[Ppnews] 40th Anniversary - Marin Courthouse Rebellion

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Aug 7 11:21:15 EDT 2010

To the Man-Child, Tall, evil, graceful, 
brighteyed, black man-child ­ Jonathan Peter 
Jackson ­ who died on August 7, 1970, courage in 
one hand, assault rifle in the other; my brother, 
comrade, friend ­ the true revolutionary, the 
black communist guerrilla in the highest state of 
development, he died on the trigger, scourge of 
the unrighteous, soldier of the people; to this 
terrible man-child and his wonderful mother 
Georgia Bea, to Angela Y. Davis, my tender 
experience, I dedicate this collection of 
letters; to the destruction of their enemies I dedicate my life.

George L. Jackson

August 7, 1970, just a few days after George 
Jackson was transferred to San Quentin, the case 
was catapulted to the forefront of national news 
when his brother, Jonathan, a seventeen-year-old 
high school student in Pasadena, staged a raid on 
the Marin County courthouse with a satchelful of 
handguns, an assault rifle, and a shotgun hidden 
under his coat. Educated into a political 
revolutionary by George, Jonathan invaded the 
court during a hearing for three black San 
Quentin inmates, not including his brother, and 
handed them weapons. As he left with the inmates 
and five hostages, including the judge, Jonathan 
demanded that the Soledad Brothers be released 
within thirty minutes. In the shootout that 
ensued, Jonathan was gunned down. Of Jonathan, 
George wrote, "He was free for a while. I guess 
that's more than most of us can expect."


Ruchell Cinque Magee: Sole Survivor Still

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Slavery is being practiced by the system under 
color of law – Slavery 400 years ago, slavery 
today; it's the same thing, but with a new name. 
They're making millions and millions of dollars 
enslaving Blacks, poor whites, and others - 
people who don't even know they're being railroaded. -- Ruchell Cinque Magee
(from radio interview with Kiilu Nyasha, "Freedom 
is a Constant Struggle," KPFA-FM, 12 August 1995)

If you were asked to name the longest held 
political prisoner in the United States, what would your answer be?

Most would probably reply "Geronimo ji jaga 
(Pratt)," "Sundiata Acoli", or "Sekou Odinga" -- 
all 3 members of the Black Panther Party or 
soldiers of the Black Liberation Army, who have 
been encaged for their political beliefs or 
principled actions for decades. Some would point 
to Lakota leader, Leonard Peltier, who struggled 
for the freedom of Native peoples, thereby 
incurring the enmity of the US Government, who 
framed him in a 1975 double murder trial. Those 
answers would be good guesses, for all of these 
men have spent hellified years in state and 
federal dungeons, but here's a man who has spent more.

Ruchell C. Magee arrived in Los Angeles, 
California in 1963, and wasn't in town for six 
months before he and a cousin, Leroy, were 
arrested on the improbable charges of kidnap and 
robbery, after a fight with a man over a woman 
and a $10 bag of marijuana. Magee, in a slam-dunk 
"trial," was swiftly convicted and swifter still sentenced to life.

Magee, politicized in those years, took the name 
of the African freedom fighter, Cinque, who, with 
his fellow captives seized control of the slave 
ship, the Amistad, and tried to sail back to 
Africa. Like his ancient namesake, Cinque would 
also fight for his freedom from legalized 
slavery, and for 7 long years he filed writ after 
writ, learning what he calls "guerrilla law", 
honing it as a tool for liberation of himself and 
his fellow captives. But California courts, which 
could care less about the alleged "rights" of a 
young Black man like Magee, dismissed his petitions willy-nilly.

In August, 1970, MaGee appeared as a witness in 
the assault trial of James McClain, a man charged 
with assaulting a guard after San Quentin guards 
murdered a Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley. 
McClain, defending himself, presented imprisoned 
witnesses to expose the racist and repressive 
nature of prisons. In the midst of MaGee's 
testimony, a 17 year old young Black man with a 
huge Afro hairdo, burst into the courtroom, heavily armed.

Jonathan Jackson shouted "Freeze!" Tossing 
weapons to McClain, William Christmas, and a 
startled Magee, who given his 7 year hell where 
no judge knew the meaning of justice, joined the 
rebellion on the spot. The four rebels took the 
judge, the DA and three jurors hostage, and 
headed for a radio station where they were going 
to air the wretched prison conditions to the 
world, as well as demand the immediate release of 
a group of political prisoners, know that The 
Soledad Brothers (these were John Cluchette, 
Fleeta Drumgo, and Jonathan's oldest brother, 
George). While the men did not hurt any of their 
hostages, they did not reckon on the state's ruthlessness.

