July 3:
Shutting Down the Liberty Bell for Mumia

Revolutionary Worker #1014, July 18, 1999

In a dramatic escalation of the fight to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 95 people were arrested on July 3 as they blockaded the entrances to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The action marked the 17th anniversary of the handing down of the death sentence on Mumia. The shutting down of the bell was part of a weekend of protest in which hundreds of people took part, including a hip hop show in a Black neighborhood and a demonstration that disrupted a ceremony attended by President Clinton. And throughout the weekend, 50 kids who volunteered for Philly Freedom Summer were out in the neighborhoods with the Face of Justice campaign.

The RW will have further coverage of the July 4th weekend in Philly. The following piece focuses on the civil disobedience action at the Liberty Bell. It was written by New York correspondent Debbie Lang and a writer from Philadelphia who is active in the movement to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Just before noon, participants and supporters gathered across the street from the Liberty Bell. People who planned to take part in the civil disobedience action addressed the crowd on a p.a. system. They exposed the injustices in Mumia's case and called on people to follow in the tradition of Rosa Parks. Shortly after noon they moved across the street to join others who had been waiting "undercover" in the line of tourists outside the entrance to the Liberty Bell pavilion.

In the largest civil disobedience action for Mumia yet, 95 people locked arms and blocked the doors. Some got inside and sat down in front of the bell. People threw their fists in the air and chanted "Brick By Brick, Wall By Wall, We're Gonna Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!" Their signs and banners demanded a stop to the execution, a new trial, an end to the death penalty.

Individuals from diverse backgrounds took part--many youth of different nationalities, college professors, revolutionary nationalists, members of many different political groups, gay and lesbian activists, people against the death penalty and others. Some came from as far away as Florida, Minnesota and California. The action was organized by the New York Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition. Those who supported it included Ossie Davis, David Dellinger, Pete and Toshi Seeger, Ani DiFranco, former political prisoner Dennis Brutus, Manning Marable, Herman Ferguson of the New Afrikan Liberation Front and former political prisoner and Puerto Rican independentista Rafael Cancel Miranda.

The Liberty Bell remained closed to tourists for over three hours as demonstrators, some of whom were chained together, were arrested one by one by U.S. Park Rangers. The last to be removed were two young people who had been perched the entire time on a high ledge of the building with a banner with the theme of the action: "Freedom Rings for Mumia!" Rangers had to bring in a forklift to get them down. The chants continued in the vans, despite the fact that police shut the doors and the air conditioning in 100 degree heat. People were in good spirits when they were released later that night, charged with "failure to obey a lawful order" with a maximum penalty of a $250 fine.

Through it all, police gathered intelligence on the demonstrators and tried to create unfavorable public opinion to counter the impact of the action. A few days before the action, representatives of the Philadelphia Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice visited organizers. At least three different police agencies videotaped the arrests and the other demonstrators who supported the civil disobedience action. The Philly cops also reached deep into their bag of dirty tricks and decided to concoct a "bomb scare." When a demonstrator tried to get her knapsack from behind a police barricade, she was refused permission to do so. The situation soon blossomed into absurdity as cops cleared the area, blocked off the street and brought in the bomb squad to check out the "suspicious" bag, which contained only a couple water bottles. Apparently they hoped that the press would jump on the "bomb" story en masse and lead people to associate Mumia supporters with "terrorism." A few broadcast reports did report the "bomb" story along with the coverage of the civil disobedience. But most did not. And the shutting down of the bell was widely covered locally and nationally, including on CNN. It made the front page of the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which showed a picture of protesters arrested in front of the bell.

A Freedom Summer volunteer, who was one of the people arrested at the bell, described the action this way: "Mumia has really inspired me and inspired my generation. What happens to Mumia determines the type of future world that we'll all live in. So I'm here as part of Freedom Summer to help try to ensure that the world that we all end up growing up into is a better place and is a place where the system can't get away with doing what they did to Mumia Abu-Jamal, where the system can't get away with framing people up, where we're all free to stand up and take a stand and where we're all free to voice our political views... We were united and we were all working together and we were all there together to shut down that symbol of supposed liberty.... It really said something in terms of what the system's in for. We're all pissed off. We all know that we aren't free."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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