For over a year there has been a lull in publishing New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) newsletters and responses to prisoner correspondence. Consequently many prisoners have been asking what we’re presently doing. There have also been various requests to know our founding history and for more clarity on our strategy with regard, and how it relates, to larger political goals.
Since these issues correlate, we will address them together in this paper, beginning with our prison related work.
Prisons as Liberation Schools
The goal of our Party is to unite the world’s oppressed Black people to play a leading role in overthrowing capitalist imperialism and ending racism and sexist oppression and all oppression. The overall strategy is to build a revolutionary united front led by the international proletariat.
Our immediate strategy is to transform the razor wire plantations (prisons) into schools of liberation and the oppressed communities (slums and shantytowns) into base areas of cultural, social and political revolution.
About half of the world’s 9 ½ million prisoners are Black and 1/4 of the 9 ½ million are here in the US. Brown prisoners constitute the next largest number of the world’s imprisoned. Overall White prisoners are a minority, but it is essential to divide one into two and unite all we can to align with the Party and to support the Black liberation struggle.
The primary responsibility for doing this falls on the White Panther Organization (for organizing White prisoners), the Brown Panther Organization (for organizing Brown prisoners) and the Black members of the Party for organizing Black prisoners. But all Panthers (Black, Brown and White) must wholeheartedly uphold the Party’s line and work to advance the Party’s strategy and program.
In building forces to overthrow white supremacy and racism it is imperative that we win over white prisoners. Although we know it won’t be possible to influence or enlist the support of all white prisoners, the hard core racial reactionaries will have to be isolated and defeated. To do this the WPO comrades will need the full support of the Black and Brown prisoners.
Prisons (especially in the US) are a center of racial polarization and recruitment by white racist groups, who derive their strength from dividing the prisoner population based on color. They recruit through fear.
We must effect a repolarization based on class solidarity, not color or gang affiliation.
All prisoners belong to the same oppressed class, so potentially we can create 100% unity. But this isn’t likely. What is more likely is that there will be die hard racists (and their counterparts among Blacks and Browns) who will have to be suppressed by the majority to neutralize their influence.
As the recent history-making wave of united prisoner work and hunger strikes have demonstrated, the only power prisoners have is based on unity, which confirms the party’s own position articulated in years past1. And as we’ve also recognized and these struggles have revealed, just as with worker’s strikes and struggles, the enemy will go all out to prevent unity from forming and busting it up when it does. So we must be educated and organized to recognize and counter these divide and rule games.
There will be inducements to be a scab and a rat, and there will be provocations and agents provocateur. The masses must distinguish real friends from real enemies and isolate and suppress the enemies.
Many will have to struggle through deeply ingrained prejudice, who can in turn help others do it.
By the same token some of our best WPO organizers are and will be former white supremacists.
As the recent prisoner strikes have also demonstrated when prisoners get their shit together, masses outside of prison will support and be inspired by it.
We must expose as a lie the notion that people can’t / won’t change. Indeed we have proven over and over that through revolutionary education and struggle the most backward and reactionary of people can be won over to become selfless whole-hearted servants of the people.
In this context the personal is political, and ultimately we must all choose to be a part of the solution or part of the problem. Our aim is to win prisoners from a criminal to a revolutionary proletarian worldview, raising their consciousness with an education in revolutionary theory, history, politics and culture, and fortifying their education through practical struggle.
Overall prisoners have to see and clearly understand what they are working towards. A tree gives off seeds (acorns, nuts, pine cones, fruit, etc.). They don’t all become seedlings and take root. They don’t all survive and grow to maturity, but eventually a single tree brings forth a forest.
Some prisoners will never get out, and they have the role of tenured professors teaching those who will get out (of course things can change and some who seem condemned for life may see the prison doors open for them too). But over 90% of all prisoners will get out. And those who do will have the responsibility to hit the ground in the oppressed communities and get busy. Being thoroughly armed in a theoretical sense and tempered by hard struggle, they should go right to work on the second part of our strategy, linking up with progressive and revolutionary forces in the community and expanding the outside organization.