Before the men could get their van out of the 
court house parking lot, prison guards and 
sheriffs opened furious fire on the vehicle, 
killing Christmas, Jackson, McClain as well as 
the judge. The DA was permanently paralyzed by 
gun fire. Miraculously, the jurors emerged 
relatively unscratched, although Magee, seriously 
wounded by gunfire, was found unconscious.

Magee, who was the only Black survivor of what 
has come to be called "The August 7th Rebellion," 
would awaken to learn he was charged with murder, 
kidnapping and conspiracy, and further, he would 
have a co-defendant, a University of California 
Philosophy Professor, and friend of Soledad 
Brother, George L. Jackson, named Angela Davis, who faced identical charges.

By trial time the cases were severed, with Angela 
garnering massive support leading to her 1972 acquittal on all charges.

Magee's trial did not garner such broad support, 
yet he boldly advanced the position that as his 
imprisonment was itself illegal, and a form of 
unjustifiable slavery, he had the inherent right 
to escape such slavery, an historical echo of the 
position taken by the original Cinque, and his 
fellow captives, who took over a Spanish slave 
ship, killed the crew (except for the pilot) and 
tried to sail back to Africa. The pilot 
surreptitiously steered the Amistad to the US 
coast, and when the vessel was seized by the US, 
Spain sought their return to slavery in Cuba. 
Using natural and international law principals, 
US courts decided they captives had every right 
to resist slavery and fight for their freedom.

Unfortunately, Magee's jury didn't agree, 
although it did acquit on at least one kidnapping 
charge. The court dismissed on the murder charge, 
and Magee has been battling for his freedom every since.

That he is still fighting is a tribute to a truly 
remarkable man, a man who knows what slavery is, 
and more importantly, what freedom means.


May 27, 1997   © 1997 Mumia Abu-Jamal - All Rights Reserved

 From the Forward to Soledad Brother (1994) By Jonathan Jackson, Jr.

I was born eight and a half months after my 
father, Jonathan Jackson, was shot down on August 
7, 1970, at the Marin County Courthouse, when he 
tried to gain the release of the Soledad Brothers 
by taking hostages. Before and especially after 
that day, Uncle George kept in constant contact 
with my mother by writing from his cell in San 
Quentin. (The Department of Corrections wouldn't 
put her on the visitors' list.) During George's 
numerous trial appearances for the Soledad 
Brothers case, Mom would lift me above the crowd 
so he could see me. Consistently, we would 
receive a letter a few days later. For a single 
mother with son, alone and in the middle of both 
controversy and not a little unwarranted trouble 
with the authorities, those messages of strength 
were no doubt instrumental in helping her carry 
on. No matter how oppressive his situation 
became, George always had time to lend his spirit to the people he cared for.

A year and two weeks after the revolutionary 
takeover in Marin, George was ruthlessly murdered 
by prison guards at San Quentin. Both he and my 
father left me a great deal: pride, history, an 
unmistakable name. My experience has been at once 
wonderful and incredibly difficult. My life is 
not consumed by the Jackson legacy, but my charge 
is an accepted and cherished piece of my 
existence. It is out of my responsibility to my 
legacy that I have come to write this Foreword to my uncle's prison writings.

Today I read my inherited letters often ­ those 
written from George to my mother with a dull 
pencil on prison stationery. They are things of 
beauty, my most valuable possessions, passionate 
pieces of writing that have few rivals in the 
modern era. They will remain unpublished. 
However, the letters of Soledad Brother 
demonstrate the same insight and eloquence ­ the 
way George's writings make his personal 
experience universal is the mainstay of his brilliance.

When this collection of letters was first 
released in 1969, it brought a young 
revolutionary to the forefront of a tempest, a 
tempest characterized by the Black Power, free 
speech, and antiwar movements, accompanied by a 
dissatisfaction with the status quo throughout 
the United States. With unflinching directness, 
George Jackson conveyed an intelligent yet 
accessible message with his trademark style, 
rational rage. He illuminated previously hidden 
viewpoints and feelings that disenfranchised 
segments of the population were unable to 
articulate: the poor, the victimized, the 
imprisoned, the disillusioned. George spoke in a 
revolutionary voice that they had no idea 
existed. He was the prominent figure of true 
radical thought and practice during the period, 
and when he was assassinated, much of the 
movement died along with him. But George Jackson 
cannot and will not ever leave. His life and 
thoughts serve as the message ­ George himself is the revolution.

