10 Things a City Can Do to Promote Bicycling

1. Exempt bicycles from obeying stop signs (especially 4-way) when the bike is the only vehicle approaching an intersection.

2. Fix pot holes that form in the space between where cars drive and the side of the road. These road blemishes force bikes to choose between veering into traffic and ruining their tires or crashing.

3. Require companies or neighboring clusters of businesses to provide a space for employees who bike to work to shower and change clothes.

4. Paint designated bike lanes on main bike routes that are clear of parked carsí opening doors. If necessary, eliminate car parking on one side of the road and have a 2-way bike lane on that side.

5. Install bicycle-responsive triggers that actually work to help bikes get across busy streets when there is no other cross-traffic to trigger the light.

6. Smooth out curb cuts to prevent flat tires.

7. Provide adequate, functional bike parking throughout the city. Simple posts are fineóspare us the complicated contraptions.

8. Stipulate that mass transit agencies such as buses, trains, and subways must accomodate bikes, at all hours of the day.

9. Ticket vehicles that endanger bicyclists, for example, by stopping or parking in a bike lane or cutting off a cyclist.

10. Encourage high-density, mixed-use development that enables bicylists to easily meet most everyday needs without having to make long, dangerous journeys.

5th Avenue Artists

A rag-tag group of artists and small businesses on Oakland’s Fifth Avenue waterfront has battled the powerful Port of Oakland to a standstill and possibly struck a fatal blow against a harebrained scheme to bring an International Expo center to the Oakland waterfront. Back in March of this year folks in Oakland’s Fifth Ave. waterfront found their neighborhood the subject of a front page article in the Oakland Tribune, complete with artist’s conception type drawing of a new grand plan for the waterfront–only the buildings that house their studios and businesses weren’t there.

The neighborhood is located in the middle of roughly five miles of waterfront known as the Oakland Estuary (from the foot of MLK to the airport) that has been changing with the advent of containerized shipping and the collapse of Oakland’s industrial base. Planning efforts for the area began in 1993 when the League of Women Voters published a paper calling for a co­ordinated planning effort, stressing the need for increased connection with the nearby flatlands neighborhoods and constructive re­uses for abandoned waterfront land. In 1996 the Port and the city jointly hired the ROMA group of San Francisco to develop a comprehensive plan for the area. The thirty-one member Citizen Advisory Committee for the planning process contained no one from the neighborhood. The first draft of the Estuary Plan literally wiped the neighborhood off the map.

The Fifth Ave. waterfront is home to about 100 artists and small arts and crafts related businesses, many of whom have been on that street for fifteen years or longer. The area is a bright spot of authentic urban fabric in the midst of an otherwise neglected stretch of waterfront. Painters and sculptors co-exist with a steel fabricator and a foundry, and self-employed picture framers, architects, and musical instrument makers ply their trades. The larger enterprises on the street frequently provide flexible, well paying industrial arts jobs to the artists in the area. There is an elaborate network of tool and resource sharing, and lots of hanging out on the street and courtyards.

Artists and small business owners are notoriously difficult to organize and only a few folks on Fifth Ave. had any community organizing or political experience, but the neighborhood quickly pulled together a co-ordinated lobbying and publicity effort. A loose neighborhood organization The Fifth Ave. Waterfront Alliance was formed and weekly community meetings were held where strategies were developed and tasks divided. The group had meetings with city council members, members of the community advisory committee, and grass-roots activists from other neighborhoods, making sure it had someone present at every public agency meeting that might have something to do with the future of their neighborhood. The East Bay Express ran a sympathetic, if somewhat rambling and romanticized feature article on the street and its denizens. Maybe the Port and its planners thought the neighborhood would be an easy mark because it looks kind of run down–there are no streetlights or sidewalks, and some of the buildings lean noticeably, but in mid-May they got a big surprise–a dozen neighborhood activists showed up at a workshop for the Citizen Advisory Committee and presented an eighty page document detailing their own vision for the area. Port officials were dumbfounded. The group had done its homework, and advisory committee members overwhelmingly supported the neighborhood’s right to exist. Either feeling the heat, or else just seeing reason, the Port and its planners went back to the drawing board and in August presented a new proposal that not only preserved the neighborhood but made it the pattern for future development in the area.

The Expo

But Fifth Avenue isn’t safe yet. Stalking the planning process all along has been a pie in the sky scheme to bring an international exposition to Oakland for the millennium. And what have the con-men hustling this bill of goods identified as the preferred site for this turkey? You guessed it. Nevermind that the land involved was private property and not for sale, or that forty-odd trains a day roll through the area, sometimes blocking street access for up to fifteen minutes at a time, or that the event probably will not receive the sanction of the Bureau of International Expositions, making it little more than a trade fare.

