Like so many involved in the militant struggle for black liberation—Kuwasi Balagoon, Assata Shakur, David Gilbert, Geronimo Pratt—the immense sacrifices and activism contributed to the struggle by the aforementioned people and Nuh Washington (among others) has been largely forgotten by the left and distorted by the corporate media and those on the right. Nuh Washington, a former member of the Black Panther Party and a member of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) spent 29 years in prison in the United States as a political prisoner who, in his own words, was a prisoner because he organized and “spoke out against racism and oppression” and was willing to defend the black community. Washington was arrested in 1971 and along with two other BLA members—Jalil Abdul Muntaqim (Tony Bottom) and Herman Bell—was charged with the murder of two New York City police officers and would become one of the “New York 3.” Washington spent 29 years in prison before dying in 2000 despite the fact that his first trial ended in a mistrial with only one vote cast to convict him and a second trial ending in convictions won after the prosecution used many illegal tactics including bribery, beatings, torture of one witness, and threats of putting the children of several witnesses into state custody. Yet, despite the conviction and his time spent in prison, Washington continued to write and remained intensely interested in the struggle for black liberation, with All Power To The People containing a broad selection of his writing including poetry, discussions on political theory, interviews, and thoughts on organizing against prisons.
Nuh Washington became politically aware at the age of 14 as he frequently heard about the rampant lynchings in the south and heard African and Caribbean students in his neighborhood talking about the struggles against African colonialism as well as the idea that colonialism existed within the United States. He joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) early on because he—like many others he knew—was impressed that they marched with guns and talked about defending their community and solving their own problems. He attributes the success of the Party to the fact that it “captured the imagination” of the youth who understood that the Panthers offered an internationalist ideology and real programs for the success of both the black community and poor whites. Initially, the Panthers grew because they had a strong focus on the people, but Washington describes at length how this focus shifted to internal struggles in the Party brought on through a combination of ego, questions relating to class, paranoia, and an incomplete theory and praxis. Following the end of the BPP, Washington joined the Black Liberation Army (BLA) because of what he says were the continued “atrocities” being committed against the black community in the form of police killings, people getting killed over property disputes, high rents in the ghettos, and the inability for people to pay for the necessities of life. The BLA, according to Washington, thought that the best way to address these issues was through what they called “armed propaganda” which consisted of a variety of tactics including withholding rent and backing themselves up with guns, expropriations of capitalist money to support the black liberation struggle, and killing police in retaliation for police killings. While such tactics would have minimal support in the current political context, Washington reported that people were “quietly supportive” initially but that the state propaganda system was eventually able to isolate them from the people and thus limit there support.
Washington, like many of his comrades who have been locked up, have successfully remained active in prison against all odds. Washington functioned as a sort of “spiritual” adviser to many of his fellow inmates and was always willing to discuss problems with others and attempt to find solutions in addition to his work as an AIDS counselor. While in prison Washington studied sociology and psychology in prison to help in his work within the prisoners and in one of the interviews in the book, he states that if he were not in prison during the 1990s he would have been working to help people in his community deal with their problems through a psychological and political lens. He also has addressed via letter several conferences on organizing against prisons and emphasized throughout the book that the best way to organize against prisons is to educate people outside. Washington also discusses how he believes education and study have a central role in revolutionary struggle.
All Power to the People is an incredibly readable and informative book on the black liberation struggle and it makes several important contributions to the literature on both the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Additionally, the book serves as a reminder that there are still several black liberation and anti-imperialist political prisoners in the United States (joined now by several animal and earth liberation prisoners) and that it is important not only to honor their struggle by writing to them and letting them know that their work was appreciated, but also by organizing for collective liberation. This point is echoed throughout the tributes section when those who knew Washington and worked with him reflect on his contribution to the movement, with the general consensus being that Washington would want to be remembered through acting and working for the liberation of political prisoners and for the freedom of the poor and oppressed around the world.
Nuh Wasington, All Power To The People, (Arm the Spirit/Solidarity, 2002).