Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Historic Assembly Hearing on the Use of Solitary Confinement in CA's Secure Housing Units (SHU)

Denise, Marilyn Anna, and I, with Harriett at the wheel, left West Oakland BART in the second carpool wave for Sacramento Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 9:30 AM to attend a pre-rally for the historic California Assembly Hearing on Solitary Confinement. Linda Evans was hosting the program when we arrived that muggy warm morning just in time to hear State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, chair of the Public Safety Committee of the California State Assembly, speak about the reason for a hearing to discuss the conditions in California’s Secure Housing Units (SHU). He said the legislators were all very curious. “This is an issue that gives Assembly people pause, (as) it is so politicized, but we have been able to tap into that compassionate part of people. They know that something needs to be done. They don’t necessarily want to be the ones who do it, but we will make sure that it happens.”

This legislative curiosity theme was affirmed by many All of Us or None members who’d lobbied legislators earlier that morning (the 7:30 AM BART carpool shift). One friend, Brother Fred Abdullah spoke of how clueless and uninformed about the situation most if not all of the four politicians he met with that morning were. Later on, the two rows directly in front of the panelists were filled with unidentified men and women, all members of the California legislative team or CDCR staff. I watched their shifting body language—arms folded across chests, legs crossed—boredom was not evident even in the face of such physical indicators of denial.

The State Capitol, Room 4202 was full from the balcony to the main floor—it was good the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation panel (CDCR) presented last. They would have been laughed out the room—their presentation so absent of any real data, especially when it came to the sentencing standards for prisoners sent to security controlled housing units or SHU. From the first panel with a former SHU inmate, Earl Fears, SOULJAHs, The Movement; a family member of an inmate at Pelican Bay, Glenda Rojas, and an articulate clergyman, Rev. William McGarvey, Bay Area Religious Campaign Against Torture, to the panel of experts presenting research perspectives on SHU, the lobbyists against SHU confinement presented irrefutable arguments. I called them the A-Team.

Fears eloquently shared horror stories of his incarceration at Corcoran SHU. There is prison and then there is prison, the SHU its own island within a horrific system of confinement. He said that any time grown men, hard and tough men would break down and cry, the terror had to be real. Rev. McGarvey gave a history of the introduction of solitary confinement, a Quaker practice, into corrections, a practice later suspended for 20 years because of its potential for abuse, then reinstituted. McGarvey echoed Fears examples that spoke to the brutality of California’s penal system, and spoke of the time when prisoners began to be given human rights. There was a lot of history about Pelican Bay, its construction and CDC’s hopes based on a new model addressing gang activity called the Security Threat Group Identification and Management Policy or STG. Certification, Debriefing, Observation, Risk Assessment, Security Threat Group (STG), Security Threat Group (STG) Member, Security Threat Group (STG) Suspected Member, Sensitive Needs Yard, Threat Assessment, Validation, heinous and contested policies can all be traced to the 2007 adoption of The Security Threat Group Identification and Management Policy which supposedly “incorporates national standards and approaches to the handling of security threat group (STG) members housed in California’s adult institutions” (CDCR Policy Statement).

The second panel shifted the narrative to an analysis of CDCR policy of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation with opening comments by Charles Carbone, J.D., Prisoner Rights Attorney. Carbone spoke about the whole gang culture paranoia which seems to define CDCR policies especially at Pelican Bay. He showed how having the high maintenance population in the SHU didn’t decrease crime or make the prison any safer. In fact, the opposite was true. The fact that these men were willing to sacrifice their lives for an opportunity to break the silence and expose the conditions of their confinement, sentences not based on a verdict by a jury of their peers, rather on the word of a bureaucrat at Pelican Bay on the word of someone forced to debrief or snitch for favors--was duly noted by the Legislative Committee members and chair.

Former SHU inmates speaking at the rally earlier that morning shared how they were recovering from solitary confinement, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychoses associated with such treatment, how they needed continual psychiatric help post-SHU, how the SHU permanently affected their ability to function in society.

Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee shared a report, “Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California's Youth and Adult Prisons,” which she authored, that addressed the confinement of women and how solitary confinement stretches an already precarious and potentially sexually exploitative situation for women in isolation. She also defined torture and gave numerous statutes that pertained to human dignity and human rights. Dr. Terry Kupers, M.D., M.S.P., the Wright Institute and Craig Handy, Professor of Psychology at UC Santa Cruz, talked about the effects of long term confinement on inmates. All panelists gave concrete and useful suggestions to the Public Safety Committee, Assemblymembers: Holly J. Mitchell, Nancy Skinner, Curt Hagman, and Vice Chair, Steve Knight present, with two absences, Jerry Hill and Gilbert Cedillo, on how to make Pelican Bay into an environment that promoted rehabilitation. It got kind of testy at times, especially when CDCR presented. One could see where the assembly’s sentiments lay.

