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[This post is mirrored from BlackAgendaReport.com]Roberto Sirvent, BAR Book Forum Editor13 Oct 2021

In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin. Ervin is an American writer, activist and black anarchist. He is a former member of SNCC, the Black Panther Party and Concerned Citizens for Justice. His book is Anarchism and the Black Revolution: The Definitive Edition .

Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin: My name is Lorenzo Ervin, and I am a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. I came up during the 1950’s and 1960’s, during the fight against racial segregation in the South. I became an activist in my early years for civil rights and Black power.

I have been an Anarchist for over fifty years, primarily placing emphasis on class struggle, anti-racism, radical political education, and community organizing among peoples of color. Anarchism generally is a radical political, social and activist ideology for non-statist methods of  social change. Rather than placing its primacy on the control of society to leaders, authoritarian political parties, or coercive methods of struggle, Anarchism is socialism from below, without the necessity of state apparatus. It is a broad based theory, and I have never claimed to capture all of its essential history, ideologies,  or political formations. My approach is based on Libertarian Socialism, which has been in contention as a non-statist form of socialism since the First International Workingmen’s Association in the 1860’s.

Not familiar to many academics or Left activists, Libertarian Socialism is not totally based on Anarchist theory alone, there were historically unorthodox libertarian Marxist tendencies as well. This is an anti-authoritsrian, anti-state, and ideological form which is in opposition to electoral reformism, wage slavery in the workplace; and in favor of worker control of the economy, with overall decentralized control of  society. It is the most radical wing of Anarchism, based on the grassroots.

I wrote Anarchism and the Black Revolution in 1979, while I was a political prisoner at the infamous United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. I was fighting for my life and for my sanity inside a solitary confinement unit which used forced druggings, beatings by guards, and psychic torture to “break men’s minds.” But I superseded the physical circumstances I found myself in, to break new ground ideologically.

I had been in prison for ten years and was already an Anarchist, totally opposed to the state and capitalism. I had long since come to the conclusion that it was the state itself  that was the greatest purveyor of violence. It was certainly the racist authority responsible for the oppression of Black people, not just individual whites, nor prejudiced features of a white society. The white government did the bidding of a capitalist state and hierarchy, and it was clear that we would never be free under this system, despite winning various reforms from the Civil Rights period.

So, I began to write about a new theory of Anarchism and the Black Revolution of the 1960’s, which had been unfurling in that period and challenging all of racist America with a new world. That period also produced the Attica Rebellion, primarily led by Black prisoners, which radicalized myself and prisoners all over the country, as well as millions who saw it play out on television, and began to understand for the first time the depth of racism and repression in this country’s prisons. A new movement came into existence almost overnight. It became a prison abolitionist campaign, which opposed prison as an institution, and understood it as a crime against humanity itself,  and the very extension of slavery. It fought for the human rights of prisoners, even though it understood prisons themselves had to be dismantled and defunded.

So beginning in 1969, when I was locked up, I was an Anarchist, but I wrote the book, however, to give oppressed Black and colonized peoples a voice that did not exist in the contemporary Anarchist literature, or in the movement itself. The book was the door to introduce new ideas, tactics, and motivations. It was the first step towards Black Anarchism as an autonomous full-fledged theory and movement.

What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?

The book has gone through three other printings and is scheduled for a new edition in October 2021. The first edition dealt with a defense of Anarchism from the state, Marxist-Leninist political rivals, and from certain Anarchists themselves, who wanted to raise an idealist, middle-class, white cultist and lifestylist movement. I put forth Anarchist socialism, Black liberation, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism in opposition.

By the second and third editions, the book had changed from an anarcho-socialist economic argument to the ideals laying the foundation of Black Anarchism,which is just really beginning to become popular today as a cultural and political force. I began building on the ideals of Black Autonomy, (Black liberation and Anarchism). In 1994, I worked with some Black college students and community activists to create the first Black Anarchist group, Black Autonomy Collective in Atlanta, Georgia. At one point, it had chapters in ten cities and three other countries. Without the efforts of myself with the book, and others in the Black Autonomy movement to popularize  Black Anarchism, it may not have appeared. I say that not as self-gratulation, but as a fact. Someone or some group has to pioneer a new movement for others to rally around.

