Women Politicals:  Still Defiant

As Australian activist John Pilger recounts his visit to the world’s most abused US/UK political prisoner, Julian Assange, he gives us the brutal details of how the friends and families of political prisoners also face punishment, gauntlets, humiliation.  And he tells of the terrible conditions and terrible treatment meted out to Assange, and the weakened, vulnerable state in which he finds his friend.  But as he was leaving, Pilger looked back to see Julian Assange sitting with a raised fist in the air.  Not beaten.  Still defiant.

The women political prisoners I’ve written about recently are also still defiant—in spite of the terrible treatment they too have endured.  An update of their status shows some of them joyful with a (very) long-awaited release from prison, others still unjustly incarcerated, and one from whom no one has heard in a long time.  They’re all still defiant, non-compliant women—jailed and punished for fighting against the plentiful injustices of the US of A.

On October 24, 79-year-old Elizabeth McAlister was convicted of three felony counts and one misdemeanor.  In jail since her arrest in April,  2018, she now faces 20 years in prison.  McAlister wrote that she resists the American Empire’s nuclear weapons because she had the “absurd conviction” that she could “make some impact on slowing if not ending the mad rush to the devastation of our magnificent planet.”  The indomitable former nun Elizabeth McAlister does the work of the Plowshares movement which has tried to slow the march toward the destruction of the planet.  As I wrote earlier, since its beginnings in Reagan-era 1980, women have always been an integral part of the movement to bring sanity to the world and end the government/corporate/military nuclear arms juggernaut.  Early pioneers like Sister Anne Montgomery and Molly Rush led the way as political prisoners of the Empire, and numerous women, many of them nuns, followed, inspired to give themselves to try to save the world.

Elizabeth McAlister was joined by Martha Hennesy and Clare Brady, with four other activists, as they entered the Kings Bay, Georgia, naval base, to bear witness to the evils of nuclear war.  Their lawyers mounted a defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, arguing that the nuclear resisters acted from  ”privacy of conscience rooted in their faith,” but the judge dismissed that out of hand.  Protecting the military and its property trumps everything.  The jurors heard nothing of the evils of nuclear war and how McAlister and company acted because of their faith and their conscience.  She acted because she is compelled to bear witness, to defy the evils of the American Empire.  McAlister acted as a moral, ethical citizen, and therefore will be caged as a political prisoner.

And then there is woman political Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani-born Boston graduate student whose crime was to be caught up in the insanity of America’s post 9/11 anti-Muslim hysteria.  She has now served 17 years of her 86-year sentence.  She was convicted of assaulting American soldiers in Afghanistan.  She was mistakenly accused of anti-American Muslim activism initially, but once labeled a “terrorist,” she had no chance of escaping the Empire’s punishment.  Siddiqui was “disappeared” in Pakistan, beaten, and tortured.  She was dumped near an American base in Afghanistan, where she was set up to “attack” American soldiers, who in reality, attacked her, shooting her grievously in the stomach.  At her New York trial, she was obviously a broken woman, just a disposable symbolic terrorist female.  She appealed to Pakistani prime minister Imram Khan a year ago to get her out of prison.  She told him she had been kidnapped and jailed illegally.  She does not accept her cruel sentence.  To date, Khan has not responded.  Siddiqui’s sister Dr. Fawzia Siddiqui said in late September that the family has no more access, even phone access, with Aafia.  They have not seen her in three years.  Pakistani consul visits have ceased.  Siddiqui still has popular support in Pakistan, but that is not sufficient apparently for Khan to seek justice for her.  She lost her freedom under presidents Bush and Obama, and it appears unlikely she will regain it under Trump’s watch.

In July of last year I wrote about the unyielding warrior Red Fawn Fallis.  She was sentenced last January to three years in prison and three years probation for “civil disorder” and possession of a firearm—both charges arrived at after she was set up.  What she was guilty of was fighting to protect her people and the Earth from the greedy, poisonous plunder of corporate/government/military assaults.  Fallis was a strictly nonviolent medic and leader at the Standing Rock demonstrations, who was attacked by military police, brutalized, like many of her fellow female water protecters, who were assaulted and strip-searched.  Videos clearly show Oglala Sioux Red Fawn Fallis tackled and pinned by officers in October 2016. But she was charged with the “civil disorder” of attacking the police, just as Aafia Siddiqui was charged with assaulting soldiers in Afghanistan.  This is a typical ploy in a militarized police state, where the victim is blamed for attacking her attacker.  Initially Fallis was caged at Carswell in Texas—Carswell serves to house violent “terrorists” such as herself.  Siddiqui is enjoying Carswell hospitality for her incarceration.

