Don’t Obey

cd cover: the feral crow by scott ainslie©2003, Scott Ainslie
All Rights Reserved

(For information on the names and places in this song, click on the links below or scroll down for all of the historical background information.)

As it was in Hitler‘s Army and Stalin‘s awful crew,
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Pearl Harbor, too;
Across the sweep of history–There’s a truth they never tell:
There’s more horror in obedience than there’d be if we’d rebel.

So, when they speak to you of glory, and colors bright and true;
And using words like ‘good & evil’ say it all comes down to you;
When they offer you a weapon and send you out into the fray,
Don’t Obey. Don’t Obey.
Don’t Obey.

From Selma to Sharpeville; Chicago to Bei Jing;
From Kent State to Tiananmen SquareWe cry out, we bleed.
But from Tolstoy to Gandhi; from Gandhi to King.
From Malcolm, and Mandela, and Biko to me.

So, when they speak to you of glory, and colors bright and true;
And using words like ‘good & evil’ say it all comes down to you;
When they offer you a weapon and send you out into the fray,
Don’t Obey. Don’t Obey.
Don’t Obey.

Aren’t those your loved ones–huddled against the wall?
Can you hear the windows shatter? Feel the building start to fall?
Something’s gone wrong with us all——-.
There’s shooting in the alley, footsteps in the hall.

If every sin were tallied, if every mother knew
Just exactly what they’re asking; exactly what you do;
How long do you think they’d stand there, with their hands by their sides?
Even all wrapped up in bunting–A lie is still a lie.

So, when they speak to you of glory, and colors bright and true;
And using words like ‘good & evil’ say it all comes down to you;
When they offer you a weapon and send you out into the fray,
Don’t Obey. Don’t Obey.
Don’t Obey.

Personnel:

Scott Ainslie
Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Scott Petito
Bass
Jerry Marotta
Drums, Percussion
Marc Shulman
Electric Guitars
Peter Vitalone
Piano, Hammond B3
Leslie Ritter
Harmony Vocals
Beth Reineke, Scott Petito, Scott Ainslie
Background Vocals

The song “Don’t Obey” began developing after a reading of Howard Zinn’s marvelous Declarations of Independence: Cross Examining American Ideology in the spring of 2003. It is a song in the Gandhian tradition of nonviolent engagement and finds some of its inspiration more recently from the Israeli military men and women – now numbering over 1,000 – who have refused to serve or bomb in the occupied territories.

Historical Background Information

Adolph Hitler
(1889-1945)

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party or NSDAP, known as the Nazi Party, controlled Germany from 1933-45. Nazis labeled and isolated Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, political prisoners, and the mentally and physically disabled. Some were passively killed by starvation and widespread disease. Millions were murdered in attacks by the Gestapo, the SA, and the SS, in exterminations of the Einsatzgruppen in and around Nazi concentration, and later, death camps.

Although Adolf Hitler is often perceived as the chief perpetrator, there were others. Perpetrators were Nazi party leaders, bankers, professors, military officials, doctors, journalists, engineers, judges, authors, lawyers, salesmen, police, and civil servants. Perpetrators committed crimes against Jews and other undesirables for many reasons. They wanted power. They believed in an ideology of racial cleansing.

Hitler’s war against Germany’s domestic enemies was waged with court decrees, a continuous flow of propaganda, and ever present violence. His war with the world cost approximately 61 million lives.

The excuse they gave, which didn’t save them at Nuremburg was that they were just “following orders”.

For concise information on Hitler and on World War II death figures cited by country, check out:

Adolf Hitler Biography
World War II Fatalities

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin
(1879-1953)

At least ten million Russians lost their lives under Stalin’s dictatorship. Many were executed or starved to death at the concentration camps he set up in what became known as the Gulag Archipelago.

After the Russian revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks unleashed a wave of terror against their ideological enemies, including the church. Monasteries and churches were closed; the clergy was killed or sent to prison camps.

Stalin’s Death Camps

Joseph Stalin was the architect of the Gulag Archipelago, the system of labour camps, which emerged from the camp in the Solovetsky Islands. Many millions of innocent Russians would disappear in the camps. They were teachers, writers, priests, and workers; peasants and soldiers; men, women and children.

