“Hungry for Revolution” – Interview with Ramona Africa

October 5, 2006 at 2:00 pm 2 comments

Jeremy Syrop

Eugene
Lang
College
 

I conducted the following interview with Ramona
Africa, Minister of Communication for the MOVE Organization, during the First Annual Student Social Justice Conference on April 7th, 2006.  Ramona is the sole adult survivor of the May 13th, 1985 MOVE massacre to whom upon escaping her enflamed home was wrongfully charged with conspiracy, riot and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault which she spent seven years in prison for, as a political prisoner
MOVE’s history cannot remain disconnected from the many years of directed repression and assault acted against the Organization at the hands of the city of Philadelphia and the
U.S. government.  On August 8th, 1978 the city of Philadelphia staged its first of two assaults on the MOVE headquarters, as city construction vehicles bulldozed the MOVE house, cops shed thousands of rounds of bullets and water cannons flooded the house in an attempt to drown those inside.  Fatally shot by one of his own officers in the unorganized offense was Officer James Ramp to which the nine MOVE members inside of the house were collectively blamed and sentenced for 30-100 years.  In 1985 the city again aggressed in its second attack, which resulted in the infamous 1985 MOVE bombing killing 11 members.
Liza Minno from Inprint (

Eugene
Lang
College Newspaper) sat in on the interview, and contributed a number of questions which are included and credited.
 

            

Jeremy:  Does being a student imply a certain level of compromise with the system? 

Ramona:  Only if you let it.  There are so many things that people will be involved in for a long time within this system.  Nobody is going to stop doing everything systematically overnight.  The most important thing that people need to get in touch with is making everything they do revolutionary no matter what it is.  I mean if you’re going to school then introduce revolution into your classes.  If you’re part of a student organization, then you bring in revolutionary speakers.  You challenge the teachers with information.  You bring information to your class.  I mean, if you’re a teacher in a school whether its elementary, middle school, high school, college, whatever, the same thing applies.   You teach revolution, you introduce it into whatever subject your teaching about.  You bring in speakers to speak on things.  What’s important is simply that you take whatever you’re involved in and make it revolutionary. 

Jeremy:  As a people who are inevitably bound to a certain extent within the hierarchical structures of colleges and universities, what do you recommend for students who see the system as un-reformable and are interested in battling the system from the outside? 

Ramona:  The same thing applies.  When I was introduced to MOVE, well personally I had read about MOVE for years.  But when I was personally introduced to MOVE I was in my third year of undergraduate school at

Temple
University.  I was on my way to becoming a lawyer.  I just made the personal decision that I didn’t want to continue with that once I heard what I heard and saw what I saw.  I made a personal decision not to continue on that path.  Nobody in MOVE tried to pressure me or convince me in one way or another.  That was my decision.  If I had chosen to keep going to school and figured if I could use my law degree to help or whatever, I could have done that.  Chances are though if I had continued that way and became a lawyer, I would not have remained that close, who knows.  All I’m saying is that this is something that everybody has to struggle with and you go the way that you feel works for you best.  Again the bottom line is, the only important thing is that you make revolution your priority and that means using whatever you’re involved in to push revolution. 

Jeremy:  To many revolution is a romanticized image of cigars, rifles and guerillas fighting in the mountains… 

Ramona:  Ha-ha (laughs). 

Jeremy:  Knowing that in most American ghettos there are no mountains, how do you define revolution in today’s world?   

Ramona:  Revolution really starts with how you think.  That’s what I was telling people when I addressed them just a little while ago.  Revolution is how you think because in order to be strong and be right, you have to think strong and think right.  A young woman had come up to me after I spoke and asked me, what do you do?  How do you generate this?  And I was telling her once you think the right way that its just a matter of making daily decisions that reflect that.  What you eat, how you eat it, what you buy, where you buy it.  You know, just daily decisions that reflect the direction you’re going in.  That’s the real revolution.  How we think and how it reflects itself in the things that you do and don’t do.  So for a poor person living in the ghetto, you might want to encourage them with more on self reliance because one thing about the ghettos is that there is very little, if any, municipal service.  I mean the trash truck will come around during the week and you may get some services, but the thing is to be more self reliant.  Get to know your neighbors, organize block clean-ups, get together with neighbors that are willing and able, and patrol your areas.  Make it a point that every night at seven or eight o’clock, or even rotate a little bit so it’s not a consistent pattern.  Just go out, walk around your neighborhood and see what’s going on.  If you see a problem in your area with somebody or a certain thing, get together with people and start doing things yourself and stop relying on a system that is unreliable to take care of your problems for you.  You start maybe pushing people who are in a ghetto situation that way.  I mean you have to deal with the situation you are faced with.   