The reissue of Soledad Brother at this point in 
time is essential. It appears that the nineties 
are going to be a telling decade in U.S. history. 
The signposts of systemic breakdown are as 
glaringly obvious as they were in the sixties: 
unrest manifesting itself in inner-city turmoil, 
widespread rise of violence in the culture, and 
international oppression to legitimize a state in 
crisis. The fact that imprisonments in California 
have more than tripled over the last decade, 
supported by the public, is merely one sign of 
societal decomposition. That systemic change 
occurred during the sixties is a myth. The United 
States in the nineties faces strikingly analogous 
problems. George spoke to the issues of his day, 
but conditions now are so similar that this work 
could have been written last month. It is 
imperative that George be heard, whether by the 
angry but unchanneled young or by the cynical and 
worldly mature. The message must be carried 
farther than where he bravely left it in August of 1971.

Over the past twenty-five years, why has George 
Jackson not been an integral part of mainstream 
consciousness? He has been and still is 
underexposed, reduced to simplistic terms, and 
ultimately misunderstood. Racial and conspiracy 
theory aside, there are rational reasons for his 
exclusion. They stem not only from the hard-line 
revolutionary aspects of George's philosophy, but 
more importantly from the nature of the political 
system that he existed in and under.

Howard Zinn has pointed out in A People's History 
of the United States that "the history of any 
country, presented as the history of a family, 
conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes 
exploding, most often repressed) between 
conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, 
capitalists and workers, dominators and 
dominated." U.S. history is essentially that type 
of hidden history. Without denying important 
mitigating factors, the United States of today is 
strongly linked to the values and premises on 
which it was founded. That is, it is a settler 
colony founded primarily on two basic pillars, 
upheld by the Judeo-Christian tradition: genocide 
of indigenous peoples and slave labor in support 
of a capitalist infrastructure. Although the 
Bible repeatedly exalts mass slaughter and 
oppression, Judeo-Christian morality is publicly 
held to be inconsistent with them. This 
dissonance, evident within the nation's structure 
from the beginning, informs the state's first 
function: to oversimplify and minimize immoral 
events in order to legitimize history and the 
state's very existence simultaneously.

Ironically, traditional Judeo-Christian morality 
is a perfect vehicle for genocide, slavery, and 
territorial expansion. As a logical progression 
from biblical example, expansion and imperialism 
culminated in the United States with the concept 
of Manifest Destiny, which held that it was the 
colonists' inherent right to expand and conquer. 
Further it was a duty, the "white man's burden," 
to save the "natives," to attempt to convert all 
heathens encountered. Protestant Calvinism 
provided a set of ethics that fit perfectly with 
the colonists' conquests. Max Weber, in his 
definitive study on religion, The Sociology of 
Religion, wrote, "Calvinism held that the 
unsearchable God possessed good reasons for 
having distributed the gifts of fortune 
unevenly"; it "represented as God's will [the 
Calvinists'] domination over the sinful world. 
Clearly this and other features of Protestantism, 
such as its rationalization of the existence of a 
lower class, 
were not only the bases for the formation of the 
United States, but still prominently exist today. 
"One must go to the ethics of ascetic 
Protestantism," Weber asserts, "to find any 
ethical sanction for economic rationalism and for 
the entrepreneur." When a nation can't admit to 
the process through which it builds hegemony, how 
can anything but delusion be a reality? "The 
monopoly of truth, including historical truth," 
stated Daniel Singer in a lecture at Evergreen 
State College (Washington) in 1987, "is implied in the monopoly of power."

Clearly, objective history is an impossibility. 
This understood, the significant problem lies in 
how the general population defines the term; 
history implies that truth is being told. It is 
an unfortunate fact that history is unfailingly 
written by the victors, which in the case of the 
United States are not only the original 
imperialists, but the majority of the "founding 
fathers," dedicated to uniting and strengthening 
the existing mercantile class among disjointed 
colonies. There can be no doubt that from the 
creation of this young nation, history as a 
created and perceived entity moved further and 
further away from the objective ideal. Genocide, 
necessary for "the development of the modern 
capitalist economy," according to Howard Zinn, 
was rationalized as a reaction to the fear of 
Indian savages. Slavery was similarly construed.

