[Ppnews] Remember Kuwasi Balagoon

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Dec 16 11:16:43 EST 2006

Freedom Song


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
(415) 863-9977
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