[News] Mumia Abu-Jamal - Hispanics, Latin America and the Struggle Against the Empire

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Mon Jun 26 12:43:41 EDT 2006


http://www.counterpunch.org/cruz06262006.html

June 26, 2006


An Interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal


Hispanics, Latin America and the Struggle Against the Empire

By RAFAEL RODRÍGUEZ-CRUZ

Strangers probably do not go unnoticed in the 
town of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, where Mumia 
Abu-Jamal is incarcerated. Waynesburg is a small 
rural community of Western Pennsylvania with a 
total population of 4,000. It is certainly not 
racially diverse: roughly 97% of the inhabitants 
are White. Thus, you have to work hard to see a 
Black or Hispanic person walking around in this 
town. In fact, according to the U.S. Census, 
there are only 68 Blacks, 4 Native Americans and 
27 Hispanics in the whole county of Green, 
Pennsylvania, which includes within its 
boundaries the town of Waynesburg. This is 
certainly very much in contrast with Springfield, 
Massachusetts, where my journey to visit Mumia Abu-Jamal began on May 23, 2006.

Yet, what is more striking about Waynesburg is 
not the lack of racial diversity, but the 
widespread poverty. This is a town where White 
people are still employed in jobs that usually 
minorities do in other communities: fast food 
restaurants jobs at the local truck stops, 
agricultural jobs of different sorts, some 
manufacturing employment (for the lucky ones) and 
construction jobs. The local supermarket, not far 
from the town's entrance, is not even stocked 
with the latest products in the market. After 
all, it is surrounded primarily by trailer parks 
and residences of families that have to live on 
meager incomes and poorly paying jobs (the income 
per capita is only $15,000). Waynesburg, by the 
way, supported George Bush in 2004.

One of the major employers -if not the most 
important one- is the State Correctional 
Institution (SCI) at Green, located in the 
outskirts of Waynesburg. The economic 
significance of the correctional facility can be 
gauged perhaps by the name of the street where it 
is located: Progress Drive. It reminds me a lot 
of upstate New York and some of the prisons 
located in small towns, like Hudson or 
Poughkeepsie, where I worked as a teacher for a 
prisoner's education program years ago. 
Everything revolves around the prison complex. 
For instance, the biggest and fanciest hotel in 
Waynesburg ­the Comfort Inn- is about two minutes 
from SCI at Green, and it actually offers its 
guests a clear view of the prison's entrance. 
Talk about a room with a view! Visitors are 
allowed to enter SCI at Green from Wednesday to 
Sunday, as a general rule. Accordingly, you 
cannot find an empty hotel room in Waynesburg, 
except on non-visit days. A lot of people 
-merchants I mean- seem to be making money out of 
the arrangement of housing relatives of death row inmates on visiting days.

On the positive side, the correctional 
institution has the racial diversity that the 
town of Waynesburg lacks. I did not see too many 
inmates inside the correctional campus (this is a 
close-security facility), but the ones that I saw 
where Black. Strangely, I felt some relief inside 
the prison walls, at least culturally and 
racially speaking. The lack of ethnic diversity 
of the town is, simply stated, suffocating.

In any case, I had a powerful reason to feel 
excited: I was in Waynesburg to visit Mumia 
Abu-Jamal, a friend of the Rosenberg Fund for 
Children and a revolutionary thinker who I 
admire. We spoke for about three and a half 
hours. The interview that follows cannot capture 
entirely what this experience has meant to me. 
Suffice perhaps is to say that in that small room 
at SCI, listening to Mumia and exchanging ideas 
with him, I was able to escape from the 
overpowering sense of hopelessness that permeates 
our culture at large, even amongst leftists. I 
know that this might sound odd, but I came out of 
my visit to the death row section of the State 
Correctional Institution at Green -thanks to 
Mumia- with more hope on mankind than before. The 
toughest part of the whole journey was leaving 
the confines of those oppressive walls, knowing 
that such an extraordinary person, Brother Mumia 
Abu-Jamal, is still there, unjustly incarcerated.

