Only a few weeks after finally being paroled, long-time U.S. political prisoner Marilyn Buck died of cancer in New York City on August 3, 2010, at the age of 62.
Following is the second part of a 1994 interview with Marilyn Buck, which was done after Newsweek magazine published a cover story on the odyssey and surrender of former 1960s radical and fugitive Kathy Power in 1993, in which Marilyn commented on the Newsweek article about Kathy Power:
Are there any similarities between Kathy Power’s life and yours?
Marilyn Buck [MB]: I am a woman who lived a number of years clandestinely. There are of course some similarities in our lives—being white, from the middle classes, having become political activists in the 1960s against the war in Vietnam and for Black liberation. And we both lived lives underground. For myself, I also know that becoming a politically active woman was not an overnight experience, that I was not misled by some charismatic character. It was a thoughtful process, an examination of what the nature of this system is, of my own role both as object and, more importantly, as subject to fight the oppression. I do not know Ms. Power’s history of politicization, but I definitely mistrust the media’s reductionist scenario of girl-meets-convict-and-is-manipulated.
I think the differences between our lives are more important. I did not feel it necessary to divorce myself from political struggle to survive; and, I did not surrender. I was captured—imprisoned without negotiation. There were no peace talks, no offers of plea.
Living underground is not a romantic endeavor or diversion, as Jane Alpert may have initially imagined it to be. It is difficult and personally heart-wrenching to be separated from one’s family, friends and one’s political cohorts. And yet people all over the world who have to struggle for survival and against grinding, brutal oppression lead lives of value, of resistance, no matter the deaths, the separations they endure. Being underground is not about escaping a life not liked or not fulfilling: Who one is does not rest on one’s name or birth date, but rather on how one lives and acts.
I remember a conversation I had with a comrade a number of years ago, at the time Bernardine Dohrn and her now-husband Bill Ayers, negotiated their own surrenders. The comrade sadly, and a bit angrily, stated that there was not one of us who were engaged in liberation struggle who would not wish to be home, but in Amerika not everyone can do that and live safely, secure from attack. I think that is true.
Certainly, it is much more possible for white people than for people from the oppressed nations to do so. I think of the Salvadoran FMLN comrades who have been assassinated after returning to public life from clandestinity, after all the agreements and international assurances. I wonder how many more will die at the hands of the death squads.
Being white gives one privilege, so the possibilities that exist to surrender are much greater. In this last decade many white people have retreated, either inured to the escalating racism and socioeconomic oppression, feeling they have done all they can, are not to blame, or are frightened at the possible consequences.
Ms. Power retired into the sanctuary of white Amerika. By that I mean that she, as a white woman, had the privilege of escaping notice by retiring into the expected “normal” white life. She did not have to fear being stopped by the police merely because she looked like a “suspicious person.” White people are not “suspicious,” unless they act suspicious or refuse to conform.
Certainly, in the first period of flight, there was danger because she was not “suspicious”—she was hunted! The full weight of the repressive apparatus was unleashed. Radical white women were under attack for having possibly supported her and Susan Saxe. However, after the threats and intimidation did not work in a number of radical women’s communities because of a refusal to collaborate with grand juries, the relentless hunt was thwarted, and the danger diminished.
The State was not prepared to terrorize white Amerika to capture Ms. Power, certainly not to the degree it did hunting Angela Davis or Assata Shakur in Black America. Once Ms. Power established a conforming identity she was relatively safe. But feeling safe and being safe are not always the same thing. One can be safe and not feel that. Conversely, one may feel relatively secure, believing that one has not betrayed oneself or been betrayed, and not be safe.
I can say this because I too was hunted. After the initial fear of being the fox before the hounds subsided, I found that it was relatively easy to be an unassuming, unnoticed white woman. It was assumed that I was a part of the white social consensus. My social credit was good. More than once, police even rushed to my aid—unrequested. The same police might then rush off to snarl at someone Black or Latino—ready to shoot to kill.
I was also able to continue being a political person. It did not stop me from challenging racism, or working in social programs. Not until I was discovered to be that traitor to the capitalist white supremacist consensus. Then my white skin lost its American Express creditability. The State’s agents went haywire. And here I am with a total of 80 years.
Why aren’t you in the radical gallery sidebar which Newsweek printed?
MB: With the exception of Kathy Boudin [released on parole in 2003], none of the more than 100 political prisoners and P.O.W.s are mentioned in the “Revisiting the Radicals” sidebar. None of us have surrendered or repented. Ms. Boudin had been spectacularized in 1970 after the explosion of a townhouse in the Village, so she was “revisited.”
Very few of those of us now in prison were marketed by the media as “fame” commodities. We are buried as much as possible. Those political prisoners and POWs, such as Leonard Peltier or Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt [now released], who are becoming better known, were not propelled by the press into “fame.” Rather, it is through the struggle of many people to bring attention to the reality that both these comrades were framed by the COINTELPRO agencies that they are known.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, MOVE supporter and a journalist sits on death row in Pennsylvania, framed by the State. He’s an established journalist, but neither Newsweek journalists, nor others in the establishment media, have yet [as of 1994], in more than 10 years, written an investigative piece about the fact that the government is marching him to the death chamber!
Newsweek did not write articles about the Tribunal held in 1991, in which charges were brought against the United States for its treatment and continuing detention of the political prisoners and POWs from the New Afrikan and Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, Hawaiian and Mexican national liberation movements, and the anti-imperialist and peace/antiwar movements. No establishment press wrote a major article on the Tribunal charging the U.S. with the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and the colonialization of North America and the Caribbean held in San Francisco on the 500th anniversary of the European invasion of the Americas.
Political prisoners are definitely not in fashion. The same people that want us silenced, that continue to exact vengeance, certainly would not encourage its publicists and propagandists to bring any attention to who we are and why we are.
Has the Clinton Administration dealt adequately with issues of political prisoners in the 1990s, from your point of view?
MB: No. Even those with the most clear-cut cases are being denied under this new administration. Comrades like the New York 3—Nuh Washington [who later died in prison of cancer in 2000], Herman Bell, and Jalil Muntaqim—have had legal efforts unjustly denied, even though the government misconduct was flagrant—disappearing evidence which would have undermined the state’s court case. Silvia Baraldini, an Italian citizen, has repeatedly been denied repatriation to serve her sentence in her homeland. Each time the Italian government has requested her transfer, the Justice Department has refused because she refuses to “cooperate”—that is, to disavow her political views as an anti-imperialist. [Some years later, Baraldini was finally repatriated to Italy.] There has been no attempt to resolve the demands for the release of the Puerto Rican POWs and political prisoners or for decolonization [until their release in late 1999].
Sundiata Acoli was refused parole this year, after more than 20 years in prison! Those comrades who have been released were released because there were no other legal ways to keep them locked up. They were not allowed to go to half-way houses at a time when the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been trying to send more people to half-way houses. Because they are “a danger to the community”! Teachers, writers, productive human beings—a danger?
Most other nations at some point have come to terms with political movements that have opposed or do oppose the State. Political prisoners have been released and given amnesty all over the world by state apparatuses that had reveled in brutality and torture. But nothing has changed in the U.S.
Everyone of us comes out of a movement that struggles for liberation, social justice and human dignity. Supporting us is a part of supporting these movements. Until the movements challenging U.S. state power regain strength and momentum, until there is a powerful voice raised by you who are concerned with human rights and justice, I do not think the government—no matter who is in the White House—will make any qualitative moves in the direction of justice. Free All Political Prisoners and POWs! (end of interview)