Our Palestine statement draws on history of Black internationalism, says organizer

From Electronic Intifada:

Black liberation movements in the US have increasingly been making connections with Palestine. (Mikasi/Flickr)

Black liberation movements in the US have increasingly been making connections with Palestine. (Mikasi/Flickr)

Kristian Davis Bailey is a Detroit-based writer and organizer who recently put together the “Black for Palestine” statement. More than 1,100 Black scholars, activists, students, artists and organizations have signed on, including Angela Davis, Cornel West, Talib Kweli, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and others.

The statement lays out a framework for Black solidarity with Palestinian liberation and calls for exploring the connections between Palestinian and Black liberation as well as the oppressive linkages between the United States and Israel. The statement calls for support of boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel and calls attention to Israel’s oppression of African-descended populations in Palestine.

Davis Bailey has written for Ebony, Mondoweiss, Truth-Out and elsewhere. I caught up with him to find out more about “Black for Palestine” and the opportunities and challenges it presents.

Jimmy Johnson: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Please introduce yourself.

Kristian Davis Bailey: My name is Kristian Davis Bailey and I’m one of the co-organizers of the “Black For Palestine” statement. I’m currently a freelance writer based in Detroit.

JJ: Where were you before Detroit and what were you doing?

KDB: Before Detroit I was a student at Stanford where I was involved with Students for Justice in Palestine at the campus level, across California and nationally.

JJ: Can you tell me a bit about the “Black For Palestine” statement and the process of creating it?

KDB: The statement emerged out of two separate statements that I and my co-organizer Khury Petersen-Smith had organized last summer during the height of the assault on Gaza. We’d each found ourselves unable to publish our statements while the media would pick it up so we figured that this year we would combine our efforts to write a statement on the anniversary of the assault on Gaza which wound up being much bigger than what each of us had organized the summer before.

It is worth noting that some of the key signatories this year had also signed last year. The Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis had signed on to last year’s statement before Mike Brown was killed and connections were being made to Palestine. Hopefully we’ll publish those earlier statements soon.

JJ: You bring up a good connection with the Organization for Black Struggle because the release of this statement is not only the anniversary of the attack on Gaza but also something going on in the US. Can you make that connection? Both your intentions around the timing of the release, as well as the connections you see there.

KDB: It was really important for us to note that the statement emerged out of the past year of solidarity between the Black and Palestinian struggles, specifically: connections people were making on the ground in Ferguson to Palestine. I think none of the developments in the past year would have happened if people on the ground hadn’t themselves started to organically connect what they were witnessing in terms of military vehicles in their communities, being tear-gassed and shot at during protests, if they hadn’t connected those things to what they were seeing in Palestine and if Palestinian organizers hadn’t reached out in solidarity to the people in Ferguson.

What the statement represents is how firm of a connection there is for organizers in St. Louis with the Palestinian struggle. It’s not just a slogan we’ve used at protests but something that people facing the brunt of repression and doing the majority of the organizing on the ground have decided to be a part of themselves. I think that’s why St. Louis is the most represented city on the statement in terms of organizational signatories.

JJ: It sounds kind of like the development and the recruitment of the signatories is really based in joint work that’s being done together.

KDB: Right. Most of the people who signed the statement, whether they’re individuals or organizations, have been actively engaging with Palestine well before the last year. There were a lot of old school organizers who have been doing this solidarity work since the ’60s and ’70s that signed on, in addition to groups like the Dream Defenders which over the past few years have started to engage more with the Palestinian issue. So, I forget what your question is but my answer is “yes” [laughter].

JJ: A Kenyan author named Mukoma Wa Ngugi gave a presentation a few years back at Wayne State here in Detroit and he was talking specifically about relations between African migrants and Black Americans and he talked about the way that white supremacy forms a veil that literally colors the relationships between these two groups but also between all groups, although the details are different for any two groups.

And one of the things he mentioned was that the only way to get past this is to put in work together to supersede and subvert this veil that colors the relationships between, for example, Black folks and Palestinians, Black folks and Arab folks. That sounds a little bit like what’s going on.

KDB: Again I’ll focus on St. Louis because that’s a story I know a little bit about. The solidarity organizing between the Organization for Black Struggle and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee has been going on for at least three or four years. The two groups both worked together to oppose Veolia being given a contract to privatize the city’s water, both recognizing what Veolia was doing in occupied Palestine and for the danger it presented to the people in St. Louis.

