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MARIO AFRICA of AWOL magazine interivews with photojournalist Hans Bennett (with photos)
by Hans Bennett (destroycapitalism [at]
Saturday Apr 27th, 2002 1:18 AM
In the fourth part of a week-long series documenting the 4/20 DC protests, photojournalist Hans Bennett interviews Mario Africa, founder of AWOL magazine. The interview appears in the newest issue of INSUBORDINATION magazine, which focuses on the topic: “Armed Struggle and Political Prisoners after Sept.11”. Included is a collection of Hans’ post 9/11 anti-war photos.
In this photo, AWOL artist Michael Franti (of Spearhead) performs at a post 9/11 anti-war rally and concert in San Francisco's mission district.

Mario Africa is the founder of the Philadelphia-based AWOL magazine (a joint project of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and the War Resisters League). AWOL uses the strategy of alternative media to challenge the U.S. military’s recruitment of youth of color. A CD accompanies each AWOL that features both established revolutionary artists and the best among the “up an coming. He is also the founder of the CCCO’s Third World Outreach Program, which organizes against U.S. military recruitment within communities of color and works to examine the historical relationship between the U.S. military and communities of color (both domestically and abroad). A MOVE supporter since 1984, Mario also works with the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Born in Santiago de Cuba, the 11 year old Mario came to the U.S. with the 1980 Mariel boat lift.

To view the full photoessay, please link to:

Where do we go after Sept.11? Was the total destruction of the WTC towers and the partial destruction of the Pentagon a revolutionary act that represented the interests of the poor? Where do we draw the line between revolutionary violence and “terrorism”? How should activists be conducting themselves in the post 9/11 context?

Lets see… Its very far from being a cut and dry situation in terms of really anybody’s attempts to draw conclusions from these events, the reason being: a lot of times we search for a good guy and a bad guy. In this case there’s not a good guy. I’ve run into people who’ve tried to paint the people the U.S. has attacked (the Taliban), as revolutionary freedom fighters, but that’s not really the case. These are institutions that have terrorized and oppressed people in other countries, know what I mean? They have murdered and tortured women just for being women, have killed children, starved children, accumulated and amassed wealth for themselves and not haven’t spread it to the masses,.. What we have here is not an easy situation like El Salvador or Nicaragua, or with the Zapatistas, where we can say that those the US is opposing are freedom fighters and revolutionaries.

I’ve told people that the only thing I can really respect about Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban is that they will not be pushed around or cower down to the US government. Other than that I wouldn’t claim any common ground with them.

In terms of the events of Sept 11, my belief is in life so I can’t rejoice in the loss of any life. A good friend of mine’s father was in the first tower that was hit and was killed. His feeling from the moment that I’d spoken to him, up until now is that George Bush and US foreign policy killed my father. That’s definitely where I fall. In terms of assigning, blame I think the blame (as I’ve said before) has to start with the aggressor.

No matter how we want to classify this or determine the revolutionary inclinations of whoever is behind this, the fact of the matter is that these are people who were striking back with the only means available to them. The Arab world (from Palestine through all over the Arab world) has talked and talked and pleaded and pleaded and cried and begged and pleaded some more time and time again to get the US government to change its foreign policy… They weren’t even asking them to go as far as changing US foreign policy but just to listen. You know? And they have been ignored, marginalized, murdered, and been on the recipient end of economic warfare.

The US has also put military installations in religious holy lands and given blind support to Israel’s murder of the Palestinians. They’ve begged just to be heard and the US has arrogantly just ignored them, and when you do that to a group of people so long, people are going to strike back with the only thing that they feel can get one’s attention. That’s really what I see happening with Sept. 11. I don’t condone the blowing up of the WTC, but I understand why it happened.

