Monday, June 25, 2007

U.S. Political Prisoner Marilyn Buck: A 1994 "Downtown" Interview--Part 1

Marilyn Buck is a former 1960s antiwar radical and 1970s and 1980s fugitive who is presently serving an 80-year sentence in a federal prison for women in Dublin, California. Buck was targeted in the early 1970s by the FBI’s COINTELPRO because of her support for the Black liberation movement and in 1973 she received a 10-year sentence for buying two boxes of ammunition with false ID.

In 1977, after more than four years in prison, and repeated parole denial, she was granted a furlough from which she did not return. She remained a fugitive until being captured in 1985. She was then tried and convicted in Downtown Manhattan in 1987 for participating in several bank robberies and in the freeing of Assata Shakur, an African-American political prisoner. In the 1990s, additional time was added to her sentence after she and six other activists were charged in Washington, D.C. with conspiring to bomb the U.S. Capitol.

After the surrender of former 1960s radical and fugitive Kathy Power in 1993, Newsweek magazine published a cover story on Power’s odyssey. Following is the first part of a 1994 interview with Buck that appeared in the January 19, 1994 issue of Downtown in which she commented on the Newsweek article about Kathy Power.

Why do you think Newsweek chose to do the story on Kathy Power at this time?
Marilyn Buck: In a capitalist society, fame and recognition are commodities, usually with very short sales life. The moment is exploited for all its worth; often times by the individual or institution in the spotlight, but all the time by the media, the illusion makers. They create the saints and the demons.

Captures, particularly surrenders, are moments of celebration for the state—a chance to affirm its power, despite its being disavowed or challenged. Imagine challenging the power of the biggest, baddest, domestic and international military machine on the planet! How dare they, we, she…me! To psychologize, and label such behavior as deviant is imperative. Never again does the state want to see an uncontrollable or unpredictable rise of different sectors of the population against its policies and programs, or its existence as such. The U.S. incessantly broadcast that the bombing of Iraq and the supposed national consensus supporting that manufactured military maneuver has laid to rest the infamy of the defeat in Vietnam. It has a pathological fear of decolonialization and national self-determination. Standing in the ‘90s, the propaganda establishment seizes every opportunity to declare the ‘60s—that time of standing up for liberation, justice, self-determination, and against the status quo of white Amerika—dead, an aberration.

Kathy Power’s surrender was perfect for spectatularization. Her surrender was a perfect vehicle to reinforce—to use a psychological term—the `see-what-happens-when-you-stray-from-white-Amerika’ line. This is not the first time sensational stories have hit the press about the radical returned to the fold. Most recently, there was an interview in the New York Times Living Section with Bernardine Dohrn. There is a fascination with a woman who defied the system, who she is today; and a reassurance that she has been cured of `excessive opposition.’

How would you characterize Newsweek’s political and ideological slant on the Power article and the accompanying piece by Jane Alpert?
: Newsweek fulfilled its ideological and political role in how it presented this story: Woman-in-misery-because-of-her-political-past. They would have liked to have squeezed out an admission of remorse, but an admission of depression was all they could get.

I think it’s interesting that the Newsweek article chose not to say anything substantial about her current political views. Is she still an antiracist, pro-Black, against U.S. imperialism? Her statement upon surrender is not reported in this article. Perhaps because she did not capitulate in her earlier beliefs that the war was wrong, that Black liberation was important to support?

Newsweek ignored what she said, and instead relied on a pseudo-psychological rendering—a focus on depression and the Betty Crocker lifestyle. Of course, they forget to cite any statistics on the prevalence of clinical depression in white middle-class women in their 40s.

By concentrating on the past, the `moment’ and the flight, as well as the reintegration into the safe white world, the media did not have to say a word about who Kathy Power is as a political person living in the world. Another reassurance to the readers. From reading Newsweek and other articles, I don’t have much of a clue as to who she is socially or politically. My first response was, `oh, the prodigal son/daughter line.’

If Kathy Power’s depression doesn’t provide an example of `divine punishment,’ then Jane’s middle Amerikan nightmare should flesh it out—struggle against the system is a childish illusion, a romantic diversion that turns out not to be such a lark after all. Jane’s piece is intended to say `resistance doesn’t pay,’ from one who can say she too challenged the state, but repented. Under the guise of feminism, Alpert continues to be quite a vocal mouthpiece for reconciliation with the system, patriarchal or not.

The actual intent of the Newsweek article, as well as the majority of the `establishment’ media is to continue to delegitimize resistance to U.S. imperialism and capitalism touted as `democracy.’ Despite its inherent weaknesses, the U.S. has emerged more predatory in the absence of any countervailing power. It is a warning…`Don’t even try it.’

Even the `Revisiting the Radicals’ gallery sidebar, while stating the bare facts, is designed to say, `see, it is only a phase, YOU CANNOT WIN!’

Why do you think Newsweek uses a lot of psychological jargon in this spread?
: Newsweek uses a psychological format to examine `objects’ of its focus. Also to convince people they know what they are talking about.

The state is obsessed with trying to understand why white people would `drop out’ or challenge the system. They won’t admit that there is something seriously pathological in the system, so they seek to convince the public there is something wrong with those who opposed their system.

The expectations and heady sensation of change of the `60s and ‘70s may be overwhelmed by two decades of unrelenting conformism and systematic desensitization of political, social and moral consciences, but the reality of oppression, exploitation and social injustice is greater than ever. It will not disappear. Even now it is intolerable. Too much white supremacy, too much poverty, prison and social repression. Too little justice and too few jobs. The L.A. uprising was only one seismic shock to this structure. The demand for justice and national liberation has not subsided.

Here in the oppressor nation, there is still a segment of white youth who drop out, become antiestablishment punkers drawn to hip-hop and the rap of the besieged African-American youth, who are alienated and angry, sometimes not yet exactly sure why, but squatting, looking for new forms of protest, examining history, asking questions and rejecting a history of racism and genocide. Youth who are consciously, deliberately opposed to this system. There are still socialists, anarchists, antiracists, antifascists. There are thousands and thousands of women, lesbians who refuse to go back. The potential for struggle within this oppressor nation has not been crushed or thrown into the wastebin of history. (end of part 1).

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