By the time I was preparing to travel to Cuba in 1994, I was a cemented A-APRP cadre. Chuck D rapping "my calling card, recorded and ordered, supporter of Chesimard" was a distant memory now as I had spent the last few years giving presentations about Sister Assata Shakur. Also, since Kilolo and Sister Akilah had traveled to Cuba in 1993 and met Assata Shakur in person, I was hopeful I would have the chance to meet her when I arrived in Havana in July of 94. Fortunately, when we got to the Federation of Cuban Women in Havana in mid July, Assata was there and ready to meet us. I was traveling with my long time friend and comrade from the Bay, Brother Nidamu. We got the opportunity to spend several days with Assata. I will never forget how warm and open she was. Within hours we were joking and playing the dozens with one another. And, before we left Cuba, she agreed to speak to me on camera about life in Cuba and how she saw socialist development there during the "Special Period." Now, I'm no journalist. I'm a revolutionary organizer, so I make no apologies for technical quality of the video of our discussion, but for those who wish to hear a very expansive and comprehensive analysis of socialist development by Sister Assata, after years of it sitting on a mini 8 tape, I was recently able to convert the discussion to DVD and upload it to youtube It's entitled "Assata Shakur discusses Socialist Development in Cuba." Even 20+ years later, the discussion provides quite a bit of insight into what life in Cuba looks like and Assata is very prophetic about articulating the need to permit small level business development as a method of providing cash flow opportunities to build socialist industrialization in Cuba since these are exactly the changes Cuba is implementing today. One other thing Assata told me that wasn't on video. She suggested that since I lived in Northern California, I should visit Marilyn Buck who was incarcerated in nearby Dublin, California.
I knew who Marilyn Buck was. I knew she had been a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). I knew that she had been one of the brave initial voices against patriarchy in the movement and that she was a part of that all important discussion that contributed to SDS eventually splitting into factions in 1969, one of which evolved into the Weathermen. I knew that the Weathermen were made up primarily of European (White) college students who engaged in supporting the African liberation struggle in concrete ways by bombing police buildings whenever police committed terrorist acts against the African community. I knew Marilyn was a member of the Weathermen group. The bombing acts caused these activists to have to flee underground which led to the group changing it's name to the Weather Underground. I knew that at some point, Marilyn had met Assata in one of the prisons they shared when Assata was incarcerated for the bogus charge of killing a New Jersey State Trooper and Marilyn was in on an ammunition charge. I also knew that during the time I visited Cuba, Marilyn was currently in prison on convictions related to conspiracy to help Assata escape as well as charges related to the unsuccessful Brinks truck robbery in 1981. Once, I got back from Cuba, I immediately found out how to contact Marilyn. My A-ARP contacts made doing so very easy. Soon, I was placing a letter to Marilyn in the mail. In a short period of time, I excitedly received a response. I was nervous to open it. My apprehension stemmed from the fact I've grown up in this movement having the great opportunity to meet many front line warriors who made great sacrifices for our liberation. I've shared space with Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt), Maulana Karenga, Sister Assata, Kwame Ture, Bob Brown, David Brothers, Mukassa Ricks, and Marilyn Buck to name a few. I was raised in this movement to have great love and respect for all those who fought for our liberation. Sorry you all, but I wasn't raised in the non-profit industrial complex era. Those are not my models for liberation politics and organizing. The independent revolutionary anti-capitalist model is my model. The socialist model is my model and the people who put their bodies on the line challenging the racist capitalist system deserve all the respect in the world to me. So, meeting Assata was an intense honor and meeting the woman who was convicted of helping her escape, a white woman, a white comrade/sister, was equally as special. I struggled to be myself when I met Assata and I struggled to write authentically when I wrote Marilyn. I was not confident about my ability to do that when I met Assata and I was worried about how I sounded in my first letter to Marilyn. I remember I tried to mention how much I had studied her life and how much I appreciated her contributions. I know I said something about being in the A-APRP for about 10 years at the time and I know I mentioned just returning from Cuba and meeting Assata. When I read Marilyn's response I was overjoyed. First, she immediately responded with humility and grace for me taking the time to write her. She apologized for taking time to write me back. She explained that she was in the middle of working to obtain a college degree. She told me how great it was that I had met "Sister A" as she called Assata. And, she enthusiastically welcomed my suggestion that I come visit her.