The relationship between the expo and the planning effort is complex and suspicious. The Port’s first draft for the area called for a huge tract of open space, supposedly for a public park and civic celebration space, but revealed deep in the fine print as a potential site for condos or a corporate campus. The expo was touted as a once in a lifetime, gotta act now deal for the city and a way to get some of the infrastructure installed for the supposed open space. The Port hoped that enthusiasm for the expo would speed the approval of their plan before it could be examined too closely; approval of the plan would have provided the legal and political grounds for taking the land from its owners by condemnation or eminent domain. The Port directors, mostly from the business community and permanent government of Oakland have been very cagey in their actual dealings with the expo promoters, and much more so than the City council, even though they both approved the joint financing of a $162,000 feasibility study. Given the weakness of the promoters’ proposal, (both San Francisco and Sacramento have turned them down already) it is possible that the Port never had any real interest or confidence in the expo proposal but was cynically using it to speed authorization for a land grab. Although the Port now seems to favor leaving the Fifth Ave. community in place and the promoters say they now favor the soon to be vacant Oakland Army Base (putting them in conflict with West Oakland activists with other plans for the site) the Fifth Ave. neighbors have produced (for about $500 in printing costs) an inch thick Infeasability Study and distributed it to the City Council, the Port Commissioners, and the news media. Keep your eyes on this one. In the words of one time city council candidate, perennial gadfly, and Oakland high school teacher Hugh Bassette, If it looks like an ice rink and walks like an ice rink…

Port of Oakland

The core of the 5th Avenue neighborhood is some of the last privately held land on Oakland’s waterfront. While it is not the intention of this writer to praise landlords, it is clear that so far in this area the singular vision of the two private landowners has fostered a spontaneous, creative and accessible environment, while all the Port of Oakland has been able to manage is dreary commercial tracts, locked down piers and the half empty and all plastic retail strip at Jack London Square.

The Port of Oakland derives its powers from both the city charter and state law. Though technically a city department, it functions as an autonomous government-within-a-government with just about total control of Oakland’s waterfront and airport, including all permitting and zoning authority and the powers of condemnation and eminent domain. Its accountability to the city government and the people of Oakland is limited and indirect– its directors are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council, and outside of presenting its budget to the council in June of each year there is no formal review of its policies or activities.

Free Mildred Jones!!!

Black Liberation Radio activist is 8 months pregnant!

Mildred Jones, co-founder of Black Liberation Radio (BLR), an unlicensed micropower radio station in Decatur, lL., is currently being held in the Dwight Correctional Facility for Women, a maximum security facility, and risks losing her 3rd child to the State of Illinois if action isn’t taken immediately to free her.

Meanwhile, Napoleon Williams, also of BLR, has been charged with eavesdropping, a felony. He recorded conversations he had with workers in the Dept. of Child and Family Services on the radio about having their children returned to them. Napoleon Williams is out on bail now and has not yet been assigned another court date.

Black Liberation Radio, run out of the house of Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones, has been on the air since 1990 addressing such issues as poverty, unemployment and police brutality. Decatur.,- a city of 100,000 with four major multinational corporations: Caterpillar, Firestone, Archer Daniels Midland and Staleys is located in Macon County which is Klan country and generally extremely racist. Though 16% of Decatur is African American, BLR is the only radio station where music with black artists and black perspectives can be heard. Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones have endured a long history of harassment by local and state authorities, including arrests on dubious charges, raids and the removal of their children into foster care.

The latest raid on Napoleon. Mildred’s house took place May 10 when, at the order of the Illinois Attorney General, a SWAT team broke down the front door and took Napoleon and Mildred to jail. Miraculously, the station remains on the air today, but with one founder in prison and the other facing prosecution.

On June 13 Mildred was sent to prison. Mildred is over seven months pregnant and is extremely worried about how the conditions are affecting her unborn child. The nearest hospital is over 20 miles away. There is not even a full-time medical facility on the premises. Rumor has it that the prison has a horrible rate for complications in pregnancy.

She was sentenced to 3 years in prison for a probation violation stemming from a 1995 arrest on a shoplifting charge. Mildred already served time for the original charge. Her original conviction was based on highly questionable circumstances, and key videotape evidence that would have cleared her mysteriously disappeared and therefore could not be presented as evidence.

Mildred and Napoleon’s 2 daughters were taken from them in 1992 and 1993 and are in foster care. The taking of their children by the Department of Child and Family Services seems to be punishment for operating the radio station. They have another young son living somewhere else so as not to be taken into custody as well. The child Mildred is expecting will be taken if born in prison.

Justice has been hard to find in Macon County. Public pressure would be helpful. Activists need to put a spotlight on their situation nationally so Macon County will know that there’s a support system for Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones and we’re watching.

Flood Governor Jim Edgar and Department of Corrections Transfer Coordinator Diane Jockisch, with letters asking for an independent investigation of Mildred’s and Napoleon’s cases and ask that she AT LEAST be put under house arrest while the case is being investigated. Be sure to mention Mildred’s number, B49044 and that she is in the Dwight women’s prison. Please let Napoleon or Mildred know that you sent a letter by sending them a note or a copy so they will have a sense of what kind of pressure is being exerted. Funds for expenses should be sent to Napoleon. Make checks out to him with a note that its for BLR.

Governor Jim Edgar
207 Statehouse
Springfield, IL 62706.

