We look at a new mixtape on the Black Panther George Jackson and an update on the crisis in the Dominican Republic.
BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African, we’ll look at a new mixtape on Black Panther George Jackson. We’ll also give an update on mass deportations in the Dominican Republic. That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us, and don’t go anywhere.
On January 12, 1960, George Jackson was sentenced to one year to life for a $70 gas station robbery. He would go on to serve 11 years and seven months, with most of that under solitary confinement. A Black Panther and committed revolutionary, Jackson was devoted to the cause of black liberation, speaking out against capitalism and U.S. imperialism, and wrote the influential texts Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye. Paying homage to Jackson and his legacy, a group of local artists put together a mixtape entitled Releasing the Dragon, a tribute to George Jackson and Black August. We’ll talk with the creators of this project right now. We have Dr. Jared Ball and Bashi Rose. Dr. Jared Ball is, in addition to being a friend, is a multimedia host, producer, journalist, and educator. He is a founder of mixtape radio and mixtape journalism, about which he wrote in I Mix What I Like!: A Mixtape Manifesto from AK Press, and a coeditor of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X. Dr. Ball is an associate professor. And he is also here at The Real News as a producer and journalist. Joining us also is Bashi. Bashi Rose is a cofounder of Nommo Theater/Film. He has produced work at venues including the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, Studio Theater in Washington, D.C., the Schomburg Center in Harlem, the Lafayette Theater in New York, and the San Francisco Black Film Festival. He is also a video editor and producer at The Real News. Gentlemen, welcome. JARED BALL: Thank you. It’s a pleasure. FLETCHER: It’s our pleasure. So let’s talk about our hero. Who was this guy, George Jackson? BALL: Well–go ahead. Yeah. ROSE: [incompr.] field marshal for the Black Panther Party, also one of the founders of the Black Guerrilla Family. FLETCHER: Which was what? ROSE: Which was a prison political organization, radical prison organization that attempted to unify the prisoners who were being oppressed across racial lines. Nineteen-sixty, George Jackson was charged with robbing a gas station and plea bargained for a sentence of a year to life. He expected to get a short sentence. Instead, he ended up doing ten years, with seven years in solitary confinement.
FLETCHER: What inspired this project of yours, and how do you want it used? BALL: This is a powerful moment, as a lot of young people, whether it’s in Black Lives Matter or other formations, are entering into radical political struggle and organization. And people like George and the ideas he worked with–Marxism, anti-colonial, anti-imperialism, internationalism, armed struggle–are all things that I think these activists should be aware of and incorporate in their work, in their analysis. So I think that–and what we’re often left to are, I think, a lot of poor leadership, a lot of fraudulently placed leadership, and a media environment that is not encouraging of real radical thought. So, as George said in his time, in a nonrevolutionary moment, the goal of the revolutionary is to create space for revolution. And I would like to think that these mixtapes and these media presentations and these conversations are part of creating that space and saying it’s okay to think in ways that are not really comfortable, even, or even, certainly, not sanctioned as you start to think about how we’re going to deal with all these problems that seem to get worse and worse and worse by the day. FLETCHER: August 1971. So what happened? ROSE: Supposed prison escape attempt, George Jackson, him and five others, who became San Quentin Six. He was assassinated in a supposed prison escape attempt, body left laying for six hours, apparently handcuffed, even while he was deceased. FLETCHER: Is there any reason to believe that he was trying to escape? BALL: I mean, there’s reason to believe, in the sense that he, in his–even in his own statements, had said he had planned to get out and increase the level of the revolution and the resistance. But there’s also reason to believe that he would have been set up to may have it look like he was trying to escape, as pretense for shooting him, which is in part what the killing of W. L. Nolen and others was part of what inspired him to become known as and them to become known as the Soledad Brothers, that in response to prison guard abuse and pitting populations against one another, and then just shooting them randomly in the yard ,or not so randomly shooting the black prisoners in the yard, led to a lot of the organization and the work that he and his comrades were involved in. So, in terms of what happened on August 21, 1971, it’s hard to say exactly. There is a lot of confusion and I think a lot of–there are a lot of gaps in the story. But at the end of the day, I think it’s clear that he was a threat, he was a problem. So whether he was trying to escape or not, it seemed that he would–it almost feels like his killing in prison was inevitable, that there couldn’t be–it couldn’t