The first book that I read on my book list after I decided to consciously educate myself to be a part of the movement was Sanyika Shakur’s “Monster” in the mid-‘90s. I related to the book, not because I come from street-tribal society of Los Angeles, but because a lot of what he wrote about reminded me of my memories and what I heard about Oakland in the ‘80s.
A year or two later, reading through a rap magazine, I saw Sanyika’s columns, which turned out to be monthly. I was inspired by the sharpness of his ideas, his vocabulary and his grasp on history. I respected the reason he was writing, in the same way that I respected the intellect of Tupac Shakur, another thinker from my generation. I knew that one day I wanted to be able express myself as articulately as the two of them.
It was an honor for me to get a letter from Sanyika Shakur over the summer of ‘11 and be able to do this interview with a souljah in this struggle that I highly respect and that I had gained from without ever meeting.
M.O.I. JR: When you were in the streets gang bangin’, what brought you into political consciousness?
Sanyika Shakur: Well, first of all, before I even go into answering that, I want to give a clenched fisted salute to you as the minister of information (formerly) for the Prisoners of Conscience Committee. You are doing a beautiful job of getting the requisite information out to the people in order to raise consciousness. We all appreciate your work, Brotha.
Yeah, well, when I was a criminal movin’ with the street organization, I had a nascent overstanding about us being essentially one people. I didn’t overstand “nation” then, but I overstood that we were a distinct people. See, I started bangin’ in the mid ‘70s, so the vapors or the residue of the Black Liberation Movement were still palpable. There was still a consciousness there, dig?
And I’m not trying to romanticize it or anything, but we thought we were like the Panthers; I mean that in the sense that we were outlaws. And again, I’m speaking of having a real rudimentary overstanding of politics, as perceived from the mentality of an adolescent.
I’m not trying to romanticize it or anything, but we thought we were like the Panthers; I mean that in the sense that we were outlaws.
I was 11 when I was sponsored in. To me, it was a “Black organization,” dig? And we were armed. Of course we, unlike the Panthers, were criminals and parasites. Though as a youth, not knowing the particulars, it wasn’t no difference.
We were in what George called the “riot stage” of rebellion. Our resistance was lateral within our own class and nation, as opposed to vertically, up against the oppression that held us down. In this way – well, because our activity was detrimental to ourselves, our community and nation – we were allowed to prosper and in some cases encouraged by the pigs. Consciousness, real, political and revolutionary consciousness, came to me much later and in increments over a span of years.
M.O.I. JR: What were some of the books you studied?
Sanyika: When I first came to the kamps in 1985, I couldn’t really read, perhaps on a fifth grade level. I had no real comprehension. And certainly I couldn’t write. See, I need to explain this: In the subculture of bangin’, it wasn’t about being literate or articulate, and it wasn’t about books or academia. It was about action – war – about being physical and macho, dig?
So once I found myself in the hole at San Quentin in 1986, I was stuck because here I was this OG dude, you know, with major street clout and a growing prison rep, but I couldn’t read, comprehend or write. So I had to face that, had to confront that, and either go around, you know, or deny it. Or challenge it and resolve it.
And luckily for me, I had cats around me who were interested in growth and development, on an intellectual level. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I tried to buffalo my way through at first. I tried to fake it, but the Brothas wasn’t letting me off the hook that easy.
So, once I got my reading and comprehension up to par, I started reading what was on the tier – books that were in circulation. I had no funds to order my own books, so I had to read what was available. This was the staple material – “Soledad Brothers,” “Blood in My Eye,” “Wretched of the Earth” – and there was the Burning Spear newspaper of the African Socialist Party.
Once I got my reading and comprehension up to par, I started reading what was on the tier – “Soledad Brothers,” “Blood in My Eye,” “Wretched of the Earth.”
But let me say this, I didn’t really know how to study at that time. I was reading the material and emotionally attaching myself to what I could overstand. I hadn’t yet fully overstood the extent to which I’d need to go in order to transform my criminal, colonial mentality into a revolutionary mentality, dig? That’s a serious point there, because without knowing the extent to which you are contaminated by criminality and colonialism, one will not overstand the extent of struggle required to cleanse, dig?
