The Politics and Art of a New Afrikan Black Panther: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson
Tom Big Warrior Watts, activist and editor of Rising Sun Press, discusses the new book Panther Vision from political prisoner Kevin “Rashid” Johnson
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
We’re going to talk in this segment with Tom Big Warrior Watts, who is editor of Rising Sun Press, about a new book he has been involved with and wrote an afterword for, and for which I wrote an introduction. And it’s called Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin Rashid Johnson, Minister of Defense for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter. So Tom, welcome to the Real News. Thanks for joining us.
TOM WATTS: Greetings.
BALL: So Tom, if you would, just if–for those who may not be familiar, say a word or two about who you are and your experience with political prisoners and prison activism. And then let’s turn to this book about a my-generation, era, political prisoner, or the writings by my generation political prisoner, Kevin Rashid Johnson.
WATTS: Well, I was an original White Panther back in the ’60s. And since then been involved with all kinds of organizing. But back in the ’90s–I’m also mixed European-Lenape ancestry, and my Lenape chief asked me if I would take over his prisoner correspondence, because he was in failing health. And I did, and I started a newsletter. And by the year 2000 I decided what we really needed to do was create a warrior society in the prisons, which we did, called the Red Heart Warrior Society. And there were, you know, some of the members were also black. And thought it would be a good idea if we started a parallel Warrior Society for African-Americans, and began which was called the Black [inaud.].
And then out of that grew the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter, as a faction within. And then, you know, kind of emerged and became the center and the vanguard of what we were doing.
BALL: So tell us if you would, help us understand a little bit about who Kevin Rashid Johnson is, and how you came to, or how he came to his New Afrikan Black Panther Party consciousness, and then a little bit about what he’s written in this book, and the art that people are looking at as they’re watching this segment, which is clearly, obviously in the tradition of Emory Douglas and the original Black Panther Party. But stylized and updated, if folks will, with Kevin’s generational input.
WATTS: Rashid was one of the, the original members of the Red Heart Warriors Society. And his artwork, what’s amazing about it is he does it with a regular, you know, ballpoint pen. But not, they don’t let him have a whole pen. He gets the refill. So he has to hold that little point, and you know, he makes those incredibly detailed pictures, which shows a little bit about the discipline that the guy has.
BALL: Well, his artistic discipline is matched clearly by his political and philosophical discipline. If you would say a word or two–.
WATTS: I’ve always been amazed with Rashid. I mean, he’s the kind of person, you never have to explain anything twice with him. He’s like, his mind just grasps everything as quickly as it comes out.
BALL: So let’s talk a little bit about those politics and that philosophy. This New Afrikan Black Panther Party, which we would want to distinguish from the New Black Panther Party. This is not the same organization. The New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter that Rashid is a seminal member of has its own politics and consciousness and political legacy, so to speak. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
WATTS: Well, the New African Black Panther Party is really a continuation of the original Black Panther Party, and in particular a continuation of the Black Panther Party Prison Chapter that was led by George Jackson. And that was the starting point. And it, you know, it’s evolved [along] since then. But the, there’s a lot of parallels to the original Black Panther Party, particularly the interplay between Rashid and Shaka Zulu, the interplay between Huey and Bobby Seale–.
BALL: And we should let folks know that Shaka Zulu is another co-founder along with Kevin Rashid Johnson of this New Afrikan Black Panther Party chapter. Prison chapter.
WATTS: Shaka is the chairman, and Rashid is the minister of defense. And also the chief theoretician.
BALL: So this interplay, as you say, that is akin to the interplay that existed once upon a time between Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, tell us a little bit more about that politically, in terms of what their ideas are or how they’re looking to deploy those ideas today, especially given the political climate that we find ourselves in. Not a lot of people are talking about these ideas, popularly, at least. There’s a difficult media environment to crack with these kinds of ideas. But tell us a little bit about what ideas they’re dealing with and what they’re advocating, and how you’d like to see this play out should their politics take hold, as they and others would like to see happen.
WATTS: Well, the mentors of Rashid and Shaka were really guys that had been original Black Panther Party members. People like Samuel Angel Coley, who has since passed, who were imprisoned during the ’60s and ’70s, and you know, were just left on ice. But being on ice kind of preserved their political, ideological, political line. A lot of the counterinsurgency stuff, particularly, you know, “pork chop” nationalism and stuff that has been heaped onto the black movement since the demise of the Panther Party, didn’t really have that deep an effect on them and they were able to like, sweep that away and get back to what Huey was talking about in 1970, revolutionary intercommunalism.
BALL: Well, Tom Big Warrior Watts, we appreciate you joining us for this all but too brief segment on Kevin Rashid Johnson. We know that people will appreciate the art in this new book, Panther Vision. We appreciate your contribution to it, and for coming on the Real News to talk with us a little bit about it.
WATTS: Thanks for calling me, and I hope everybody goes out and gets a copy, because it’s I think the most important book that’s been written in a decade or more.
BALL: All right. And thank you at home for watching here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball in Baltimore saying, 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.
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