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On The MOVE: 20 Years Later

By Walidah Imarisha

May 13, 2005 marked the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the MOVE organization's house by the city of Philadelphia. MOVE is a naturalist revolutionary organization that believes in the connection of all living things.


They believe, quite simply, in life. And in 1985, Philadelphia officials obliterated life. They dropped a military-issue C-4 canister onto the house, which set the place on fire. The police pumped hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the house. 11 people, including 5 children, were murdered. In addition, 61 row homes in the surrounding Black working class West Philly neighborhood burned too.


In addition, the fire department, which was on the scene, sat and did nothing, until the houses were ash. Over 250 people were left homeless. The only adult survivor of the fire, Ramona Africa, still bears the scars from the city's „final solutionš to the MOVE. She also bears the scars of 7 years of incarceration from charges resulting from this bombing. Her crime?   She survived.


I knew the history of MOVE before I came to Philadelphia. Part of the reason I moved to Philly was MOVE. I was living in Portland, Oregon in 1998 and working with the Free Mumia Coalition. We planned a teach-in about Mumia, and about the prison industrial complex. We brought out two MOVE folks, Mario and Mike Africa, to be the featured speakers. They are both incredible speakers and human beings. Mike is the son of two members of the MOVE 9, whose parents were imprisoned as a result of a yearlong siege by the Philadelphia police.


The siege came to a head on Aug. 8, 1978. After the MOVE refused to leave the premises because of an unlawful eviction, Philly police cordoned off the entire neighborhood around the MOVE house for more than a year. The standoff turned to a bloody battle when a shot was fired. Cops say it was MOVE, but MOVE has evidence they say proves the shot did not come from MOVE's house (see my article in the Philadelphia City Paper: (< >). The police fired thousands of rounds into the house and dozens of tear gas canisters. When MOVE retreated to the basement, the police flooded the basement with water hoses. The brutal beating of MOVE member Delbert Africa by police was caught on tape. No officers were charged, because 2 police officers died in the shooting (ballistics raises reasonable suspicion it was from „friendly fireš), 9 MOVE members were sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. The residing judge at the time said he had „no ideaš who killed those two police officers.


Mike's parents were members of the MOVE 9, and Mike's mother was pregnant with him at the time. He was born in prison, and other than the couple of brief days that the MOVE women were able to conceal him from the guards; he has never spent more than a few hours with them in a prison visiting room.


Seeing Mike and Mario speak, hearing their energy, their passion, their utter commitment to what they believe is right, was incredibly moving. Despite the tragedies they have all suffered (I don't think there is one adult member of MOVE that has not spent at least 3 years in prison), they continue to struggle and to love, which is the incredible part to me. Their entire belief system is built on the premise of love of life.


So when I moved to Philadelphia, I expected∑ I don't know what, a city of MOVE people? Folks who are conscious and aware? To be involved and energized? Instead, I found that the conditions that made MOVE: crushing poverty, run down streets with burned out abandoned buildings, brutal fascistic cops, kowtowing uncle tom negroes in the government, an almost stagnant economy and ever shrinking job market, schools that are falling apart where children are being poisoned by the lead in the water, by the Ritalin from the nurses, and by the malevolent racism from their teachers.

Portland, Oregon, despite its proclaimed hype, has the same issues. Police brutality and shootings of people of color are commonplace when we only account for 3 percent of the population. Schools in communities of color are much more run down than in white communities.   As much as Portland wants to call itself the liberal bastion of the country, there is rampant racism and classism. However, because the communities of color are so small, it is not as pronounced as in a city the size of Philly, which are 70 percent people of color. And even where black neighborhoods in Portland are dilapidated, it is nothing compared to the war zones that are parts of North, West and South Philly.


Anywhere that black folks live in this country is a war zone, although the difference between low intensity warfare and an all out frontal assault is incredible.


20 years after the city of Philadelphia, with black Mayor Wilson Goode as their stooge, declared war not only on MOVE, but also on an entire black community, the people in that neighborhood still live with the repercussions. The city, wanting to cover up the murder of 11 people, quickly built projects on top of the ashes around 63rd and Osage. They did not let the ground settle and build shoddily on top of it. Those buildings are now collapsing. If you drive down the street, more than half of them are boarded over, empty, and you can see the ones left standing won't be for long. And what has the city done to right this wrong laid on top of horrendous wrong? We are still waiting for an answer, an answer that will not bespeak of their disdain for anyone black and working class.


20 years after the bombing, MOVE is still fighting against oppression and still working to free the MOVE 9, who have been locked down away from their families and loved ones and the nature that they hold so dearly for 27 years. 20 years later and MOVE is still raising children who at the age of 3 can call a pig a pig and are not scared because they know they have a family of people who will rise, struggle and fight for them.   20 years later and MOVE is still shouting to make sure that Philadelphia, and the world, despite how much they want to, won't shut their eyes and forget what happened to MOVE. They will not let us forget, and we must mourn and commemorate the day that justice burned alive.


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MOVE Bombing in 1985



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