SHU inmates cannot have colored pencils or hobby crafts, photos or contact visits. One woman spoke of how her niece would like a photo of her dad. Mothers spoke of the prison’s refusal to allow their visits. One mother hasn’t seen her son in six years. Another mother said her grandson hasn’t seen his father since he was two, he is now thirteen. One man cried as he recalled the torture he was subjected to in the SHU. Holding his daughter he spoke of the arbitrary nature of the abuse which for him continued when he was released in the form of police harassment. Willie Sundiata Tate raised the name of Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell, who is the only member of the San Quentin 6 still behind bars and the longest held prisoner in the SHU, 30+ years, since 1969 (the trial ended in 1970). Kernan said earlier the longest anyone is held in the SHU was 6-8 years, rather than indeterminate sentencing. At his last parole hearing January 2011, Pinell was denied and told to return in 15 years. This was rescinded and amended to two years. Visit http://www.hugopinell.org/

Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of LSPC and All of Us or None, spoke of his first visit to Pelican Bay. Tuesday, August 23, was his wedding anniversary and he’d planned to go to the cemetery and reflect. He told the story of JT, who has been in the SHU since 1988. The man is losing his color despite melanin magic (smile). JT has been eligible for parole for 35 years. It’s these men, the leaders, who are targeted by administration, the ones who write the 602s, prepare writs and call into account their captors.

The final panel of two was CDCR. Of the five demands, none were addressed. It would have been so easy to say—SHU inmates can have photos taken for family members; SHU inmates will be allowed access to an open yard where they can see the sky—that the debriefing or snitching prereq for release is eliminated. Not a chance. None of the demands were met, articulated or addressed by CDC reps.: Scott Kernan, Undersecretary of Operations or Anthony Chaus, Chief of Correctional Safety.

That the head of CDCR, Secretary Matthew Cade could not appear at this important and unprecedented hearing was a further slap in the face of this process and an indictment as to how far Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and other elected officials will have to go to address this injustice.(http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/About_CDCR/Executive_Staff.html). Kernan’s response to the excellent testimony by people affected personally by the solitary confinement along with scholars and researchers trumped any potential salient comebacks or logical retorts—the man literally fell apart on the stand, at times stuttering; he was so ridiculous especially when asked by Ms. Mitchell to explain the arbitrary and unconstitutional process called: debriefing or snitching. What came out was that CDCR operates its own court system, outside California’s legal judicial system, sentencing and prosecuting inmates without due process —CDCR operates its own court and does as it pleases. There were several comments by Assemblymembers Mitchell and Skinner regarding the appeal process when one is said to be a “gang” member and sent to the SHU. When asked about this anonymous process where the convicted person has no opportunity to address or refute the accuser or the alleged accusation, Kernan admitted when questioned that nothing is going to change, if at all, anytime soon. I wondered at the futility of the entire legislative hearing process and could certainly see a reinstatement of the fast. Prisoners were waiting to see what CDCR meant by negotiations—absolutely nothing! Attendees seemed elated, but CDCR admitted to no wrong doing and to no concrete action. What one sees is how powerful, arrogant and out of control CDCR is. What does one do with a mad dog department? Dismantle it before it does more harm. I wonder if Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Committee could force Gov. Brown to fire everyone starting with Cade and Kernan?

Again, it was the uninterrupted procession of voices from the audience: children, parents, friends and advocates that eloquently closed the day. One woman spoke of how CDCR denied her brother from donating his kidney to his sister, a match. The sister subsequently died. In the SHU for 19 years, this same inmate's mother has dementia from stress. He was put in the SHU for sending his family literature. Another woman talked about a point system which when tallied results in a SHU sentence. A point includes banned literature.

One terminally ill prisoner was promised a phone call and then at the last minute stipulations were given that he had to debrief first. A daughter wants a photo of her dad in the SHU; she was three when he went in. Initially, he was on the mainline; now the family has to drive 14 hours for a 1 1/2 hour visit on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday. Two women, one an attorney, were able to share first hand stories and relay messages from the men, whom they’d seen just a week ago. One of the requests was for better more nutritious food from vendors, tapes for mental health, proctors for educational exams, and a larger property allowance—now the men can only have one shoebox full of personal belongings.

Dr.Kupers, an authority on the mental health affects of solitary confinement, spoke about the supermax prison phenomena born in the 1980s which gave birth to 21 Pelican Bays between the late 1980-1990s—as a failed experiment. So under the radar was this new type of prison that in 1989 when Pelican Bay opened equipped with 1,056 cells “explicitly designed to keep California’s allegedly worse of the worse prisoners in long-term solitary confinement –8 X 10 foot cells made of smooth, poured concrete, no windows just 24-hour fluorescent light, food delivered through a slot in the door,” legislators weren’t aware until they received letters and legal complaints in the early ‘90s . I remember a 60 Minutes episode that showed a mentally ill prisoner, Vaughn Dortch who’d smeared feces all over himself dragged by guards from his cell and thrown into a tub of scalding water. His burns were so severe the guards jokingly called him a “white boy” (From Keramet Reiter, Ph.D. candidate, “A Brief History of Pelican Bay”).

The psychiatrist gave examples of prison programs that reduce violence such as one in Mississippi where officials reduced cells from 1000 to 200 in their SHU populations. “Ohio did the same thing, with similar results. In Indiana and Mexico prisoners are sentenced at most to six months and then given options to leave—programs that integrate them successfully back into society—prison society. This in itself is strange—acclimate someone to captivity—sounds like a wild animal at a zoo or in a circus (which is why I am not going to anymore circuses).

Suicide for people in the SHU is twice as high. An example was given of a man who asphyxiated recently on toilet tissue. “Despair breeds suicide,” Dr. Kupers said. “Dead time. The SHU is adding to an increase in violence. People leave the SHU (maladjusted, perhaps angry) and go back into general population—there is a lot of violence at Pelican Bay – one could get killed on the yard. These policies can be traced to the war on drugs or the Reagan-Clinton era war on black people and the increased prison population then up to the current trend that looks less at rehabilitation and more at punishment (Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow). I don’t recall the panelists bringing up the ever privatization of the prison system either, which I think is unregulated.