Between 1934 and 1938 Stalin inaugurated a massive purge of the party, government, armed forces, and intelligentsia in which millions of so-called ‘enemies of the people’ were imprisoned, exiled, or shot. His armies and social servants also took advantage of World War II to persecute Gypsies and other minorities, killing millions.

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953)

Hiroshima, Japan
8:15 a.m.
August 6, 1945
“Little Boy”

President Truman issued the order to use nuclear weapons on civilian cities in Japan, causing the deaths of more than 270,000 non-combatants.

It is believed that more than 140,000 people died in Hiroshima by the end of the year. They were citizens including students, soldiers, as well as Koreans who worked in factories within the city. The total number of people who have died due to the bomb is estimated to be 270,000.

The July 24, 1995 issue of Newsweek writes:

“A bright light filled the plane,” wrote Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb.

“We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud…boiling up, mushrooming.” For a moment, no one spoke. Then everyone was talking. “Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!” exclaimed the co-pilot, Robert Lewis, pounding on Tibbets’s shoulder.

Lewis said he could taste atomic fission; it tasted like lead. Then he turned away to write in his journal. “My God,” he asked himself, “what have we done?”  –Special Report, Hiroshima: August 6, 1945

Note: Paul Tibbets was Colonel, not “Lt. Colonel,” when he was the pilot of the Enola Gay.

The weapon, nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ generated an enormous amount of energy in terms of air pressure and heat. In addition, it generated a significant amount of radiation (Gamma ray and neutron radiation) that caused devastating human injuries.

The people who saw Little Boy expode often say, “We saw another sun in the sky when it exploded.” The heat and the light generated by Little Boy were far stronger than any bombs they had seen before. When the heat wave reached ground level it burnt everything before it, incinerating people, in some cases burning their shadows onto walls.

The strong wind generated by the bomb destroyed most of the houses and buildings within a 1.5 miles radius. When the wind reached the mountains, it was reflected and again hit the people in the city center. The shock wave and wind generated by Little Boy caused the serious damage to the city and people.

The radiation generated by the bomb caused long-term problems for those exposed. Many people died within a few months of the explosion, and many more in subsequent years because of radiation exposure. Some people had genetic problems which sometimes resulted in having malformed babies or being unable to have children at all.

There are many sites with photographs of the devastation caused by America’s use of nuclear weapons on civilian populations in Japan and the much disputed history of the historical circumstances surrounding the Truman’s decision to use these weapons in this way. Some are listed here:

Critical History:Hiroshima

http://www.enola-gay.org

A-Bomb WWW Museum

“A Personal Record of Hiroshima A-bomb Survival” by Takeharu Terao is available.

Nagasaki, Japan
11:02 a.m.
August 9, 1945
“Fat Man”

Just three days after the bomb was dropped to Hiroshima, the second atomic bomb called “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki. Though the amount of energy generated by the bomb dropped to Nagasaki was significantly larger than that of the Little Boy, the damage given to the city was slighter than that given to Hiroshima due to the geographic structure of the city. It is estimated that all told, by the end of the year, approximately 70,000 people died because of the bombing.

For more information:

A-Bomb WWW Museum

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum site:

The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

President Truman’s decision to drop atomic weapons on Japan has become increasingly controversial as more and more documents have become available concerning the Japanese suing for a settlement of the war through Russian intermediaries and the like. For more information on this part of our history, check:

The Atomic Bomb – Truman’s Decision

 

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
December 7, 1941

Just before 8:00 a.m. on the morning of December 7, 1941, a secret Japanese strike force bombed Pearl Harbor damaging all eight battleships, sinking five, and killing more than 2,400 American soldiers and sailors. This attack, without any diplomatic formalities or warning, enraged American determination and brought the nation into the war.

The impact of the killing of American service personnel in this ‘sneak attack’, in the absence of any actual or declared hostilities, may have set the emotional stage for the lack of compassion evident in Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons on Japan. It seems we all must heed the notion that ‘those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.’

The US Department of the Navy maintains a site on the attack at:

Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December 1941

Selma, AL
Bloody Sunday
March 7, 1965

Alabama Police confront the Selma Marchers

The Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights ended three weeks–and completed three events–that represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement.

On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas, driving them back into Selma.