The Organization for Black Struggle was also crucial in a cultural boycott action. I don’t know how many years ago it was but it was Organization for Black Struggle organizers who said, “We will pull out of this event unless these artists are disinvited.” That was the work of very principled solidarity on the part of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee.

At the same time you have a Palestinian member of the solidarity committee whose father is a shop owner in a predominantly Black part of St. Louis and what he had been working on was to take all of the hard liquor out of his store after he was realizing the impact it was having on the Black community in St. Louis. He also set up a couple of initiatives to contribute some of the profits from his shop to local organizing efforts in the community.

I wanted to offer that as a real solid example of what Palestinian solidarity in the US, or not even solidarity but direct action against anti-Blackness looks like, and that’s an example of some of the principled actions and alliances that preceded the Ferguson-Palestine connection and solidarity.

JJ: This isn’t the first statement of Black solidarity with Palestine. Can you contextualize this action a bit in the internationalism of the radical Black tradition?

KDB: Definitely. So Black support for Palestine comes out of the tradition of Black internationalism within the radical segment of our liberation struggle. Malcolm X was talking about the dangers of Zionism in the 1960s. The Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee released its statement at the same time the Black Panther Party was training with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] in Algeria.

In 1970 you had a group of prominent Black activists or scholars take out a New York Times ad supporting Palestinian liberation from Zionism and some of those signatories also signed our statement today in 2015. So there is a rich tradition of Black solidarity with international struggles broadly, and specifically with Palestine. I definitely contextualize this statement within that broader history of Black internationalism.

JJ: What would you say is the purpose of releasing this statement beyond a symbolic declaration of solidarity?

KDB: There are a couple of things. There is the suggestion that both Black and Palestinian people, and people around the world that support us, can join very targeted campaigns against companies that profit from the oppression of both groups, such as G4S and Veolia. Beyond that one of my individual hopes as an organizer is that this represents the current chapter of the Black liberation movement getting involved in the international arena once again to the degree that we were in the ’60s and ’70s. Because I think a lot of that momentum and a lot of those alliances were very intentionally targeted or repressed in the ’80s up through today even.

JJ: Some of the work being done to reignite alliances that were built between radical groups in the 1960s and ’70s, we’ve seen some attempts of that where there is a flattening effect. For example non-Black people of color using a people of color paradigm and erasing the specificities of anti-Blackness. Can you talk a little bit about the opportunities presented by “Black For Palestine” to engage not only Palestinian liberation but the specificity of anti-Blackness in solidarity?

KDB: Definitely. I’m glad you raised that because one of the points of reference I organize from is the understanding that white supremacy affects different groups in different ways here in the United States. So the anti-Black racism and the anti-Blackness that we experience and live under is of a distinct nature from the anti-indigenous or genocidal policies that indigenous folks here have experienced, is distinct from the experiences of non-Black, non-indigenous immigrants to this country.

A lot of times what happens is the differences between these groups are flattened out where we say “people of color” and we talk about how people of color are oppressed under white supremacy without acknowledging the power dynamics that are at play between our communities — so without acknowledging that every non-Black ethnic group or immigrant group in the United States is complicit in anti-Blackness or anti-Black racism.

One of the things that I hope comes up in discussions is a very critical examination of the ways that Palestinians — or just non-Black people in the United States — participate in anti-Blackness. So that for me represents a difference between joint struggle and maybe solidarity, where under joint struggle we acknowledge the different relations in terms of power between our communities and how that impacts how we relate to each other and how we organize.

So I think there’s a lot of room coming out of this statement for folks to organize around Arab anti-Black racism or for Palestine supporters who aren’t Arab to organize against their own anti-Blackness or their position as settlers in a settler colonial society.

JJ: One thing that stands out among many parts of the “Black For Palestine” statement is the phrasing that “Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of Black people in the US, including the political imprisonment of our own revolutionaries.” So can you expand upon this idea of the colonial, carceral state?

KDB: Sure. The first thing I want to talk about is how incredibly powerful of an experience and expression it was to have 10 currently incarcerated political prisoners respond to our call for signatures and sign the statement from behind bars. Their participation in our statement highlights the fact that they’re also a population whose liberation from the prison-industrial complex we need to be fighting for.

Also they represent the internationalism and revolutionary spirit that was intentionally targeted and killed from the 1980s onward. So their participation and inclusion in this statement is a link back to that era, specifically Mumia Abu-Jamal and Sundiata Acoli. Beyond that one of the things I’m thinking of about that line on mass incarceration is the need to abolish prisons.