Assemblywoman Skinner asked about the human cost of prisoners locked in the SHU and the monetary costs compared to execution. With an average of about $49,000 a year, Ms. Magnani stated that the SHU is a higher end prisoner ($56,000).

With the A-Team already leading the charge into overtime the further public comments included: a school teacher representing 1100 teachers and counselors in the Pejaro area of California offered their support. A family member spoke of Brian, who was on the hunger strike—he has been in the SHU for ten years, incarcerated at 25, now 38; a woman spoke of her husbands 22 years in the SHU; James Harris, a social worker said the SHU was an attack on the working class and terrorism; Gale Brown, a part of Life Support Alliance has a brother in the SHU for 25 years. He is 65 years old. She asked: “How does the ‘R’ play out in CDCR?” A former battered woman spoke of her brother in the SHU for ten years now. Many people read letters into the record for SHU inmates like the prisoner whose first time in the SHU was in 1970, for 4 years and then again 1989 to now. He asked for better vendors so they have healthier choices. He hasn’t been able to have visits since then either. He asked for more than one box for belongings, to be able to send a photo to family at least once and year and to be able to have family photos. He also asked for mental health videos. Someone mentioned “The Lucifer Effect,” I found out later was a book. The next woman has two brothers in the SHU; still another woman, a third year law student said her brother was debriefed for having a book by George Jackson. The policy director of for mental health for the Probation Department in Alameda County spoke as well as Carol Stickman, Staff Attorney for LSPC and Carol Shane, policy director for LSPC. Mothers spoke about their children who are languishing in the SHU. One mother has been denied and denied and denied visiting rights and still another mother didn’t know what the SHU meant and now that she does, she is terrified for her son who is being moved there soon. Jack Bryson spoke of Kevin Cooper, on death row, whom he has been visiting for many years. Cooper who hasn’t seen the sun or stars for 24 years paints them. One woman said she was afraid to say her brother’s name. Her mom died and she hasn’t seen her brother’s face in 14 years. Her brother had been in the SHU for 19 years. Marilyn Smith from All of Us or None said, “We are dying.” Ann, an attorney spoke about the pipeline between validated school age children and adult prisoners. “SHU residents are the leaders inside,” Valerie stated about her 20 year old son whose father is in the SHU. The ANSWER Coalition was in the room, on the mic, as were people from Critical Resistance like Jay who just returned from Uganda and Rwanda. The issue of trans-people was raised, a population that is especially vulnerable. Ammiano mentioned a bill related to this issue that had been vetoed that he was looking to reintroduce. Marilyn McMann from CA Prison Focus suggested we look at the issue of “profit vs. people” and that we should take our concerns to the UN.” The prison system yield annually $180 million dollars, she stated. This is the real threat to public safety.

I wished I’d been able to get over to the Crocker Museum to unwind, reflect and process the experience—as it is, I sat in a TJ parking lot, writing under a street lamp, my car light shorted out.

The CDC tacks on the R—when the idea of rehabilitation in an environment structured to inspire fear is ridiculous. The questions Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell raised about the arbitrary nature of CDCR policies as relates to SHU inmates were on point and showed how out of control this California department is. At the rally when I spoke to the Assemblyman he said he was determined to host other such conversations, like one already on the death penalty. He said, he didn’t think there were two sides and that he wanted to shine some light on the subject and get people to start discussing this issue and coming up with remedies that (legislators) could push forward. He said he didn’t “want to be stonewalled too much—I understand things move a little slowly but I don’t want to be put off, so I plan to have other hearings, report back hearings (addressing) any commitment to change from the CDCR. We are looking at this (Hearing) as the very first step.”

Ammiano legislative policy supporters Skinner and Mitchell and Hagman gave strong comments and asked tough questions of Scott Kernan. We hope this hearing touched as the Chair said, the compassionate side of people in the room with the hope that change is not up to CDCR (smile). We also hope the next hearing is at Pelican Bay in Crescent City.

To stay abreast of Pelican Bay news check out: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com and also check out several special shows on Wanda's Picks radio featuring Dorsey Nunn along with a mother, Dolores Canales whose son is in the SHU, Elder Freeman, Manuel La Fontaine, Linda Evans and Deirdre Wilson. Linda was the emcee at the rally August 23. Another recent interview is with LSPC attorney Carol Strickman: www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org

Wednesday morning, 6:30-8:30 AM will be a broadcast of the public comment portion of the Hearings on Wanda's Picks Radio.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Maafa 2011: Hurricane Katrina at Joyce Gordon Gallery

This afternoon the gallery was full as poets shared their work in honor of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina six years later. CeCe Campbell Rock just back from visiting her husband in New Orleans updated us on the legal haggling in place that keeps survivors from accessing the type of resources that would enable them to get back in their homes. After the program, CeCe spoke of how her home was sold for back taxes $300, the letter sent to a wrong address. This was three years ago. If she hadn't found out, in December she and her family would have lost their home as homeowners have three years to contest the purchase.

Lewis Watts, photographer, shared work from an upcoming book about New Orleans--his work made the comments and poetry tangible as we looked at the faces of adults and children, just a year after Katrina at the first Mardi Gras and the Essence Music Festival.

Opal Palmer Adisa and devorah major, Daughters of Yam, were extraordinary individually and collectively-the more searing poem about the Maafa. As they read people were encouraged to moan--chains and rain sticks passed from one person to another.