Liza:  Was that a priority with MOVE, to mobilize the immediate community? 

Ramona:  More so sometimes than others.  When the MOVE Organization first emerged in the early 70’s in west
Philadelphia there was a priority to work with the gangs.  We did street clean up, etcetera – looked out for the older people in the neighborhood, made wood burning stoves for them when their gas got cut off and heat got cut off, stuff like that.  We went into confrontation mode because the cops was coming at us.  So we were repaid for the work we did by support from neighbors.  While the media always tried to portray that our neighbors were always against us, well there was always a few, but you can’t go to any neighborhood in this country where some people don’t have a problem with some neighbors.  In the 80’s prior to the second police attack on MOVE, the bombing, we, in a mode more so where we were pushing the neighbors to understand what was happening here – to understand that we were doing what we had to do for our family and that this system didn’t care any more for them than it did for MOVE – reminded them of what had happened in 78 where it wasn’t just MOVE that was attacked.  I mean people were beat up, cops rode horses up on people’s porches, went in peoples’ houses, were beating people, people who didn’t have anything to do with anything.  So we were reminding them of that, where their allegiance should be and who they should not be loyal to.  This was more of a middle-class black neighborhood in the 80s and middle class black people have a lot of problems because they feel like they’re moving on up like the
Jeffersons, getting a foothold in this system.  And they don’t want anything or anybody as they see it, trying to take that away from them.  So they have a lot of problems and a lot more resistance, but we had to do what we had to do.  So we had a lot of support in that area but there were definitely people that didn’t want to hear what we had to say…until after everything happened and they lost everything.
 

Liza:  After? 

Ramona:  After the bombing, and saw how the government treated them.  Then all of a sudden there were things like “we gonna have to get like MOVE.”  I mean they were saying that.  Our priority was not making enemies but we were not going to let the possibility of making enemies stop us from doing what was necessary 

Jeremy:  Amongst many young activists there is a disconnect between different struggles which are more or less fighting against a similar if not the same enemy.  For example, here at the
New
School students who are dealing with the devastation in
New Orleans have trouble relating to the students who are fighting for the liberation of Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Should and if so, how and why do you believe we can break down this disconnect?
 

Ramona:  Of course its necessary to break down the disconnect, but the way to do it is to stop focusing so much on the issue and focus on those who are responsible.  Because when you start focusing on that and seeing who is responsible for all of this, then that leads you to the common denominator and will encourage people to support each other because they will see that the one common denominator is the one common enemy that’s causing all these problems.   

Jeremy:  What type of threat do you believe the youth poses to the system?  Is it a bigger threat than those posed by other generations? 

Ramona:  Oh, absolutely because the youth is full of energy and what the system would see as idealism, which is not really idealism.  It’s a yearning for what’s right and the way things should be.  You know, a yearning for freedom.  Yeah, this system is threatened by that because if they can’t control the young then they have lost control of maintaining the status quo, maintaining things the way they are which is what they want and have to do in order to keep going.  Yeah, that’s why in MOVE our sister Sue Africa, one of our white members – she came form a very affluent background, her father was a scientist that worked on the team that invented the ejection catapult seat that’s used in jets.  I mean she went to
Jamaica for weekends.  She lived the American dream and she was miserable.  Her father was cold, her mother was a manic depressant, up and down, you know up and down.  She got no attention really and stayed sick with migraines and all kinds of problems which was all coming from her mind because she was so miserable.  And she came to MOVE, was introduced to MOVE by a friend of hers and ended up in MOVE.  And when she started going to demonstrations, etcetera, this system focused on her more than the black members because this was an upper middle class, young, white woman.  When they looked at her they saw their daughters, their wives, their grandchildren and knowing the kind of background she came from they were not gonna have her influenced this way.  I mean they beat her worse than black members.  They gave her longer jail terms than black members, they even put her in a mental institution for 90 days for an evaluation because “she must be crazy,” ha-ha.  They fear the youth like that because they’re always thinking about the future and keeping this thing going the way it is, and if they see young people going another way of course they feel threatened.
 