Two days later on March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a “symbolic” march to the bridge. Then civil rights leaders sought court protection for a third, full-scale march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., weighed the right of mobility against the right to march and ruled in favor of the demonstrators.

“The law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups…,” said Judge Johnson, “and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways.”

On Sunday, March 21, about 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery, walking 12 miles a day and sleeping in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, they were 25,000-strong. Less than five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

For more on the Selma marches check:

Selma and Civil Rights
Selma to Montgomery March

Sharpeville, South Africa
March 21, 1960

At least 180 black Africans were injured (there are claims of as many as 300) and 69 killed when South African police opened fire on approximately 300 nonviolent demonstrators, who were protesting against the extension of the onerous pass laws to women, at the township of Sharpeville, near Vereeniging in the Transvaal.

Following the massacre, members of the Gandhian organization, The African National Congress decided that Gandhi’s tactic of nonviolent resistance and engagement was no longer working: every increase in nonviolent resistance was met with an increase in government violence and brutality. At this point, the ANC formed an armed wing, “Umkonto we Sizwe,” and began a campaign of sabotage aimed at damaging government infrastructure without taking human lives.

Many children were killed at Sharpeville and the Sharpeville Massacre, as it has come to be known was a turning point in the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa. Excerpts of a contemporaneous article about the attack by the BBC are below. The entire article is available at:

BBC: On This Day

“Between 5,000 and 7,000 people had gathered at Sharpeville police station to protest against the pass laws, which they claim are designed by an apartheid government to seriously restrict their movement in white areas.

The laws, which require all black men and women to carry reference books containing their personal details including name, tax code and employer details, have this year been extended to all black women as well as men.

The law states that anyone found in a public place without their book will be arrested and detained for up to 30 days.

PAC leader, Robert Subukwe, said today’s march was intended to be the first of a five-day, non-violent campaign by black Africans to persuade the government to abolish the laws.

The aim was for all black Africans to leave their pass books at home and present themselves at police stations for arrest.

This, said Mr Subukwe, would cause prisons to become overcrowded, labour to dry up and the economy to grind to a halt.

But three hours after it began, the ‘peaceful’ gathering had turned into a blood-bath.

It is understood police attempted to disperse the crowd with a squadron of low-flying aircraft before drafting in extra reinforcements.

Police Commander D H Pienaar said: “It started when hordes of natives surrounding the police station.

“If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way.”

Chicago, IL
August 26-29, 1968
Democratic National Convention

In 1968, the Democratic Party was split between people who backed Lyndon Johnson’s candidacy and that of Eugene McCarthy. The police in Chicago, under the orders from Richard J. Daley, longtime mayor and Democratic party boss, moved in with astonishing brutality to attack anti-war protestors.

The city police arrested and jailed the men who were to become known as the “Chicago Seven”. Eight indictments were handed down against David T. Dellinger, Rennard C. Davis, Thomas E. Hayden, Abbott H. Hoffman, Jerry C. Rubin, Lee Weiner, John R. Froines, and Bobby G. Seale for their involvement in the protests in Chicago and the men were tried before Judge Julius Hoffman.

Because of his outbursts in the courtroom, Bobby Seale’s case was severed from the other men, leaving the Chicago Seven to be tried as co-conspirators. They were represented by William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass.

On February 20, 1970, Judge Hoffman sentenced the convicted defendants.

On May 11, 1972, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the contempt convictions of the Chicago Seven and their two defense attorneys, Leonard Weinglass and William Kunstler.

On November 21, 1972, The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of Hoffman, Rubin, Dellinger, Davis, and Hayden.

The brutality of the Chicago Police Department brought national and international condemnation. Along with Bloody Sunday and the Selma Civil Rights Marches, the actions of Chicago Police in those times still stand as a black mark on the history of the City of Chicago, and a bench mark for police brutality and the abuse of government powers in the face of a popular movement.

