Sharing & Caring | Choosing to Live in Community

Ramona Africa

Transcribed by Anne Ennis

I'm Ramona Africa, Minister of Communication for the MOVE organization. I'll be 54 next month and I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania right now.

In terms of my life before MOVE, it was a middle-class black family life. I lived with my mother, never knew my father. I went to Catholic school from 1st to 12th grade. I was going to college, I went to Temple University. My mother always told me, "You can be what you want to be, be a doctor, be a lawyer". I wasn't too interested in blood and guts so I gravitated toward legality. So when I went to college, I had a pre-law curriculum, I had gotten accepted into law school. I was aware of injustices, police brutality, I knew about the Panthers, and things like that, but it wasn't real to me. It was just something I read about in the newspaper, it wasn't real to me. I never wanted for anything when I was growing up, except for real love and attention from my mother, from my family, and that does not exist out there. I learned that, understood that after coming to MOVE; but in terms of material things, or the way I lived, I never wanted for anything. I traveled, I had money, I had nice clothes, plenty of them, all the things that the system says will make you happy. But I wasn't happy and I wasn't really in tune with what was going on in terms of injustices and brutality and innocent people going to prison, how the courts worked. I got my interpretation of it from TV and movies, et cetera.

In my last semster at Temple University, that's when I encountered MOVE. I became somewhat of an activist because I was working in housing and would go to landlord-tenant court to monitor it, and started to get a little glimpse of what was happening with this system. I got arrested in City Council at a demonstration about housing. When I had to go to court for the first time, I met somebody who knew MOVE, he started calling me, and one day he called me and asked me if I wanted to go to a meeting to plan a MOVE demonstration, meet some MOVE supporters. And I said, "Yeah". I had known about MOVE for years, read about it in the papers, rode the bus past MOVE headquarters plenty of times, but never met or talked to MOVE people, so I said, "Yeah". We went to that meeting that evening and I met some MOVE supporters, my sister Pam Africa, who was a supporter then, and it changed my life, because she started telling me things about MOVE that you don't read about in the papers, not accurately. She gave me a lot of information, and knowing that I was a pre-law student, she encouraged me to go over to City Hall, to court, and see for myself, personally, what was going on in the MOVE hearings, and I did. And what I saw was nothing like what I read in those textbooks or heard from those professors [about] what the courts were supposed to be like, what was supposed to happen in those courtrooms. And I was shocked, and I was like, "It's not supposed to be like this", but it kept me coming back.

Finally, I started going up to the prison to talk to MOVE people personally, that was it. MOVE people never told me or encouraged me one way or the other to go to law school or not to go, but after seeing what was going on in those courtrooms, and after seeing MOVE people in those courtrooms with the teaching of John Africa, just exposing the system, exposing the judge, the prosecuting attorney, even the sherrifs and cops -- cops would get on the stand and testify and be lying and MOVE people would catch them in those lies and expose them. MOVE people were not intimidated at all because John Africa prepared MOVE people for that activity. I was impressed, I was really impressed and I started seeing just how sick the system is, how they just lie and cheat and scheme to get what they want, to do what they want. So I didn't go to law school, I kept coming around MOVE, and one of the biggest things that happened was that a judge held me in contempt one day at a MOVE trial, and I had to end up going to court for that situation.

The judge was Lynn Abraham, she is now the District Attorney, she is the judge who signed warrants that led to the August 8th, 1978 police attack on MOVE, and she later signed warrants that led to the bombing in 1985. But at that point, she was the judge that signed warrants that led to the 1978 police attack on MOVE. She found me guilty, and when I went for sentencing, she asked me, "Did I had anything to say before sentencing?" And I said, "Yes, I do", and I started talking about how she knew and everybody knew that MOVE people were innocent. Just because I wouldn't sit there quietly and accept it, in a country where they tell you you have freedom of speech and tell the world all this nonsense, she wants to tell me I'm wrong, I'm criminal; and I was talking, and she told me to shut up. And I said, "Well, didn't you just ask me if I have anything to say? Isn't this America where we're supposed to have freedom of speech?" She said, "NO!", and she held me in contempt 60 days, I think it was, and sent me up to the county jail for 60 days. But what she did not take into account was that she was sending me up [to] the the county jail with MOVE women; I spent 2 months with them. So for real, she kicked me right on into MOVE, because after that, it was a done deal. I knew what I was hearing, the teaching of John Africa, and the example I was seeing in MOVE women, was right. I knew it, and that was all she wrote, so she kicked me right on into MOVE, and that's really how I got into MOVE.