Why are these new Anarchist ideas needed in this period? For many years state socialism has been in deep crisis. During its authoritarian rule, it created many abuses, and crushed the rights and aspirations of workers and the poor of its own countries.  We need a new way to understand the ecological, social and political crisis today. We need to organize from below, to empower the lowest level of workers and oppressed peoples, if socialism is to appear as a revolutionary force in the USA, as well as in other countries.

We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?

My book is an attack on doctrinaire ideology, racism, and capitalism and the abuses of the nation state. It puts forth another view of socialism, libertarian or self-governing socialism, to that of the state. It puts forth a new approach of Black freedom. I want activists and theorists of this period to go beyond orthodoxy, sectarianism, shallow thinking, and conventional politics. We must think and rethink our politics, and not continue to exist in the ditch of bourgeois theory. All social change must not be based on idealism, careerism, or political opportunism. Materialism alone should be rejected as the *only motive force for social change.

It is important to create new movements and Left ideologies, living alternatives to all forms of dogma and rigid orthodoxy.The concept that an idea or theory is immutable and anchored in time forever is totally ludicrous. Anti-revisionism may be good for religion, but not for political activism. We need to be free to engage in praxis.

I am an Anarchist Communist/Black Autonomist, and have many differences with European Anarchism (especially as it exists now), as well as with old school Marxist-Leninist-Maoism, which raised the primacy of the party, state and leadership cult, and engaged in many bureaucratic errors. We can start to build a new society, even while capitalism, the state, and official ideology still exist. Make no mistake, capitalism and the nation-state must be dismantled, but we must create forms of socialism and a mass revolutionary culture until then.

Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?

My ideological mentor was Martin Sostre, who in the 1960’s and 1970’s was one of the best known political prisoners in the world. He was also a Black Anarchist, and gave me many of my foundational concepts after I met him in New York federal detention center upon my arrest in Germany, and being returned to the USA for hijacking a plane to Cuba in 1969. After years in prison on a racist frame-up, Sostre was given clemency by the New York State governor in 1974. He believed that Anarchism is a universal political theory, instead of a white cultural and political tendency. I have let that central idea, and his ideals about libertarian socialism guide me for decades.

Yet, I realize there is no ideology alone that will automatically free people. It has to be based on the desire of the people themselves for freedom, and their ability to carry out their will for revolutionary social change.. In the early stages of any new movement or ideology,  it may seem to be purely speculation, but it is always based on the balance of forces, the historical moment, and the crisis of the ruling class, and the willingness of the masses of people to fight back and win.

In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?

There is now a deep planetary crisis (climate change); economic crisis (collapse of capitalism); the death spiral of the nation-state; and the rise of fascist barbarism. The nation-state cannot resolve these problems, and state socialism is an utter failure. Yet, socialism and communism have always been seen as the way forward as alternate economies. I have generally supported these theories, but only in relation to Anarchism as self-governing, anti-bureaucratic programs leading to a future society. Such a society would be against capitalism, dictatorship, war, racism, imperialism, police, and prisons. No government, no dictatorship.  A new society entirely.

 

Roberto Sirvent  is editor of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum.

[This post was recently published on the website Free Russell Maroon Shoatz! U.S. Held Political Prisoner]

Letter in Support of Compassionate Release for Russell Maroon Shoatz

Russell Maroon Shoatz was denied compassionate release in August despite serious life-threatening medical conditions by Judge Kai Scott, on the grounds that he presents “an undue risk of escape or danger to the community.” Please sign the following letter in support of Shoatz and his desire to transition in the presence of loved ones.

To:

The Honorable Kai Scott

Judge of the Court of Common Pleas-Philadelphia

708 65th Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19126

Dear Judge Kai Scott,

We, the undersigned, write to you with a sense of urgency—to reconsider your recent denial to hospice care for Russell “Maroon” Shoatz (Russell Shoats, # AF3855), who turned 78 on August 23rd, 2021.

You ruled that Russell Shoatz presented “an undue risk of escape or danger to the community.” We believe that this ruling may have been made with outdated and mistaken information, given that Shoatz has terminal, stage-4 pancreatic cancer, is wheelchair bound and unable to walk, is partially blind, is urinary catheter bag dependent, and is a recent survivor of COVID-19. In this extremely weakened state, it is hard to understand how living his last moments surrounded by family in a court-ruled hospice setting would present any danger whatsoever.

