibility.  There is a book out called Travesty of African-American women.  It is a vignette involving 15 great women who have struggled with domestic violence to personal violence and the like who have resolved to all become predictable.  We have enough social scientists, we have enough psychologists, we have enough people to create some kind of modality that can become community-based that can be opened up in the community where people can feel free to come in and talk about the trauma that affects them on a day-to-day basis.  The description of that trauma will lead to a progressive organization coming up with some kind of solution to resolve it.  So if we have a personal trauma walking from the bus stop to your apartment, and it is based upon bullies and based upon people intimidating you and the like, then a progressive organization, cop watch or whatever, has to be able to apply some kind of mechanism to deal with it.  If you have domestic violence.  How do you get involved in domestic violence?  What are the tools of dealing with domestic violence?  Do you teach women how to fight?  Do you teach them to be armed?  Do you teach them to build an organization of women who can defend other women who are being physically attacked?  Do you let men attack?  Talk about it; be specific.  Everyone has a right to defend themselves.  Defending yourself is the first obligation of nature.  You have to defend yourself.  How does that become political?  How does that empower people?  Its a whole process.  I see everything from a grassroots perspective, rather than top-down you have to be grassroots-up.

Listen I have to get off the phone.  I won’t have any phone for the rest of the month.  I love all of you.

All: Love you too.

MS: Straight ahead.

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