Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Review of Global NATO And the Catastrophic Failure in Libya by Horace Campbell (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013). Within twenty one chapters, Horace Campbell makes a convincing case that the North Atlantc Treaty Organization (NATO) is “a rogue military entity outside the bounds of the prejudices of a democratic society” (187). This military entity essentially serves the financial and military interests of Washington and Wall Street by advancing U.S. imperialism in North Africa. NATO is the scapegoat the Obama administration used as of March 19, 2011, to militarily occupy North Africa, assassinate Moamar Gadafi all under Obama’s historic claim that there are “no boots on the ground.” In his preface, Campbell stated that his book is written as one effort “to link the global anti-imperialist movement in finding new ways to cooperate” (13). His book is a necessary tool for anti-imperialists within the West who seek to understand arguments by African intellectuals that are ignored by the Western media and academia who “presented the Libyan intervention as a major success” (30). His book argues the opposite and its title comes from a quote by Seumas Milne that the Libyan intervention was in fact “a catastrophic failure.” He writes that African intellectuals wrote that: “the governments of the United States, Britain, and France had no interest in a peaceful and inclusive resolution of the Libyan conflict. Rather their objective was to replace Colonel Gadafi’s regime with a Western client state , regardless of the cost and consequences for the people of Libya” (33). Consisting of twenty one chapters, each point to the unique role that Gadafi’s resource nationalism played in the multifaceted U.S. colonial presence in Libya. The first three chapters describe how NATO formed on April 4, 1949 as an alliance of only five countries—Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and the United States—to defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union (38). However since then it expanded seven times to twenty eight nations in 2009. It now exists, especially during the imminent deployment of troops to the Ukraine, in Campbell’s words, to “protect ‘globalized’ capital” (40). After Libya’s 1970s nationalization of oil that was a precursor to Iranian nationalization in 1979 and Saudi Arabia’s full takeover of Aramco in the mid 1980s, Campbell ultimately shows how NATO acted to essentially counter this growing trend of resource nationalism in oil rich producing countries. The next three chapters describe the tactical errors that Gadafi made, from Campbell’s Pan-African perspective in not utilizing the wisdom of the African intellectuals he quoted in his Preface. Libya’s loss of resource nationalism was steady and ended precipitously with the 2011 NATO invasion. Campbell essentially argues that the intellectual apparatus of the Libyan leadership was hollow and how consequently, the Gadafi family “went all out to ingratiate itself with Washington and the associated networks of U.S. capitalism” (54). In 2003, the Libyan government entered into agreements with the IMF and privatized offshore land and resources that were formerly owned by the state: “Gadafi had enabled the imperial intelligence services by sharing information, financing their governments, purchasing junk equipment as weaponry, and cooperating with their intelligence agencies” (65). Wikileaks cables reveals that Gadafi intended to enact resource nationalism on Western oil companies by “forcing them to renegotiate their contracts,” and that this “created a dangerous international precedent” (60). This prompted Western leaders of Britain, France and the United States to lobby the United Nations Security Council to pass Resolution 1973 that invokes a “responsibility to protect” the citizens of Libya which essentially criminalized Gadafi’s leadership. Campbell shows how these Western leaders use the U.N. to serve the interests of private Western capital that worked within the Gulf Cooperation Council against Gadafi (75). The military invasion was enabled by imperial intelligence which Gadafi himself initiated while having a hollow intellectual apparatus. This book becomes a cautionary tale for any Pan African leader about the danger of excessive ingratiation to the West without a sufficient intellectual apparatus. The next three chapters describes the Western intellectual and media apparatus that justified the NATO invasion and bombing of Libya. Campbell describes current Samantha Power “as a journalist without serious historical training” who was “elevated to a professorship at Harvard” based on her media exposure (69). With Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, she promoted the NATO bombing of Libya. Western companies like the American Bechtel, Germany’s KWE, and France’s Veolia, which is now in a significant struggle with Boston Local 8751 over wages, have been calling for “privatization of water resources” and the end to resource nationalism (91). Campbell writes that the Libyan leadership, devoid of a structured