Richard lives! More thoughts on my friend, Richard Aoki

by Mo Nishida

In an earlier statement, I said that Richard Aoki is and was my respected friend, comrade, mentor and crime partner. I received the feedback that I had used fine words but had given no examples to show what I meant. I accept that criticism and the following is my response:

From an early age, Richard was very conscious of his responsibility for his brother and, later in his life, taking care of his mama. In our Japanese (Jpse) culture, these family responsibilities are grouped under the term “oya koko,” familial loyalties and responsibilities, usually associated with parents. Many, like myself, are not good examples, but we know the real deal when we see it and can dig and respect the practitioner.

As a young man, as he studied, Richard’s curiosity took him into the world of the “left,” organizationally and academically. In fact, he was one of the most well-read dudes I knew. So much of the stuff he read, like Hegel, “Capital,” Bakunin etc., I had only heard of, except possibly Chairman Mao. He had studied and, more importantly, had thought seriously about what he had read and wanted to discuss it with anyone who was interested from a practical perspective.

By the time Richard got to Merritt College, he was a military veteran and a weapons expert. He could take apart an M-1 carbine, Garand, not to mention the famous 45 caliber pistol, and reassemble all of them blindfolded. That was the ideal or goal: blindfolded! I myself put in three years of active duty, two of them in the airborne division, and the best I could do was get skinned-up knuckles! I like to shoot ‘em, not clean ‘em. But that’s the dialectic: If you shoot, you gotta clean ‘em!

Richard also was an advocate of armed self-defense, not the militant pacifism that was so popular behind Saint Martin at the time. Made sense to me; I wouldn’t turn the other cheek. The teachings of Brother Malcolm X, “by any means necessary,” came to life in this era of the Deacons for Defense and Robert Williams’ chapter of the NAACP.

Many of us, in this era of segregation, lived shoulder to shoulder with Black folks, others with Brown and Red folks. Richard’s life was about developing Black-Yellow unity. When he went to UC Berkeley and helped found the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA), he advocated and built Asian Pacific unity. Through the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), he worked on unity among people of color and did not forget about white allies. He also promoted and practiced international solidarity. All the while, many if not most of us still lived, ate and breathed in our own ethnic communities and cultures.

For me, Asian hardcore was mostly Japanese. Ditto Community Workers Collective (CWC), as well as the East Wind Collective. I did “serve the people” work out of the Office of Asian Involvement of Japanese American Community Services (JACS-AI). But we also did coalition work with the KDP, a revolutionary Filipino youth group, with I Wor Kuen (IWK) and the Red Guards Party, which were mainly composed of Chinese youth, and Omai Fatasi, Samoan youth. We all were conscious of building Asian Pacific unity.

Richard’s life was about developing Black-Yellow unity.

In building Third World unity, we did support work with the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee; the Brown Berets (Chicana/o and Mexicana/o youth), Los Tres, the Chicana/o hi-school blow outs, and many new Afrikan revolutionary nationalist organizations, including the Panthers and the Free Huey campaign and with pre-NAPO celebrations of Malcolm’s and Uncle Ho Chi Min’s birthdays. Our international solidarity work included opposition to the Viet Nam war, apartheid in South Afrika and the Hands Off Cuba solidarity movement, to name a few. We were all on the same path: Unite the many, isolate the few, under Third World people of color leadership.

While Richard was at UC Berkeley as spokesperson for the Asian Amerikan Studies (AAS) Central Committee, far-reaching practices were initiated. One of the demands at both the San Francisco State strike and UC Berkeley’s was that university resources must serve our communities directly. AAS rented a house off campus, called it Ho Chi Min Hall and ran programs for the people of the community in the community itself.

The issue of student empowerment and democratic practices saw the student evaluation of instructors put into practice with teeth when a particularly arrogant instructor was not asked to come back on the recommendation of the students. In another revolutionary innovation, the whole payroll was collectivized and “survival pay” bottom-line was developed and implemented. The result? More people were able to be hired for the bucks coming in.

Richard left Berkeley at the height of his popularity and innovations. The school, UC Berkeley, was gearing up to fire him. They were bringing in another Japanese-American, an opportunist, who dismantled and ripped the guts out of the program in the name of “academic excellence” as opposed to “serve the people” and our community. Richard never took credit, always serving the Central Committee.