Over the next several weeks I completed the necessary paperwork to qualify to visit her at the Federal Women's Facility in Dublin, California. And when I finally visited and met her, we talked for hours. I stayed all day. I talked about everything from my political work to how she was doing, how she spent her time, what could be done to try and bring some hope to the women incarcerated there. What I was mostly interested in, although I didn't say it, is how I could support her. I was in awe of her for her discipline and courage. I knew that the state had approached her numerous times with offers if she would only tell them something e.g. who was involved in helping Assata escape? Who could they punish for daring to stand up and defy them? I have no idea what Marilyn knew or didn't know about that because obviously, I would never ask her anything like that, but what I do know is that she never told them a damn thing. And for that, she did 23 years for that conviction. Yes, I was in awe. I remember feeling so bad because I didn't have any cash on me to buy food from the vending machines and there was no way to get cash once you were inside. For some reason, I thought I would have the ability to get food during the visit, but that wasn't possible and/or permitted. I kept apologizing, but Marilyn kept reassuring me not to worry. I think it's safe to say we really hit it off during that first visit. There were several more visits. Sometimes I took people with me. Several times I took my daughter. Each time, between the visits and our letters, our relationship grew. Sometime in 1999, along the lines of supporting the women, we talked about organizing a program. A cultural program. We planned it for months. Then, when we got to the point where the program was within days of happening, I got a call from a comrade in the Bay Area who was directed to call me and tell me the program wasn't going to happen because there was an issue at the prison. Basically, Marilyn was on lock-down. I was devastated because I was having to work with the prison administration at the time to plan the program. After I got the call from the comrade, I got a call from a prison administrator and the way that person questioned me before telling the program was cancelled, I was concerned I had said something or done something that caused Marilyn difficulty. I spent days racking my brain, but I had been very careful and I couldn't figure out what it was. There was no way to call Marilyn. So all I could do was write her, apologize profusely, and wait. It took months, but I finally got a response from her. She told me she would tell me more when I visited and when I went to see her that next time she did explain. There was some issue related to the color coded terrorist risk stages that caused her and others to placed in the hole. This was apparently procedure and had nothing to do with anything Marilyn had done or hadn't done. I was furious, but in the same calm manner in which she always communicated with me, Marilyn reassured me that all was well.
Over the next six years I continued to correspond and visit Marilyn. Unfortunately, I went through several serious life changes during that same period and I'm afraid my contact with Marilyn wasn't as consistent as I wish that it had been. When I resettled in Oregon in 2007, I eventually picked up on writing to her, but visiting was now not nearly as convenient. In 2010, I became unemployed and my life was unstable for a period of time. It was during this time that I was so pre-occupied with my personal situation that I went months without making contact with Marilyn. It was also unfortunately during this time that Marilyn was diagnosed with cancer and released from prison only to die immediately after being released.
Today, I have a lot of guilt about not being able to talk to Marilyn in that last several months of her life. I feel as if I let her down. I cannot even talk about this without breaking down. The only healthy way I have found to try and address this dilemma is I've made it my personal mission to talk about Marilyn whenever I can. So, I write about Marilyn and Assata because they are both my sewaas...My aunties. love both of them. I wouldn't be who I am today without their inspiration. I think about both of them all the time. I hope that Assata has the peace and joy that she rightfully deserves and I'm eternally thankful for the Cuban revolution for providing a safe haven for her. I can only hope that Marilyn knows that I love and think of her often and that I wish I hadn't been so consumed with my problems that I had reached out to her those final months. My problems are paper weight compared to what she had to endure. My only consolation is that my constant talking it up about her has I hope inspired at least one group here in Portland to take on the name the Marilyn Buck Abolitionist Collective. I think Marilyn would have loved that. Wherever you are Marilyn, I'm forever indebted to you. I'm forever thinking of you. And, lastly, I try to embody Kwame Ture's words when he said "the best way to honor someone is to carry out their work." So, for whatever contributions I make, here's to you sewaas Assata and Marilyn!