intelligentsia, spent millions of dollars to finance the election of Sarkozy who since this book’s printing was jailed by France in 2014 over campaign finance violations. From March 19 to October 2011, Campbell writes that NATO carried out 9,700 bombing mission which made an average of 150 air strikes per day, “killing hundreds—if not thousands—of people” (119). Meanwhile in the United States, the “corporate media worked to marginalize any opposition in U.S. society to relentless bombing of Libya” (127). While Amy Goodman did interview Campbell, she strategically ignored the anti-imperialist perspective of Cynthia McKinney who visited Libya personally. Goodman in Demoracy Now! ignored McKinney’s and others reporting on Libya that countered her own reporting sympathetic to the NATO bombing. In the next six chapters Campbell details several important developments: the disagreements within NATO the various methods the West used to occupy Libya including propaganda. Campbell writes that of the twenty eight member states “the majority refused to participate in this military operation” (121). However the NATO occupation of Libya did not only include a military. It “depended on drones, special forces, intelligence assets, and private military contracts working with regional militias” (148). Citing the 82-page report by Human Rights Watch, Campbell argues that while the entire propaganda was based on the idea of protecting civilians, “it was clear that the NATO operation was not for a no-fly zone, but for regime change” (157). Campbell deconstructs the myth that dark skinned Libyans during this conflict were “Gadafi’s African mercenaries” quoting the chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Jean Ping who said “Blacks are being accused of being mercenaries...Sometimes when they are white, they call them technical advisors” (166). In the sixteenth chapter, “The Execution of Gadafi,” Campbell calls the assassination a violation of the Geneva Convention and describes how NATO’s press release distanced itself from the assassination. NATO’s overall purpose was “to allow the Western powers “to regain ground lost in Tunisia and Egypt” after the 2010 Arab Spring: “Western countries dictated that the new Libyan leadership follow the path of the IMF” (182,191). Campbell’s arguments here are vindicated by the Smith College students who protested Christine Lagarde speaking at their commencement. In the next four chapters, Campbell details exactly how the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Libya was a catastrophic failure, from the death of U.S. Ambassador James Stevens, to the resignation of U.S. General David Petraeus. He attributes the death of Stevens to “inter-militia warfare” not “demonstrations” that the Western media claimed (213). He describes the U.S. military culture as one of “deception” that emanates from “a sense of excessive pride and arrogance” that believes that “the United States could unilaterally lead preemptive wars and that the world would…be safer with U.S. leadership” (222). Campbell makes a slightly revisionist claim when he writes that the U.S. has “escaped” the worst aspect of fascist ideas (251). This book argues otherwise. So does Christopher Simpson in his book Blowback that details a kind of American recruitment of Nazis after the Second World War similar to the collusion of Libyan Khalifa Hifter that Campbell describes. Paul Robeson in a 1960 interview with the New Zealand People’s Voice described NATO as a “fascist” organization in content. Campbell’s exhaustive research supports this and exposes the serious limitations of U.S. foreign policy. In his conclusion, Campbell writes that resource nationalism continues to be a threat to European domination of Africa and that “there can be no guarantee that the well laid plans of Western military planners along with Israel, will end up favorably for Western Europe and North America” (256,265). This supports a central claim he makes in his Introduction, that “from the work of Kwame Nkrumah to the stewardship of Nelson Mandela, there has been one overriding principle: Africans must dictate the pace and rate of the unification and freedom of Africa” (33).
Sunday, August 31, 2014
A photo of myself, Ted Lange, and singer Juno Brown. Photo by Dorian Hall. I had an amazing time directing the series of seven plays every Tuesday from Tuesday, July 7th to Tuesday, August 28th. It was a cathartic experience for me that taught me about my sincere ambition to direct, produce, or support historical plays. Not enough of them are produced. All too often, stories on stage about the Black experience written by Black writers become musicals. I am not sure that Lorraine Hansberry would have approved of the drama based on her own life experiences being turned into a musical. Her work, like each of these plays, like the art that Malcolm X encouraged, was about raising the race and class consciousness of its audience. For this reason, I learned especially after directing my plays, the importance of brevity, and the power of nonverbal physical performance that can convey a meaningful message better than