Diane Jockisch
1301 Concordia Court
Box 19277-Admin. Building
Springfield, IL 62706

Mildred Jones, B49044
P.O. Box 5001
Dwight, IL 60420

Napoleon Williams
629 E. Center St.
Decatur, IL 62526
(217) 423-2737

Check out the BLR homepage: http://burn. ucsd.edu/~blr

Blurbs of Revolt

Chinese Workers Fight Back

In early July over 4000 workers at the Mianyang Silk Printing Factory in Sichuan province took to the streets after their factory went bankrupt and managemers stole their unemployment money. Workers built barricades and blocked traffic for two days before their action was crushed by police. In March 20,000 textile workers in Nanchong besieged city hall for 30 hours before their demand for payment of back wages was met. For the past five years the number of strikes in China has increased dramatically. In the first half of ë96 there were 4000 strike actions. This year the number of labor disputes has increased by 59%. Job securities that had existed under the previous socialist (state capitalist) system are rapidly being eroded as China integrates with the rest of world capital. Strikes are banned in China and unions are strictly controlled by the Communist Party. Chinese workers can expect more hardship. Last month president Jiang Zemin promised massive layoffs as China privatizes most of its state owned industry.

3,000 Italians Hijack Train to Amsterdam

In Amsterdam 50,000 people marched this June against European capitalist unification, turning the city ìinto a sea of red and black.î A section of the march, which coincided with a meeting of European Union leaders, turned over a police bus, broke bank windows and battled police. Several days before, the Summit authorities decided to remove the remaining European Union flags after three-quarters of them had been stolen. It seems that several local squatter bars had offered free beers for each captured flag. Attending the march were several thousand Italians who had taken over trains in Rome and Milan. ìWe demanded free transportationî and to be able ìto pass through different countries without revealing our identity, this was an act of solidarity with undocumented workers and to assert our right to free circulation as individuals.î Marchers were protesting austerity measures imposed by states to qualify for the European single currency.

Police Murder Sparks Nashville Riot

Nashville, TN: On August 10, hundreds of angry people threw rocks and bottles at police after they shot to death Leon Fisher. Fisher, a 23 year old Black man, was being chased by the cops for speeding when he pulled into a housing project. According to witnesses he was then chased down on foot and, after being beaten, pepper sprayed and handcuffed, was shot by Sgt. Randy Hickerson who is white. Hours later police returned to find a nearby Dollar General Store looted and in flames.

Lorenzo gets messed with

down under

In July Lorenzo Komboa Erwin was arrested by Australian immigration police after arriving in the country for a speaking tour. Komboa, an anarchist and former Black Panther was convicted in 1969 of hijacking a plane to Cuba in order to escape from a U.S. counter-insurgency which left many Black Panthers dead. Under pressure from racist politician Pauline Hanson who attacked Komboa as ìa known terrorist and gunrunnerî who ìwill only incite racial hatred and violenceî, Prime Minister John Howard ordered him arrested and summarily deported. After his arrest immigration police slammed him head first into a wall, breaking his glasses then dragged him by the handcuffs giving him ìfirst hand experience of what it is like to be blackî in Australia where up to 1,000 Indigenous Blacks have died in jail. Komboaís lawyers appealed the deportation to the High Court, saying he had been denied his right to answer the governmentís allegations. In a precedent setting case, the court agreed and ordered the government to restore the visa and pay all legal costs. After his release Komboa spoke to 7,000 people at an annual indigenous celebration and was warmly received. Because of widespread racist violence against Indigenous australians, Native communities are calling for an international boycott of the 2000 Olympics to be held in Sydney.

German Cops raid Zine

Berlin, On June 12 print shops, private apartments, and the offices of the ìAnti Racist Initiativeî were raided by 500 cops attempting to find the editors of ìInterimî, Berlinís weekly autonomist magazine. Cops broke down doors seized 750 copies of the current issue, 16 computers, 2,000 diskettes and disassembled printing presses. Many Berliners suspect that the ìentire action was designed to gain insights and overview into leftist collective houses.î For the past nine years the Interim has provided autonomists in Berlin and beyond an open forum for information and discussion. This attempt to criminalize the Interim ostensibly because it ìrewards and approves of criminal actsî is just the latest action of the German state against resistance media.


BREAD: Because You Knead It!

Money. You hate it–maybe, you must have it–surely. Its acquisition will claim your best years, dampen your creative initiative and suck the very life out of you. For money most of us trade our time and skill, our muscle or brain, whole decades of existence as wasted as a 7 gallon flush. In the mean time we enrich the people whose very words can terminate our livelihood.

You’ve heard this all before. You know why you hate jobs–if not necessarily work; you’re a cog, a wage-slave, a Ph.D. with more vision than bucks, a class-traitor who got it. Maybe you’re just tired of seeing a third or more of your paycheck extorted every-fucking-time-and-there-isnít-a-damn-thing-you-can-do-about-it. So what, if you don’t want to subsidize the meat and dairy industry, the war machine, the petro-chemical industry, corrupt foreign governments, the corporate elite, the pri$on $system or border patrols. For every bucket you sweat to earn a paycheck one-third goes directly back to the corporations. Oops, I mean the government. The rest eventually makes its way back to the corporate elite that owns the country–heck, the world. Dollars are like homing pigeons and though just as lousy they are not nearly as lovable.