QR Hand and Charles Blackwell were also phenomenal. In fact, everyone was--Karla's poem for her daughter Asa, really sweet--a poem about loss really transition, acceptance and letting go.

Cake, Karla's Birthday Cake put smiles on many faces as people purchased some of the many books for sale like Furaha Youngblood's Cat-Eyed Woman from Louisiana. Tennessee Reed and her dad, Ismael Reed were in the audience, Tennessee shared work from an upcoming volume. Babies and little ones tottled around the gallery--Visual Word: Poetry through Photography having its closing reception as well this afternoon.

It was a busy day in the neighborhood (smile) with Ericka Huggins and Bobbie Seale next door, but as a wise person told me once: There are always enough people to go around. I hope Kevin Epps screening of the film about the Mardi Gras Indians went well too.

We raised over $300 as hoped which will be divided between the two organizations: Common Ground Health Clinic and LIFE of Mississippi, the Biloxi site. If you are ever in New Orleans, visit CGHC which is in Algiers (on the West Bank). Ask for Meshawn. If in Jackson, certainly pop into the main offices there and ask for Josh and Christy. In Biloxi ask for Bobbie. They would be happy to meet you.

Photos: TaSin Sabir

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wanda's Picks: Year Six, Annual Hurricane Katrina Report Back

Sheila Phipps, artist, speaks about her son, No Limit Rapper, "Mac," who is serving 30 years, and her art currently at Sandra Berry's Neighborhood Gallery in New Orleans, who she says is innocent. Visit www.free-mac.org

Kenneth Cooper
is an independent writer and life-long resident of New Orleans. He recently graduated from the University of New Orleans (UNO) in 2008 with a degree in English and has his work published in the New Orleans Review, the Alternet, Sync504, and the New Orleans Examiner.

Meshawn Tarver: New Executive Director, Common Ground Health Clinic, graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana and went on to graduate from George Washington University with a Masters in Public Health. After her graduate studies, Meshawn returned to New Orleans and worked as the Senior Program Coordinator for Breastfeeding at Tulane Xavier National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health where she developed various breastfeeding programs educating the community, workplaces, health care providers and medical and public health students. In particular she developed a lay health education program called the Mommy and Mentor Alliance (MAMA).

Meshawn went on to become the Louisiana Statewide Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Supervisor for the Louisiana WIC Program and formed the Greater New Orleans Breastfeeding Awareness Coalition which has blossomed to initiate a statewide breastfeeding coalition and other regional coalitions.

Later she worked as the Director of Administration and Operations with the Youth Empowerment Project where she was instrumental in starting an educational program, NOPLAY, for at-risk and out-of school youth ages 16-24 with the goal of serving only 40 youth a year but grew to serve over 200 in the first year and over 400 in subsequent years with a budget ten times larger.

In June 2010 Meshawn became Executive Director of Common Ground Health Clinic (CGHC), a patient centered integrated medical home, serving the underinsured and uninsured population. CGHC also provides herbal medicine, acupuncture, women’s wellness group and broad array of classes including health education, cooking, gardening and art classes.

Meshawn, also a Certified HypnoBirthing Instructor, is married with three daughters who she birth using the natural childbirthing philosophy of HypnoBirthing. She is advocate for maternal and child’s health, healthcare access, youth and economic development.

Parnell Herb, "Poetic Panther," Katrina Survivor, who is on the road to Angola State Prison to visit Zulu, an inmate there. A member of the Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Herb, wrote a play about the Angola 3 which opened in NO two years ago and was recently produced in Houston at the 40th Anniversary of the murder of Carl Hampton, founder of the Black Panther Party affiliate organization, the People's Party 2. His story, edited by D-Ann Penner, Dr. Keith C. Ferdinand, is told in Overcoming Katrina.

Robert H. King, former political prisoner, only free member of the Angola 3, is author of From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King, with an introduction by Dr. Terry Kupers, MD, MSP. Kupers recently testified at the California Legislative Hearing hosted by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Assemblymember of the 13th District, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. He spoke to the Research-Based Perspectives on Secure Housing Units or the SHU where inmates at Pelican Bay initiated a hunger strike for more humane and just treatment July 1-20, 2011. Their five basic demands have still not been met and from the statements made by CDCR representatives that same afternoon, the demands if met, will not be met any time soon. I expect a resumption of the strike. For people who are interested, I suggest you visit the website: http://solitarywatch.com/2011/08/24/historic-california-assembly-hearing-on-solitary-confinement/

Aaron Viles is the deputy director of the Gulf Restoration Network, the only non profit environmental advocacy group with an exclusive focus on the Gulf of Mexico. Based in New Orleans, Aaron leads GRN’s response to the BP drilling disaster and the organization’s efforts to protect and restore coastal habitats throughout the Gulf. Dan, joins us in Aaron's place.

The second half of the program is a discussion with actors: L. Peter Callendar (Red Carter), Charles Branklyn (Hedley), and Shinelle Azoroh (Ruby), who are in the Marin Theatre Company production of August Wilson's Seven Guitars, up through September 11, 2011. Visit www.marintheatre.org or call (415)388-5208.

Check out the review published posted earlier this month: http://wandasabir.blogspot.com/2011/08/seven-guitars-reflection.html

Music played this show were Somi's "When the Rain Comes" and Babatunde Olatunde Lea's title track on "Umbo Weti: Tribute to Leon Thomas."


