By Comrade Delphi
TERRE HAUTE, INDIANA – The skies on the morning of August 17th broke open and clamored with the pulse of thunder and a torrent of hail. Winds blew the rain sideways and doused the decorations under the pavilions in the Terre Haute’s popular Deming Park. The grass extending before the soundstage was drowned in a pool inches deep and the rows of folding chairs placed there just minutes before sank into mud, the tent designed to shield them having been blown away and twisted beyond repair by the gusts of wind.
We sat under the shelters resigning ourselves to the fact that the storm just swept away months and months of work preparing for Terre Haute, Indiana’s very first New Afrikan People’s Assembly. Fortunately, we were mistaken. The rain was still falling when the phone calls started. “Is it still on? Me and my family plan to be there.” “I’ll put the word out that people should still come!” As it turns out, a lot of people had been waiting for this day–for good reason–and they weren’t going to let anything hold them back. If the pigs, the city council, or the political opportunist couldn’t stop them, a few hours of rain didn’t stand a chance.
Rebuild: New Afrikan People’s Assembly was an event called for by Kwame “Beans” Shakur, born in Terre Haute, and currently being held captive in the colonial prison kkkamp, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility just twenty or so minutes south. Kwame is a self-described “captured colonial” who became a New Afrikan Revolutionary while in prison, inspired by fellow revolutionary Shaka Shakur with whom he would go on to co-found the New Afrikan Liberation Collective (NALC). Over the last several years, they both have worked tirelessly to expand the organization through raising the consciousness of other captured colonials and establish working relationships with many other New Afrikan collectives and cadre throughout the kkkountry. The Indiana Department of Correction has responded to their efforts with persistent repression, on several occasions provoking incidents in which guards have physically assaulted them and/or forced them to defend themselves. Shaka Shakur was eventually sent out of state to Sussex 1 State Prison in Waverly, Virginia when he was exchanged for the Comrade Kevin “Rashid” Johnson who is now being held in Pendleton Correctional Facility in Pendleton, Indiana.
The People’s Assembly was the result of years of refining the political line and practice of the NALC. Hunger strikes, rallies at the IDOC headquarters, solidarity actions for comrades in prisons throughout the state and kkkountry all contributed to the maturity of the organization and its support network. The ideology of the NALC is influenced primarily through the ideas of the late comrade James “Yaki” Sayles and Jalil Muntaqim, currently incarcerated in New York. Years ago, Jalil developed the program for the Front For the Liberation of the New Afrikan Nation (FROLINAN) and the Three Phase Theory for New Afrikan National Liberation in his book We Are Our Own Liberators. Phase 1: Class Struggle for National Unity involves the effort to unify the New Afrikan lumpen/proletariat and petit-bourgeois forces into FROLINAN through de-colonization programs and the building of urban bases. Under Jalil’s influence, the New Afrikan People’s Assembly was planned in accordance with Phase 1.
Planning involved the coming together of several factors that allowed the event to be successful. These factors included: 1. The support of New Afrikan collectives and cadre; 2. The consistent contact maintained between prisoners and their communities; and 3. The revival of the history of New Afrikan/Black struggle and community in Terre Haute. Without these elements, the People’s Assembly could not have been possible. Many roadblocks had to be overcome and efforts were made to prevent the Assembly from happening. The support of cadre and collectives as well as the contact between Kwame Shakur and his community, made possible through the efforts of an extended support network of outside cadre, are examples which revolutionary organizations in all states should replicate. Many of the most experienced and committed leaders in national liberation and revolutionary movements are held captive, intentionally isolated from any and all influence on the masses. Without the medium of outside cadres who maintain contact with these captured leaders their ability to organize is severely limited, but the opposite scenario can produce outstanding results, as proven by the success of the People’s Assembly–a gathering organized by a prisoner held in the most restrictive lockdown unit in the entire state of Indiana!
The final factor is one most certainly not limited to Terre Haute. Indeed it might surprise many that a medium sized city in rural Indiana has a legacy of New Afrikan struggle that is so near and dear to the community. In 1970, Kwame Shakur’s grandfather, Robert Joyner, co-founded the Hyte Center, a community center dedicated to the New Afrikan/Black community. The Hyte Center provided a community kitchen, educational classes, a full basketball court and quickly became a hub of vibrant community activity. The grounds surrounding the Hyte Center served as the setting of the annual Africa Fest–a cultural event that drew large crowds and is remembered fondly. The center operated for decades until a few years ago financial problems led to the city of Terre Haute wresting the control of the building from its owners. Little time was wasted in eradicating the spirit of New Afrikan/Black community that had characterized the Hyte Center since its founding. The city renamed it the Booker T. Washington Community Center, stopped most of the activities which were held there, restricted the hours the basketball court could be used, and imposed ordinances which made holding the Africa Fest too expensive to maintain. These moves were part of an overall continuing strategy of gentrification and counter-insurgent style efforts to disorganize and disunify the New Afrikan/Black community.
Organizers witnessed these efforts firsthand while attempting to secure a location for the People’s Assembly. The community told us about the city’s surreptitious takeover of the Hyte Center and its cumbersome restrictions put on any and all community gathering. It became apparent that the former Hyte Center would not be the ideal location as the city has successfully made the vast majority of the New Afrikan/Black community feel uncomfortable even going there. We learned that simply holding an outdoor event in Terre Haute meant requiring the purchase of expensive insurance and obtaining the approval of city council. Organizers of the former Africa Fest were quickly rejected by the council in proposing the Assembly. Eventually it was settled that the Assembly would occur in a city park where it was not expected that we would require any extra approval. However, as we quickly learned, scheduled for the same day as the event was a political rally for local candidates for office. The organizer of this electoral rally complained to the park administration about the Assembly, dredging up some nonsense about security. We were forced to purchase insurance only to be turned down after the insurance company discovered Kwame’s online article calling for the People’s Assembly. Only by utilizing a series of personal contacts were we able to secure the rights to have the Assembly through the direct approval of the mayor’s office.
Despite these setbacks, the community turned out. There is great resentment about the loss of the Hyte Center and the cultural genocide taking place in Terre Haute. This feeling of loss and desire for community was met by the proliferation of New Afrikan ideology, assisted by both Kwame’s father, Robert Joyner, and Sister Kilaika Shakur of George Jackson University, who travelled from Dallas, Texas to host the Assembly. Around seventy people showed up in what felt almost like a family reunion. The spirit was one of positivity and solidarity. The question that hung in there was that of space. It is clear that in order to rebuild and develop the struggle of national autonomy and decolonization, space free from the control of the city government is necessary.
Live music and food complemented the discussion which was followed by a panel representing NALC, George Jackson University, the Moorish Science Temple, and N’COBRA–an organization fighting for reparations. Organizers obtained contact information from dozens of attendees and currently a steering committee is being assembled to scout locations for land purchase or a building to be renovated for a new social center. Ideas for courses and decolonization programs are being developed.
The New Afrikan People’s Assembly has proven that with the right support, captured revolutionaries can be effective leaders and organizers. It has also shown that there is potential for substantive struggle wherever the masses are and that people are desiring revolutionary change. The People’s Assembly is a model which can be replicated in cities of all sizes with the help of a dedicated team of cadre. We hope that they become a model of people’s democracy in the march towards socialism.