allow him to come out one way or another, willingly or not. And even what they had done to his brother the year before, Jonathan, showed that they were not willing to let any form of escape occur, even if it meant killing judges or so-called innocent bystanders. FLETCHER: The Black Panther Party had split. There were certainly certain individuals that might have been able to effect some sort of reunification. He would have been one of them. He was respected by both sides. So I just assume they whacked him. BALL: No, I mean, it certainly makes sense. And when you look at him–and, you know, we did an interview with one of his comrades, David Johnson, who talked about him as the complete soldier in terms of the way he cared for himself physically, the way he studied and built up his intellect, but also the way he planned. And the way it ended up, with him alone in the yard, seems like an odd way to plan an escape for somebody who thought about these things at the level that he did. So without the (pun intended) smoking gun evidence, it’s hard to say, but it certainly stands to reason that you would be correct, as are many others who think that he was just taken out. FLETCHER: How do you avoid, with something like this, something that has become very popular over the last–certainly the last 25 years, of turning individuals into superheroes and individuals who were active in the movement, whether it was Malcolm, Martin, Fred Hampton, whoever, right, Fannie Lou Hamer? All of a sudden they become just larger than life. So how does your work ensure that people understand that this guy was as human as the rest of us? ROSE: One of the things we did: we emphasized his ideas. So we have different individuals reading quotes from Blood in My Eye or Soledad Brother, so focusing more so on his ideas than the idea of George Jackson, and how his ideas are relevant now, rather than making him this, you know, bigger-than-life icon that we can’t relate to or ever live up–or with standards that we can’t ever live up to. BALL: I mean, for me that’s exactly it. I mean, and this does not mean–I don’t mean at all to disrespect anyone as an individual, but for these kinds of projects, what I’m most interested in are those ideas. I’m not even interested in how perfectly an individual applied them or how perfectly someone adhered to their own stated principles. I’m even less interested in that. And I understand the flaws in this, particularly if someone is approaching this as a historian or a scholar, so to speak. But in sort of the context of one who wants to engage in positive propaganda, that’s really all I’m interested in is to say, look, George was whatever he was, but he was grappling with these ideas. And when Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 signed the death warrant for Stanley Tookie Williams, the founder of the Crips, one of the things he pointed out was that he said this man who was up for a peace prize for his good works and his children’s books and all this was not rehabilitated, because as evidence Schwarzenegger cited his reference, his positive reference to George Jackson, among others. But he singled out Jackson. He said specifically because of Jackson’s willingness to engage in what Schwarzenegger dismissed as violence or terrorism, he was saying that Tookie was not rehabilitated and deserving of life. So, for me that is as clear an indictment of the idea of revolution as we’re going to get from the state in saying, if you even think this way or acknowledge these ideas, we will kill you. FLETCHER: You know, what’s interesting about this, in what you’re saying, Jared, while I was listening to both of you, what I started flashing to is the gangster image, see, ’cause, like, you said the thing about Schwarzenegger and the issue of violence, it’s not about violence. They don’t give a damn about the violence. They’ll have as much violence as they can put on a screen, right? And it can be violence carried out by a black person. But these ideas were incredibly potent. And that’s the thing that I–you know, it was hard watching the evolution. And now I know I’m sounding like an old man, but forgive me, alright? It was hard when you watched a development of the prison movement in the 1970s, ’60s and ’70s, and the politicizing of prisoners, black, you know, African-American, Latino, some white, and this idea of it wasn’t about a gangster image, it was about the image of a revolutionary, a radical. And then, as the ’70s moves into the ’80s, it’s like watching a balloon deflate, right, and that whole thing starts to vanish, and this other image emerges, right, and almost becomes, like, a caricature. Now, I know that some younger folks are going to be very upset with me, but [crosstalk] you grew up–what we grew up with. BALL: But–I mean, but we do know, I mean, the counter intelligence program said specifically at that time that there needed to be plans developed to make sure that successive generations did not pick up these ideas. So that’s, again, as close as we’re going to get to a state claiming we want to make sure that we turn this into a caricature, we want to make sure that–so this is why I think the clips that we have in this video mixtape are so important, because George is depicted as someone, as I said before, who was as much concerned about his physical