There is different rhetoric around prisons in Palestine and here in the US but I do think they’re similar enough in the sense that we often don’t think of people arrested for drug crimes in the US as political prisoners but they are imprisoned under a very intentional political system that discriminates against them across every point of the so-called justice system.

The need to criminalize the existence or resistance of populations under settler colonialism leads to mass or hyper incarceration both in the United States and in Palestine and that prison abolition in that context is something we need to center.

JJ: What can Palestinian and Black people learn from each other?

KBD: From Palestinians we learn the importance of struggling for self-determination — a right that Black people in the US have never experienced, from our ancestor’s forcible kidnapping to this continent and the end of the Civil War through today. This is a right that Palestinians refuse to let go of through their sumoud, or steadfastness — and it is a right that Black people must claim as well.

The Black for Palestine statement highlighted the right of return as the most important aspect of justice for Palestinians because it cuts to the core of the “conflict” and is dismissed by Zionists and the US as “unrealistic.” For Palestinians to cling to and achieve the most “impossible” of their calls would be a boon to us, as we still fight for the “unrealistic” demands of reparations for our ancestors’ free and forced labor, or the abolition of prisons and the police.

The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions also models what it might look like for Black people in the US, across our varying political ideologies, to present basic criteria for us to exercise our own right to self-determination and to present basic actions people around the world can take to help us actualize our self-determination.

Our post-civil rights condition and the post-apartheid South African condition drive home the necessity for Palestinians to demand economic restructuring and safeguards both against decades of disinvestment and against neoliberal forces within the Palestinian political class. Full justice for Palestinians makes the case stronger for our own organizing in the US; full justice for Black Americans or South Africans makes the case stronger for Palestinians. I see each of these struggles as my own, because a victory for one group is a victory for us all. That is what motivates my work on this issue.

JJ: What kind of opportunities do you think “Black For Palestine” opens up for organizational solidarity with Black people in Palestine, be those articulated to the Israeli settler society or native Black Palestinians?

KDB: I think it opens up a lot of opportunities. One idea that has already come up as a result of the statement is bringing a delegation of African Palestinians here to the US so organizers can engage with them because too often they’re a population that gets erased from the narratives about Palestine within our own movement spaces here in the United States. And I know that there is already ongoing efforts between groups like the Dream Defenders and Black Youth Project 100 to connect Black and Brown people in the United States with the different African populations in historic Palestine, whether that is Ethiopian Israelis, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers or African Palestinians.

This work is already happening so I think the statement is just another step for potential organizing between Africans in historic Palestine and Black people in the US.

Black August, 35 Years Ago, To Black Lives Matter, Today

From Popular Resistance:

blm-ferguson

Black August, a month of political prisoner activism and commemoration, can help remind us of the nation’s exponentially expanding racist prison system.

Protesters march through the streets of Ferguson. (Jamelle Bouie / Wikimedia Commons)

A year ago this month, the streets of Ferguson, Missouri exploded in the wake of the murder of eighteen-year-old Black teen, Michael Brown, at the hands of white police officer, Darren Wilson. The world watched closely as military Humvees and the national guard armed with tear gas and rubber bullets transformed an otherwise quiet town in the Midwest into a historic battlefront for the Black Lives Matter movement, the present-day Black liberation struggle born after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman over the murder of the Black seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Since the Ferguson riots last August, Black Lives Matter has radically shifted the national conversation on anti-Black racism and police brutality through massive protests, demonstrations, and online mobilizations that have galvanized a new generation of youth of color in the United States and around the world who refuse to allow the police to turn them into another murder statistic. Just last month, hundreds of Black activists gathered together in Cleveland, Ohio in a historic meeting for the inaugural Movement for Black Lives Convening, which featured panels and workshops on Black labor organizing, queer and trans justice, lessons from the Black Panther Party, among others.

A new Pew Research Center poll released this month further shows how Black Lives Matter is transforming the racial views of Americans (and particularly white Americans) in astounding ways. According to the poll, 59 percent of U.S. citizens believe that changes are necessary to afford equal rights to African Americans, up from 46 percent just last year, with a majority of whites (53 percent) agreeing. Black Lives Matter and related mobilizations across the country have forced white Americans to take racism and police brutality seriously to the point where most of them have come to agree that that police treat Blacks less fairly than other groups. That hot, tragic summer day in Ferguson and the riots they gave birth to last August launched a crucial movement to remind the world that Black Lives Matter.