How We Began, Where We’ve Been
The NABPP-PC developed largely out of comrade Tom Big Warrior’s work with prisoners. He began by corresponding with prisoners because his elder, Chief Sam Gray Wolf, who was in failing health, asked him to take over his prisoner correspondence and to start up a prisoner newsletter, The Red Heart Warrior, which was oriented largely toward the struggle of prisoners around Amerindian spiritual issues. He didn’t begin with any master plan to lead or spark a revolutionary movement. In his own words:
“Years ago, when Chief Sam Gray Wolf asked me to take over his prisoner correspondence, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. What could I say to a brother on Death Row or condemned to spend the rest of his life like a caged animal?
“I quickly learned that these were people I could learn from. Stripped of the things most of us allow to distract us, many of these brothers have done a lot of thinking and soul searching. Seeing others destroyed, they search for their inner strength of character to survive and stay sane.”
But his correspondences were able also to bring revolutionary theory and vision to the prisoners. As this developed, Comrade Tom summed up that what was really needed by the prisoners was an organization to show them how to walk the red road of a warrior inside the Prison Industrial Complex, so he started the Red Heart Warrior Society.
Then several New Afrikan/Black prisoners asked him to help set up a similar organization and newsletter for Black prisoners, from which came the Black Brigade (BB) and its newsletter Leviathan (the BB would later develop into the New Afrikan Service Organization2 with its newsletter Serve the People from which evolved the United Panther Movement). Within the BB and another revolutionary nationalist formation called the New Afrikan George Jackson Brigade, I and Comrade Shaka S. Zulu developed a revolutionary faction under the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) advocating the line of “Pantherism”. In 2005 we split from these groups to form the NABPP-PC (originally the NBPP-PC) with our newsletter Right On!
From there we worked to give political leadership to the BB and then the NASO. Within the NABPP-PC we developed the WPO and BPO as arms of the Party to organize and do work among White and Brown prisoners, with their own newsletters The Liberator and Libertad.
Although various critics denounced the idea and sustainability of founding a political Party amongst prisoners, we received overwhelming and enthusiastic support, responses and interest from prisoners across the US. In a matter of only a few months, Comrade Tom received an increasing deluge of mail and Party membership applications (Black, White and Brown) that vastly overshadowed everything he’d received during an entire decade of organizing with the RHWS. He began corresponding with and serving as a political mentor to literally thousands of prisoners, which, along with maintaining our many newsletters, overwhelmed his resources. Also, struggling with his own failing health complicated matters until, as he later wrote to me, “my little one man operation… got totally overwhelmed until everything broke down – my health, my finances and my equipment.”
Few on the outside grasped our strategy and the importance and object of politically organizing and educating prisoners. So Comrade Tom coordinated and facilitated this work with no staff & very little funding. He financed everything principally with his own disability check. He alone did all editing, typing, layout, posting and mailing of the newsletters (cranking out multiple 30 page, information packed issues each month), while also struggling to keep up with an overflow of prisoner mail. And he had to do this on an outmoded home computer that was constantly crashing, forcing him to compile the newsletters in bits and then put them together by hand at his local copyshop.
And he’d already suffered two heart attacks leaving him with 1/2 a heart, multiple major surgeries, and over the decade I’ve known and worked closely with him, he’s been constantly in and out of hospitals and E.R.s in critical condition. Often the moment his condition stabilizes he checks himself out and returns to his political work. His health problems routinely precluded his sitting long hours working at his computer, as he pops nitro like candy to deal with chronic angina attacks.
On top of all this he lives in an area where there are few movement people and because of his health he can’t do a lot of traveling. Yet he still struggles to organize and attend local rallies and various Amerindian ceremonies.
In the face of all these challenges and many naysayers, this comrade’s devotion to this work, political line and edict to serve the people has never once wavered.
Though I’ve never known him to seek recognition nor praise for his efforts, they have none the less earned him broad love and respect throughout the prisons and within grassroots circles where he’s devoted his work and efforts. Our work which he facilitated has resonated deeply within the prisons.
Oftentimes prison censors tried to falsely characterize our literature as “racist”, “gang related” or “likely to cause violence”, which showed the prisoners that it contained powerful ideas that are viewed as a threat they don’t want to accurately identify, and that prisoners have a potential for power most don’t realize and the system fears us gaining awareness of.