All those years in the community college system were summed up at his memorial service, where people of color, workers, students, both individuals and organizations, and community groups all came and paid tribute to a brotha. Richard showed, although not a part of a revolutionary collective, he could still “serve the people.” This was classic Mao, “lean to the left.” Many who took straight jobs only thought of their own survival and upward mobility; Richard showed that you could be principled and outspoken and still be respected by your peers.

This was shown in the series of meetings and gatherings since Diane Fujino’s book receptions and especially since the jerk’s attack, when many, many folks out of Richard’s past have come forth to honor the brotha. No one that I know of has attacked him or claimed they were injured by any of his actions.

So weigh the evidence: a long history with many friends and cohorts versus the FBI’s files and two old, run-down FBI agents. Still a no-brainer to me.

When Richard retired and hit the streets, he was still hip-deep in the peoples’ work. He was working with Yuri Kochiyama on promoting a general strike in the Bay opposing the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. We worked together promoting a national conference to see the effects of incarceration on our communities. It didn’t happen; we couldn’t generate support from the many newer Asian Pacific ethnic folks out there, who had other pressing needs and priorities that were more important.

Finally, Richard had the ability to talk to almost anyone and see revolutionary potential in all of its different disguises. It was always a joy for me to listen to him, and then to meet some of these folks was too cool. His “revolutionary morality” too was sometimes mistaken for the “nice Japanese man” stereotype. The topper is, of course, that he had mellowed and was charming, sincere, warm, witty and had a great sense of humor. Pretty charismatic? Damn right! 

Now that we’ve had a little time to think and look at the “big picture,” this is what it looks like to me:

To answer the question, “Why now?” Diane Fujino’s book was getting good reviews and her book tour was successful, especially in the Bay Area. The jerk devoted only a small segment of his book to Richard, yet he piggy-backed his book release to take advantage of the popularity of Diane’s book. His attack has obtained a full court press in the Bay Area – blasted by nearly every media outlet! Now who planned and financed all this? His publisher? Not! I don’t think so.

The man has used all opportunities to attack revolutionaries, people of color, workers, eco-fighters, sistas, anybody that stands up to the bullshit of the 1 percent. In the recent past, look at 9/11 and what did we get? The Patriot Act and other right-wing crap. Katrina, help for the people? Naw, we get ethnic cleansing. So why not use a wanna-be jerk to attack Richard and belittle and discredit our movement and people?

Our movement has been growing by leaps and bounds, not only here, everywhere. Why not take this chance given by the jerk to try and destroy the reputation of a people’s warrior, make our movement look untrustworthy, split ethnic communities. They can try and they sure as hell will try. But it ain’t gonna fly. Just as Richard represents the fighting spirit, warrior’s heart and the tradition of resistance to the repression of our people, there are youth and others out there who can see the okey-doke and will pick up the stick and the flame of eternal hope to beat the attack back.

All those years in the community college system were summed up at his memorial service, where people of color, workers, students, both individuals and organizations, and community groups all came and paid tribute to a brotha.

In closing, I hope that you can see what kind of cat the brotha was. A snitch? That white boy ain’t got no mama, ‘cause he sure ain’t got no soul. Richard lives!

Mo Nishida, a revolutionary activist in Los Angeles who has known Richard Aoki since the late 1960s, can be reached at

Tarika Lewis, first woman to join the Black Panther Party, on Richard Aoki: interview with Hyphen Magazine

Richard Aoki on growing up in West Oakland: interview by Wayie Ly of KPFA’s Apex Express in 2006, from Hyphen Magazine

Richard Aoki on his early political convictions: interview by Wayie Ly of KPFA’s Apex Express in 2006, from Hyphen Magazine

Richard Aoki on his changing political convictions: interview by Wayie Ly of KPFA’s Apex Express in 2006, from Hyphen Magazine

Richard Aoki on forming the Black Panther Party: interview by Wayie Ly of KPFA’s Apex Express in 2006, from Hyphen Magazine

Bobby Seale on getting to know Richard Aoki: interview by Hyphen Magazine recorded at EastSide Cultural Center

Bobby Seale on Richard Aoki and guns: interview by Hyphen Magazine recorded at EastSide Cultural Center

Diane Fujino on Richard Aoki’s evolving politics: interview with Hyphen Magazine