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oakland Remembers Katrina Survivors at the Closing of Visual Word: Poetry through Photography

Silence the Violence Day, August 25, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wanda's Picks Radio August 24, 2011

Rebroadcast interview with Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colonialism and interviews with Joanna Haigood and visual artist Charles Trapolin, re: their collaboration with premiered earlier this year: The Monkey and the Devil. Visit http://www.ybca.org/content/zaccho-dance-theatre-monkey-and-devil

Bayview–based choreographer Joanna Haigood explores present–day species of racism with The Monkey and the Devil, a continuously running performance installation uniting dance and theater during which audience members are free to navigate the Forum.

Taking its title from ethnic slurs, The Monkey and the Devil investigates the rise of a contemporary, racism rooted in the lasting effects of America's slave trade. Echoing an earlier time, today's cultural figures unwittingly rehash old race–based arguments, updated for today's eyes and ears. Two massive, rotating set pieces, designed by visual artist Charles Trapolin, represent this duality. Their opposition recalls Abraham Lincoln's New Testament–quoting declaration foreshadowing the abolition of slavery, 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' Even today, Americans grapple with re–uniting a split house, with these artifacts of slavery.

Music: CHELLE! and Friends, who commemorate the music of Mardi Gras, New Orleans, and celebrates its Creole people and their remarkable music.

Announcements: Words Upon the Waters: A Gulf Coast Update and Fundraiser is Sunday, August 28, 2011, 2-5 PM at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th Street, Oakland. There will be poetry, a film screening and current information on what's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi.

Congratulations to Francisco Torres, SF8 member, whose charges were dropped and who is now free. Torres was the last member of the SF8 who was being prosecuted. Visit http://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/cisco-torres-is-free-of-all-charges-in-the-sf8-case/

Thanks to the brave and courageous men who called the hunger strike July 1, 2011 at Pelican Bay to protest their inhumane treatment and to the Hon. Tom Ammiano, Chair, Assemblymember, Thirteenth District, California Legislature, for hosting the Policy Review of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secure Housing Unit(SHU), Tuesday, August 23, 2011. We will broadcast testimony from the public comment part of the meeting next Wednesday.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Excerpts from the writings of George Jackson

There is a commemorative event at East Side Arts Cultural Center today, 4:30-8 PM). Listen to Wanda's Picks August 21, 2009 & August 17, 2011: wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org

August 21, 2011 (compiled by Kiilu Nyasha)

Today, August 21, 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of our beloved Comrade George Lester Jackson. Here are more quotes from his two books, the first was the bestseller, Soledad Brother: the Prison Letters of George Jackson and Blood In My Eye, published after his death. It’s remarkable that these statements are as pertinent today as they were 40 years ago, perhaps more so.

“The blanket indictment of the white [so-called] race has done nothing but perplex us, inhibit us. The theory that all whites are the immediate enemy and all blacks our brothers (making them loyal) is silly and indicative of a lazy mind (to be generous, since it could be a fascist plot). It doesn’t explain the black pig; there were six on the Hampton-Clark kill. It doesn’t explain the black paratroopers (just more pigs) who put down the great Detroit riot, and it doesn’t explain the pseudo-bourgeois who can be found almost everywhere in the halls of government working for white supremacy, fascism and capitalism” (Soledad Brother p221-222)
(From Blood in My Eye, p 4-5)

“You must teach that socialism-communalism is as old as man; that its principles formed the basis of mostly all the East African cultures (there was no word to denote possession in the original East African tongues). The only independent African societies today are socialistic. Those which allowed capitalism to remain are still neo-colonies. Any black who would defend an African military dictatorship is as much a fascist as Hoover.

“….there are only two ways by which societies can ever be governed and organized for production of their needs: the various types of totalitarian methods represented by assorted capitalist and fascist arrangements, and the egalitarian method. Egalitarianism is people’s government and people’s government and economics is socialism, dialectical and materialist. How else can societies be governed? There must be hierarchies or the elimination of hierarchies.”

"All political parties, as things stand, will support the power complex. Any individual elected will either be a supporter of the established politics -- or an 'individual.' What would help us, in fact, is to allow as many right-wing elements as possible to assume 'political' power. ...The fascists already have power. The point is that some way must be found to expose them and combat them. An electoral choice of ten different fascists is like choosing which way one wishes to die. The holder of so-called high public office is always merely an extension of the hated ruling corporate class. It is to our benefit that this person be openly hostile, despotic, unreasoning. [my emphasis] We are not living in a nation where left-wing parties hold eighty out of two hundred seats in a congressional body...This is a huge nation dominated by the most reactionary and violent ruling class in the history of the world, where the majority of the people just simply cannot understand that they are existing on the misery and discomfort of the world." (Blood In My Eye p 71-72)

“The corporative state allows for no genuinely free political opposition. They only allow meaningless gatherings where they can pant more spies than participants. They feel secure in their ability to mold the opinion of a people interested only in wages. However, real revolutionary activity will draw panic-stricken gunfire. Or heart attacks.

“So what is to be done after a revolution has failed? After our enemies have created a conservative mass society based on meaningless electoral politics, spectator sports, and a 3 percent annual rise in purchasing power strictly regulated to negate itself with a corresponding rise in the cost of living. …What can we do with a people who have gone through he authoritarian process and come out sick to the core!!!

