Executive Producer Eddie Conway is featured on a panel about US political prisoners at Red Emmas, an anarchist bookstore in Baltimore City. Conway speaks to the current political climate in the US and offers advice on how to best organize toward the release of US political prisoners
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Rattling the Bars, hosted by former Black Panther and political prisoner Marshall “Eddie” Conway, puts the voices of the people most harmed by our system of mass incarceration at the center of our reporting on the fight to end it.
URUJ SHEIKH: Welcome to the Real News Network. Recently, Executive Producer Eddie Conway was featured on a panel about U.S. political prisoners at Red Emma’s, an anarchist bookstore in Baltimore City. The following is an excerpt of Eddie Conway speaking to the current political climate in the U.S., as well as offering advice on how to best organize towards the release of U.S. political prisoners.
EDDIE CONWAY: I think it’s important to understand that every political prisoner that’s ever got out of prison in the United States of America got out not as a result of a mass movement in the street, but got out as a result of legal actions in the court, and people behind it. I think one of the most important things, especially now in the age of Trump, is to build a strong mass movement to challenge not just what’s happening in the prison, but what’s happening in the street. Because if you can build a strong movement, then you can acquire the kind of funds, and acquire the kind of legal minds as necessary to fight to gain the freedom of people that’s been in prison.
And some of them have been in prison for almost 50 years now. Some of them were in prison — in particular, the Black Panther political prisoners — before I got locked up, and I spent 44 years in prison. And movement after movement after movement, even the movement around Mumia [Abu Jamal] that galvanized almost a million people, that shut down ports in the West Coast and so on, did not have the impact of a strong legal team in front of it.
It’s important, it’s very important, that we build that kind of a movement on the ground among ourselves. Because political prisoners not only are isolated in the prison system and labeled as criminals, but it’s hard for them to survive in the midst of a prison system if there’s no comrades, no education, no support out on the ground. They need that. They need that in order to maintain their spirit, but they need that also to maintain their status.
What I mean by that is that you get people like Leonard Peltier, say for instance. An indigenous political prisoner. He’s been isolated for years. He gets moved around. He’s not recognized. He’s attacked. He’s abused, not just by the guards sometimes, but also put in compromising situations in which he gets hurt by other prisoners. Something similar just happened to Herman Bell, up in New York recently. I got isolated, pulled off by the guards, beaten, and it’s very little that can happen if there’s not a strong network out in the community.
In particular … And I think David makes the point … That it’s really incumbent upon the white community to organize. It’s incumbent upon the white community to push back. Because one of the problems of Trump, beyond Pence, is that the right wing, the white nationalists, the white Nazis, the white fascists, want a race war. That is their only solution. The ruling class supports that. Their only solution is a race war, because the only war they can win is a race war with the backing of the government. They can’t win a class struggle. They can’t even win a civil war. But they can win a race war if they divide and conquer.
And what we have in front of us now — and I’m sure it’s gonna come up, the J20 and other cases — is a lot of people are going to jail now for just protests. A lot more political prisoners are gonna be inside in a minute. Part of that whole attack about protests and whatnot is the same thing that history shows us happened in Nazi Germany. They isolated various people initially in Germany, and I’m talking in the early ’30s. They isolated what they considered the criminal class, and they filled the prisons and the concentration camps up with criminals. And the rest of the people in society said, “Oh, they were breaking the law. Actually, they were selling drugs, too.” Or, “And they’re doing all these things, and yeah, lock them up. It’s okay.” After they did that, they turned against the gay community. They turned against people that was pushing for their gender rights, and they locked them up. And the rest of the society says, “Well, I’m not a criminal. I’m not gay. Let them be locked up.” And they were silent. And they let them be locked up.
Then the next thing happened. They pushed against the left, the socialists, and they said, “I’m not a socialist. I’m not leftist. I’m not a communist. I’m not doing that. Let them lock them up.” And they went down the list, to the union leaders, eventually to the workers, and they intimidated people, and people would let each one of those groups be locked up, without networking, without coming together. And the final results, obviously, is 12 million people murdered. Another 50 million people died in battle. Because nobody said anything when they came for this group, and nobody said anything when they came for that group.
And so it’s important now to start speaking up, and start making your voice heard. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir. I’m hoping I’m preaching to the choir, you know? But make it known that this whole fascist push that’s taken away the social safety network, that’s … A personal peeve that just came to light for me, that’s closing down Gilmor Homes, that’s attacking the black community and gentrifying everything, and leaving vacant spaces throughout our community … That’s an attack, and it’s an attack that’s gonna put — and I don’t want to take up too much time — but it’s an attack that’s gonna put poor people out in suburbia in Section 8 houses with no cars, and no way to maintain their self, and no jobs to come back to, because the transportation won’t allow it.
We have to recognize that this is already in play. And it’s not just white fascists, because there are black fascists, black people working with white fascists. So we need to be aware of this, and we need to start circling the wagon and build the kind of movement that can push this stuff back, or we’re gonna see a lot more David Gilberts. We’re gonna see a lot more J20 defendants. We’re gonna see a lot of people, a lot more people that just stand up and say, “This is wrong,” will end up in the prison system if we don’t organize, network, and build a broad enough base on the ground. But ultimately, it’s got to be about finance, lawyers, in order to get those political prisoners that’s inside, out.