Revolutionary Worker #1115, August 19, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
The RW received the following correspondence from a member of the RCYB in Philly who participated in this year’s Philly Freedom Summer:
The infamous Rizzo years of vicious repression and police brutality; the savage 1985 bombing of the MOVE organization on Osage Avenue; the mass imprisonment of 420 protesters at last year’s Republican National Convention, and the frame-up of revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal--WELCOME TO PHILADELPHIA!
The city, properly named the "Deep North" by Philly Freedom Summer volunteers of the past, a city that oozes the reactionary agenda out of its every pore, was descended upon by almost 50 determined youth from across the country (and the world) from July 23 to August 3, all coming to participate in the 7th annual Philly Freedom Summer.
As a response to the signing of Mumia’s first death warrant in 1995, Refuse & Resist! put out a national call for youth to come to Philadelphia and help get Mumia off of death row and today, the U.S. government is still trying to execute Mumia. For seven years, young people have continued to organize and strengthen this project, and this year volunteers came from Hawai’i, Connecticut, Seattle, L.A., Boston, New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Germany, Canada, Philadelphia and more. We came to Philly to do outreach, engage in debates, struggle, listen, speak out, march and learn more about Mumia and the city where he was born, politicized and railroaded. And for two weeks, we were busy!
The first night of PFS was orientation, where all the volunteers gathered for the first time to talk about our political orientation, the goals of PFS and the guidelines. Some people were veterans of the struggle around Mumia, others had more recently learned about Mumia’s case and had been inspired to join the battle
There was eager anticipation as we started getting to know each other. You didn’t know that the person sitting next to you wrote dope graffiti and grew up on a farm in Connecticut. Or that people had come all the way from Hawai’i, or that there were people who were raised in Philly, and had grown up hearing Mumia’s name in the news, or that you were sitting next to a veteran from the WTO protests in Seattle who was inspired by the volunteers from last year and who made it a priority to come this year for the whole time. Or that there were people here from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, one of whom grew up in Brooklyn and came because he was eager to talk about how he sees Mumia’s case as an indictment of this whole system. Or that there was someone who was able to come from Minneapolis, because the local Mumia coalition had raised money for the trip.
And more people were coming! Everyone was dying to meet the two youth from Students Active for Mumia in Hamburg, Germany who were gonna bring tales of the demonstrations they have there for Mumia--8,000 strong in Berlin. Some youth from a Flying Squad responsible for taking out the Draft Programme of the RCP in this area were gonna be flying through--to take part in PFS, take the DP out to proletarian neighborhoods in Philly, and talk with the youth about the possibility of tearing down this system once and for all. Someone from outside of Boston who found out about R&R! and Mumia from the Rage Against the Machine website was gonna arrive later in the week. And the list of possible volunteers yet to arrive was still in flux.
During orientation, we got deep into the politics and history of PFS--how PFS was inspired by Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964 when over 1,000 youth traveled to the south to register Black people to vote. We talked about how Philadelphia is the battleground around Mumia’s case. And as one of the volunteers from Hamburg said, "Being in Philly is like being in the cave of the lion!" The true depth of the case shined through as we went over the politics of why people are inspired by Mumia, and how through the goals of PFS we were going to make an impact on this city and the movement as a whole.
M is a little older than the rest of the PFS volunteers. She’s an old family friend of Mumia’s and helped raise his children and stepchildren after he was sentenced to death. She talked about what it was like when he was free--before a lot of us were even born! She was inspired by us. When she walked into the meeting, she said, "Imagine you’ve got a family problem and you walk into a room full of unknown faces working to help solve the same problem." And we were inspired by her! She shared images of Mumia standing on his front porch with his son Mazi on his shoulders with a pot of beans and rice for his kids. We all envisioned Mumia as a free man who spoke his mind regardless of the personal risk because the future was too important not to--and he’s spent 20 years on death row for it. M’s story moved many of us to tears, and we all felt the burning urgency to get Mumia back on the streets with us.
Towards the end of the evening, Pam Africa spoke. Pam heads up International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia and introduced herself as the Minister of Confrontation of the MOVE organization. The volunteers were excited to meet her and see her speak in person. She talked about Freedom Summer in years past, the great work and legacy of it, and how the authorities have seen it as a real threat. And she spoke about the importance of the youth in the growing movement for Mumia and in changing the world overall and made us recognize the importance of the work we’d be doing.
That night, we divided up into two squads, with a third ready to form for the second week. One squad was in Germantown, a mostly Black proletarian neighborhood and the "base" for PFS over the years. The other was on 52nd Street in West Philly. The 52nd Street crew were gonna be staying in a storefront in the heart of Philly’s main Black shopping district. There were four squad leaders to start with, two responsible for leading each squad and all coming together to share experiences, and to strategize at squad leader meetings. Finally, there were five people who rotated through both squads and were responsible for leading the project as a whole.
Right after orientation, the squad leaders said goodnight to their squads and joined the leading team for a meeting. This was our first opportunity to sit down together and discuss the project. We talked about the importance of outreach, the impact of Mumia’s case and really grappled with whether or not we thought we could win this battle. The meeting went until 4 a.m. and we left with a plan to be up at 9 a.m., ready to start our first squad meeting at 10 a.m.