At that stage, in ‘86 in San Quentin, I just thought revolution was physical violence. I thought we’d only need to gather enough people together in order to get free. I had an ill notion about what we were trying to get free from, and, further, to get free to? That is, I didn’t truly overstand capitalism, imperialism or colonialism. Nor did I overstand self-determination or socialism. I thought we were fighting against racism. I didn’t begin to overstand what was really going on until I learned how to study and then attained the material that corresponded with my reality.
M.O.I. JR: What does being New Afrikan mean to you, and why did you choose this ideology?
Sanyika: This answer flows right from the point I was just making about how to study and then having the corresponding material available to make coherent sense of what one has and is experiencing. See, one thing about colonialism as a method of control and exploitation, it is dynamic and flexible. That is, it is capable of morphing, melding and adapting to most any circumstance. It has to, in order to continue to exist. This has baffled us for years and has allowed our enemies to escape time and time again, as we stumbled blindly around trying to make sense of it. And no sooner do we learn its current shape and form, does it shape shift again and continue on.
Well, when I got to San Quentin in January of ‘86, on the tier was study material from the Black Liberation Movement (BLM), a lot of material from the Black Panther Party, the African People’s Party, the African People’s Socialist Party etc. And as I said, I read it all.
But you see, that material had been written at a particular time to deal with a particular set of circumstances, you dig? The BLM had just caught up to how the enemy had morphed his set of methods on our control from old colonialism – slavery, Jim Crow – to neo-colonialism – civil rights, integration. And of course, this neo-colonialism was being rejected for Black Power – self-determination – by the youthful revolutionaries of that time. These youth were those who brought into existence the organizations I mentioned above.
They identified more with Malcolm and Black Power than with Martin and Negro Civil Rights. Cats were pushing a Nationalist line, recognizing, if only rudimentarily, that we were more of a nation inside of this empire than a disenfranchised “minority” of citizens of the empire. One can’t be disenfranchised, if you’ve never been enfranchised, feel me?
Youth identified more with Malcolm and Black Power than with Martin and Negro Civil Rights, recognizing that we were more of a nation inside of this empire than a disenfranchised “minority” of citizens of the empire. One can’t be disenfranchised, if you’ve never been enfranchised, feel me?
So the empire, the capitalist-imperialist, was yet again morphing to live by implementing a neo-colonial system of Civil Rights and integration, and the Black Liberation Movement rejected that. And the material it printed to agitate, educate and organize clearly reflected this rejection of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Well, that’s what I was turned on to when I hit the tier. However this was ‘86, and by then the BLM as a whole had been defeated.
Black Power had been turned into Black capitalism; so-called Black nationalism had been twisted into Black community control and other watered down appendages. And yet here we were reading and studying the same material used to combat a particular stage in our continual struggle and trying to apply it in a time that was not appropriate to its science. In other words, we overstood that we were still oppressed – but we were attempting to use outdated tools that no longer corresponded to the circumstances to get free.
We found ourselves stumbling blindly around the issues. We’d not taken into account the dynamism of our enemy’s ability to morph . So I’m reading all the material, but I wasn’t getting well. It wasn’t cleansing me. It wasn’t washing my eyes, my mind of colonialism. I could quote George, Robert Williams, Huey and Malcolm, but I couldn’t make coherent sense of ‘86 Amerika. So I became frustrated and I began to study for new tools to fight with.
This led me to the Black Liberation Army Coordinating Committee (BLA-CC). I got in touch with Sundiata Acoli, who in turn sent me to Owusu Yaki Yakubu, who was using the pseudonym Atiba Shanna at that time, and he began to send me the New Afrikan ideological material and things just cleaned up. What the comrades in the BLA-CC had done was go back and reformulate, rebuild and reboot all the theories of the failed BLM and tie them together in a current ideo-theoretical line that corresponded perfectly to what was happening and what happened and what we should do for the future.