well-being as his intellectual well-being. He was concerned about study and calm. He was quiet and reserved. He was not all rah-rah, running around. You know, Bashi makes this great point that at one point I was saying, man, I wish, you know, some of the readings, I want them to be more–I was like, let’s get more. And Bashi said, well, I think it’s appropriate that the readings we have were done the way they were done, because George was reserved, was calm. He wasn’t this, again, this caricature of what a revolutionary is supposed to be. And I think in some small way, at least, we’ve addressed that in this piece. ROSE: Yeah. A lot of times in popular film, black radicals are portrayed as irresponsible, as loud, anti-intellectual, and that’s the complete opposite. FLETCHER: That’s exactly right. Exactly. So let me just ask you, I guess, as a final question. As an educator, I’m really interested in how this is going to be used. And so (A) I want to know, how do people get it, and then (B) how do they use it once they get it? BALL: I mean, I think that’s a good model. I think the video mixtape can be used a lot of different ways. If it’s run in its entirety, it can be used to show artistically how to demonstrate, how to convey different ideas. It can be used to introduce people to some of these ideas that George was working with. If you take it in parts, you can even use it to show–I mean, we have original rhymes created for George Jackson about George Jackson by hip hop artists and poets. It can be used to show what artists can do with their music if they are so inclined. You don’t have to rhyme and talk only about what we see in commercial media all the time. And I think it can also be used–I’ve already used the drafts I’ve seen just as a backdrop, I mean, because it has beats and people talking over it and rhyming over it and it’s so beautifully edited. Again, Bashi I think did such a good job that just visually you can just sort of lose yourself in it and just let it wash over you in a positive way with all these ideas and all this brilliant radicalism. So I hope that people will take it and gather the way that we’re talking about for the event that we’re doing here or come up with their own ways. It’ll be freely available online for anybody to use in part or in its entirety, and we encourage people to do that. And they can contact us and let us know how they’ve done it, how they’ve used it. FLETCHER: Gentlemen, this has been a pleasure, real pleasure. Thank you very, very much for joining us on The Global African. BALL: Thank you. FLETCHER: Alright. And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment. Don’t go anywhere.
FLETCHER: On a previous episode of The Global African, we explored the policy of mass deportation in the Dominican Republic. Despite the protest of Haitians and condemnation from the global community, the Dominican Republic has continued denying citizenship of those without Dominican ancestry. This has left over 200,000 people stateless. Lener Renauld, Haitian foreign minister, says that the Dominican Republic has been dumping undocumented Haitians at the border like dogs. Director for Amnesty International U.S.A. Marselha Gonçalves Margerin has also shined light on human rights violations such as corruption, racism, and the Dominican Republic’s willingness to break apart families. As we continue to look at the conflict facing these neighboring countries, will the global community hold the Dominican Republic accountable for its human rights violations? That’s what we’re going to explore in this segment. We’re now joined by Lauren Stewart. Lauren Stewart is a current program assistant for the Solidarity Center of the AFL-CIO, where she provides financial management support for the organization. She also regularly visits Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where she focuses on improving labor conditions in the garment sector. Welcome to The Global African. LAUREN STEWART: Thank you so much for having me. FLETCHER: Our pleasure. We wanted to try to take a look at how this story is developing in the Dominican Republic with the deportation of the Haitians. So a few weeks ago, the Haitian government–I mean, excuse me, the Dominican Republic’s government indicated that they were moving forward with deportations. What precisely is happening right now? STEWART: That’s right. So the August 17 deadline or moratorium on deportations has since passed. And so several human rights organizations from the international community have flocked to the border to monitor the situation. And we, too, at the solidarity center are checking in with our union partners and getting their reports from the ground as to what’s going on at the border. Now, there are conflicting reports, but what we hear is that approximately 60,000 to 66,000 people have crossed the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti since around June. The International Organization for Migration recently, in fact, from mid June to the end of July posted itself on the border and monitored activity, and during that span recorded about 4,000 individuals crossing into Haiti. Now, what’s very interesting is that approximately 85 percent of that group reported that they crossed on their own, meaning not forced by the Dominican government, because of the climate of extreme fear