Why are we here?
In the morning squad meetings we went around the room and talked about why Mumia is important to us and why we had come to PFS. And there were many different answers to the question. One guy saw how fucked up things are for Black people today and saw Mumia’s case as an example of that. A young woman talked about how she sees the crucial importance of Mumia’s case and wanted to be able to run with some youth who felt like she did. Another young woman talked about being from a place where people didn’t really know about Mumia. She wanted to come to Philly, ground zero, and find out what people here thought. Someone talked about being a young journalist, and how he felt a kindred spirit in Mumia--a writer who refuses to back down from the truth. And a young woman talked about how she saw Mumia as a revolutionary leader who embodies the highest interests of the people, inspires them to fight for those interests, and as a revolutionary leader must be defended.
By the end of our discussion, we were all antsy to start our first day of outreach.
Outreach is the heart of Freedom Summer because without the people, we cannot win! Going out to the people in the communities like the one Mumia came from, talking with them about Mumia’s case and learning from the first-hand experience of the people whose lives are echoed in the words of Mumia is the most important part of PFS. The people know about repression, police brutality, racial profiling, welfare cuts and corruption. They live in this city and most remember former mayor Frank Rizzo and his notorious brutal style of governing. And they know Mumia.
This year, we planned to continue the Face of Justice campaign--where we go door-to-door and ask people to put up a poster of Mumia with the slogan "Stop the Execution" in the windows of their homes and businesses. The FOJ campaign is powerful because it gives concrete expression to the community support for Mumia and gives people a way to take a stand collectively.
One of the great strengths of the PFS volunteers was their eagerness to be among the community and take out the FOJ poster. All these youth came to PFS from all over because they are inspired by Mumia, by his life and words. And as each day progressed, the volunteers were challenged with how to really engage people and dig into the politics around Mumia’s case. PFS volunteers were transformed by going out and talking to people in the neighborhoods, struggling with their own understanding of the case, and thinking about how Mumia inspired them and how that same knowledge has the potential to inspire others. The volunteers begin to understand much more how one man’s life is wrapped around all our futures. And through talking to the people of Philly, the determination to see Mumia free deepened.
A volunteer from Seattle said, "Doing outreach I met a cabdriver that worked with Mumia. I met a family friend that knew him and just all the stories that people have to share, just what people really felt at the time. I think that made it hit home and really forged why we’re fighting for this and why we’re all here… the response has been really positive. A lot of people have stories to tell about Mumia. The support for Mumia is huge in this town. And hearing stories from people made it all the more real."
That sentiment was repeated by many of the volunteers. We all hear a lot about the injustices in Mumia’s case, but hearing about and getting a picture of the lives of the people in Philly made clear his importance to the community. Another volunteer from Hamburg said, "I learned a lot about how the people of Philly are living. I’ve learned a lot from reading and hearing about it. But it’s so far away. Then I was here and I actually saw what’s going on. I can imagine what a normal day of the people here looks like--their experience with police brutality, their friend that got shot and these are the normal things that happen every day. And realizing that this is the reality gave me more of a strong determination to fight it."
Act Your Rage
Cultural events in Germantown are few and far between. This is one of those forgotten neighborhoods--when streetlights break, they stay broken and crack vials litter the sidewalk. We wanted to give a space for the forgotten generation in this forgotten place, we wanted to amplify the people’s voices and hear each other loud and clear.
On Friday night, we held our Act Your Rage at the Germantown YWCA, a progressive community center. Act Your Rage is an opportunity for people to have a space where they can safely speak out against the injustices in society and in particular, the problems they face in their communities. For this Act Your Rage, we kept the focus on the issues surrounding Mumia and his case. The night was filled with poetry, spoken word, ciphers, and people just speaking from their heart. With DJs JB and Nonsense on the 1’s and 2’s, several Germantown youth freestyled about life as Black youth, the importance of Mumia and why we all must organize behind him.
Community Speakout in West Philly
Saturday was a big day for the 52nd Street squad. It was the day of the speakout at Malcolm X Park, and all the PFS volunteers were coming to take part. They hauled out fresh lemonade, bottles of water and hung a beautiful banner that the youth from Germany brought that demanded Justice for Mumia. In less than 10 minutes, everyone in the park was holding a Face of Justice poster.
The RCYB marched into the park in formation, waving a big red flag and chanting, "Live for the people, die for the people, fight for the people, power to the people!" A sister from the Student/Youth Network of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation in L.A. and a brother from R&R! Hawai’i MCed the speakout. They talked about why we were there and called on people to step forward to tell their stories. A statement was read from the October 22nd Coalition, from the parents of victims of police murder, linking the fight for Mumia to the fight to stop police murder. Then different people got up to speak out against police brutality, racism, attacks on gays and other kinds of oppression the people face. PFS volunteers spoke about the importance of the struggle to free Mumia and shared their experiences in taking this struggle out to the community. And people from the neighborhood voiced their anger against police brutality and spoke about what it’s like to be Black in Amerikkka. We ended the day with a powerful chant: "Mumia’s fearless, so are we! We won’t stop until he’s free!!"