And they did this in “Notes from a New Afrikan POW Journal” (Books 1-7), “False Nationalism – False Internationalism” by E. Tani and Kai Sera, “Vita Wa Watu: a New Afrikan Theoretical Journal” (Books 8-12), “Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat” by J. Sakai. And finally through “Crossroad: A New Afrikan Captured Combatant Newsletter.”
So once the ‘rads in the Army sent me this material, I could for the first time really feel the reality of our situation. And these were cats who had been on the frontlines of the BLM – in its armed formations – cats who were righteous revolutionaries. And too, I began to look at all the others who’d accepted the New Afrikan ideology – practically all of the POWs: Kuwasi Balagoon, Jalil Muntaquim, Sekou Odinga, Abdul Shanna, Sundiata Acoli etc. etc. etc. So that was it for me. I dug into the ideological formation, overstood it and pressed on, in concert with those who’d proved themselves worthy in countless battles with the beast.
To be New Afrikan is to recognize that you are a member of a distinct culture, that you are a citizen of a nation unto itself in the belly of the beast. It is a determination to exert this national reality, build a strong state (government) around it and struggle against the forces which oppress it in order to get free. And free here means free to determine our own destiny, free to develop our own productive forces to meet our needs as a nation, free to be ourselves for our own benefit and of course free of mind-warping genocidal violence perpetrated against our nationals from the cradle to the grave. This entails being free from capitalism, imperialism and colonialism.
To be a New Afrikan is to be guided by the New Afrikan Declaration of Independence, the New Afrikan Creed, and the Code of Umoja and the Nguzo Saba. It is to have allegiance to the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika and to struggle to establish our sovereignty beyond contradiction. It’s revolutionary nationalism.
M.O.I. JR: How successful was the Pelican Bay hunger strike?
Sanyika: Well, it was very successful in that it swung the spotlight this way and illuminated the draconian reality of our situation. In that sense it was very successful, more so than we had anticipated it would be. Of course, 12 years before the U.S. government opened Guantanamo Bay for so-called enemy combatants, California opened Pelican Bay for “threats to institutional security.” No charges, no rules, violations, no crimes – all politics. We’ve been shouting from under here since 1989.
Twelve years before the U.S. government opened Guantanamo Bay for so-called enemy combatants, California opened Pelican Bay for “threats to institutional security.” No charges, no rules, violations, no crimes – all politics. We’ve been shouting from under here since 1989.
We had a small hunger strike in 2001, but it wasn’t well coordinated; however, it caught some attention. This one, however, has brought greater attention and some indignation. Our demands are not irrational. We are only wishing, rather demanding, to be treated as human beings. We want those rights accorded to humans, but the system of imperialism cannot allow this. It cannot relent, because then who’d be the “boogey-man”?
How would they then justify all of this concrete and steel erected in this sleepy little logger town? We know that they are not going to put the citizens in here, not to any real degree anyway. these kamps are for nationals of internal colonies: New Afrika, Aztlan, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Indigenous Nations, and those very few outlaws and anti-imperialists from their own empire.
That notwithstanding, we feel that the hunger strike brought some needed attention to this kamp. Of course we are trying to set up the groundwork for a new Prison Movement, since so many of us are here.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about your daily routine in Pelican Bay?
Sanyika: The thing about being a prisoner – whether in a solitary situation like this or a mainline situation – is you either do the time or the time will do you. And what I mean by that is if a day goes by and you haven’t learned nothing – a new word, a new location on the map, made a new breakthrough in old thinking or thought of and put into practice new ways of realizing it – then by and large you have wasted a day. If you sit around and get hypnotized by the TV, sports or gossip about who’s gonna get kicked off of “Big Brother” or, as Gil Scott Heron said, “If Dick finally got down with Jane on Search For Tomorrow,” then time is doing you. That’s my motto.
So what I do is mind, body and spirit work all day. Study and struggle. I’m only allowed 10 books at a time. So I make them 10 count. Right now I’m working with “Meditiations on Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth”, by Yaki Yakubu, “Pacifism as Pathology” by Ward Churchill, “Block Reportin’” by you, “Our Enemies in Blue” by Kristian Williams, “Re-Thinking New Orleans” by Butch Lee and J. Sakai, “Lockdown America” by Christian Parenti, “We Are Our Own Liberators” by Jalil Muntaqim, “Settlers” by J. Sakai, and a host of periodicals and loose papers.
