Report from Jericho '98
Revolutionary Worker #951, April 5, 1998"This is a dream come true for many brothers and sisters who are behind those walls, who for years have struggled to try and get the message out to everyone that this country does in fact have political prisoners and prisoners of war."
Geronimo Ji Jaga, former political prisoner, at the Jericho 98
Their only crime is that they dared to rise up, dared to fight against oppression. They are deprived of their freedom, cut off from their families and comrades, locked up in the punishment cells and sensory deprivation units of this system. And, in an additional outrage, their very existence is denied by the government of the United States. "We have no political prisoners," the U.S. rulers say--while their judges and jailers and parole boards slam the thick steel prison doors on dozens and dozens of men and women who are held for their beliefs and actions in the cause of liberation.
The names of some of these brothers and sisters are known and painted on the walls of the ghettos, barrios and reservations. There is Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Leonard Peltier, Sundiata Acoli, the MOVE 9, the 15 Puerto Rican independence fighters, and many more.
On March 27, the day of Jericho 98, the names and stories of these imprisoned brothers and sisters were raised in the streets of Washington, before the halls of power.
Thousands of people gathered from all over the country to demand that the U.S. government stop its hypocrisy--that this government admit that it holds political prisoners--and to demand that these fighters be freed to walk again in the sunshine among the people.
March 27 was a fine day.
Word about this Jericho movement had spread--through the hard work of many activists, by word of mouth, and over the Internet. Between 5,000 and 7,000 people took part during the course of the day. They came from Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Kansas, Nebraska, Montreal, Hawaii, Minnesota, Orlando, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Standing there, looking over the crowd, it was so easy to feel hopeful and proud. Some people say that the fighters in prison are forgotten, some people say that the oppressed of different nationalities and colors can't unite, some people say this generation doesn't care about liberation--but such people shoulda been there with us in DC for Jericho 98. Because on that day, the streets of the system's capital saw a march filled with students and youth of all nationalities, marching together, fast and spirited--taking in the nods of older activists--taking their stand with the political prisoners and with the liberation struggle. They came from New York's Hunter College and Columbia University in New York; North Carolina's Appalachia College and the University of Colorado. And there were the high school students of DC--who had ditched their classes that day to stand with the struggle.
Thousands gathered in Malcolm X Park, and when they took off there was no mistaking what this was about. Pictures of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier were held high for all to see. And with them the faces of the Puerto Rican fighters and the many other political prisoners. And freshly painted on the wall as we passed--"Free All Political Prisoners!"
What a mix this day created! Different revolutionary currents and radical trends marched together. A banner demanding freedom for Leonard Peltier was carried by members of a Native American contingent organized by Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt. Youth from the Christian-pacifist Bruderhof dressed in their traditional blues marched next to Puerto Rican independentistas demanding freedom for their jailed comrades and their colonialized country. Refuse & Resist! was there, and the Asians for Jericho. A contingent from the Revolutionary Communist Party/Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade was there to support the prisoners. Other contingents included the Nation of Islam, Workers World Party, Anti-Racist Action and a number of anarchist groups. The movement to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal made a strong showing.
Like Joshua at the legendary battle of Jericho, the marchers circled the citadel of their foes--marching around the White House several times blasting their message.
*****"Jericho is important because the United States government has for decades been able to avoid that issue by saying that they have no political prisoners."
New Afrikan Liberation Front
In Lafayette Park, Chief Billy Tyac opened the rally, in the name of the Piscataway people who originally inhabited this area. "This is Piscataway Indian land," he said. "I wish to welcome everyone who came here today to fight for the political prisoners."
Esperanza Martel from Pro Libertad declared: "Being a revolutionary is not a crime!" And over the next few hours, people took the platform to read the names of the political prisoners, to perform cultural works in their honor and to denounce the government that unjustly keeps them imprisoned. Many of those who spoke were themselves former political prisoners--and several times, the crowd pressed forward to carefully listen to what they had to say.
The two co-organizers of Jericho 98 spoke: Herman Ferguson and Safiyah Bukhari. Other speakers included: Lavina White, elder of the Haida Nation in British Columbia, Canada; Angela Davis; Chokwe Lumumba, Chairperson, New African Peoples Organization; former political prisoner Dr. Alan Berkman; Dennis Banks, American Indian Movement; Rev. Lucius Walker; Pam Africa, International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia; Ali Bey Hassan, Panther 21; Kathleen Cleaver; Ramona Africa of MOVE; Benjamin Mohammed (Ben Chavis) for the Nation of Islam; Julia Wright, journalist; Bob Doyle, lawyer for Dhoruba bin Wahad and other political prisoners; Fred Ho, musician and activist; Imari Obadele, Republic of New Afrika; Attorney Michael Tarif Warren; and newly freed political prisoner Geronimo Ji Jaga. Family members of several political prisoners spoke, and representatives of several prisoner defense committees.
Long-time activist Yuri Kochiyama was honored from the stage. And statements were read from former political prisoners Assata Shakur and Dhoruba bin Wahad, and from Silvia Baraldini, who is still held in U.S. prison.
In a message to the march, RCP spokesperson Carl Dix wrote: "We have to raise public awareness of the situation of these political prisoners to a whole new level. We have to let our oppressors know that they can't get away with criminalizing and isolating these fighters against the system."
March 27--JERICHO 98 in Washington --on this day thousands demanded amnesty for the political prisoners, and sent a message of support to the imprisoned fighters that we have their backs, we are spreading the word about their situation and we are fighting for their freedom.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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