Germantown March and Barbecue
This is the seventh year that PFS has gone out in Germantown and, in a lot of ways, it feels like coming home. People recognize us and are always glad to see that we’re still fighting and that we continue to come back every year.
Tuesday night, we were walking through the familiar streets of Germantown and I started talking to a woman who’d put up a FOJ poster in her window for several years. She and I reminisced about the past PFS activities--like the ’99 community march (on the hottest day of the year!) and the time the shorties down the block painted a banner that said, "Mumia’s Fearless, So Are We!" We laughed about how she sprayed her hose on us during that march to cool us off from the heat. She talked about how much it gave her heart to see us coming back every year to stand up for Mumia, this community and for our future. The people of Gtown remember our marches in the past with a glimmer in their eye and several people talked about how they like how we take to the streets--something that rarely happens in this neighborhood.
We decided to pull together a community march and barbecue. We were outraged at the federal judge’s recent denial to hear new evidence in Mumia’s case and wanted to put out the word that Mumia himself will be in court on August 17.
We began at Vernon Park and wound down Chelten Ave. (the main shopping street in Gtown), stopping traffic along the way. We charged down a small residential street with Mumia’s face (on FOJ posters) peering out at us from lots of the houses along the way. We ended up at an empty lot where people from the neighborhood joined us for a cookout.
We hung a banner that asked "Whose future will you fight for?" with a drawing of George W. Bush as king executioner surrounded by klansmen, cowboys, Darth Vader and the like on one side. On the other side was a bunch of rowdy youth carrying a banner with Mumia’s face. This was our answer to that question. We were fighting for and celebrating the future that Mumia and this entire new generation represents!
We CAN Live Differently
Throughout these two weeks, it became very clear that things don’t have to be the way they are today--that we actually can live differently. And we saw that come to life during Philly Freedom Summer. A woman from L.A. pointed out that "It wasn’t like the women were always forced to do the cooking and the cleaning. We had the men and the women in the kitchen cooking and cleaning together. We had charts out--who’s gonna do dishes, clean up, sweep and cook throughout the week." But none of that came easy and it required some struggle to bring it into being.
All day, we were out on the streets together, fighting one of the most important battles of our generation, and at night we’d come home, eat dinner together and stay up all night discussing major questions about what our futures could look like and how we’re gonna get there. And in the middle of all this, there were nights when the leading team and the squad leaders would meet until 4 a.m. to go back to the PFS goals and assess every step of the way. There was an exciting and exhausting mix of outreach, discussion and debate. One of the squad leaders said, "Just working in the squads was a really amazing experience for me. It wasn’t anything like I expected. I expected we’d all be in the same place but actually, the dynamics of it... Us having to share such small spaces but also working collectively, cooking collectively, living collectively. It was just amazing and just a little small taste of the future we want."
Something we all learned from our two weeks at Philly Freedom Summer was the need for all kinds of people to step forward around this case, and every day of PFS we saw the basis to do that.
A volunteer from Canada talked about how he felt participating in PFS: "Even though you don’t get much sleep, don’t get much to eat and it can be kind of rough on your body for a while... for me, it’s like an energizer. It’s such a morale boost and you can take that home with you and I plan on it. It also really gets your hopes up for lots of other things. You see these kids from all over the country, you know they’re gonna be doing the same thing--taking it home with them and heading out with really high spirits."
We pledged to continue what we all started at PFS. We made plans for bringing out the FOJ in different areas and building the next October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. Some people talked about building new R&R! chapters when they got back home. Although all of us were sad to see it end, all of us were amped to bring the spirit and energy of PFS home with us.
This was an incredible project! The powerful combination of the youth who have been inspired by Mumia’s voice with those on the bottom of society--the "voiceless" for whom Mumia speaks. The mix of events and the ways different kinds of people were able to plug in. And the determined edge--the "fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me" spirit of this unruly generation. Standing on the shoulders of everything that’s gone on in the Mumia movement, and seeing what’s at the heart of PFS, we were able to see the potential to build a movement that can force the biggest imperialist superpower in the world to free the most famous political prisoner in the world, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
On the final night of PFS, we met over a dinner of beans and rice that M made for us--in honor of Mumia. And during our summation meeting, she passed around a polaroid of Mumia, his daughter and granddaughter. They had visited him on death row before contact visits were banned. The picture went from hand to hand and moved all of us in different ways. Some of us thought about the grandchildren since then that he’s never been able to hug or touch. Some thought of Shaka Sankofa, an innocent and strong revolutionary brother legally murdered last year in the state of Texas by Dubya himself. Some thought of the celebration party we were all gonna have when we free Mumia. And some of us thought about how much we love Mumia and in this two weeks, how that love has been fortified. One of the volunteers voiced what we were all thinking, "I’m not gonna let Mumia die in there, I’m not gonna let them murder him. I’m gonna do everything I possibly can. Letting this man die is not an option!"
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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