The personalization of history, the process by 
which we construct heroes and pariahs, is a 
consequence of its dialectical nature. Without 
fail, an odd paradox is created around someone 
who, by virtue of his or her actions, becomes 
prominent enough to warrant the designation 
"historical figure." There is a leap on the part 
of the general public, sparked by the media, to 
another mindset. Sensational deeds are glorified, 
horrible acts reviled. A few points are selected 
as defining characteristics. The media, 
conforming to their restrictions of concision 
(which make accuracy nearly impossible to 
attain), reiterate these points over and over. 
Schools and textbooks not only teach these points 
but drill them into young minds. Howard Zinn 
comments that "this learned sense of moral 
proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity 
of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when 
it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly."

A few tidbits, factual or not, incomplete and 
selective, are used to describe the entirety of a 
person's existence. They become part of 
mainstream consciousness. We therefore know that 
Lincoln freed the slaves, Malcolm X was a black 
extremist, and Hitler was solely responsible for 
World War II and the Holocaust. All half-truths 
go unexplained, all fallacies go unchallenged, as 
they appear to make perfect sense to the 
everyday, noncritically thinking American. The 
paradox has been created: The more famous a 
person becomes, the more misunderstood he or she 
is. This accepted occurrence is incredibly 
counterintuitive: the public should know more, 
not less, about a noteworthy individual and the 
sociopolitical dynamics surrounding him or her.

This historical mythicization is not, for the 
most part, a consciously created phenomenon. The 
media don't go out of their way to mislead the 
public by constructing false heroes and 
emphasizing the mundane. Fewer "dimly lit 
conferences" take place than conspiracy theorists 
believe. It is the existing political system that 
is responsible for the information that reaches 
the general public. The state's control of 
information created the system, and it 
continually re-creates it. Propagated by 
schooling and the media, information that reaches 
the public is subject to three chief mechanisms 
of state control: denial, self-censorship, and imprisonment.

Denial is the easiest control mechanism, and 
therefore the most common. If events do not 
follow the state's agenda or its ecumenical 
ideology and might bring unrest, they are denied. 
Examples are plentiful: prewar state terrorism 
against the people of North and South Vietnam and 
later the bombing of Cambodia; government funding 
and military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras; and 
support of UNITA and South Africa in the virtual 
destruction of Angola, among many others.

Denial goes hand in hand with self-censorship. 
The media emphasize certain personal 
characteristics and events and de-emphasize 
others, in a pattern that supports U.S. hegemony. 
The information that reached the public after the 
U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 is telling. It 
was not until much later, after the heat of 
controversy, that the average citizen had access 
to the scope of the devastation. The 
effectiveness of self-censorship in this case was 
maximized, as the full details of the Panama 
invasion were patchwork for years.

While we may assume that the media have an 
obligation to accurately convey such an event to 
the public, the media in fact perpetuate the 
government's position by engaging in their own 
self-censorship. Noam Chomsky points out in 
Deterring Democracy, "With a fringe of exceptions 
­ mostly well after the tasks had been 
accomplished ­ the media rallied around the flag 
with due piety and enthusiasm, funnelling the 
most absurd White House tales to the public while 
scrupulously refraining from asking the obvious 
questions, or seeing the obvious facts."

Denial and self-censorship create a comfort zone 
for the U.S. citizenry, generally uncritical and 
willing to accept digestible versions of 
historical personalities and world events. The 
reasoning behind denial and self-censorship: do 
not make the public uncomfortable, even if that 
means diluting, sensationalizing, or lying about the truth.

Ultimately, when denial and self-censorship may 
not be sufficient for control of information, the 
state resorts to imprisonment. All imprisonment 
is political and as such all imprisonments carry 
equal weight. Society does, however, distinguish 
two categories of imprisonment: one for breaking 
a law, the other for political reasons. A 
difference is clear: American Indian Movement 
leader Leonard Peltier, serving a federal 
sentence for his supposed role at Wounded Knee, 
is considered a different type of prisoner than 
an armed robber serving a five-to-seven-year sentence.

State policy reflects institutional needs. When 
the state as an institution cannot tolerate an 
outside threat, real or perceived, from an 
individual or group, the consequences at its 
command include isolation, persecution, and 
political imprisonment. All may occur in greater 
or lesser form, depending on the degree of threat.

