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On a Move!

Talk delivered in SF Uni Dept of Women's Studies by Ramona Africa, October 26, 1994
On a Move!
by Ramona Africa

Introduction by Mujah Shakir:

Our speaker is dedicated to the simple truths of respect for life, she's beautiful, she's special because she loves life. She's special because she's a revolutionary. And that word should not frighten you. And the only reason it frightens you is because of the propaganda machine that we've all been subjected to over, and over, and over, and over again. We got to de-program ourselves. A revolutionary wants change. It's very simple, we want change, we want a better way of life, we love, and that's the reason why we do the things that we do. If you believe in environmental justice, you will respect our speaker and her family. If you believe in the rights of animals, you will respect this speaker and her family. If you believe in harmony, justice, freedom and the pursuit of happiness, then you will respect, and also love and admire our next speaker.

Ramona Africa was charged with conspiracy, riot and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault, even though she was the only surviving adult after that bombing in 1985. No testimony was presented indicating she ever held a fired weapon. A jury found her guilty and the judge sentenced her 16 months to 7 years. She did the entire 7 years. The lieutenant who dropped the bomb and the officer who assembled it refused to testify citing the fifth amendment right against self incrimination. Mayor Goode appointed a special commission to investigate the catastrophe, but it had no power to indict. Findings released in March of 1986 were highly critical of city officials and included extensive recommendations. But as years passed these were largely disregarded and forgotten. I would like all of you to stand up and give a very warm welcome to our sister, to one of the toughest women that I've ever met, a true freedom fighter, Ramona Africa.

Ramona Africa:
Thank you very much and on a move! We say the words 'on a move' because that's what we are and that's what we want to encourage all of you to be --on the move. Not to stagnate, not to sit back in apathy and accept illusions. It is in our power and our hands to do something about it. I believe that the program is to answer a few questions about the film that you just saw first, and then I will speak. But the main thing that I do want to let you know is that I am not here to give something to write a paper about, to talk about amongst yourselves. That is not going to change anything. I am here to give you something to really think about to change your whole mentality, to change the way you look at things, and motivate you to make the decision to do something.

It doesn't matter how small it may seem, or how magnanimous it may seem, but to do something. To commit yourselves to doing something to change the system that we live in to make this a better place for yourselves, your family, your children, your sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, whatever. Do something for yourself. Not for MOVE, not for Ramona, not for Muhjah or Chinosole or Geronimo or Mumia or anybody else. Do it for yourself because you are Geronimo, you are Mumia Abu-Jamal, you are MOVE people, you are Sundiata Acoli, and Leonard Peltier. You know, these people are not separate from us; they are us and we are them. What we allow to happen to them leaves the door open for it to happen to us.

I'm saying that we have to do something about the rampage of injustice and brutality that is rained down on us. Not on some people out there on Mars but on us right here. We can stop it, and it doesn't take violence. it doesn't even take guns or bloodshed or any of that. All it takes is one thing --unity. In the absence of unity you got a different story because the reason that the MOVE organization was attacked, the reason Geronimo has been in jail for twenty-five years, the reason my family has been in jail sixteen years, the reason Mumia has been on death row for the past twelve years is because this government feels like it can get away with it. They can just do this and it's business as usual. That's really what I'm going to be talking to you about, the urgent necessity for all of us, particularly young people, college students, to get involved. To make the decision there and now this evening to do something. Commit yourselves to doing something. That is the bottom line .

I'd like to know the history of MOVE.

