Thursday, August 24, 2006

“Conspiracy in the Streets: the extraordinary trial of the Chicago Eight” (edited by Jon Wiener; Afterword by Tom Hayden; Illustrations by Jules Feiffer) (New Press) This new book about the Chicago Eight (or Seven) trial is a good, late introduction to the remarkable example of the misuse of state power that is called “the Chicago Seven (or Eight) Trial”. Anyone already well read on the details of the case might find this abridged transcript unnecessary. As Wiener acknowledges upfront there is a previously published and much more in depth transcript, “The Conspiracy Trial” edited by John Spitzer and the wonderful, Judy Clavir (a.k.a. Gumbo, partner of Stew). However, the earlier title is not as “widely available” in used bookstores as Wiener suggests. As I type there are 57 copies available through, starting at $6 and going up to around $45 for really nice first edition copies. “The Conspiracy Trial” is not a scarce book by any means. Nevertheless, if you think about it, those numbers suggest there are a heck of a lot of towns were the book is not available at all. This is a very minor point, but it is another reason why this new, less complete, transcript is needed. More importantly this story needs to be remembered. I admire all these eight defendants (plus their lead lawyers Kunstler and Weinglass). I admire them despite their oft-noted ideological differences and, in most cases, their subsequent, imperfect careers. The greatest of them: David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale and Tom Hayden were never again united. (Or ever before! Which by the by disproves most of the state’s case against them!) This group of radicals never again came together. The state forced them together in this trial by judge and prosecutor and (infiltrated by at least one agent) jury. So if for no other reason I applaud the state for their ability to create a unique anti-state revolutionary front. In addition to this new partial transcript and the earlier Clavir/Spitzer transcript, there are numerous good books on the Chicago Eight/Seven trial. I recommend Jason Epstein’s “The Great Conspiracy Trial” published by Random House in 1970. Epstein is a really good writer and quite the moderate, though David Horowitz would probably call him “a liberal”. Also worth mentioning are two books by David Dellinger. He writes with great insight about the trial in both “More Power Than We Know” (Anchor, 1975) and “From Yale to Jail” (Pantheon, 1993). Though he was the token pacifist, Dellinger was the one member of the (white) seven conspirators who stood and tried to defend (black) Bobby Seale when Seale was assaulted by (color unknown) marshals during the early part of the trial. Dan Berger noted this fact in his book “Outlaws of America” and in a talk he gave recently at A Cappella Books. For this and many other reasons Dellinger is the member of this group I think I love the most, though there is a place in my heart for them all. “Conspiracy in the Streets” benefits from Jules Feiffer’s nice illustrations. Richard Avedon’s cover photo is also very nice, though Bobby Seale is unfortunately “notably absent” because he was “in jail at the time”.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

“Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur. This classic autobiography of the heroine revolutionary, Assata Shakur belongs on every progressive bookshelf alongside “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”. This is a tale of turbulent times told with serenity. For someone often called a “cop hater” by her enemies, Assata’s words come from a place of pure love, love for the people of her nation and love for oppressed peoples everywhere. Considering the tremendous abuse she has suffered at the hands of the United States for the better part of the 1970’s, there is no doubt some hatred in her heart - hatred put there in part by hundreds of years of oppression and racism. This is the background no one should forget when reading the story leading to Assata’s arrest and subsequent railroading at the hands of the state, under the guise of “the people”. She was shot, tortured and thrown in a hole in the name of “the people”, in my name and your name. She has been called the “high priestess of the… Black Liberation Army” in the “Daily News” during the press’ efforts in conjunction with the state to frame Assata for a whole string of trumped up charges. Yet, in Charles E. Jones excellent book “The Black Panther Party (Reconsidered)” Assata is referred to as merely a rank-and-file member of the Black Panther Party. In a way, both of these characterizations are accurate. Assata’s career as a revolutionary began quite humbly as a worker for the Panthers. Apparently, she was thrown into the “leadership” spotlight only after she was identified by the state as a “person of interest” wanted for questioning in relation to the murder of a cop in May of 1971. This one false identification threw Assata’s life into the whirlwind of the underground revolution, where she remained until her capture three years later in May of 1973. She was tried and acquitted three times. Once there was a hung jury. Three times cases were dismissed. Still Assata remained locked away for most of a decade, often as not in solitary confinement in the worst of conditions of the prison system within the prison system the United States government reserves for its political prisoners and prisoner’s of war. All of this happened long before the recent well-publicized prisoner abuses related to the so-called “war on terror”. No wonder the current administration assumes it can get away with this shit. Our government has been doing the same thing to its African American prisoner population for, well basically, since the creation of the union. Finally, Assata was convicted on charges stemming from the incidents that occurred when she was originally arrested! Convicted on evidence that does not come close to proving her guilt. Nevertheless, the system simply could not hold a revolutionary force as great as Assata. No amount of steel and concrete could keep her locked up forever. On November 2nd 1979, Black Solidarity Day, Assata escaped. She is living safely in Cuba. As Evelyn Williams says elsewhere, in reference to Assata’s daughter, she is “not living in the drug-infested, death-driven racist country that might claim her life.” I would love to know more operational details of Assata’s escape and of her activities with the Black Liberation movement, but so would the FBI and the CIA and every other WWW (Wicked White Warmonger) out their spying through the proverbial keyhole. For those stories we will have to wait for her next book, perhaps published after the revolution has finally shut down the ugly forces of imperialism, racism and war. That is an on-going process that none of us will see the end of. Assata’s story is just one of many small stories within the process of revolution.