With increasing attention on the freedom struggles of Black liberation movement elders such as Dr. Mutulu Shakur and the recently released Sundiata Acoli, it’s a good time to reflect and understand broader efforts for Black liberation. Sunday, Aug. 21, marks the anniversary of prison guards killing George Jackson during a rebellion led by incarcerated Black people.
Founded in the 1970s, Black August is an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of resistance and honor those who have fallen, like George Jackson and his brother Jonathan. What began as a commemoration among incarcerated folks swiftly spread on the outside.
Groups like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, National Jericho Movement and Community Movement Builders continue the legacy of resistance and community empowerment. Organizers with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement recently shared with NewsOne a few tidbits about efforts to free political prisoners like Dr. Mutulu Shakur, the legacy of Black August and things people can do right now to support ongoing work.
Who are political prisoners? How is the term defined, and why are they important to contemporary struggles for Black liberation?
Political Prisoner is an international human rights term. It refers to individuals who are incarcerated because of their political beliefs and/or actions in liberation movements that are in opposition to the policies of international governments that center and prioritize the ruling elite at the expense and exploitation of the working class and poorer communities. COINTELPRO – Counter Intelligence Program, led by J. Edgar Hoover, focused on dismantling human rights movements during the 60s and 70s through covert and illegal projects aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic American political organizations.
Political prisoners are important today for ALL struggles and movement fronts, beyond the contemporary struggles for Black liberation, simply because each of them were people who loved their communities and had a vision for something better. Political prisoners must not be forgotten, they expand beyond Our movement. Like Indigenous human rights organizer and political prisoner Leonard Peltier, political prisoners are not of the past but rather are of our active present and future. We see that what has happened to them is what is happening to present-day organizers who’ve protested in the wake of the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery and George Floyd. To truly learn from our past to build a more humane future, we must never forget our freedom fighters or their struggles and must free them before they pass away.
We must demand the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of war, we must demand the return of political exiles and must begin a Truth and Reconciliation process in this country so that finally unfinished conversations.
Why is Black August an important time to lift up political prisoners?
Black August Resistance began inside the walls. It began to honor the fallen soldiers of George Jackson and his brother Jonathan Jackson. George Jackson led a prison movement in California, where prisoners led an uprising in response to horrific and inhumane conditions. It was a time of discipline and study for the incarcerated. A few years later, the community began to observe and commemorate Black August Resistance. To lift up the conditions of the prison. To honor the sacrifices of those who gave their lives. Black August Resistance would expand to the practice of acknowledging the many examples of resilience and resistance. From the anniversary of Ayiti, known as Haiti, gaining her independence or the birth of current political prisoner Dr. Mutulu Shakur.
As with different commemorative months, Black August Resistance gives us a chance to rededicate ourselves to the Movement, honor the ancestors who have led our movements and strengthen our discipline in the freedom struggles of current political prisoners. It invites us to fast and fight to develop the discipline for our communities to survive. It allows us to study and train to learn the things we need for our communities to thrive.
Do the cases of political prisoners speak to a broader issue with the treatment of elderly people detained in the criminal injustice system?
Many of the conditions that our aging political prisoners are forced to experience can shed light on the conditions of the aging population of those incarcerated. The health of our political prisoners and the amount of time they have been imprisoned far outweigh the justices that their incarceration is supposed to do. Often in solitary confinement, many have health issues. And most are eligible for parole, compassionate release or some other form that would allow them to return home at their senior age.
How can people get involved beyond events and conversations during Black August?
There are many things people can do. Black August can serve as an invite to join in the call to “Free Em All.” Many issues that the political prisoners fought for still exist for our people. So their cases must be relevant to Movements today.
- Start Shakur Squad! Support all political prisoners. Identify a political prisoner’s case and join a campaign to gain their freedom. (Find more information here).
- Examine the abolition movement, and understand the conditions people behind the wall are facing. Join an organization doing that work.
- Join a liberation organization. The charge to create a fair and just world for all of us is everyone’s duty. We all have a role, and that begins with answering the call.
taliba obuya is the national coordinator of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a member of the New Afrikan Peoples Organization. Saudia Durrant is a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Philly Chapter.
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