But, what I really wanted to point out, when you were talking about the way people live, and the politics that go into it: John Africa teaches us that in order to be right, to be healthy, to be strong, you have to live in harmony with life, that's the bottom line. And we don't mean that in an abstract sense, we mean that in a very real sense. With the MOVE organization from birth to so-called death and everything in between, John Africa has given us information and coordinated us to live in harmony with life, at least as best we can at this time, because things are not natural and right at this point, but we do what we can. And that begins with having babies naturally at home, because having a baby in a hospital is not natural, no other species of life does that but humans. No other species of life spends thousands of dollars to go to a hospital to have a baby, to do something as natural as have a baby, only humans. And no other species of life turns their babies over to somebody else to raise them and school them, only humans. So, what John Africa has people in touch with is a natural way of living. We can't do everything that we would like to at this point, but we have to know the direction that we are going in, and not be deterred from that direction.

You see, you can't have your cake and eat it too, you can't. You can't want to hang on to certain things in this system, and at the same time want your health, your satisfaction, your happiness, your strength. We want conveniences, people want certain technologies, conveniences, want to hold on the certain things in this system, certain standards of dress, living, certain cars and homes and this and that; you can't have your cake and eat it too. When people talk about MOVE they'll say, "What, you want to go back to the dark ages? You want to go back? We're talking about progress". But, what is "progressive" about air being more polluted today than it was 100 years ago? What is progressive about water being 100 times more polluted today than it was 100 years ago? What is more progressive about the Earth being more poisoned today and therefore producing more poison food than it was 100 years ago? There is nothing progressive about that. You want to say we're going back to clean air, pure water, healthy fertile productive soil.

Our grandparents were or are 100 times stronger than we are, they could work us under the table, but this is progress? They didn't have all the so-called conveniences that we have, but those running this system, the industrialists I am talking about -- not the politicans so much, they are nothing but flunkeys and errand boys for the industrialists, including the President is nothing but a flunkey, he is told what to do by his boss and we understand that. So when I say those running the system I'm talking about the big monied industrial people who really run the world, and they have tricked and conned people into thinking that we cannot exist without the things that this system puts in front of you. I mean, clothes washers, dishwashers, telephones, cellphones, ipods did not always exist, and people lived and were healthy and happy before those things were invented, so how come they are a necessity now? And everyone of these things do damage to life. See, the one thing that John Africa has taught MOVE is that life --- human life, animal life, the air the water, the soil that feeds us -- life, every single aspect of life is the priority.

The thing that is different about MOVE's way of life, our day to day life and other people is, one major thing is that we don't send our children to school, to the system's schools. They are home-schooled ,so our children are with us all the time, and we take responsibility for "educating our children". And our main activity throughout the day is taking care of the children and animals, we have always had a lot of animals, dogs and cats. And not because we went out and got them, but because daily, we would find dogs that people had abandoned, that were starving. Cats that kids had tied under a car with hangers. Cats that were almost starving or abandoned, little kittens who didn't have their mother, things like that. Or, people would bring us animals, bring us dogs and cats because they knew we would take care of them. One dog we found in the river, one of our brothers had to pull the dog out the river. So, that was a major part of our day, taking care of life, whether it was the children or the animals or turning over the earth, the dirt in our backyard because we composted, what they call "composting". Back in the very early days of MOVE, and people would look at that and say we were nasty and dirty and we were throwing garbage in the backyard, and then they put a cute little word on it some years later called composting, so it's okay, it is the in thing to do. But John Africa co-ordinated people to do that way back in the early '70's, and we took a lot of flack for it.