Question # 1: I want to begin this interview with 
a question about revolutionary journalism. In you 
opinion what made the Black Panther's newspaper 
an effective revolutionary tool for communicating 
with the masses? Are there any lessons to be 
applied to this time when communication via the 
internet has replaced the role of the traditional 
revolutionary and militant journalist?

The Black Panther newspaper was indeed a 
collective effort, not just of people assigned to 
the Party's Ministry of Information (such as 
myself) , but of the Party as a whole. That is 
because the paper received proposed articles from 
chapters and branches from around the country (at 
its height, the Party had some 44 chapters and 
branches), sometimes written by chapter 
information officers, sometimes by branch 
leadership, but just as of ten by rank and file 
Panthers, who felt moved to write about their 
city's events and struggles. In that sense, it 
was extremely democratic in character. If a new 
people's medical center opened, excited Party 
members wrote; if any Panthers were busted, or 
brutalized by cops, we'd receive detailed accountings, with Polaroid photos.

What made it invaluable to the revolutionary 
project was that people interacted on a weekly 
and often daily basis, while selling papers. To 
organize folks, you must talk with them. The 
deficit disclosed by today's internet usage is 
that one interacts w/ a keyboard, not with a living, breathing person.

Some who do extensive internet work may disagree, 
but, in point of fact, while it's obviously true 
that you're interacting w/ a "person", it is hard 
to determine whom that " person" really is. (Not 
to mention the spying by the State.)

When you are organizing, either trying to get 
support for your project, or for a specific 
event, you talk to folks, you listen to folks, 
also, by this give and take, you learn what 
"works" w/ folks, by how they respond. Are they 
really listening? Are they engaged? Etc. Those 
facial and bodily tics and cues can't be 
ascertained when mediated through the keyboard.

At it's height, between 150,000 to 200,000 papers 
were sold on ghetto street corners, in bars, in 
beauty shops, in restaurants, and in barbershops 
all across Black America every week-with no 
advertising! This was unmediated Black 
revolutionary news, coming straight to the folks, for over a decade.

Because young people were writing, editing and 
selling this product, it had the language, tone 
and fearlessness of youth, mixed with the 
revolutionary, quasi-Marxist terms that were made 
popular by global revolutionary struggles and movements.

Finally, it was invaluable in the way it got out 
the Party's perspective, instead of relying on the corporate, bourgeois press.

Question # 2: In your book We Want Freedom, you 
talk about the influence that the 1960's 
struggles in the Third World had on the 
internationalist perspective of the Black Panther 
Party. What impact do you think that the current 
revolutionary and progressive movements in Latin 
America are likely to have on the struggles of 
oppressed people in the United States?

As I noted in We Want Freedom, the BPP developed 
an internationalist perspective, because Huey P. 
Newton (the Party's Minister of Defense & 
co-founder) was curious about revolutionary 
struggles and liberation struggles that came 
before, whether in China, in Cuba, in Congo-Brazzavile, wherever.

What Party members learned was that people should 
study struggles in other parts of the world--and 
take what is useful, applicable, in their own struggles here.

What we see now, for the most part, is precisely 
the opposite: where folks from the so-called 
First travel to Third locations, and presume to 
teach lowly third-world populations how to 
struggle. I call this tendency "left 
imperialism", because those people, usually white 
leftists, base their claim to supremacy not upon 
their specific, or organizational work, but upon 
their privileged place in the Empire; their U.S. 
nationality, and often their Western background- their whiteness.

 From what experience base can U.S. leftists 
claim supremacy? What project can they point to 
that is successful, and should be replicated 
anywhere else in the world? The mass 
incarceration? The poisonous public school 
system? The crumbling environment? The deepening 
racial rifts? The Clinton Administration?

Nothing succeeds like success; and U.S. 
"leftists" have precious little success to boast about--at home or abroad.

