All posts by Gerald Sanders

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist presently on death row. In 1981 he was elected president of the Association of Black Journalists in Philadelphia; as such he consistently exposed police violence and misconduct against the black community.

In 1982 Jamal was sentenced to death for the killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Since then, post- conviction relief appeal hearings have made public the false evidence, police coercion of witnesses and fabricated “confession” that were used to convict Jamal in a blatantly unjust trial.

The evidence in Mumia’s case points to his innocence.


Why Did the State Target Mumia?

Advocates for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom have claimed that he was convicted because of his political beliefs. We think it would be useful to provide some concrete evidence for this assertion:

Since Jamal joined the Black Panther Party, at the age of 15, the FBI and the Philadelphia police amassed hundreds of pages of surveillance files on Jamal for his opposition to racism and police brutality.

When he became a journalist, he was a consistent critic of the system and was the only member of the press in Philly to consistently bring the truth to the public about police atrocities committed against MOVE.

According to Ramona Africa, a surviving member of the bombing of a MOVE house in 1985, the news that a MOVE member’s infant son had been killed by the police, made Jamal take a closer look at the reprehensible treatment of the organization by the police.

“Mumia’s first contact with MOVE came in 1976, and to this day, Mumia says he always feels bad about the situation. My sister’s (Janine Africa) three week old son was killed by the cops, deliberately knocked from her arms and trampled to death on March 28, 1976…Mumia heard about it, and he had talked to officials, and the officials were saying that it wasn’t true, that there wasn’t a baby [because there was no official record of birth]. But we had birthed babies naturally at home…

“Mumia was very skeptical about it, but he did come out and talk to MOVE people; and what ended up happening is to really prove to people that the cops did kill our baby. There was a dinner one night at MOVE headquarters and some reporters were invited, some politicians, a couple of city council people, and a few members of the clergy were invited. After dinner, they were shown the baby’s body, and they were messed up. And when Mumia found out about it and realized that there was in fact a baby that had been killed by the cops, he was hurt and upset that he had been skeptical of MOVE and had leaned toward believing the system.

“He started coming around MOVE more and more and covering MOVE trials, MOVE demonstrations, and confrontations that MOVE had with the police. He was the only reporter that told the true about MOVE,” said Ramona Africa.

Such activity did not make Jamal the flavor of the month with “Phillies finest.”

In an 1992 interview from death row in Huntington Prison, Pennsylvania, Jamal said, “…when the confrontation started heating up in Philadelphia in 1977 and 1978-and it was really a very naked level of repression that the Philadelphia police heaped on MOVE-I could not help but draw attention to that, as a reporter. The acting mayor of Philadelphia at the time, Frank Rizzo, and his police started a siege against a MOVE house in Powelton Village in 1977. The siege lasted over one year. By the end, police cut off all water and electricity to the house, but people from the neighborhood and supporters from the city supplied MOVE with the basic necessities. Finally, on August 8, 1978, more than 700 policemen stormed the house. During their action, one policeman was hit in the crossfire of his colleagues. Nine MOVE members who were arrested in the house were later charged and convicted of having jointly killed this one cop. They were all sentenced to 30-100 years in prison, despite the fact that the judge admitted that he didn’t know who had shot the cop.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal was targeted by the state because he was consistent and effective in exposing the lies the police were propagating in order to justify the unjustifiable brutality meted out to MOVE. Mumia Abu-Jamal was monitoring the cops and exposing their misconduct. Therefore, Jamal is, in part, a martyr for the movement for police accountability, which is why many that oppose police brutality are fighting for his freedom. It is imperative that we defend those who face reprisal for activity that we advocate.

Militants of the Peace and Freedom Party have organized and participated in community outreach programs so that people that have never heard of Mumia Abu-Jamal can become familiar with this case: we helped plan and organize the December 12, 1998 “Free Mumia” march and rally in Oakland, which was attended by over 1,000 participants . Recently, members of the Peace and Freedom Party were asked to speak at a number of churches in the Bay Area about Mumia’s case.