I can’t feel too bad about someone blowing up the Pentagon. I understand that there were some people that got killed that were not directly involved with what was happening. For what the Pentagon represents with its murder throughout all regions of the world, I do make a difference between what happened at the Pentagon and the WTC. But one thing that’s obvious is that at some level the United States was exposed. No matter whether it was one wing or just part of the building, I mean SOMEBODY BLEW UP THE PENTAGON, know what I mean You blew up the Pentagon so it definitely illustrates the vulnerability of the United States. Its one thing to fly a plane into an army base in Southeast Asia or in the Pacific Ocean like what happened during WW2.

It’s another thing to blow up the pentagon. So I think what we’re seeing now in response from the US (declaring war on the entire Arab world, and us right here at home) is a direct reaction to being exposed and having its vulnerabilities held up for the entire world to see. I think that what all this is right now is a big show of strength to show that “ok you blew up the Pentagon (and hit us on our turf), now we’re just going to decimate everything.” It’s just a big dick contest.

In terms of what this does for the idea of armed struggle as a political tool, I think that this government has to live day by day with the threat of what people will do. Again, this is my personal feeling: you cant go around the world killing people, starving people, denying people the right to self determination, and expect nothing to happen. At some point the gig is going to be up. I think that this is an unfortunate situation because there were a lot of people who were not directly involved that were killed/ a lot of family members of people. It does not appear to me to be just.

I think that for those of us that are revolutionaries that support freeing ourselves and freeing our people and creating a better world (whether through pacifist means, or taking up arms), now is definitely not the time to be quiet. Now is the time to be very visible and vocal. You have the Patriot Act and these billions of dollars that are going towards making everybody who is a revolutionary/a freedom fighter/an activist into a terrorist in the eyes of the US government and the US public. Now is not the time for us to mince words or hold back or be unsure of ourselves. There may be many people sitting on the fence who will be looking to us to take a stand and if we fail to take a stand they will go the other way.

Right now we’re in a situation where the US media is creating this idea that there is overwhelming support for the war. They’re telling people: “nobody’s black and white anymore, no one’s Christian or Muslim or Jew. Everybody’s red white and blue and behind this war effort 100%. Everybody’s just American now”. I’ve been back and forth across the country and most points in between 3 times since Sept.11 and there’s not overwhelming support for the war. It ranges anywhere from people being completely opposed to the killing, to people questioning it, to some people supporting it but still having questions and reservations (and not being completely informed about what’s going on). Some people know they’re not really informed about what’s going on but they feel like this happened to the US, so “we have to do something”. This isn’t just limited to activist circles. I’ve been to street corners, community speak outs, town hall meetings, radio, television, concerts, community centers, and mainstream places. This opposition and questioning and non-acceptance of the war goes across racial and political lines.

In 1995 we founded something called the GI Rights Hotline and network (800-NO-JROTC), a toll free hotline that active duty service people can call to get discharged from the military. We also offer draft counseling to families and individuals interested.. One guy called and told me “I’m a straight ticket Republican 100%, and I think we need to go over there and blow them back into the stone age but I don’t want my son to get this ass shot off. How do I do this conscientious objector thing?” So, on a lot of different levels, there is not blind support for the war.

Up until 9/11, the GI rights hotline was getting about 1500 calls per month. Since the war its getting over 5000 calls a month from active service people. People in the military who are supposed to be united behind the war effort aren’t even on the same page… We are trying to let people know that a lot of this is being manufactured by the media. So if we get out on the ground we will find many people that think the same way we do. And its not just people who attend the same meetings and demonstrations that we do or who work on the same projects, there are a lot of people out there with a similar analysis to what we have, but you wouldn’t know it from the media.

We can not react to the 9/11 events by allowing ourselves to go into a little corner, be marginalized, not speak, and be further repressed than we are right now. The first thing they did after 9/11 (before they did anything abroad) was to tighten the jaws of repression at home. They got that immediate 40 billion dollars that was approved not for buying any Black Hawk helicopters or F-22ss or M-16 assault rifles, but to deal with the domestic issue. And then they take Tom Ridge, the murderous governor of Pennsylvania and throw him right up to his Homeland Security position. That’s where they’re focusing their efforts.

