By Debbie Lang
Revolutionary Worker #1005, May 9, 1999
The large plaza in front of Philadelphia City Hall was packed with people from many areas around the U.S. and even other countries. In 1982, inside this very building, Mumia was railroaded for the murder of a cop. Thousands of people overflowed into the streets, blocking traffic on major avenues in the center of the city all day and into the evening. There were anti-death penalty activists, members of trade unions, lawyers, religious leaders, and academics. The crowd was international, multinational and predominantly young. Students came from more than 100 colleges and high schools. A new generation of youth inspired by Mumia was definitely in the house!
After the main rally, there was a march followed by a second rally. There were so many people on the stages speaking out for Mumia, it's impossible to list them all here. Among the speakers were Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass; Pam Africa, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Julia Wright, representatives of the European Parliament and others from a 60-person delegation from France; Sam Jordan, Amnesty International USA; Zack de la Rocha, Rage Against the Machine; Dick Gregory; poet Sonia Sanchez; Tonya McClary, NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Bobby Castillo, speaking for political prisoner Leonard Peltier; Kathleen Cleaver and a group of sisters who were members of the Black Panther Party; former political prisoners Rafael Cancel Miranda and Geronimo ji Jaga; Robert Meeropol (son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg); Mumia's son Mazi; Carmen Vega and Margarita and Tony Rosario, whose children were murdered by the NYPD; Carl Dix, October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality; Ron Daniels, Center for Constitutional Rights; C. Clark Kissinger, Refuse & Resist! and Larry Holmes, Workers World Party. Solidarity statements came from Ossie Davis, Manning Marable, the Zapatistas in Mexico, former South African political prisoner Dennis Brutus, and Amiri and Ras Baraka.
Four feeder marches converged on City Hall. One went over the Ben Franklin Bridge from Camden, New Jersey. Another came from Temple University and a third from West Philly. And hundreds marched in a Black Power contingent organized by Herman Ferguson and the New Afrikan Liberation Movement. Led by "Drummers for Mumia," this contingent went through Mumia's old neighborhood and the projects in North Philadelphia. As they hit City Hall, Omowale Clay of the December 12th Movement said on a bullhorn, "We came to make a statement that Mumia Abu-Jamal comes from us and must be defended first and foremost in his community."
At 2:00 p.m. people moved into the street for a march through Center City--led by a MOVE banner with a quote from John Africa. There were large contingents of Latinos for Mumia, Asians for Mumia and Rainbow Flags for Mumia. A group of Black youth each held up one letter to spell the word R-E-L-E-A-S-E. There were signs protesting the U.S./NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. A large group of youth from Refuse & Resist! had a banner saying "Mumia's fearless, so are we, we won't stop until he's free!"
Anybody who happened to be in downtown Philadelphia shopping or sightseeing could not miss the march. The chanting echoed off the buildings on the narrow streets: "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we're gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal!" There was a great response from people on the streets. Tourists got literature from people in the march, Black folks on the sidewalks joined in the chants and many drivers honked their horns in support.
For weeks, activists across the country worked hard to spread the word about April 24. They held protests, teach-ins and video showings in their schools and neighborhoods. On April 7 youth activists held press conferences in a number of cities. At the demonstrations against the police murder of Amadou Diallo in New York, signs and banners announcing April 24 were everywhere.
As the momentum grew, Mumia was mentioned more frequently in the media, spreading the word about his case to millions. In the New York Times a police union ad complained about Mumia while attacking people protesting the shooting of Amadou Diallo. Mumia was mentioned in Spin magazine; in a Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial; in a Washington Times article about graffiti; and a piece in the Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record. He was on the cover of the spring-summer issue of Covert Action Quarterly. Zack de la Rocha spoke at the UN's International Commission of Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland about Mumia's case and the death penalty in the U.S. His statement made headlines in newspapers across the U.S. and Europe and was featured on MTV.
In an attempt to stop the demonstration, Philadelphia police officials told organizers that they would only allow a "ceremonial parade" of 500 people. Pam Africa responded that the march would go on with or without permission from the city. The authorities then tried to stop a rap show for Mumia at Love Park on the night of April 23. (Love Park is a favorite youth hangout, and the cops constantly harass the kids and homeless people there.) Again, the organizers refused to back down and declared that the show would go on as planned.
Monica Moorehead from Millions for Mumia called on people to flood Mayor Ed Rendell and other officials with letters of protest. In France Danielle Mitterand, wife of former President Francois Mitterand, held a press conference denouncing the city's threats. A poster war raged across Philadelphia--Mumia supporters covered the area with calls for the demonstration while police squads tried to rip them down. By April 16, the city was forced to back down. A few days later, there was an all-day call-in radio talk show about Mumia's case on WHAT-AM. Philadelphia newspapers ran news of the demonstration on the front page. And the city even announced it would run extra trains to accommodate the protesters.
On April 23, the Black Congressional Caucus released a statement saying: "There were numerous questionable rulings during his trial that raise the issue of whether there were violations of due process.... It is apparent that these rulings were not accidental.... No fewer than 19 instances of unconstitutional error and legal impropriety have been documented in this trial, including the use of Abu-Jamal's political affiliation as evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial.... Justice demands that the federal court system take a fresh look at the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal."
At the demonstration, everywhere I looked I saw young faces. They jammed the literature tables to get information about Mumia's case and other injustices. Some had walked out of their schools despite threats of suspension and arrest. Others were just beginning to check out Mumia's case. Many were at their first demonstration. Most told me they are determined to do whatever it takes to stop the execution.