Mobilize the Power of the Working Class

In the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal we are up against some powerful institutions: the courts, police organizations (like the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police), corporate owned politicians, etc. To win such an important battle we have to know our enemies, we also need to know the source of our own strength. The capitalists who rule this society are dependent on scores of millions of workers who make this system run, and who can also bring this system to a screeching halt. That is the source of our power, and we must learn how to use it.

On November 2, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), who had been working without a contract for over a year and a half, went on a one-day strike against the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which is owned by the Walt Disney Inc. The next day they were locked out for three months by ABC-TV. During this time, Mumia Abu-Jamal refused to allow a scab ABC crew to interview him, this in turn has lead to many unions opening their doors to Jamal supporters and many unions passing resolutions in support of Jamal’s principal stand and his cause. Already, labor councils in Alameda, San Francisco, and Seattle, just to name a few, have passed resolutions calling for a new trial for Jamal. To help turn these resolutions into concrete actions a Labor Action Committee has been formed in the Bay Area, composed of class conscious and active trade unionists.

When a warrant for Jamal’s execution was signed in June 1995 by Pennsylvania governor Ridge, there was enormous opposition form worker organizations worldwide. In South Africa almost all of the main unions joined the movement to save Jamal. In Italy and France, national labor federations took up his cause. Journalist unions throughout the world weighed in for their fellow writer. Recently, February 19, 1999, I received the following information:

“The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) fully supports the call for national and international actions on April 24, 1999 around the two central demands: (1) Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and (2) For a Fair Trial Now!

“The WFTU will mobilize its affiliates and associates in 130 countries in this campaign…

Fraternally, Alexander Zharikov,General Secretary, WFTU” When the Oakland’s teachers union, the Oakland Educational Association, voted to hold a Teach-In about Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Death Penalty there was considerable controversy. The event drew criticism from a member of the Oakland School Board, Noel Gallo and Oakland NAACP President, Shannon Reeves, a staunch Republican. They both argued that the Mumia Teach-In would divert students from their academics studies. Union members argued that a study of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case in particular and the death penalty and judicial system in general would only enhance the academic skills of the students.

Then, just days before the teach-in, an Oakland police officer was shot and killed. Oakland Police Chief Samuels and City Manager Robert Bobb et al, with the help of the media, began to systematically propagate the “bright idea” that if Oakland teachers went ahead with their teach-in, it would be an act of disrespect toward the slain cop’s family. Despite this cynical attempt to derail this important event, the Oakland teachers voted to go ahead with the Teach-In and successfully carried it through. This was a victory for movement to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In addition, the public debate generated by this ill-fated attempt to prevent the children of Oakland from learning about this vital issue has turned Mumia Abu-Jamal into a household phrase. For nearly two weeks articles about the Teach-In could be found in the pages of the local and national press.

Similarly the forces of reaction got egg in their faces (and considerable publicity for Jamal’s cause) when they tried, in vain(!), to stop the benefit concert for Jamal put on by Rage Against the Machine.

Why is it that the authorities in Oakland and elsewhere in America, don’t want young people, or any people for that matter, to learn about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal?

For the past two decades the American ruling class has increased the exploitation of the working class and cut back all social programs that helped the poor. Therefore, the powers that be clearly understand that they are sitting on top of some very unhappy campers. They live in fear that a spark of social protest could start a social explosion. That is why they have vastly increased the powers of state repression, including frame-ups.

At the same time, the ruling class recognizes the need to maintain the illusions that the judicial system-the cops, courts, and prisons-are neutral and fair. They know and fear that the illusions in their judicial system are being threatened by the fact that more and more people are finding out about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man on deathrow. The ultimate injustice! They know that if we study and understand what happened to Mumia we will better understand how this system really works, who it works for — and who it doesn’t work for.

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case is an indictment of the system. That’s why the powers that be don’t want the people to know about him.

