Onyesonwu Chatoyer of the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and BAR Book Forum Editor Roberto Sirvent discuss how "We Can Save Ourselves."
Roberto Sirvent: Can you please share a little bit about your background, including how you became involved with the All-African People's Revolutionary Party (AAPRP)?
Onyesonwu Chatoyer: I’m an African woman whose ancestors were dropped off by the slave ship in Honduras and Haiti. Patriarchy and its violence separated my parents early on, so I grew up with my mom and my sister - speaking Spanish and maintaining a connection to Garifuna culture, with little connection to my Haitian side. Patriarchy, generational trauma, and a lack of resources provided to African women and untraditional African family structures in capitalist societies made my childhood dark and scary at times. Something to survive. The result was that I came up a weird, quiet, and traumatized kid that spent a lot of time getting pushed around by people who were themselves pushed around. Because of that, and also because my mom pushed us to read and learn and develop a worldview that extended far beyond ourselves, I’ve always aligned myself with the underdog, the sketchy, and the downtrodden. I am of them.
Though I developed a sense of duty and justice very early on, I didn’t become a radical until my mid 20s. I voted for Obama in the first president election I was old enough to participate in and cried when he won. My political awakening came first with exposure to the Occupy movement encampments in Vancouver BC and Oakland, California and then with the societal response to the murder of a teenaged African boy, Trayvon Martin. Watching people – including folks I knew – blame him for what happened to him was an extremely radicalizing experience.
By the time the pigs who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner got off back-to-back, I was one of thousands of people who poured into the streets throughout the United Snakes in protest. By then I was in Portland, Oregon. The mobilizations were huge and largely spontaneous – someone called for a march at 1 PM on Facebook and by 7 PM five hundred of us were in the streets. Marching, chanting, different tendencies, wildly different objectives, united in outrage at injustice. You go to enough mobilizations and you start seeing the same people around. You start getting to know folks and trusting them. It was through those relationships that I joined my first political organizations, ultimately helping to start the Black Lives Matter chapter in Portland.
I was recruited into the AAPRP (All-African People's Revolutionary Party) at a time when I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the pattern of marches, meetings in the mayor’s office, panel discussions, and police review board meetings that had yielded nothing. No progress or sustainable change for my people. The Oregon chapter of the AAPRP called for a meeting to discuss an “All African Response to Police Terrorism” after yet another pig got away with murdering an African. I went along with other dozens of African people doing social justice work in Portland and was just in awe of the AAPRP Members that I met that night, especially Ahjamu Umi. They were talking about capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, socialism. Calling us Africans, saying we needed to come together and fight as African people, and that our home was Africa. Saying we needed REVOLUTION. It was like nothing I had ever heard before but they were clear, focused, and unapologetically militant. They made sense, much more sense than listening to a European say Black Lives Matter before signing yet another budget increase for police. I went through orientation and joined AAPRP work study a few weeks later. I’ve been building the party ever since.
I also serve as an editor for the Hood Communist blog and I’m the National Coordinating Committee of the Venceremos Brigade, the oldest Cuba solidarity delegation in the US.
What are some struggles and initiatives specific to the Southwest chapter of the AAPRP?
Our main programmatic focuses are political education and community defense. We, like every other chapter or organizing area of the AAPRP, run a work study party for the internal political development of our members. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve also hosted a video show called Weekly Pan-African News where we talk about current events, history, and strategy in plain language from a revolutionary Pan-African perspective. We do monthly film series (formerly in person at a local high school, but now virtual in COVID times), periodic seminars and workshops about different topics relevant to the struggle for Pan-Africanism, and participate in community safety and solidarity work and coalition spaces in order to build a broad anti-imperialist movement in the Southwest US, particularly in Albuquerque.
Our chapter founded and maintains the Pan-African Community Garden in Albuquerque with the help of comrades, relatives, neighbors, and social justice organizations in Tiwa territory (Albuquerque, New Mexico). We did this without non-profit status, corporate sponsorship, grant funding, or financial backing of any kind – spending very little out of pocket when it came to the construction and maintenance of the garden. We also did this without any formal experience as a chapter undertaking such a project – meaning we had never built something like this together before. We built, quite literally from the gravel up, a thriving community garden that produces fruits, vegetables, and medicinal herbs, and that provides our organization with a space in which we were able to engage in long term political education work with the community. All summer and fall long we work in the garden and also run de-escalation trainings and teach-ins on sanctions, socialism, food sovereignty, and more.
Since 2020 we’ve also expanded our chapter beyond Albuquerque to include members in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas and are moving to coordinate more and more on a regional basis – thus the name AAPRP Southwest US.
What is the AAPRP’s understanding of Pan-Africanism and how does it relate to current struggles against imperialism, capitalism, and colonialism?
The AAPRP understands Pan-Africanism as a political objective: one unified and liberated socialist Africa. This understanding of Pan-Africanism comes from five Pan-African Congresses organized in the early 20th century by revolutionary African leaders on the front lines of struggle against colonialism and imperialism on the continent but also from the founder of our organization, Kwame Nkrumah. These revolutionary African ancestors correctly understood that no single African nation could hope to maintain its sovereignty and independence if the rest of the continent was colonized. Africa and African people will win our liberation united or we will not win liberation at all.
We also understand that if the objective of Pan-Africanism is won, through the mass organization of African people, then it will represent a deathblow to the system of capitalism-imperialism that is dependent upon the continued exploitation of our land and labor. Capitalism because it is the dominant social and economic system on this planet through the enslavement of our ancestors, genocide against indigenous people, and the theft of indigenous land all over the world, and capitalism can only continue to function as the dominant social and economic system by stealing from Africa. Africa has the world’s youngest and fast-growing population, the world’s largest quantities of clean water and arable land, and vast reserves of precious resources needed for the functioning of so-called “advanced” capitalist societies. Without resources stolen from Africa their nuclear bombs, their super computers, their glittering high rises and monuments, their smart phones and electric cars could not be built. When Africans organize and take back what’s ours, their empires will fall and the African and colonized masses of the world will have room to breathe and live again.
