[News] Fred Ho Lives! - Jazz, Cancer and Revolution

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 14 14:23:02 EDT 2014

April 14, 2014  http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/14/fred-ho-lives/

*Jazz, Cancer and Revolution*

  Fred Ho Lives!


Fred Ho, a renowned baritone sax player, Afro-Asian jazz musician, 
composer, political organizer, revolutionary died on Saturday.  In 2006, 
Fred was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and spent the next 8 years 
battling the disease in the most public and political arenas-- reflected 
in his book, "Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and 
Capitalism at the Cellular Level. 
His fight with cancer alone was extraordinary, I have never seen someone 
live through so much pain, through operation after operation, chemo, and 
each time, truly arise from near-death-- to announce he had "stage 4" 
cancer and then play an amazing sax solo, give a talk about 
eco-socialism, of which he was a pioneer, and explain why he was a luddite.

Two years ago, the Labor/Community Strategy Center, organized "An 
Afternoon with Fred Ho" in Los Angeles---an event that is considered 
historic by its 100+ participants and many who have heard the program on 
my radio show, Voices from the Frontlines 
<http://www.voicesfromfrontlines.com>.  Fred played several baritone 
saxophone solos, always decked out in super colorful clothes he designed 
and made himself---which he made sure we knew was his war against the 
clothing industry.  It was a conversation between Fred, Robin D.G. 
Kelley, Diane Fujino and me. The four of us are very close politically, 
all share an Afro-centric socialist view of the world, and the 
conversation went on for almost two hours---spanning jazz, Black 
history, eco-socialism, the role of the individual in history, ego 
formation, the essential role of revolutionary improvisation and the 
struggle against rigid thinking and dogmatism--- the imperative to 
create, do and say original things. Robin who has written the definitive 
book on Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1439190461/counterpunchmaga> and 
Fred got into a long discussion of 12 note scales and how Fred had tried 
to break with that form and how he formed a big band to break the form 
of the big band.  I remember thinking that I barely understood the 
complexities of their conversation and had so much to learn about music 
theory. But that was the point---to be exposed to new ideas and to 
inform my organizing by a constantly expanding constellation of theory.  
I most understood the premise that I was taught from the first day I 
joined the civil rights movement that has guided my work to this 
day--that breaking the rules is critical to winning the battle of ideas 
in a struggle with an oppressive system. Diane talked about the the 
significance of making and writing history, and the critical role the 
Black movement has played in shaping revolutionary Asian American 
consciousness---as she has been the author of /Heartbeat of Struggle 
the biography of Yuri Kochiyama and /Samurai Among Panthers/ 
the biography of Richard Aoki.

In the conversation I challenged Fred's conception that "the old Fred Ho 
died and the new Fred Ho has been reborn free of egotism" --remarking to 
Fred that I saw far more continuities in his life than differences and 
why would he negate such a rich, complex life history. (I tend to do 
this as well, wanting to believe I have "broken" with a previous view 
while often there is a leap, not a break, and much of what is "new" is 
based on much of what I have done before and the historical ideas that 
have shaped my consciousness.)

What the four of us had in common, was a profound opposition to the 
entire Eurocentric worldview, what Fred called "manifest destiny 
Marxism" in which even U.S. socialists talked about their "utopia" as 
little more than more equitably distributing the spoils of empire. We 
all shared a once dominant but still relevant view that Black people in 
the United States are an oppressed nation with the right of 
self-determination, and an unapologetic Third Worldism in which we 
shared the assessment of Dr. King that the United States is "the 
greatest purveyor of violence in the world" We saw the system of 
imperialism led by the United States as the primary obstacle to human 
rights, self-determination, and the greatest threat to ecological 
possibility and the survival of the planet. But most of all it was the 
type of engaging conversation, discussion, debate, argument, in such a 
probing and affectionate manner so rare on the left--the type of open 
ended discussions and inquiries that are so needed for a new 
revolutionary movement still fighting to come into being.

The /New York Times/ describes Fred's "Warrior Sisters: The New 
Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors 
(1991), written with the librettist Ann T. Greene combining "the 
subjects of Chinese folklore, physical combat, domestic abuse, the black 
power movement and revolutionary feminism." Ann T. Greene managed Fred's 
long journey with cancer, devoted herself to his welfare, and was his 
representative to the outside world about his illness and organizer of a 
group of us who supported Fred throughout his journey. It is beyond 
comprehension what she is feeling now, but for those of us who worked 
with her for so many years, we witnessed a true angel of mercy, as she 
was with Fred in the last years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes.

