A Life Lived, Deliberately:

June 11, 1999 Evergreen State College Commencement Address


WELCOME, STUDENTS of Evergreen, and thank you for this invitation. On the MOVE. Long live John Africa.

I feel privileged to address your chosen theme, not because I'm some kind of avatar, but because a life lived deliberately has been the example of people I admire and respect, such as Malcolm X; Dr. Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party; like Ramona Africa, who survived the hellish bombing by police of May 13, 1985; or the MOVE Nine, committed rebels now encaged for up to 100 years in Pennsylvania hellholes despite their innocence, solely for their adherence to the teachings of John Africa. These people, although of quite diverse beliefs, ideologies, and lifestyles, shared something in common: a commitment to revolution and a determination to live that commitment deliberately in the face of staggering state repression.

No doubt some of you are disconcerted by my use of the term "revolution." It's telling that people who claim with pride to be proud Americans would disclaim the very process that made such a nationality possible, even if it was a bourgeois revolution. Why was it right for people to revolt against the British because of "taxation without representation," and somehow wrong for truly unrepresented Africans in America to revolt against America? For any oppressed people, revo­lution, according to the Declaration of Independence, is a right.

Malcolm X, although now widely acclaimed as a Black nationalist martyr, was vilified at the time of his assassination by Time magazine as "an unashamed dem­agogue" who "was a disaster to the civil rights movement." The New York Times would describe him as a "twisted man" who used his brains and oratorical skills for "an evil purpose." Today, there are schools named for him, and recently a postage stamp was even issued in his honor,

Dr. Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party in October of 1966 and created one of the most militant, principled organizations American Blacks had ever seen. J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI targeted the party, using every foul and underhanded method they could conceive of to neutralize the group, which they described as the "number one threat to national security."

Sister Ramona Africa of the MOVE organization survived one of the most remarkable bombings in American history, one where Philadelphia police massa­cred eleven men, women, and children living in the MOVE house and destroyed some sixty-one homes in the vicinity. She did seven years in the state prison on riot charges, came out, and began doing all she could to spread the teachings of John Africa, the teachings of revolution, and to free her imprisoned brothers and sisters of MOVE from their repressive century in hellish prison cells.

These people dared to dissent, dared to speak out, dared to reject the status quo by becoming rebels against it. They lived -- and some of them continue to live -- lives of deliberate will, of willed resistance to a system that is killing us. Remember them. Honor their highest moments. Learn from them. Are these not lives lived deliberately? This system's greatest fear has been that folks like you, young people, people who have begun to critically examine the world around them, some perhaps for the first time, people who have yet to have the spark of life snuffed out, will do just that: learn from those lives, be inspired, and then live lives of opposition to the deadening status quo.

Let me give you an example. A young woman walks into a courtroom, one sit­uated in the cradle of American democracy -- that's Philadelphia -- to do some research for a law class. This woman, who dreams of becoming a lawyer, sits down and watches the court proceedings and is stunned by what she sees. She sees defendants prevented from defending themselves, manhandled in court, and cops lying on the stand with abandon. She saw the judge as nothing more than an administrator of injustice and saw U.S. law as an illusion. Her mind reeled, as she said to herself, "They can't do that," as her eyes saw them doing whatever they wanted to. Well, that young woman is now known as Ramona Africa, who lived her life deliberately after attending several sessions of the MOVE trial in Philadelphia. After that farce she knew she could never be a part of the legal sys­tem that allowed it, and she found more truth in the teachings of John Africa than she ever could in the law books which promised a kind of justice that was foreign to the courtrooms she had seen. The contrast between America's lofty promises and the truth of its legal repression inspired her to be a revolutionary, one that America has tried to bomb into oblivion. What is the difference between Ramona Africa and you? Absolutely nothing, except she made that choice.

Similarly, Huey Newton studied U.S. law with close attention when he was a student at Merritt Junior College in west Oakland, California. His studies con­vinced him that the laws must be changed, and the famous Black Panther Party ten-point program and platform proves, then and now, that serious problems still face the nation's Black communities, such as all the predominantly white juries still sending Blacks to prison, and cops still treating Black life as a cheap com­modity. Witness the recent Bronx execution of Ghanaian immigrant Amadou Diallo, where cops fired 41 shots at an unarmed man in the doorway of his own apartment building. Huey, at least in his earlier years, lived his life deliberately and set the mark as a revolutionary. What was the difference between Huey Newton and you? Absolutely nothing, except he made the choice.

