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Strategizing at the National Conference for "Freedom for Mumia!"
For two days, hundreds of us gathered at the First Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. for a weekend of events in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal at the "Freedom for Mumia!" national conference. We came from all over the east coast and as far away as Los Angeles, San Francisco, France, and Germany. The walls and stage of the church were covered with pictures of our beautiful revolutionary brother, including reproductions of paintings featuring Mumia and Shaka Sankofa. Posters from Germany calling on people to march on the U.S. embassy on "Day X" hung alongside Refuse & Resist!'s now famous poster with Mumia's picture and the slogan "Stop the Execution--Free Mumia!"
Close to 300 attended a Friday night "Freedom Rally" where dozens of speakers and performers with many different political viewpoints spoke out on Mumia's behalf. On Saturday over 100 activists held a conference where we discussed and united on some important plans to build the movement to stop the government's plans to murder Mumia and to free him from prison.
Throughout the conference speakers and participants from different points of view expressed their desire to strengthen the unity of those already active in the struggle to enable us to reach out even more broadly so we can gather the support of tens of thousands more and win.
In a message to the conference, Mumia pointed to the spirited resistance in Seattle: "What many of you are here for is to learn or teach how to do our work better. We're here to share our views, to find our way figuring out what works. There are many and various strategies to answer that question, but I think one that we must pay strict attention to is the Seattle experience, on the front lines of the popular rebellion against WTO. This anti-globalist fervor shows the common interests of students, of anti-imperialists, of human rights activists and labor. What the movement demonstrated is the power of mass mobilization and the ability of people to derail something that was previously seen and feared as inevitable."
Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal told the audience: "Mumia's been in that cell almost 20 years now. It is time for us to free him. I want to point out that we are not without the evidence, we are not without the support, we are not without anything that we need to free Mumia. We must unite. Those people who believe that the death penalty is wrong must unite with us. People who believe that Mumia deserves a new trial must unite with us. People who know damn well that Mumia deserves to be on the street with us right now, we've gotta take to the streets like we've never took to it before."
Damu Smith of Greenpeace USA said: "We're here tonight to make clear to the powers that be--those who want to execute our brother, those who want to execute hundreds of others who are living their lives barely on the death rows of America, those who are determined to extinguish the flame of freedom--we tonight must make clear in this house that that absolutely will not and cannot happen as long as we stand together in this movement. We are not going to allow this to happen. The reason that we are not going to allow this to happen is because we know that the criminal justice system is a criminal justice system, that it is a system that sends innocent men and women and even children to prison, that it does anything through prosecutorial misconduct to get convictions for politicized reasons and political motives."
Sam Jordan, the former Director of Amnesty International's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, emceed the events. He pointed to some of the reasons why people have been released from death row and the importance of this for Mumia's case: "Uncorroborated or falsely reported confessions; the deliberate mishandling, destruction of evidence removed from the crime scene; very active judicial bias in the courtroom; excessive use of preemptory challenges, particularly African-American prospective jurors; prosecutorial misconduct, including withholding evidence that would exculpate, that would free the person charged; the use of snitch testimony; misidentification of persons at the crime scene.... All these factors are present in Mumia's case. Why don't we then help the rest of the country draw the same conclusion, that if there are 95 persons who've been released from death row due to these factors, Mumia should be number 96?"
A contingent of youth from the Refuse & Resist! Youth Network marched to the stage, chanting "Mumia Is Fearless, So Are We! We Won't Stop Until He's Free!" and brought a taped message from C. Clark Kissinger--who could not attend the conference because of the outrageous terms of his probation for participating in a demonstration for Mumia.
To win this battle, Clark said, "requires a movement in which tens of thousands feel their lives are bound up with the question of whether Mumia lives or dies, and millions more have grave doubts about the justice of such an execution--to the point where the stability of society itself threatens to break down along the deep divisions lying just below the surface."
The breadth, diversity and determination of those who took part in the conference showed the potential for such a movement. There were a number of people at the conference whose main concern is the death penalty: Bill Simons, former President of the D.C. chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, called for a new trial for Mumia; Bill Ryan, Illinois Coalition To Abolish the Death Penalty, spoke in favor of getting rid of the death penalty; and Rachel King from the ACLU pointed to the Department of Justice study showing racial and geographic disparities in the use of the federal death penalty.
Darby Tillis, recently released from death row, brought his powerful experience to the battle: "I spent nine years, one month and 17 days on death row for a crime I did not commit. I was tried five times, supposedly more than anyone in the history of the United States. I was charged with a crime that I didn't commit after refusing $5,000 as a reward to implicate myself and cooperate in a lie. The death penalty is revenge and hate. Killing does not prove killing is wrong. It's racial, it's biased and it's prejudiced. We have to continue to work hard to free Mumia. We must work hard and we must work fast. The death penalty is too final. It's dead wrong."
