Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Breaking News: President Zelaya has returned to Honduras

By Lucho Granados Ceja

It has been confirmed that the legitimate President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, has returned to the capital, Tegucigalpa, after traveling by land over a period of two days. Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, spoke with Zelaya on the phone and has called for the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti to respect the life of Zelaya and to peacefully return power to Zelaya.

The valiant people of Honduras, who have been resisting for 86 days, have already taken to the streets by the thousands to support the return of Zelaya. Juan Barahona, the general coordinator of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup, has called this is a peaceful popular insurrection and claimed that the de facto government of Micheletti has few options before them if they wish to stay in power now that Zelaya has returned. "The Armed Forces would have to commit a blood bath in order to [keep the de facto government in power]," stated Barahona.

Zelaya was ousted by political elites in a coup on June 28, 2009, the same day that a referendum was set to take place in order to determine the desire of the Honduran people to re-write the constitution. It was this prospect of a more progressive constitution that would favour the interests of the people and not the rich that drove them to oust the President.

Developing story...

Juan Barahona of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

May 1st Movement Presents: "National Liberation and Toronto Workers: Is there a connection?"

The May 1st Movement 'May Day Schools' for class solidarity presents:
National Liberation and Toronto Workers:
Is there a connection?

Sunday, September 27th, 2009
2:30pm - CUPE 4400 Offices
1482 St Clair West., Toronto

Diwa Marcellino of BAYAN Canada, speaking on the Philippines
Jey Jeyarasallingam of Canadian HART on Tamil Eelam, and
Amparo Torres of the Bolivarian Circle Manuelita Saenz, on Colombia

Click image for details.


7:15pm, Friday September 11, 2009
Bavia Arts Studio 898 St. Clair West (Oakwood & St. Clair), Toronto.

Parade begins at: 7:15 p.m.
March to the Artscape Wychwood Barns (Christie & St. Clair)
Rally begins at 7:45 p.m. 

At the Barns, with speeches and live performances.
8 p.m.: Opening of the Allende Arts Festival.

This September 11 thousands around the globe will be commemorating 36 years of the military coup in Chile. It is a time to remember the fallen, it is a time to celebrate the survivors and Allende’s legacy. It is time to denounce militarism in Honduras and all of Latin America.
Bring your masks, flags, banners, costumes, demands and chants in solidarity with Honduras and to demand a clear and dignified Canadian government opposition to the military coup in Honduras. Help us spread the message:

• Because there is no moral political justification for the violation of human rights and democratic life in Latin America!

•In defending life, we stand against all coups!

Organized by: Latin American Canadian Art Projects (LACAP), Bavia Arts Studio, Clay & Paper Theatre, Barrio Nuevo, Latin American Solidarity Network; Casa Salvador Allende; Grupo Cultural Víctor Jara; Coalición Venezuela Estamos Contigo; Comité de Solidaridad con Bolivia-Toronto; Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional-Toronto (FMLN); Colombia Action Solidarity Alliance (CASA); Toronto Forum on Cuba; Comité El Ceibo de Apoyo al Frente Amplio-Uruguay; Grupo Cultural Orlando Letelier; Consejo Nacional de Mujeres Latinoamericanas y Caribeñas en Canadá; Pueblos Originarios Abya Yala; Coordinadora de Asociaciones Salvadoreño Canadiense de Ontario; Circulo Bolivariano Louis Riel / Hands Off Venezuela; Circulo Bolivariano Manuelita Saenz, Asociación Salvadoreña Canadiense (ASALCA).


BAYAN Canada and BASICS Free Community Newsletter present...

A public event and book launch

The Collected Works of Jose Maria Sison, Vol. 2:

Featuring Coni Ledesma (spokesperson for MAKIBAKA, member of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines negotiating panel) speaking on Sison’s latest work and the prospects for peace and human rights in the Philippines.

6pm, Friday, Sept 11
Central Neighbourhood House, 349 Ontario St
(north west of Parliament and Dundas)

For more information, please contact 

The author of the book, revolutionary hero of the Philippines Jose Maria Sison, was interviewed in August 2009 by BASICS Free Community Newsletter in Utrecht, Netherlands. You can view the interview here: 
BASICS Interviews José Maria Sison of the International League of People's Struggles

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Public forum: Organizing Working Class Communities

 Public forumFeaturing Steve Williams Co-Director of the California based group People Organized to Win Employment Rights and co-author of the book Towards Land, Work and Power

Williams' presentation at Building Leadership for Change (March, 2009).

Co-sponsored by Socialist Project and Centre for Social Justice. 

Endorsed by Black Action Defence Committee (BADC), No One Is Illegal (NOII) and Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)

Friday, September 04, 2009

The History of Black August

Submitted by Black August organizers in Toronto BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

Black August was established in the California prison system in the early 1970s by men and women of the Black Liberation Movement. Black August holds great significance in the African tradition of resistance against white supremacy and imperialism in the United States. In the late 1970s, the observance and practice of Black August left the prisons of California and was practiced by African American revolutionaries throughout the United States. Since then it has spread and grown and there are Black August events in cities throughout the U.S. and internationally.

As the journalist and former Black Panther Kiilu Nyasha writes: “Black August, [was] first organized to honor our fallen freedom fighters, Jonathan and George Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, William Christmas, and the sole survivor of the August 7, 1970 Courthouse Slave Rebellion, Ruchell Cinque Magee. It is still a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical fitness and/or training in martial arts, resistance, and spiritual renewal. The concept, Black August, grew out of the need to expose to the light of day the glorious and heroic deeds of those African women and men who recognized and struggled against the injustices heaped upon people of color on a daily basis in America.”

U.S. Political Prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal noted that August “is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.” Many important dates in the history of the Struggle in the Americas took place in August, including the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831), the beginning of the Underground Railroad (1850), the birth of Marcus Garvey (1887) and the March on Washington (1963).

The most significant event to the founders of Black August was the assassination of George Jackson in August 1971. George Jackson was a prisoner who became a revolutionary while locked in California’s jails. He was an activist inside prison who worked to transform prisoners into soldiers for the struggle against racism and exploitation. He also wrote two books, Soledad Brother and Blood in my Eye. He was eventually killed by guards.

Doc Holiday, an original comrade of George Jackson, and a longtime member of the Black liberation and prison struggle, and currently in prison in Illinois, has written that the tenets of the Black August Program include:

1. A fast which historically has been used as an expression of personal commitment and resistance.

2. We abstain from consuming any type of intoxicants for the entire month of August.

3. We limit our selection of television and radio to educational programs, i.e. news, documentaries and cultural programs, etc.

4. During BA we emphasize political and cultural studies for individuals involved in BA. Participants in BA should pair off with someone else you know to study and share knowledge of African Affairs.

5. As an outward expression of BA we wear a Black arm band on the left arm or wrist as a tribute to those Africans who have died as a result of their sacrifice for African Liberation. The arm band can be worn either on the inside or outside of your clothing.

6. Black August (BA) is a revolutionary concept. Therefore, all revolutionaries, nationalists and others who are committed to ending oppression should actively participate in Black August.

August 2009 marked the 30th anniversary of the Black August tradition. ∗

Prisoners Justice Day 2009, 34 years strong

Anonymous Submission
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

Prison Justice Day (PJD) started on August 10, 1976, to remember two prisoners who died while locked up in solitary confinement in a Canadian Maximum Security Institution. PJD has continued to be celebrated both inside prison and outside, and has become an international day to recognize all those who have died unnatural deaths while in prison. Every August 10, prisoners hold a one-day work stoppage and hunger strike, while supporters on the outside hold community events to educate the public to the conditions of Canadian prisons.

On August 10th, 1974 Eddie Nalon bled to death in a solitary confinement unit at Millhaven Penitentiary (Ontario). An inquest into his death found that the emergency call button in his cell was not working, as with many others in the unit. It was also revealed that the guards had deactivated the receiving mechanism in the control tower. In 1975 on the first anniversary of Eddie’s death, prisoners at Millhaven went on a one-day hunger strike, refused work and held a memorial service. The next year, on May 21, 1976 prisoner Bobby Landers, died in the same segregation unit at Millhaven. Lander’s had been active in struggles for Prisoners Rights at Archambault Penitentiary, and was involuntarily transferred to Millhaven and placed in segregation, where he had a heart attack. He died because the emergency call buttons were again not working.

Every year, August 10 is a day of protest against all deaths in custody. Some of the other issues that PJD addresses include the use of segregation as a tool to punish prisoners. Prison justice advocates have said that in recent years the number of people serving long terms in segregation has gone up, and that prisons are often placing inmates with mental health issues in segregation as a way to deal with them. Double bunking also continues to be an issue, as prison overcrowding has forced institutions to house 2 and even 3 people in spaces designed for one. Prisoners are often transferred involuntarily, including within a single institution, from prison to prison and between security classifications (minimum vs. maximum). This is often done arbitrarily and without and formal process or disciplinary hearing for prisoners. Health Care also continues to be an issue for prisoners.

August 10th is a call for alternatives to incarceration that includes intervention programs to work with youth, peer initiatives for ex-prisoners, community based re-integration programs, housing, employment, skills training, Violence prevention, Community mediation and restorative justice as well as the decriminalization of victimless crimes. This is especially important to consider now, as the federal government has been taking a “get tough” approach on crime that could lead to new laws to lock up more people, such as mandatory minimum sentencing.

For more info about PJD, prisons in Canada and prisons in general check out: PrisonJustice.ca or PrisonSucks.com. ∗

The Frente Norman Bethune Organizers Brigades: Summer 2009

Canadians and Venezuelans Building People-to-People Solidarity

by Pablo Vivanco, Solomon Myobuku, & Kelly O’Sullivan

BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

On July 3rd, 2009 the first delegation of Canadians with the Frente Norman Bethune Brigade of organizers departed for Venezuela for nearly a month of exposure with the mass movements of the socialist ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, soon to be followed by a second delegation of Canadians on July 20th.

Frente Norman Bethune (FNB) is an initiative of the Toronto-based Latino community organization Barrio Nuevo, and its main objective is to facilitate an exchange between activists in Venezuela and Canada, allowing them to share their experiences in the various social movements and struggles they are involved in.

The two delegations that visited Venezuela this summer consisted of a mixed group of community activists, educators, artists, union activists as well as a photographer. Back in late 2008, a number of activists from Venezuela were hosted by Barrio Nuevo here in Canada, and were toured across many cities and regions (see BASICS #11).

The delegations lived in the Barrios, linked up with the communal councils, worked at people’s radio stations, connected with peasant activists, slept at housing squats, spoke to unionists, checked out worker co-operatives and even lived at a former bull ring expropriated by progressive artists. The purpose of this trip was to give activists in Toronto a sense of an actual revolution in progress, and also, to allow people to take back experiences and lessons that could be applicable in their political work back home.

This is what three of the Frente Norman Bethune delegates had to say about what they saw:

Solomon Myobuku, activist with the Esplanade Community Organization

To fight or not to fight, that is the question, and Venezuela has the answer. In a country that insists on returning power to its rightful owner, the People, the fight is relentless, ongoing and is present at all levels, from the local communes to the president’s office.

As a community activist organizing in a working class community in Toronto, I was taken aback by my experiences at La Vega and Antimano, two different Barrios (hoods) in Caracas where we stayed at for a significant period of time. Many of the problems we face in Toronto like police brutality, housing issues, lack of youth programs and unemployment exist in Venezuela at far worse levels. However, as many people told us, in the last ten years huge gains have been won through struggle. Police no longer enter the hoods, replaced by community run police. Poor neighbourhoods now have free healthcare clinics, new schools and recreation areas.

The trip was particularly effective in convincing me of the power of the people. Prior to this trip I was a hesitant supporter of socialism that often felt that it was idealistic. However, after seeing how the people of Venezuela have fought for the gains they enjoy and are continuing that struggle, the concept of socialism seems far more practical.

Kelly O’Sullivan, Union President of CUPE 4308

“La Revolucion” is more than a statement, phrase or words spoken by the people in Venezuela, it was a part of their lives and experiences. As an anti-poverty and labour activist, having the opportunity to learn and be part of the ongoing push for socialism in Venezuela had a profound impact upon me. It showed me that socialism and political change by the people and for the people can be achieved through struggle.

As a labour activist, my focus was to also learn about the organized labour movement and worker’s struggle in Venezuela. Our group met with many activists that are part of the “popular movement” actively engaged in the revolutionary process. With alarming consistency, the statements and attitudes towards unions and the labour movement were the same. Unions only cared about themselves and the interests of those privileged workers they represented and did not care about the poor or the community. Overwhelmingly, labour was not regarded as allies in the revolutionary process.

All too often this is what we hear about unions and the labour movement here also. This reminded and reinforced for me the necessity for those of us involved in unions and the labour movement everywhere to work in solidarity within our communities and with militant grass roots movements working for revolutionary change. If we do not, labour unions will be marginalized and regarded as elitist and uninterested, unable or unwilling to be the structures necessary for organizing and representing the working class.

Pablo Vivanco, a central organizer of the Frente Norman Bethune delegation and a leading member of Barrio Nuevo

There are many incredible things occurring on the ground in Venezuela where people’s organizations have made significant gains in attaining influence over their communities and resources to provide for the needs of people. Some of these have come in the form of the ‘Misiones’, which are now providing accessible and free services in areas such as educational and health to communities that have never seen the benefits of the countries wealth before. Many of these programs also depend on people’s organizations to ensure they run effectively.

This is a process where political power is being transferred away from the traditional branches of government directly to the people. The communal councils, which in effect are neighbourhood associations, are providing a space for organized communities to receive resources from the state and direct these resources as they see fit.

While there are still contradictions and conflicts between the people and government as most levels of government and even the Socialist Party still have remnants of the previous regimes, increasingly organizations and structures created by the people are taking over. This situation of ‘dual power’ (a situation where the reactionary state and the powerful who have traditionally controlled it vs. the people, their organizations and their leadership) has its dangers. However many of our revolutionary brothers and sisters are quite aware of the dangers from outside (US Imperialism and its allies like Colombia) and inside and are struggling within their movements to expose the opportunists who just want to line their own pockets.

Barrio Nuevo supports our brothers and sisters in Venezuela who are in the struggle against imperialism and we urge others follow the example of their slogan – “All power to the organized people!” ∗

Condemn the Coup in Honduras

by Lucho Granados Ceja and Karen Springs
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

In the early morning of June 28th, 2009 democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was abducted from his home by the military and exiled to San Jose, Costa Rica. This coup has been widely condemned by multiple international organizations, including the Organization of American States, the European Union and the United Nations; and no government in the world has recognized the de facto regime – installed after the coup – as legitimate.

The coup was perpetuated by a group of political elites in order to oust Zelaya, who was implementing pro-people reforms such as a minimum wage increase. The ruling-class had grown accustomed to growing rich off the backs of the people. The day of the coup a vote was meant to have taken place in order to determine the desire of the Honduran people to re-write the constitution. It was this prospect of a more progressive constitution that would favour the interests of the people and not the rich that drove them to oust the President.

What the elites did not expect was the massive response of the Honduran people. Since the coup, the people have been on the streets on a daily basis, strikes occur in every sector of the economy on a regular basis, and road blocks are routinely set up in order to disrupt commerce. A level of unity never seen before has emerged amongst the social movements. The illegitimate government has responded with human rights violations such as assassinations, violent repression, the silencing of free speech, and detentions, all of which were recently confirmed by Amnesty International in a report released in August 2009.

However, this coup is a threat not only the Honduran people but to the Latin American region as a whole. Latin America has been undergoing a profound social and economic transformation over the last decade, where a new society that puts people first is being created. If the coup is allowed to pass in Honduras, it could set a very dangerous precedent for Latin America, where coups and dictatorships are once again the norm. Already there are rumours of coup plots in countries such as Guatemala and Bolivia.

Not surprisingly, the Canadian government has been playing a negative role with respect to this situation. While most countries were quick to condemn the coup, Canada was the last to respond and when it did, Minister of State Peter Kent attempted to shift part of the blame onto President Zelaya. Canada still refuses to suspend aid to the illegitimate government, including military aid, which is presently being used to repress the popular movement in the streets. At the time of writing, the movement had just completed two months of resistance on the streets and the movement is committed to struggling until this coup is overturned.

Canadians must demand that the Canadian government respect the right of the Honduran people to self-determination and that all “aid” to the illegitimate government in Honduras be halted immediately. ∗

Iranian Revolution marches on!

Regime divisions deepen, people’s movement progresses

by Arash Azizi
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

Iran is going through its most vital days of the last 30 years. For the last 10 years, a deep hatred for the Islamic regime has been brewing among the people which has effectively led to a wide range of social movements and protests. However, it was in the aftermath of vote-rigging in the recent presidential elections that masses of people came out into the streets to collectively ignite the flames of the new Iranian Revolution.

Though much else can be said about the uprisings of the past few months, two facts stand out; internal divisions in the Islamic regime are increasingly deepening, while revolutionary people’s uprisings continue defiantly amidst harsh repression. These two facts are inter-connected: the former causes the latter while helping it grow.

Before, we could generally talk of two opposing factions inside the regime: the so-called “Hard-liners” and the “Reformists”. However, these two factions were united and always save face when faced with opposition to the regime. But now, the advent of a people’s movement has made their divisions considerably more acute. “Reformists”, who were among the founders of the Islamic dictatorship, are now being ridiculed in the Islamic government’s show trials. Their intellectual father, Saeid Hajarian was forced to come to court to recant everything he ever stood for. “Hard-liner” leaders, mostly consisting of the conservative mullahs in Qom, on the other hand, are not happy about the way inglorious Khamenei-Ahmadinejad duo has handled the election dispute and subsequent uprisings. Most of them were never crazy about Ahmadinejad from the beginning and many are now even openly talking about bringing down Khamenei.
In short, the criminal cliques that have ruled Iran for the last three decades are now deeply divided. But why is it that they don’t act decisively? Why can’t they just do a back-room deal and eliminate the opponents?

The answer lies with the revolutionary movement of people which caused the division in the first place. If it wasn’t for the movement, “Reformist” leaders like Khatami, Mousavi and Karoubi (an ex-president, an ex-prime minister and an ex-Speaker of the Parliament, respectively) would have already been killed by the Khamenei faction.

Contrary to what many have claimed, the people’s movement has been going strong despite the harshest repression. It is not for nothing that Khamenei has named the protests “a Caricature of 1979 Revolution”. By doing so, he has publicly admitted his fear of the current Revolution. Analysts compared his statement to that of Shah who told the people a few months before being overthrown “I have heard the cry of your revolution”.

It is this revolutionary movement that is the real force behind the events. Massive spontaneous movements have undoubtedly progressed and transformed with the course of events. Initially supporting one wing of the regime against the other, the people now clearly shout “Down with Khamenei”. One of their recent slogans was “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic”. While this still betrays a national illusion, it clearly shows that people do not want an Islamic Republic and are already talking about what to replace it with.

The masses have shown that they have enough intuition, courage and heroism and are willing to fight. But their strong point, spontaneity, is also their weakest. What they need is a socialist leadership that will lead the revolution all the way to overthrowing the Islamic Republic and establishing a worker’s rule, the only way forward. An Iranian Revolution will only be victorious as a Worker’s Revolution, or, it will not be victorious at all.

Show Trials, traditionally used against left-wing activists, being turned againsts the “reformist” wing within the Islamic establishment as the divisions between the ruling elite become sharper.

This article was originally printed in Nedaye Mardom which can be accessed at www.AIYN.ca

Arash Azizi is the Farsi Editor for Nedaye Mardom, a Farsi/English newspaper being published by the newly-founded Afghan-Iranian Youth Network. Arash is also a supporter of Fightback, a Marxist journal for labour and youth in Canada.

Tamils in Concentration Camps Continue to Suffer

by Minnalkodi Sivan
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

As of mid-May of this year, the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the chauvinistic Sri Lankan regime came to an end after over 25 years of brutal battle. Yet, while Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse uttered the words “equality” and “unity” during his national post-war speech, Tamils continued to endure terrible hardships and oppression. Tamils are back to where they were before the armed resistance movement and are being treated as second-class citizens with no active body on the island advocating their aspirations.

Despite the end of the war, the ground reality in Sri Lanka does not look promising, whether you are a Tamil, a critical journalist or a member of any party that disagrees with the establishment. There are 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) still imprisoned in detention camps that would remind most people of the holocaust. The camps are cramped with people who have no access to running water, a bare minimum of food, severe cases of malnutrition, improper sanitation and inadequate medical services.

Despite these conditions, the government still demands aid agencies to cut back in services as they claim they can handle the situation on their own. The media has very little access to the camps. Perhaps the fact that cases of rape, sexual abuse, disappearances, torture, child trafficking and death tolls are at a rate of 1,400 per week in the camps is the motivating factor behind preventing journalists and NGO workers from doing their jobs.

Regardless, Sri Lanka is far from being competent to provide for these people and have cut back on resettlement goals. Initially it was announced that 80% of the IDPs will be returning home before the end of the year, however that number was cut to 60% and even this goal seems unrealistic given the current circumstances.

There have been various calls from different parties to cease the current approach that violates international humanitarian law, and as usual they are ignored. But more and more evidence of war crimes is leaking out of the country. Recently, Channel 4 News released a video of 9 men, 8 stripped naked, all hand bounded and blindfolded, being executed by Sri Lankan Army soldiers. The footage was smuggled out of Sri Lanka by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka and took 8 months to emerge. This is just an iota of what Tamils are facing in a country that promised them equality and freedom.

The armed resistance might have come to an end, but the war on Tamils persists. Without Tamil Eelam, the voices of Tamils will always be drowned by the ultranationalist Sinhala chauvinists that refuse to create space for minorities unless they are willing to be treated as second class citizens and conform to their “social democracy”. As individuals living outside the country we have the obligation to advocate for human rights and speak out against the normalization of such crimes against humanity. One of the effective steps that can be taken is to economically isolate Sri Lanka by boycotting their products. One can visit www.notosrilanka.com for more details. ∗

A youth speaks out against police brutality in Alexandra Park

Open Letter from Elliot Vredenburg to BASICS Free Community Newsletter
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

It is with great concern that I compose the letter that is to follow, but I feel that I have no choice but to lament about the conduct of several police officers of the Toronto Police Services.
On August 17, 2009, 4 friends and I were in Alexandra Park, at Dundas and Bathurst. At approximately 11:30 p.m., we were quite literally cavorting amongst the sprinklers in the field south of the school, since the weather was unbearably humid, and the pool was closed earlier that night. I am under the belief that we were not trespassing, as Chapter 608-9 of the Toronto Municipal Code states that “Unless authorized by permit, no person shall use, enter or gather in a park between the hours of 12:01 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.”

We saw three police cruisers pull up to the fenced-in pool area of the park, and the occupants proceeded to clear the crowded pool. Soon after, we were approached by five to six officers, who told us that we had “five seconds to get the fuck out of here.” I informed the officers that my belongings were near where they were standing and I was going to gather them, and that I hoped that that did not count towards my ‘five seconds.’ This was met with more cursing from the officers. After I picked up my stuff and proceeded to head towards the exit of the park, Sasha Foster, one of my friends, must have said something to offend or provoke an officer, because she was grabbed and pinned against the wall of the school with her arm twisted behind her back. I must concede that I do not know what exactly was said. At this point, her boyfriend, Sean Curry, naturally moved to protect her, and was met with repeated shoves from an officer.

As the officer was becoming increasingly agitated, I proceeded to hold him back from the officer, as I knew what could possibly transpire. When I moved to do this, I was grabbed by the police officer, thrown against the wall, and eventually onto the ground, which caused injury to my back and right arm. The officer’s hand or forearm was pressed against my throat, choking me and leaving bruises. He told me, “when I’m trying to take someone down, you don’t get in my fucking way.” I kept repeating that he was choking me, that I was solely trying to hold my friend back, and did not mean any harm. I was not exhibiting any aggression towards him: my hands were on the ground. After this, he got up and told me to “get the fuck up, get your shit and get out of here.” I quickly complied, and asked for the officers’ names and badge numbers, to which they replied, “fuck off. Get the fuck out of here.” At this point I dialed 911 on Dillon Scheenaard’s cellphone, which I’m sure is recorded.

I am truly disturbed, saddened, and shocked at the events that transpired on the evening of August 17, 2009, and I honestly wish for serious punishment to be brought against these officers, and indemnification for my friends and myself. The injuries to my back greatly affected my performance at work, and my ability to commute on my bicycle. Although they were not severe injuries, they were inflicted without reason by an officer of the Toronto Police Service, for which there is no excuse.

Elliot Vredenburg∗

Scotland releases wrongfully-convicted Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

al-Megrahi's appeal proves the Scottish system to be a sham.

by Justin Panos
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

On August 20, 2009, convicted killer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison on what was said to be compassionate grounds. The 57-year-old former Libyan intelligence officer, who is dying of terminal cancer, was convicted on 270 counts of murder for allegedly bombing Pan Am Flight 103 which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. Upon Megrahi’s arrival back in Libya, he was greeted with cheers and jubilation by hundreds of supporters. The celebration angered U.S. and U.K. officials.

