Sunday, February 21, 2010

Freedom

What Does the Word Freedom Mean?

For thousands of years

Native Americans lived in equality.

Most tribes had no rich or poor.

Everyone worked and there were no prisons.


Women had many of the most important jobs.

They also had the power to make decisions,

and those decisions were respected.

They robbed these people of their land and culture in the name of freedom.


In the thirteen colonies

the Gentry class had the power.

Professionals and people with money received little respect.

Only English Gentlemen were the first class citizens.


A British official said,

“Poverty will produce industry and frugality.”

When a British magistrate found people guilty,

they were tied to a tree on State Street and whipped.


And someone said,

“Give me liberty or give me death.”

Many died in a revolution to end British rule.

An in the end, they called it freedom.


But this new freedom said,

Black people were three fifths of a human being.

This new freedom said,

chattel slavery was the law.


The slave had no rights.

They were whipped and even killed,

sometimes merely for asserting their humanity.

And they said to escape slavery was to be free.


After another war that cost 600,000 lives,

chattel slavery was abolished.

Four million African Americans could sell their own labor,

and they said this was freedom.


But this new freedom said,

children must work sixty hours per week.

This new freedom said,

women were not allowed to vote.


Workers went on strike

and some were murdered demanding improved conditions.

Thousands demonstrated to end legalized discrimination.

In the end, some called this freedom.


Freedom?

Freedom to be told what to do in school,

so a boss can tell you what to do for the rest of your life.

Freedom to live in a country that murders people throughout the world.


Someone once said,

“A people to be free,

must necessarily be their own rulers.”[1]

Are we our own rulers?


Freedom means you don’t have to spend your life

making sure someone else lives in opulence.

Freedom means you don’t have to live in fear

of loosing a job, or a house, or anything you might need.


Freedom is the right to think for yourself.

Freedom is the right to say or do what you like,

as long as it doesn’t infringe on the freedom of someone else.

Freedom means that you receive the fruits of your labor.


Freedom means that you’re boss is not a boss,

but a leader that you elect.

Freedom means that women will have the right to

wear what they want, say what they feel, and not be judged by their sex.


Freedom means that human needs are

more important than profits.

Freedom means that no one profits

from the discrimination against another.


But to attain freedom we must struggle.

Just as they struggled to end British tyranny.

Just as they struggled to end chattel slavery.

We can struggle to be free.


[1]Proceedings of the National Emigration Convention of Colored People. Taken from Black Nationalism in America, Edited by John H. Bracy, Jr., August Meier, and Elliott Rudwick. P. 90

Spartacus

Spartacus Risked It All For a Chance to be Free

He was born in a place called Thrace

located in northern Greece or Macedonia.

Thrace was a part of the Roman Empire.

Therefore Spartacus was born into bondage.


Like many who were not citizens,

Spartacus joined the Roman Legions.

He must have not liked the fact

that these legions existed to place people in bondage.


He deserted and attempted to escape.

How does one escape from an empire?

Spartacus was captured and enslaved.

He became a gladiator.


The gladiator was a special kind of slave.

He received intensive training

so that he might fight to the death in the coliseum

for the entertainment of Rome.


The gladiator knew that he would probably

be murdered by one of his brother slaves.

Many began to ponder

if there was another way to live.


The penalty for conspiring

against a slave owner was death.

The sentence was carried out with one of three methods.

Crucifixion, burning to death, or exposure to wild animals.


This sentence didn’t just punish a guilty slave.

All the slaves who toiled for an owner

would suffer the same death sentence.

No, it wasn’t easy to escape slavery.


Before Spartacus, the slaves of Sicily

who were of African descent

arose in rebellion.

They were defeated, but their example was known.


So Spartacus and his fellow slaves had a choice.

They could murder each other,

or they could risk a horrible punishment

and fight for freedom.


Seventy slaves escaped to Mt. Vesuvius.

They appealed to those in bondage to join the rebellion.

90,000 joined the army of slaves.

The Romans became nervous.


Spartacus knew the legions,

and he knew how they could be defeated.

The army of slaves defeated those legions

and took control of southern Italy.


Spartacus marched the army north to the Alps

where they would be out of reach of the empire.

They succeeded and could have been free.

But Spartacus and the army had changed.