As you know, Shoatz’ sentence was life in prison, but we believe any humanitarian interpretation of his situation today suggests that the current ruling indicates, in effect, a death penalty re-sentencing. Nearly half of his 49 years of incarceration were held while in solitary confinement, itself a condition which warranted reconsideration—as Nobel Peace Laureates and human rights experts across the world successfully called for. We now believe that a similar reconsideration is necessary, based on any interpretation of United States and Pennsylvania law, as well as common-sense spiritual and ethical mandates. This case showcases the appropriate conditions for compassionate release.

There is ample evidence that Russell Shoatz remains a loving father, grandfather, family man, and community elder. We pray for and respectfully request an immediate re-thinking of this important matter.

Sincerely,

Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee (1947 Nobel Peace Laureate)

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva

Add your signature here:

https://forms.gle/M6NaENvxG9oSoMBE6

list of signatories

Mairead Corrigan Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate

Robin D. G. Kelley, 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences,Los Angeles

Raqueeb Ajamu-Osagboro, The Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op, Pittsburgh

Mr. Five Mualimm-ak, Incarcerated Nation Network INC, Bronx

Keith Collins, Church of the Overcomer, Trainer

John P. Clark, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Loyola University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Benjamin Matthew Barson, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Music, Pittsburgh

Magdalena Gomez, Poet Laureate, Springfield, MA 2019-2022

Dr. Nancy Arvol, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Richmond CA.

Liz Brown Free Maroon Now!, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania

Laura Whitehorn, Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP, New York, NY.

Romeo Gonzalez, Youth Anti Prison Project, Bronx

Willow Katz, End Solitary, Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, California

Sara DeVincenzi, Stop Mass Incarceration Network, New York , NY.

Kelly Flores, LAUSD Teacher & Parent, Los Angeles, CA.

Susanna Martin, Prison Health News, Philadelphia

Karpani Burns, San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, San Francisco CA.

Dr. Suzanne Ross, Intl. Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, New York, NY.

Aixa Kendrick, Rainbow & Thunderbolts MultiMedia INC., Harlem , NY.

Shepard Paul McDaniel, CCW, New York, NY.

Leigh Brownhill, Fergus, Ontario

Daniel R Barson, PITTSBURGH

LeRoy Beck III, Marshall, MN

Adam Cooper-Terán, Philadelphia, PA.

Susan Kingsland, BROOKLYN, NY

Lavinia Davis, Philadelphia, PA.

Kate Lochner, Madison, WI.

Anne Boylon, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Allison L Brown, Brooklyn

Vera Brooks, New York, N.Y.

Elizabeth Mickel, New York

PEGGY CHOY, Madison WI

Eileen Weitzman, Brooklyn NY.

Cindy I-Fen Cheng, Madison, WI.

Arlene Tracy Adams, Thee Girl Shop, Bronx

AUSTIN E HACKMAN, Pittsburgh, PA.

Beni Rossman, Los Angeles, CA.

Thomas Cox, Brooklyn NY.

Kevin Fellezs, NY, NY.

Cindy Lou, Food Not Bombs Solidarity, Phila, PA.

Sarah S. Saul, Portland Maine

Nejma Nefertiti, Afro Yaqui Music Collective, Brooklyn, NY.

Ana Isla, St Catharines

Matthew Guldin, Brooklyn, New York

Woodrow Steinken Wilmette, IL.

Juan Duchesne, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Frank D. Brown, Northeast POLITICAL PRISONER Coalition, Flushing

Mary Patten, Chicago

Elizabeth Roberts, Northvale, NJ

Elizabeth Barnet, Inverness, California

susie day, New York, NY.

Khalid Raheem, National Council for Urban Peace and Justice,  Pittsburgh, PA.

Anita Rosenblithe, New York, NY.

Laura Weiner, New York, NY.

Jonathan Keller, NEW YORK

Kazi A. Toure, Jericho Amnesty Movement, 400 E. Squantum St. #202, Quincy, Ma. 02171

Jacob Kopcienski, Columbus, Ohio

Gwendolyn Debrow, Ozone Park New York

Sheila Hamanaka, NEW YORK, NY.

Matef Harmachis, Goleta, CA.

anna berg, NY. NY

Margaret Seely, New York, NY.

Causby, Tinton Falls NJ.

Jean Behrend, Atkinson, NH.

Mai Khoi, Pittsburgh. PA 15212

Diana Alvarez, Holyoke, MA.

Nguyen Fred, NJ.

