Monday, February 18, 2008

Congrats on 7 Years of Freedom

February 8, 2008, Robert King Wilkerson walked out a free man after 31 years in Angola State Prison, 29 of these years in solitary confinement. Two weeks ago I was in New Orleans to help him celebrate and continue the organizing work to free his comrades Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox who are in their 35th year of solitary confinement, the longest in US recorded history. Currently, a civil suit contests this punishment as cruel and unusual. The photos were taken at various gatherings that weekend. This weekend was also the presidential primaries, which Obama won. Visit and

Robert King
I think what I admire most about King is his commitment to seeing his friends freed. Unlike Yusef or the biblical Joseph's cellmates who forgot him when they were released until they reached the end of their knowledge and needed more, King has dedicated every waking hour to freeing his friends to the point of sacrificing his happiness or livelihood even, to be on call to whomever and whatever cause focused on the liberation of African people.

The phrase all of us or none, takes on another meaning when you live it as he does. It means that he is working day and night making Freelines, his sole economic support so his customer base remains happy so he can pay his bills and have a place to rest his head when he returns home to Austin, Texas. It means his companion Kenya sees her master –in a good month perhaps 21 days, more often 14. It means he has to revisit a traumatic time and place in his life over and over again. Imagine removing a bandage and cutting open a healed wound for spectators who still don't believe the wound hurts after they see the evidence—this is what his activism for A-3 means.

It means being patient and letting supporters find their way when he knows the direct route. It means being underestimated and second guessed, often by those who think they know better, when they haven't a clue. I'm speaking of the legal team which has evolved and continues to evolve, yet time is wasted second guessing King or not using political and moral urgency as guiding signposts.

The number 1 task is freeing Herman and Albert, but other things get in the way as the big picture gets eclipsed by the little one. How else can onen justify the wasted year Herman spent in prison when let a judge get away with not ruling on a recommendation that Herman be released in 2006. It was ruled on in 2007, now the case is moving again.

Now that Anita Roddick's team in her unfortunate absence is on board, there are more resources and King is no longer, along with a few others laboring alone, but like one person says, A-3 seems to have taken on a life of its own, the movers and shakers of yesterday retired.

Even now the civil case is stymieing the criminal one, or seems to be when the big picture, getting these men out of prison is overshadowed by getting these men out of solitary confinement. Again, the new kids on the block have taken the lead and forgotten that King was there recently and no matter how many visits with Herman and Albert, no matter how many hours on the phone, seated in the visiting room, or spent writing and reading letters—it really isn't the same as being there locked up with no escape.

It isn't the same. Don't get it twisted, it isn't the same. I've never picked cotton or cut sugar cane in the hot sun with a guard on horse back, gun in hand, trranslate: whip. King has. King has been beaten like our ancestors were beaten, like characters in films such as Sankofa or mini-series like Roots were beaten to break their spirits were physically constrained and tortured, yet like Robert and Albert and Herman survived. Like King on the outside continues to survive without hate, notice I didn't say without anger.

Empathy is often not enough to bridge the cultural impasse between people. If state sanctioned brutality and disenfranchisement is not a part of your history and you share the same land, constitution and government, then the question is: why didn't I know this? How come you and not me?

Racism, simply stated, is the reason, that and white skin privilege. America is not a class based society, rather it is one based on race and until America officially recognizes this and sets in motion on—going protocols to remedy this, nothing will change just as nothing, fundamentally has changed. 2008 marks the end of chattel imports in January 1, 1808 and there was only an op ed mention in the New York Times towards the end of the year.

At least Britain saluted it's 200th year (1807-2007) with pomp and fanfare—200 years too soon some African British citizens thought. It is the same in France and Germany and Portugal and Spain, none of the participants in the European slave trade escaped the residual effects of racism and its child, white supremacy.

Such was a prerequisite to involvement in the process, such is the legacy
which remains unchallenged by most if not all those in power, slavery's
beneficiaries, such is the reason why Herman and Albert sit under the prison, like so many others in Angola and elsewhere, awaiting justice.


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