They no longer merely wanted to be free.

Now they wanted to free all the slaves,

march into the city of Rome

and build a new world.


Spartacus might have said:

“The whole world will hear the voice of the tool

and to the slaves of the world,

we cry out,

Rise up and cast off your chains!

We will move through Italy,

and wherever we go,

the slaves will join us

and then, one day,

we will come against your eternal city.

It will not be eternal then.” [1]


The army of slaves marched

through the entire length of Italy.

They attempted to join

their African sisters and brothers in Sicily.


The legions blocked the passage

and built a wall surrounding the slave army.

The slaves broke out of the trap,

but were eventually defeated.


Then Roman law was enforced.

6,000 slaves who fought for freedom

were crucified on a road called the Appian Way.

This is what the Romans called civilization.


But working people had an example

that will last for all time.

Of a slave who yearned to be free

who demonstrated how people with nothing

could begin to change the world.



[1] Fast, Howard, Spartacus

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Josia Thuguane




99 Pounds of Heart - Josia Thugwane

He lived in a place where he had no rights.
Living away from his family,
so he could earn a living.
The place was South Africa.

The people didn’t like that arrangement,
so they dedicated themselves
to making a change,
and begin to live with dignity.

He worked with the miners,
who toiled to take
gold and diamonds out of the ground.
But he never made much money,

so he ran.

He ran to take his mind off the oppression he faced.
He ran to make money so he could be closer to his family.
He ran because he could do it well.
He ran, and ran, and ran.

His people did what few thought possible.
They liberated Nelson Mandela,
and made him President
of the new South Africa.

Josia Thugwane could now
compete all over the world.
He won the marathon,
and some prize money in Hawaii.

He used the money to buy a car,
so he could spend more time with his family.
But there were many who wanted that car,
and Josia was shot when they tried to take it.

He recovered,
and ran again.
He ran, and ran, and ran.
Then, came the Olympics.

No person from South Africa,
with a dark skin color
had ever won a medal in the Olympics.
But the times, they were a-changing.

It was a hot day.
Marathon runners like to compete
when it’s cool.
So after twenty miles no one wanted to make their move.

But Josia Thugwane and his people
had waited for this day for a long time.
It was time to get some of the gold
his people took out of the ground.

It was time to show the world
that the Black people of South Africa
were just as good as everyone else.
Yes, it was time to take a step into history.

So Josia Thugwane took the lead
in the Marathon and didn’t look back.
He ran away from the oppression of the past.
He ran, and ran, and ran.

He measured five feet, two inches.
He weighed ninety-nine pounds.
And when he accepted the gold medal,
his ninety-nine pound frame
carried the hopes and aspirations of South Africa and the world.

Toussaint L'Ouverture

Toussaint, You Helped Show the World That Haitian People are Human Beings, Not Slaves

You were born a slave

on a plantation in San Domingue.

It was easy for you to learn,

so they taught you how to read.


You were one of the favored slaves

who received a plot of land

where you could raise a family.


But you continued to be a slave who yearned to be free.

You knew of slaves like

Louis, 35 years old,

who had scars all over his face

and whose body was covered with welts from whippings.


You also knew of slaves like

Mathieu, 14 or 16 years of age,

whose left hand was missing

and whose right hand was crippled as a result of burns.


You wanted to be like Spartacus

who escaped slavery to organize an army of slaves

and threatened to overthrow the Roman Empire.

Even though he was defeated, Spartacus briefly experienced freedom.


And then came the Night of Fire.

The slaves burned the most valuable

harvest in the entire world.

You escaped the plantation and joined the revolution.


The medical practices you learned in slavery,

enabled you treat the wounded soldiers.

When you became a leader and attacked the enemy,

the injured became your responsibility.


You were unlike other leaders

in the army fighting against slavery.

You drilled the soldiers

until you thought they were ready.


Years later a French General said

that yours was the best trained army in the world.

Your enemy called you Louverture or the opening

because you always found an opening, when they thought you were trapped.


You joined the Spanish

to fight against those who enslaved you.

The Spanish thought you were a stupid slave

who would do as he was told.


Then came the French Revolution

and the abolition of slavery.

Your forces crushed the Spanish

and you became a Black Jacobin.