The enemy understands this very well, which is why we are living through a new scramble for Africa these days. The more than 46 US military bases on the continent, the French occupation of the Sahel, the joint ‘counter-terrorism’ operations from NATO, the ‘peace-keeping’ operations from the UN, the free trade agreements, the constant military coups, the aid, the loan, the strings – it’s all as Thomas Sankara put it: a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa. The enemy understands very clearly that as the earth warms and the sea level rises and droughts begin spanning years that their future depends on who controls Africa. They do not want it to be the masses of African people. They want to keep us confused, disorganized, disunited, and dispossessed so their boots can stay on our necks while their hands loot Africa and the world burns. That’s why it so essential – especially now – for African people to understand that our destinies are not tied to the sinking ship of the West. Our destinies are inextricably tied to each other and to Africa.
A key priority of AAPRP during the pandemic has been the building and sustaining of community defense work. Why is community defense work so important for Black liberation struggles?
Gonna quote myself from Lessons from the Pan-African Community Garden, which folks should read to learn more about AAPRP Southwest’s work: Community defense is best understood as an organizing strategy that combines revolutionary political education with organization and institution building to help a given community meet its own needs. Those needs can be organizing to provide safety in community spaces, protection from police terrorism, intervention in cases of abuse or domestic violence, education for youth, food production, and much more. Community defense is about both helping our people to recognize the reality of our oppression and the system that is causing it and also organizing our people to address that oppression and that system collectively. It’s about helping them understand that we do not have to wait for incremental change or saviors, but rather that we can move collectively to build the things we need to keep each other safe, survive, and fight back. That we can save ourselves. To quote AAPRP cadre and Hood Communist editor Ahjamu Umi, “The focus of community defense work is to plug Africans into organizing our people everywhere to become a direct part of the work to liberate Africa as the key to our salvation and progress.”
What is the significance of Black August for your organizing work and political education?
Black August grounds me in an understanding of our struggle as long lasting, unbroken, and also unfinished. African people have been fighting for our liberation since the very first most the first European colonizer set foot on the shores of Africa. We fought back in Africa, we fought back on the slaves ships, and we fought back throughout the Western Hemisphere, wherever the kidnappers dropped us off, wherever we found ourselves. This is a truth we are not told in our enemy’s institutions. We’re actually told the opposite – that we sat around and waited for enough Europeans to have a moral awakening and free us. We’re told to look up to and venerate people who enslaved us and killed Indigenous people. Black August shows us who our heroes really are, who actually fought for us and what they were fighting against.
Black August reminds us that we, as African people, are at war and that we have lost many many soldiers in this struggle. That we still have comrades held in concentration camps behind enemy lines. It pushes us to remember them, honor them, and fight for them. It pushes us to be disciplined, clear, and focused by preparing our minds, bodies, and spirits to wage this struggle.
AAPRP hosted a virtual event for Pan-African Women’s Day in early August. Can you share the significance of this day, as well as some of the highlights from the conversation?
Pan-African Women’s Day (PAWD) is held annually across the world to celebrate the first Pan-African Women’s Conference and the creation of the Pan-African Women’s Organization in 1962 in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. A year before the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), delegations of women from fourteen independent African countries and ten national liberation movements met at the first Conference of African Women that took place in Dar Es Salaam, Tanganyika on July 31, 1962. The organization that emerged was later called the Pan-African Women's Organization and July 31st was established worldwide as the Day of Women Pan-Africanists or Pan-African Women's Day.
AAPRP chapters and organizing areas all over the world organize commemorations of Pan-African Women’s Day every July and August. For the past two years the entire organization has helped to organize international Pan-African Women’s Day webinars where we bring together women and marginalized gender revolutionaries from throughout Africa and the diaspora to talk about their experiences on the front line of the struggle to liberate Africa and African people. We live in patriarchal societies where the historical and present-day contributions of women and mages are discounted, minimized, or outright erased or worse – co-opted to help bolster the enemy’s attacks against us. Pan-African Women’s Day is an opportunity to bring African women and mages into focus where we belong, develop and uplift our leadership, and provide a space for our theoretical contributions and strategizing. It's not only that women hold up half the sky, it’s also that only the militant organization of African women and mages that will liberate African women and mages and defeat patriarchy once and for all. Pan-African Women’s Day is space to help build that militant organization.
How can BAR readers support your work?
Join an organization fighting for justice. If you’re African, join the AAPRP: aaprp-intl.org/how-to-join. Get in work study and let’s build! If the AAPRP isn’t for you or if you don’t see the organization that you think needs to exist: gather your friends and comrades and build what needs to exist. You don’t need anyone’s permission. The most important thing is that you get active working collectively with other people to fight for justice. To change this world.
Follow AAPRP southwest on social media at @AAPRPSouthwest on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Subscribe to our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/allafricanpeoplesrevolutionarypartynewmexico
Read and share Hood Communist: hoodcommunist.org
And support the work of the Venceremos Brigade! Apply for VB51 happening December of this year at vb4cuba.com or make a donation to support anti-imperialist organizing in the US: https://afgj.salsalabs.org/venceremosbrigade/index.html
Onyesonwu Chatoyer is an African woman marooned in the United States, organizing to defeat capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. She is an organizer with the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and the All-African Women's Revolutionary Union, an editor with Hood Communist, and also serves on the national committee of the Venceremos Brigade.
Roberto Sirvent is editor of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum.