Revolutionary Worker #1118, September 16, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
The following excerpts are from an interview the RW did in 1991 with one of the Attica Brothers, Akil Al-Jundi, who died in 1997:
RW: What were some of the contributing factors that led up to the Attica Rebellion?
AAJ: The primary reason was that prisoners are human beings, first and foremost. That as human beings they have rights that everyone is bound to respect, and that when you don't respect people's human rights, and when you become oppressors, repressive and exploitative, what ends up happening is that sooner or later somebody usually will rebel against such a situation. And that was a classic example that happened at Attica. The incident that is used, or referred to, as the straw that broke the camel's back was more or less the incident that happened the night before, when some prisoners were beaten. But there was a climate of resistance throughout the prison system, particularly in the state of New York.
RW: A week before the Attica Rebellion about 700 prisoners wore black armbands and went on a fast, refusing breakfast, the morning following the murder of George Jackson.
AAJ: What happened is this. I can speak because I'm the organizer of that event, not by myself, but with some other people. What happened is: George was assassinated by the State of California via its prison system. There were a lot of prisoners throughout the prison system in the U.S. who basically related to George and other folk. So after George got assassinated, there was some discussion on how to support him, and there was this discussion to do this silence and no eating in the mess hall... I don't know where the figure 700 comes in at. My view is that there were much more than 700. The majority of the population, actually, participated in it. And what it was, basically, was the wearing of armbands and total silence in the mess hall, and refusing to eat the Man's food, to show our solidarity with George and his family and comrades, and also to serve notice that we understood that as it happened to George it could happen to any other prisoner throughout the prison system, particularly those prisoners who are vocal. That's what was done.
RW: Were there political organizations inside?
AAJ: In all the prison system, what you have on the inside is what you have on the outside. In other words, whatever organizations are outside, there are those folks that's in the prison system who either are affiliated with those organizations or set up organizations under the same structure, and there are a lot of sympathizers to respective organizations or individuals. So, just about any organization that you could think of that was out there at the time--from the Black Panther Party to the Nation of Islam, the Five Percenters, the Young Lords, Marxist-Leninist organizations, cultural nationalists --that was represented among the prisoners.
RW: There was a lot of exchange of literature, people studying...
AAJ: A lot of studying, a lot of study groups within the prisons, particularly in New York, California, Michigan, Ohio, DC, Maryland, Illinois, to name some key places where prisoners had really taken on the task of uplifting themselves by seriously studying, to where they would be in a position to come out and be assets to their communities and involve themselves in trying to ensure that their communities would be better off, and actually getting involved in the day-to-day tasks of helping the community, as opposed to being associated with lumpen activities.
There was an organization called the Attica Liberation Front, which was a representative body of all the prisoners. They were elected and selected by us. But the Attica Liberation Front already had submitted their demands, or the Manifesto (we had a manifesto that was drawn up by some comrades). It was submitted to the prison administrators already. It was submitted also to the media, both the print and electronic media.
RW: What were some of the demands that were presented?
AAJ: More decent pay for hard work, for one thing. There was a question about people being violated on parole for inconsequential charges, wasting people's money and technically harassing prisoners, confining somebody for something like driving without a license. Stuff like that was very simple stuff. You know, better food, wanting to be involved in educational and work release programs, open up the yard to the entire population instead of the segregated formula that they had. Things such as those. Better literature. More accountability around the literature review committee, because a lot of times what was happening was that we would order literature and it would come in, and somebody would make a decision that somebody couldn't have that book or magazine or literature.
RW: Could you describe the morning of September 9, 1971?
AAJ: I was in C-Block, where I was housed at. It looked like normal to me. When the word was given, I was right there, did my job. That's what I was trained to do. I'm a soldier, trained to act as a soldier. When it's time to go to war, you go to war. It was time to go to war.
It was very disciplined, very disciplined. A lot of us were involved in various organizations. Attica was a prison where people basically were disciplined. Because we prided ourselves on being able to take care of our own.