Megrahi’s trial was one that is beset with controversy and scandal. The UN observer to the trial, Hans Kochler, denounced the entire proceedings as a ‘spectacular miscarriage of justice’ and, in an interview with Radio Basics, said that he would fail a student if she presented such an argument in his university classroom.

Scotland, the United States, and the U.K. indicted the 2 Libyans and threatened sanctions against the African country if they were not turned over. The basis of their case against Megrahi was that he and co-accused Lamin Fhimah conspired on the island of Malta to plant a bomb on Pan Am flight 103. This information was brought forward by a Maltese shopkeeper who the appellate court, Hans Kochler, and even the prosecution, found to be an unreliable source. Kochler told Radio Basics the shopkeeper was later awarded one million dollars from the FBI.
The charges against Fhim were eventually dropped by the prosecution. The prosecution then changed their entire case half way through the proceeding. Megrahi was still found guilty even though the star witness and the evidence were not credible. Kochler denounced the ruling as ‘arbitrary’ and ‘irrational’.

In June 2007, Megrahi was granted a second appeal when the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) found the original verdict to be totally wrong and politically driven. However, before the Scottish legal system was to be denounced and Megrahi set free, the Scottish minister of Justice, Kenny MacAskill, released Megrahi on ‘compassionate grounds’ in light of his cancer. Megrahi is said to have three months to live, which is quite convenient for the Scottish legal system that can now wipe its hands of responsibility for the state of Megrahi’s ill-health and the show trial they forced him to endure for two decades.

Hans Kochler has continued to denounce the trial and has said that international institutions—like the international criminal court and the United Nations—are inherently undemocratic and subject to the wishes of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, U.K., and the U.S.— who act above the law. Any reform to the UN would require their consent, which is likely not to happen. He believes that new organizations outside of the UN framework are needed in order to counteract the lawlessness of the current system.

Megrahi maintains his innocence. ∗

Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is helped down the airplane steps on his arrival at an airport in Tripoli, Libya after being released by Scotland after more than 20 years imprisonment.

Evictions Target the Esplanade’s Poor Residents

Co-op boards and the TCHC go after some of the most vulnerable in our community

by Farshad Azadian, an organizer with the Esplanade Community Organization
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

The Esplanade community, like many working class neighbourhoods across Toronto, is seeing a wave of attacks on its poor and working class residents who are seeing their ability to live with dignity trampled on. Members of the Esplanade Community Organization have gotten word of a series of evictions of poor residents, many of whom are being kicked out because they cannot afford the increasing cost of housing. The drastic increases many people face are often due to the cuts and eliminations to rent subsidies.

Having grown up in the Esplanade, it’s hard to see familiar faces that have been around for over a decade being forced out of their homes. A look at the numbers speaks loudly to the situation we find ourselves in; where many co-ops and TCHC-run buildings that could once boast of having 50% of their units as rent-geared-to-income, having been reduced to below 20%, with further cuts along the way.

One family of over 15 years at the Caroline Co-op saw their rent increase by $700 a few months ago. The decision to cut their subsidy was based on technicalities where the Co-op board and administrative staff determined that documentation was brought in late. The family flatly asserts that the documentation that has always been expected of them to renew their subsidy was brought in on time, having dealt with the renewal process for about 15 years.

Furthermore, the board knew that the head of that household suffers from mental and physical disabilities, but that didn’t prevent them from giving an absurd two-day deadline for getting together certain additional documents. Ms. Nafarinejad Khalsi says that “the coop board made a commitment to send any important requests and letters to my ex-husband, knowing that I had disabilities, yet failed to do so”. Being unable to pay the increased rent, the board made a decision to revoke her membership and intends to evict her within a month.

There is another case just across the street from Ms. Nafarinejad where a young woman is facing eviction because of an inability to keep up with the rent costs on her unit. With limited amounts of subsidized housing availablein her building, she would have to be placed on a waiting list. Having lived there for 16 years and counting, she faces the risk of eviction from her childhood home with no help being offered. Above all, she also struggles with disabilities that prevent her from working.

What is clear is that if poor and working class people don’t organize themselves, we will see this process continue and possibly get worse. Understanding this, Ms. Nafarinejad’s family and allies, including members of the Esplanade Community Organization, have begun organizing with fellow residents to fight the eviction decision at an upcoming members meeting at the coop.

A good number of these attacks on poor people are due to particularly bureaucratic anti-people interests on the co-op boards, and it’s quite clear that if poor and working class people don’t stand up and take these particular boards back, the attacks will continue. However, we cannot lose fact of the broader picture where different levels of the Canadian government are consistently reducing funding for affordable housing in the City of Toronto. If we are going to stop this trend, we are going to have to organize our communities, and using the coop boards as a voice for vulnerable residents should be part of our strategy. If we fail to organize, it seems that at the very least, significant parts of the Esplanade will see poorer residents being driven out to be replaced by wealthier residents.

Those who wish to report their housing issues, whether they be concerning repairs, subsidies, evictions, etc. can contact us at esplanadegroup@gmail.com. We hope to build a broad network of contacts that can begin to take up the issues that affect poor and working class tenants in our community. ∗

2nd Annual Jusitce for Alwy Ball Tournament in T-Dot Against Police Brutality

by Salma Al Nadhir
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

The second annual Justice for Alwy Basketball tournament was held with great success this summer, held for the second time at Carlton Park (Symington and Dupont area). The tournament was held to raise awareness about the issue of police brutality and was dedicated to the memory of Alwy Al Nadhir (a 17 year-old murdered by police in October 2007). The other main purpose of the event was to educate the youth about the Justice for Alwy Group (J4A) – a campaign that is fighting to raise awareness about police brutality and develop a broad mass movement against it in our city. It is a group that victims can feel safe approaching to report incidents of police violence and racism, and one which young people interested in organizing their communities for meaningful change can join.

All the performances and speakers at the tournament touched up on the issue of police brutality. Speakers at the tournament included elder Norman Otis Richmond from CKLN 88.1fm and Odion Osegyefo, President of the York United Black Students Association. Other speakers included Shak, a young victim of police brutality from the neighbourhood of Pelham Park, nearby where we held the tournament. The 14 year-old Shak shared his frightening experience of being assaulted by police this past May – an attack that left him nearly unconscious and with a damaged eye. Local activist and rapper Wasun also gave out an amazing performance dedicated to all the victims of police violence.