An example of "left imperialism" can be found in 
how easily so-called liberals applauded U.S. 
bombing, takeover and occupation of Afghanistan, 
and later Iraq. Liberals typically argue that 
Afghanistan was a "good" war and occupation; yet 
Iraq was "bad". In point of fact, both, if I'm 
not mistaken, violated international law. But 
beyond that, the Afghanistan war was allegedly 
justified on the basis that the Taliban regime "'harbored" terrorists.

At the same time that U.S. politicians were 
barking such charges, the country was flush with 
terrorists, who waged wars against their own 
peoples in defense of their American masters.

People who have waged bloody massacres against 
Haitian workers and students live in peaceful 
solitude in the U.S. Anti-Castro terrorists who 
have bombed planes, and poisoned crops, and 
bombed hotels live in splendid peace in 
Miami-today. Meanwhile, the Cuban Five are 
unjustly incarcerated in this country for 
fighting against U.S. sponsored terrorism.

I can't count how many dictators, generals, 
cut-throats, have been kicked out of their home 
countries, and found refuge in the U.S. One final 
note about 'harboring terrorists'.... more people 
have been taught torture techniques in the U.S. 
School of the Americas (since renamed), than in 
any dusty camp in Afghanistan. Latin Americans 
call the school, la escuela de golpes de Estado: coup d'état school.

How many graduates of this 'School of the 
Americas' have raped, tortured, garroted, blown 
up, killed--terrorized the people of Latin American countries?

The point is not to simply be anti-war, but to be 
above all anti-imperialist. That's something that 
left imperialists find impossible to, do.



Question # 3: Fidel Castro is turning 80 on 
august 13, 2006. What is the meaning of the Cuban revolution in the year 2006?

Cuba holds a special place in my heart. Not only 
for their great revolution against an 
American-supported puppet (Batista), but their 
internationalism in practice, when they sent 
their own people -troops- to help a sister 
country, Angola, fight off the brutal 
cross-border raids from the apartheid regime in 
South Africa. In a place called Cuito Canavale, 
Cuban troops stopped South African advances in 
their tracks, and taught them the meaning of mortality.

And just as Black troops during the Civil War 
taught white Confederates about the falseness of 
white supremacy, Cuba's Black, white and brown 
troops taught them important lessons.

They learned the value of negotiating a 
settlement, and suddenly the African National 
Congress (ANC) didn't look so bad. South Africa 
certainly still has daunting problems, and things 
are still far from equal. But the apartheid 
regime was an affront to every Black person of 
earth. Cuba--little, besieged, embargoed 
Cuba--made a momentous difference. And they did 
so in a time when Ronald Reagan advocated 
"constructive engagement" with the racists!

Fidel, with his determination, his profound 
humanism, has become a legend of the 20th, and now the 21st century.

I'm sure people around the world, in the US, in 
Brazil, in Venezuela, in South Africa, and beyond 
join me in wishing millions of birthday greetings 
to this revolutionary: Feliz cumpleaños Fidel!

Cuba represents the power of resistance and 
survival against tremendous odds. It also 
represents the power of the small over the 
mighty. It is, in the words of Assata Shakur, a 
Palenque like Palmares (in slavery days, Brazil). 
It is a place of freedom amidst capitalist tyranny.



Question # 4: The COINTELPRO program was able to 
promote division within the Black Panther Party 
and also in Puerto Rico. What allowed them to be 
effective in promoting such operatives within the 
Black Panther Party? What are the lessons for today?

During an interview w/ the British journal, Race 
& Class, former political prisoner, Geronimo 
Ji-Jaga, former Dep. Minister of Defense of the 
Party (in L.A.) told an interviewer that they 
(members of the Party) never thought that the 
government would go so far, to break its own 
laws, etc. , to stop the Party. He reasoned that 
'we didn't think we were that important.'

It's also true that in a revolutionary era, to be 
part of that revolution was as natural as 
breathing. Plus, young people are inherently 
rebellious. They long to be part of Change.

But what COINTELPRO represented was war against 
dissidence, whether in the Black community, among 
socialists, among anti-Vietnam war activists, or Puerto Rican independentistas.