Political incarceration removes threats to the 
political and economic hegemony of the United 
States. Even though in 1959 George Jackson 
initially went to prison as an "everyday 
lawbreaker" with a one-year-to-life sentence, it 
was his political consciousness that kept him 
incarcerated for eleven years. In 1970 George wrote:

International capitalism cannot be destroyed 
without the extremes of struggle. The entire 
colonial world is watching the blacks inside the 
U.S., wondering and waiting for us to come to our 
senses. Their problems and struggles with the 
Amerikan monster are much more difficult than 
they would be if we actively aided them. We are 
on the inside. We are the only ones (besides the 
very small white minority left) who can get at 
the monster's heart without subjecting the world 
to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical 
role to act out if we will. The whole world for 
all time in the future will love us and remember 
us as the righteous people who made it possible 
for the world to live on. If we fail through fear 
and lack of aggressive imagination, then the 
slaves of the future will curse us, as we 
sometimes curse those of yesterday. I don't want 
to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in 
the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a 
world that is liberated from trash, pollution, 
racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and 
armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a 
thousand different brands of untruth, and licentious usurious economics.

Nothing is more dangerous to a system that 
depends on misinformation than a voice that obeys 
its own dictates and has the courage to speak 
out. George Jackson's imprisonment and further 
isolation within the prison system were clearly a 
function of the state's response to his outspoken 
opposition to the capitalist structure.

Political incarceration is a tangible form of 
state control. Unlike denial and self-censorship, 
imprisonment is publicly scrutinized. Yet public 
reaction to political incarceration has been 
minimal. The U.S. government claims it holds no 
political prisoners (denial), while any notice 
given to protests focused on political prisoners 
invariably takes the form of a human interest story (self-censorship).

The efficacy of political incarceration in the 
United States cannot be denied. Prison serves not 
only as a physical barrier, but a communication 
restraint. Prisoners are completely ostracized 
from society, with little or no chance to break 
through. Those few outside who might be 
sympathetic are always hesitant to communicate or 
protest past a certain point, fearing their own 
persecution or imprisonment. Also, deep down most 
people believe that all prisoners, regardless of 
their individual situations, really did do 
something "wrong." Added to that prejudice, 
society lacks a distinction between a prisoner's 
actions and his or her personal worth; a bad act 
equals a bad person. The bottom line is that the 
majority of people simply will not believe that 
the state openly or covertly oppresses without 
criminal cause. As Daniel Singer asked at the 
Evergreen conference in 1987, "Is it possible for 
a class which exterminates the native peoples of 
the Americas, replaces them by raping Africa for 
humans it then denigrates and dehumanizes as 
slaves, while cheapening and degrading its own 
working class ­ is it possible for such a class 
to create a democracy, equality and to advance 
the cause of human freedom? The implicit answer is, `No, of course not."'

How does a person ­ inside or outside prison ­ 
confront the cultural mindsets, the layers of 
misinformation propagated by the capitalist 
system? Sooner or later, what can be called the 
"radical dilemma" surfaces for the few wanting to 
enter into a structural attack/analysis of the 
United States. Culturally, educationally, and 
politically, all of us are similarly limited by 
these layers of misinformation; we are all 
products of the system. None of us functions from 
a clean slate when considering or debating any 
issue, especially history as it pertains to the United States.

George Jackson struggled against the constraints 
of denial and self-censorship, to say nothing of 
his physical and communicative distance from 
society. Political prisoners are inherently 
vulnerable to an either/or situation: isolating 
silence or elimination. For George, his 
vociferous revolutionary attitude was either 
futile or self-exterminating. He was well aware 
of his situation. In Blood in My Eye, his political treatise, he wrote:

I'm in a unique political position. I have a very 
nearly closed future, and since I have always 
been inclined to get disturbed over organized 
injustice or terrorist practice against the 
innocents ­ wherever ­ I can now say just about 
what I want (I've always done just about that), 
without fear of self-exposure. I can only be executed once.

George was equally aware that revolutionary 
change happens only when an entire society is 
ready. No amount of action, preaching, or 
teaching will spark revolution if social 
conditions do not warrant it. My father's case, 
unfortunately, is an appropriate indicator. He 
attempted a revolutionary act during a 
reactionary time; elimination was the only possible consequence.

The challenge for a radical in today's world is 
to balance reformist tendencies (political 
liberalism) and revolutionary action/ideology 
(radicalism). While reformism entails a 
legitimation of the status quo as a search for 
changes within the system, radicalism posits a 
change of system. Because revolutionaries are 
particularly vulnerable, a certain degree of 
reformism is necessary to create space, space 
needed to begin the laborious task of making revolution.