RW: The eyes of people around the world were on the situation in Attica. It was a focal point. What was important to you, to people inside, during those four days.
AAJ: What was important to me as a participant in the rebellion was to have as high a degree of unity as possible between all prisoners, to keep our focus, or as the book and program now says, to keep our "eyes on the prize.'' To secure all prisoners and to secure our high-price, which were the hostages.
RW: Attica was remarkable for the kind of unity that was forged among prisoners of all different nationalities. What enabled that unity to be forged?
AAJ: I think it comes down to one simple thing. Once white prisoners realized that the things that oppressed them are the things that oppressed us, and that they really didn't have anything to gain by going along with the system, that it was in their interest to side with us, then it made things easier. Because, you see, white prisoners act the same way as white workers act out in the street. They basically profit from white skin privilege. And when you don't want to share that with Third World people, it prompts a problem. But if you can understand that, it's important that you do, from a humane perspective as well as from your own self-interest, then people can come to terms.
RW: In the course of fighting the system that's oppressing them?
AAJ: Yeah. As long as you can understand that the same people that lock your butt up, lock us up. The same judges that give you time, give us time, all right? That you do your time in the same prisons that we do our time, in the same cells, you can't go no quicker than we can go--in other words, you can't walk out today and we gotta stay tomorrow. You may be sentenced to less time, and you may do lesser time when you're in prison than we do, but you're still in prison. You still have a number like we have a number, you still go to the mess hall like we go to the mess hall. If you got a family, they're concerned about you the same as ours are concerned about us. So the question of the class of prisoners is that everyone is treated the same way, technically. Which is that all of you are prisoners. And so the different amenities that white prisoners think they're getting--it's really not in their long-term interests to help to perpetuate. We need to be down with each other...
RW: Among all the demands, the one the state absolutely wouldn't give in to was the demand for amnesty and no reprisals for all the prisoners. Why was this such a sticking point?
AAJ: It's logical that we asked for both administrative and criminal immunity. And if that wasn't forthcoming, then that caused a problem, because it would allow for the state to go on a wild fishing expedition. And so everyone and anyone could be charged with everything and anything. And secondly speaking, it's a question of we didn't feel that we did anything wrong. We didn't do anything wrong. We basically addressed issues that the state had a responsibility to address for a long time.
RW: What about Rockefeller's actions? The inmates asked that Rockefeller come down there himself, right?
AAJ: I don't think it is all that important, myself. What I mean by that is that here was the governor of the state of New York. His actions were typical of other people, other officials who had been asked to come and didn't come. It basically speaks to a question wherein certain people in power don't think they need to pay heed to the masses. His action, or reaction, wasn't any different from no one else who basically don't feel they have to respect us. That's the manner typical of that class of people.
RW: One last question--What do you think Attica should be remembered for? Was it worth it to stand up and rebel like that?
AAJ: Would I do it again? I would do it any day again. I'd do it again because, first and foremost, I don't have the luxury to not do it again. I live in the South Bronx. I came to the United States of America from the Caribbean and I've lived in New York ever since I came here... I live in a community where at one time, people didn't even want to talk about the South Bronx. I think, if I'm not mistaken, it was around 1976 that people really started to pay attention to the South Bronx. So I'm there with all of the struggle and the conditions that people have to face on a day-to-day basis. And it's the spirit of living in areas such as that that allow for me to be involved in revolutionary struggles here in this city, in this state, in this country, and to make that link internationally.
Am I proud to have been involved in the Attica rebellion? I am proud to have been involved in it because I think it was a momentous historical happening and I daresay one of the most important events that happened in the 20th century. So I'm definitely proud to have been involved in it. More fortunate to have been able to survive and be able to share with people the experiences that happened then and some of the things that allow for me to do the things that I'm doing are predicated upon Attica. Because one thing I know for sure is that, although the rebellion and the massacre technically speaking ended in 1971, it didn't. It's a continual process... For me, it's a matter of trying to stay the course. Because it's a matter of trying to be able to take from the lessons that we learned at Attica, to be able to apply them on a day-to-day basis.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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