Ramona Africa:
The MOVE organization is a deeply religious organization, but we are a revolutionary organization. And really what makes us revolutionary is the injustice in this system. You know, because basically we are a religious organization. Revolution simply means change and if things were not wrong, there would be no need for change. You don't have to change right, you only have to change wrong, and that's what makes us revolutionary. But we are a deeply religious organization. We believe in life. That is our belief. Not in an abstract way, in a very real way because life is real, it's not some abstract theory out there. Life is the air that fills your lungs. Life is the force that lays you down when you sleepy and wakes you up. Those things don't happen by coincidence. Life is the force that keeps the water moving so it doesn't stagnate and so that you can drink it. Life is the force that keeps the air moving so you can breathe it, you know, so it doesn't stagnate. Life is the force that pushes food up through the soil to feed all life. Those things don't happen by accident. Life is the force that coordinates you to eat by giving you the feeling of hunger that tells you to eat, the feeling of thirst to tell you to drink. The force that really makes you see. The instinct of breathing, mating, drinking, all these things don't happen by accident. They're coordinated by the force of life, and that's what we believe in. We believe that every aspect of life is here for a reason, is to be protected whether we understand it or not. MOVE doesn't see ourselves as superior to any form of life because we understand that all life comes from one source, is coordinated by one source...whether you call it "Allah," "Jehovah," "Jesus," or whatever. We call that force nature, mother nature, mom. But whatever you call that force, there is only one. And if we understand that all life is coordinated by that force, comes from that one source, then how can anything that comes from one source be superior or inferior? It all has to be the same, doesn't it? All have to have equal importance.

This is what our founder John Africa had taught us. And because of that we protect the air, we protect the water, we protect the soil, we protect animals. We don't allow anybody to abuse animals around us. We don't allow anybody to abuse babies around us, or the elderly. No form of life. We confront industry that poisons, pollutes our air, our water. Puts toxic waste in our soil. These are things that everybody...nobody is exempt from, no matter how much money you have, how much status you have. You got to drink water, I don't care how much champagne you got in your cellar (laughter). You have to breathe the air, I don't care how much coke you sniff up your nose, or whatever else you do. You must breathe air, I don't care if your name is Hillary Clinton, or you know, the woman that lives on the street down the block, that lives out on the street. It doesn't matter, you have to breathe air. This is the principle that John Africa taught us. And as hard as it may be to believe, this simple principle that cannot be disputed is what has put us in conflict with this system. Because this system doesn't give a damn about life whether its man, woman, child, black, white, or whatever. This system doesn't care.

Those that run the system, they don't care. All they care about is money, that almighty dollar, that piece of paper with a dead man's picture on it. That's their god. That is their god. That is all they care about. That takes priority over everything. And when I say those that run the system, I'm not talking about Bill Clinton, or any politician. They don't have any power. They're taking orders. The people that really have the power are the handful of big time industrialists. The handful of rich families that run the world. They are the people that make the decisions, that call the shots. They are the ones that put Bill Clinton in office. They are the ones that put priority and money over life. Even though they have to breathe life. They have to eat life. Their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren have to breathe life. And that tells you how dangerous they are because a person that don't care about themselves, don't care anything for anybody else. And you can go to the bank on that.

And as I said it's that simple principle that has put us in conflict with this system, because the MOVE organization started out twenty years ago in the early seventies, founded by a wise, perceptive, sensitive, black man called John Africa. And John Africa taught us to respect and revere life. And based on that belief, we had peaceful demonstrations at the Zoo in Philadelphia and in the Bronx, New York. We demonstrated against unsafe boarding homes for the elderly. The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus for their abuse of animals, their mistreatment of animals. We went to symposiums and conferences on gang warfare. But the truth...when we would go to the zoos or to any type of demonstration around animal rights, the rights of animals, I mean we hit them hard. We asked people what made them think that the mink coat looked better on them than on the mink. I mean, these people are arrogant...and want to get an attitude with anybody who tells you that you shouldn't do that. When we confront industrialists, they're going to get an attitude with us because we said we want clean air to breathe, we don't want to breathe polluted air? I mean, how dare we! And when we would go to these programs we would hit them hard and uncompromising. And the information was so simple and so clear that there was no defense against it because there is no defense against the truth. Any number of lies can't stand up to one truth. And people were so affected by it that it made these institutions that we were confronting look bad. Look real bad. So their only response was: "Get out of here. We don't want you demonstrating out here. Move it." And we wouldn't move. We kept demonstrating and protesting.

