Episode # 15

November 25, 2020

15) “Liberation is a Curatorial Act”

The road to deep structural change—to revolution—is built on seeing the world as it is, and then imagining a world that could be or should be, but is not yet. Organizing and mobilizing are essential, yes, igniting a far-reaching wildfire from below, but without  deploying our vital imaginations, we remain stuck. We’re joined by the transcendent artist and activist, Kristiana Rae Colon, as we explore the central role of creatives as we join in the work of imagining, rehearsing, mapping, inventing, and embodying that possible world. 


Back to School

November 25, 2020

The schools and classrooms of America are a major front in the ongoing struggle to reckon with our history and redeem America.


Officer Charged in Police Killing

November 24, 2020

November 24, 2020

San Francisco DA seeks clemency for his father, ’60s radical David Gilbert

Paul GrondahlNov. 24, 2020ALBANY

— When Chesa Boudin was growing up, both his parents were serving long sentences in New York state prisons for their roles in a 1981 armored Brink’s truck robbery in Rockland County that left two Nyack police officers and a security guard dead.

Family friend Jeff Jones brought the youngster on prison visits to see his father.Boudin was raised by adoptive parents and the boy left each prison encounter struggling to process feelings of sadness, anger and confusion over his powerlessness to change a criminal justice system that broke his family apart.

“I had a lot of emotional issues growing up because the nature of incarceration creates distance between family members,” conceded Boudin, 40, who was elected District Attorney of San Francisco a year ago after a career as a public defender and champion of alternatives to incarceration.

Now, Jones, 73, of Green Island, an environmental consultant, is joining forces with Boudin and international religious leaders including the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to seek mercy from the governor. The coalition is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant clemency to Boudin’s father, David Gilbert, because his age elevates the risk he faces from COVID-19.

Gilbert is 76 years old and has been incarcerated for 39 years. He is serving a 75-years-to-life sentence for felony murder and robbery. Gilbert is confined at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Ulster County, 80 miles south of Albany. He is one of the oldest and longest-serving inmates among the state’s roughly 38,000 inmates. Gilbert is not eligible for parole until 2056, when he would be 112 years old.

“I would urge Governor Cuomo to look closely at the man that David has become and how he has demonstrated rehabilitation and remorse,” Jones said. “It’s a waste of taxpayer money to keep him in prison after almost 40 years. He is not a threat to anyone.”

Jones and Gilbert were members of the Weather Underground, a leftist militant group formed in 1969 to oppose the Vietnam War, fight for black liberation and overthrow American imperialism. The FBI described them as a domestic terrorist group. Members included Jones’ wife, Eleanor Stein, 74, a retired administrative law judge, and Boudin’s mother, Kathy Boudin, 77, convicted of the same charges as Gilbert and released from prison on parole in 2003. She now works as an adjunct professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and is co-founder of its Center for Justice there.

Advocates for Gilbert’s clemency note there have been more than 3,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and 23 deaths among inmates and staff in the state’s prison population, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. As of Nov. 20, there were 101 reported positive cases of COVID-19 out of 353 tests among inmates at Shawangunk, including one death. His son said his father has underlying health conditions that put Gilbert at high risk for contracting the deadly virus.

“I’m worried my father could die of COVID-19 in prison. He has always expressed great remorse for the victims and he has never tried to deny or minimize the role he played in a serious crime,” Boudin said by phone from San Francisco. “There is no compelling reason for my father to remain incarcerated.”

As an elected prosecutor, Boudin has a unique perspective. His mother and father were in a transfer truck waiting for the getaway car carrying the robbers after a 1981 Brink’s heist of $1.6 million at the Nanuet Mall. His mother, Kathy Boudin, received a sentence of 25 years to life after hiring a lawyer, pleading guilty and accepting a plea deal, while his father, who was not a lawyer, defended himself and went to trial.

“My father was not present in the courtroom for much of the trial and nobody advocated for him, which is why it is a bad idea to represent yourself,” Boudin, the prosecutor, said. “My mother and father did the exact same thing and had identical culpability in the crime. My mother served 22 years in prison and was paroled 17 years ago, while my father is still in prison. It’s an example of criminal justice imbalance.”

Boudin believes his father is perhaps the only person his age who has served as many years in state prison who was unarmed during the commission of the crime. Another Brink’s robbery co-defendant, Weather Underground member Judith Clark, who drove the getaway car, was granted parole in 2019 after Cuomo commuted her 75-years-to-life sentence in 2016. Prosecutors and law enforcement bitterly opposed her parole and called it an insult to the victims’ family members.

“My father is the last one in,” Boudin asked. “This governor already granted clemency for Judith Clark, he’s aware of my father’s case and he’s shown mercy previously. I am hopeful Governor Cuomo will show courage and mercy again.”

The Weather Underground formed on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan in 1969, an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. Gilbert and Jones were both involved in SDS efforts and met in 1967 at Columbia University at an anti-war event. The predominantly white Weather Underground activists allied themselves with the Black Panthers and other radical groups. They considered violence – including a campaign of bombing public buildings in response to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War – a viable means to achieve their political ends.

The group took its name from Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and the lyrics: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Jones and Stein were fugitives from justice in the early 1970s for their involvement in the Weather Underground and raised their son under aliases. Jones lived as John Maynard and worked as a printer in Manhattan and his wife was Sally, a secretary. They were caught after Jones was busted in Hoboken, N.J. for growing marijuana on the roof of their apartment building.

Jones and Stein were not directly involved with the Brink’s robbery and were living in an apartment in the Bronx, figuring out how to negotiate turning themselves in, when the FBI smashed in their apartment door in 1981 and agents took Jones away at rifle-point. Their son, Thai Jones, 4 at the time, recounted the harrowing scene in a 2004 book he published about his parent’s leftist politics, titled “A Radical Line.” Charges were dropped against Stein and Jones was sentenced to community service and worked in an emergency room in a Harlem hospital and drove a school bus in the Bronx.