The Chicago Seven conspiracy trial is well covered at:

Univ of Missouri Kansas City: Trial Transcripts

An excellent site for this is the free online encyclopedia:

Wikipedia: 1968 Democratic National Convention

Kent State
Kent, Ohio
May 4, 1970

  • On direct orders from an unknown officer with the Guardsmen that day, United States National Guard troops used live ammunition on student anti-war protesters on the campus of Kent State University on May 4, 1970.
  • A total of 67 shots were fired in 13 seconds, wounding and killing fulltime students of the University.
  • Four students: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were killed.
  • Nine students were wounded. Of the wounded, one was permanently paralyzed and several were seriously maimed.
  • Distance (in feet) between  students and the National Guard at the time of the shooting:
Student Distance in feet
Joseph Lewis, Jr. 71′
John R. Cleary 110′
Thomas Grace 200′
Alan Canfora 225′
Jeffrey G. Miller (fatality) 265′
Dean R. Kahler 300′
Douglas A. Wrentmore 329′
Allison B. Krause (fatality) 343′
James D. Russell 375′
William K. Schroeder (fatality) 382′
Sandra L. Scheuer (fatality) 390′
Robert F. Stamps 495′

A comprehensive history with photographs and interviews is maintained by the KENT MAY 4 CENTER, a non-profit educational charity based in Kent, Ohio.

Since 1989, the KENT MAY 4 CENTER has been recognized by the state of Ohio and the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt, non-profit, educational organization. Although the KENT MAY 4 CENTER was organized and incorporated in 1989, all members of the Board of Trustees of the KENT MAY 4 CENTER have been long-standing activists at Kent for many years prior to 1989.

Alan Canfora, our volunteer KENT MAY 4 CENTER director since 1989, was among those wounded by Ohio National Guard bullets at Kent State on May 4, 1970.

Please visit their site to review their 10 point education mission:

http://www.may4.org/

“In the four days following the Kent State shootings, from May 5 to May 8, there were major campus demonstrations at a rate of more than 100 a day, students at a total of at least 350 institutions went on strike and 536 schools were shut down completely for some period of time, 51 of them for the entire year.

More than half of the colleges and universities in the country (1,350) were ultimately touched by protest demonstrations, involving nearly 60% of the student population (nearly five million students) in every kind of institution and in every state in the union.”

–from the book SDS, by Kirkpatrick Sale

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

June 4, 1989

Unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators–students, intellectuals, academics, shop keepers–were massacred by the People’s Liberation Army at the direction of the Communist Chinese government on June 4, 1989. A sample State Department cable from the American Embassy is quoted below. This cable is quoted from the full documentation of the declassified history of the mass murders in Tiananmen Square, currently housed at George Washington University’s
site:

Tiananmen Square: The Declassified History

Document 14: Cable,
From: U.S. Embassy Beijing,
To: Department of State, Wash DC,
SITREP No. 32: The Morning of June 4 (June 4, 1989)

The crackdown continued through the night, and by early morning June 4, as this cable reports, the PLA [People’s Liberation Army, ed.] was in control Tiananmen Square. Based on eyewitness accounts of the violence, this SITREP is the Embassy’s initial effort to provide some detail on the final PLA assault on the approximately 3,000 demonstrators who had not yet left the square.

“Some 10,000 troops,” the document says, formed a ring around the square, and “a column of about 50 APC, tanks, and trucks entered Tiananmen from the east.” Demonstrators shouted angrily, the cable states, and “PLA troops in Tiananmen opened a barrage of rifle and machine gun fire.”

Another column of military vehicles entered soon thereafter, and more gunfire ensued, “causing a large number of casualties.” The document also describes violent PLA clashes with demonstrators on Changan Boulevard, the main thoroughfare in the Tiananmen area, and in other parts of Beijing.

Embassy officials also report conversations with angry citizens, some “claiming that more than 10,000 people had been killed at Tiananmen.” One woman claimed to have witnessed a tank running over 11 people. She also told Embassy officers that she had seen PLA troops “breaking the windows of shops, banks, and other buildings.”

Leo Tolstoy
(1828-1910)

An iconoclastic Russian author from a moderate aristocratic background, Tolstoy wrote the astonishing antiwar novel “War & Peace” about the fate of five families during the Napoleonic wars and was published between 1865 and 1869.

Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi
(1869-1948, Assassinated.)

The work and writings of Mahatma Gandhi continue to inspire people of good will in the pursuit of nonviolent resolution of conflict. I read his autobiography in 1964, at fourteen, spurred to it by Dr. King’s work in the streets of our country. He has played a role in my life and my thinking ever since.