And what would they do? They would call the cops, of course. And when the cops came out and looked at MOVE, and looked at the people running the institutions, who do you think they were going to side with? They were going to back the institutions. They too, would tell us to move it, get out of here. That's when the brutality started. That's when MOVE's babies got kicked out of pregnant MOVE women's stomachs. That's when MOVE women were beaten bloody, MOVE men beaten bloody and charged with assault, and thrown in jail. MOVE people racked up like six hundred arrests in a year. Over a million dollars in bail in about a year. That's how the courts treated us and that's how we ended up getting into the court system, the so-called legal system. We didn't start out confronting cops and judges and politicians, etc. We started out doing environmental work, going to conferences, and animal abuse programs. But once we got into the court system we were forced to defend ourselves against judges, sheriffs, cops, prosecuting attorneys. And John Africa had coordinated us to do that so effectively that the courts had the same attitude that cops and anybody else that supports institutions of the system. They didn't want to hear it. I mean, they would start off right away...when we would have to go to court, you know how the court bailiff says: "All rise the honorable Judge..." We'd be sitting there. At first, they would try to force us to stand up and there would be physical confrontations because you're not just going to put your hands on us, try to force us to stand up and whatever and think that we are not going to defend ourselves.

We are not masochists. We are not pacifists. We believe in self- defense, and we are armed and equipped with the wisdom, the understanding given to us by John Africa to know the difference between self-defense and violence and to understand and explain that they are not synonymous. You are violent, you are suicidal and masochistic, which is the ultimate violence, when you don't defend yourself. That is the ultimate violence because if you allow yourself to be violated and abused then what kind of protection can you provide for anybody or anything else. Anyway, while we would not stand up for these judges obviously the question is well, why? And we explained because we have been given the understanding of true equality. Now you said you will give me equality, but you want to make me stand up for you and you ain't standing up for me. What makes you better than me that I have to stand up for you and call you "honorable" and you looking down your nose at me like I'm the scum of the earth, and you haven't seen me do anything, and I ain't been, you know, found guilty of anything. And we just put it out to them. We're not the criminal. That judge and anybody that supports that kind of system is the criminal. We do believe in equality. I will stand up for you no more than you stand up for me. We're on the same level. You ain't no better than me and I ain't no better than you. People understood that very clearly and people stopped standing up for judges doing MOVE trials. When we wouldn't stand up, the spectators wouldn't stand up. And the judges would get totally embarrassed.

They would get mad and angry and they would find us guilty of charges not because we were guilty of any crime, but because we embarrassed them and they were out for vengeance, not justice. That led us to demonstrating at judges' houses. MOVE people on the street...we were not gonna sit back and watch our family treated this way in court and just accept it in quiet frustration. That is not MOVE's way. When those judges walked out of City Hall, they didn't just walk by us and we act like we didn't see them. We would confront them on the spot. "That's right, that's Judge so-and-so that set up in that courtroom and said this, that and the other, or did this to my family. And the judges started getting real messed up and wanting protection and said that we were causing a problem, and all this. And we would go demonstrate at their homes. We'd find out where they live, because we had support in a whole lot of places. We would find out where they lived and we would demonstrate at their homes. How dare you go to a judge's home and demonstrate! I mean, it was unheard of. But we did it, and we got beat bloody behind it, we racked up more court cases behind it, but we scared the hell out of the judges and the system. And you know, they knew that we were a force to be reckoned with and that we could not be intimidated. That's how we got into the court system and that's how things escalated, really from the early days on. It just escalated on up.