George's statement "Combat Liberalism" and the 
general reaction to it typify the gulf between 
the two philosophies. George was universally 
misunderstood by the left and the right alike. As 
is the case with most modern political prisoners, 
nearly all of his support came from reformists 
with liberal leanings. It seems that they acted 
in spite of, rather than because of, the core of his message.

The left's attitude toward COINTELPRO is a useful 
illustration. COINTELPRO, the covert government 
program used to dismantle the Black Panther 
Party, and later the American Indian Movement, is 
typically cited by many leftists as a damning 
example of the government's conspiratorial 
nature. Declassified documents and ex-agents' 
testimonies have shown COINTELPRO to be one of 
the most unlawful, insidious cells of government 
in the nation's history. COINTELPRO, however, was 
really a symptomatic, expendable entity; a small 
police force within a larger one (FBI), within a 
branch of government (executive), within the 
government itself (liberal democracy), within the 
economic system (capitalism). Reformists in 
radicals' clothing unknowingly argued against 
symptoms, rather than the roots, of the 
entrenched system. Doing away with COINTELPRO or 
even the FBI would not alter the structure that 
produces the surveillance/elimination apparatus.

In George's day, others who considered themselves 
left of center, or even revolutionary, concerned 
themselves with inner-city reform issues, mostly 
black ghettos. The problem of and debate about 
inner cities still exists. However, recognition 
of a problem and analysis of that problem are two 
very different challenges. The demand to better 
only predominantly black inner-city conditions is 
unrealistic at best. In the capitalist structure, 
there must be an upper, middle, and especially a 
lower class. Improving black neighborhoods is the 
equivalent of ghettoizing some other segment of 
the population ­ poor whites, Hispanics, Asians, 
etc. Nothing intrinsic to the system would 
change, only superficial alterations that would 
mollify the liberal public. As Chomsky asserts in Turning the Tide:

Determined opposition to the latest lunacies and 
atrocities must continue, for the sake of the 
victims as well as our own ultimate survival. But 
it should be understood as a poor substitute for 
a challenge to the deeper causes, a challenge 
that we are, unfortunately, in no position to 
mount at the present though the groundwork can and must be laid.

Failure to understand the radical, encompassing 
viewpoint in the sixties led to reformism. In 
effect, the majority of the left completely 
deserted any attempt at the radical balance 
required of the politically conscious, leaving 
only liberalism and its narrow vision to flourish.

Nobody comprehended the radical dilemma more 
fully than George Jackson. Indeed, he developed 
his philosophy not out of mere happenstance, but 
with a very conscious eye upon maintaining his 
revolutionary ideology. He writes in Blood in My Eye:

Reformism is an old story in Amerika. There have 
been depressions and socio-economic political 
crises throughout the period that marked the 
formation of the present upper-class ruling 
circle, and their controlling elites. But the 
parties of the left were too committed to 
reformism to exploit their revolutionary potential.

George's involvement with the prison reform 
movement should therefore be seen as a matter of 
survival. Unlike the reformist left, prison 
oppression was directly affecting him. His 
balanced reform activities ­ improving prisoners' 
rights while speaking out against prison as an 
entity ­ were required to make living conditions 
tolerable enough for him to continue on his 
revolutionary path. Simply, he did what he had to 
do to survive ­ created space while 
simultaneously pursuing his radical theory.

The reform George Jackson did accomplish was and 
still is incredible, transforming the prison 
environment from unlivable to livable hell, from 
encampments that he called reminiscent of Nazi 
Germany to at least a scaled-down version of the 
like. With his influence, these changes occurred 
not only in California, but throughout the 
nation. Only now is his influence beginning to 
slip, with reactionary politics bringing about 
torture and sensory deprivation facilities such 
as Pelican Bay State Prison in California, as 
well as the reintroduction for adoption of the 
one-to-life indeterminate sentence. This type of 
sentence is fertile ground for state oppression, 
as it is up to a parole board to decide if an 
inmate is ever to be let go. A prison can easily 
and effectively create situations that transform 
a one-to-life into a life sentence. (Tellingly, 
the indeterminate sentence is being promoted not 
by the right, but by a California senator 
formerly associated with mainstream liberal causes.)