Maria Luisa Arroyo, Springfield, MA.

Jeffrey Meyer, Lyman, ME.     Nina Olff, Brookline MA.

Rafael Outland, Rochester

Cerene Roberts, NY NY.

Claude Marks, Freedom Archives San Francisco, CA

George Goodwin, Boothbay, Maine

Fiona Burgess, Portland, OR

Michael O. West, State College, PA

Ian Baran, Culver City, CA.

Diana Block, California Coalition for Women Prisoners Oakland, CA.

Sara Olson, St. Paul, MN.

Tony Marks-Block, Oakland, CA.

Emery Jenson, Madison, WI.

Kimberly Starr, Detroit, MI.

Bergman, Santa Rosa CA.

jennifer black prison radio, state college, pa.    Leslie James Pickering, Burning Books, Buffalo, NY.

Antony Martel, Wolcott, Vermont

Jaan Laaman, Jericho, Delaware, Ohio

Nandita Sharma, Kaneohe, HI.

Harry Saul jr, Pleasant St Books, Woodstock, Vermont

Anne Lamb, NYC Jericho Movement, Bronx, New York

Vajra Kilgour, New York, NY.

Naomi Rosenblatt, New York

Tekla Ali Johnson, NC Jericho, Kings Mountain

Masai Ehehosi, ATLANTA

Robert McBride, Oakland, CA

Mr. José Alfaro, LCSW, Bx., NY.

Vicki Legion, San Francisco CA.

Diane Fujino, Santa Barbara, CA.

Melanie West, Evanston IL.

Neo Ekwueme, NEPPC, Cape Girardeau MO.

Clare T Grady, Ithaca NY.

Marina Celander, Brooklyn, NY.

Leslie Mullin, San Francisco

Robert MacFarlane, John Brown Brigade, Rochester, New York

Beth Harris, Ithaca

mo nishida, azn’s 4 jericho/mumia and lil tokyo 4 peace LOS ANGELES, california 99012

Nate Buckleys, Buffalo

M. Fu, San Diego, CA.

Sarah Torres, Detroit

Samuel Maull, Albany, CA.

Emory Douglas, SAN FRANCISCO

Adwoa Oni, Newark, CA.

Jane Segal, San Francisco, California

Sherry L Barson San Rafael, CA.

Alina Dollat, Chaumont en vexin in France

Eliza Fisher, Inglewood, California

Fran Luck Joy of Resistance: Multicultural Feminist Radio at WBAI, New York City

Dawn Reel, New York, NY.

Quincy Saul, Woodstock, Vermont

Brad Balliett, Maroon Party for Liberation, New York, NY.

Heinz Leitner, Vienna, Austria Europe

Joy James, New York

James Kilgore, Urbana Illinois

Dr. Jean A. Douthwright, New Smyrna Beach, FL.

China Brotsky, San Francisco

Nina Dibner, Brooklyn NY.

Mary Loehr, Ithaca, NY.

kathryn russell, TC SURJ, Ithaca

Gail Steinhart, Ithaca, NY.

Erik D Franze, Waukesha, WI.

Ericka Huggins, Oakland, California

Noah Theriault, Pittsburgh, PA.

Liz Kaufman, St. Paul, MN.

Mel Packer, Pittsburgh Pa.

Jay Ting Walker, Green Party of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Kevin Pham New York, NY.

Fernando S Fernando, Los Angeles

Noah Cohen, Cambridge, MA.

Charmaine Chua, The Abolition journal Collective, Santa Barbara, CA.

Miguel Torres, Fighting Racism Workshop, Berlin

Barbara Parmet, Santa Barbara, California

Jonah McAllister-Erickson, Pittsburgh PA.

Jack Harkins, Ithaca

R. Scott Harrison, Swissvale Borough, Pennsylvania

JOE PIETTE, UPPER DARBY

Carolina Saldana, Amigos de Mumia, Mexico City, Mexico

kazi A. Toure, Jericho National Movement, 400 E. Squantum St. #202 Quincy, MA. 02171

Maryam Kashani, Chicago, IL.

Ercan Ayboga, Frankfurt, Germany

Carlin Christy, Pittsburgh, PA.

