On April 13, Philly celebrated the release of the book Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond, by David Gilbert, who is a political prisoner in New York State. The event, at Goldilocks Gallery, featured speakers, a short video tribute to David and the book, and a showing of a quilt made by imprisoned community members at SCI-Chester.
Order the book at https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=370
It was a rare gathering of movement elders and young people who shared their passion, wisdom, and commitment. Check out the videos:
Ashanti Alston, former political prisoner
When joining the Black Liberation Army, the first task that we were assigned was to free political prisoners…. We had to be brave enough, and, I will say, crazy enough to do it. Harriet Tubman had to be crazy enough to do it. You cannot keep thinking about “I might get killed, I might die.” It is a time to act…. Even if you’re scared, you know it has to be done. And it don’t always have to be the grand action. It could be knocking on your next-door neighbor’s door. Or your coworkers, and starting that kind of conversation that helps move them from a space of indifference or apathy or fear, to one of the courage to begin to take back their lives.
Dan Berger, Decarcerate PA
[Political prisoners] became my mentors. And David especially. They were able to hold out a sense of struggle, but also that part of struggle was reflection, being able to think critically about our own histories. And that’s something that I think David does so remarkably—all the more remarkably because he’s done it serving a life sentence in some of the roughest prisons, certainly, that New York State has to offer.
Sarah Small, Decarcerate PA
I think maybe what gets reflected on and commented on less is the immense amount of love and humanity that these people have brought to our struggles. And I think that that is what has consistently struck me the most about all of my interactions with David—is the depth of the love and his commitment to expanding his sense of humanity and collectivity with others…. That sense of love, and love in the struggle, is the backbone of the collective liberation that we’re trying to build with each other.
Letter from Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner
The political prisoners are part of us, part of our movement. While we struggle to win their release, we need to make sure they are treated as equals in our movement. We need to talk with them not only about their situations and the issue of political prisoners, but about the breadth of resistance. We need to write to them, read with them, disagree and be honest with them—and always to learn from their ideas, their practice and their enormous courage and dignity.
Joshua Glenn, Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project
What happened to humanity? They lock us up systematically
And profit off our plight and continue to live lavishly
The government had plans for me before I even had my teeth,
And yet they act like they don’t know why the world can’t establish peace.
They take from the poor so rapidly and happily
And expect us to overcome it magically and gradually.
They want to fill their jails, so they have to breed catastrophe
Cause in the war on drugs, the hustler is the casualty.
Emily Abendroth, Decarcerate PA
From the most amplified environments of social control in the U.S. landscape, these folks provide for us vital models of resistance. And in their successes, they profoundly expose the vulnerability of the system in the face of our love for one another.
Letter from Saleem Holbrook, currently incarcerated in PA
In addition to activists on the outside, there is another group of people whom political prisoners regularly touch and influence, and these are their fellow prisoners—in particular, those who make a conscious decision to walk in the example of the political prisoners they come into contact with. This influence that political prisoners have upon other prisoners is one of the main reasons why the prison system both isolates and frequently transfers them.
—Robert Saleem Holbrook
Hakim Ali, Reconstruction, Inc
We seem to put a celebrity tag to political prisoners, and I think because of that, we don’t do the work to get them out of the penitentiary…. Stop that pedestal bullshit and recognize the fact that they are men and women who have been tortured by this system. We are walking around enjoying our life out here, when we should be angry as hell that they’ve got our brothers and sisters locked up. But we want to hear nice words of encouragement from them, because they have this status in our heads. Another trick of the system.
Theresa Shoatz, Human Rights Coalition
It was people like Pam [Africa] who took me by the hand one day and drove me all over North Philly, where I can leave petitions. That’s love in the struggle. Because I thought, “This woman is crazy—does she think I’m going to drive from here to here to here—?” And she said, “If you want to save your father’s life, this is what you need to do. You’ve got to make people aware.” The same way I was unaware and a lot of people in my community are unaware. This is why, once I became conscious about the struggle, I brought my son to every meeting.
Inez Ramos, National Boricua Human Rights Network
Recently, President Obama was there [in Puerto Rico]—he was there for 4 hours on the island, and we created such a presence of Oscar [Lopez Rivera] in his face, he couldn’t turn any corner without seeing a picture or a call for his release…. Carlos Alberto [Torres] fortunately came out in 2010, he kind of flew under the right-wing’s radar. For that parole hearing—you know, there is no cookie-cutter approach to any of this…. What works today may not work tomorrow…. We didn’t campaign for that, we just kind of laid low for that, which actually worked for us…he actually was released.
Kazembe Balagun, Brecht Forum
I want to tell you a story about me writing my first letter to David Gilbert, which happened yesterday…. I’ve known David through his writings and video, but I never took the step to write to him…we live in a technological society that puts a high premium on convenience rather than struggling…. To write to David Gilbert is to engage in a level of intentionality to create community with somebody…. I got in a conversation with the person behind the counter…and she was like, “You’re writing to a prisoner?... Back in the day, I used to write letters to free Angela Davis.” How would that conversation ever happen on the Internet? …We talked about the post office struggle and the fact that my father worked in the post office…. [The book Love and Struggle is] something to help us go further in the struggle—it’s a gift. All of this came out of the level of intentionality that our prisoners give to us.