The point of my rant is that almost anything we do goes to benefit the power structure. Once we’ve bought at a chain or from a corporation our money leaves the local economy. It no longer circulates back to us to improve our standards of living, inspire initiative, create a viable mode of exchange. That’s your life blood coursing through someone else’s veins.

For years I’ve been pounding my head, avoiding wage-slave dynamics, living a rewarding and frugal life. All the while thinking, knowing, there has to be a better way, an alternative to the continuous unrelenting grind. Something that will give us empowerment as well as a tangible economic boost. Something that can benefit us both personally and collectively.

Well there is. We now have BREAD (Berkeley Regional Exchange and Development) a local organization that is doing exactly what so many of us have been dreaming about for years. BREAD has printed its own money to be used as a valid mode of exchange between members and with participating local businesses. Their currency is printed in hours and comes in one, half and one-quarter hour denominations. The rate of exchange is an agreed upon $12 per hour minimum wage. The advantages of this are clear. You can trade your hours with many people with different skills. That person will then trade that same bill with another local person and the cycle repeats itself. This means our labor stays here. Bread is not electronically transferable. No, its not backed by the gold standard but neither are the dollars in your wallet, your bank account, your IRA or social security account.

There are a variety of skills offered in the BREAD directory. I counted eighteen categories. The listing offers everything from childcare to computer literacy, auto repair to gardening, tutoring in many areas, carpentry, book repair, accounting skills, etc. I couldn’t possibly list all the headings let alone their contents. The best way to find out more about BREAD is to give them a call, leaving your name and address or mail a request for more information. They’re swamped right now so be patient. You can also just write them stating you would like to join. Membership costs an initial $6-$60 sliding scale. You should include your name and phone number, what skills you can offer, group activities (if any) and what skills you seek. In return you will receive the ever expanding BREAD Directory and 3 BREAD hours. Because you knead it!

Contact BREAD at:

PO Box 3973

Berkeley, CA 94703

(510) 704-5247

(510) 595-4011 (fax).

The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of BREAD.

NASA Bets Farm on Cassini Probe

When speaking with people about the impending $3.4 billion Cassini rocket launch scheduled for October 6th from Cape Canaveral, FL, often I get the same reaction, Better they send 72 pounds of plutonium into space than keep it here on Earth. No one, however, seems to be so interested in the purported mission of the rocket – an international scientific mission of discovery to Saturn. Welcome the age of interplanetary politics.

Anti-nuclear activists have been mobilized around this issue, and rightly so. If pulverized and inhaled, the plutonium onboard can cause cancer. Cassini’s dangerous isotope is primarily plutonium-238, a close cousin to plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons. Activists are asking NASA what the rush is, because the European Space Agency claims that, given five years, they could build long life solar cells that would eliminate the need for plutonium. NASA claims this is not possible because of the remoteness of Saturn and its distance from the sun. These solar arrays would use sunlight gathered before Cassini gets too distant from the sun, and would store this electricity for later use in running the probe’s computer and communications systems.

The powerful plutonium is NOT being used to propel the craft into deep space. NASA has planned a risky flyby maneuver for that, where Cassini will slingshot around the earth on August 16, 1999 by gravity-assist thereby gaining an enormous boost into deep space. Cassini is scheduled to reach Jupiter in December, 2000 and ultimately Saturn in July, 2004 – suspiciously close to American Independence Day, this time dominance day where the US is not only the superpower on Earth, but dominates, and thereby owns and controls all of the universe. That is, of course, provided nothing goes wrong during the entire seven year trip.

NASA’s own 1995 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission states, In the unlikely event that an inadvertent reentry occurred, approximately 5 billion of the estimated 7 to 8 billion world population at the time of the swingbys could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure. From these grim figures, NASA somehow determines that of us 5 billion affected, only 2,480 heath affects would occur in the 50 years following the disaster, and that this would be statistically indistinguishable from normally observed cancer fatalities among the world population.

For them to pontificate and say things like the odds are 1 in a billion is the height of scientific arrogance, said Dr. Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York. NASA is basing its figures on a single-event failure, but in the real world when accidents happen, many things go wrong in quick succession, Kaku said. In reality, things shake, things get hot, and things break apart all at once.

NASA used the same reasoning to calculate the dangers of the Cassini mission that it used in saying the space shuttle had a 1 and 100,000 chance for solid rocket failure, Kaku said. After the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, NASA recalculated the risk to 1 in 72.

It is important to remember that this is not the first launch of nuclear material into space. The recent ill-fated Russian Mars Probe that fell into the Andean foothills in December 1996 was also carrying about 9.5 ounces of plutonium-238. The Titan IV rocket that will carry Cassini that exploded in the past as well. In August 1993 a Titan IV exploded over the Pacific Ocean, destroying its payload containing a $1 billion US spy satellite system. Three of the 24 known US space mission involving nuclear power have met with accidents, as well as six out of the 39 Russian missions.

Turning outer space into a nuclear dump is only one of the many reasons to be concerned about the Cassini rocket launch. In an Aviation Week and Space Technology article in August 1996, Gen. J.W. Ashy, commander-in-chief of the unified Space Command said, it’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen. Some people don’t want hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but – absolutely – we’re going to fight in space, we’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space when orbital assets become so precious that it’s in our national interest to do so, he said.