The English thought that San Domingue

was a ripe plum ready to be picked.

They lost 25,000 soldiers

attempting to return your people to slavery.


The French sent representatives

who tried to take control of your army.

Each failed because the former slaves

of San Domingue had their own representatives.


In war you were the first

to charge the enemy on your horse.

In peace you rode your horse all over the island

taking orphans home to your family.


No one taught you how to run a government.

How do you run a government where

most of the people could not read,

and those who could read had been slave owners?


No one told you how to run a government

in a world that wanted to destroy you.

Who could you turn to?

Who would you make an alliance with?


You chose to support Napoleon.

You didn’t see that he betrayed the French Revolution.

He betrayed you.

This was a big mistake.


San Domingue was still a French colony.

But Napoleon wanted more.

He wanted an island of slaves

under his control.


They sent an army to crush you.

You fought some of your best battles,

and the French failed to subdue your forces.

You agreed to discuss a treaty.


You were arrested,

And as you left your homeland

for the last time

you said these words.


“Now they have felled the trunk

of the Negroes’ tree of liberty.

However, new shoots will sprout

because the roots are deep and many.”


You had trained the soldiers well.

They had tasted freedom

and were prepared to die

fighting for their liberty.


The French did not believe

the reckless courage of their enemy.

As an army of former slaves

marched to their death, they sang,


“To the attack, grenadier,

Who gets killed, that’s his affair.

Forget your ma,

Forget your pa,

To the attack, grenadier,

Who gets killed, that’s his affair.”


Of course, the French could not defeat this army.

500 Polish soldiers supporting the French

joined the revolution.

In all Napoleon lost 60,000 soldiers.


Many tried to forget you, Toussaint.

But for all those struggling for their place in the sun,

You will be remembered as the one

who taught slaves how to fight for freedom.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Antonio Maceo




Major General Maceo

He was born in the province of Oriente, Cuba.
His blood flowed from Africa, and Latin America.
Young Antonio grew up witnessing
his brothers and sisters shackled in slavery.

He knew how they felt the sting of the lash.
He knew how they broke their backs cutting the cane.
He knew how they yearned to be free,
and this shook his entire family to its core.

Bolívar, O’Higgens, Moreno,
San Martín and Sucre all lead the movement
to end Spanish rule of their homeland.
And the fire spread to Oriente.

The Maceo family embraced the struggle.
Antonio was always the first to charge into battle.
His forces freed all the slaves they encountered,
and this won him the love and admiration of fighters for freedom.

While his friends loved him,
the Spanish were terrified of his forces.
He attacked the enemy even when outnumbered,
knowing they feared those who fought for liberation.

Antonio’s leadership won him the title Major General Maceo.
But some of the revolutionaries resented him for being black.
The Major General declared that in the future Republic,
“There should be no domination of one race over another.”[1]

After ten years of war,
most of the revolutionaries were prepared to surrender.
At Baraguá, they asked Maceo to surrender,
to accept slavery and Spanish rule.

The Major General asked the question,
“Do you think that a man, who is fighting for a principal,
and has a high regard for his honor and reputation,
can sell himself, while there is at least a chance of saving his principals?”[2]

Thus, Antonio Maceo was the one
who allowed the Cuban people to say,
that they never
surrendered to the tyranny of Spain.

The General retreated to New York.
It was said that he took care of the horses at West Point,
where he diligently read books on the art of warfare,
never missing an opportunity to advance the cause.

Understanding that there was a lull in the struggle,
Maceo became a prosperous farmer in Costa Rica.
He could have continued to live in comfort,
but his heart remained with the people.

The General said, “Liberty is not begged for; it is conquered.
I swore to free you, or to perish with you,
fighting for your rights;
I am coming to fulfill that oath.”[3]

The Cuban tobacco workers in Key West gave him their hearts.
Women gave their rings, earrings, and watches.
They even gave the lockets holding photos of their lovers.
All for Maceo and La Revolución.

Landing in Cuba, most of his party was killed or captured.
When the people learned that Maceo had returned,
5,000 joined the struggle.
The Spanish were concerned.

They sent 200,000 heavily armed soldiers to Cuba.
They built La Trocha, a heavily fortified wall,
that split the island in half.
All this could not stop the Major General.

