So without further ado, here's great news! A GARC spokesman . . . ooops . . . that would be spokesperson . . . tells us of exciting new additions to their list of luminaries. First, there is the keynote speaker, Ashanti Alston, who possesses these breathtaking credentials:
Ashanti Alston will present the keynote Alston is a former member of the Black Panther Party and former political prisoner (Black Liberation Army) for over 14 years. Ashanti Alston was recently the Northeast regional coordinator for Critical Resistance, a national radical prison abolitionist organization and is now a member of its New York City chapter; Estacion Libre, an organization that works to strengthen ties between people of color in the US with folks in the liberated Zapatista territories of Chiapas Mexico; and Anarchist People of Color. He sits on the Board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies., and has been an invited guest teacher for the last two summers at the Institute of Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont.
Alston’s keynote will be held on Thursday, March 31, 8:15 – 9 pm. (Everyone invited! Location and registration details below.)
My kind of guy . . .
Earlier in the week,
GARC announced earlier this week that world-famous social justice activist Ramona Africa will give the closing address this coming Sunday, April 3, from 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. The title of her talk will be, “Animal Rights and Total Revolution.”
Ramona Africa . . . a social . . . justice . . . activist . . .
For those of you who don't know, Ramona Africa is the sole survivor of a debacle that occurred in 1985, one in which Philadelphia's finest became engaged in a gun battle with MOVE activists, of which Ramona was one, and, through impatience, raw stupidity, malice or "2 or more of the above" the cops dropped a bomb on a row house intending to take out a MOVE bunker on the house roof. The bomb missed its target, and started a fire that ended up killing 11 (of which 5 were children), burning down 61 houses and rendering some 250 people homeless.
Having survived the incident, Ramona Africa seems to have gained celebrity status, and her presence is much in demand by fringe groups who wish to offer their true believers an icon to rail against modernity, government, oppression of the downtrodden, evil corporations, exploitation of the masses and so forth. How very '60's. How very Monte Python (as in Scene 3 of the Holy Grail).
For its part, MOVE is a mostly African American, staunchly anti-government cult founded by the charismatic John Africa (a.k.a. Vincent Leaphart), whose adopted surname was taken by adherents, and whose teachings Africa's followers regard as having the clout of sacred writings. Indeed, Africa is regarded by at least some MOVE members much as Jesus Christ is regarded by christians. Some believe that Africa, like Christ, had healing powers.
Originally calling itself "The Christian Movement for Life," the cult shortened its name to MOVE, which is not an acronym but a reminder for all members to proceed towards natural law. It is the vehement belief of MOVE members that all forms of government are bad, as is technology, and that humans, animals and insects are equal. In living their lives, they eschew technology as much as they can, as in no heat, electricity, soap, running water or plumbing . . . In their attempts to approach a godly existence, they buried human waste on their property, ate uncooked vegetables, nuts, fruit and occasionally raw meat, dressed in rags, didn't take baths, and didn't seek medical attention when sick, preferring to ward off disease by eating garlic. Neighbors found the garbage, smell and noise from MOVE's abode to be most irksome, and frequently complained about them.
MOVE is nothing if not egalitarianism on stereoids . . . no creature is better than any other . . . humans, animals and insects are of equal value.
In response to one 1978 complaint, the city ordered an inspection, which led to a confrontation with police, which led to the killing of a policeman and the arrest and conviction of a number of MOVE people.
Parenthetically, I'm struck by the deep contradiction inherent in someone like Ramona Africa paying homage to the extreme egalitarian beliefs of MOVE on the one hand, and simultaneously accepting a lofty position of authority in the distinctly non-egalitarian AR heirarchy of the GARC meeting, on the other! Go figure: the insects and I are one, of equal importance. But my views are so important, my authority so great, that GARC publicly celebrates my presence and selects me, above all others, to give the closing address. Sounds to me like someone's sold out egalitarianism for privilege, fame and fortune. But what do I know?
I've only touched the surface of MOVE and its philosophy, but you get the picture . . . still, if you want more, I urge you to visit the most excellent site at the preceding link and you can learn even more about the organization to which our "social justice activist" has dedicated herself, and the teachings of John Africa that informs her world view . . .
So — what are we to make of all this?
I guess I find trumpeting the presence of Ashanti Alston and Ramona Africa a little pathetic. I mean, it has the feel of parading some old warhorses, grey in hair and long in tooth, to wax nostalgic over what might have been, to deny what is, and to hold out a delusional false hope for a utopia that can never be.
To me, it's a little like a person of middle age living in the past glory that was his when he hit the winning home run for his sixth grade baseball team. His finest moment — to be relived, reshuffled and regurgitated at every opportunity, perhaps putting it into the context of what might have happened "if only."
Still, I guess one can make a case for two fugitives from the over-the-hill gang making the rounds of the talk circuit, preaching 1960's fire and brimstone pablum to the un-skeptical and the converted. For those who believe, it may well have all the cathartic power of a 19th century revival meeting. Having Africa and Alston on board helps create a "feel good" atmosphere, I guess. And what's more important than feeling good?
But my bewilderment of a couple of days ago continues to grow: Where are Drs. Vlasak and Best, and their fellow North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office (ALPO) cohorts Camille Hankins and Angie Metler? Why isn't any one of these folks putting in an appearance? As I wrote then:
Professor Best, you may recall, as he defended the ALF "direct action" against the University of Iowa, is famous for reportedly having said that if a house were burning, he'd save his own dog rather than a human being he did not know . . .. Dr. Best's morality rests squarely on the lofty moral principle of "me first" ("Screw your daughter! I don't know her! I do know my dog! Let your kid fry!").
And Dr. Vlasak, former spokesman for PCRM is equally famous not only for having articulated the ideological rationale for assassinating scientists to end the use of animals in biomedical research, but for also openly advocating assassination as a tactic.
I would have thought that any of the four of them — Vlasak, Best, Hankins or Metler — would have been more than adequately radical, and more than adequately flakey, to qualify for an invitation to grace the conference with their appearance and to be offered a podium to say their piece. But alas — this is an imperfect world . . .
They are conspicuous by their absence . . .
I sense a disturbance in the AR Force . . .
CORRECTION 4/12/05: Angie Metler did speak.