The Life and Death of An American Revolutionary--Nelson Peery

I’ve been a conscious revolutionary writer, thinker and organizer since 18 when I began to relentlessly remove myself from “La Vida Loca,” the Chicano gang life in an East L.A.-area gang, including drug addiction, violent acts and jail. I’m fortunate to have begun this difficult process at the right time, when my own internal development aligned with the social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

My mentors were among the most radical members of the civil rights, anti-war and labor struggles at the time. They had the vision and knowledge that was powerful enough, encompassing enough, to pull me from the abyss. Nothing spoke to me more than the intense study, strategizing and organizing these revolutionaries brought to my door.

Nobody impacted me as much as Nelson Peery, an African American World War II veteran whom I met when he was almost 50 years old. Originally from Minnesota, Nelson already had thirty years of revolutionary training and experience across the United States and in countries like the Philippines. His 1994 memoir, “Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary” (New Press) is a striking story of the growth and development of what I consider the most advanced U.S., if not global, revolutionary of the past fifty years.

On September 6, 2015, Nelson Peery suffered heart failure in Chicago at the age of 92. I send my deepest condolences to his family, comrades and friends.

When I first met Nelson in Watts, seven years after the 1965 Rebellion, he had gathered around him young, hungry and often angry people from all ethnicities and walks of life, but mostly from the large and fractured working class of the most advanced capitalist country in history, the United States. He pushed a precision in education and action that went against the violence and disorganization of the times. He got us to slow down, study, think and act accordingly.

By the mid-1970s, COINTELPRO had destroyed most organizations in the struggle. Cutbacks in life supportive services rose through Nixon and beyond. In ten years, homelessness became a permanent feature of this capitalism as well as unemployment, financial crises, mass incarceration, wars for power and resources (mostly oil).

The world needed deep and systemic change, not just because it was a good idea, because the objective conditions were ripening for this—making this “a good idea.”

Nelson in forty years since our first meeting, through various incarnations including the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA), helped create perhaps the most significant multicultural organizations among the radical Left. The leadership has been majority women, people of color and working class. He formulated important concepts that enhanced the thinking of modern-day revolutionary scientists, including how the relatively recent digital revolution was the most meaningful in the U.S. since chattel slavery was outlawed in the 1860s—and as important as the industrial revolution of the same time.

I was proud to be among these intense and strategic leaders.

However, those who knew Nelson and me know we had an unfortunate falling out some five years ago. It would be dishonest, and a dishonor to Nelson, even at his death, to totally lionize him. Nelson was my greatest teacher, and a second-father to me. He was also a source of great disappointment.

Nelson was a multi-dimensional human being with many faults. To be fair he was like the rest of us. Broken in particular ways. Yet when Nelson was right, in his element, few were his equals.

For me, personally and politically, I leave all this behind. There is much unfinished business to do. For one, this is a time to unite the revolutionaries—from every facet of society, presently scattered and easily isolated. The most principled position now is to move forward. Stay true to revolution, the objective basis of which keeps growing. Stay learned, patient, connected, with clarity of vision and short -and long-range strategic aims.

As Nelson once wrote, it’s time to “build a revolutionary organization worthy of the American people… ”

This task is still before us. And I’m convinced meeting this challenge is the best way to honor Nelson Peery.

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