Each of the MOVE Nine -- including the late Merle Africa, who died under somewhat questionable circumstances after nineteen years into an unjust prison sentence -- members of the MOVE organization whose trial initially attracted the attention of a young law student named Ramona decades ago, was a person who came to question their lives as lived in the system. Some were U.S Marines, some were petty criminals, some were carpenters, but all came to the point of questioning the status quo, deeply, honestly, and completely -- irrevocably. One by one, they turned their back on a system that they knew couldn't care less if they lived or died and joined a revolution after being exposed to the stirring teachings of John Africa. They individually chose to live life deliberately and joined MOVE. And although they are individuals -- Delbert Africa, Janet Africa, Phil Africa, Janine Africa, Chuckie Africa, Mike Africa, Debbie Africa, and Eddie Africa -- they are also united as MOVE members, united in heart and soul. What's the difference between the MOVE Nine and you? Absolutely nothing, except they made the choice.

Now, unless I miss my guess, Evergreen is not a predominantly Black institu­tion, and my choices heretofore given may seem somewhat strange to too many of you, for far too many of you may identify yourselves by the fictional label of "white." In truth, as I'm sure many of you know, race is a social con­struct. That said, it is still a social reality formed by our histories and our cultures. For those of you still bound by such realities however, I have some names for you like John Brown, like Dr. Alan Berkman, Susan Rosenberg, Sue Africa, Marilyn Buck, for examples. Each of these people are or were known in America as white. They are all people I know of, who I admire, love, and respect. They all are or were revolutionaries,

John Brown's courageous band's attack on Harper's Ferry was one deeply religious man's strike against the hated slavery system and was indeed considered one of the opening salvos of the U.S. Civil War. Dr. Alan Berkman, Susan Rosenberg, and Marilyn Buck were all anti-imperialists who fought to free Black revolutionary Assata Shakur from an unjust and cruel bondage. They are the spiritual grandsons and granddaughters of John Brown. Dr. Alan Berkman, Marilyn Buck, and Susan Rosenberg were treated like virtual traitors to white supremacy and thrown into American dungeons. Buck and Rosenberg remain so imprisoned today. They lived lives deliberately and chose liberation as their goals, understanding that our freedom is interconnected. They chose the hard road of revolution, yet they chose. And but for that choice they are just like each of you seated here tonight, people who saw the evils of the system and resolved to fight it. Period.

Now, the name Sue Africa may not be known to you. She's what you may call white. Yet when she joined the MOVE organization, the system attacked her bit­terly for what was seen as a betrayal of her white-skinned privilege. On May 13, 1985 she lost her only son because the Philadelphia police bombed the house she was living in. She served over a decade in prison where the guards vilely taunted her in the hours and days after the bombing. When she came out, she went right to work to rebuild the MOVE organization in Philadelphia. She lives her life deliberately by promoting John Africa's revolution each and every day. Except for that choice, she's just like you.

Now, some of you are sure to be wondering, "Well, if this guy's gig is with rev­olutionaries, why is he saying this to us?" The answer of course is "Why not?" OK, I know you ain't supposed to answer a question with a question, but do I expect you guys and gals who've just received your degrees to chuck it all for so nebulous a concept as revolution? Nope. I ain't that dumb. The great historians Will and Ariel Durant teach us that history in the large is the conflict of minori­ties. The majority applauds the victor and supplies the human material of social experiment. Now, I take that to mean that social movements are begun by rela­tively small numbers of people who, as catalysts, inspire, provoke, and move larger numbers to see and share their vision. Social movements can then become social forces that expand our perspectives, open up new social possibilities, and create the consciousness for change.

To begin this process, we must first sense that (1) the status quo is wrong, and (2) the existing order is not amenable to real, meaningful, and substantive trans­formation. Out of the many here assembled, it is the heart of he or she that I seek who looks at a life of vapid materialism, of capitalist excess, and finds it simply intolerable. It may be 100 of you, or 50, or even 10, or even one of you who makes that choice. I'm here to honor and applaud that choice and to warn you that, though the suffering may indeed be great, it is nothing to the joy of doing the right thing. Malcolm, Dr. Huey P. Newton, Ramona Africa, the MOVE Nine, Dr. Alan Berkman, Susan Rosenberg, John Brown, Susan Africa, Marilyn Buck, Geronimo ji Jaga, Leonard Peltier, Angela Davis, and others, all of them people just like you, felt compelled to change the conditions they found intolerable. I urge you to join that noble tradition.

I thank you all, and wish you well. On the MOVE. Long live John Africa. From Death Row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.