Politically, George Jackson provided us all with 
a radical education, a viable alternative to 
viewing not only the United States but the world 
as a political entity. He gave the 
disenfranchised a lens through which they could 
clearly see their situation and become more 
conscious about it. He wrote in April 1970:

It all falls into place. I see the whole thing 
much clearer now, how fascism has taken 
possession of this country, the interlocking 
dictatorship from county level on up to the Grand Dragon in Washington, D.C.

Crucially, George's treatment is a concrete, 
undeniable example of political oppression. Race 
is more times than not the easy answer to a 
problem. Among people of color in the United 
States, the quick fix, "blame it on whitey" 
mentality has become so prevalent that it 
shortcuts thinking. Conversely, stereotypes of 
minorities act as simple-minded tools of 
divisiveness and oppression. George addressed 
these issues in prison, setting a model for the 
outside as well: "I'm always telling the brothers 
some of those whites are willing to work with us 
against the pigs. All they got to do is stop 
talking honky. When the races start fighting, all 
you have is one maniac group against another." On 
the surface, race has been and is still being put 
forth as an overriding issue that needs to be 
addressed as a prerequisite for social change. In 
fact, although it seems to loom as a large 
problem, race as an issue is again a symptom of 
capitalism. Of course, on a paltry level and 
among the relatively powerless, race does play a 
part in social structure (the racist cop, the 
bigoted landlord, etc.), pitting segments of the 
population against each other. But revolutionary 
change requires class analysis that drives 
appropriate actions and eliminates race as a 
mitigating factor. Knowing these socioeconomic 
dynamics, George Jackson was first and foremost a 
people's revolutionary, and he acted as such at 
all times without compromise. His writings 
clearly reflect his belief in class-based revolutionary change.

Considering the many structural elements 
affecting him, it is easy to see why George and 
his message have been misinterpreted. The quick 
takes on him are abundant: it's assumed that he 
was imprisoned and oppressed because he was 
black, because he had publicized ties with the 
Black Panther Party and was a well-known 
organizer within the prison reform movement. 
Although George became a "prison celebrity," a 
status that certainly didn't help him in terms of 
acquittal and release, ignorance of the actual 
forces responsible for his prolonged imprisonment 
is inexcusable. The radical viewpoint is 
absolutely indispensable when regarding both 
George's life circumstance and philosophy. His 
life serves not as a mere individual example of 
prison cruelty, but as a scalding indictment of the very nature of capitalism.

In these times, there are two very different ways 
to be born into privilege. First and most obvious 
in the system of capital is to be born into 
wealth. Second, and not precluding the first, is 
to have an intellectual, politically conscious 
base from which to grow as a person 
philosophically and spiritually. Radical figures 
in modern society ­ Lenin, Trotsky, Ché Guevara, 
my father, Jonathan Jackson, and my uncle George 
Jackson ­ have the capability of providing this 
base through their examples and writings.

Those not born into privilege can achieve a 
politically conscious base in different ways. No 
veils separate the lower class from the realities 
of everyday life. They have been given the gift 
of disillusion. Bourgeois lifestyle, although 
perhaps sought after, is in most cases not 
attainable. Daily survival is the primary goal, 
as it was with George. Of course, when it finally 
becomes more attractive for one to fight, and 
perhaps die, than to live in a survival mode, 
revolution starts to become a possibility. Not a 
riot, not a government takeover by one or another 
group, but a people's revolution led by the politically conscious.

This consciousness doesn't simply appear. 
Individuals must grow and work into it, but it's 
an invaluable gift to have insight into and 
access to an alternative to the frustration, a goal on the horizon.

The nineties are an unconscious era. The 
unimportant is all-important, the essential 
neglected. What system than capitalism, what time 
period than now, is better suited to naturally 
create the scape-goat, the seldom-heard political 
prisoner, misunderstood in his 
cult-of-personality status, held back in a choke 
hold from society? It is not only our right, but 
our duty, to listen to and comprehend George 
Jackson's message. To not do so is to turn our 
backs on one of the brilliant minds of the 
twentieth century, an individual passionately 
involved with liberating not only himself, but all of us.

Settle your quarrels, come together, understand 
the reality of our situation, understand that 
fascism is already here, that people are dying 
who could be saved, that generations more will 
die or live poor butchered half-lives if you fail 
to act. Do what must be done, discover your 
humanity and your love in revolution. Pass on the 
torch. Join us, give up your life for the people.

­George Jackson

Jonathan Jackson, Jr.

San Francisco

June 1994

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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