Cassini is just one in a whole series of launches planned by NASA to ensure the miniaturization, and US domination of space. Many of us don’t question this as an okay thing to do – we’ve been trained for many years to accept weapons of destruction by video games such as Asteroids and Space Invaders, where winning means killing things, in, from and into space.

The Northern California Stop Cassini Coalition is planning a demonstration on September 28th. For more information contact Elliot at 510/527-4055 or Winston at 707/772-5264. To get find out what is happening at Cape Canaveral as October 6th approaches contact the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, P.O. Box 90035, Gainesville, FL 32607. Phone: 352-468-3295.

US Ciggie Companies Vie For Fresh Blood

*Note: Slanted for your protection.

Hey, smokers! If you thought you were highly profitable to the Big US. Cigarette Companies, think again. In fact, you’re small change compared to the hot new markets in developing countries, where laws are lax and the global economy beckons.

That’s right, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and B.A.T., makers of Lucky Strikes, are working hard to bring many impoverished folks around the world fresh, quality cigarettes, the only legal product around that is harmful when used as intended. Cuba, China, Poland, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Kazakstan, Russia, Portugal…the list of affected countries bleeds on and on. And it seems the Big Cigarette Companies collective efforts are paying off. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms this with the staggering figures of 1.1 billion people over the age of 15 addicted to cigarettes, and 72 per cent of them are in developing and underdeveloped countries, to use their terminology. So even though US. consumption of cigarettes has fallen (the number has dropped 17 per cent in the last decade), you don’t have to worry about those Big Ciggie Companies. They can sleep well tonight, knowing that the global market (and global lives) is safely in their control.

Here are some horrendous facts to wet your whistle of indignation: In this year’s first quarter, international sales accounted for 71 per cent of Philip Morris’ total tobacco sales of 9.9 billion. Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and British American Tobacco, the Big Three in industry parlance, account for a full third of the 5.5 trillion cigarettes sold annually worldwide. The Big Three’s exports rose 259 per cent in the last decade. So how does this translate into human lives? Vietnam has the highest male smoking rate in the world, with 72.8 per cent. In the Philippines, 73 per cent of adults smoke, and 50 percent of children aged 7-17 are addicted to cigarettes. In Japan, 50 per cent of adult men smoke: the highest rate among developed nations. Among Japanese women, the number is 35 per cent: also extremely high. And what about deaths? The WHO places the number of deaths from cigarettes at 3 million annually.

Of course this assault has not come without its backlash. Many countries have moved to place trade or ad restrictions on US. cigarettes. That tactic does not last long, however. US. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, at the behest (or at the beck and call, rather) of the major cigarette companies, has seen to that. Representative Barshefsky has wielded the mighty carrot of economic prosperity and the fearful stick of economic ruin over the heads of the mostly impoverished countries, and they can but cower under the threat that they will be run over in the global market. Plus, if these countries ever do pass laws restricting US. cigarettes in any way, they are severely reprimanded by Rep. Barshefsky for violating free trade agreements.

If you think the new global tobacco deal is going to change any of this (and I don’t insult your intelligence enough to believe you do), guess again. Firstly, although it is being touted as a global measure, in fact there’s nothing global about it. The US. companies will be as free to do their profiteering off of death and misery in other countries as they were before this proposed agreement. The facts of this new deal are so egregious that it prompted tobacco control advocates from 19 countries to release a joint statement condemning the spineless American deal as unethical, since it does nothing to address international tobacco control issues. Indeed, it makes it even more desirable in terms of profits and lax restrictions to market to other countries, a situation that will happen even if the agreement does not go through.

I wish I could end this article with an optimistic ring for the future, but obviously there is nothing optimistic about the continued rampage of the Big Three into other countries. They will continue to reach for fresh hordes of disposable people with no disposable income, and will keep on ripping their last cents away as these adults and children suffer through the throes of nicotine addiction. Can you say Nuremberg Standards? If you can, then you should apply them here. Taking orders from the mighty God of Profits and killing millions of innocent people in the process should not be sanctioned by anyone, and this phenomenon should not go unpunished, though it undoubtedly will.

Ruchell Cinque Magee: Sole Survivor Still

Slavery is being practiced by the system under color of law. Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today;  it’s the same thing, but with a new name. They’re making millions and millions of dollars enslaving Blacks, poor whites, and others – people who don’t even know they’re being railroaded.

— Ruchell Cinque Magee*

If you were asked to name the longest held political prisoner in the United States, what would your answer be?

Most would probably reply Geronimo ji jaga (Pratt), Sundiata Acoli, or Sekou Odinga,all 3 members of the Black Panther Party or soldiers of the Black Liberation Army who have been encaged for their political beliefs or principled actions for decades. Some would point to Lakota leader, Leonard Peltier, who struggled for the freedom of Native peoples, thereby incurring the enmity of the US Government, who framed him in a 1975 double murder trial. Those answers would be good guesses, for all of these men have spent hellified years in state and federal dungeons, but here’s a man who has spent more.