The tournament this year had three different age-group divisions competing for cash prizes. The tournament was intense with over 100 players competing for the winning prize of $500. The Spectaculars took second place in the “19 over” division being defeated by the champions 5 Dutch from Jane and Finch. For the second Division (“18 under”), Team Swag won defeating the second place finishers team Y Trust. Lastly, for the “16 under”, Mayhem took first place winning the prize money of $250, while the Sheppard Ballers came in second. The event not only allowed youth from across the GTA to come together peacefully to play a game they all had a passion for, but reinforced their common experiences – the understanding of the violent and oppressive conditions that affected them all.

Throughout the day, as the performances and basketball was going on, a muralist created a painting about police brutality. This year’s tournament was bigger than the last and we hope next year’s will be even better. The tournament was a success with youth from hoods throughout the city (and beyond) united to play ball against police brutality.

For more information or to get involved with Justice for Alwy or next year’s basketball tournament, email justiceforalwy@gmail.com. ∗


Pulling Back the Curtain on the SRO Program

by James Campbell

BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

Many parents, teachers, school administrators, and especially students were surprised to see the headlines in late-June announcing not only the renewal, but the expansion of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

The surprise came from the fact that there had been no final public evaluation of last year’s pilot program which saw armed and uniformed police officers stationed in Toronto schools as part of a partnership agreement between the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Police Services (TPS).

Not only had there been no final report on how well the program achieved its goals – a standard part of any renewal process for a publicly funded project – there had been no further consultation with parents, students, teachers, or even many administrators in the effected schools. The surprise was greater still because the interim report on the SRO program issued last January indicated that violent incidents were up in schools with SROs.

The biggest surprise, however, came to a group of parents, teachers, and students in Ward 4 (York West). In one of the rare community consultations last November, these parents and students organized and overwhelmingly told their Trustee, Stephanie Payne, that they did not want Toronto Police in their schools (which include C.W. Jeffrey’s and Westview). Despite no further public consultations, Trustee Payne unilaterally changed her mind about the SRO program and requested police be stationed in all the high schools in her ward.

Many of these issues were raised again at the August 27th meeting of the TDSB where three Trustees (Sheilagh Cary-Meagher, Ward 16; Maria Rodrigues, Ward 9; and Irene Atkinson, Ward 7) put forward a motion asking for a report on the program and its impact on schools. The motion came after the Newly Organized Coalition Opposing Police in Schools (NOCOPS) – a coalition of parents, students and teachers – along with the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC) presented serious objections to the program to the board in May.

NOCOPS and TPAC had presented Trustees with documents outlining a variety of concerns and objections from teachers, parents, students and concerned citizens. These documents included reports of the assault and harassment of students by SRO officers; statistical data about the historical failure of most SRO programs; concerns about the further criminalization of our most marginalized youth; concerns about the lack of community consultation; and concerns about how the SRO program directly ignores the very specific recommendations made by two lavishly public-funded reports which outlined the steps necessary to make our schools safer for parents, students, and teachers.

Neither the “Falconer Report” nor the McMurty/Curling Report on the Roots of Youth Violence recommended putting police in schools. Both, however, spoke about the urgent need to increase the amount of youth workers, social workers, and hall monitors. The amount of money spent by the province on supplying schools with armed police officers would allow the TDSB to finally follow through on all of the recommendations of the two reports.The motion put forward at the August 27th meeting was postponed until the results of a survey (designed and conducted by the Police themselves) are published in December.

What became immediately clear from the discussion at the board is that very little is publicly known about the SRO program and that in accepting police officers with very little oversight, control, or consultation, the TDSB and Trustees are blindly accepting the direction of the police. The debate amongst Trustees showed that few people in the board can clearly articulate the goals of the program or detail what benefits the TDSB and students get for the amount of money being spent.

Several Trustees very clearly see the role of the Board to help the police implement a program designed primarily to help the Police, and not students or their communities. In chillingly Orwellian language, they referred to this as an “Integrated Service Delivery” program, though no one chose to explicitly state what service is being delivered to whom.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that while there are some Trustees who see the dangerous and damaging implications of schools choosing to “integrate service delivery” with the police, most are happy to play along.

What is also becoming increasingly clear is that the change will not come from within the Board. What is required is a public education and mobilization campaign amongst students, parents, and teachers from a variety of communities to put pressure on their local Trustees.

The next opportunity for public mobilization will come this winter when the police release the results of the survey (one which they themselves collected and whose findings they will control). This means that over the next three months anyone concerned about the increasing occupation of schools by the Toronto Police Service will need to build on the remarkable work already being done in a variety of communities across the city.

CUPE Strikers Head Off Concessions

by Herman Rosenfeld
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

The 39 day strike of 24,000 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Locals 79 and 416, representing inside and outside Toronto municipal workers, ended in a partial economic victory, but a political setback as well.

It was a victory in the sense that both groups of workers were able to work together to stop a host of major concessions demanded by the city. These included:

o Initial wage offers well below those already bargained by police, firefighters, hydro workers, and other municipal workers. This pattern included the 2.4 percent wage increase City Council voted themselves, and the retention of their own generous 'severance' packages.
o Demands to take away the use of sick days for absences and the right to bank them as a way of providing severance on retirement; and
o A series of other concession demands around seniority rights and methods of filling job openings

Both union locals held out and prevented the city from attaining its goals. Wage rates were somewhat below those gained by others, but higher than the city’s original demands. Existing workers were able to maintain the sick day bank, while they also have the choice of opting for a new short-term disability plan and a cash buyout of their banked sick days. New hires will not have access to the sick days, but will use the disability plan. This is a partial victory: current workers keep their benefits; but for those who opt for the new plan and the new hires, they will lose out on the use of banked days as severance. Hopefully, the union can fight for severance in the future. Having a disability plan is not, in itself a loss. The other concessions were taken off the table.

But the strike was also a political defeat. The two large union locals didn’t wage a battle to win over the general public – the vast majority of whom are working class people. The Toronto city government’s attack on the workers was only one part of a larger attempt to force workers to pay for the crisis by lowering wages and benefits through concessions or demands for takeaways and weakening unions. After having forced a massive defeat on autoworkers – accompanied by a propaganda offensive targeting the workers as being privileged and responsible for the problems in the industry – the capitalist class and governments moved on to attack municipal workers, demonizing workers for the sick day benefit.