If we though things were bad before, if we thought brutality was bad, or that there were too many political prisoners, if we thought that there was too much money going to the military… If we shut up now, we’re going to be looking back at those days as the good old days. If we thought there were too many control unit prisons and too many people on death row, if we thought that money wasn’t being distributed for human needs but was to fund and take care of corporations that are sucking the life and blood out of people here as well as the continent of Africa, all of Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and all over…If we thought it was bad then, we aint seen a goddamn thing. We’re going to see things crystallize. It’s going to be much more intense, much more repressive than before. The climate which existed when the bomb was dropped on MOVE, when the situation with Leonard Peltier went down, the climate in which COINTELPRO existed and crushed the Black Panther Party and other resistance movements during the 60s and 70s…that’s going to be lightweight.

We have an example here in Philadelphia. On the December 8 march for Mumia, the police felt that they could come without restraint and just beat the hell out of us because that label of terrorist has been put on us. If you’re organizing against police brutality, political prisoners, homelessness, hunger in your communities…If your organizing for anything that can be seen as anti-American or anti-US agenda, then you are a terrorist and they will do whatever they have to do to deal with you. Many of people have dealt with COINTELPRO for years and years. A lot of people have dealt with police surveillance, but we need to understand (which I can’t stress enough) that the transformation happening in front of our eyes is going to bring things to a whole new level of oppression, repression, brutality, and murder. Now is not the time to stop organizing in the streets. We need to be in the streets now more than ever. They have turned up the fire under us. Now is the time to get on the move and expose them and let people know what it is that’s happening so that we can protect ourselves, our friends and family, and deal with a lot of the atrocities that have already happened.

How do you think activists that do publicly condone self-defense and revolutionary violence can best respond to the label of “terrorist” that is being put upon us?

I think the best thing we can always do is to expose who the real terrorists are. Granted, we don’t have the media machine that the US or French governments have. We don’t have the dollars or the person power that they have in terms of being able to put their agenda out there. We have to start from where we’re at. The thing is…people already know that they’re being terrorized by this government. If you go into poor communities and communities of color, people are under no delusions whatsoever about what’s really going on. Some are brainwashed but when confronted with the truth people can help but to respond and understand what’s happening. People have family who’ve been to prison, have been brutalized by cops, who are thrown out of their homes with a 3 day or even 3 minute notice, have babies thrown out into the street, mothers kicked off any form of state assistance. That’s all terrorism.

We have to define what terrorism is. We can’t just allow someone to put tags and labels on us.. We have to be actively on the ground pointing out who the real terrorist is. The way we can do that is by starting at home with family members and friends, organizing our communities through hip-hop music, being a film-maker. We need to pick up any weapon that is available to us to be able to let the people know who it is that’s targeting them. I would not refer to the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, or Al-Qaeda, as “terrorists” (despite anything that happened on Sept.11) without also in that breath making sure that the President, the Congress, the Senate, every branch of the military, every police department under the red, white, and blue banner is also labeled a terrorist—as much if not more of a terrorist than any of the people that they choose to label as a terrorist. I can’t call someone a terrorist before identifying who set the entire climate for that terrorism.

The rest of the interview WILL BE RELEASED TOMORROW! Along with photo-essay: “this is what a police state looks like”

Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with the Philadelphia-based INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. Along with the movement to defang and ultimately abolish the U.S. military and it’s international terrorist network, Hans is also documenting the struggle for the life and freedom of U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. To view his recent interview with Pam Africa of MOVE and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (featured on the AWOL magazine website), please link to:

To view part one of this photoessay, please link to:

Two view part two, please link to:

To view part 3 of the photoessay, please link to:

In the new issue of INSUBORDINATION, Hans also interviews Pam Africa (of MOVE and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal), Curly Estremera (former Black Liberation Army political prisoner), and Ernesto Aguilar (a Chicano community organizer who maintains the Anarchist People of Color Website). For a copy, please send a $2-$5 (sliding scale) donation to:

Po Box 30770
Philadelphia, PA 19104
insubordination [at]
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