Mumia Speaks at Antioch Graduation

Revolutionary Worker #1054, May 14, 2000

At the end of March, seniors at Antioch College in Ohio announced that they had asked political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal to deliver their commencement address on April 29. This sent all kinds of reactionary forces into a frenzy. The National FOP, Maureen Faulkner (the widow of the cop Mumia is convicted of killing), and the National Association for the Advancement of White People (!) said they would mobilize 2,000 people to protest the graduation. The media in Ohio ran front page articles, attacking the students. And there were e-mail threats and obscene phone calls. The controversy raised the issue of Mumia to tens of thousands more people, with many outraged at the attempts to censor Mumia's voice.

On the day of the graduation, people came to Antioch from cities all over Ohio--including Columbus, Dayton, Cleveland, and Oberlin. About a dozen students came from Kent State, where students had invited Mumia to speak on May 4 for the 30th anniversary commemoration honoring the students killed by National Guard troops during protests against the Vietnam War in 1970. Families that had attended commencements at Wilberforce and Central State, two Black colleges nearby, drove to Antioch to hear Mumia speak.

We received the following report from C. Clark Kissinger, who attended the graduation: P>One thousand seats were filled, while hundreds of other students, friends, and family stood all around the outdoor event. The fire escape of the building behind the podium was filled with students and festooned with colorful pro-Mumia flags sent to the Antioch students by the Hawaii chapter of Refuse & Resist! And 150 yards away several hundred sullen counter protesters stood behind a tape barrier.

For weeks various cop organizations had been trying to intimidate Antioch into dropping the invitation of the graduating class to Mumia Abu-Jamal to be their commencement speaker. But the Antioch students and administration stood firm, supported by hundreds of Yellow Springs, OH, residents who rallied to the school's defense and provided yellow-shirted monitors around the commencement ceremony.

Several nights before, the white-supremacist "National Alliance" had stuffed mailboxes in Yellow Springs with racist literature. Michael Smerconish, a Philadelphia talk-show host and former aide to the late racist Mayor Frank Rizzo, set up shop in a local bar and broadcast his program from there. And Maureen Faulkner made the rounds of the local media.

Because of the great debate over Mumia speaking, Antioch offered its facilities to both sides for an equal time debate with a neutral moderator. The FOP, Maureen, Smerconish, Lynn Abraham, and Dan Flynn all refused to debate. So with empty chairs left for the FOP side, Rosemari Mealy, Clark Kissinger, Mark Taylor, and Pam Africa presented the case for a new trial to an overflow audience several hours before the commencement.

Because Mumia could not be present, Antioch students asked author Leslie Feinberg to address the commencement as well, and Leslie's speech provided an excellent introduction to the case for the broad audience of families of the graduates.

When the big moment came, the president of Antioch invited those who disagreed with Mumia speaking to stand and turn their backs. As the tape began to role, 9 people stood and turned away and one graduating senior walked out. When the tape was finished, over 1,000 gave a prolonged standing ovation to Mumia's remarks.

By this time, the several hundred counterdemonstrators had melted away. A number of graduating seniors addressed the audience, including the one senior who had opposed Mumia speaking. The sentiment for justice for Mumia was so overwhelming that he could not even mention Mumia's name, and called instead for a moment of silence for Daniel Faulker. This produced quite an outbreak of coughing in the audience.

As the seniors came up one by one to get their diplomas, a half-dozen sported bright green Mumia stickers on their clothing. Once again, the spirit of youth demanding justice had prevailed.

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