During the Church Committee hearings, a 
high-ranking FBI official stated it all when he 
said (of FBI tactics against US radicals): "This 
is a common practice, rough, tough, dirty 
business; whether o not we should be in it or 
not, that is for you folks to decide. We are in 
it. To repeat, it is a rough, tough, dirty 
business, and dangerous.... no holds were barred. 
We have used that technique against foreign 
espionage agents, and they have used it against us."

When the Church Committee Chief Counsel asked the 
official if these techniques were used against 
Americans, he replied, "Yes; brought home against 
any organization against which we were targeting. 
We did not differentiate. This is a rough, tough 
business." [U.S. Senate Hearings, Nov.-Dec. 1975, vol. 6. P.24.1



Question # 5: What are your thoughts about the 
recent mass mobilizations of millions of 
undocumented immigrant workers in the United 
States? Are they natural allies of other 
oppressed minorities, particularly Blacks?

The massive, spirited demonstrations were a joy 
to see; I think they marked the emergence of an 
oppressed people, from the shadows into the 
light. It brought back memories. I think it also 
demonstrated 'the browning of America', and 
thereby activated a reservoir of fear in white 
America, which looks down their nose at people 
south of the border. Given the power of media to 
shape ideas, we shouldn't be surprised that some 
Black Americans echoed the xenophobia of whites, 
and looked at Brown America's emergence with 
concern. What it reminded me of was our 
little-known, but shared history. In the 1830s, 
the US was at war with Seminoles, because they 
were one of the few Indian tribes who refused to 
return Blacks to slavery in Georgia and Carolina. 
The Seminoles fought at least 2 wars with the 
U.S. on precisely this principle. After years of 
war, the Red and Black Seminoles found freedom in 
fleeing Florida, and finding new homes in Mexico. 
The Seminoles, led by a warrior named Coacoochee 
(called Wild Cat), and assisted by a Black 
warrior named John Horse, took their soldiers and 
tribesmen, across the Rio Grande.

Mexico abolished slavery in 1829.They offered not 
only land, but posts in the Mexican Army. 
Thousands of Black men, women, and children found 
freedom in Mexico years before a war brought 
legal (but false) freedom in the lands of their 
birth. From such intertwined histories, alliances can be made.

For Black folks, and Red folks, fought, not for 
the US Empire, but for Mexican independence, and for freedom (literally!).

So, the 'browning' of America doesn't fill me 
with alarm; for I know that "brownness" comes 
from Aztec, Seminoles, African, and others.



Question # 6: Can you talk also a little bit 
about the experience of the Black Panther Party 
and the Puerto Rican communities in places like New York City?

The Black Panther Party had the most impact on 
Puerto Rican communities, I think, in NYC, and in 
Chicago. Both cities had chapters of the Young 
Lords Party, a socialist, independence group 
which had its origins in a youth gang in 
Chi-town. There, at the urging of Fred Hampton 
the Lords became increasing politicized, and in 
many ways, were inspired by the BPP. (Among 
Mexican-American brothers and sisters, the Brown 
Berets grew in Chicago, as well as in 
California). In New York, former YLP people 
joined the BPP, in part, because they were 
Afro-Puerto Ricans. We had a number of such 
members of the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn 
chapters. Offhand, I remember Denise Oliver, who 
came from Harlem, and Sol Fernandez, who was in the Bronx.

Their membership was important, not just 
symbolically, but because of their ability to 
speak to communities that usually couldn't hear, or read, our works.


Question # 7: What are the obstacles to building 
a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial 
revolutionary movement in the United States in the year 2006?

There are not enough substantial opportunities 
for us to work together, and by so doing, to 
learn the worth of such a project. We argue over 
crumbs. For example, on black radio and in black 
conversations in response to the mass immigration 
demos, people could be heard saying, "They want our jobs."

What, pray tell, is so good about many of the 
jobs Black folks have in the US? As it stands, we 
probably have the highest unemployment already!

Rather than fighting each other, we need to find 
ways to work together, to deepen, broaden, and 
give new, real meaning to democracy.

The obstacles are false consciousness, white 
supremacy, and linguistic barriers. But, I really 
believe that all of these can be surmounted.