Yet, as we take a moment this August to honor Ferguson and the past, present, and future of the Black Lives Matter movement, it might be useful to take a moment to recognize another important moment in the history of the Black freedom struggle taking place this month: Black August. More than thirty-five years ago, Black August was created by Black political prisoners in California’s infamous San Quentin State Prison in August 1979 to commemorate the long legacy of prison protest and other forgotten events in the history of Black freedom struggles. As cofounder Shuuja Graham told historian Dan Berger, “We figured that the people we wanted to remember wouldn’t be remembered during Black history month, so we started Black August.” In August 1971, Black Panther leader George Jackson was killed in a prison uprising, while his younger brother was killed the previous August attempt to free three prisoners. August was also the historic month in which Haitian slaves rebelled and launched the Haitian Revolution (August 21, 1791), initiating the successful destruction of chattel slavery on the island and the world’s first independent Black republic, and the month that Nat Turner led a slave revolt in southern Virginia (August 21, 1831). As a “kind of secular activist Ramadan,” as described by Berger, Black prisoners fasted, read, studied, and engaged in physical training and self-discipline. As Mumia Abu-Jamal notes, “August is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.”

Over the coming months, Black August’s origins within the prison system can help remind us that as Black men and women are being murdered by police on the streets, hundreds of others are being shipped away and locked up in the nation’s exponentially expanding penitentiaries. The United States has the largest prison population in the world—even larger than China or Russia—and Black Americans constitute a disproportionate percentage of that population. According to the NAACP, African Americans comprise 1 million of the 2.3 million total prisoners in this nation, and are incarcerated six times more than whites. Even though Blacks and Latinos compose one quarter of the national population, they comprised 58 percent of all prisoners as of 2008. Although 14 million whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug, African Americans are being sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites thanks to racist drug policies beginning in the 1970s. As of 2001, one in six Black men had been incarcerated, but if current trends continue, one in three Black men born today can expect to be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes.

Black August can also help us remember that big money is increasingly behind this prison-industrial complex that devalues Black life. The past forty years have witnessed an unprecedented boom in incarceration rates in the United States. According to a report published by the National Research Council, the prison population grew from 200,000 to about 2.2 million between 1973 and 2009, which meant that the U.S. held about a quarter of the world’s prisoners. The period of prison privatization emerged in the 1980s when neoliberal policies began to expand across the globe, with the first U.S. private prison business operating in Hamilton County, Tennessee in 1984 under the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Today, privately run prisons are ubiquitous across the nation, even being dramatized on screen as seen in the last season of Orange is the New Black. Meanwhile, on the backs of Black and brown prisoners, CCA reported US$1.7 billion in total revenue in 2011 alone.

And Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the beloved “lesser of two evils” for many progressives, is just as mired in this racist monster of the private prison system. Last month, it was reported that Clinton was accepting contributions from known lobbyists for two of the country’s largest private prison corporations, CCA and the Geo Group, in addition to her usual donations from Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry. In light of this news, it’s no surprise that Clinton refused to address issues of structural racism when she was confronted by a group of Black Lives Matter activists in New Hampshire earlier this month. “She was not willing to concede that the inherent anti-blackness in the policies that were enacted to address problems is the cause of the problems we have today,” activist Julius Jones stated.

In the streets or behind gray prison doors, Black August offers a moment to focus and honor the long African American freedom struggles that are the current movement’s predecessors.

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View  the original article: www.teleSURtv.net/english

Russia: Prisoners stage uprising against conditions

From Libcom.org:

Hundreds of prisoners at Prison Number 6 in Kopeisk, in the Urals region of Russia, have fought fierce battles with screws and security forces and launched a rooftop occupation in a protest against draconian conditions, torture, extortion, and the use of solitary confinement. Four inmates have died at the prison in recent years following beatings from staff. The protest lasted for two days before the police and army special forces managed to regain control.

The trouble started when around 250 prisoners refused to follow the prison rules and routine, demanding the immediate release of those in solitary confinement. An end to barbaric treatment and extortion were the main demands that the prisoners had. Whilst on the roof, the prisoners unfurled placards that read, “Help us”, and “We have a thousand on hunger strike”

Around 300 of the prisoner’s family and friends, as well as many former prisoners, gathered outside the jail, and staged a protest. They were shouting obscenities and throwing bottles at police and prison staff. The police made battered the protesters and made 39 arrests before the protest concluded.

Read more

Colombia: 11,000 prisoners on hunger strike

From Libcom.org:

More than 11,000 Colombian prisoners across 21 jails are now over two weeks into a hunger strike and other acts of resistance.

