Danny Glover's Long Road to Modesto

Revolutionary Worker #1137, February 3, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"Since September 11 we have seen our federal government incarcerate without trial or access to bail more than 1000 people, mostly of Middle Eastern or Southern Asian descent. Now it is revealed that Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to allow federal authorities to listen in on privileged conversations between these detainees and their lawyers. Furthermore, the government will no longer reveal how many people are being illegally incarcerated or where they are held -- this despite the fact that the FBI has admitted that 99 percent of those detained have nothing to do with the events of September 11."

Danny Glover. Princeton University,
November 15

"People have to watch what they say and watch what they do."

Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer
threatening TV comedian Bill Maher

Danny Glover has long been fearlessly active against injustice and racism. This well-loved actor has supported the struggles to free political prisoners here and around the world. He has denounced police murder and the escalating use of execution against prisoners. And now after September 11, he has dared to keep speaking out in this chilling new climate.

In a November speech at Princeton University, Danny Glover exposed the injustice of the death penalty in the U.S. He discussed how about 1-in-7 people who get the death penalty in this country are innocent, and how 98 people have been freed from death row after having been proven innocent. He pointed out the deep racism that is involved when Black people make up 12% of the U.S. population but 43% of death row. And he touched on the dangerous changes since September 11--including how President Bush's proposed military tribunals will "make it easier for prosecutors to seek and get the death penalty." He urged the audience to be vigilant and work together to abolish the death penalty.

This thought-provoking speech was well received. Then, after many in the audience had already left, a deliberately pointed question was raised from the floor. Danny was asked if he opposed the eventual execution of Osama bin Laden. Glover replied, without mentioning bin Laden directly, that he was against the death penalty in all cases, on principle.

The matter did not stop there. Right-wing forces went after him. The Trentonian, a local conservative paper, howled that if Glover did not support the execution, he should "go back to Afghanistan." Oliver North, the former Reagan covert ops man and current right-wing radio host, called for a boycott of Glover's latest movie The Royal Tenenbaums. After these hysterical attacks, Glover started receiving threats.

Defiant in Modesto

There was a McCarthy-like feel to it when the local authorities of Modesto, California withdrew their support for the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. event--simply because Danny Glover was scheduled to speak. Apparently Glover was now considered too "controversial" to be allowed a public platform in California's agricultural heartland. The Modesto Junior College administration withdrew its funding and its auditorium. A spokesperson for the college told the Modesto Bee, "We're not prepared to take on the responsibility of that program."

An organizer for the celebration commented that in this repressive climate, "Martin Luther King wouldn't be invited to his own event."

Danny Glover didn't back down and neither did the MLK Committee. With support from many in the community, the event went on.

The reverend of the Christ Unity Baptist Church offered to host the event. The student association at Modesto Junior College stepped forward to sponsor the event as did Nation of Islam members in nearby Stockton and a local law firm. The Modesto Peace Life Center helped provide new funding and widely promoted the evening speech.

On Saturday night, January 19, the church was packed, right up to its upper balcony. A video feed was run downstairs so the overflow crowd could see and hear. There was a sense of anticipation, and of defiance.

Many had come specifically to make a statement on the battle to hold this event. The reverend from Glover's church in Oakland offered a prayer of protection for Danny. Other friends came long distances to stand with him--including Dr. Rae Richardson, founder of the oldest Black bookstore on the West Coast, and fellow actor Mike Farrell. A Black woman waiting in line said she had heard about the event from the internet and had come with her daughter: "I wanted to see what he has to say. I think there is an atmosphere of censorship and I don't like it."

Glover said the title of his speech should be "The Long Road to Modesto" and thanked the organizers for their "courage under fire." He spoke about how he saw Dr. King as a fighter for social justice and said, "A troublemaker these days is anyone who dares to criticize any aspect of the war on terrorism." The crowd answered with long applause.

Glover addressed the Princeton controversy by repeating his stand on abolishing the death penalty. He said he was shocked when right-wingers accused him of being pro-Taliban or suggested that he was personally campaigning on bin Laden's behalf.

Glover felt that the people had made a promise to Japanese Americans who had been put in internment camps in WW 2--"Never again." He added that this meant stepping out now to oppose the targeting of Arabs and Muslims.

Glover said his ancestors, brought here in the bowels of slave ships, earned him the right to speak out. He pointed out that Nelson Mandela had been labeled a terrorist by the U.S. while he was a prisoner in South Africa's notorious Robben Island prison.

Throughout the speech, Glover's words were punctuated by heartfelt applause and support from the crowd.

Danny Glover said that artists like him should ask themselves, "Whose story are we going to tell?" He said this was on his mind when he made The Saint of Fort Washington, a movie about two homeless men, and when he participated in making Beloved, the film about slavery's impact. He said our stories must be at the table and must activate and not deactivate the people.

As he was ending, Danny Glover quoted the poet Dante: "The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis maintain their neutrality."

The audience jumped to their feet in agreement.

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