Jones and Stein led an effort in 2010 for Gov. David Paterson to grant clemency to Gilbert near the end of his term, but failed. Since Cuomo took office in 2011, he has reduced the number of inmates statewide by more than 30 percent and closed 15 prisons – in contrast to his father, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who oversaw the largest expansion of the prison system in the state’s history.Since 2016, state prisoners submitted more than 6,500 applications for reduced sentences to Cuomo. The governor has executive clemency powers of commutation – shortening the sentence to allow for an earlier parole hearing or immediate release. Cuomo has granted clemency to 104 individuals in nine years, compared to Gov. Hugh Carey’s 155 in eight years and Gov. Mario Cuomo’s 37 in 12 years.

“I would urge Governor Cuomo to listen to a son’s emotional appeal and grant clemency to David Gilbert,” Stein said.


TEACH!

November 23, 2020

The most important things we teachers (at any level, in any circumstance) ever teach are these: you are a human being of incalculable value; you are, as well, a work-in-progress making your wobbly way through a living, cascading history in-the-making; you need no one’s permission to interrogate your world. We ask the fundamental questions again and again: who am I? How did I get here and where am I headed? What’s my story and how shall I join with others to write the next chapter? The answers send all of us spinning off into projects of production and repair.


Under the Tree: A Seminar on Freedom

November 19, 2020

Episode 14) Back to Work

The sparkly quadrennial carnival known as our “national election” is like a magnetic hole in space, sucking light and energy into its powerful jaws, energy and effort disappearing into a gloomy, starless void. Sensible folks can be found staring at the glittering sites of power we have no access to, taking our eyes off the sites of power we’re a natural part of—the workplace and the community, the classroom and the house of worship. Now that the carnival is packing up and leaving town—and not a moment too soon—we turn our attention to getting back to work. We’re joined in conversation by the consummate organizer and activist Aislinn Pulley, co-executive director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center and founder and a lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago.

Wherever you get podcasts


MENTAL TRAVELER

November 14, 2020

https://www.semcoop.com/event/w-j-t-mitchell-mental-traveler-father-son-and-journey-through-schizophrenia-virtual-event


Free David!

November 12, 2020

https://forusa.org/2020/11/10/open-letter-to-the-hon-governor-andrew-cuomo-urging-clemency-for-david-gilbert-from-nobel-peace-lau


Episode # 13: “Know What Time It Is” with Barbara Ransby

November 11, 2020

Voter suppression may be the only strategy left for the reactionaries, but, truth-be-told, voter suppression is as American as cherry pie, baked deep in the national DNA. Founded on war and conquest, land theft and forced removal, ethnic cleansing and genocide, kidnapping and a complex system of generational slavery based on African ancestry, the US is hardly innocent in spite of the noisy protestations of the White Nationalists. It’s a settler-colonial, racial capitalist system, and the founding documents are crystal clear: power will be exercised by and for the few. A fundamental revolutionary duty—and really the responsibility of anyone whose eyes are open—is to struggle to understand what time it is, and so we explore this treacherous, ominous, and oddly hopeful moment with a dear friend and comrade Barbara Ransby, historian, award-winning author, professor of history, Black studies, and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Under the Tree: A Seminar on Freedom


Rinky-Dink

November 10, 2020

A Review by Bill Ayers

Howard Waitzkin’s Rinky-Dink Revolution (Daraja Press, and Monthly Review Essays, 2020) is small to be sure—light-weight, unimposing in appearance, and with an abbreviated wing-span of just 72 pages total, including 11 pages of fore-and-after-matter. A quick read. 

But rinky-dink? Quite the opposite. 

It may be a quick read, but it’s rapidly become an enduring force in my mind, now readily available for deeper reflection and for ongoing dialogue.

Waitzkin eloquently expresses a key contradiction in his text with this rather hefty subtitle: Moving Beyond Capitalism by Withholding Consent, Creative Constructions, and Creative Destructions. 

And off we go, dancing the dialectic with Howard Waitzkin, a perfect dance partner, whirling and twirling between rinky-dink and creative destructions, between light-hearted observations and profound analysis, between suffering and resistance.

And as we join him, tripping the light fantastic, Waitzkin takes the lead, deftly grooving us into the future. But the future for him, and the future we behold, is not some imagined socialist utopia following a violent insurrection somewhere vaguely on the farthest horizon; rather the future is a tangible, practical way of living right here and right now, a beloved community in-the-making, always opposed by the powerful, and always within our collective reach. And so we explore the many practical expressions of a solidarity economy, for example, of communal living, cooperative housing and collective food production. Importantly,  Waitzkin never frames resistance as a grim necessity, but always in terms, for example, of the “joy of war tax resistance;” or the exuberance that accompanies acts that slow down the smooth functioning of predatory capitalism; or the abiding pleasure of working arm-in-arm, shoulder-to-shoulder to solve the problem of food production.

Like the best revolutionaries in all times and places Howard Waitzkin is guided by a powerful sense of possibility as well as deep feelings of love. He’s pissed off to be sure, because he pays attention to the crimes of racial capitalism. But he also knows that “even anger at injustice makes the brow grow stern,” and that being pissed off will not take us where we need to go—only love and joy and generosity can do that. He illustrates over and over that the greatest weapon in the cause of liberation is our beating human hearts longing to be free.

This book is bantam-weight, as I said—the perfect mini-manifesto to slip into your back pocket or your backpack, a worthy companion as we mount the next action or tend the community garden.

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