But that was the most part of our day, getting up early, changing all the water for the animals, feeding them, running dogs in the early days of MOVE. To this day we take them over to the park or out to a park so that they can run and exercise. That is a major part of our day, taking care of life, because when you see the importance of life, understand the importance of life, that is the priority. All this other stuff came from the system: the job that people can't stand, that they are forced to do because the system put money between us and our needs, like food. The only thing that you're supposed to have to pay for food is the work that it takes to get it, that's all, but the system put money between us and our food. And we understand that, and that's why we want no parts of the system. That's why we encourage and teach our children about life being the priority, because when you really understand that, then you are intolerant of these major companies and corporations that poison life.

So many people have asthma today, it's not an accident, it's not a mystery. When your air that is co-ordinated with your lungs is poisoned, how is that not going to affect you? It absolutely will, there's no getting around it, and that's why so many people have asthma today, it is very common. It wasn't common when I was a kid, and I'm only going to be 54 in a month or 2, it wasn't common. Kids today they don't even know what a banana tastes like, an orange, an apple, it tastes much different today then when I was kid, because we are not really eating apples and bananas today. They have genetically modified food, they have done all kinds of things to food that are being grown, and earth that has toxic waste in it... and that's not going to affect the taste of food, and what it's doing to your body? It's not a mystery why so many people have cancer today.

When I was a little kid, if you heard that somebody had cancer it was like, "Gasp! Oh my God!" It was rare, it was not a common thing. Today it's common, if somebody tells you that so and so has cancer it's like, "Oh, that's a shame", but it's no big deal. But this is a result of moving away from life and life not being a priority, and money and this system being the priority. John Africa moved us away from that, and put us in the direction of life, and that is the only thing that is going to turn things around, because you can't have your cake and eat it too, you can't. People have a decision to make as to what is important to them, what their priority is, what they really want. And it will be demonstrated not through words but through actions, activity, what people decide to do, because it's serious, it's really serious. Things are getting worse and worse and worse, they are not getting any better, because people keep trying to straddle the fence and you can't. MOVE people can't do it, nobody can.

John Africa told us that years ago: we gotta decide what we want. There is no point supporting this system, indulging in everything that it has to offer, and then turning around and complaining about it, that just doesn't work. If you believe in politics, then you believe in who ever is in office whether you voted for him or no,t because that's the way it is, that's the way it goes. MOVE people don't believe in politics, at all. We don't believe in giving our power purpose over to somebody else. Can't nobody one else represent you or your family. You were talking earlier about community, communal living or people living what the system teaches as the nuclear family and everybody do their own thing, everyone have their own this that, well none of that works. I mean we live communally because we are a family, a true family moving in one direction. And that nuclear family with everyone with their own this, that, and the other, doesn't work, doesn't work. The Earth can't support it first and foremost, the Earth cannot support it.

Naturally, everybody is responsible for themselves and their family and when their children get to the age where they can marry and have their own babies, have their own family, they would have that. But that doesn't mean anything in terms of this system, like having your own house, your own dishwasher, and washing machine and all this stuff; that's not what it means. John Africa told us to look to life, to the animal life, and you will see it. Why animals have their babies, they rear them, show them how to survive in their environment and then when those babies get to a certain point, they move away from their parents and the parents move away from them, they may not ever see them again. They grow up and they live on their own, they have their own families and they take care of their families, I mean naturally, that's the way it's supposed to be. And what man has created, it doesn't work, the proof is in the pudding.

MOVE's position on living in the city or moving out somewhere to grow our own food and living a life that we would really like to live, we understood from the beginning that we cannot run away from the problem. You said it very clearly for real, the problem is the system, and no matter where you go, the system is going to encroach on you, you're absolutely right. MOVE's priority, our work co-ordinated by MOVE's founder, John Africa, is the elimination of this system, period. That is the ultimate revolution, that is the revolution because as long as this system exists, all of the problems that we complain about will exist. The only way that we will get rid of our problems is to get rid of the system and live in harmony with life systems. So, we really always wanted our children to live on a farm somewhere more natural so they could have that, but we will never just move away, just move out of the city and move to, as you put it, our little paradise and think we are going to be okay like that. I mean, please! Africa is paradise, but it ain't no more now is it; there is no paradise on this Earth. Some places are more peaceful than others, more beautiful than others, but as you know, it's not going to last, it's not going to last! Pennsylvania was called Penn's Woods, it was beautiful but it's not like that anymore. There are some areas that are still nice, but until we rid ourselves of this system, nobody is safe, we can never truly be healthy. And we understand that, we know that it is not going to happen overnight, but we need to be clear about the direction that we're moving in, and not hallucinate about this system. This is what John Africa has taught us, and it's not an easy thing.