Prisoners challenged these obstructions and much of our literature did get through and showed that we are not racist, not gang related and not likely to provoke violence but rather deep thinking and reassessment of values.
This is why books like George Jackson’s Blood On My Eye have been denied and used to validate prisoners as gang members. It’s not gangs they fear but the communist ideas and critical exposures of the capitalist imperialist system that these writings articulate.
Comrade Tom often shared letters he received from other prisoners with me and other leading party comrades. And none of it had anything to do with the fears expressed by the prison censors. They wanted to know about theory, about history, and how to build unity. Many are, as one young brother put it, “hungry and angry for knowledge”. A few examples illustrate the feedback we received. An Afrikan-born young brother who joined us wrote:
“So I thank you again, because as before, the info you have forwarded me has expanded my horizon and perspective. I just hope I never miss any chance however small it may be to serve the cause – Panther Love!”
Another young comrade who was thrown into segregation for siding with a Black Panther prisoner being beaten by guards in the law library, wrote in his application to join WPO:
“…as a white man I have come to be a person that highly hates when someone of the same ethnic background attempts to oppress someone that is of another color. So all intentions in my membership is to stand up against white supremacy and racism. Please contact me when you can. I hope you get this letter. God bless you.”
Another WPO applicant wrote:
“I just got through reading your Part 1 and Part 2 of The White Panther Manifesto (2006), and I like what I have read3. What really interests me is that you’re a white organization saying ‘Power to the People’ instead of ‘White Power’. To me we are all the same.”
A Native brother wrote:
“I am coming to you locked down in one of America’s imperialistic gulags. I am an indigenous male convict from this continent, and I am in dire need of any material or literature to cultivate my revolutionary liberating heart. Please do send me the information on acquiring your newsletter.”
Tom received dozens of letters like this at a time. Prisoners wrote about the thoughtless, antisocial and wasted lives they used to live before they awakened to political consciousness. They wrote about the racist ideas they used to subscribe to and the senseless violence they used to participate in.
In short our literature has the opposite effect of what the pigs allege and the prisoners knew it. We have been regarded as a serious political movement inspiring serious political study and discussion inside the prisons. Party comrades organized prisoner study groups around our literature with much the same results. Many of us have drawn lessons and inspiration from Comrade Tom’s work and example and so should those on the outside of prison who genuinely aspire to see an end to imperialism, racism and oppression of all varieties.
The Struggle Continues
The need of our work will only grow. The prison population is set to continue to grow as the number of unemployed, shutting down of public schools and cost of living rises. This will of course affect the urban Blacks and people of color most, but also poor whites, particularly the youth.
We have seen the power of prisoners united to impact social movements past and present. The prisoner movement of the 1970s, which was greatly impacted by the old Black Panther Party and writings of George Jackson, served as a catalyst for the struggles of oppressed nationalities, the anti-Vietnam movement, and so on.
Although there has been a lull in our comrade’s responding to prisoner correspondence and the distribution of our literature, our work in refining and developing our Party line, organizational structure, strategy and building alliances with outside forces has continued apace. Alongside this, outside comrades and allies have been working to unite Panther groups past and present, and supporters, past members and others under the United Panther Movement umbrella to carry forward the second stage of our strategy in revolutionizing the oppressed communities, and develop the outside Panther Vanguard Party.
Comrades with the Kasama group have committed to collaborate with Comrade Tom and Party comrades to revive our media, and we invite UPM comrades to contribute to this important work and its sustainability.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
- See Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Don’t Shank the Guards: Legal Recourse to Guard’s Brutality, Harassment and Rape (2005); “Kill Yourself: or Liberate Yourself: The Real US imperialist Policy on Gang violence versus the Revolutionary Alternative” (2008) available at rashidmod.com [↩]
- See Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Advancing From the Black Brigade to the New Afrikan Service Organization” (2007), available at rashidmod.com [↩]
- Prisoners can obtain free copies of The White Panther Manifesto from South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, PO Box 721, Homewood, IL 60430 [↩]