Political activist Ramona Africa came to the MultiCultural Center Tuesday to share her experiences in the Move Organization in Philadelphia, Pa.
In her lecture, titled “Prison and Political Prisoners: Crime and Punishment or Suppression and Greed?”, Africa spoke about a police raid in 1985 on the headquarters of the political organization Move, which left 11 members dead and her the only survivor. She also lectured on the organization’s ideas on the government and the members’ way of life.
“Our belief is life,” Africa said. “Revering, respecting, being respectful of all forms of life. John Africa taught us there is nothing more important than that which is alive.”
John Africa founded Move in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, and members of the organization took his name to show solidarity. Ramona Africa told the story of May 13, 1985, when she said police surrounded and bombed the house.
She said the attack included water hoses and automatic guns, and that the two-day standoff ended when a police helicopter dropped a bomb of C4 on the roof. The C4 started a fire that slowly enveloped the house, killing 11 people, including five children, Ramona Africa said. John Africa was among those who died in the fire. Ramona Africa said the police reported they were responding to complaints from neighbors that Move members spent the entire day politicizing through a loudspeaker.
She said she is sure the police had other motives.
“They wanted us to believe that black people complained about their Move neighbors and got that kind of response? They got the federal government, the state government and the local government all involved? Since when do they care about black people’s complaints in a poor neighborhood?” Africa said.
Ramona Africa and a small boy escaped the burning house but were immediately arrested, she said. She was convicted of rioting and imprisoned in Muncy State Correctional Institute in Pennsylvania. After 16 months, Africa was offered parole if she agreed never to contact any Move member. She refused and was held for her full seven-year sentence from 1985 to 1992.
Africa said the United States government was not always hostile toward the members of Move, and initially offered funding that Move declined.
“When they realized that we were serious and that they could not co-opt us, that’s when they took the velvet glove off and came with the iron fist. Move people would go to set up a peaceful demonstration … and cops would come out immediately and tell us that we could not demonstrate. … Of course, the cops weren’t interested in what we had to say, and when we didn’t just jump to it that’s when the beatings started.”
Ramona Africa said the group felt that working within the legal system to fight the government is not the answer to social problems, such as the lack of civil rights for minorities.
“When you realize somebody or something is not working in your interest – is in fact exploiting you, is in fact your enemy – you cannot look to that person or that thing to help you stop it from doing what it’s doing,” Africa said.
Ramona Africa said part of Move’s efforts to change the U.S. government system is to boycott unnecessary public institutions from which the government profits, such as public education.
“Look at what kind of damage that would do, if people would keep their children at home and not feed in to the mammoth system of early education, and children were taught at home,” she said. “Everything that Move believes in and everything that we do completely goes against the system.”
The audience gave a standing ovation at the end of Ramona Africa’s talk. Senior global studies major Sophie Milton attended the lecture and said she wished more students had come.
“More students our age should be aware of things like people being imprisoned or bombarded by government officials for their political ideas,” Milton said.
Diane Fujino, associate professor of Asian American studies and adviser to Asian Sisters and Brothers for Ideas in Action Now (ASIAN), was one of the people who introduced the lecture. She spoke about her efforts with ASIAN to contact and support political prisoners, and about her work with the family and friends of Richard Williams, a political dissident she said is currently being held in a penitentiary in Lompoc for his political views.
Fujino said she thought Africa’s talk was successful in teaching students about the lives of political prisoners.
“One of the great things about Ramona is that she puts out the truth in a very real and concrete way so that it touches people’s minds. It makes sense, but it also touches people’s hearts,” Fujino said.
UCSB’s ASIAN sponsored Africa’s talk along with the Student Coalition on Racial Equality, Associated Students Finance Board, A.S. Program Board, the MultiCultural Center and the Women’s Center.