Ruchell C. Magee arrived in Los Angeles, California in 1963, and wasn’t in town for six months before he and a cousin, Leroy, were arrested on the improbable charges of kidnap and robbery, after a fight with a man over a woman and a $10 bag of marijuana. Magee, in a slam-dunk trial, was swiftly convicted and swifter still sentenced to life.

Magee, politicized in those years, took the name of the African freedom fighter, Cinque, who, with his fellow captives seized control of the slave ship, the Amistad, and tried to sail back to Africa. Like his ancient namesake, Cinque would also fight for his freedom from legalized slavery, and for 7 long years he filed writ after writ, learning what he calls guerrilla law, honing it as a tool for liberation of himself and his fellow captives. But California courts, which could care less about the alleged rights of a young Black man like MaGee, dismissed his petitions willy-nilly.

In August, 1970, MaGee appeared as a witness in the assault trial of James McClain, a man charged with assaulting a guard after San Quentin guards murdered a Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley. McClain, defending himself, presented imprisoned witnesses to expose the racist and repressive nature of prisons. In the midst of MaGee’s testimony, a 17 year old young Black man with a huge Afro hairdo, burst into the courtroom, heavily armed.

Jonathan Jackson shouted Freeze! Tossing weapons to McClain, William Chirstman, and a startled Magee, who given his 7 year hell where no judge knew the meaning of justice, joined the rebellion on the spot. The four rebels took the judge, the DA and three jurors hostage, and headed for a radio station where they were going to air the wretched prison conditions to the world, as well as demand the immediate release of a group of political prisoners, know that The Soledad Brothers (these were John Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and Jonathan’s oldest brother, George). While the men did not hurt any of their hostages, they did not reckon on the state’s ruthlessness.

Before the men could get their van out of the court house parking lot, prison guards and sheriffs opened furious fire on the vehicle, killing Christmas, Jackson, McClain as well as the judge. The DA was permanently paralyzed by gun fire. Miraculously, the jurors emerged relatively unscratched, although Magee, seriously wounded by gunfire, was found unconscious.

Magee, who was the only Black survivor of what has come to be called The August 7th Rebellion, would awaken to learn he was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy, and further, he would have a co-defendant, a University of California Philosophy Professor, and friend of Soledad Brother, George L. Jackson, named Angela Davis, who faced identical charges.

By trial time the cases were severed, with Angela garnering massive support leading to her 1972, acquittal on all charges.

Magee’s trial did not garner such broad support, yet he boldly advanced the position that as his imprisonment was itself illegal, and a form of unjustifiable slavery, he had the inherent right to escape such slavery, an historical echo of the position taken by the original Cinque, and his fellow captives, who took over a Spanish slave ship, killed the crew (except for the pilot) and tried to sail back to Africa. The pilot surreptitiously steered the Amistad to the US coast, and when the vessel was seized by the US, Spain sought their return to slavery in Cuba. Using natural and international law principals, US courts decided they captives had every right to resist slavery and fight for their freedom.

Unfortunately, Magee’s jury didn’t agree, although it did acquit on at least one kidnapping charge. The court dismissed on the murder charge, and Magee has been battling for his freedom every since.

That he is still fighting is a tribute to a truly remarkable man, a man who knows what slavery is, and more importantly, what freedom means.

Cinque’s supporters have organized the Ruchell Magee Defense Fund, PO Box 8306, South Bend, IN 46660-8306 [E-mail mathiel@michzana.org]


Column Written 5/27/97

1997 Mumia Abu-Jamal

All Rights Reserved

*from radio interview with Kiilu Nyasha Freedom is a Constant Struggle, KPFA-FM (12 Aug., 1995)

Shopping in Berkeley

I’m always ranting about supporting small local businesses instead of the big chain stores, but then I go into the small businesses like Watson’s or Morley’s and bargain with them until they sell to me at cost. I see if the bakery will give me half-price at the end of the day. I give the rotting old guy on the corner of Euclid and Ridge Road a dollar sixteen plus half a cigarette and a small plastic giraffe for two books, instead of the two dollars he’s asking. Who can put a price on stories, knowledge, and history? But then the books turn out to be two of the best books I’ve ever read, and I have to return to that corner every weekend trying to find the rotting old guy to appease my guilt. Probably he was a dollar short on rent, got kicked out on the street, and caught pneumonia. No wonder the small businesses are dying. I’m killing them.

I’ve got all these systems. A small coffee in a large cup. One large coffee split between three large cups. A small burrito in a large tortilla. Confusion tactics. It’s almost impossible for them to give me as little as I’m paying for without feeling like a cheapskate, though of course I’m the cheapskate. I dream my cheapskate ideal: cooking only rice while buying sauces by the quart from every restaurant in town. Knowing a bartender who’s trying to invent their own drink and wants to use me as the test subject. A dry cleaner who’ll give me all the unclaimed clothes, plus friends at the ice cream place and movie theatre. Unfortunately, even a free bagel is getting hard to come by now that my friends are successful musicians. I was happy for them when they got to quit their lousy day jobs, but sad for me. You can’t eat, or wear, promo records, although they do help pay the rent.

