Spotlight on an Exemplary Organizer: John Imani
John Imani has been a stalwart of the movement in L.A. since his youth, from activity in the BSU in the 60s, through years as a Black Marxist and most recently with Revolutionary Autonomous Communities (RAC-LA) in the MacArthur Park area. He was born and lived until age 15 in Mobile, AL when it was strictly segregated. “We never thought about it much,” he says. “When we went downtown on Sunday to spend some of the money we made at bingo games Saturday night we went straight for the “Colored” counter. Same counter, just a wooden rise in it dividing. And the SIGN, of course.”
He remembers Mardi Gras there, and the floats with white revelers lit up by flambeaux-toting black kids with handkerchiefs over their nose and mouth against the poison. He was about 10 years old. There was another black kid nearby of his size and years. Down the street comes a white kid not much older. He has a belt across his shoulders pinioned on opposite ends of a shallow box loaded down with brown paper bags of peanuts. “Pie-nuts”, the little cracker says, “Pie-nuts”. The little black kid holds out a dime to the white kid who says, “Y’all wont sum pie-nuts?” The black kid responds “Yes, sir.” That was the South. That was that time.
His mother gradually moved all 7 of her kids to LA from 1961 to ‘63. He was the last to come and went to Dorsey High where for the first time in his life had a social conversation with a white person who wasn’t a priest or a nun. His oldest sister lived by herself and he would often stay with her.
He says, “If anyone asks me what was I doing participating for 8 ½ years from the founding of RAC-LA in MacArthur Park, after months of meetings in my bedroom, until health and common sense forced my retirement from almost 50 years of participation in the struggle for a different world, in a location where the population was heavily peopled with migrants, I would say, “Yeah. Cause I was one too. We all lived in a 1-bedroom duplex at 2520 Lucerne Ave. Sleeping on couches, on pallets, wherever and yet we always had room for one more migrant from our home town. My momma helped many of my brothers’ friends that way. Until they got on their feet they had a place to stay.
“So, yeah, I’m an immigrant. The only difference between me and some others is that I haven’t forgotten it.”
John was radicalized at LACC and became influential in the BSU there. He was considered a leader of the strike that closed the school from March 12-14, 1969. “I would say that I was a good speaker. The words came of their own. It was the spirit of the times and not of the person. Arrested there. Beat the case.”
He went on to UCLA and was arrested there, too. Spent 30 days in jail and missed his first daughter’s first birthday. He remembers getting out the day after Salvador Allende was murdered. “My stomach literally dropped when I saw the early morning paper. It was the end, I thought, of the possibility of peaceful and democratic transition.”
Simultaneously and unfortunately, he felt the movement was tearing itself to shreds with ample help from the police terrorists and their courts. Lots of peoples lost lots of things: their freedom, their hopes, their sanity, their lives. During what he terms “the great interregnum”, a period when capitalism shorn of its open de jure racism found new footing, a long languid period of no hope of revolution, and overseas revolutionary examples fell one after another to their own capitalist restorations, John taught school in LAUSD as an open communist.
He co-founded the Socialist Collective, a group of black communists active in the ’70s, and participated in almost every movement taking place in LA: Committee to Defend Angela Davis. United People for Wounded Knee. The Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA) with Michael Zinzun and the later Coalition Against Police Brutality (CAPB). Various strikes. Assi Plaza Workers. Free Mumia Coalition. The Labor Party initiated by Tony Mazzochi of OCAW, and a renegade offshoot he co-founded, the LA Inner City Labor Party Local Organizing Committee. He has continued to promote political study, analysis and discussion through the dope_x_resistancela email list and others. And finally, the RAC-LA, which distributes healthy food free in MacArthur Park, now has a small community center nearby, and succeeded in rooting itself among the migrant population in the area, superceding the original anarchist and radical organizers.
The last word goes to John: “I am so lucky to have lived through two occasions when the system is being attacked by us, the workers. Yes! We have another chance.”