So with me it’s ideological, theoretical and philosophical studies. As a theoretician, my thing is the mechanics of struggle. We are looking for ways of struggle that correspond to our particular set of circumstances. We are now in a post neo-colonial era. With this sock puppet Obama up there, it’s a new day of the system morphing. We gotta keep up. It’s no longer “Uncle Tom preachers”; it’s Uncle Tom Supreme Kourt justices and Uncle Tom presidents, you dig?
So this cage is my classroom, my gym, my struggle chamber. I gotta be ready for my next and upcoming encounter with the beast. Study, write, exercise, think. That’s my routine, all day every day. I gotta be better than I was before, better than our enemies. I’m very intent on making this time in this terrible place work for us and our national liberation struggle. And I can’t help but want to make our enemies sorry for ever having treated any of us this way. I’m driven by both love and hate. It’s dialetical.
I gotta be better than I was before, better than our enemies. I’m very intent on making this time in this terrible place work for us and our national liberation struggle.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little bit about the case you are locked up on now?
Sanyika: In 2006, I was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, the LAPD’s Top Ten Most Wanted List, and became a fugitive with a $50,000 bounty on my head. Of course, I was never “on the run.” Never ran. In fact, a few times I went looking for them.
A guy who was supposed to be about something was physically disciplined for transgressions in the area, and he defected to the Amerikan Security Forces instead of correcting his behavior. This was an opportunity they’d been waiting for, and so they said I beat this guy up and took his car. And here’s the thing: Well, once I’d been captured by a joint effort of U.S. marshals, FBI and LAPD, this guy recanted his story and said he’d lied, and this and that. But by then the die had been cast. They spent $50,000 on paying an informant to tip them off, and I spent $50,000 on attorney fees to avoid a life term.
They brought in special attorneys for the prosecution and came with all kinds of propaganda and what have you. And we deflected all of that. I ended up with six years with 85 percent for carjacking, even though the guy recanted and two others were actually caught in the car and no one could corroborate his story. I was sent straight back here to the Bay. I’ve been validated with an indeterminate SHU term since 1989. As it stands, I am due out in 2012.
M.O.I. JR: What do you think about the state killing Tookie and the reason they gave?
Sanyika: I had the very fortunate lot of knowing Tookie personally. We lived on the same street in South Central. His old hood became my hood when my set started. I loved him. The state, we have to keep in mind, is a representative of the government. The U.S. government is the tool used by the ruling class to administer its business, America Inc.
Overstanding it this way, we can see clearly that Tookie, like Tupac, like Eazy E, like George Jackson, like Malcolm and Martin and countless others, was “bad for business.” These killings, public and obvious as they are, serve as psychological demonstrations to keep the masses traumatized against struggle. These killings are used as shocks and strains on the mass psychology of the people, and that’s on the national level.
Tookie, like Tupac, like Eazy E, like George Jackson, like Malcolm and Martin and countless others, was “bad for business.” These killings, public and obvious as they are, serve as psychological demonstrations to keep the masses traumatized against struggle.
On the local level, there’s other means and ways, as with Oscar Grant, Devin Brown, Tyisha Miller etc. These they don’t necessarily think will be national; they serve as local shocks and strains. It’s a genocidal tactic utilized by law enforcement to keep the Natives in line. Street organizations are allowed to function in certain areas, based on the same principal and strategy. Lateral warfare has always served the system. With Tookie, it was a national message, and it’s a testament to the weakness of our forces that we allow such blatant acts of murder to happen to our nationals.
They, according to their own pathology, had to murder Tookie. He’d transformed himself into a formidable opponent of oppression, this on top of already being a stalwart street combatant and a leader. The beast couldn’t afford to let him live. What I can say though is that he died well – head up, chest out, glaring menacingly at the enemies – no crying or wringing of the hands in sorrowful gestures. No, it’s like Che said, “Go on, cowards. You’ll only be killing a man.”