Bernie Eisenberg, Los Angeles

Don Swall, Eureka, CA 95501

Margaret Stofsky, Eureka

Hazel Pinder, Freeport

Jane Lapiner, Petrolia, CA. 95558

Sharyn Dreyer, Denver

Analisa Svehaug, New York, NY.

peter jon mueller, arcata, california

patricia kanzler, eureka

Laura guldin, arcata, ca.

Luette M Saul, Portland

Bill Meyer, OneHamtramck, Hamtramck MI.

Emma Nation, Arcata, California

Brandy Lara, Eureka, ca.

Miles Murray, Oakland

Fredom, Columbia, Missouri,

Rudy F Ramp, Arcata, CA.

Amanda Bloom, Oakland CA.

Charles Sharpe, Bayside CA.

Michael Twombly, Sacramento CA.

Betina Garsen, Eureka Ca.

Hannah Godwin, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Richard Rothschiller, Honolulu, Hawaii

Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, Ecosocialist Horizons, New Paltz, NY.

MICHAEL BISHOP, Dryden-Groton Plus Human Dignity Coalition, FREEVILLE NY.

dequi kioni-sadiki, Brooklyn

Ethel Paris, Fairfield Iowa 52556

David Cobb, Cooperation Humboldt Eureka

spiritchild, maroon party for liberation, New York New York

Rosaleen B Martin-Knoepfel, URBAN ART BEAT, New York

Kimberly Knight, Trumansburg

Marcus Rediker, Pittsburgh, PA.

Anna Henry, Berkeley

Mrs. A. Pond, Eureka, CA.

AbdudDharr Abdullah, Appomattox

Marco, Chicago, IL.

gloria Peace, Flossmoor

David Lemieux, Chicago Illinois

A Kane, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, Alameda, CA.

Elizabeth Cobb, Ithaca, NY.

Crystaline Charity, Chicago, Illinois

Roberta Wallitt, Ithaca, NY.

Margherite Therese, Atlanta, GA.

Mark Dilley, Detroit, Michigan

Tito Rivera, Zulu Department of Community Affairs, Queens, NY.

Micaollin L Rivera, Queens, NY

Diyana N Rivera, Queens, NY.

Sarah Bayer, Cambridge, MA.

Tamara R Hurst, Stockton, CA.

Hakim Coriano, Norwalk, CT.

George Clark, Eureka, California

Siatta Kaba, Maroon party for liberation, Richmond, Virginia

Cecil K. Brooks, Jr., Mott Haven Capital Partners, Bronx, NY.

Bethanie Corona, Maroon Party For Liberation, Brooklyn New York,

Gerald Pierre Cadet, Necessary Entertainment, Queens Village, NY.

Jonathan, Brooklyn New York

Jennifer Capotorto, Commack, NY.

Safiyyah Abdullah, Appomattox

karla biery, maroon party for liberation chicago,il

Nawal Abdelqader, YA-YA Network, Brooklyn, NY.

Myra Igwe, Chicago, IL.

Brandon Alonzo, Flushing, New York

Jackson Kusiak, Human Rights Coalition, Philadelphia, PA.

Luz Cespedes, Bronx, NY.

Jose Almonte, Bronx NY.

Regina Jennings, Philadelphia, PA.

Caroline Hugh, MPH, New York

Naomi Miller, New York, New York

Harry Donnelly, Cherry hill, N.J.

Ann Jaffe, NYC Jericho, Bronx, New York

Robert Buncher, Pittsburgh, PA.

Elizabeth brioso, Brooklyn Ny.

Mia ari, Brooklyn ny.

Kathleen McHugh, Brooklyn NY.

frankie farb, Brooklyn, NY

Michael Victor, Brooklyn, New York

Gabriel Aldana, New York, NY.

Carl Gelderloos, Ithaca, NY.

Jeremy garcia, Queens new york

Christian Durán, Free Em All NJ, Maplewood, New Jersey,

Pierreson Miracke, Brooklyn , NY.

Corey Short, Brooklyn NY.

Sophia Williams, Bronx, NY.

Jannez Wade, Eureka CA.

Margaret MacDonald Power, Illinois Coalition Against Torture,Chicago

Zayid Muhammad, Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, Brooklyn NY.