Our addiction to this system, to different aspects of this system, it's not something that you just acquire since birth, it's in our blood, in our genes -- from our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-great-great-great-grand parents -- it's in us. And, it takes work to move away from that, just like with cooked food; raw food is a natural diet, it's what's the most healthy for you, but you can't just stop eating cooked food today and just say, "I'm just going to eat all raw food". You can't, because we have all become addicted to cooked food from eons, not just from your birth on. It takes work to move away from that, it's not going to happen overnight. Our co-ordinator, John Africa, ate all raw food, our Naturalist Minister Nick Africa got to that point, but it takes some serious work, and it is the same as our addiction to this system, different aspects of this system, it's not going to happen overnight. But we have to do that work and instill that incentive in our children, so they can instill it in their children, and that's how you build this revolution, that's how you generate this revolution, with the ultimate goal being one thing, moving away from this system. And when I say this system, I'm not talking about some slang word or some abstract thing, when I say system, MOVE people are talking about anything outside of life, anything outside of life is this system. I don't care how innocent it may appear, if it's outside of life, then it's the system. From a simple, "simple" wheel to nuclear bombs, it's all this system if it's outside of life.

Well, very simply, I understand what you are saying when you talk about supporting the system while trying to move away from it, that's really the crux of the issue. But the thing is, the system that hold us back the most is up here (in the mind); it's not money or going to a job, it's up here (in the mind) it's believing in the system, that is the real hold back with people. Because MOVE people have various jobs: Mike is a landscaper, he has his own business, along with Kevin. My brother Carlos delivers bundles of newspapers, he doesn't sell them on the street, but he takes them around to the place, that's how he earns money. I do lectures, particularly at universities, and that's how I bring money in. One of my other brothers has a home renovation service, that's how he brings money in. We do these jobs, but they don't control us, we control them.

A few years back in 2002, we had a serious situation with one of our children, we were involved in a custody case, and the government was threatening to take one of our children. My family had jobs, and I had a different job than I was working, around the death penalty. I was working for The American Friends, we quit our jobs, we quit them, and did not go to those jobs, because we were very clear on the priority, where our energies needed to be, dealing with that custody case there, because we were not going to allow the system take our little brother. So, while we did those jobs to bring money in to keep ourselves going, our priorities are very clear, those jobs didn't mean anything to us when it came to things that we needed to do. So when I say the system is really in our heads, in terms of what we believe in, and put priority on, because there are people everyday that say, they don't believe in the system, but they do, they do.

After the May 13th (1985) bombing, people saw what happened there, it was on the news all day everyday, but people would still come up to me and ask me if MOVE was violent, did we have guns, all these questions of MOVE. But who did we bomb? Who did they see drop a bomb? Who admitted to shooting thousands and thousands of rounds of ammunition, over 10,000 rounds in less than 90 minutes? Who started a fire? Whose bombs started a fire? And officials made a conscious decision to let it burn! It wasn't MOVE, but they asked me about MOVE being violent. That's how confused the system has people. People who claim that they don't believe in the system, and they know it's wrong, but it's so deep in people, and they don't even realize it. And that is the most important thing; you can have a job, go to work everyday, but if your mind is clear on the direction you're going in, and what you're putting in your family, your children, that's the real revolution. Because this could all fall tomorrow, this system could go down the drain tomorrow and no longer exist, people wouldn't be able to take it, they wouldn't make it, they would not make it.

So when we talk about moving away from the system and the work of revolution, it starts up here (in the mind). I mean money and all of the standards of this system here, we need to deal with that, but you can't even start to deal with that until you start to deal with your own mind and the direction you're prepared to go in. Because MOVE people, we've got to work, we got to use money, there's no getting around it at this point in time. But those things don't control us; we use it to do what we need to do, just like you said about the camera, you use it for what you need, but you could do without it. Well, we use things that need to be used right now, but they are not our guide, they don't control us. We use what we need to use. We have car but we don't have a station wagon and aspire to a BMW, that's not what we are doing here; so we are very clear on our direction.