The following is an excerpt from a longer interview with Kali Akuno. We’ve decided to share it here under our “Glimpses” section as a portrait of a revolutionary’s life.
Eric Ribellarsi: Can you tell us a little about yourself? What are the things that led you to become a revolutionary?
Kali Akuno: So, I was born in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, into an activist family with several generations of folks being involved in everything from the Garvey Movement, the Nation of Islam, Deacons for Self-Defense, Black Panther Party, African People’s Party – this is on both sides of the family. I was born into that milieu and got to experience the community organizing–the organizations at a higher level of organization and struggle than most of the organizations are at today.
I was always interested in what my parents and family members were doing and why they were doing it. I came of age traveling a lot, I was able to see large parts of the country, parts of Central America and the Caribbean as a kid. It really helped to ground me and give me an internationalist outlook very early on.
Something as simple as eating a banana– having traveled to where workers lived in Central America and the Caribbean, and seen what conditions they were laboring under, struggling under, what they were getting from their struggles, how they were being repressed and who was doing the repression– that gave me an insight very early on that I was connected to a world struggle, not just a local struggle on my block.
Eric Ribellarsi: I imagine you’ve grown up and changed a lot since that time?
Kali Akuno: You know I was young and had a pretty shallow analysis of immediate action and immediate rewards – and didn’t understanding the protracted struggle in the 80s, which was the period of tremendous retreat for our forces on the world scale. My generation – there were struggles we weren’t even aware of, and we blamed our parents’ generation and those earlier for the failures, without understanding the deeper dynamics at play that had moved the movements to a certain point, exhausting the internal contradictions at the heart of national and social liberation movements throughout the world.
It took a while of struggling to get a firm grasp, and appreciate their contributions, and really start to learn from them and be able to move forward to be a more effective organizer in the here and now. And that’s an on-going process that you don’t ever completely finish with. That period of time helped to shape me in some pretty profound ways that I still see in my work today.
Eric Ribellarsi: What were the events that led you to move to Jackson, Mississippi?
Kali Akuno: The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement – a grassroots organization – started to really put things into motion in Jackson first intellectually, in the mid-2000s.
We looked at the waves of September 11th repression coming down and trying not to repeat of the mistakes of the 1980s, to kind of go into a shell and not look for where we can make forward advantages. We want to avoid that experience, having had it.
We know we can’t work with all different sets of people, so where can we concentrate our forces – to make some strategic advances. We tried to change based on our studying. So a number of us started to analyze Jackson Mississippi in about early 2004, we started doing study groups to really look at and investigate the political economy of Jackson, Mississippi and the surrounding Southeast region.
That was really interrupted by Katrina and threw a number of different things off-track because it was such a profound crisis and calamity that happened – that it demanded a response. So we put off a number of different things concentrated specifically on Jackson – to throw some time and energy into New Orleans in particular. And we moved some things there, including myself moving to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and trying to concentrate on work there. That had a little bit of success, a lot of struggle, and its failings in its approach of really trying to engage in a certain type of popular front politics in an environment where the base had been dispersed all over the country.
A lot of programmatic stuff we needed and were trying to do was really dependent on that base being mobilized in some particular ways materially. We didn’t realize that until much later, but we learned a lot from it. I think people are still learning from it – those who are honest with themselves where we fell short and why we fell short. We’re still learning, although we’re almost ten years out now.
But it was about 2010, on a personal level, after some health challenges, I started to return my focus and energy on the project that had been set aside back in 2005. I picked that up and said we need to look at that and investigate that further. We really started doing that in 2008.