Question # 8: Is the struggle for the 
independence of Puerto Rico still meaningful for 
revolutionary politics in the United States?

Once again, I look at it from the perspective of 
a learner, not a teacher. I say that because the 
PR independence movement has demonstrated, on the 
ground, the power of its political mobilization, 
when it freed many (not all) of its political 
prisoners. There is no movement in the US that 
has duplicated this--even among the white so-called 'left'. That is impressive.

So, puertorriqueños have more to teach us about 
community mobilization, principled struggle, and 
broad unity over revolutionary goals, than we think we have to teach them.

Plus, given the increasing levels of aggression 
shown by the Empire, the independence movement 
can only heat up. How many young Puerto Rican men 
and women will join the imperial army, to fight 
wars, when Puerto Ricans on the island can't even 
vote for President (Emperor)? When they sense 
their colonial position costs them far more than 
it benefits, the independence movement can only be fueled.

Question # 9: What I, in your opinion, the state 
of political persecution in the United States?

In the late 60s, and early 70s, when COINTELPRO 
was revealed, folks were genuinely shocked. It 
was in every conversation, every paper. It was in 
the air. "Can you believe it? " "Did you hear---"

Flash forward 30 years, and everything that was 
unlawful under COINTELPRO, is now legal under the US Patriot Act.

What is the response to revelations of wiretaps? 
Of mail covers? Of internet snooping by the govt.?

Not surprise. It's kind of like, "Well, I knew 
they were doing that .... "What else is new?" "So 
what? If it'll stop another 9-11 ..."

Instead of shock, one finds resignation; a kind 
of inside knowledge, reflected in the culture in 
flicks like "Enemy of the State." Of course, the 
things happening have been occurring in the 
so-called 3rd world, primarily. Well, finally, 
the chickens have come home to roost (to quote 
Malcolm X). The things that America did abroad 
are now returning from the periphery to the 
interior of the Empire. And given the logic of 
globalism, even the false shield of whiteness 
will not long protect people here, who have grown 
up thinking, 'it can't happen here.'

I am reminded that Germany had the most cultured, 
most intellectually sophisticated, most 
technologically progressive, and most educated 
bourgeoisie in Western Europe; but all of that 
didn't stop the rise, and then the flood of 
fascism. Indeed, if we are honest, we learn that 
both they, (and the South Africans!) learned much 
of their segregation, reservation, and racial 
'hygiene' ideas from the turn-of-the-century Americans.

The fever unleashed by 9-11 has let loose 
something in the culture, like a fervor, that is 
still afoot. It portends something quite unhealthy is coming.

In the very beginning, with rhetoric of 
'democracy', the rulers looked over the span of 
ages, and selected a model to embrace. Having 
just rejected and defeated a king, one isn't 
surprised that the royal model wasn't emulated. 
But about the parliamentary model? While it 
certainly has its critics, it allows a wider 
range of political representation than the 
winner-take-all of the present structure. 
Americans, students of history, looked to, 
admired, and sought to imitate Rome, by choosing a Senate.

By emulating Empire, it inherits the infirmities 
as well as the glories. Weak senates create 
overweening executives. In Rome, we remember, it 
was the Senate that gave Octavianus the titles of 
Prince of the Senate and Emperor. They paid for 
it. The US Senate gave unlimited powers to Bush. We'll pay for that too.

If there is one lesson that echoes down the 
corridors of time and history, it is this: No 
Empire Lasts Forever. But people are not an 
empire; they can transcend such things. In order to survive, they must.

Rafael Rodriguez-Cruz is an attorney and a member 
of the Board of Directors of the Rosenberg Fund 
for Children in Easthampton, Massachusetts. 
Founded by Robert Meeropol, the youngest son of 
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the RFC is a non for 
profit agency that provides for the educational 
and emotional needs of children of targeted 
progressive activists in the United States. He 
also writes for the Puerto Rican newspaper 
Claridad. He can be reached at: 
<mailto:RRodriguezCruz at ghla.org>RRodriguezCruz at ghla.org



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