any words. The first play I directed this summer was the first of Ted Lange’s trilogy called “George Washington’s Boy,” about George Washington’s slave Billy who is convincing his owner George Washington to free him. Two important dynamics are raised in this play: the dependence of Billy on George to essentially approve his marriage to Margaret, and Martha’s enslaved Oney Judge’s escape that Billy is unable to emulate Oney and escape and descends into alcoholism after suffering a leg injury. Washington on his death bed tells Billy never to look back. We got to read this play in its entirety, which featured Gerson Alexander as George Washington, Aaron Bell as Billy, James Stankunas as Alexander Hamilton, and Baset as Margaret and Oney Judge. This was the only night of the eight weeks that we did not get to read the play in its entirety because a torrential storm descended on the gazebo we read in. So, we finished up to the middle of the second act, when Washington is preparing for his battle at Trenton. The second play we read, called “Unity Valley” and written by myself, picks up where we left off historically, on George Washington’s deathbed in December 1799, except this time the setting is exclusively in the meetinghouse of Richard Allen’s then newly formed Bethel A.M.E. Church. This play “Unity Valley” was a fictional account based on David Barclay’s actual 1803 pamphlet “An Account of Slaves At Unity Valley Pen in Jamaica,” and was an opportunity for me to hear the play for a second time get read. Because of the rain in the forecast, we read this piece in the same place where we rehearsed, which is in my home. Tiffany Barrett read the role of Amelia; Carlene Taylor read Mintas; Shayne Powell read Prince; Eric Holte read Simon; Julian Brelsford read Lemaitre; Susan Chast read Granger; and Arnold Kendall read David Barclay. This reading taught me that I had one structural adjustment to make in terms of changing a georgraphical location in the last few pages of the piece. But a dramatic breakthrough with the performance of this play came through for me in the aggressiveness of Prince at the very end of this play. Directing Prince’s final bold act at the end was important for me to see in terms of the direction that the work had to go in. I believe this is one of those plays that would take off dramatically with the right director and the right production to convey the message, and that message is concerned with the reality that, for some free Blacks in Philadelphia at the death of George Washington, the Haitian Revolution was in fact a magnet and an ideal place to be, and in order to get there, one had to take great risks. The third play of this series, read on Tuesday, July 22nd was the second of Ted Lange’s trilogy called “The Journals of Osborne Anderson.” This play presents in dramatic stage form the experience of revolutionary John Brown from the perspective and from the journals of Osborne Anderson. I have been teaching African American History for five semesters now at Delaware County Community College and one of the narratives I teach the class is an excerpt of Osborne Anderson, so when I discovered that Ted Lange had written a play dedicated to him, around last summer, I was excited to have the opportunity to direct this. I think that there are key dramatic moments in this play that cannot be missed. One is the suspenseful setup that Lange writes at the very beginning of this play. This setup between Doyle, a border ruffian, and Stevens, an antislavery soldier is set up first to get the audience to sympathize with John Brown’s army. The audience essentially roots for the success of John Brown’s army, and wants to see Brown’s army succeed and abolition completed. However obstacles get in the way. The main obstacle the audience is set up to hate is the Virginia militia who surround the firehouse that Brown and his collaborators are trapped in. Lange also presents Frederick Douglass as a prominent character in this play may not directly participate in Brown’s attack on the Confederate arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, but who ultimately provides material support for it, in terms of a space and in terms of soldiers. The first act deals with very serious questions about social change that are incredibly relevant today: whether social change can come about by the means of moral suasion that Douglass practiced or whether it can come about by the means of armed revolution that John Brown practiced. However the beauty of Lange’s play as a director for me is dealing with Black men who believed that armed revolution was the best way to bring about social change. Lange’s John Brown not only believed this. Osborne Anderson, Shields Green, John Copeland, and Dangerfield Newby believed this as well, and Lange exposes the difference of opinion between each of them. As a former Oberlin college student, John Copeland makes it his duty to correct his grammar. The most powerful drama for me in this play which came out in the reading is the exchanges between the former Oberlin student John Copeland the the nephew of George Washington, Lewis Washington, also