Nonetheless, Mumia continues to speak out against injustice from inside prison walls, despite efforts by the Philadelphia Police and the national Fraternal Order of Police to stop him. Ironically, years after Mumia began to speak out against the Philly police, the U.S. Justice Department was compelled to investigate and prosecute elements of the department for brutality and corruption, resulting in the imprisonment of a number of cops (including the officer in charge the night Jamal was arrested) and the release of many of their frame-up victims. It is not likely that Jamal will be released in this manner. It is up to us to build a movement so powerful that the political price will be too high for the American rulers to execute this innocent man.

FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL!

What Next for the Black Radical Congress?

Building a United Front of the Black Left

“If you believe in the politics of Black Liberation join us in Chicago in 1998 at the Black Radical Congress. If you hate what capitalism has done to our community – widespread joblessness, drugs, violence and poverty – come to the Congress. If you are fed up with the corruption of the two party system and want to develop a plan for real political change, come to the Congress. If you want to struggle against class exploitation, racism, sexism, and homophobia, come to the Congress…”

And come they did. More than 2,000 participants from 40 states gathered at the founding conference of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) June 19 – 21 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Center.

Proclaimed as an organizing center for developing a Black Liberation Agenda for the 21st Century, the event was planned for nearly two years. More than 600 people from the state of Illinois, over 200 from New York, and over 100 each from Pennsylvania, California, and Michigan attended. Over 140 presenters, including trade unionists, youth activists, prominent academics, and community organizers led workshops on issues such as: police brutality, political prisoners, reparations, fighting homophobia, and black workers and today’s labor movement, to name a few. There were 28 workshops in all.

History Professor Manning Marable set the tone for the conference during the opening plenary session when he said, “Brothers and sisters we have been dissed in the house we built.” A portion of the BRC discussed specific ways to build concrete projects, campaigns and struggles out of the convention as was the intention of the conveners of the BRC. As General Baker, Chair, of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America put it, “We had to figure out how to take our weekend movement and have a program for all seven days of the week.”


TASKS TO BE RESOLVED

This paramount task of the BRC is yet to be resolved. In recognition of this a draft proposal has been issued by the conveners of the BRC entitled “The Continuation of the Black Radical Congress”. This document describes the BRC as a “network which represents a united front of the Black left” and calls for the establishment of a National Continuations Committee in October 1998. The document also states, “The BRC will have a national campaign from October 1998 to October 1999. The campaign will be a national petition drive to bring 1,000,000 signatures to the United Nations charging the United States with violating the rights of the African American people. The slogan for the national campaign will be “End Racism and Poverty Now! Fight the Power to Share the Wealth! Human Rights For All!”

Will the BRC succeed in carrying out its stated goals and become a significant political force in the US? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, most important of which is what the participants do. There is no doubt that the BRC generated enormous enthusiasm among the participants. But enthusiasm and commitment, while necessary, are not sufficient to produce a successful movement, or capitalism would have been destroyed long ago.

A Program that is internally consistent and based on the logic of the class struggle; leadership that has been tested and won the confidence of the organization; a democratically organized process of decision making; disciplined cadre loyal to the organization as a whole; demonstrated support and participation of the people we claim to represent. These are also prerequisites for our success. We have some serious work ahead.

There is currently a severe crisis of leadership in the black community. In fact it may be more accurately described as a leadership vacuum, because recently those national organizations that claim to champion the interests of the black masses have been seriously discredited. The black mis-leadership is running out of fools. Does this require proof? Consider the following:

Mr. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination raised the hopes of million of blacks and working people (including white union workers in the rust belt). Jackson received 7 million votes. Most of those who supported Jackson did so as a protest against the injustices of this racist capitalist system. Jackson is not a leader against the capitalist – he is a Judas-goat for them. In the final analysis, “Jackson action” proved to be a fraud to deceive those for whom the so-called “American dream” is a cruel hoax into voting for the Democratic Party.

