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Ex-Black Panter Happy to Be Alive

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo The Pitt News. http://www.pittnews.com By ALEX OGLE Senior Staff Writer February
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2005
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      The Pitt News.
      http://www.pittnews.com
      By ALEX OGLE
      Senior Staff Writer
      February 28, 2005

      Ashanti Alston was surprised to make it to 51 this year.

      Reflecting on his involvement with the Black Panther Party
      and the Black Liberation Army, a more actively militant
      splinter group of the Panthers, Alston said, "I didn't
      actually think I would get to 20."

      "You have to be daring and willing to take a risk," he said
      during his Thursday talk in the McConomy Auditorium at
      Carnegie Mellon University.

      "Maybe I was crazy back then, but nothing can be changed
      when you let fear take hold of you," he said.

      Alston recently returned from a six-month visit to Chiapas,
      Mexico, the Zapatista-controlled region, and his talk
      revolved around his own life and the lessons to be learned
      from the indigenous communities of Chiapas.

      After 400 years of black oppression in the United States, he
      said, the black community toward the end of the 1960s was no
      longer talking about civil rights.

      "You started hearing about human rights, about Black Power,
      and that word: revolution," Alston said, adding that "By any
      means necessary," Malcolm X's rallying call, began to make
      sense at that time.

      He joined the Panthers at the age of 16, and he noted during
      his talk that the organization respected the non-violent
      approach to activism that Martin Luther King Jr. espoused.

      "But we couldn't take being spit on, hit, flushed down the
      street with water hoses. We wanted to rise up," he said.

      The Panther's iconic style of dress appealed were almost as
      appealing as their politics, Alston said.

      "Oh yeah, we did want the black beret, the black leather
      jacket, the boots, the pants and the gun we thought we'd get
      when we joined," Alston said.

      Alston quickly learned that while "the gun was a tool, and
      we did receive weapons training," the organizing, the hard
      work to serve the black community with lunch programs and
      clothing programs and the political education that new
      recruits received were more important aspects of their training.

      "We learned what motivated revolutionary struggles around
      the world that were not choosing capitalist forms of
      government. This was all when I was in high school. It was
      such a time when even teen-agers really were down with what
      was going on," he said.

      Alston stressed to the roughly 70 people in attendance that,
      despite his history as a soldier with the Liberation Army
      for 12 years and as a prisoner for 14 years after his part
      in a bank robbery to fund the army, he is still "just a
      regular guy."

      He is currently the northeast coordinator for the
      anti-capitalist activist organization Critical Resistance
      and also a board member for the Institute for Anarchist
      Studies, a nonprofit foundation whose research, according to
      its Web site, focuses upon the "domination and hierarchy"
      that permeates capitalist society.

      Anarchists, the site said, seek to "overthrow coercive and
      exploitative social relationships, and replace them with
      egalitarian, self-managed and cooperative social forms."

      The semi-autobiographical talk involved an account of the
      more sensational exploits Alston undertook while with the
      Panthers and after he "went underground" with a Black
      Liberation Army cell, including a failed attempt to break
      imprisoned Panther leaders out of a New York jail.

      Alston emphasized his education in prison after the failed
      "bank expropriation," as he described it.

      "I read, and I read, and I read," he said. "And I learned, I
      learned, I learned."

      In addition to his teachings from the Panthers and readings
      of Karl Marx and other alternative literature, Alston said
      he read a lot about totalitarianism and domination.

      "I thought a lot about collective leadership and organizing
      on a non-hierarchal basis," he said.

      The Jan. 1, 1994, Zapatista rebellion of the indigenous
      people in Chiapas, which is in southern Mexico, provided a
      "practical living example" to Alston for his philosophy. The
      indigenous population's 1994 revolution against the Mexican
      government was based upon dignity, said Alston, who had also
      visited Chiapas in 1997 and 1999.

      "The Zapatistas wanted to build a world with many worlds,
      and I was like, 'Yes!'" Alston said.

      As the Chiapas communities came together, the Mayan cultural
      communities merged with the revolutionary movements of poor
      peasants and indigenous groups that had been oppressed since
      Spain colonized the land 500 years ago, he said.

      Alston's stated mission since his return to the United
      States has been to teach people that no one has to be excluded.

      "It will only make sense when the resources of diversity
      come together," he said, explaining that revolution will not
      work with one ideology.

      He used the analogy of a jazz jam session to stress his point.

      "If you got a horn, bring a horn. If not, bring your voice.
      If you've got no voice, bring your feet or your hands.
      People can come together, and they don't have to give up who
      they are as people," he said.

      Jess Rothman, a political science graduate from San Diego,
      attended Alston's talk during her visit in Pittsburgh.

      "It's all very idealistic, which I like, and he's had a
      really interesting life," Rothman said.

      "But what are you going to do?" she asked with a laugh.
      "It's all good theory, but can anyone actually envision a
      revolution in this country? This is America. Come on, I
      don't think so. The state would crush you."

      At the conclusion of the main lecture, Alston was asked
      about the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Malik
      Zulu Shabazz, the controversial national chairman, visited
      CMU a week earlier.

      "You can't copyright the name Black Panther Party. It's open
      to anyone," Alston said.

      "But when you've had history, when you've lived with the
      group, been hurt by it, you want the people [who use the
      name] to take upon your original goals," he added. "There
      are things we all need to talk about together, but not up
      here on a stage, not as entertainment."

      In discussion of the presidential election, Alston said he
      "could not take being asked about [Sen. John] Kerry and
      [President George W.] Bush."

      "It's an empire, right?" he added. "It don't matter who's in
      that puppet office."

      He expressed surprise that fellow activists were "caught up
      in the election and with electing black senators." Alston
      told such people that they should involve themselves in
      their community.

      "You can't change the system from within," he said. "It's
      not about changing the world, it's about making a new world."

      --
      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
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      As the Government of the United States of America is not, in
      any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in
      itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or
      tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never
      entered into any war, or act of hostility against any
      Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no
      pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce
      an interruption of the harmony existing between the two
      countries.
      -- The Treaty of Tripoli, entered into by the USA under
      George Washington
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