They are demanding the following:

1) Declare a state of emergency in the country’s correctional facilities and install a National Board of Consultation with inmate representation to develop a plan to address prison conditions.
2) End overcrowding
3) End filthy and unhealthy prison conditions and maintain an adequate system of healthcare.

The prison system in Colombia has been given advice and money from the United States, which has resulted in a legacy of repression and mistreatment.

Water and food within the prison system is in short supply, and is often not fit for human consumption – some of which has been found to contain evidence of faces. In many jails, prisoners still have to shit and piss in buckets or plastic bags

Within recent years, overcrowding in Colombian jails has risen enormously (up to 40% in some areas). The prison estate has a maximum capacity for 78,000 people, yet there are at least 134,000 people currently incarcerated.

Also rising rapidly is the torture and ill treatment of prisoners, and in particularly – political prisoners.

Colombia recognises three types of ‘political prisoner’:

1) Prisoners of conscience – people arrested for political activities and charged with such crimes as, “Rebellion”.
2) Victims of set-ups – persons arrested for political reasons based on false testimonies.
3) Prisoners of war. An estimated 1,000 political prisoners are members of guerrilla groups.

Political prisoners (Colombia has 10,000) are kept in severely restricted conditions. They are often kept in solitary confinement, prevented from sending or receiving mail and the only human contact they are allowed is with prison officers.

Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries

From Aljazeera:

“The torture technicians who developed the paradigm used in (prisons’) ‘control units’ realised that they not only had to separate those with leadership qualities, but also break those individuals’ minds and bodies and keep them separated until they are dead.” – Russell “Maroon” Shoats

Russell “Maroon” Shoats has been kept in solitary confinement in the state of Pennsylvania for 30 years after being elected president of the prison-approved Lifers’ Association. He was initially convicted for his alleged role in an attack authorities claim was carried out by militant black activists on the Fairmont Park Police Station in Philadelphia that left a park sergeant dead.

Despite not having violated prison rules in more than two decades, state prison officials refuse to release him into the general prison population.

Russell’s family and supporters claim that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) has unlawfully altered the consequences of his criminal conviction, sentencing him to die in solitary confinement – a death imposed by decades of no-touch torture.

The severity of the conditions he is subjected to and the extraordinary length of time they have been imposed for has sparked an international campaign to release him from solitary confinement – a campaign that has quickly attracted the support of leading human rights legal organisations, such as the Centre for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild.

Less than two months after the campaign was formally launched with events in New York City and London, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, agreed to make an official inquiry into Shoats’ 21 years of solitary confinement, sending a communication to the US State Department representative in Geneva, Switzerland.

Full story at Aljazeera

The Final Straw: North Carolina Prisoners Initiate Hunger Striker

From The Final Straw, via Anarchist News:

This week’s show features a conversation with Francis Delaney about the Prison Hunger Strikes that were initiated on Monday, July 16 at three facilities in North Carolina. This action seems to have the potential to spread to other facilities because of the apparent universality of the demands (better/more food, access to legal literature, human contact, an end to torture, an end to mail tampering, medical care). We discuss some context for the strikes and how folks on the outside can get involved and show solidarity.

Chapel Hill Prison Books
Triangle Anarchist Blog
Down: Reflections on Prison Resistance in Indiana

Streamable from The Final Straw from 7/23-7/29/12

Downloadable from archive.org by searching the show title.

Every Prisoner is a Political Prisoner: Kelly Rose Pflug-Back

From From Crimethinc, via Anarchist News:

On July 19, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back was sentenced to eleven more months in prison for her participation in the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto. She remains unapologetic about her role in the black bloc that caused so much disruption during the summit, demonstrating that the forces that impose capitalism and patriarchy are not invulnerable.

To support Kelly and the millions like her who are imprisoned for the inconveniences they pose to the powerful, we are proud to present her eloquent and thought-provoking memoir of the time she spent incarcerated after her original arrest: “Every Prisoner is a Political Prisoner.” In this account, Kelly powerfully evokes the experience of captivity and the importance of understanding all captives of the state as political prisoners.

Our friends Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness are publishing a book of Kelly’s poetry as a fundraiser to benefit her during her incarceration. Walt Whitman argued that “to have great poets there must be great audiences,” but audiences is precisely the opposite of what there must be. To have great poetry, there must be people who are willing to act on their ideals rather than just watch from the sidelines. We are deeply grateful to Kelly for finding the courage to live her poetry as well as writing it.

Write to Kelly:

Kelly Pflug-Back
Vanier Centre for Women
P.O. Box 1040
655 Martin Street
Milton, Ontario
L9T 5E6 Canada
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