It’s hard to support smaller businesses when the chain stores are the only ones that can afford to stock up on low-selling items like size fifteen shoes. They are a rare item, also a conversation piece, so I end up meeting more people while I’m out looking for a new pair than I do at any other time of year. Everyone has something to say about large feet, and it’s usually sort of sleazy. It’s also hard to avoid office supply chainstores and go to Barlow’s instead, especially when I find out that Barlow is a scumbag. I cry everytime I pay a dollar fifty each for pens, twice the price of Office Depot, but I’d still rather support a local scumbag than a multi-national one.

I go out shopping in Berkeley, and I end up in the middle of a moral crisis. Should I get beer from the liquor store which shortchanges me and rips me off, or the grocery store which overcharges and rips off the entire community? Should I go to the copy shop owned by Iranian refugees who fled persecution from the shah and who now support the Ayatollah, or the copy shop owned by the Iranian refugees who supported the shah and who were later persecuted by the Ayatollah because they are Jews? What business is it of mine anyway? But in Berkeley everything is everybody’s business. It’s think globally, act locally taken to its lowest common denominator.

Even at a garage sale, I get all involved in someone else’s life. There’s the usual tell-tale trinkets from lost lovers, exercise bikes, and clothes that no longer fit, just like garage sales everywhere, but in Berkeley there’s also ideologies, movements, and lifestyles that no longer fit. With the rows and rows of self-help books, you feel like you’re at a 12-step meeting, except there’s no free coffee. Men who Beat the Men who Love Them, Men who Hate Women and the Women who Love Them, Women who Drink, Women who Love Sex, Women who Walk Through Fire, Women whose Lives are Food, Men whose Lives are Money. Children of Alcoholics, Children of Intermarriage, Children of Dune. How can anything be a bargain when you know that by buying the junk, you also get the emotional burden that comes with it? No wonder old photos are so cheap. I got a funny feeling when I bought a strobe light for a dollar at Country Joe’s yard sale, and, sure enough, he’s looked younger ever since.

Bicycling Over the Rainbow: Redesigning Cities — and Beyond

Critical Mass is nearly three years old. In terms of sheer numbers it is still growing, but the more profound goals associated with a developing political culture are substantially unmet. As a founder of CM and someone who has been on each and every ride in San Francisco I’d like to blurt a bit:

The growing pains we’ve experienced during the last six months, while not much fun, are in any case inevitable as an event takes on a life of its own. The July ride, nearing 3,000 riders, was an impressive display of statistical growth, but conversely it was what I’ve dubbed the Stepford Wives ride: it was characterized by an unusual zombie-like silence and lack of energy which underscored the basic anonymity in which even we regulars found ourselves engulfed.

Of course when we started out with 45 bicyclists in September 1992, I fantasized about Critical Mass becoming a big mass event, but it was never an important goal. Far more important to me was the lived experience of new communities, new friends, new social spaces, and most importantly, a new political space. Now that CM is so big, those of us who seek communitarian and utopian moments will have to make a greater effort to make them happen and can count less on the spontaneous combustion that has been a hallmark of the Critical Mass experience in the past.

I and a bunch of others informally planned routes and published most of the maps, Missives, and many other xerocratic documents, stickers, etc., during the first two years. A couple of dozen people found their way into the process, which was amorphous and a bit clique-y but emphatically open. (We did jealously guard the secrecy of the process from those who might have shared it with the police, since it was and is our feeling that police involvement would inevitably destroy the free-spirited quality of the event.)

My guess is that the silent majority of riders for the most part would be happier if the police stayed home and don’t want to deal with police one way or the other — they neither want to fight the cops nor submit to them. In general we’ve always sought to ignore the police, since we are merely using the city’s roads to go where we’re going, just like any other commuter or traveler. Our flouting of traffic norms (essentially red lights and stop signs) was designed to ensure the safety of the mass of bicyclists AND that of the isolated motorist who unexpectedly and suddenly finds herself surrounded by hundreds of boisterous bicyclists in what can be an intimidating experience. We also run lights and stop signs to keep moving and bring the minor traffic delay to an end that much sooner, since individual motorists are not our enemy.

The tension provided by police attention has been an attraction to some Massers and a disincentive to others. In any case it, and our varied responses to it, have shaped our political culture. I, for one, hate it when the police cheerfully welcome us to our own event, as though they thought it up and were providing it to us as a service! Their presence insults me, but the police are not the issue. If I let my opposition to state authority tilt my CM participation towards engaging in antagonistic encounters with the police, they win! The police crave recognition, and the one thing that really gets their goat is to be ignored. I’ve seen this again and again during the years of Critical Masses — the police go out of their way to attack anyone who attempts to cork or establish dialogues with motorists or in various ways break out of the acceptable norm of a police-sanctioned and -controlled parade. (There is at least one individual who is seeking order, predictability and legal standing for Critical Mass, cooperation with the police, and a trajectory towards a bicycling Bay to Breakers, which may grow into a mega-event with refreshments, commercial sponsors, and entertainment at the end!)

