Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
A Harlem Benefit for Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
“Let’s Get Revolution in There!”
March 15, 2009. The streets bustle on a spring afternoon outside the old Audubon Ballroom at 3940 Broadway in New York City. Today, what’s now the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center is hosting a benefit for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF), and its Campaign to Reach Women Prisoners.
The event was hosted by people’s attorney Lynne Stewart and her partner, Ralph Poynter. Lynne Stewart is currently appealing a prison sentence, having been tried and convicted on criminal charges for actions related to representing a client. They were joined by long time activists Marie Runyon and Father Lawrence Lucas, as well as, Juanita Young, Nicholas Heyward Sr., and Margarita Rosario—all parents of young men that have been killed by the police and fighters in the struggle against police brutality. Moving musical performances—African drumming, hip hop, and rock, opened and closed the event, and had people moving their feet and having a great time.
Lynne Stewart opened the event with this challenge: “Let’s get Revolution newspaper in there, let’s have that as a beginning point; you can’t flood the prisons with people, which it would be very nice to go in and talk, but you can get Revolution newspaper in there, and open up their minds and their eyes, let them understand the society that put them where they are.”
Nellie Bailey, Director of Harlem Tenants Council, spoke, bringing up to the podium with her Iyaluua Ferguson, of the Organization for Afro-American Unity, and they acknowledged political prisoners like Mutulu Shakur, Ruchell Magee, as well as Iyaluua’s husband Herman Ferguson, who was in attendance. Herman Ferguson was chair of the OAAU organization for many years and was a political prisoner and refugee. A dramatic moment was the playing of a video message (available online at revcom.us). from Yuri Kochiyama, who was present at the at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated there—he died in her arms—and who has devoted her life to fighting for justice.
There was also a powerful video message from Father Luis Barrios, who at the time the event took place was himself serving two months in federal prison for protesting to close down the School of the Americas. His message ended: “Now, I’m appealing to people to express this solidarity, buy a subscription so different places, not only male prisons, but also female prisons, not only adult prisons, also young people, so they can have the opportunity to receive the newspaper, read the newspaper, organize through the newspaper, wake up and create a revolution.”
A reading of letters to Revolution from prisoners was the heart and soul of the event. A group of accomplished professional actors was joined by a reader and distributor of Revolution who is a longtime resident of a housing project in Harlem. The letters to Revolution from behind bars were moving, inspiring, and compelling.
Aladdin Ullah, playright/actor, told Revolution:“I think one of the things I’ve noticed, because I’m a writer myself—and dissecting the way something is written—when you look at the way this is written, there’s so much passion that comes out, and a longing to search really for truth! It’s as though inmates have been living in a system of lies, and low self-esteem that is a result of these lies. When you uncover a truth, such as what Revolution newspaper does, from all aspects of evolution, to religion, to a corrupt government—when one is exposed to that—it’s like you want to celebrate to the world that you know, ‘I know this truth and I want to share it with everyone!’ So I got a sense of sort of rejoicing, and a newborn awakening if you may, of these letters, and the one thread they have in common is an awakening and a better understanding of what’s really going on.”
He added, “I’ve read the newspaper several times, and I’m a yearly subscriber, and I think a newspaper is really, really important to getting the word out to inmates and everyone about the truth, and tell about what’s really going on in America and around the world…. It’s one of the most honest newspapers, and I feel like everyone in America is choking on bullshit. Revolution newspaper is one of the few papers that exposes the truth.”
And, he said, “I can kind of sense that awakening, that feeling of connecting to something that is human, and ultimately feeling that their life isn’t wasted, and there is hope, which is why I think Revolution newspaper is really significant. Hope may be a dangerous word today because it’s being used for ulterior motives, but I believe that Revolution newspaper does a great service. Because it gives these people the truth. So before you have hope, you have to have the truth, and you have to expose the lies… and that’s why I think this newspaper is so important—and why this program should continue in the prison system.”
Another actor added, “It says so much, to these words of the paper, the power that they have, and these letters alone are evidence of that; to be convinced, to be converted, to be moved, now, not just being affected, but to want to be part of effecting anyone else.”
And, he added, “You said an awakening—this written word clicked light switches on in these peoples houses, and their insides, and made them see things in the room, in the corner, in the dark, that now they want to show other people, And that’s a beautiful thing.”
The closing letter was a sent from Joe Veale, a writer for Revolution who was a prisoner in the ‘60s. The actors presenting the letter did a dramatic ensemble reading of this letter, including recreating an exchange in prison recounted in the letter:
One prisoner argues that: “...there always have and always will be rich and poor. The rich and powerful will always rule over the poor and powerless...the best that can be done about this situation is what Robin Hood did!” (i.e take from the rich give to the poor).
I shot back: “...things not changing, being fixed in time and space, just continuously repeating themselves—is a metaphysical view of history and does not conform to facts! You need to study dialectical and historical materialism so that you can understand and see how human history develops and changes—and why it is no longer necessary to live the way you are arguing for!”
Following the letter readings, the MC called everyone in attendance to make substantial contributions to PRLF. “People having a hard time paying rent, people having a hard time keeping it together, and it’s most likely to get a lot harder. What kind of ethos are we going to have? What kind of morality represents the kind of society these people are talking about. A communist, revolutionary society.... What kind of ethic do we need? I would argue that what we need is an ethic of collectivity, where people fight for each other, where people look out for each other, where people are willing to make sacrifices to push things forward, not each for themself. And how many subscriptions to this paper? Eight hundred run out at the end of this month! 800 subscriptions! And this is not just about filling the subscriptions that we have now, but there are hundreds of prisoners who want this paper, who can’t get it! They need to get that paper, and they need to read in this paper in a couple weeks that the people in this room did something very significant on this day.”
He announced that a prominent civil liberties organization had contributed $250, a doctor and figure in the battle for the right to abortion gave $250, and challenged people to match that—several people did. A powerful moment was when Juanita Young put enough money in the basket to provide five prisoner subscriptions. Other people pledged to raise money from friends. In total, several thousand dollars was raised, and a basis was laid for new rounds of outreach and fundraising to make sure that every prisoner who requests a subscription to Revolution—in men’s and women’s prisons—can get one.
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