Anarchist Black Cross Federation - interview
1) Tell us what the Anarchist Black Cross Federation (ABCF) is. Why are you in the ABCF?
- The ABCF is a federation of Anarchist Black Cross collectives whose purpose is to focus on financially supporting, and raising awareness about Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War (PP/POW) in the United States. When we talk about PP/POW's we are talking specifically of people who have been imprisoned for conscious political actions taken in political movements outside of prison.
To support PP/POW's financially, for example, we have organized the Warchest Program. The Warchest Program collects donations from ABCF collectives, other ABC groups in the US not involved in the ABCF, supportive individuals and groups of many political ideologies, and pools these funds. We then ask many PP/POW's about the financial support they receive. In the order of need, those PP/POW's who receive the least financial support will then receive a monthly check of up to $60. We initiated this program in November 1994 and it has remained consistent since then. We currently support 7 PP/POW's with monthly checks. There is also the Emergency Fund which sends money to PP/POW's who may not need monthly funds, but need one time financial support for a specific reason. For example, a Black Liberation Army PP, Jalil Muntaqim was transferred from one prison to another in the middle of winter and lost his coat and gloves. The Emergency Fund was able to help purchase these items for him. Anti Imperialist PP Jaan Laaman was kept from taking college courses in prison due to lack of money, the Emergency Fund was able to help pay for his classes. In January 1996, an ABCF collective in Jacksonville FL, was raided by the police and put in prison for their political work in the community, the Emergency Fund helped bail them out etc.
The ABCF also raises awareness for PP/POW's by doing interviews in magazines like this one, (look for an interview with the ABCF in an upcoming winter issue of Maximum Rock-n-Roll). We also produce political merchandise about PP/POW's like T-shirts, pamphlets, calendars featuring them, taped interviews with them and much more. We do this not only to sell it and raise funds for them, but to educate people about the existence of PP/POW's in the US, and the struggles that they came from to try and revitalize revolutionary activity in the US, which has been in decline in the last several years. The reason we do this work can be summed up in a quote by Ojore Lutalo, an anarchist POW. As he states; „Any movement that fails to support its political internees is a sham movement.µ Any successful revolution must have a structure which supports and maintains meaningful communication with its political captives and exiles. Among and within the movement that exists in the US today, there are not only the future leaders and builders of the coming social crisis, but also the future captives of the struggle. And this reality must be taken into account if we are serious about building revolution in the US and elsewhere.
2) Is there much support for the ABC idea, or helping prisoners in the United States of America.
- Recent political trends among the revolutionary left in this country have seen a resurgence in interest of supporting PP/POW's. ABCF has provided consistent support and has been on the front line of this growing trend.
3) What kind of prisoners help the ABCF? Are they only anarchist?
- PP/POW's in the US, as far as we see, are unique in that they display a high level of unity among themselves which transcends their various ideologies and sects they subscribe to. Based on their example, the ABCF organizes in the same non-sectarian, non-partisan approach. Due to this and the reality that there aren't many anarchist PP/POW's the majority of PP/POW's involved in the organization are not anarchist.
4) In your work with the ABCF, have you had any problems with the cops or FBI?
- In the earlier stages of forming NJ ABC (an ABCF group in New Jersey), police have raided our office, arrested us and shot at our bookstore/community center. At one demonstration in support of prisoners accused of leading a prison rebellion, the FBI detained us in the basement of a courtroom. In recent times, NJ ABC has not experienced overt police provocations. Keeping in mind that in the US, the police and FBI, etc. usually use covert and secret operations to harass and destroy organizations. However, in January 1996, Jacksonville ABC (an ABCF group in Florida) were raided by highly armed SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams and police. One member was taken into custody and detained on a minor auto violation, while SWAT and evidence technicians interrogated the remaining collective members and tore their home apart confiscating political literature, legal shotguns, and more. After the member was released, police and SWAT teams returned less than two weeks later to arrest all but one of the Jacksonville ABC members. In this instance all were detained in prison for 4 days until the ABCF and family members were able to bail them out. Currently they remain out on bail and their trial is ongoing. They face up to 5 years in prison.
5) Have you had problems meeting with prisoners, or corresponding with them?
- Not usually. An important service the ABCF provides is visiting PP/POW's. Different members of the federation visit PP/POW's on a consistent basis. Though there has been nothing serious, we occasionally are made to wait for hours before visits, sometimes our visits are cut short etc. Recently, members of NJ ABC visited a POW in California. Immediately after our visit, the prison revoked all the prisoners approved visitors. We can not say for sure if this was a coincidence or covert harassment. We also occasionally lose mail to and from PP/POW's, but it does not happen on a regular basis. The ABCF Update, a magazine that reports our progress and upcoming work has been classified as „unauthorizedµ in some prisons.
6) Is the ABCF in collaboration with other similar organizations? What do you think about collaboration with other revolutionary left organizations?
- Currently there is no specific organization we are presently collaborating with. However we are not opposed to working together with other revolutionary organizations to attain similar goals.
7) Tell me how we in Poland can help ABCF? What advice do you have for a young Polish ABC?
- The reality of the present situation in the world shows that the building of a revolutionary movement must be international in both its vision and practice. In the current stage of struggle we are in, the best way to show solidarity is for people in Poland to publicize the plight and reality of United States PP/POW's and their struggles, and for us in America to do the same with struggles from outside our borders. We must also keep an open line of communication and dialogue to learn from one another and assist one another in the practice of mutual aid.
Thank you for this opportunity to express our thoughts and work.
Anarchist Black Cross Federation