read by Gerson Alexander. Lewis is mortified that he becomes a prisoner to Brown and his army and treads thin ice with the gun-toting Copeland who is ready to shoot him if he dares call Copeland the n-word again. The power of this play is the noble way that Ted Lange writes John Brown’s resignation to his death. His last powerful line is one that recalls the beautiful intellect of George Jackson: “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” Ted Lange writes John Brown very nobly. Lange raises the issue that I raised in my dissertation, that social change in America can only happen when individuals, psychologically divorced from racism, have a strong enough race consciousness and class consciousness to work ACROSS race, as John Brown and Osborne Anderson did, to end class oppression. Slavery was class oppression in the South. This has an interesting comparison with how Dominic Taylor wrote the life of Osborne Anderson. Osborne Anderson was read memorably by Brian Anthony Wilson. The reading by Norman Marshall as John Brown was incredible. Elizabeth Michaels as his second wife Mary Brown was absolutely incredible and exposed the very tender moments of John Brown. The second act of this play dealt with the trial of John Brown and his subsequent hanging. The drama is raised to a higher pitch when the mother of John Copeland, Delilah Copeland, read by Meryl Lynn Brown, discovers that the state of Virginia confiscated her son’s body for medical purposes. At the end of the play I believe we are led to see Osborne Anderson and John Brown as noble men who worked across racial lines to foment class revolution. The fourth play read in this series was a play that I saw first in 2011 at the Audubon Ballroom and I fell in love with. It is called “Voices From Harper’s Ferry” and it is written by Dominic Taylor and it is a beautiful homage to Osborne Anderson. The play opens with in the 1870s with two DC policemen kicking an unidentified body, that we later discover to be Osborne Anderson. The middle of the play and the meat of the play is learning more about how Osborne Anderson came to be. I decided to stage this reading in a way where Osborne takes center stage. The first act is concerned with the raid on Harper’s Ferry and features a serious dramatic conflict between Dangerfield Newby whom Taylor writes with more agency than Lange. Taylor also fleshes out Shields Green and gives him a distinct Senegalese identity as well as a very vivid memory of being raped that can only in my opinion be played very seriously. The first act ends with the raid, and the second act picks up in a very creative way, with those who are deceased speaking to Osborne Anderson in his head, as he was the lone survivor of that raid. I had Newby, Green, and Copeland walk around Anderson who is sitting in a chair, and I think this brought home better the message Taylor was sending behind the kind of meaning that these men had in Anderson’s life, that has not been emphasized before. This play is also infused with song and Taylor shows in it how songs are used as codes to undermine the institution of slavery. Walter Deshields read Osborne Anderson; Mitchell Little read Shields Green; Denzel Owens Pryor read Lewis Leary; Eric Holte read John Copeland; and Langston Darby gave a very memorable read as Dangerfield Newby. The fifth play we read was Ted Lange’s last of his trilogy called “Lady Patriot.” This was the play that brought Ted Lange to my attention as a playwright. It was critically acclaimed at the 2013 National Black Theater Festival and I wanted to read it. Where Lange’s play “The Journals of Osborne Anderson” focuses on the necessary interracial coalitions between MEN that brought about social change in America, Ted Lange’s “Lady Patriot” focuses on the necessary interracial coalitions between WOMEN that brought about social change in America, specifically between Mary Bowser the former servant to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Elizabeth Van Lew, the neighbor of President Davis, who collaborated with Bowser to give secrets about the plans of the Confederate Army to Union soldiers. The drama of this story unfolds when Davis’s trusted servant Old Robert follows order to tie Mary Bowser up after Varina Davis discovers her reading maps in Davis’s office. As he is tying her up, Mary Bowser, read by the powerful Uta Hagen/Ossie Davis-trained actress Zuhairah McGill tells Old Robert to be a man. Ted Lange directed me to make sure the drama is pulled out of this interaction. I shared that direction to Zuhairah in her being tied up by Old Robert, read perfectly by Eric Holte, and she did exactly that. It made for a powerful dramatic performance along with Lawrence Geller’s reading of Jefferson Davis; Melissa Amilani’s reading of Varina Davis, and Eric Dann reads the abolitionst reporter Slydell. The sixth play that was read was my play “Negro Principles” that was read in two parts on two separate Tuesdays: Act one on August 12th and Acts two and three on August 19th. This play is based on my research of the personal and political life of A. Philip Randolph and Lucille