Red Fawn was moved to the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, California in July.  This is an improvement for her—her family planned to visit her there at the end of last month.  She takes classes in baking and gardening, and can even sometimes participate in the tradition of the sweat lodge.  But she told her sister that she keeps to herself “since there are fights daily” and she does not want “to put herself at risk.”  Like her fellow Puerto-Rican and Native-American women politicals, Red Fawn Fallis considers herself a war captive.  She says she will remain strong, a woman defiantly fighting for freedom from American colonizers.

As I wrote last May, the American police state retaliates aggressively against black people who challenge that state, who expose and oppose violent police brutality against blacks.  Ask Colin Kaepernick what happens to your livelihood when you protest police brutality in a sports forum saturated with a police/corporate/military presence.  Ask women of Black Lives Matter, like Jasmine Richards, jailed for facing off against police killings, or consider what happened to Sandra Bland of BLM, herself killed in a Texas jail cell.  The Rev. Joy Powell has written about being “raped, railroaded and bamboozled” by the police.  And she was.  Suffering rape and abuse in jail, after a drug conviction as a youth, she was left traumatized and with what she calls PTSD.   Her activism culminated in her fight versus a violent police force.  After her persistent, defiant protest against police brutality in the black people in Rochester, NY, she found herself back in prison.  Joy Powell is now in solitary at Bedford Hills, having twice been framed for serious crimes.

In 2011 Rev. Powell was convicted of murder, a crime she could not have committed based on the evidence.  She got 25 years to life.  A digital anarchist community organized a “phone blast” for Powell last October.  Her prison life has not improved over time.  She says she suffers from racism, sexual harassment, a lack of medical treatment, and has to live in very unsanitary conditions.  She has said that she is only guilty of “standing up for Equality and Justice for all.”  She had no idea how much of a threat she could present, “until I began to speak out against police brutality.”  Rev. Powell fought a system of police brutality and legal injustice, and has suffered harsh punishment meted out by that same system.

Unfair legal treatment for black women is hardly new.  Women of Philadelphia MOVE organization were jailed in the 70s after a mammoth police/military operation against their “black militancy”—a belief of John Africa in communal living and fighting “the system.”  When that operation involved the killing of a police officer—probably by friendly fire—the authorities served up 100-year sentences for Debbie, Janine, Janet and Merle Africa, all followers of John Africa.  Merle died in jail.  Debbie Africa was out in June 2018, but Janine Phillips Africa and Janet Holloway Africa remained in jail until May of this year (leaving three MOVE members still inside).  Upon her release, Janine Africa said police abuse is as bad now as in the 70s, and “more visible” now:  “people shot down in the street in the back right in plain view on camera.”  Not an improvement.

At a press conference after their release, Janine and Janet Africa talked about being in “the hole” (solitary confinement) for three years, of a guard punching Janet in the chest, knocking her across the cell, of guards taking their clothes, keeping the lights always on, and of not feeding them.  But Janet and Janine were clearly elated to be free—and vowed to work to get the other MOVE political prisoners out.  Janine Africa urged people to keep on fighting:  “The power of the people is a mighty force.”  Ramona Africa, a survivor of the police bombings, said at the press conference that MOVE women were treated “especially badly” in prison.  Guards thought they could break the women: “They don’t see them as strong. ” But they found out MOVE women were strong.  Ramona Africa is shown in a photo from the MOVE conference, clearly frail; she’s been fighting illness.  She is raising her right fist.

For more information, see my book Women Politicals in America, and for the most recent information, or to get involved, please visit the individual women’s website or Facebook site.

Linda Ford is a retired history professor living in Madison, NY. She is the author of Women Politicals: From Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart and Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party. Read other articles by Linda.