Tuesday, May 21, 2013


It's embarrassing that I hadn't read it till now, over 10 years since its publication, but I did just read Assata, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. And wow.

This is a great book. I say that not just because it's by a hero of the struggle for liberation and revolution. Not just because it's timely to read Assata's own words now especially, since the U.S. government has renewed its attack on her this month, labeling her a terrorist and naming her one of the FBI's most wanted. Not only because this latest escalation is also an attack on Cuba, where sister Assata has lived since she escaped prison and sought refuge in that revolutionary nation. All these are true and all are good reasons to read her story.

But I recommend her autobiography also for the simple reason that it's a great book. Told in the most vivid, no-nonsense language, filled with the verve and fervor that Assata Shakur has brought to her lifetime of struggle, deeply informative and winning. This is a book to strengthen and buoy revolutionaries. It is also a book to educate and raise the consciousness of those who may not yet understand why socialist revolution is necessary. Because Assata Shakur, like most people, was once such a person--and by tracing her life, her experiences, what she witnessed, what she learned, she provides here a deeply affecting series of lessons, depicted as she herself learned them. About racism and how it's integral to capitalism. About education and mis-education. About oppression, how to recognize it and how to fight it.

I'm sorry it took me so long to read this book. I'm moved and humbled by reading it. Nearly as moved and humbled as I was on one of the greatest days of my life, in April 1996, when I met sister Assata in Havana, Cuba. I was there with the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange, and one afternoon our delegation was driven to a downtown building for a snacks-and-drinks reception where we, unbelievably thrillingly, got to meet and chat with Assata.

So here I am with the great liberation fighter Assata Shakur. (Original photo is good quality but I don't have a scanner so this is a cell-phone shot of the actual photograph.) In the second picture we're joined by Khadouri, a wonderful Iraqi activist. That same day at that same reception we also met another great revolutionary, Kwame Toure, who was also in exile from the U.S., living in Guinea, but at that time was in Havana receiving medical treatment for the cancer that would eventually kill him. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a picture of myself with him, but meeting and talking with him was also a great honor for me, one of the highlights of my life.

 U.S. terrorist government: hands off Assata!