The forces of Goméz and Maceo
crossed La Trocha as if it wasn’t even there.
They defeated the Spanish in every battle, and for 800 miles
they marched where none thought it possible.

One expert called the campaign,
“the most audacious military feat of the century.”[4]
And the revolution gained support
from every corner of the island.

But the Spanish loved the sweetness of the cane,
more than the blood of the people,
so they used Weyler
to organize the war of extermination.

Weyler ordered all his forces to defeat
the liberators under the command of Maceo.
For a while, it appeared there weren’t
enough forces in the world to do the job.

Antonio Maceo lost a father,
a mother, and four brothers in the war.
He survived twenty-six wounds in battle.
The twenty-seventh wound was fatal.

When the Spanish were on the verge of defeat,
the army of the United States entered the conflict.
Before they would leave,
they demanded control of the island in an amendment called Platt.

But the blood of Maceo and Martí
was planted in the soil of Cuba,
and bloomed into the names Castro, Cienfuegos,
Espín, Guevara, País, and Santamaría.

When the liberators marched into Havana, Castro said,
“With our feet planted firmly on the ground,
we are beginning to labor,
and produce our first revolutionary works.”[5]

Ernesto Che Guevara understood the role
played by the first independence fighters and said,
“The spirit of Antonio Maceo
is the spirit of Cuba.”[6]

Today, they use an insidious weapon
against the Cuban people called Helms-Burton.
They need to recall Maceo’s question at Baraguá.
“Do you think, that a man who is fighting for a principal,
and has a high regard for his honor and reputation,
can sell himself, while there is at least a chance of saving his principals?”

Yes, the Cuban people know how to defend their rights,
and we, working people living in the world
will continue to support their struggle.
Because “Liberty is not begged for; it is conquered.”

[1]Foner, Philip S. Antonio Maceo the “Bronze Titan” of Cuba’s Struggle for Independence, P. 61
[2]Ibid. P. 84
[3]Ibid. P. 126
[4]Ibid. P. 221
[5]Guevara, Ernesto Che. Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War 1956-58, P. 339
[6]Foner, Philip S. Antonio Maceo the “Bronze Titan” of Cuba’s Struggle for Independence, P. 269

Frederick Douglass




Frederick Douglass escaped slavery to lead a movement that shook the world

He was raised by his grandmother.
She had the job of caring for the slave children.
When he was six years old,
he was forced to live on the plantation.

One day when he was hungry
his mother gave him food.
But she lived twelve miles away, and he rarely saw her.
After all, she was also a slave.

The slave owner Mr. Anthony
told Esther not to see Ned Roberts.
But the couple could not be kept apart.
Young Frederick saw Esther tied-up and whipped.

Old Barney took good care of the horses.
Old Colonel Lloyd said the horse’s mane did not lie straight.
The Colonel said “down on your knees.”
Old Barney received thirty lashes.

Young Frederick was sent to Baltimore.
Miss Sophia started to teach him to read.
Her husband forbid it.
After all, the law said slaves shall not read.

But Frederick broke the law and learned to read.
He discovered that the only reason to live was to be free.
The master was not satisfied with young Frederick.
He was sent to the slave breaker Covey.

Frederick worked until he passed out.
Covey kicked him in the head,
and demanded that the slave return to work.
Frederick learned to fight back.

Escape to freedom and discrimination.
Mr Douglass is paid as a worker for the first time.
But working a job was not enough,
The core of his existence was to abolish slavery forever.

Mr. Douglass spoke so well,
and they didn’t believe he had been a slave.
To prove his background was true,
he wrote an autobiography.

Because freedom for a slave was against the law,
Mr. Douglass became a fugitive and fled to England.
There, he was warmly welcomed,
and the British abolitionists purchased his freedom.

Mr. Douglass continued to dedicate himself
to the abolition of slavery.
He gave speeches, wrote a newspaper,
and defended himself against those who didn’t like his message.

The day came when the people of the United States
refused to continue being ruled by slave owners.
The slave owners refused to give up their power,
and their army attacked Fort Sumpter.

Mr. Douglass understood that
this was a war for the abolition of slavery.
He supported the union army,
and asked President Lincoln to allow Black people to fight.

Lincoln initially refused,
but later argued that
the war could only be won
with the aid of African Americans.