Jeremy:  What type of commitment do you see appropriate for young people who want to make change in today’s society? 

Ramona:  The only commitment that’s necessary is one thing, a commitment to yourself because this isn’t about something or somebody else, something outside of you young people.  Its about young people, its about you personally, you know.  So the only commitment necessary is a commitment to yourself just like you are committed to breathe, just like you’re committed to eat and drink.  The things you see as necessary to be committed to, you never stop doing these things because you know it would hurt you.  Well that’s the same kind of commitment we need to have to our freedom, to revolution, because just like you must have what we are trained to see as food to eat in order to survive, you must have freedom, satisfaction, health in order to survive, to sustain.  It is just as much as food as what we are trained to see as food.  Got to have it.   

Jeremy:  Hungry for revolution… 

Ramona:  Yeah!  That’s what John Africa teaches us.  All those categories don’t mean anything.  You must have it.  Just like you must have food we are trained to see as food, it is food.   

Liza:  Are you from
Philadelphia originally?
 

Ramona:  Yes.  Born and raised. 

Liza:  Where in
Philadelphia?
 

Ramona: 
West Philadelphia.  I live in southwest
Philadelphia now. 
 

Liza:  How old were you when you started with MOVE? 

Ramona:  24.  23 going on 24.   

Liza:  You mention God given rights and god given instincts as like being things to work off of, you know, to recognize those and go with them.  So in the MOVE philosophy where John Africa is the teacher, does God play into that at all?   

Ramona:  God is very simply that all coordinating force.  We don’t control the heartbeat in our chest.  We don’t keep water moving.  We don’t lay ourselves down to sleep and wake ourselves up.  We didn’t instill in ourselves the instinct of hunger to push to food, or the instinct of thirst to push us to water.  We don’t have anything to do with that.  We don’t control that.  There is a force, a coordinating force that does that.  We don’t push food up through the ground to feed all living beings.  There is a force that’s coordinating that, that coordinates it all.  It gives the sun its brilliance.  We don’t have anything to do with that.  The force that does that is the force that MOVE believes in.  That is our God, Mother Nature.  We don’t believe in no bearded man in the sky kind of thing.  We don’t believe in a heavenly hereafter or a hellish hereafter.  Your heaven or hell is right here and if you’re doing what is right, what is Godly, now, how could it turn out bad later no matter what you believe the later is?  We don’t believe in the bible or the systematic religious God.  We believe in the God that you can see, in the food that you eat, the water that you drink, the air that you breathe.  Our God is real.   

Liza:  About Philadelphia politics, do you see, because
Philadelphia has such a history of corruption in politics – if the MOVE Organization had been handled differently, in particular the confrontations in 1978 and 1985…
 

Ramona:  By who, the cops or us? 

Liza:  No, I guess…I guess I’m speaking about Wilson Goode in particular as
Philadelphia’s first black mayor.  Do you think that that could have – that
Philadelphia history would have been different?
 

Ramona:  Absolutely.  I mean if he had not dropped the bomb on us given his consent to do it, things would have been different.  I mean he didn’t have to and should never ever have agreed to that.  We understand that no black man in this country has any real authority.  He did what he was pushed to do and told to do but he did not have to do it.  He could have been a real man and have said no.  The question with us is not what he knew and when he knew it, if he knew this before – it don’t matter.  After everything had happened and he knew people including babies and animals and adults had been burned alive, he said he would do it again.  So what he knew and when he knew it is irrelevant.  He said he would do it again.  That tells you the kind of person he is.  He didn’t have to do it.  It didn’t have to be that way.  And had he stood up and said, “if your doing this, your doing it without me,” yeah it would have been different.  Absolutely.   

Liza:  You don’t have to answer this obviously if you don’t want to.  I was just wondering where you guys got the money for building the barricade and stuff like that?  

Ramona:  MOVE people have skills.  I mean, most of my brothers and some of my sisters know how to do home renovation work.  We used to do shampoo rugs, clean out garages, all kinds of work.  In the very early days of MOVE we had a very lucrative car wash.  People would give us donations, large donations sometimes, for washing their cars and we didn’t charge a regular price.  People just gave us a donation for it.  So we earned money that way.  At some times, MOVE Organization people had regular jobs.  I have brothers that do landscaping work.  A brother that has his own home renovation business is with us.  We earn money in various ways.  I do lectures to raise money for the Organization.

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Entry filed under: activism, Culture, History, Race.

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