Michael Dukakis openly dissed Jackson by picking the Southern ‘gentleman’ Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate without the minimal courtesy of notifying Jackson (he found out from the media). Jackson’s initial reaction was bitter and suggested that he was prepared to part ways with Massa when he said: “It is too much to expect that I will go out in the field and be the champion vote picker and bale them up and bring them back to the big house and get a reward of thanks, while people who don’t pick nearly as much voters, who don’t carry the same amount of weight among the people, sit in the big house and make the decisions.” (New York Times, 15 July 1988)

But by convention time Jackson had rediscovered his role and decided that it was time for “the lion and the lamb to lie down together”. One problem: the only time the lion lies down with the lamb is at dinner time! Then in 1992, Crime Bill Clinton utilized the a Rainbow Coalition gathering to demonstrate his contempt for blacks and his “independence” from Jackson by deliberately and dishonestly misinterpreting a comment by Sister Soldier. From Judas-goat to punching bag, Jackson remains loyal to the Democrats to the point of supporting Clinton’s scandalous Africa Trade bill, which would impose the corporate agenda of starvation wages and union-busting on African workers. Even Jackson’s son, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., voted against this piece of legislation, calling it a new form of slavery. Jackson Senior is clearly incapable of learning or of changing.

In spite of the fact that over 6,000 black men and women have been elected to public office (mostly as Democrats), the reality that living conditions for black people have continued to worsen should “make it plain” that these black Democrats are not the representatives of the black masses, but front men, and women, for the capitalist system. What did these black elected official do to organize the black community to resist Crime Bill Clinton’s bi-partisan legislative onslaught against us? All toll. Nothing!

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the oldest (and most conservative) civil rights group in the country has also proven itself completely incapable of leading the resistance to the blatant dismantling of the gains of the Civil Rights movement that has been going on recently. The NAACP has become so senile and feeble that they couldn’t even wage a serious opposition to Uncle Thomas’ appointment to the Supreme Court. It’s a damn shame! But why has the NAACP become so ineffective a weapon for the black community?

A good part of the reason that the NAACP has failed in its self-proclaimed duty to defend civil rights was revealed in the Benjamin Chavis affair. Chavis was brought in as Executive Director of the NAACP to “revitalize” the ailing organization. He tried to gather disillusioned youth into the civil rights struggle and regroup its leadership. To this effect he invited Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam to join the struggle. The corporate media, America’s Headfixing Industry, went crazy. They denounced Chavis for collaborating with a “racist”, i.e. Farrakhan.

Get this now. The bigoted corporate media that with numbing regularity depicts the black community in the vilest most blatantly racist stereotypes attacked a black leader for attempting to unite with another black leader. This was at once absurd and transparent. Chavis continued to strive for unity. But he forgot the Golden Rule: he who provides the gold makes the rules. The corporate donations stopped flowing into the NAACP’s coffers. Donations from the black community don’t come close to paying the salaries of the NAACP bureaucrats. The bureaucrats screamed bloody murder. In August of 1994 Benjamin Chavis was fired by the NAACP’s board of directors, under the pretext of a sex drama. Crime Bill Clinton is still President in spite of his little drama.

Farrakhan stepped up to fill the void with his Million Man March, in his own words: “a holy day of atonement and reconciliation”. Despite the campaign of vilification heaped upon the event by the Headfixing Industry, the idea of the march caught on in the black community. But Farrakhan’s mixture of black capitalist economics with reactionary mysticism guaranteed that the march would not provide solutions for the hundreds of thousands who attended. Did Minister Farrakhan put forward a program that points the way out of this dead end we are currently in? Did he attack the system that is the root cause of suffering of the black community? Hell no! Instead we were given a lecture in – numerology. When the dust cleared, and the participants returned home, the Nation of Islam proved impotent in creating, leading and sustaining a democratically organized movement capable of addressing the needs of Black America. What Farrakhan thought was a new beginning for his bid to become the premier leader of blacks in America may have been his “Final Call”.

All this has happened in full view of the masses. They have had time to sober up and evaluate their experiences. These experiences show clearly that all of these organizations and leaders (Black Democrats, the NAACP, Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam), each in their own way, have demonstrated that they are unfit to organize the struggle to defend the living standards of the black masses, much less improve them. On what basis can we measure the potential of a movement to successfully lead the fight against the unremitting attacks we now face?

