[Ppnews] Remember Kuwasi Balagoon
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Dec 16 11:16:43 EST 2006
Building an Icon Out of Kuwasi Balagoon
by Jessica Loughery
Published: December 13, 2006
On Dec. 13, 1986, Kuwasi Balagoon died in prison
of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, an
AIDS-related illness. He was a bisexual man and a
part of the queer liberation movement. A Black
Panther who was a defendant in the Panther 21
case. A member of the Black Liberation Army. A New Afrikan Anarchist.
And yet his name is nowhere to be found in our history books.
"We had been reading some of [Balagoon's]
writings as a point of discussion, and we came to
realize he wasn't getting enough recognition,"
says John Prisk, volunteer organizer with the
Philadelphia chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross
(ABC). Since this month marks the 20th
anniversary of Balagoon's death, Prisk and his
colleagues conceptualized an event to raise
public awareness of Balagoon's life. A Dec. 16
memorial dinner will feature readings of his
essays and poetry, along with a talk by writer
Kazembe Balagun, who is currently struggling to
piece together a Balagoon biography from what little we know about him.
A short tour with the U.S. Army launched a
17-year-old Balagoon into radical politics.
Severe racism on an American base in Germany
inspired him to help start a collective called De
Legislators, which actively resisted mistreatment.
Back in the States, Balagoon joined the Black
Panther Party, and in 1971, he was one of 21
people charged with conspiring to blow up New
York's Botanical Gardens. (The defendants were
acquitted after just 45 minutes of deliberation.)
In and out of prison for much of the 1970s,
Balagoon was tried with comrades David Gilbert
and Judy Clark in 1981 for his part in the
expropriation of an armored truck, which resulted
in the deaths of guard Peter Paige and police
officers Waverly Brown and Edward O'Grady. He
died in the middle of his 75-year sentence.
During his final years in lockdown, Balagoon
wrote the inspiring anarchist works groups like
the ABC are trying to spread. Since his personal
philosophies often clashed with the defined
positions of the groups he associated with,
Balagoon's desire for unbridled freedom from a
compulsory governmentneither protecting nor
representing those it controlledspeaks to many anarchists today.
Musician and artist Not4Prophet will read
Balagoon's poetry at the memorial dinner. "The
idea is [reaching] people with a message of anti-authority," he says.
Balagoon had no regard for consequences. "Never
compromising is the thread that runs through
everything he did," says poet and activist
Walidah Imarisha, who will also read at the
dinner. "He never compromised who he was, who he loved or how he lived."
While the Black Panthers left no room for
anything other than strictly defined masculinity,
Balagoon openly loved both men and women. "He
knew that fighting for freedom meant irrevocably
being yourself," adds Imarisha.
He also knew that a fight for absolute freedom
would be long, and that he would not taste
victory in his lifetime. "The most important
aspect of [Balagoon's] life I wish to highlight
is his concept of choice," Balagun writes of the
speech he'll deliver. "He focuses on the notion
that it is better to go to jail
than to accept injustice."
At Balagoon's final trial, he delivered his own
closing statement. "I will tell you now and
forever that New Afrikan people have a right to
self-determination, and that that is more
important than the lives of Paige, Brown and
O'Grady or Balagoon, Gilbert and Clark," he said.
"And it's gonna cost more lives and be worth
every life it costsbecause the destiny of over
30 million people and the coming generation's
rights to land and independence is priceless."
Kuwasi Balagoon Memorial Dinner
Sat., Dec. 16, 5-8 p.m., free, LAVA, 4134 Lancaster Ave., 215-387-6155
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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