As the essays in this book eloquently reveal, she gave all of herself to the movement to free political prisoners. She was especially committed to her fellow Panthers, who have received the longest sentences and have faced the stiffest opposition to their release. She watched too many people die--from police violence, white racism (one of her BLA comrades was stomped to death in front of her by store owners in Virginia), intra-movement conflict, and imprisonment--to give anything less.
Safiya, as the book so perfectly captures, was an organizer, not a martyr. The book is a wonderful expression of all of these aspects of Safiya. It is, above all, a deeply human book. With passion and humility, Safiya was self-critical of how the movement's weaknesses enabled state repression to tear the movement apart. She routinely challenged the ways radicals perpetuated such violence, rejecting self-righteousness or posturing while remaining focused on the greater violence carried out by the government. She asked that social justice movements get smarter and more compassionate in their efforts. In this book, as she did in life, she eloquently describes how the movement needed to overcome the post-traumatic stress disorder that was the legacy of the internal and external violence that befell the Panthers and other revolutionary movements. In capturing the arc of her life's work, this book is a manual for long-haul radical struggle.
"The War Before" deserves a wide audience--by activists and academics, history buffs and political neophytes. It is a fantastic contribution to the burgeoning history of the Black Panthers, all too rare in its grassroots spirit and emphasis on (re)building movements strong enough not just to withstand state violence but to overcome our own egotism and individualism. It is one of few books by a woman member of the Black Panthers, and we see her trajectory from community service provider to revolutionary organizer, along with the many steps in between. Following Bukhari's path enables us to tease out the legacy of the Black Panthers, from organizing inside America's ever-growing prison system to the myriad battles for racial and economic justice in the twenty-first century. Her writings are both passionate and practical in their emphasis on movement building and freedom for those behind bars. To top it off, the stunning introduction by anti-racist activist and former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn brought tears to my eyes, weaving together her own story with Safiya's in a model example of Amilcar Cabral's dictum, "tell no lies, claim no easy victories." Such expressions of honesty and humility are perhaps the greatest legacy that Bukhari, in her life and through this book, left us.