that’s been created at the border, both that’s been perpetuated within the media and then also through groups of people wielding machetes and things of that nature, threatening the safety of Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent. And so we’re hearing a lot that people are self-deporting, when really it’s a matter of them fleeing because of the dangers that they face. FLETCHER: So it actually sounds like the Dominican Republic’s government is doing what Donald Trump wants to do in the United States. STEWART: Yes, very much so. FLETCHER: What’s the stand of the trade unions in the Dominican Republic in the face of this? STEWART: So the Dominican trade union movement is actually quite progressive, or the segment that the Solidarity Center works closely with, the Independent Democratic Confederation, is very progressive on this issue. As I’m sure many of your viewers have read, public support and opinion on this matter is split in that some people are really supportive of this decision to begin deportations. However, Dominican unions for the most part are out in front saying that those who have lost their citizenship should have it restored immediately and that the regularization process has been flawed, that it is not fair, and that it is not good enough to force people who were born in the country to apply for citizenship and eventually become naturalized and not have the same rights that they did beforehand. FLETCHER: Are they taking any actions? I mean, they’ve issued statements. Are they taking any actions to put any degree of pressure on the Dominican Republic’s government? STEWART: They sure have, with Solidarity Center support. We have an office on the ground there and a representative that partners with the Dominican labor movement. And three or four of our partners are working together around various advocacy actions. And I’d love to tell you about a few of them. One that was especially successful and helpful to people who are in this crisis right now, the Dominican unions lobbied the Haitian government and asked them to reduce the cost of identity documents that families need in order to apply within this plan so that they can regularize their status. Prior to this advocacy effort, the cost of these documents–even though this process is supposed to be free, there are costs associated with obtaining your identity documents and having them notarized–cost workers in the informal economy, those who are primarily impacted by this decision, approximately two months of wages. And so Dominican unions, after advocating to the Haitian government, were successful in getting them to reduce the cost of those documents from approximately $165 down to about $70, which was very helpful and appreciated by folks. FLETCHER: One of the things that has struck me since, what, since this was first announced in 2014, I think–. STEWART: Twenty-thirteen is the constitutional court ruling that stripped–retroactively stripped citizenship. FLETCHER: Okay. There’s been outrage around the world, but it doesn’t feel like the government of the Dominican Republic is paying any price. STEWART: So there’s been several different forms of diplomacy that have taken place from various sources. For instance, the U.S. government, their strategy is to engage in closed-door diplomacy in hopes of not further flaring the situation. However, our Dominican union partners very much want there to be more pressure, and perhaps in a more public way, because, as you mentioned, it doesn’t seem like the Dominican government is moving off of this. There’s also the CARICOM, which is the reason regional bloc of Caribbean countries that works together to promote economic development and such. They denied the Dominican Republic’s application to this regional bloc. And so they seem to have taken a stance that affects economics, which the Dominican government did not respond well to. But again, as we’re seeing, it’s not led to a reversal of the ruling. However, the pressure from various sources, including the international community, has led the Dominican government likely to extend deadlines and such. But, again, the reversal of the decision has not happened, and that’s even with the inter-American court system demanding that the Dominican government restore citizenship and uphold its international obligations. FLETCHER: I’m trying to understand, when is somebody going to say to the Dominican Republic, if this does not get reversed, there will be XYZ consequences, and they will be really quite devastating? STEWART: Absolutely. Well, the intention that at least has been communicated to U.S.-based human rights groups that have been meeting with the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, their reasoning for this is because the Dominican government is really digging in, and whenever there’s a public attack on its policies, it becomes more recalcitrant and refuses to try to find solutions and participate in dialog with the Haitian government and also the U.S. government. But you’re absolutely right. We haven’t seen the progress that we need to see in such a crisis moment. FLETCHER: Lauren Stewart, thank you very much for joining us for the The Global African. STEWART: Thank you for having me. FLETCHER: And thank you for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time. Take care.