Julia Wright, Paris, France

Leslie Schultz Ithaca Catholic Worker, Ithaca, NY

Henry Hagins Free Mumia Abu Jamal Coalition-NYC New York

Tova Fry, West Orange, New Jersey

Ben Wrubel, ITHACA

Anne Sternberg, Northfield, VT

Laurie Konwinski, Ithaca NY

Hanifah Shoatz-Bey, Atlanta, GA

Jenna Bader, Arcata, CA

Keita Bryant, Philadelphia, PA

Kevin Manion, Elkins Park, PA

John Bartlett, Chicago, IL

Rafael Outland, Rochester

Jessica Antonio, San Jose CA

Elspeth Meyer, Brooklyn NY

Sarah Torres, Detroit, MI

Ricardo Alvarez, San Francisco, California

Aisha Rodriguez, New York , NY

Marcella Eversole, Be Love In Action, Putney, VT

Hilary Lake, Petoskey, Michigan

Kendall Jackman, Bronx, NY

Emma, Detroit, Michigan

Eric Gjertsen, As Wyomissing, PA

Adriana Guzman, Buffalo State College, Buffalo NY

Barbara Gurley, Global Women’s Strike (Women of Colour), Philadelphia

dilson hernandez, Bronx, NY

Shauna King, Marblehead MA

Mariana Spillane, Boston, MA

Julia Cathcart, Boson, MA

Maxwell A. Chadran, Harvard

Dianne Mathiowetz, Workers World Party, Atlanta, Georgia

Jennifer Marie Lumber, Eureka

Christina Knoepfel, Putney, Vermont

Sean O’Hern, Richmond, VA

Robert Damewood, Pittsburgh, PA

Roth, John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, San Francisco, CA

Robert Schupp, Brooklyn, NY

Nathaniel Ashley, Tennessee Valley Mutual Aid, Greeneville

tony hintz, Chicago

Masaru Koga, Brooklyn

George Lipsitz

Toby Emmer

Preeti Pandey

Saniya Greenhow

Jane Segal

Ann Jaffe

Nina Dibner

Susan Saxe

Valerie Haynes

Valerie Morgan

Vanette Jordan-Lumogo

Carmen Guerrero

efia nwangaza

Manuela Yeboah

Sandra Joy

Jenny Cobuzzi

Ife Damon

Rashad al-Amreeki

Greg Hogan

Mrs. Dee-Dee Haw

Amanda Pratt

Stephen Durham

Ayman Nassar

Ibrahim Ansari

Rama Izar

Endia G.

Sheila Khan

Anita Rosenblithe

Max Flomen

Delia Perez Meyer

Hilary Lake

A pediatric emergency physician at Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, Samir Shaheen-Hussain has been fighting against discrimination in Quebec’s health care network for years. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

Systemic racism in Quebec health care is long-standing, doctor says

Appalling treatment of Joyce Echaquan was, sadly, no surprise, says physician and activist Samir Shaheen-Hussain, but he’s hopeful change can come.

Jesse Feith  •  Montreal GazettePublishing date:

Oct 12, 2021  When Dr. Samir Shaheen-Hussain testified before the inquiry into Joyce Echaquan’s death, he aimed to bring some historical and political context to what had transpired.

Like people across the province and country, he told the coroner, he was appalled by the way hospital staff treated Echaquan . But sadly, he was not surprised.

“Systemic racism in health care is not new in Quebec. In fact, Indigenous communities have been calling this out for years,” Shaheen-Hussain, a physician and social activist, said in a recent interview.

“There’s a distrust there,” he added. “And (the Quebec government) ignoring the reality that a lot of these communities feel, on a day-to-day basis, is not going to help build that trust.”

A pediatric emergency physician at Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, Shaheen-Hussain has been fighting against discrimination in Quebec’s health care network for years.

In 2018, he was part of a group of health-care providers who successfully lobbied the provincial government to end its decades-old practice of barring parents from medevac flights, a policy that disproportionally affected Indigenous people .

Last year, he published a book exploring that fight, titled Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada.

In it, Shaheen-Hussain looks at anti-Indigenous systemic racism in Canadian health care, including in Quebec, and argues that in order to understand why it persists today, a knowledge of history is important. The book was published only a few days before Echaquan’s death would thrust the issue back into the spotlight in Quebec.

Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, died at a Joliette hospital last fall after live-streaming staff members insulting and mocking her.

While presenting her final report last week, which cites Shaheen-Hussain’s testimony, coroner Géhane Kamel said she believes had Echaquan been white, she would still be alive today. Kamel ruled Echaquan’s death to have been preventable, finding the “racism and prejudice” she faced while hospitalized contributed to it.