Green Randolph. I learned from both of these readings, since my initial reading of it on February 5, 2011, that I have some editing to do. Gratefully, I have been in conversation this month with an historical dramatist whom I respect very deeply, whose work is produced across the country and across the world about getting a respectful complete production of my work. The first act is concerned with the asset that the character of Lee provides to Lucille’s Beauty and Barber shop. I discovered from this read that I wanted a lot of what is said to be directly relate to this asset. I think I found my Lee. I wrote Lee three years ago, wondering if an actor is out there capable of playing him, and I think I found him in Jaivon Lewis. He brought so much life to my character of Lee in his August 19th read, more so than his August 12th read. The first act of the play was concerned with exposing the asset of Lee and showing the economic and emotional asset he provided to THE main characters: Lucille Green Randolph and A. Philip Randolph. Lucille was read on August 12th in my home because it was raining in Malcolm X Park on that day, by the indomitable Caroline Stefanie Clay. She brought so much power to this role. Starletta DuPois, whom I first saw in the 1989 American Playhouse production of A Raisin in the Sun also starring Esther Rolle and Danny Glover performed my character of Audrey & Elizabeth Randolph in this play very very memorably. Alexander Elisa delivers an Asa that for me is the only Asa. His fluidity in capturing nuance of my words and emotions in a way that I know A. Philip Randolph would capture is like no other actor. The readings on these two nights of August 12th and August 19th taught me specifically where I need to edit, but more important, three years later, it taught me that I needed to have space between myself and this work in order to understand the value of editing it. In these readings, Lynnette R. Freeman read Delia Marshall; Walter Deshields read Howard; Meryl Lynn Brown read Mattie Powell; Mercedes Simmons read Sarah; Eric Holte read Clyde; Tanisha Saintvil read Florence and Ella on August 19th; Lena Lewis read Lucille on August 19th. The final reading of this play series was Momma Sandi’s powerful play “Stories From The Sister Circle.” I appreciated the opportunity to direct this play because it is the only play that deals so intimately about relationship issues between Black women in the Black family and it deals sensitively with the longer holocaust of African peoples that I believe this country fights very diligently to ignore and invalidate. This play centers on the relationship of a young woman, Saundra Yvette, with her mother and her efforts, alongside the efforts of her three aunts, to get her mother to stop drinking. I chose to stage this reading with Saundra Yvette’s mother Mary Alice, in the front and center of actors, in front of a table on which a bottle of alcohol sits. She occasionally drinks to the dismay of her sisters and daughter and who recall her and the memory of her funeral, Mary Alice’s funeral, in front of her. Probably one of the most meaningful responses I got to this reading was the response from my cousin Jason, who did not see Mary Alice’s alcoholism as a hindrance to her daughter but as a vehicle to invoke the storytelling ambitions of her sisters which was the traditional use of alcohol or rum in many of the Caribbean and West African religions. One of the stories in Momma Sandi’s that her sisters tell the audience and Saundra Yvette is the fertility of Anansi and how the women discovered “joy” down at the river. The stories in the end of this play become a healing ritual. Zuhairah unforgettably read the role of Mary Alice and has her own reckoning conversation with her daughter and her God about her drinking. This reckoning allows for Aunt Yaya, according to the words of sister Mama Clee, to feed her the waters of life, which allows for Mary Alice to find eternal healing from the pain resulting from the holocaust of African peoples, and also to show her daughter the importance of sharing painful experiences in bonds of sisterhood in order to survive. Mama Clee was read by Rebekah Hughston; Tamara Woods read Ethel Mae; Meryl Lynn Brown read Aunt Odessa; Eric Holte read the role of Crooner, Minister, and Lee Grant; Young Saundra was read by Mercedes Simmons and Older Saundra was read by Lena Lewis. Thank you to all the actors for making this possible. Thank you to Ted Lange whose play “Lady Patriot” inspired this reading series. Thank you to my co-director Rebekah Hughston. Thank you to the Friends of Malcolm X memorial Park. Thank you to Sharon Chestnut for conceiving the idea of the name "Readings At The X." Thank you so much ESPECIALLY to Mr. Gregory Cojolun of the Friends of Malcolm X Memorial Park for his help in making this reading series a reality. And to the funders of this reading series: Amy Kietzman, Scott Williams, Abigail Raymond, Adam Butler, and my dad Anserd Fraser. –RF.