Listening to the speakers, I was struck by the strong basis for different sections of people to see they have a powerful interest in winning this battle. Melissa Mitchell of the Howard University Chapter of Amnesty International USA said: "The life of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a manifestation of the racism and injustice which shapes so many of our lives.... It is so very important for us not only to look at the appalling dynamics of Mumia's case, but to relate these dynamics to the lives of all of our brothers and sisters who have been wrongfully accused, misused and abused by the hatred of the system, for those whose voices cannot be heard.... Mumia represents police brutality. Mumia represents the American injustice system. And Mumia represents the death penalty. The African-American experience is painfully exemplified in the circumstance of Mumia's life. What separates me and you from the circumstance of Mumia's life? Mere circumstance."
Ajamu Baraka, the Southern Regional Director of Amnesty International USA and author of the report "Mumia: A Life In the Balance," described the report's findings: "Amnesty International said very clearly that Mumia was subjected to a trial and a process that in no way corresponded to the international standards of a fair trial. They said very clearly that there were political issues involved. They said very clearly that this was a case that represented all of the contradictions that we see with the capital punishment system here in this country....The article says that we have in this country a criminal justice system that is, in fact, criminal, and it's correct. That reality was brought home to me in graphic form a couple of weeks ago when I was in Florida in Broward County as the official observer to the trial of 14-year-old Lionel Tate--a child charged and convicted of first degree murder. I sat in that court, my friends, where this child was condemned to life in prison without the possibility of parole--a death sentence for a child who at the age of 12, the evidence suggests, accidentally killed his playmate. And the response of the State of Florida was to condemn this child, this Black child, to death by incarceration."
Leslie Jones of Youth 4 Mumia said: "Mumia has set an example for each and every one of us. From death row Mumia has been uncompromising as he fights for each and every one of us all the time. And we as young people fight for Mumia because he was criminalized as we are criminalized. He was treated the way those 420 young people were treated at the Republican National Convention this past summer. He was treated like those students and young people will be treated in Quebec City next month to fight globalization. He was treated as young, colored, Latino, poor people, people of color, students are treated each and every day in these schools that they're turning into prisons. We fight for Mumia because Mumia is all of us. And we love him."
Those present at the conference included youth and students from all over the east coast, including a sizeable group from Howard University; people active in the struggles to close down the School of the Americas and to free Puerto Rican political prisoners; attorneys, teachers, labor union organizers, political activists from different organizations and many others. Some other speakers and workshop leaders included former members of the Black Panther Party; Monica Moorehead, Jeff Mackler, Mark Taylor and Julia Wright--all members of the National Coordinating Committee for Mumia; members of the Gray Panthers, Eric True Muhammad from Final Call and Nkechi Taifa of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.
German trade union representative Victor Grossman called the struggle "a fight against racism and police brutality every place in the world" and brought word that the German Bundestag (parliament) recently passed a resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty and a new trial for Mumia. Julia Wright of International Concerned Family and Friends in Paris read from a section of Terry Bisson's new biography On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal and vowed that international supporters of Mumia would continue their practice of confronting every American official who traveled abroad.
The conference developed a number of plans to build the movement. Some of the major actions agreed upon for the next period include mobilizing to fill the streets of Philadelphia on "Day X"--the day of Mumia's hearing in federal court; an international day of protest on May 12; a May 11-13 youth encampment at City Hall in Philadelphia; a demonstration and international delegation at the UN on June 23. There are also plans in Europe to mobilize for a meeting in France on June 21-23 during which the European Parliament will discuss calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. The Refuse & Resist! Youth Network also announced it is organizing its seventh annual Philadelphia Freedom Summer Project in Philadelphia.
As RCP spokesperson Carl Dix brought out in an address to the rally Friday night:
"We must not let them murder Mumia. It will take mobilizing many more people and waging even more determined struggle to save Mumia's life. The key to winning this fight is mobilizing people throughout society. To build the kind of fight we need to win this battle, we in the RCP are working to get those on the bottom of society--the proletariat, those with nothing to lose--to learn about what's going on in the battle to stop the execution of Mumia and free him from jail. And we're working to get them to join this fight. And we are going throughout society, encouraging and organizing people and groups from different backgrounds and political perspectives. We're calling on them to get into this case, not just to support Mumia Abu-Jamal but to take responsibility for winning their organizations, their churches and more to join in this monumental battle to save his life."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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After Change in Legal Team: National Mumia Conference in Washington D.C. Plans May 11-13 Actions (09.04.2001)
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