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ashanti alston, All Power Through The People, pittsburgh
by matt t, rustbelt radio Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005 at 6:52 PM (email address validated)

On Thursday February 24 2005, Ashanti Alston spoke at CMU.

audio: ogg vorbis at 27.8 mebibytes

Recently returned from a 6 month sojourn to Zapatista Mexico, Ashanti Alston is a former member of the Black Panther Party, Black Liberation Army political prisoner and anarchist.

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mp3 version
by matt t, rustbelt radio Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005 at 6:52 PM

audio link: MP3 at 25.9 mebibytes

Flash player: Embed this audio player:

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by matt Friday, Feb. 25, 2005 at 9:58 AM

for the Q&A portion, see

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transfer to text?
by gus Saturday, Feb. 26, 2005 at 8:26 AM

Can someone transcribe the talk into text, for posting on indymedia?

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by s Tuesday, Mar. 01, 2005 at 10:35 AM

the talk was on point 100%

link to pitt news article about him & the talk


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Pitt News Article
by Pitt News (with new link) Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007 at 10:14 AM

Former Black Panther happy to be alive

Senior Staff Writer
February 28, 2005

Ashanti Alston was surprised to make it to 51 this year.

Reflecting on his involvement with the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, a more actively militant splinter group of the Panthers, Alston said, "I didn't actually think I would get to 20."

"You have to be daring and willing to take a risk," he said during his Thursday talk in the McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Maybe I was crazy back then, but nothing can be changed when you let fear take hold of you," he said.

Alston recently returned from a six-month visit to Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatista-controlled region, and his talk revolved around his own life and the lessons to be learned from the indigenous communities of Chiapas.

After 400 years of black oppression in the United States, he said, the black community toward the end of the 1960s was no longer talking about civil rights.

"You started hearing about human rights, about Black Power, and that word: revolution," Alston said, adding that "By any means necessary," Malcolm X's rallying call, began to make sense at that time.

He joined the Panthers at the age of 16, and he noted during his talk that the organization respected the non-violent approach to activism that Martin Luther King Jr. espoused.

"But we couldn't take being spit on, hit, flushed down the street with water hoses. We wanted to rise up," he said.

The Panther's iconic style of dress appealed were almost as appealing as their politics, Alston said.

"Oh yeah, we did want the black beret, the black leather jacket, the boots, the pants and the gun we thought we'd get when we joined," Alston said.

Alston quickly learned that while "the gun was a tool, and we did receive weapons training," the organizing, the hard work to serve the black community with lunch programs and clothing programs and the political education that new recruits received were more important aspects of their training.

"We learned what motivated revolutionary struggles around the world that were not choosing capitalist forms of government. This was all when I was in high school. It was such a time when even teen-agers really were down with what was going on," he said.

Alston stressed to the roughly 70 people in attendance that, despite his history as a soldier with the Liberation Army for 12 years and as a prisoner for 14 years after his part in a bank robbery to fund the army, he is still "just a regular guy."

He is currently the northeast coordinator for the anti-capitalist activist organization Critical Resistance and also a board member for the Institute for Anarchist Studies, a nonprofit foundation whose research, according to its Web site, focuses upon the "domination and hierarchy" that permeates capitalist society.

Anarchists, the site said, seek to "overthrow coercive and exploitative social relationships, and replace them with egalitarian, self-managed and cooperative social forms."

The semi-autobiographical talk involved an account of the more sensational exploits Alston undertook while with the Panthers and after he "went underground" with a Black Liberation Army cell, including a failed attempt to break imprisoned Panther leaders out of a New York jail.

Alston emphasized his education in prison after the failed "bank expropriation," as he described it.

"I read, and I read, and I read," he said. "And I learned, I learned, I learned."

In addition to his teachings from the Panthers and readings of Karl Marx and other alternative literature, Alston said he read a lot about totalitarianism and domination.

"I thought a lot about collective leadership and organizing on a non-hierarchal basis," he said.

The Jan. 1, 1994, Zapatista rebellion of the indigenous people in Chiapas, which is in southern Mexico, provided a "practical living example" to Alston for his philosophy. The indigenous population's 1994 revolution against the Mexican government was based upon dignity, said Alston, who had also visited Chiapas in 1997 and 1999.

"The Zapatistas wanted to build a world with many worlds, and I was like, 'Yes!'" Alston said.

As the Chiapas communities came together, the Mayan cultural communities merged with the revolutionary movements of poor peasants and indigenous groups that had been oppressed since Spain colonized the land 500 years ago, he said.

Alston's stated mission since his return to the United States has been to teach people that no one has to be excluded.

"It will only make sense when the resources of diversity come together," he said, explaining that revolution will not work with one ideology.

He used the analogy of a jazz jam session to stress his point.

"If you got a horn, bring a horn. If not, bring your voice. If you've got no voice, bring your feet or your hands. People can come together, and they don't have to give up who they are as people," he said.

Jess Rothman, a political science graduate from San Diego, attended Alston's talk during her visit in Pittsburgh.

"It's all very idealistic, which I like, and he's had a really interesting life," Rothman said.

"But what are you going to do?" she asked with a laugh. "It's all good theory, but can anyone actually envision a revolution in this country? This is America. Come on, I don't think so. The state would crush you."

At the conclusion of the main lecture, Alston was asked about the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Malik Zulu Shabazz, the controversial national chairman, visited CMU a week earlier.

"You can't copyright the name Black Panther Party. It's open to anyone," Alston said.

"But when you've had history, when you've lived with the group, been hurt by it, you want the people [who use the name] to take upon your original goals," he added. "There are things we all need to talk about together, but not up here on a stage, not as entertainment."

In discussion of the presidential election, Alston said he "could not take being asked about [Sen. John] Kerry and [President George W.] Bush."

"It's an empire, right?" he added. "It don't matter who's in that puppet office."

He expressed surprise that fellow activists were "caught up in the election and with electing black senators." Alston told such people that they should involve themselves in their community.

"You can't change the system from within," he said. "It's not about changing the world, it's about making a new world."

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