“Our overall task is to separate the people from the hated state. They must be made to realize that the interests of the state and the ruling class are one and the same. They must be taught to realize that the present political regime exists only to balance the productive forces within the society in favor of the ruling class. It is at the ruling class and the governing elites, including those of labor, that we must aim our bolts.”

(Blood in My Eye, p 174-5).

"Black capitalism, black against itself. The silliest contradiction in a long train of spineless, mindless contradictions. Another painless, ultimate remedy: be a better fascist than the fascist. Bill Cosby, acting out the establishment agent -- what message was this soul brother conveying to our children? I Spy [the sixties TV program where he played a CIA agent's subordinate] was certainly programmed to a child's mentality. This running dog in the company of a fascist with a cause, a flunky's flunky, was transmitting the credo of the slave to our youth, the mod version of the old house nigger. We can never learn to trust as long as we have them. They are as much a part of the repression, more even than the real live rat-informer-pig. Aren't they telling our kids that it is romantic to be a running dog? The kids are so hungry to see the black male do some shooting and throw some hands that they can't help themselves from identifying with the quislings. So first they turn us against ourselves, precluding all possibility of trust, then fascism takes any latent divisible forces and develops them into divisions in fact: racism, nationalism, religions."

“So what’s happening with a guy who says he is for us but not against the government? Or one who says he’s for us and against all whites – except the ones who may kick his ass? There is a great deal of cowardice and treachery and confusion here. The black bourgeoisie (pseudo-bourgeoisie), the right reverends, the militant opportunists, have left us in a quandary, rendered us impotent. How ridiculous we must seem to the rest of the black world when we beg the government to investigate their own protective agencies. Aren’t the wild hip-shooting pigs loose among us to protect the property rights of the people who formed the government? “

"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.”

“The capitalist Eden fits my description of hell. To destroy it will require cooperation and communication between our related parts; communion between colony and colony, nation and nation. The common bond will be the desire to humble the oppressor, the need to destroy capitalist man and his terrible, ugly machine. If there were any differences between us in the black colony and the peoples of other colonies across the country, around the world, we should be willing to forget them in the desperate need for coordination against Amerikan fascism.

“We must accept the spirit of the true internationalism called for by Comrade Che Guevara….We need allies, we have a powerful enemy who cannot be defeated without an allied effort! The enemy at present is the capitalist system and its supporters. Our prime interest is to destroy them. Anyone else with this same interest must be embraced, we must work with, beside, through, over, under anyone, regardless of his or her external physical features, whose aim is the same as ours in this. Capitalism must be destroyed, and after it is destroyed, if we find we still have problems, we’ll work them out. That is the nature of life, struggle, permanent revolution; that is the situation we were born into. There are other peoples on this earth. In denying their existence and turning inward in our misery and accepting any form of racism we are taking on the characteristic of our enemy. We are resigning ourselves to defeat. For in forming a conspiracy aimed at the destruction of the system that holds us all in the throes of a desperate insecurity we must have coordinating elements connecting us and our moves to the moves of the other colonies, the African colonies, those in Asia and Latin Amerika, in Appalachia and the south-western bean fields.

“We must establish a true internationalism with other anticolonial peoples. Then we will be on the road of the true revolutionary. Only then can we expect to seize the power that is rightfully ours, the power to control the circumstances of our day-to-day lives.

“The fascist must expand to live. Consequently, he had pushed his frontiers to the farthest lands and peoples. This is an aspect of his being, an ungovernable compulsion. This perverted mechanical monster suffers from a disease that forces him to build ugly things and destroy beauty wherever he finds it.

“We must fall on our enemies, the enemies of all righteousness, with a ruthless relentless will to win! History sweeps on, we must not let it escape our influence this time!!!!”

(Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, p 202-204, Bantam Ed., pub. 10/70)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Emerge: 7 Women, 7 Stools

Though playwright Lady Kitty Griffin says her work was inspired by Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls, Griffin takes a fresh look at women's stories, as her 7 Women sing, dance and talk us though some of the more difficult moments like a cancer or HIV diagnosis, a daughter's addiction, a child's rape, an abused wife and child, a star crossed lover. Music opens the door on other lives in the brownstone and perhaps in the neighborhood.

Eve Ensler also came to mind, but nope the only similarities are the stools and the women and the fact that these are also oft unheard stories, stories of sorrow and triumph. Certainly there are consequences and Griffin and co-writer, Delilah Rashell do not sugarcoat the irreversible effects of some of these fatal moves, but despite all of this one finds herself rooting for the home team--those seven women--often seated so they don't fall. We want them to pull through: the housewife, the hustler, the cancer patient, the grandmother, the college student, and the preacher's wife.

Black Rep was full, not an easy feat Saturday night, a busy night in the San Francisco Bay Area. The beautiful people were out, gorgeous black women who waving lands above their heads stood in the audience, especially during the second Act and praised the lord. Highly participatory Lady Kitty invited us to stand clap, sing and testify.

One knows she's died and gone to the Cabin in the Sky when a white actress sings "Amazing Grace," amazingly. It works so well thematically as the college student has some hard decisions to make. I appreciated the line: One shouldn't make permanent decisions based on a temporary issue. Keep an eye out; the producers would like to bring the play back to the SF Bay for a longer run.

This is not a children's play, although I saw a lot of kids in the audience.

Visit: www.emergetheplay.com

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rally in Sacramento and Legislative Hearing on the CA Prison System re: the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike

Prisoners throughout the California prison system report that the hunger strike is only suspended, not ended. Please join us in Sacramento next Tuesday, August 23, to support the human rights demands of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers.

