Eddie Conway Talks Indigenous People’s Day and Political Prisoners

TRNN Replay: Eddie Conway, Real News host and producer, talks about his perspective of “Thanksgiving” as a former political prisoner and current community activist.

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Story Transcript

JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

Today we’re going to talk with our resident host and producer, and political leader, Eddie Conway, formerly a member of the Black Panther Party here in Baltimore, a political prisoner of more than 44 years, to talk a little bit about what this time of year, this holiday season known popularly as Thanksgiving means to him and to the struggle he represents. Eddie, welcome back to the Real News.

EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN: Thank you.

BALL: So as I said there in the intro, we did want to talk with you about this being the so-called Thanksgiving holiday season. From your perspective, and your political analysis and experience and the current work you’re involved in now, what does this season mean to you?

CONWAY: Well, I understand how families have the need to get together and to celebrate. But actually it’s really a hypocritical season, a holiday. Thanksgiving of course is supposed to represent the native, the indigenous people actually welcoming the settlers, the pilgrims, et cetera, opening their land, opening their space in their homes to people that eventually massacred them and practiced genocide on them and their, their children and their children’s children. Today there are probably on the reservations the highest rate of suicides of any young people in America. And yet the American population see this as a festive kind of thing, to celebrate the relationship, and the relationship has been horrible.

BALL: You know, this week there’s going to be a protest outside the White House looking to use this time of year to remind people of the plight of Leonard Peltier, the indigenous activist, member of the American Indian movement who’s been incarcerated somewhere–nearly as long as you were.

CONWAY: Since ’76, I believe.

BALL: Yes, since about ’76. Also looking to make this point. There seems to be this massive contradiction between this whole holiday season where we’re constantly encouraged to recognize or to consider a need to share and to be communal with family and loved ones, and even to forgive. And yet we still have the existence of political prisoners like Peltier. We still have the inequality that you deal with almost on a daily basis here in Baltimore. How would you think that, that–how would you think that people could use this time to, to reflect on what’s really going on, or [wouldn’t it be] about the direction this country is headed in, or the world is headed in? What, maybe, could this time be more appropriately–or how are you using this season to more appropriately politicize the people with whom you work, or the loved ones with whom you engage?

CONWAY: I think it’s always important to try to reach into the community, and work with people in the community. And I–this season, or any other season or any other day of the year, I think people need to start engaging back in the community. They need to build the community again, and they need to build the community based on telling people, you know, their history. Letting them understand exactly what happens and how they play a role in their future, so that they can actually stand up, empower themselves, and maybe change this. If you look at indigenous population, that population was not only about peace and love, but it was also about taking care of the earth. It was also about being a welcome society. The very opposite of what we find today in America in its, the way it deals with the world. The way it deals with even pilgrims, or refugees.

And so this is, this is something that we can teach people. Young people and old people down in the community. But we need to teach them by actually being down there with them and building a better community.

BALL: What do, what is this holiday season like for those who are currently incarcerated? What is Thanksgiving like for those who are in prison, as you were for so many years?

CONWAY: It’s the worst for political prisoners, because political prisoners have a sense of consciousness and they know about the hypocrisy. But it’s also bad, it’s the one time that you might get a fairly decent meal, but it’s also the one time that you realize, and it is a depressing time, because you realize that you’re separated from your family and you’re separated from your loved ones. And although they are having that celebration and you might get a slice of turkey, in most cases processed, you are not part of that family. And you’re not part of that celebration. And that hits home. Christmas, Thanksgiving, various holidays like that. You know, and you have more depressed people in the prison system during that period than any other period of the year.

BALL: Very last thing, I know you’ve somewhat touched on this already. But there’s, obviously there’s a movement in this country and actually around the world that supports recognizing this time of year as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as opposed to Thanksgiving. How do you approach not only the day itself, but that, that labeling? And do you infuse that in your own work? Do you encourage people to address this holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

CONWAY: Yes. I do that, and it’s the same way I also always refer to Columbus Day as Mass Murderers’ Day. And I try to educate and let people know exactly what this means, and what it represents, and the impact that this whole, the hypocrisy of the holiday had on indigenous people. Not only here in America, but around the world.

BALL: Well, Eddie Conway, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News.

CONWAY: Thanks for having me.

BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. Again, for all involved I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore saying as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.