“Gandhi was inevitable.
If humanity is to progress,
Gandhi is inescapable.
He lived, thought and acted,
inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward
a world of peace and harmony.
We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King met with many of Gandhi’s followers, having studied Gandhi’s writings at Crozier Theological Seminary, and King became convinced that Gandhi’s methods of nonviolent resistance would be the most effective and potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.

More than once Gandhi used fasting to impress upon others the need to be nonviolent. India was granted independence in 1947, and partitioned into India and Pakistan. Rioting between Hindus and Muslims followed. Gandhi had been an advocate for a united India where Hindus and Muslims lived together in peace.

On January 13, 1948, at the age of 78, he began a fast with the purpose of stopping the bloodshed. After 5 days, the opposing leaders pledged to stop the fighting and Gandhi broke his fast. Twelve days later a Hindu fanatic, Nathuram Godse who opposed his program of tolerance for all creeds and religion assassinated him. He was mourned the world over.

The term ‘Mahatma’ was given to Gandhi later in life. No one is a born ‘Mahatma’, it is a status one earns by how one lives. The Webster 1913 Dictionary defines the term as follows:

Ma`hat´ma n. 1. (Theosophy) One of aclass of sages ,or “adepts ,” reputed to have knowledge and powers of a higher order than those of ordinary men .

The M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence maintains a site at:

http://www.gandhiinstitute.org/

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(1929-1968. Assassinated)

A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was assassinated just as he turned his attention to economic equality and after he had decided to condemn the Vietnam War—in essence globalizing his commitment to nonviolence (something that Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hahn had encouraged him to do).  [See: http://www.seaox.com/thich.html] It seems no accident that King was assassinated while supporting a garbage worker’s strike and economic fairness.

With his death, the struggle for equality in America stalled with marginal legal and civil rights won, and failed to expand to monetary justice and to include all working people who have been exploited by the monied classes and big business free-market fundamentalists.

King’s developing commitment to issues of social and economic justice has been largely buried in the popular memory, as he is saluted each year for his “I Have A Dream” speech from 1963.

One would do well to examine the scope and breadth of Dr. King’s contributions, especially in these times when conscience seems to be taking a back seat to privilege and materialism.

Stanford University maintains a comprehensive site on Dr. King’s work and life with his letters and papers, a curriclum, biographical information, and the like, at:

http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/

Malcolm X
[Born: Malcolm Little]
Muslim name EL-HAJJ MALIK EL-SHABAZZ]
(1925-1965. Assassinated)

Malcolm X was a militant Black leader who, like Steven Biko in South Africa, articulated concepts of racial pride and black nationalism. After his assassination, the widespread distribution of his life – The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) as told to Alex Haley (later of Roots fame) – Malcolm became an ideological hero, especially – though not exclusively – among black youth.

Growing up in Lansing, Mich., Malcolm saw his house burned down at the hands of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Two years later his father was murdered, and Malcolm’s mother was subsequently placed in a mental institution. Malcolm spent the following years in detention homes. In his early teens, he moved to Boston to live with his sister.

In 1946, while in prison for burglary, he was converted to the Black Muslim faith ( Nation of Islam ) – a sect that professed the superiority of black people and the inherent evil of whites. Released from prison in 1952, Malcolm went to Nation of Islam headquarters in Chicago, met the sect’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, and embraced its rigorous asceticism.

He changed his last name to “X,” a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their family names to have originated with white slaveholders.

Leaving the Nation of Islam after a falling out with Elijah Muhammad over the later’s affairs with young women in his custody and other hypocrisies, Malcolm went on the Haj to Mecca and became, as he termed it ‘a true Muslim.’

Eating, walking, resting, and praying with people with all colors and all races was a life changing experience for him. Suddenly, outside of America, on the pilgrimage Malcolm found a community of interest where color and race were not markers for stigmatization and came home to America with the very radical idea that it is not who you are born, but what you believe that unites or divides you from others.

Six weeks later he was killed by gunmen in a Harlem Ball room. Three Black Muslims were convicted of his murder.

In “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, Alex Haley noted that whenever Billie Holiday saw Malcolm in the club she always put the great Don Raye/Gene DePaul song “You Don’t Know What Love Is” into the set, knowing it to be his favorite. I recorded it on my first compact disc “Jealous of the Moon”, not recalling the story.