It is an axiom of scientific socialism that social and political movements must be judged by the quality of their leadership, program, trajectory, and class composition – not by the illusions of the base. These mis-leaders are not genuine opponents of the system. Their programs are pro-capitalist to the core. They are taking us no where – fast. Their self-contradictory rhetoric is the product of their schizophrenic petty bourgeois class composition – they were rejected by the system they love. These criticisms are not an exercise in “disrespect”. We need the bitter truth in regards to these organizations, not sugary falsehood.

For purposes of black liberation these pro-capitalist mis-leaders do not and cannot represent hope for a better future. They are political corpses. And as a great revolutionary once said: When it comes to fighting, corpses are worthless, but they do come in handy to keep the living from fighting.


BLACK WORKERS TAKE THE LEAD!

While the leadership of the BRC is presently a mixed bag (academics, veteran activists, feminists) there is no doubt that if it takes root on the local level the BRC will become a predominately working class organization in its composition, because the black community in the US is overwhelmingly proletarian. Therefore, any serious attempt to organize it must reflect its class needs and aspirations. Thus a new generation of working class leaders can be developed and trained. But this can happen if and only if democratic structures are installed for a movement that is clear about its program and ready to break with the parties and program of capital.

Programmatically the BRC, in the “Freedom Agenda” and other documents, has denounced capitalist exploitation, but stopped short of calling for socialism; made demands upon the US government while calling for “self-determination”. In short, there are internal contradictions within the program of the BRC.

It remains necessary to give specific content, clear and uncompromising, to the algebraic formulations of the “Freedom Agenda”. We must translate our demands into political action that speaks to the needs of Black working people: decent housing, healthcare, education and secure jobs. We must strive to build a movement for fundamental change with the will to join all other workers in America in seeking the power to meet our collective needs, and that means socialism.

During the BRC convention a youth caucus was formed. These young people met for hours striving to hammer out some practical accomplishments that they could take home with them and start to work with. While they were only partially successful, their intensity and enthusiasm was both contagious and inspiring. Some “veterans” feared that the youth caucus meetings could lead to a spin off, or split from the BRC. In fact, the best way to insure such a rupture is to cultivate an atmosphere of distrust and oppression of the youth.

While it remains to be seen, the strength of the BRC could lie in its self-proclaimed desire to act as a united front organization. Without delay functional BRC local organizing committees need to make their presence felt in struggles in their communities. Meet, discuss the political landscape, and decide where you can make your contribution. But of primary importance is – to start.

Gerald Sanders is running for Congress in the 9th Congressional District of California on the Peace and Freedom Party Ticket. He can be reached by phone – (510) 655-5764 or E-mail – gsanders@jps.net


Principles of Unity

1. We recognize the diverse historical tendencies in the Black radical tradition including revolutionary nationalism, feminism and socialism.

2. The technological revolution and capitalist globalization have changed the economy, labor force and class formations that need to inform our analysis and strategies. The increased class polarization created by these developments demands that we, as Black radicals, ally ourselves with the most oppressed sectors of our communities and society.

3. Gender and sexuality can no longer be viewed solely as personal issues but must be a basic part of our analyses, politics and struggles.

4. We reject racial and biological determinism, Black patriarchy and Black capitalism as solutions to problems facing Black people.

5. We must see the struggle in global terms.

6. We need to meet people where they are, taking seriously identity politics and single issue reform groups, at the same time that we push for a larger vision that links these struggles.

7. We must be democratic and inclusive in our dealings with one another, making room for constructive criticism and honest dissent within our ranks. There must be open venues for civil and comradely debates to occur.

8. Our discussions should be informed not only by a critique of what now exists, but by serious efforts to forge a creative vision of a new society.

9. We cannot limit ourselves to electoral politics — we must identify multiple sites of struggles.

10. We must overcome divisions within the Black radical forces, such as those of generation, region, and occupation. We must forge a common language that is accessible and relevant.

11. Black radicals must build a national congress of radical forces in the Black community to strengthen radicalism as the legitimate voice of Black working and poor people, and to build organized resistance.

For more information or to register contact:
Black Radical Congress
P.O. Box 5766
Chicago, IL 60680-5766
(312) 706-7074
http://www.blackradicalcongress.com