Editors Note: This article was originally written in 2019. Since the time of this articles publishing, the status of a few of these honorable elders has changed. Jalil Muntaquim was released from prison on October 7, 2020. He continues his work as a freedom fighter with the Spirit of Mandela Tribunal. Russell Maroon Shoatz was granted “compassionate release” on October 26, 2021 and died less than two months later at the age of 78. Sundiata Acoli was granted parole in May of 2022 at the age of 85. Dr. Mutulu Shakur was granted “compassionate” release a day before Veterans Day of 2022 (Nov. 10). Dr. Shakur has been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.
There was no war bloodier or more destructive in the history of mankind than World World One. So, on June 4th, 1926, following many nations agreeing that such devastation can never happen again, the United States Congress passed a resolution establishing November 11th as Armistice Day. The intent of Armistice Day (soon to become Veterans Day) was to highlight the “day the fighting stopped” (in 1918) and, as President Calvin Coolridge stated in his Proclamation, to “commemorate with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations”.
However, following World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a Proclamation that changed the designation of November 11th from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Eisenhower said:
“I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
Whatever Eisenhower’s motivation, November 11th becoming “Veteran’s Day” has since stopped being about peace and has morphed into honoring the US military, glorifying wars, and upholding the military-industrial complex. The zealous praise of Veterans, despite the US military’s brutal history, is often accompanied by propaganda such as, “they gave their lives for our freedoms” and “they fought for justice”. Yet, that is the opposite of the function of the US military, which maneuvers globally as the world’s police.
When I hear, “They gave their lives for our freedoms” or “they fought for justice”, I attribute that to Black revolutionaries who are now imprisoned, exiled, or dead because of their involvement in the struggle for Black Liberation. When we think about the Veterans of Black America (New Afrika), none were more militant than The Black Liberation Army (BLA).
Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, social upheavals of the late 1960s showed a failure in real systemic changes of conditions that plagued Black communities (urban and rural) across the US. In the 1970s, as a response to the unheard cries and ignored protests, Black militant groups formed. Organized and politically educated under Marxist theorists, people’s armies formed to respond to state repression with community policing and retaliatory violence.
Originally called the African-American Liberation Party, The BLA was an underground internationalist Black militant organization that operated in armed struggle in the US from 1970 to 1981. The organization was composed entirely of former and active Black Panther Party members (most with a US military background) who saw real resistance against systematic oppression and neocolonialism as a “war against the United States”. The BLA took up arms for the liberation and self-determination of Black people in the US (and globally).
BLA established a principled form of community policing that counteracted the rampant police brutality and the never-prosecuted killings of Black civilians. In spite of state repression, the BLA still received much communal support for their underground armed struggle. It was the community members who housed, clothed, and fed BLA members while they were “on the run” (similar to how we understand the Underground railroad to have functioned). Unfortunately, neoliberalism began to achieve political prominence (through individual Black success stories), and many opted for liberating from an inherently broken colonial system through the polls instead of “through the gun”— establishing real power by implementing organized struggle against the ruling class.
Two generations later, the same systematic oppressions that enraged the BLA to act, especially the killings of unarmed Black civilians, have returned to the headlines. Once again we are confronted with no resolve or justice for the harm done to our communities. While there were Black uprisings across the nation between 2014- 2016, most notably in Ferguson, Missouri, public reaction has been largely devoid of the kind of anti-colonial-based armed struggle we saw in the 1970s from organizations like the BLA.
One of the more prominent reasons for the differences in response to state-sanctioned deaths of our people is the countless political prisoners who were once a part of or associated with the BLA. Some use the existence of political prisoners as proof of BLA’s failed ideological beliefs, which plays right into the intentions of COINTELPRO, the FBI, and local police departments, who destroyed all semblance of Black liberation movements of that era.
What the BLA exemplified, as a people’s army, was the necessity to strive for the abolition of oppressive systems. They did so by pushing for the institution of “socialistic relationships” in which Black people (New Afrikans) have total and absolute control over their own destiny as a people. They understood, as Frantz Fanon did in The Wretched of the Earth, that abolishing systems of oppression (and by extension, decolonizing) meant utilizing class struggle and guerilla warfare in service of Black liberation.
Furthermore, what the BLA sought to do as a people’s army can be noted in how we analyze what has just occurred in Bolivia. Although the BLA was a clandestine guerilla force operating within the imperialist metropole, as colonized people within the US (New Afrikans) we share an unbreakable bond with the Indigenous people of Bolivia.
In the mass struggle for a new democracy to suppress bureaucratic capitalist forces, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, Evo Morales, was recently forced out of presidency following his recent election via a coup d’etat with the help of US interference via the Organization of American States (OAS) and claims of fraud with no concrete evidence. Despite all of the significant progress Morales has brought to Bolivia through principled anti-imperialist policies that prioritized the most marginalized of the nation to preserve centuries of culture, there was still a return to the old apparatus state.
The coup is undoubtedly horrific for the people of Bolivia who are now and will continue to be vulnerable to new forms of imperialist terror. However, we must examine how this will affect the global socialist movement, at large. Objectively, this represents a strengthening of imperialist forces which are our primary enemies. Imperialism and colonialism are not secondary issues to our struggles here in Black America (New Afrika) as made evident by Trump’s recent call for a “surge” of militarized police forces, strengthening the existence of the Congressional Black Caucus approved 1033 program which places militarized weapons in our local police forces.
We are a people under attack. The self-defense of a people against attack is not a right, but a necessity. While liberals embedded in a ruling class system of racism, fascism, and imperialism push for pacifism, the fact remains that the opposite of resistance is accommodation. What we are now faced with, in these times of democratic fascism, are the questions presented by Fanon through his writing. Liberation fighters across the world are responding in mass. How will we?
These Black Liberation Army members listed below remain locked behind prison walls. Thank them for their service this Veterans Day!
BIRTHDAY: August 8, 1950
Mutulu Shakur 83205-012
DB UNIT, CELL 214
FLORENCE, CO. 81226-8500
BIRTHDAY: January 14, 1937
Sundiata Acoli #39794-066 (Squire)
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. BOX 1000
Cumberland, MD 21501
BIRTHDAY: October 18, 1951
On the envelope: Anthony Bottom
Sullivan Correctional Facility
PO Box 116
Fallsburg, NY 12733-0166
Kojo Bomani Sababu
BIRTHDAY: May 27, 1953
Kojo Bomani Sababu
P.O. Box 300
Waymart, PA 18472
BIRTHDAY: February 18, 1953
Mr. Freddie Hilton, a/k/a Kamau Sadiki
Augusta State Medical Prison
3001 Gordon Highway
Grovetown, GA 30813
Russel ‘Maroon’ Shoatz
BIRTHDAY: Aug 23, 1941
Smart Connections/PA DOC
Russell Shoats #AF-3855 SCI-Fayette
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, FL 33733
What’s the call? Free ‘Em All!!