And to ensure a similar death doesn’t occur, Kamel recommended the provincial government recognize that systemic racism exists in its institutions and commit to eliminating it.

But in the year since Echaquan’s death, Premier François Legault has repeatedly refused to do so . Addressing Kamel’s findings last week, he reiterated that while he believes there is racism and discrimination in the network, and it must be fought, he does not see it as a systemic problem.

For Shaheen-Hussain, the premier’s argument misses the point. When he discusses systemic racism today, Shaheen-Hussain likes to employ a phrase used by Justice Murray Sinclair, who presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission .

“He said systemic racism is the racism that’s left over even after you get rid of all the racists,” Shaheen-Hussain said. “So even if someone was magically able to remove racist prejudices and stereotypes from our minds, the practices and policies and laws that are in place structurally have an impact.”

To show how long-standing the issue has been in Quebec, Shaheen-Hussain points to how, between the 1940s and 1960s, Inuit in Nunavik were forcibly transferred to southern hospitals when suspected of having tuberculosis.

And to how, in following decades, it has been well documented that Indigenous children who were admitted into Quebec hospitals frequently “disappeared” into the system, leaving their families in the dark.

Years later, Shaheen-Hussain said, that trauma lives on through different generations, fuelling the deep-seated distrust many still feel today. But you also don’t need to look that far back to find examples, he added.

During the Viens commission, a three-year inquiry into how Indigenous people are treated by public services in Quebec , there was repeated testimony about Atikamekw people feeling discriminated against at the same Joliette hospital where Echaquan died.

In what Shaheen-Hussain called a “chilling” example, exactly two years to the day before Echaquan’s death, a prosecutor in the commission had questioned the health board in charge of the hospital about the complaints.

The concerns raised included staff missing proper diagnoses because of prejudiced assumptions about drug and alcohol use by Indigenous people, and Indigenous patients saying doctors weren’t taking their pain seriously during visits — issues later raised in connection with Echaquan’s death.

Though he’s been disappointed by the Quebec government’s position on systemic racism, Shaheen-Hussain remains hopeful change can come.

In the aftermath of Echaquan’s death, an open letter blaming systemic racism for her death was signed by more than 450 health-care providers. And in the year since, several professional orders, unions and faculties of medicine have endorsed what’s known as Joyce’s Principle .

Rejected by the provincial government because of its use of the term “systemic,” the principle calls for a commitment to respecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the health care system.

“The government is lagging behind what needs to be done, but those of us who are on the front lines, providing health-care, know this has to change,” Shaheen-Hussain said.

“And this is where the change is going to come from.”

Here’s the latest compilation of every other week updates: PDF

NYC ABC, along with several other individuals and prisoner support crews, now send hard copies to all political prisoners and prisoners of war we support.

If you consistently mail the latest updates to a specific prisoner, please let us know so we can insure there’s no overlap. The goal is to have copies sent to all of the prisoners we list.

We’ve also been told that some prisoners are not receiving the copies sent in, yet we aren’t getting rejection notices. If you are in steady contact with a prisoner, please ask them whether or not they are receiving the updates and let us know.

Free ’em all,

NYC ABC

One part of NYC ABC‘s every-other-week Political Prisoner Letter-Writing event is presenting updates and announcements. These typically relate to or are written by PPs and/or POWs. Since February 2011, they’ve been printing and mailing hard copies of the updates and announcements to about a dozen imprisoned comrades.

In April 2013, along with other collectives and individuals, they expanded printing and mailing to include all U.S. held political prisoners and prisoners of war. As of September, 2014, that work has diffused over several support crews, collectives, and individuals.

Please download and mail the current edition to prisoners with whom you correspond and share links with those who might be interested in doing the same.

NYC ABC is an anarchist collective focused on supporting US-held political prisoners and prisoners of war and opposing state repression against revolutionary social justice movements. NYC ABC is a Support Group of the Anarchist Black Cross Federation. More information available at https://nycabc.wordpress.com

— NYC ABC Post Office Box 110034 Brooklyn, New York 11211 nycabc[at]riseup[dot]nethttps://nycabc.wordpress.comhttps://www.facebook.com/nycabchttps://twitter.com/nycabchttps://www.instagram.com/nycabchttps://www.paypal.me/nycabchttp://www.abcf.net/nycFree all Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War! For the Abolition of State Repression and Domination!
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