As the feeder marches made their way to the center of Philadelphia, there was a speakout at the youth stage. Hundreds of kids packed in to listen and network with each other. Leslie Jones of Youth for Mumia emceed. A guy from the Bruderhof Christian community spoke about the Children's Crusade to Death Row. A brother from the Nation of Islam in North Carolina brought words of support. An activist from Montreal called Mumia's case a "humanitarian crime." Russell Maroon Shoats III talked about the many political prisoners of different nationalities in U.S. jails, including his own father. Hundreds of kids followed his call and response: "What are we here to do? Free Mumia!"
A 25-year-old Black woman from Philly said: "I'm here because I'm tired of living a fucking lie. I'm here because I was birthed into a world that is not fair, that is not just. Global white supremacy keeps us oppressed. As a woman it keeps me marginalized, and as a human being it keeps me stifled and fearful and angry.... I'm here because the powers-that-be said that this was not supposed to happen, that Black people and white people and Asian people and brown people and yellow people were not supposed to get together and recognize that we have a common fucking enemy."
Justice Williams, a transgender activist from Boston, represented Rainbow Flags for Mumia. Hunter College students did a rap, and many kids who took the stage read their poetry. The New York City based band Ricanstruction took the mike before their set: "We're going to try to be loud enough to be heard at SCI Greene [Pennsylvania maximum security prison where Mumia is on death row]! This is a party, but this is a party for the right to fight." They played a song about Mumia and cuts from their new CD "Abu Jamal." A MOVE youth with the group Seeds of Wisdom said: "We gonna send a loud message to the system that we will not allow them to kill our brother Mumia Abu-Jamal." Another MOVE youth told kids, "The people need to come together as one and fight this system. Because if we don't do it, ain't nobody gonna do it. The people got the power and we need to show that power. We need to get up and take a stand and fight this rotten ass system. On the move! Long Live John Africa!"
Jana spoke for the Youth Network of Refuse & Resist!: "We don't want a future where Black and Latino youth are criminalized, warehoused in jails, shot down by the boys in blue...where they put more money into prisons than into building schools... where women have to face down virulent attacks to go to an abortion clinic and exercise their reproductive freedom. We don't want to live in a world where gay people get tortured and murdered, where a Black man in Texas is dragged to his death....Mumia's an example that you can stand up and fight against that.... inspired a whole generation to step forward.... Mumia Abu-Jamal is not alone on death row. He's got all of our dreams, all of our futures sitting on death row with him. And that's why they want to execute him. They want to make an example that we can't step out, we can't be like him. But we can."
Leading up to April 24, many youth across the country did step out to turn their schools into centers of struggle against Mumia's execution. I talked to a few of the kids from New York's LaGuardia High School. One told me, "Mumia represents the injustice that goes on in America and racism and classism...he represents each one of us." Many spoke of the need for their generation to carry on the struggle of Mumia's generation: "We need to make a stand right now and carry on the fight. We have to take it on ourselves to do something. We can't just stand by and let this happen."
I met two girls from Germantown Friends School, a private Quaker high school in Philadelphia. They tried to organize a walkout in their school but were stopped by school authorities. So they made a banner saying "Germantown for Mumia" and took it out to the Black neighborhood around their school. They got hundreds of signatures on the banner, which they plan to send to Mumia. One of the girls told me, "At first people were, like, what's up with this? What are these white kids doing?...I think at first they were mistrusting of us. Once we spent a few more days in the neighborhood, we started talking to the kids more, actually about white people fighting for Black rights and Black causes, and how they felt about that and how we felt about that, and it was really interesting." Her friend said, "I think Mumia really touches kids because he really respects kids. I think he really fights for kids. He speaks up about a lot of things all of us deal with on a daily basis, with police brutality, racism, classism, homophobia. He's a real fighter, and he's a real fighter for us. We don't want to see a man killed just because of his political beliefs. And we're going to do everything we can to stop it."
I caught up with Seven, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade. She had just come from the fight to stop the eviction and demolition of the RCYB house near the Cabrini Green projects in Chicago. She said, "We had to stand up for low-income housing, for public housing--not let people just be homeless. Cause people can't be pushed down like that. And the whole reason Mumia's on death row so long and why they want him so bad is because he's never backed down from standing for the people. He's always been there for oppressed people.... He knows at heart that it's going to be the people who are going to free him, and he knows the people are behind him."
There were a number of school walkouts on April 16 and 23. They were all opposed by school officials, and cops were called in many cases. In the Boston area hundreds of students walked out at F.A. Day Middle School in Newton, and there were walkouts at Quincy High School, North Quincy High School and Weymouth Junior High. Students at Uniontown High in western Pennsylvania and Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota also walked out. At Weymouth High School 200 to 300 students tried to, but were stopped by local and state police, teachers and administrators. In some schools, student leaders were detained by school officials and police.
One Quincy High School student may be prevented from graduating because he led a walkout. He told me, "There were kids at Weymouth Junior High that had to run out of school because it was so strict over there. But they got out.... It wasn't a walkout, it was a run out. They all ran for the woods.... We opened up eyes in the suburban communities. We haven't had walkouts since the Vietnam War. All of a sudden this comes out--people are going to be like hey, there's something really serious going on here." At the youth stage he said: "I'm going to educate all my friends about Mumia, about the death penalty and how evil it is and how murderous it is and how corrupt this government is. We're not going to let them get us. Don't let them get you down. We're powerful. We outnumber them. On the move, people! Free Mumia!"
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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