None of these issues were raised by CUPE. There were precious few efforts to convince ordinary Torontonians that the union was fighting to defend public services and the rights of all working people. The CUPE locals acted as if this was just another labour dispute, ignoring the political role that all public sector struggles must necessarily play.

CUPE’s educational, research and public communications resources seemed completely out of sync with the striking locals, giving the impression of a union in disarray. Even among the strikers, there was little education and preparation, with almost no examples of strike education, helping the workers learn about the main strike issues, the political forces behind the employer, and how to speak to the general public.

The rest of the labour movement in Toronto played a weak role in supporting the strike. The huge Stewards’ Assembly held by the Labour Council in May did not serve as a base for building a mass movement behind this struggle.

Without a strong effort by the union to clarify the political issues behind the struggle, the right-wing forces in Toronto were strengthened. Mayor David Miller and his allies on city council put the interests of wealthy real estate and corporate interests ahead of their main voting base, showing the futility of the current political strategy of organized labour in Toronto. In the future, public service delivery and the rights of the city’s public sector workers are in danger.

It’s time for the left within CUPE to organize itself, raise important questions about the union’s structure, the dysfunctional role of business unionism and the necessity of building a capacity and willingness to engage in political education and mobilization with the members and the public. The Toronto Labour Council needs to rethink its links with the Miller administration, city counselors who refused to support the CUPE strikers and the entire private sector development strategy. The socialist left needs to build a stronger base in the Toronto union movement as a whole.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

U of T Students: Support Workers for a Dignified Contract!

Contract Faculty at CUPE 3902 Fighting for Basic Job Security

by Farshad Azadian
BASICS #15 (Sep / Oct 2009)

Contract faculty and various other instructor staff at the University of Toronto (UofT), represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3902, have been bargaining with their employer since July 15, 2009. These academic workers are pushing for a better contract, with proposals that include demands for basic job security, funded research and decent wages. Thus far, bargaining with the UofT administration has not gotten very far. With the university’s bargaining team dragging its feet and slowing the process, their inaction has given way to the possibility of a strike by as early as October 2009.

What is different about this labour dispute at UofT is the role that class-conscious students are playing in supporting these workers. A student-worker solidarity campaign called Students in Support of CUPE 3902 was initiated during the last round of bargaining where teaching assistants had entered a similar dispute with their employer. This campaign continues in the spirit of supporting working class struggles and with an understanding that, as students, most of us will enter a workforce where employers enjoy a huge amount of power over workers. 

A good example of the power dynamics between workers and bosses can be seen in the precarious working conditions of the contract faculty at UofT. For example, a contract course instructor may have been teaching a particular course for a decade. This teacher must re-apply each year to instruct that course in the upcoming semester. There is no certainty that they will get the job, leaving these academic workers with very little job security, even after having put years or even decades into the workplace.

You might be tempted to think that these academic workers are a very insignificant part of the workforce. In reality, these lecturers instruct about 30% of undergraduate courses, often teaching the larger classrooms with as many as over a thousand students. The trend of Canadian universities to depend more and more on vulnerable, underpaid contract academic labour is a reflection of an overall tendency of capitalism in Canada over the last thirty years towards precarious temporary and contract jobs. This is, in part, a reflection of a weakened labour movement that has been unable to organize a fightback to these attacks by the bosses.

In response to the reality of their work conditions, one of the central demands of CUPE 3902 is for rolling job commitments from year to year, which represents a starting point to getting basic job security for these workers. One of the important realizations of progressive students at the University of Toronto is that their quality of education is directly linked to the working conditions and job security of the teaching staff. Furthermore, in the case of a strike, class-conscious students realize that the only way to reach an end to the dispute quickly is to give full support to the workers and to put pressure on the administration to give contract faculty dignified terms of employment.

It is in this spirit that Students in Support of CUPE 3902 call on all UofT students to join in pressuring the administration to give a decent contract, and should a strike occur, to defend the picket lines in a show of working class solidarity. Those interested in working with the Students in Support of CUPE 3902 campaign can contact them at StudentSupport3902@gmail.com.∗

“Investigative Powers for the 21st Century (IP21C) Act”

Bills C-46 and C-47 will authorize sweeping internet surveillance powers for Canadian police and intelligence services

by Steve da Silva
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

On June 18, 2009, the Conservative government introduced two bills in Parliament that will give Canadian intelligence and police forces unprecedented powers to monitor the communications and internet browsing of Canadians.

The “Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act” will force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other telecommunications providers to install hardware to track all the communications they handle and to turn over to police forces the personal information of their subscribers.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said that the bills would not give the police any new interception powers, since they already have the authority to intercept communications. But this obscures the fact that sweeping internet surveillance will provide the police with a whole new form and degree of snooping capabilities over Canadians. Furthermore, the package of legislation will also give police the power to remotely activate the tracking devices embedded in most new cell phones and cars.

Is there any chance of the Canadian telecom giants putting up a fuss to the impositions of this new legislation? Not likely.

Provisions in Bill C-46 will open the door to criminalizing the maintenance of open Wi-Fi networks, preventing small businesses from providing free internet to customers and neighbours from sharing their expensive internet services. The legislation can also be interpreted as aiming at those looking to set up proxy servers in Canada, which are online networks that redirect web traffic to allow surfers to search the web anonymously without leaving a trace of their presence.

Furthermore, the legislation will also criminalize individuals who interfere “with the lawful use of computer data”, which could open the door to the criminalization of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who download music and pirated software.

If this legislation prevents Canadians from accessing free internet, free music, and free software, then it is clear that the big Telecom and software monopolies will score billions from regular Canadians through this legislation. And what’s worse is that tax payers are going to be picking up the bill for the spyware “expenses that the Minister considers are necessary for the service provider to incur initially to comply with an order made under” the Act.

Bill C-47 goes even further to authorize the government to pay service providers “a prescribed fee for providing information”. So the Telecom companies, like Bell and Rogers, will be making money off of selling your personal information to the government.

According to Privacy International, “It is recognized worldwide that wiretapping and electronic surveillance are a highly intrusive form of investigation that should only be used in limited and unusual circumstances. Nearly all major international agreements on human rights protect the right of individuals from unwarranted invasive surveillance.”

