Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Review of `Enemies Of The State: Interviews with Marilyn Buck, David Gilbert and Laura Whitehorn

A Review of Enemies Of The State: Interviews with Marilyn Buck, David Gilbert and Laura Whitehorn
Brooklyn, NY (May 1999); 84 pgs.
Resistance in Brooklyn (RnB) publication

In her introduction to the Enemies Of The State pamphlet, Meg Starr notes that "the government and mainstream media have used their formidable power to prevent real information about political prisoners Marilyn Buck ( ), David Gilbert ( ), Laura Whitehorn and others from getting out." She also accurately observes that "invisible in the social democratic or liberal histories of the 1960s is the logic of their progression from public to clandestine activism."

The Enemies Of The State pamphlet that the Resistance in Brooklyn (RnB) affinity group has put together may help to reintroduce these three 60s radicals-turned 70s, 80s and 90s revolutionaries to 21st-century activists. It may also act as a corrective to some of the "looking back at the 60s" memoirs and histories written by certain U.S. academics. These memoirs and histories often caricature the late SDS white radical Movement political tendency whose perspective Buck, Gilbert and Whitehorn still reflected from within U.S. prison walls for most of the 1990s and early in the 21st century.

In the late 1990s, Whitehorn was released from the Pleasanton Federal Prison in Dublin, California after completing 15 years of her 23-year sentence for conspiracy to protest and alter government policies through the use of violence against government property. Yet this former Harvard University student activist's initial political involvement in radical left activism seemed to be triggered by the same 60s historical situation which sparked the involvement of many white radical left activists who didn't end up in prison for such a long period.

In her interview, Whitehorn recalls that she was inspired by the emergence of the Black Panther Party in the late 60s and her "participating in confrontation with the Chicago police department" in situations like the 1968 Democratic Convention. And "when the Chicago cops and FBI assassinated Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969," it made it clear to Whitehorn what she "had already accepted: that the fight of Black people would have to involve armed struggle." Whitehorn's conclusion "that armed struggle as well as mass struggle would be needed" was a strategic point of view shared by a significant proportion of hard-core white New Left/Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) activists, as well as by many African-American radicals/Black Panther Party activists, of that era.

Like a significant number of hard-core anti-war activists of that Vietnam War era, Whitehorn also came to feel "that armed struggle could be a way to speed up the victory" of the Vietnamese people over an immoral U.S. military machine; and thus "lessen a nation's suffering" at the hands of the Pentagon's military machine. Motivated by this political and moral perspective, Whitehorn first "took part in mass confrontation, in attacks on military think tanks and in building takeovers at big univeristies" and "later took part in armed action against targets like the NYC Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the Israeli Aircraft Industries and the U.S. War College and Capitol Building." In Whitehorn's view, her "desire to wage armed struggle against all aspects of this oppressive society" was also "fueled" by "her desire, as a woman and a lesbian…to fight against sexism and homophobia."

In her interview, Whitehorn also speculates on why some 60s revolutionaries might have ended-up retreating from their 60s militancy. Yet, as for herself, --despite all her years of imprisonment-- Whitehorn doesn't think that "armed struggle is ever an irrelevant form" and still maintains that her personal involvement in "bombing the U.S. Capitol and other political and military buildings after the invasion of Grenada (and while the U.S. was waging a counterrevolution in Central America) was fine and correct."

Still serving her 80-year sentence in the Pleasanton Federal prison for “conspiring” to free former Black Panther activist Assata Shakur and to protest and alter government policies “through the use of violence” and to raise funds for Black liberation organizations through robbing banks, Marilyn Buck jointly responds with Whitehorn in Enemies Of The State to a number of questions. Buck and Whitehorn's frank response to the question of what their political achievements and political mistakes were is a major reason why the pamphlet should be of interest to 21st century Movement activists.

The second interview contained in Enemies Of The State pamphlet is with a person who is no stranger to 1960's Movement activists who were involved in the 1968 Columbia Student Revolt. A founding member of Columbia University Students for A Democratic Society, David Gilbert is serving a 75-year-to-life sentence in Clinton State prison in Dannemora, New York on charges of participating as an anti-racist ally of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) in the 1981 Brink's robbery and shoot-out. But Gilbert states in his interview that although he hates being in prison, "the 17 [now 26 years] in prison have only deepend my awareness of the totally antihuman nature of the social system," and that "in terms of the basic principle and the broad commitment to the struggle, I have no regret," aside from not fighting imperialism more effectively.

In his interview, Gilbert defines what he means by the term "imperialism," recalls how he personally became politically aware and active in 1960's Movement politics, and explains why "after 7 years of activism and analysis" he "reluctantly concluded that there wasn't a chance against the forces of repression without developing a capacity for armed struggle." But Gilbert now expresses "regret that we weren't capable of expressing publicly a feeling of loss and pain for the families of the two officers and the guard who were killed" prior to his October 20, 1981 arrest. "Even in a battle for a just cause, we can't lose our feeling for the human element," says Gilbert.

Gilbert also recalls the historical conditions that led him to help build the Weather Underground Organization of the late 60s/early 70s, but now asserts that "armed struggle is not the primary question now: building a strong anti-imperialist Movement is."

Like Whitehorn and Buck, Gilbert frankly discusses both achievements and the errors of the political tendency with which he was involved. While asserting that the Weather Underground pierced "the myth of government invincibility by carrying out more than 20 bombings of government and corporate buildings without so much as injuring a single civilian" during the 70s Vietnam War Era, Gilbert also argues that the anti-imperialist white radical group of which he was a part still sometimes made political errors. Some of these political errors, in Gilbert's view, reflected both unconscious racist and militarist tendencies and unconscious ego problems.

Gilbert also provides readers with an intellectually sophisticated political analysis of how the world political situation has changed since 1979. He asserts that the current political challenge for Movement people is "to find ways to connect the range of different oppressions, against our common enemy, imperialism, and to find ways to synthesize grassroots activism with a global consciousness and solidarity."

In the final interview of Enemies Of The State, Marilyn Buck passionately asserts that "the enemy of humanity is not invincible," but warns of "a much more brutal fascist regime on the near horizon." She also recalls how she became politically aware and then politically active in the 60s and criticizes "too many, even in our political movement" who "would prefer to relegate us to museum pieces, objects of campaigns perhaps, but not political subjects and comrades in an ongoing political struggle against imperialism, oppression, and exploitation." To her political supporters outside of prison, Buck says: "Don't lock us into roles as objects or symbols."

Enemies Of The State also includes a glossary of terms which explain some of the political references made by Whitehorn, Gilbert and Buck, that may not be familiar to a new generation of U.S. Movement activists.

In Ireland, Palestine/Israel and Germany the political activists who were sentenced for political activities which resembled somewhat the political actions Whitehorn, Gilbert and Buck were jailed for in the 1980s have, in large number, been released from prison. The release of Whitehorn and 11 of the FALN/Puerto Rican nationalist political prisoners hopefully is an indication that the U.S. government will also finally release its remaining political prisoners.

Enemies Of The State provides a strong case for now releasing Gilbert and Buck from prison. They are imprisoned politically motivated activists who received excessive sentences because of their radical left/anti-imperialist political beliefs. They are not "terrorists" and they never were "terrorists."" Read Enemies Of The State and judge for yourself.

Next: Marilyn Buck protest folk song lyrics