Letter to a Young Activist: Left to Learn from the ‘60s
By Laura Whitehorn, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine
If you saw the film The Weather Underground, you saw about three minutes of me. The film, through interviews, narration and clips, describes the genesis and decline of the radical activist group by that name from 1969 to the mid-’70s. I gave some reflections from my participation in it.
Learning about the sixties — a high tide of radical uprising, when masses of people in this country joined with people around the world who were fighting wars for national liberation and against colonialism and racism — can be useful to anyone engaged in political and social change. After all, learning the lessons of the past can help with figuring out what to do in the present.
The Weather Underground, unfortunately, focuses on white radicals, and, in the process, leaves out two important truths about our history. The film ignores the rise of mass incarceration in the 70s and its effects on political activism, and it skips over the valuable work of the Black Panther Party, many of whom ended up in prison. The connecting thread, and what I want you to care about in your activism today, has to do with those who were left behind — the political prisoners who are still incarcerated.
A very significant outcome of mass incarceration is how it contributed to preventing an effective revolutionary mass movement from emerging.
I say these things from my own history. In 1985, I became a political prisoner myself. It wasn’t that I was framed or hadn’t broken the law — I fully admit I broke it for radical (revolutionary) political reasons, as part of a movement with political goals. Those goals conformed to the international covenants against genocide and racism, and were committed to securing human rights for oppressed people here in the United States. I was part of the “Resistance Conspiracy Case.”
I explain in the introduction to the book, The War Before, how six of us, including Marilyn Buck, Linda Evans and me, were charged with conspiracy to bomb several government buildings that were symbols of domestic racism. One was the office of the New York City Police Benevolent Association (known for supporting cops who had killed innocent civilians). We targeted the PBA following the murder of Black grandmother Eleanor Bumpurs in 1984. We were also charged with bombing military and government buildings that were symbols of U.S. foreign policy, including the Capitol Building after the U.S. invasion of Grenada and shelling of Lebanon in 1983.