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Photo of Javed Jaghai by Randy Risling of the Toronto Star “In Defense of Javed Jaghai” I am most ashamed of my Jamaican heritage as, on my sister’s birthday, August 30th, I read that Javed Jaghai has withdrew his legal challenge to overturn the anti-buggery or anti-sodomy laws of Jamaica. This is an absolute disgrace. Javed’s decision to do so is only a result of the colonial legacy which is a climate of fear and ignorance promulgated by Christian fundamentalism which flooded Jamaica in the 1980s. Where were these church leaders, who are able to rally hundreds, when Robert Pickersgill, the Minister of Government responsible for Water, Land, and Climate Change decided to sell thousands of Jamaican acres to China, instead of to local Jamaican business on August 6th? The date of so-called Jamaican independence? What were these church leaders doing when Jamaicans For Justice issued a report teaching about sexuality and the contraction of AIDS that was branded by Youth Minister and the Jamaica Gleaner as “controversial”? Why is teaching our youth basic facts about our sexuality considered “controversial”? Why do church and government leaders of Jamaica depend so heavily on an ignorant population? Compared to Cuba and Grenada, Jamaica apparently has light years to go in being truly independent from European rule. To be truly independent means rejecting the homophobic colonial laws that forbid sodomy and by understanding that Jamaica’s moral crisis is NOT the danger of homosexuality but the complete independence from English colonial laws. Jamaicans who castigate Javed Jaghai because of his sexuality suffer from what Frantz Fanon calls a “colonized mentality.” These are opponents to the true political, economic, and psychological liberation of the Jamaican people. They are colonized by Western society that teaches the most important priority of every individual man is to live only in a heterosexual partnership because that is the only kind of partnership that will procreate. According to the King James Bible, Jesus Christ himself did not procreate. Because of religious fundamentalism, the Jamaican mass has been deceived into thinking, like American conservative Christians, that our biggest moral crisis is stemming the spread of homosexuality. This is a farce that has been promulgated since the Cuban revolution as another Trojan horse the West uses to discourage nations from adopting Communism. Since the Cuban Revolution, American evangelicalism is America’s worst and most destructive psychological export. It is destructive because it teaches citizens of color to see themselves as souls to be saved for a Christ that serves ultimately Western capital. As James Baldwin said, “the people who call themselves ‘born again’ today have simply become members of the richest, most exclusive private club in the world, a club that the man from Galilee could not possibly hope—or wish—to enter.” Evidence in many of these churches of a so-called “blessing from God,” is conceived as a job or a house with some tie to Western capital that is systemically tied to denying ownership of resources to countries with majorities of color. I critique the Jamaican church movement in support of buggery laws as a Christian myself. I am critiquing the apparent vacuum in political education that these church leaders have about the legacy of English colonialism that encourages a young man to fight for a repeal of a colonial law meant to do two things: one, subjugate Black people, and two, procreate purely for the interest of wealth creation. Conservative Christians in Jamaica should understand that these laws were created in order to control and contain Black bodies more than they were to “save souls.” I have not seen a better form of protest against this colonial relationship than the Smith College students’ protest against IMF chair Christine Lagarde. I am hoping I will live long enough to see masses of Jamaicans protest for the same reason these Smith College students protested Christine Lagarde. But decades of Jamaican colonial leadership by the likes of Norman Manley who demanded that Black Power activist Walter Rodney be deported, and by Edward Seaga who encourages IMF dependence, has for over four decades now created a climate of thousands of people who believe, tragically, that their peaceful future is tied up in the hands of benevolent white men with money who will give that money based on how many “souls they save” or on how “well” they adopt a heteronormative religion rooted in white supremacy. This self-hating behavior needs to stop. I am so sorry for my friend, Javed, that he has to live in a society drowned in ignorance and fear that has grown because of the power of a “colonized bourgeoisie” that bases their own personal beliefs on a set of people who not only don’t practice what they preach, but who do so with the primary purpose of colonial subjugation. I consider Javed a visionary like Marcus Garvey who conceived of a new world. Garvey conceived a world where conscious Black men and women would own and control their own land and resources for the benefit of Black people. Sadly, he was ridiculed by his own ignorant Jamaican people. Their folly was exposed to the