To avoid the inevitable progression into an oversized, predictable and dull parade we might consider our original pretense: that we are merely RIDING HOME TOGETHER and break into 5 or 7 alternate groups heading for different neighborhoods at a designated midpoint, like the Civic Center or Market and Van Ness. I am already tired of the apparent attempt to visit every hilltop in town, and have never been interested in 17-mile endurance rides. This brings us to what must be a profound divergence among Critical Mass participants: are you participating to have a bike ride or a social experience? Most of us want both, I’m sure, but most of us can probably identify our primary motivation as one or the other. I want the social experience and I don’t need the bike ride to be really long or necessarily go to obscure parts of the city. I actually liked the early days when we looped through downtown and ended up at a bar, Dolores Park or Golden Gate Park for hanging out. I think those who want to take really long rides should do so, but there’s no particular reason to impose that on Critical Mass, certainly not every time.

We conceived Critical Mass to be a new kind of political space, not about PROTESTING but about CELEBRATING our vision of preferable alternatives, most obviously in this case bicycling over the car culture. Importantly we wanted to build on the strong roots of humor, disdain for authority, decentralization, and self-direction that characterize our local political cultural history. Critical Mass descends from the anti-nuke movement as much as it does from the bicycling initiatives of the past. It is as much street theater as it is a (semi-)functional commute, or at least it has been at its best. It is inherently anti-corporate even though there are more uncritical supporters of the American Empire and its monied interests riding along than there are blazing subversives, which is just another of the many pleasant ironies of Critical Mass.

The Bicycle itself embodies the counter-technological tradition that is the flipside of America’s infatuation with technological fixes. Like the pro-solar movement in the 1970s, today’s bike advocates tend to view the bicycle as something that is inherently superior, that brings about social changes all by itself, endowing it with causal qualities that ought to be reserved for human beings. I am a daily bike commuter, have been for most of the past 20 years, and am very fond of bicycling in cities. I greatly appreciate the bicycle for its functionality in short-circuiting dominant social relations, but let’s not forget that it is merely another tool, and has no will of its own. When I bicycle around town I see things happening and can stop and explore them in depth with no hassles. I also see my friends and acquaintances and can stop and speak with them directly. This, combined with the absence of mass media pumping into my brain in the isolation of my car, sets up organic links and direct channels of human experience and communication. These links are potentially quite subversive to the dominant way of life in modern America, which is one of the reasons I like bicycling.

But bicycling is not an end in itself, just like Critical Mass is really about a lot more than just bicycling. Our embrace of bicycling doesn’t eliminate an enormous social edifice dedicated to supporting the privately owned car and oil industries. Similarly, the infrastructural design of our cities and communities is slow to change in the face of our preferential choice of bicycling. Finally, we won’t see any real change if we continue to act as isolated consumer/commuters, and in part Critical Mass allows us to begin coming together. But Critical Mass is far from enough, and until we begin challenging a whole range of technological choices at their roots, our and the planetary ecology are likely to continue worsening. Our capitalist society doesn’t really care what we buy or which toys we like to play with, as long as we keep working within a system that systematically excludes us from decisions about the shape of our lives or the technologies we must choose.

The space we’ve opened up in Criti
cal Mass is a good beginning. Out of it must grow the organic communities that can envision and then fight for a radically different organization of life itself! We will never shop our way to a liberated society. So questions of utopia lurk beneath the Critical Mass experience. what kind of life would you like to live, if you could choose? What of all the work that this society imposes on us, is work worth doing? What kind of technologies do we need? What direction do we want science to go (e.g. do we want to dedicate millions to military defense and a space program, or shall science address the basic research associated with redesigning cities, transit and energy systems, etc.)? Why do we live in a democracy in which serious questions such as these are never discussed, and if they are, only in remote academic journals and around the occasional kitchen table? Why is politics primarily a detached and meaningless ritual of popularity and money?

In general our culture is quite retarded when it comes to politics: genuine arguments are greeted with horror and discomfort because the antagonists aren’t being nice. Substantive disagreements regularly descend into personality squabbles wherein the real issues are quickly lost beneath the heated rhetoric of personal contempt. Most people seem to think politics is about elections and governments rather than the day-to-day compromises we have to make with each other to live. By that way of thinking, many Critical Massers on both sides of the question have concluded that Critical Mass is apolitical either because it eschews demands, lobbying, and policy declarations, or because it is celebratory and fun and not confrontational and angry.

Critical Mass is one of the MOST POLITICAL events of this depressing decade; its lack of formal leaders or agenda has opened it up for everyone to claim it for their own demands and desires. It has no further purpose than its continued existence, which in itself is an affirmation of communities that are otherwise invisible and easily ignored. How the newly self-discovered communities within Critical Mass evolve into more contestational political movements remains to be seen, and is a challenge that faces us all. Maybe some folks will begin direct action campaigns around open space, transit corridors, park and wildlife corridors, etc.? Perhaps others will band together at work to demand that their employer dedicate 10% of their hours to work in the city helping build an ecologically sound urban alternative? Clearly, the daunting task of remaking city life on a humane and ecological basis is going to take a serious challenge to the status quo, one unlikely to emerge from existing entities that claim to be political. So take heart my friends, be patient but not lazy, wait but don’t dawdle, act with intelligence, an open mind, and good will, and reject the easy ideological clichés. Life is very different these days, but not nearly as different as we would like it to be, and certainly not different in the ways that would make for an equitable, enjoyable, ecological and fulfilling human life for all of us.

Chris Carlsson ccarlsson@igc.org