Public pressure has resulted in a legislative hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee on conditions in California state prison Security Housing Units (SHU). The Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition is mobilizing statewide to pack the hearing room and guarantee that prisoners and their families will be heard.

Carpools will leave the Bay Area from West Oakland BART at two times:
7:30am for people who want to participate in legislative visits
9:30am to attend the rally and public hearing

For more information call Manuel at 415.637.8195 or Linda at 510.219.0297, or go to the website of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

We'll see you in Sacramento! Thank you for your support.

Seven Guitars Reflection

Tuesday, August 16, 2011, was the opening of August Wilson's play, "Seven Guitars," directed by Kent Gash, at the Marin Theatre Company." I hadn't seen the play in about 15 years. Wilson was alive then and he was work-shopping his latest (play five in the eventual ten-play cycle) at ACT-SF with Lorraine Hansberry in a co-production. At that time, Steven Anthony Jones, now Artistic Director of Lorraine Hansberry, was King Hedley.

After so long an intermission, MTC's "Seven Guitars" felt like a new play. I am so happy Wilson's Century is in a bound set, so I can easily read my way through "Seven Guitars," which I liked for its opening scene, the repast after a funeral.

Its themes are so timely. I didn't recall all the Garvey references or the references to Jim Crow and black on black violence as a result of the impotence black men feel regarding their inability to change their circumstances. It is a violent play, not just physically--"Seven Guitars" suggests a spiritual violence carried like an unborn child--violence a part of the umbilical fluid.

There are also lots of symbols and rituals--lots of blood sacrifice--lots of chickens. A rooster's head is chopped off on stage. The only problem is I don't know whom the rooster is sacrificed to or to what end, unless it is to wealth and prosperity. If this is the god--then as with all things there is a price.

Does Floyd trade or sell his soul to the devil? What is wrong with wanting to do better economically? Why must prosperity threaten black lives?

There is a prayer said, medicinal herbs planted--Golden Seal, a great antibiotic. There is a tension between folk medicine or herbal remedies and drugs. actress Margo Hall's character "Louise" extols the virtues of modernity, from medicine to alarm clocks. She says "away with the golden seal and roosters," and suggests her neighbor Hedley (actor Charles Branklyn) go to the sanitarium because "they are letting black people in now (to cure TB)." The pros and cons connected to weaponry--knives vs. pistols are also discussed by actor L. Peter Callendar's "Red Carter" who favors a pistol to actor Marc Damon Johnson's "Canewell" who prefers a knife.

The two worlds cannot exist side by side, rather one has to dominate or cast the other out. Red pours libations to the dead before drinking from his friend's flask, and there is a pregnant virgin, a man, instead of a woman. He doesn't know her state, and accepts the child she is carrying as his own. I remember someone saying they are wearing their shoes backward--

August Wilson's Seven Guitars is seeped with themes from the Black Holocaust or Maafa. There is a sense of blindness here, the kind where like Oedipus, we put out our own eyes or vision because we don't want to see, not because we can't. Actor Tobie Windham's "Floyd 'Schoolboy' Barton," the story's protagonist, is a young man who can't read but is full of life and dreams. Floyd is destined for tragedy perhaps because he is so gifted, such a treasure. The character "King Hedley" warns him or warns us, but no one saves Floyd. Is the message here that our bold bright children in harms way cannot be saved--even when we have a running start?

Floyd doesn't listen and ignores warning signs, but then I think Floyd the way Windham plays him, is also innocent and vulnerable. Kids don't listen to elders. Floyd is no exception. The youth have to fall down a few times first. The only problem is for most young black men, once they fall, they don't rise again.

When there is racism the rules are fluid and unclear. How can Floyd know from moment to moment how to avoid society's traps and then it isn't the expected enemy that gets him in the end--it is one of his own.

"Seven Guitars" also speaks to trust; how can we trust each other? Why should we trust each other? Guns are pulled on friends. Friends kill each other in drunken brawls. Blood is so close to the surface.

I wonder why Wilson named this piece "Seven Guitars." Is it for the seven characters, each one an instrument in this symphony orchestra or is it for the seven strings in the instrument: each character a part of the community which is making music or creating life as the cycle of life and death and rebirth continues? No one is independent of the other; without the seven strings there is no guitar, there is no music, there is no life.

I wonder if Linda Tillery, musical director, developed her score with this in mind. There are moments in the work when the music enhances the story--I recall a time when the stage went dark and we heard a harmonica cry. Occasionally the lights play visually with the music going from dim to full stage to spotlights to cascading or rolling lights. The mood created by these two devices is often a visual or aural foreshadowing or enhancement of the action on stage.

Love is a theme as well and the seven strings play each other as they play with each other--a few solos, a refrain or relationships between Floyd and Vera, Ruby and Canewell, Vera and Canewell, Louise and Hedley.

Margo Hall, Shinelle Azoroh, and Omoze Idehenre as August Wilson's women, three in this case, BRING IT! as Hall's more mature "Louise," her niece, "Ruby," the youngster, portrayed by Azoroh, and "Vera," the woman Floyd hurts. Idehenre's Vera, loves her man Floyd after his desertion and return despite her better judgement. Canewell, Floyd's band member, also loves Vera, yet he loves her enough to let her go--such a beautiful moment in the play. How many of us are able to free that which he wants so much to hang on to?