world when were blessed with the philosophy of Malcolm X as a result of the Garveyism practiced by his father. His philosophy effectively inspired independence movements all over Africa and the Caribbean. The King James Bible in Mark chapter 4 verse 6 says that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country.” Garvey was absolutely a prophet without honor in Jamaica. Garvey helped inspire the twentieth century revolutions in Africa and the Caribbean, because of his vision of a society that is not entirely economically controlled by white supremacist capitalists. And today in 2014, Javed Jaghai is a prophet without honor in Jamaica, for daring to conceive of a nation that does not conceive of homosexuals as criminals; a nation trying to shake off all its colonial laws. Jamaica has a long way to go once its people make a concerted effort to celebrate and not castigate the visions of their prophets that will only propel the nation forward.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Sunday, July 20, 2014
On Sunday, June 22, 2014 I had the opportunity to see the Broadway musical Holler If You Hear Me with my friend Juno (top right). About two months prior to reading John Potash’s book The FBI War On Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders. So as I walk out of the theater with my friend Juno, who do I see? None other than John Potash (top left). I told him how I thought the musical was interesting. He shared that he enjoyed it as well. However deep down I was hiding how confused I was by the whole story that this musical is telling. More specifically, I found a very interesting contrast between this musical’s book written by Todd Kreidler and Potash’s book The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders that I recently finished. Kreidler’s book to this musical has Tupac indicting more Black-on-Black violence as the main “culprit,” if you will, whereas Potash’s book indicts U.S. intelligence and its white supremacist ideology that helped to murder Tupac. I think that history, Tupac’s legacy will definitely side more with Potash’s book than Kreidler’s. John Potash writes that Tupac had “a precocious ability to communicate a Marxist analysis of America’s class system and other political issues. For example, in an interview for a video while he was a little known teen in high school, Tupac explained that “for the upper class,” George H.W. Bush was “a perfect president…that’s how society is built. The upper class runs [society] while…the middle and lower class, we talk about it” (50). According to him, Tupac read hundreds and hundreds of books as a teen, from socialist texts, to philosophical treatises, poetry, Shakespeare and contemporary books on feminism, historical analyses, and psychology (50). Part of the reason why the Broadway musical Holler If You Hear Me, written by Todd Kreidler is closing today, is because of its failure to show this intellectual depth of Tupac. It exposes Broadway audiences to the lyrics of Tupac, however within a very confusing story by Kreidler that only indicts Black-on-Black violence. This ultimately becomes a story that endorses white supremacy. It provides no measure of the political appeal of Tupac’s music that communicated “a Marxist analysis of America’s class system.” Kreidler’s book is a story of two brothers, Vertas and John. John’s main ambition in the play is keeping gainful employment at a car repair shop after leaving prison. We are not told why John was in prison. His brother Vertas’s ambition is more unclear. In the first act Benny, whom we are told is the individual that helped John get the car mechanic job is killed. We the audience don’t really get to know Benny so we have no sympathy for him. We have to assume he is shot because the customary Black-on-Black violence typical of urban Blacks, expressed by Kreidler’s enterprising white character Griffy who employs John. Kreidler’s best dialogue in this book is the exchange between Griffy and John when John demands more from his paycheck: it definitely uncovers deep seated prejudices that we don’t hear often on the Broadway stage. Vertas’s ambition seems to ultimately support to Anthony on his quest to help avenge Benny’s death by killing a member of the rival gang 4-5s. Gratefully, Kreidler’s book for this musical includes no character that is Tupac himself. This is a story of two brothers Vertas and John. John is a former prisoner whose paintings come to life, while Vertas is a street hustler whose mother Mrs. Weston refuses the money that his trade that “some crazy internet shit in Malaysia” is bringing in. Like James Baldwin’s critique of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, all of Kreidlers’ characters are subject to the same issues that Baldwin pointed out in Wright’s character of Bigger Thomas: “Bigger’s tragedy is…that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits to the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed to him at his birth” (18). In so many ways, both John and Vertas accept a theology that deny them life. Vertas says that “true power’s money.” John says at the end of the