Bills C-46 and C-47 will deal a serious blow to the civil rights of Canadians. With Canadian domestic and foreign policy veering further to the right in recent years, Canadians have reason to worry about the government and the monopolies having sweeping surveillance powers like the ones being proposed. As Bills C-46 and C-47 go to their second reading in Parliament in the Fall of 2009, Canadians must get organized and take a stand against the scrapping of their most basic civil liberties.

Indian State Fails to Quell Lalgarh Uprising

by J.D. Benjamin
BASICS # 15 (Sep / Oct 2009)

Starting in November 2008, the people of the Lalgarh region of West Bengal, India have been engaged in a massive uprising. Starting as a protest against abuses by the police, the uprising has expanded into a general revolt against the government and social system. Backed by the guerrilla forces of the Communist Party of India-Maoist, the people have largely driven out the police and set up their own democratic administration.

The anger of the people in Lalgarh has been simmering for decades. While West Bengal has been ruled for the past 32 years by the (so-called) Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), the government has done nothing to address the desperate poverty and lack of infrastructure in the region. Instead, the CPM skims money intended for development programs and then uses the police and its own armed thugs to repress the people.

Not only are the people of Lalgarh rising up against oppression, but they are also taking up development work. Voluntary labour teams of local people have taken on road construction, irrigation projects, setting up medical clinics and schools, digging wells, and other development programs desperately needed by the people.

Rather than help these programs, the state has turned to repression and terror. Police, military, and paramilitaries have invaded the region and conducted arrests, beatings, rape and other acts of humiliation, warrantless searches of homes, and destruction of people's personal property and food supplies.

Despite the brutality, even Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen has admitted the operation to take back Lalgarh from the people has failed. State forces failed to capture any Maoist leaders or weapons caches and are terrified of venturing outside their bases for fear of being ambushed or landmined. What little support remained for CPM has evaporated while the Maoists have staged open rallies in the villages attended by thousands of people.

Condemn the Coup in Honduras

by Lucho Granados Ceja and Karen Spring
BASICS # 15 (Sep / Oct 2009)

In the early morning of June 28th, 2009, democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was abducted from his home by the military and exiled to San Jose, Costa Rica. This coup has been widely condemned by multiple international organizations, including the Organization of American States, the European Union and the United Nations; and no government in the world has recognized the de facto regime – installed after the coup – as legitimate.

The coup was perpetuated by a group of political elites in order to oust Zelaya, who was implementing pro-people reforms such as a minimum wage increase. The ruling-class had grown accustomed to growing rich off the backs of the people. The day of the coup, a vote was meant to have taken place in order to determine the desire of the Honduran people to re-write the constitution. It was this prospect of a more progressive constitution that would favour the interests of the people, and not the rich, that drove them to oust the President.

What the elites did not expect was the massive response of the Honduran people. Since the coup, the people are on the streets on a daily basis, strikes regularly occur in every sector of the economy, and road blocks are routinely set up in order to disrupt commerce. A level of unity never seen before has emerged amongst the social movements. The illegitimate government has responded with human rights violations such as assassinations, violent repression, the silencing of free speech, and detentions, all of which were recently confirmed by Amnesty International in a report released in August 2009.

However, this coup is a threat not only to the Honduran people but to the Latin American region as a whole. Latin America has been undergoing a profound social and economic transformation over the last decade, where a new society that puts people first is being created. If the coup is allowed to pass in Honduras, it could set a very dangerous precedent for Latin America.

Not surprisingly, the Canadian government has been playing a negative role with respect to this situation. While most countries were quick to condemn the coup, Canada was the last to respond and when it did, Minister of State Peter Kent attempted to shift part of the blame onto President Zelaya. Canada still refuses to suspend aid to the illegitimate government, including military aid, which is presently being used to repress the popular movement in the streets. At the time of writing, the movement had just completed two months of resistance on the streets and the movement is committed to struggling until this coup is overturned.

Canadians must demand that the Canadian government respect the right of the Honduran people to self-determination and that all “aid” to the illegitimate government in Honduras be halted immediately.

20 Years On, Remembering Huey P. Newton

by Norman (Otis) Richmond
BASICS # 15 (Sep / Oct 2009)

Twenty years ago in Oakland, California, during the month of August, Huey P. Newton was murdered.

It is August 22, 1989, at about 8:30 am in the morning. Gwen Johnston, the co-owner of Third World Books and Crafts (Toronto’s first African-Canadian-owned bookstore) phoned me ---- the news is shocking, dreadful even. Mrs. Johnston is in tears, saying, “Otis, they have killed Huey”. Mrs. Johnston and her husband Lennie were huge supporters of Newton, the Black Panther Party and the struggle for African liberation and the liberation of humanity.

Whatever Huey’s shortcomings, Newton led many of us ideologically. For a brief moment in the history of Africans in America, Newton was “the tallest tree in the forest”.

Malcolm X was the first national leader in the African community in the United States to oppose the war in Vietnam. Dr. Martin Luther King later followed Malcolm’s lead on this issue. Newton took it to the next level: In 1970, when was released from prison in California, his first act was to offer troops to fight in Vietnam on the side of the Vietnamese people against American imperialism. On August 29, 1970, Newton wrote: "In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity, the Black Panther Party hereby offers to the National Liberation Front and provisional revolutionary government of South Vietnam an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism. It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is the American imperialist who is the leader of international bourgeois domination."

Huey led the way on other major questions as well, raising the questions of women and gay liberation in the African liberation movement. At that moment in our history, this was not fashionable. Nationalists, Pan-Africanists and even some socialist formations did not wish to touch the hot potato of gay rights. Newton did. He was the bold one. His speech on August 15, 1970 created a firestorm in the African liberation movement. At that time in history, I did not support Newton’s thoughts on the issue of gays and lesbians.

Newton said, “We should be careful about using those terms that might turn our friends off. The terms ‘faggot’ and ‘punk’ should be deleted from our vocabulary, and especially we should not attach names normally designed for homosexuals to men who are enemies of the people, such as Nixon or Mitchell. Homosexuals are not enemies of the people. We should try to form a working coalition with the gay liberation and women's liberation groups. We must always handle social forces in the most appropriate manner.”

As we commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Black August (see this issue of BASICS for our article on Black August) and the 20th Anniversary of Newton joining the ancestors, we should remember the words of Mumia Abu-Jamal: “Huey was, it must be said, no godling, no saint. He was, however, intensely human, curious, acutely brilliant, a lover of the world’s children, an implacable foe of all the world’s oppressors.”