This play is so much about liberation and freedom as it is about finding the moments between pain and sorrow to love and laugh. "Seven Guitars," though the play opens on a repast or meal after a funeral, is anything but sad. It is just one of our stories, one of the many stories black people have lived over the past 100 years documented by Wilson in his ten play cycle.

The company's artistic director, Jasson Minidakis, wanted to try a different approach to Wilson, to interrupt the classical feel to the work--take it out of sitcom or cinema mode and make it more abstract and ethereal. In this way, the work reminded me structurally of MTC's production last season, "In the Red & Brown Water." Just as place was central to this one of Tarell Alvin McCraney's plays, the same is true of Wilson's "Guitars" which takes place in the backyard in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, Wilson's home. ("Red and Brown," New Orleans's references, McCraney's home).

"Red & Brown" is the first story in McCraney's loosely knit trilogy, "Guitars" a linchpin in the loosely connected stories that proceeded it and follow, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," which looks at the Chicago music industry and its exploitation or attempted exploitation of Ma Rainey, and King Hedley II, the story that looks at what happens when the unborn baby grows up.

"Seven Guitars" is up through Sept. 4, 2011 (now Sept. 11, 2011) at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Vallery, CA, (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy Birthday Marcus Garvey!

Today on Wanda's Picks Radio Show," we honored the memory of the first Pan Africanist, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Born in St.Anne’s Bay, Jamaica, August 17, 1887, Garvey is a treasure whom black people world wide do not know. Opening with a recorded speech where Garvey talks about his organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). When I think about what is wrong in the world, more specifically the ills plaguing black communities, the poorer and less developed areas in one of the richest nations in the world, it is the absence of this historic lesson Garvey stood for and continues to stand for, that makes the remedy so expensive when folk-medicine is a surer and more effective cure.

Our kids don’t do better, because they don’t know any better, nor do their parents. We have multiple generations who are as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad stated, “dead to the knowledge of self.” If one doesn’t know oneself Garvey says he or she will continue to be duped. It is not by chance that we are not prospering. It is not a surprise that all resistance is being squashed whether it is in Britain or in East Oakland.

In 1921 Garvey spoke of a New Negro, decades later African in America speak of a New Afrikan and a Republic of New Africa.

Garvey says: “That we suffer so much today under whatsoever flag we live is proof positive that constitutions and laws, when framed by the early advocates of human liberty, never included and were never intended for us as a people. It is only a question of sheer accident that we happen to be fellow citizens today with the descendants of those who, through their advocacy, laid the foundation for human rights.

“The white man has succeeded in subduing the world by forcing everybody to think his way. The white man’s propaganda has made him the master of the world. And those who have come in contact with it and accepted it have become his slaves.

“They subjugate first, if the weaker peoples will stand for it; then exploit, and if they will not stand for SUBJUGATION nor EXPLOITATION, the other recourse is EXTERMINATION”

“Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.”

See http://africanamericanquotes.org/marcus-garvey.html
For recorded speeches of Garvey visit: http://www.international.ucla.edu/africa/mgpp/sound.asp
For the radio show broadcast: Visit www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org (August 17, 2011)
More scholarly work: http://www.international.ucla.edu/africa/mgpp/lifeintr.asp

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Pelican Bay Haiku by devorah major

Notes on Torture & Survival

six feet by ten feet
wider than a lead coffin
no natural light

sometimes only darkness
a punishment for surviving
so many shades of black

or weeks of light bulb
days have no rhythm but howls
torture knows no clocks

twenty three hours
every day alone boxed
one hour to breathe wind

will a cloud drift by
a patch of summer blue sky
a black bird’s feather

perhaps tomorrow
arc of sun will show itself
kiss your skin golden

Wanda's Picks Special: Blacks on Bikes

Nelson Vails, Olympian Silver Medalist and Anthony Taylor, Vice President of the National Brotherhood of Cyclists, join us on the air before they head to Oakland for the AUG. 4 to 7, 2011 for the Major Taylor Cycling Summit, San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area at the Marriott Hotel. We speak for almost an hour about the history of blacks on bikes in this country & Marshall W. "Major" Taylor a little known pioneer in the sport in 1899. It takes Vails, 110 years later to bring the notion or connection between blacks and bikes, blacks and the environment, blacks and healthy living, full circle. Vails will give a keynote address: "Nelson “Unveiled. 'Life in the Fast Lane: America’s First Ambassador of Cycling.'" Major Taylor died relatively unknown at the age of 53 in Chicago. Later his remains were exhumed and he was given a proper burial in a more prominent area of the Mt. Glenwood Cemetery. Anthony Taylor says he made a pilgrimage to Chicago. I forgot to ask about the "Taylor" surname--any relation (smile). The connection while obvious is even more remarkable when one learns that Major Taylor is the inspiration for NBC's founding in 2008, the same year the first statue for a person of color was unveiled in Major Taylor's Worchester, Mass., home (May 28). Nelson Vails was present at this great event. Listen to the program at http://www.majortaylorassociation.org/events/2008may21.shtml Visit http://www.thenbc.org/Summit2011

Kenny Hawkins joins us to talk about his "Groovin’ Deep Project's upcoming concert this weekend, August 6, 2011, 6:30-10:30 PM at Cerruti Cellars at 100 Webster Street @ Embarcadero West Oakland, CA. The ensemble features: Michael Parsons on piano, Jeff Chambers on bass, Leon Joyce on drums and Kenny Hawkins on sax and flute along with special guest vocalists Nicolas Bearde and Terrie Odabie.