M.O.I. JR: What role does the Prison Movement play in the overall people’s movement in your analysis?
Sanyika: It’s the same as George said, the same as Sundiata Acoli posited, and the same as Owusu Yaki Yakubu pointed out: The Prison Movement must serve as a relevant part of the overall National Independence Movement by utilizing its capacity to teach, research, develop and produce able minded cadres for struggle. Some comrades have life or lengthy prison sentences and may not get out unless we liberate them, so their thing is prison reform work for better living conditions inside the kamps – though this is secondary to study and struggle around the picking, developing, maintenance and moving of cadres in concert with the overall National Liberation Struggle.
Prisoners and the Prison Movement will play just as important a role as students, workers and the military. It is just one more place we find ourselves that needs agitating, education and organization. In order to rebuild our organizations and our movement, we’ll need competent cadres – professional revolutionaries – that can handle the tasks at hand. Cadres will come from all sectors of our nation and all classes. Prisoners will invariably fall into this, simply because it is the nature of the beast to capture and imprison us to the degree it does. Again, it’s dialectical.
M.O.I. JR: What should be done to bring street and prison organizations closer together so they can support one another?
Sanyika: When I first was captured, as I said, there were still remnants of the old Black Liberation Movement around – largely publications, periodicals, books etc. as well as these invited letters, communications and exchanges of ideas from inside and out.
But you see, the old Prison Movement was a reflection of the movement at large. That is, those who’d been captured came from organizations and formations on the street: the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, the African People’s Party, the Nation of Islam etc. etc. They in turn contributed to the development of the Prison Movement. When the Black Liberation Movement, however, was defeated, collapsing first from its own weaknesses and then from the weight of the state’s blows – COINTELPRO, counter-insurgency etc. – the Prison Movement, too, collapsed.
With the death of Comrade George and then the Attica Massacres, the death knell was sounded across the empire. The thing is we are re-building now, but it’s going to take communication, patience and honest, genuine struggle around issues of grave importance. The most fundamental things are ideology, theory and philosophy. These are weaknesses that allowed for our enemies to get in on us last time.
The old Prison Movement came from organizations and formations on the street: the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, the African People’s Party, the Nation of Islam etc. When the Black Liberation Movement, however, was defeated, the Prison Movement, too, collapsed. We are re-building now.
See, it’s like this: Who are we – New Afrikans, Blacks, African-Americans? This is ideology. How do we get free – liberate our own nation from the U.S., integrate into a multicultural empire of Amerika or go back to Afrika? This is theory. What tools do we use to get free? Do we rely on the metaphysical, believing that some god is going to help us, do we use the theories given to us by our enemies or do we use dialectical materialism? This is philosophy. We have to struggle around these in order to rebuild our organizations and movement, so we’ll be on one accord.
M.O.I. JR: Lil’ Bunchy (Dhanifu) is facing Three Strikes. Do you think that the government targets conscious street leaders and why?
Sanyika: Again, like Tookie, I have the pleasure to know Dhanifu personally – a beautiful Brother and a fierce opponent to oppression. The oppressor has the luxury of having a long memory, of being able to strategize far into the future, to project, you dig? And unlike us, who have to contend with day to day struggles, the beast is on some future-of-the-empire stuff.
So when opportunities present themselves, such as with Dhanifu and this weapons charge, the enemy will swoop in and take full advantage of any given situation. It is the essence of their power over us. We cannot afford to sleep, slip or stumble. We have to be on all of the time. The beast is on all of the time. Ain’t no off switch on national oppression ever.
That is, until the people turn it off. We have to believe our own spiel, that the beast is merciless and will go to any length to eradicate our resistance so it won’t develop into a revolution. The beast is trying to protect its way of life. If that means murkin’, capturing and torturing all of us, then that is what it will do. In closing, anyone who has the vaguest notions about the length the American ruling class will go to maintain dominance or to answer your question about targeting conscious leaders should read “The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders” by John Potash. That’s the answer and the ample proof. In closing, I’d like to say we appreciated all the support for our hunger strike and all the work you and Comrade Fred Hampton Jr. do. Rebuild!