What's at Stake for the People?

by C. Clark Kissinger

Revolutionary Worker #1003, April 25, 1999

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court (PSC) has now turned down the appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal for a new trial. Mumia is a lifelong political activist, a Black man, a writer, a father, and a revolutionary. Falsely convicted of the first degree murder of a police officer, he has continued for over 16 years to wield his pen in the interests of the people--from death row. His case has become a momentous legal, political, and moral struggle that concentrates some of the most burning issues of the day.

In recent years his legal team has compiled a court record that shows conclusively that Mumia's 1982 "trial" was a travesty of justice. Yet on October 30--"mischief night"--the PSC released its unanimous decision. By rejecting a new and fair trial for Mumia, the Pennsylvania high court has now sent this case hurtling onto a new, faster, and more dangerous course.


There is a growing consensus in the halls of power on a political program of criminalizing Black youth, using prisons and death chambers to "solve" the problems of poverty and social breakdown, and the use of police powers to suppress radical or revolutionary opposition. Mumia has become a pole around which opposition to this program is gathering, precisely because of his uncompromising resistance to this whole agenda.

Earlier this year I wrote: "I want to stress that the legal aspect of our struggle... is a critical arena for this struggle, but it is also their arena, run by their rules. The people are going to fight in that arena, but we also have a broader arena where WE set some of the rules. It is very important that we not ignore the critical moment when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules, and think `Oh, it doesn't mean much, there's going to be a stay and more appeals.' On the contrary, a negative decision would signal a political decision to go for Mumia's execution, and he will immediately be into the speeded-up federal execution mill.... [If that happens] we must be prepared to take the struggle to a whole new level."

That assessment holds even more true today. In the last year our movement HAS grown, with events like the People's Tribunal, major street demonstrations, Philly Freedom Summer, the full-page ad in the New York Times, concerts and the hundreds of local programs that have taken place. The battle to save Mumia increasingly rallies a new alliance of the Black community, the youth, prominent people and major organizations from religious, immigrant, anti-death penalty, civil liberties, and legal communities. And increasingly Mumia's voice is heard among the most oppressed, those with "nothing to lose." But at the same time we must soberly assess that we are still not at the level where the government feels that it would be simply too dangerous for it to proceed with its vicious plan to execute Mumia.

So we have to think about what it really means to "take the struggle to a whole new level." It means that Mumia's case must become the unavoidable topic of talk shows and radio call-ins, of debates and columns in newspapers, in the arts and major cultural events, of campus teach-ins, of union resolutions, and in religious gatherings. It means that Mumia's name has to be so well known that millions are following the debate and the struggle over his case. It means that elected public officials, major social and religious organizations, and prominent figures cannot avoid taking a stand. Because today, where you stand on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is the benchmark of where you stand on social justice. People have to be compelled to speak to this.

There also has to be a rising storm of determined actions. Is there not something to be learned from the prominent politicians and artists who were arrested for sitting before the doors of the South African embassy, from the religious activists who sheltered refugees from Central America in defiance of the law, from the parents of those murdered by the police who take the battle right to the precinct doors, from the students who took over campus buildings, held teach-ins, and refused to let "business as usual" proceed during the Gulf War, and from the way the people of Los Angeles refused to accept the verdict freeing the cops who beat Rodney King?

All this is what it means to raise our movement to the breadth, diversity and determination that is required. It is up to the people to make justice happen. The time is now.
From "Justice Denied" November 5, 1998

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)