There are many fine sites on Malcolm’s work and life. One is:

Malcolm X (with links to audio and video clips)

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
(1918-2013)

Nelson Mandela was born in the Transkei in South Africa. His father was the principal councillor to the Acting Paramount Chief of Thembuland. After his father’s death, the young Rolihlahla became the Paramount Chief’s ward to be groomed to assume high office. However, influenced by the cases that came before the Chief’s court, Mandela determined to become a lawyer. Hearing the elders’ stories of his ancestors valour during the wars of resistance in defense of their fatherland, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.

Along with his peers, Mandela set out to transform the African National Congress—the organization that the young lawyer Mohandas K. Gandhi had established prior to his return to India—into a mass movement bent on the emancipation of the South African people.

South Africa had failed by just a few votes of joining the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan during World War II. After the close of the war, beginning in 1949, these same politicians began to set up racial purity laws and the murderous Apartheid regime. Fascism, defeated in Europe and Japan, took hold in South Africa and would not let go.

Mandela’s commitment to nonviolent resistance was shaken by the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and he turned to help lead ‘Umkunto we Sizwe’, or the armed struggle which used a campaign of sabotage to try to put increasing pressure on a government that met every increased level of nonviolent engagement with increasingly brutal and lethal violence.

Mandela was arrested, tried and convicted of leaving the country illegally and inciting strikes. He began his 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island in 1963. His closing statements at his trial were:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela was release in 1990 and quickly elected as the first President of the free, post-Apartheid South Africa. As one of the world’s great elder statesman, Mandela continues to inspire, work and speak for universal justice and freedom without regard for race, nationality, creed, or color.

This and more information is available at the ANC site:

Nelson Mandela Personal Page

Steven Bantu Biko
(December 18, 1946 – September 12, 1977)

Biko was a noted anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s. Because he was dissatisfied with the National Union of South African Students, he helped found the South African Students’ Organisation in 1968 and elected its first president; in 1972 he became honorary president of the Black People’s Convention.

Biko was banned during the height of apartheid in March 1973, meaning that he was not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time and so could not make speeches in public or to publish his writings. It was also forbidden to quote anything he said, including speeches or simple conversations.

On September 6, 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock. He suffered a major head injury around September 6th while in police custody and was chained to a window grill for a full day. On September 11, police loaded him into the back of a car and a Captain Siebert began the 740-mile drive across South Africa to another prison, removing him from the community to which he had been confined by his banishment orders. He died en route. Police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike.

On October 7, 2003, South African Justice Ministry officials announced that the five policemen who were accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence. They said a murder charge could not be supported partly because there were no witnesses to the killing. Charges of culpable homicide and assault were also considered, but because the killing occurred in 1977, the time frame for prosecution had expired.

A sample of quotes from Biko’s writings are presented below. They were smuggled out of South Africa and subsequently published with a memoir in 1978 by a sympathetic priest and friend of Biko’s, Aelred Stubbs, C.R, in his book, I Write What I Like, (Harper Collins, © N. M. Biko, 1978)

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. If one is free at heart, no man-made chains can bind one to servitude…” p. 92

Instead of involving themselves in an all-out attempt to stamp out racism from their white society, liberals waste a lot of time trying to prove to as many blacks as they can find that they are liberal. This arises out of a false belief that we are faced with a black problem. There is nothing the matter with blacks. The problem is WHITE RACISM and it rests squarely on the laps of the white society… Whites must leave blacks to take care of their own business while they concern themselves with the real evil in our society—white racism.” [p. 23 ]

To a revolutionary, State evil is a major evil for out of it flow countless other subsidiary evils that engulf the lives of both the oppressors and the oppressed.

“The revolutionary sees his task all too often as liberation not only of the oppressed, but of the oppressor. Happiness can never truly exist in a state of tension, even if the tension is only of conscience. Hence in a stratified society like ours, those who have placed themselves upon a pedestal spend far too much time on the lookout for disturbances and hence can never have peace of mind. [Our] society abounds with fear and is constantly in a state of frenzy. The revolutionary seeks to restore faith in life amongst all citizens of his country, to remove imaginary fears and to heighten concern for the plight of the people.” [p. 213]

–Steve Biko
‘I Write What I Like’ Harper Collins, © N. M. Biko, 1978.

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