They charged the Confederate lines
knowing this meant almost certain death or mutilation.
Because no one enjoys
being told what to do by a slave owner.

The slave owners were defeated,
and lost all power in the United States.
The new rulers didn’t purchase slaves,
but paid for labor by the hour.

They made more profits
by paying Black people less.
Those who lynched African Americans,
became allies to the people with money and power.

But now everyone in the United States
was supposed to have certain rights.
And although many of these rights
were not respected, chattel slavery was abolished.

And Frederick Douglass said,
“The struggle may be a moral one,
or it may be a physical one,
and it may be both moral and physical,
but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will.
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to
and you have found out the exact measure
of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them,
and these will continue
till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”[1]


[1]The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Volume II, P. 104

Monday, February 1, 2010

Frantz Fanon




Frantz Fanon’s Breakout From the Mask

He was born in the French colony of Martinique.
His parents could afford
to send him to the better school
where he studied under Aimé Césaire

Césaire taught the young Franz
that Black people have
a vast and vibrant history
that has and would continue to shake the world.

This history did not prevent
the French authorities
from abusing Black people
like young Frantz.

In spite of these experiences
Fanon joined
the French armed forces
to battle against Nazi Germany.

During the war
he was wounded and decorated.
After the war
he diligently studied the human condition.

His first book,
Black Skins, White Masks
was rejected
by the French academics.

Fanon argued that
Black people were colonized
and compelled to
take on a white identity.

On the one hand,
white people
are attracted
to the humanity of Blacks.

However, these same people
feel compelled
to reject this humanity
and favor their so-called civilization.

Fanon was a smart and diligent student
who was awarded
the most prestigious
French degree for psychiatry.

This degree
enabled him to
manage a psychiatric hospital
in Algeria.

The French had a lot to say
to medical students
like Fanon
about the Algerians.

In academic circles
they argued that Algerians
were born slackers, born liars,
born robbers, and born criminals.

Doctor Carothers
argued that
the normal African is a
“lobotomized European.”

The so-called enlightened Europeans
created some of the best farm land in Algeria.
They used this land to grow grapes for wine
and made cork for the wine bottles.

The problem with this was that Algerians
are Moslems who don’t drink alcohol.
While the French drank their wine,
Algerians when to bed hungry.

With this attitude,
most French psychiatrists
simply strapped Algerian patients to their beds
and talked about how easy their job was.

The first thing Fanon did
at the hospital was to remove
the restraints
from his patients.

Then he found that many of his patients
were farmers who effectively
tilled the land near the hospital
and their conditions improved.

He was a diligent and demanding taskmaster
who commandeered his staff
in order to improve
the condition of his many patients.

He listened to the stories
of many who had been tortured,
raped, or witnessed murder
by the French occupation forces.

He listened to the story
of the daughter of a French officer
who tortured prisoners at his home,
and the daughter heard their screams every night.

After a few years of
Fanon’s exposure to this atmosphere,
he resigned from the hospital
and joined the independence forces of the FLN.

In other words Fanon broke out
of the seemingly insane and dehumanizing
atmosphere he was born into
and joined the battle for human liberation.

Just as in the past
Fanon was extremely capable
at his new job
and became a leader of the revolution.

While no one
could break his spirit
the disease of leukemia
attacked his body.

While his body deteriorated,
Fanon waged his final battle
writing his last and best work,
The Wretched of the Earth.

Fanon showed that the Algerians
who were called born criminals
never committed any crimes against Algerians
in the years of the revolution.

The French authorities
were incapable of heeding
the lessons of Fanon
in his book.

The French President Charles De Gaulle
wanted to find a way of allowing
France to keep Algeria
ignoring the ardent desires of Algerians.

The one million French people
who lived in Algeria
wanted to maintain their way of life
and didn’t trust De Gaulle.

The French of Algeria
attempted to murder De Gaulle
and when that failed
they battled with the French armed forces.

After years of a horrendous war
the Algerians saw that this was their time.
They raised the Algerian flag
and thousands demonstrated in the streets.

A few months after these events
De Gaulle made a phone call
and ordered his representative
to negotiate a French exit from Algeria.

Many people argued that
this would never happen.
Frantz Fanon showed how colonized people
had the humanity to transform the world.