MOVE people would not just sit back and accept injustice. When we saw it we would confront it and expose it. And we would take whatever came with that. You know, that is the commitment that John Africa had put in the people, and because of that we are committed. It has nothing to do with Ramona, or my brother Moe Africa, or any of my sisters and brothers that are in prison today...you know, going on sixteen years. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the belief given to us by John Africa. And John Africa told us something that was just so profound and speaks to the commitment in MOVE. John Africa explained to us that you are as you believe. So if your belief is righteous, if your belief is strong, you cannot help but be strong and righteous as your belief, because you reflect your belief. Not what you say you believe in, but what you really believe in. You see, when you stop listening to what people say and look at what they do then you will see clearly what people believe in. You can tell me all day long that you're a Christian, that you believe in Jesus Christ, but when you don't follow Christ's example, and you go to a laboratory five-six days a week and go to church one day a week, what do you really believe in?

What did Brother John Africa do to capture the attention of MOVE members that inspires persistent commitment.

Ramona Africa:
In the very early days of MOVE, John Africa used to have study sessions where people could come around and listen to the teaching of John Africa. That was one thing, because once you hear MOVE it is so simple, so true that it's like you always knew it. "Yeah, I knew that." But, we don't really. I mean, it's instinct in us, and when we hear it, it rings so true...it's like, "yeah." So? But, we don't demonstrate it. We don't really even think about it or give it any attention. And when John Africa puts it out and explains it, it just grips you.

Was he a sidewalk speaker by any chance?

Ramona Africa:
Not really a sidewalk speaker, I mean, outside of MOVE headquarters a lot of people used to come around and John Africa would talk to them and give them, you know, his belief talk. Tell them about natural law, which is our belief, like natural law. And people were so gripped by it. But, you know, the main thing that John Africa did that cements the commitment of MOVE people is that he set the example. John Africa was not a phony at all. What John Africa preached he lived, uncompromisingly. And the love and attention and sincerity that we got consistently, not in a mood or at certain times, but consistently from John Africa showed us the love and sincerity that John Africa had for not only for what he believed in, but for us. We could not help but love John Africa and understand the commitment that he demonstrated to his belief and that inspired us and, you know, put that commitment in us to want to follow that example out of love and loyalty to John Africa, not really so much out of love and loyalty for...initially for us, because we didn't really understand the importance of life. We understood what John Africa was saying, but it was like, we couldn't really relate to that. It took years, and we're still going through it.

At this point, MOVE people are not clear. We're not perfect. But our belief is. Our belief is indisputable and we just work every day, every hour, every minute, to get as close to our belief as we possibly can. But, you know, it was our love and loyalty for John Africa that kept us committed and keeps us committed, and keeps us working so that the longer we keep working the more in touch we do get with life. I've been in MOVE since 1979...so that's like...fifteen years. And, I understand that I am closer to life and to the understanding of life today than I was then. But nowhere like I should be or could be if I had not been imposed on by the system. Our children are much more in touch than we are. But, I'll work to get to that point because I know it's right. I know nobody can prove that it ain't. And that's what gives us the security to keep going. Nothing is more powerful than the security of knowing that what you believe in is right, and you can prove it and substantiate it to anybody. I don't care how much education they got, how much money they got, what kind of fancy words they can use, what kind of intimidation they have. When you know that your belief is right and its indisputable, nothing can make you more secure than that. Nothing...nothing. Yes.

What happened to John Africa?

Ramona Africa:
John Africa was killed on May 15th in the bombing....

Ramona Africa:
(Unintelligible)...he's been in prison now...he's been in prison since that day. As the film told you, police officers killed...shot in the back of the neck with the bullet traveling down. This cop was standing up on (unintelligible) facing MOVE Headquarters. The police had went to the third floor MOVE Headquarters, second floor MOVE Headquarters and the first floor. They announced on their walkie-talkies that they had the three floors secured. They acknowledged that all MOVE people were in the basement of MOVE Headquarters. Now, how could somebody in a basement, six feet below street level, fire a bullet at somebody standing up on street level, facing them, and have them (unintelligible) in the back of the neck with the bullet traveling downward. Physically impossible. Obviously someone from behind and above that cop shot him, and there is evidence that, you know, there were people...cops and whoever else in buildings, surrounding that area, and in a building specifically on the second or third floor of a building at 33rd and Baron (sp ?), which is consistent with the way this cop was shot. And as the film also explained, MOVE Headquarters was demolished by officials within hours after my family was arrested.

