Huey P. Newton, the founder and principal theorist of the Black Panther Party, coined the term Intercommunalism. He explained that Intercommunalism (in its basic form) is the concept of solidarity among all oppressed peoples of the world. Innercommunalism is a slightly different version of this concept. In order for any social movement to be effective a dedicated campaign must be launched that works toward uniting the oppressed and marginalized masses. Being that we are in a very unique environment, we have had to forge a new set of principles in order to build a progressive movement here on Texas Death Row. This evolution of thought and action gave rise to Innercommunalism, the principle philosophy and driving force behind the DRIVE movement. We are essentially a community here on Death Row, though various racial and cultural differences exist that are exploited by our captors as a divide-and-conquer mechanism.
We believe in building unity amongst all prisoners, especially those here on Texas Death Row. Unity gives rise to community solidarity and that is what the prison industrial complex fears most. This environment was designed to breed rampant self-interest. At any given time, staff members may tear through a person’s cell and take what few personal belongings he has. This tactic, as well as others, conditions a person to think on extremely individualistic terms: “I better hoard all I can for myself because what little I have can be taken at any given time. I better worry only about myself and my immediate needs.” We most emphatically reject this type of thinking. All of us here have been condemned to die by state-sanctioned murder. All of us here are suffering from the oppressive conditions of an environment designed to break down and destroy the human mind and body. We are constantly bombarded with tactics of behavior modification including medical neglect, sensory deprivation, physically assaultive abuse and numerous other psychological techniques designed and carried out against us in a systematic manner. Despite what those who are indoctrinated by this system may think, our interests as a Death Row community are the same: abolition of the death penalty and betterment of conditions, to be precise. From a broader perspective both the former and the latter fit into the process of striving towards the healing of humanity.
To help this process along we must begin with ourselves and our immediate community. Inner as opposed to Inter gives a more personal feeling to the term communalism. We strive to promote knowledge of Self because one must understand his or her self before they can truly understand others or the world around them. This idea is exemplified beautifully in a saying attributed to a Medicine Chief quoted in Bo Lozoff’s masterful book on self-transformation and healing, We’re all Doing Time: A Guide to Getting Free:”If you seek to understand the whole Universe, you will understand nothing at all. If you seek to understand yourself, you will understand the whole universe.”
1 Indeed. Using the philosophy of Innercommunalism as a foundation we have made DRIVE a powerful force in the anti death penalty community. One of the best examples of how Innercommunalism functions is illustrated by how we go about our decision making. When we make decisions, all individual thoughts and suggestions are taken into consideration. We hold extensive dialectic and most of the time we come to an agreement. If not, we take a collective vote and the majority rules.
Being that we operate from the premise that abolition of the death penalty and improvement of conditions are interests of the death row community, we believe that in order to pursue these interests we must take an active stance, meaning protest. These conclusions have been reached through rational, in-depth critical analysis of the situation at hand. Civil disobedience is absolutely necessary and the support of the people is essential. Innercommunalism can be compared to democracy in its true form. “Democracy” comes from the Greek demos (people) and kratos (power or strength)—the Power of the People. So where does the Vanguard element fit in? We do not consider ourselves an elitist, dogmatic sect destined to impose our will upon the masses, or any such thing. Within the social justice movement, the debate on the necessity of a vanguard element has gone on for centuries and there is no need to continue the debate here. However, let me say that when we use the term “vanguard” we do not mean any type of hierarchy, dictatorship, or controlling body. We do not wish to dictate the actions of our fellow prisoners and force them into following a dogmatic philosophy. However, being that we are in a control unit environment, it is absolutely necessary for us to combat this system’s tactics of indoctrination; we must be the change we wish to see. One of our goals is to help bring everyone here into a heightened level of social consciousness. Only then can self-determination be productive. As activists we see individualism as self-sacrifice in the spirit of change. Speaking on the role of the individual in a people’s struggle, Che Guevara wrote that “It is a matter of making the individual feel more complete, with much more responsibility”
2 Once people liberate their minds, they will automatically feel more complete and at one with humanity. Then, they will understand their obligation to their fellow man; or, more specifically in our case, their fellow prisoner.