first act: “Two words: my paycheck. That’s all my life gets to mean.” The men in Kreidler’s book define their manhood by how much money and women they have. They show nothing of the political being that Tupac was. Vertas’s friend Benny tells the other men of their neighborhood, whom Kreidler’s script calls Soulja Boys: “I know a buncha ways to be a man. Got a list. Start with Amber then with Jasmine...” The play adulterates the Marxist-Leninst Black Panther Socialist Philosophy that helped shaped the radical thinking of Tupac Shakur. It adulterates the thinking of co-producer Afeni Shakur whose outstanding legal defense exonerated the Panther 21. Maybe no Broadway show is supposed to do this, however, Tupac’s legacy deserved more political insight that Kreidler’s book lends. Potash writes that Tupac Shakur attended meetings of the New Afrikan Panthers, a group that helped inspire his development of activism. This group included members of the revolutionary group, the New Afrikan People’s Orgnaization (NAPO). Afeni’s close friend, ex-Black Panther Watani Tyehimba, helped found NAP and served as its security director and Tupac lived with Tyehimba in 1985 and 86. (47-48). In his song “Wordz of Wisdom” from the 1991 album 2Pacalypse Now, Potash writes that Tupac called for armed rebellion to oppose racist and economic oppression of “the masses, the lower classes” by the upper class” (63). He did not employ violence for the sake of violence as Kreidler’s book suggests. In this musical’s book, violence is shown as irrational and not a necessary response to the racial and economic oppression that Black men like Eric Garner faced from the NYPD on July 17th. Anthony, a Soulja boy in Kreidler’s book, is the character who is most bent on avenging Benny’s murder. He tells the Street Preacher: “Fuck God’s plan! We want Action.” Kriedler’s script suggests that for one to believe in God, one must downplay or ignore the necessity of armed revolution to bring about social change. In Kreidler’s and his characters’ minds, there is no conception of a God that would support armed revolution in the American tradition of a Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Boukman Dutty or John Brown. Kriedler’s script panders to the division in the minds between God an armed revolutionary violence for the purpose of liberation from capitalist expression in the manner of antebellum theologians. John in reciting the lyrics of Tupac’s “Me Against the World” tells his love interest character in Corinne: “When Will I Finally Get to Rest? Through This Suppression/ They Punish the People That’s Asking The Questions / And Those That Possess, Steal From the Ones Without Possessions.” Corinne tells him “The Power is in the People We Address.” The lyrics in this exchange define Tupac’s life but nowhere do they play out in Kreidler’s book. Like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, Tupac Shakur is a Black man who is sympathetic to socialism only honored and respected after his death. He is not honored while he is living because, as Maurice Bishop said in Bruce Paddington’s recent film about his life, his influence among the masses is feared by U.S. intelligence. Potash’s book says that Tupac is one of those who was punished for asking the questions. Whereas the oligarchs like Samantha Power and Pierre Omidyar are continue “steal from the ones without possession” by justifying imperialism even after Tupac’s death and this musical’s death. Potash writes that Tupac is essentially murdered by U.S. intelligence through the workings of police informants, Suge Knight and Dave Kenner. Potash writes that Time Warner, housed in Columbus Circle, about thirty blocks north of the Palace Theater where a the musical ran, had a long commitment to placing U.S. intelligence agents and carrying out psychological warfare against Black activist musicians as an extension of its COINTELPRO tactics (140). Like the murders of King and Malcolm X however, the murder of Tupac is not prosecuted, because of Tupac’s political beliefs that was grounded in a serious class analysis that Kreidler’s book completely misses. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times writes that the musical failed because it didn’t have “a market tested brand name” or it didn’t come from London. I think more than these factors is the commercial nature of Broadway, that demands astronomically high ticket prices from a population so crippled by austerity that the only audience members who can consistently support are same demographic that Tupac’s philosophy indicts. His music, unlike Broadway, was more about righteous class struggle than about entertainment. The climax of Kreidler’s book is Anthony’s over zealous murder of a Soulja Boy, Darius. Kreidler’s message is that violence is a youthful indiscretion that fades as one grows older and more accommodating to white supremacist capitalism. It was Anthony’s youthful zest for violence that is the culprit behind Darius’s death and Black-on-Black violence for that matter. However those who appreciate Tupac know better, and know that his music and legacy demands much more. –RF.