This was the scene of a crime. The scene of a murder....and not just any murder, the murder of a policeman. Now, since when do officials destroy evidence instead of preserve it? You all have seen those yellow tags that say evidence that they cordon off areas with whenever there's a crime. They didn't do that. They came right in within hours and demolished MOVE Headquarters. Not just MOVE Headquarters, but the tree that was on our grounds. Now, why would you demolish a tree? What would you say about a tree. You know, but that's how....no they wasn't out of control. They knew exactly what they were doing. In fact, there was a court order signed by a judge, a black judge named Calvin Wilson, forbidding the destruction of the MOVE Headquarters, because they had planned to destroy MOVE Headquarters anyway. Now, there was a court order prohibiting this, not to mention, after that it was the scene of a crime, and they still come in with bulldozers and demolish it. That was not an accident. And if it was, why wasn't they hauled up on contempt charges for violating a court order? Why wasn't they hauled up before a judge for tampering with evidence in a murder trial? He don't know that you don't destroy evidence? I guess when they go out and make a drug bust they flush the drugs down the toilet. I mean, I guess that's their usual procedure, right? It makes no sense at all except that they planned to put MOVE people in prison despite anything...and they were just going to do it no matter what.

Their intentions, first of all, was to kill. Just like on May 13th of 1985....they came out to kill, not arrest. They came out to kill. Same thing in "78. What messed them up in "78 is that they came out there armed for war, planned to exterminate every MOVE man, child, woman, animal....any living thing in that house. And they failed. And then, one of their cops was killed. And a number of other cops and firemen were injured. Now, they messed up. They couldn't understand how this happened. And, had the nerve....yeah....to say that Bill Africa, Delbert Africa, Merle Africa, whoever killed this cop. The judge that sat on that trial could not say that any one MOVE member shot that cop. Could not prove that anybody did it. But still sentenced all nine people to one hundred years in prison, thirty year minimum to a hundred year maximum sentence. Four women and five men. How could nine people fire one bullet? Impossible. What did they do....all nine of them put their finger on the trigger? You know, it's one thing to say: "Bill Africa did it. He fired the shot that killed this cop, but the other eight of you are guilty of conspiracy. That would be one thing. MOVE is innocent, period. But, I'm saying that might make a little more sense. But, nine people convicted of murder? All given the same sentence.

How old were you?

Ramona Africa:
I was twenty-nine. I'm thirty-nine now.

They care about unity, and that's why MOVE was such a threat. MOVE will work with any organization that is talking about defeating this system, that is talking about putting things right. We work with Native Americans, animal rights people, environmentalists, socialists, communists, whatever you want to call yourselves. We don't care. If you are serious about getting this system off our backs, if you are serious about directing yourself to our common oppressor, we will work with you. And, you know, that is what is a threat to this system because they have seen MOVE people unite people and make it clear to people that I don't care if you're Muslim, Christian, democrat, republican, if you are poor, if you are one of the oppressed, you get beat with the same black jack, get thrown in the same cells, get the same lethal injection, gas chamber, electric chair, or whatever. Until we get that common oppressor off our back. Now, once we do that, first of all we'll find that a lot of those differences that we thought we had was just manufactured. Secondly, what so-called differences that there may be, I think you will find they can be worked out very easily without that oppressor in the mix making trouble. And so I say yeah, it can be done, but in the absence of unity we do have a problem because the MOVE organization was target, Mumia Abu-Jamal was targeted, the Black Panther Party was targeted, the Black Liberation Army was targeted, because we stand out like sore thumbs. And what I'm saying is when people come together, I mean, we can get things done. Unity is what this system fears.

(Talk delivered in Department of Womens Studies Incarcerated Class taught by Chinosole at San Francisco State University, October 26, 1994)