August 24, 2015 | By Chasidy Nazario, Kamika Bennett
Sunday, August, 9th 2015 was the one year anniversary of the racist police murder of Mike Brown by Darren Wilson. Black and Brown organizers from BLM413, BLMAmherst and Pa’Lante Holyoke came together to reflect on the past year and to recommit ourselves to the fight against the racist police. Although BLM meetings are usually closed spaces for Black people, the space was open on Sunday and over 2 dozen of our white allies came out to support and strategize.
Sunday was also the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. BLM organizers were deliberate in choosing a space to convene at; the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, MA. The Peace Pagoda was the first Nipponzan-Myōhōji Peace Pagoda to be built in the United States to honor the lives that were lost to the racist imperialist U.S government in 1945. After the Nipponzan-Myōhōji monks led BLM organizers in prayers, songs and drums, two former Black Panther Party members presented on the past and present movement for Black liberation.
Viviane Saleh-Hanna, a former Black Panther member, is now a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and was the first to present. Viviane’s presentation on white supremacist use of space- specifically on their reorganization of the land and on their use of prisons to reorganize indigenous people- was eye opening. She spoke about white settler colonialism and the new political boundaries created to remake the land into a space for exploitation and abuse. Next, she showed us multiple images of prisons from around the world. One of the prisons in her presentation was Fort Patience, it was originally built in Ghana for trading, but was remade into a slave dungeon for African people. Fort Patience allowed us to see how the function of prison was remade, it became a tool to kidnap, confine, surveil and enslave Black people. So we were able to understand the link between indigenous American land dispossession and African enslavement since the land that was reorganized to colonize indigenous people was also reorganized into mass prisons for African people. Furthermore, we were able to see the legacy of enslavement work by connecting a slave dungeon such as Fort Patience to present day penitentiaries for the mass incarceration of African people. Overall, Vivian’s presentation moved the audience back and forth from the past to the present to make a thorough link between enslavement and mass incarceration.
The next workshop was conducted by Ashanti Alston, also a former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Ashanti’s workshop continued the foundation that Viviane built upon; he also focused on prisons, but from the perspective of former Panther members who experienced harassment, false charges and imprisonment through the U.S government Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Ashanti is also on the board of the Jericho Movement, an organization that fights for the release of our unjustly incarcerated political prisoners and an end to mass incarceration. Ashanti’s presentation was the ideal workshop to follow Viviane’s because his analysis came out of a lived experience. This allowed us to understand the far extent the racist U.S government will go to counter Black liberation.
The Peace Pagoda was a very welcoming, loving and inspiring place to remember Mike Brown and Nagasaki & Hiroshima. We were all able to come together to break bread and to mourn, celebrate and plan for future resistance. Towards the end of the day, we circled up and a few organizers read poems and sang beside the peace tree and a shrine to the Indigenous ancestors of the land.
. We closed out the circle with a unity clap called Isang Bagsak. Isang Bagsak is a Filipino phrase (Tagalog) that means “one fall, all fall”; to emphasize our understanding of liberation as a collective project.
Chasidy’s Personal Experience
My experience at the Peace Pagoda was very empowering. I loved all of the workshops because they taught me so much more than I already knew. My school was not the reason why I knew about information mentioned during the event at the Peace Pagoda. To try and understand how these African Americans felt is so hard because I myself have never been put into a predicament as difficult as them. I always knew about slave dungeons but never about how they came to be or by WHOM exactly. It’s really heartbreaking to hear what conditions these African Americans were put under. I will definitely take a lot of what I learned back to my high school. Vivian opened my eyes about the slave dungeons because I thought that they were MADE for slaves and didn’t know that they were originally made to use as trading stations. Although, at my high school the Latino students make up 80% pod my school’s population. (1,300) It’s really difficult being a Latino student. There are a lot of white adults. It’s almost scary to try and bring any part of your heritage into the school. Not to say there isn’t any Latino appreciation at Holyoke High School, but there is very little. There is no classes that talk about indigenous history or culture. After listening to both presentations I took alot of the information and will use it in the future. I am glad I was able to be a part of it.
Kamika’s Personal Experience
The Peace Pagoda was an important location for BLM organizers to meet at and to honor the countless lives murdered by racist and imperialist capitalism. The Pagoda is a historical place, it was built from the pain, commitment and resistance of oppressed people. After a year that took so many of us on a geo-revolutionary journey- from Ferguson (Mike Brown) to Detroit (Aiyana Stanley-Jones) to New York (Eric Garner) to Baltimore (Freddy Gray) to South Carolina (Charleston 9)- it was important to have a moment to feel wholly safe. We came together at the pagoda to listen and to talk and to acknowledge the power in our collective being.
There was a moment during Vivian’s presentation when she spoke about sharks re-routing during the middle passage so they can follow the blood from the bodies of dead Africans at sea. This visual was heartbreaking; it allowed me to better imagine the deep agony of the slave ship. Trying to better understand the trauma Black people survived made me feel closer connected to my ancestors. Understanding the significance of the trauma we faced in the past allows me to understand the trauma we face today and this makes me more compassionate and more committed to my people.
During Ashanti’s presentation, he revealed that he spent fourteen years in prison because of his political work. It was important for me to listen to an elder speak because his life was forever changed by COINTELPRO; I know that other young organizers present also listened closely to hear the specifics of COINTELPRO. We now know, without a doubt, that the state will come down hard on Black revolutionaries. The question then becomes not if or when, but how and even more importantly how can we prepare to fight back.
Both workshops were heavy but the heaviness was full of resistance, love and collective fight back. The knowledge I have about my people is power and power is what my comrades and I need as we move to continue the legacy of resistance and revolution.
Chasidy Nazario, is a youth leader with Pa’lante! Holyoke, @chasidy_nyree