In that I knew Fred first as a political revolutionary and secondly as a 
musician, I was often shocked at how influential his music was and the 
extent of his world-wide recognition. In June 2013 at Fred's invitation, 
I came to New York to La MaMa to attend one of the last performances of 
"Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon!" a choreographed martial-arts 
opera based on the 1970s manga comics of Kazuo Koike. I was in awe to 
see how he had written a piece in which the narration, music, and 
martial arts were precisely timed in complete precision. The young 
baritone sax player, Ben Barson, played Fred's instrument and music with 
such energy and power---one of Fred's students taking center stage while 
he was alive to see it. That night the cast and friends went to a great 
Chinese restaurant where they honored Fred and each other. The waiters 
served course after course and we talked late into the night---all 
Fred's events ended with food, drink, and conversation, building 
community at the cellular level.

Fred challenged me to be more revolutionary and original and challenged 
the entire 501 c3 culture, including that of my own organization the 
Labor/Community Strategy 
center. Our constant struggles helped to clarify and sharpen my own 
politics and helped us move to the Fight for the Soul of the Cities 
frame for our work and our No Cars in L.A. campaign.

But given our great unities we also had significant political 
differences and Fred was principled and generous in his struggles with 
me. He organized a discussion between us at the National Black Theater 
in Harlem June 13, 2013. Quincy Saul a member of Scientific Soul 
Sessions did a very fair and accurate representation of our views.

/*Eric Mann:* An anti-imperialist, eco-socialist future must be grounded 
in the actual conditions of daily-life and political struggles of 
working class oppressed nationality populations. People learn and become 
radicalized through mass, radical, reform struggles, the struggle with 
the corporations and the state, and the conscious intervention of 
organizers as political educators bringing theory, ideology, strategy, 
and tactics to inform that work. We need to build more of these mass 
campaigns for radical reforms, and do so as revolutionaries, educating 
about empire, and consolidating victories, concessions and consciousness 
toward a revolutionary future./

/*Fred Ho: *We need to reject the entire framework of mass society. The 
practicalities of struggle within this system are toxic, and will 
literally give us cancer. The accumulation of reforms does not create 
revolutionary conditions but take us further away from them. The reform 
struggle deepens colonization to the matrix of modernity. We need to 
begin an exodus of revolutionary maroonage, where people pull out of the 
system altogether through the prefigurative production of a future 
decolonized society./

Still, the evening was marked by mutual affection. We ended our "debate" 
as Fred called it, with a true embrace, raised held hands, and then we 
all went out to dinner at a great restaurant in Harlem. (The talks are 
up on YouTube <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGc6YbQTkPY> thanks to 
film-maker Steven De Castro, whose film, "Jazz, Cancer, and Life: Fred 
Ho's Last Year" is in post-production.)

While the system's leaders of often interchangeable, mass movement's 
require many leaders and as many generals and geniuses as we can muster. 
For us, the loss of a Malcolm or Martin, Harold Washington, Hugo Chavez 
and Chowke Lumumba before their and our time---and yes, a Fred Ho at 
56---are massive blows to the movement.  That is why Fred spent his last 
years building a new generation of leaders, and his Scientific Soul 
Sessions, his many bands, his endless students, and fortunately, The 
Fred Ho Reader, Black Panther Suite, so many cds, DVDs, operas, talks 
are part of a legacy that must be further studied and appreciated.

In his last months, Fred's last battle with the cancer finally became a 
reality to all of us. Fred,  who had defied gravity and mortality, was 
finally in transition and moved into hospice care in his apartment in 
Brookly. But having seen Fred truly rise from the dead endless 
times---this damn painful journey began in 2006! it was still hard to 
imagine there would be a finite date for the end of his journey. Will to 
live? Nobody exhibited it like Fred Ho. Will to shake things up, piss 
people off, get in your face and demand more, often prescient, sometimes 
arrogant, but  deeply sincere and driven to the bone---absolutely. And 
for those of us who were his friends and comrades, Fred was a 
tremendously gentle, generous, and kind man.

For those who knew him and his work we will do everything we can to 
further popularize and disseminate it. For those who do not yet know who 
he is and was there will be great joy in discovering him.

/*Eric Mann* is the director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, 
host of KPFK Pacifica's Voices from the Frontlines, and author of 
Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer. He 
can be reached at eric at voicesfromfrontlines.com 
<mailto:eric at voicesfromfrontlines.com>

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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