Being that humans learn through study, observation, and experience, it is our duty as DRIVE to live what we believe and “practice what we preach”. Not only do my comrades and I hold study sessions, distribute literature, and help our fellow prisoners in various ways, we offer continual physical resistance directly in the middle of the Belly of the Beast. We have taken activism on the inside to a new level. DRIVE has conducted countless radical demonstrations such as “occupying” recreation yards and other areas, conducting sit-ins, and various other direct actions which severely disrupt the usual operations of this prison. These actions are met with Riot Teams, crowd-control riot gas, and rabidly sadistic, outright violence. So, what is our position on nonviolence as a viable means of protest?
We take a position of nonviolence not because of any particular religious conviction or moral stance, but simply because nonviolent protest is effective. When Gandhi was asked if nonviolent resistance was a form of direct action, he pointedly replied that “it is not one form, it is the only form…it is a force more positive than electricity and more powerful than even ether”
3 Choosing nonviolent direct action as our means of protest was a rational and pragmatic choice (a choice that has proved to be very productive, by the way). For one, the historical record speaks for itself. Nonviolent protest has been effectively utilized everywhere from India under British imperialism, Danish resistance to Nazi occupation, the North American Civil Rights movement, and more currently in the Immigrant Rights struggle and antiwar movement.
We have learned much from unbiased historical analysis and the study of socio-politics and we have incorporated what we have learned into our movement. Furthermore, we have been labeled as “violent” by a system founded on racism, oppression, and genocide. When our nonviolent civil disobedience is met with outright violence, we show the true nature of this system. We expose Texas Death Row for what it really is—the Lone Star State Genocide Division of the prison industrial complex.
In remaining nonviolent, we stand in opposition to the promotion of the culture of violence which is part of the North American lifestyle. If we resort to violent measures we would only give another point of justification to the sick and demented moral relativism used by pro death penalty advocates. We will not fall into that trap, nor will we alienate our comrades on the outside by using violent methods of protest. Our “free-world” comrades have been a very vital part of our movement. DRIVE would not exist without them and they are definitely a part of our “community”. This system absolutely dreads civilian oversight. Why aren’t executions televised or conducted in public view? Because those in control do not want the harsh reality of capital punishment exposed. They do not want a spotlight to shine on their devious acts. For the same reason, the public is shielded from hearing about prisoner abuse. The prison industrial complex wishes to avoid any and all public scrutiny. Huey P. Newton illustrated this point well in a speech he gave at Boston College in 1970:
“We realize that the fascist regime that operates the prisons throughout America would like to do their treachery in the dark. But, if we get the relatives, parents, friends [and comrades] in the prisons they can expose the treachery of the fascists. This too is a survival program.”
4 We have achieved great things since the formation of DRIVE. With solidarity from our comrades on the outside—who conduct petition drives and offer other forms of support and protest—along with continuing our campaign on the inside, we will achieve much more. Freedom from oppression can become a reality if we continue to fight and resist injustice. Abolition of the death penalty and the betterment of conditions on Death Row (until that goal is achieved) are both vital parts of the struggle for social justice. Innercommunalism is our philosophy, nonviolent civil disobedience is our method, and our goal is nothing less than furthering along the process of healing humanity. ——-
1. Bo Lozoff, We’re all Doing Time: A Guide to Getting Free (Durham, North Carolina: Human Kindness Foundation, 2004)
2. Ernesto Che Guevara. “Socialism and Man in Cuba”, reprinted in Che Guevara Reader, ed. David Deutschmann (New York: Ocean Press, 2003, pg.2253. Quoted in Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall A Force More Powerful (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) pg.54.
3. Huey P Newton, To Die for the People (New York: Writers and Reader Publishing, Inc, 1995) pg. 21