Sunday, January 31, 2010
It was January 27, 2010 when I picked up the book Three Strikes to re-examine something that I’d started to study years before. I began reading in the morning, and only later in the day found out that one of the co-authors, the great Howard Zinn, had passed away. As I write this 5 days later, still struggling for a proper tribute to all the great work that Howard Zinn has accomplished in his lifetime, it is perhaps fitting to finish a book that embodies many of the great values for which he stood.
Three Strikes illustrates a number of the problems of the working class in its fight against capital both today and throughout the twentieth century. Dana Frank and Robin D.G. Kelley joined Zinn in this careful selection of three quite different yet equally important struggles in the act of solidarity in the working class.
Zinn’s examination of the Colorado Coal Strike of 1913-1914 shows the lengths to which capital will extend itself in order to enforce the exploitation of this class. The close ties between government and the titans of business were as obvious a century ago as they are today. Government realized that the very basis of American “democracy” depended upon the submission of the poor and working class to the demand and need for labor. Allowing these people to realize that it was really they who possessed the power in society was unacceptable. The struggle became and remains quite literally one of life and death. Rockefeller and his puppets in government resorted to the tactic of violence that has been utilized by tyrants throughout the centuries. The financial structure which people like Rockefeller had established was something towards which he was prepared to take life in order to defend. The resulting massacre was spun to reflect poorly upon the “unruly” miners and their families who were defying law and order to demand their rights. Today’s familiar refrain of “personal responsibility” for one’s financial situation is relatable in the sense that the “good citizen” will comply with the rules set forth by the system. This citizen will not upset the power structure at risk to their own livelihood and quite possibly, physical well-being. The only counter to this great structure of power is solidarity amongst the working class.
The effectiveness of solidarity extends even to the inexperienced. Dana Frank illustrated this fact in the great Woolworth’s strike of the 1930’s. The women who participated in this strike had no history whatsoever of standing up to capital. The beautiful thing about their solidarity is that they didn’t need to have experience. The very act of bringing work and therefore profits to a halt will also demand the attention of those who reap the financial gains of the exploited. All that is required is a will to better one’s situation, and the harvesting of a similar passion in the minds of one’s comrades.
Finally the problem of technology was addressed in Kelley’s examination of the New York Musician’s strike. Kelley takes the approach that technology will constantly alter the way that people work, but not the need for their labor. I found this to be a bit of an over-simplification, but agreed with him in the perfect example of the music industry’s lack of keeping pace with the times. Just as the musicians of the 1930’s and 1940’s struggled with the advent of recorded music, today’s artists compete with digital downloads for royalties and profits. My own industry, radio, has seen the elimination of the in studio operator or on-air personality as the advent of computerized distribution of music and voice requires fewer and fewer amounts of “flesh” as Kelley refers to it, or live bodies. Capitalism by nature will constantly look to increase technology to the point of eliminating the need for a human to do the labor. If there was one weakness in the book it is the examination of an answer to this problem. How do we employ an ever-expanding population when the NEED for their employment decreases as workers continue to be replaced by machines? The problem is monetary and is beyond the scope of this book and its review but is the central question left unanswered by this otherwise outstanding expose of the exploited. In reading this at the time of Zinn’s passing, it stands as a reminder and a tribute to him and all of the millions for which he struggled.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SPECIAL CEDP CIRCULAR
Campaign chapters, please distribute to all members and post on local Campaign listserves.
-- Background, Meaning and Reaction to the Recent Decision
-- The Bigger Picture: Importance of the Mumia Case
-- What Can We Do?
-- Other Ideas and Resources
This circular is devoted entirely to the death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. In it, you will find information about his recent legal setback, as well as background information. It is packed with useful information and links to good articles and resources--there are links to petitions, suggested readings and movie showings that chapters can do. Please send around to your local list serves, too.
Thanks to Sandi Jones (Delaware CEDP), Ben Davis (NYC CEDP) and Lawrence Hayes (NYC CEDP) for compiling this circular!
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"I have held out hope for the people, because I believe in the people, because the people make change. If the people don't organize and protest, then no change will happen. It doesn't matter who is sitting in what office or in what judgeship or whatever. And that's just a fact. That's just the truth."
-- Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, April 2009
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BACKGROUND, MEANING AND REACTION TO THE RECENT DECISION
The fight to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal suffered a huge setback last week. On Tuesday, January 19, the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC) granted the prosecutors' petition to vacate the suspension of Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence. This means that Mumia is in acute danger of being executed once more.
In March 2008, the Third Circuit Court affirmed Federal District Court Judge William Yohn's 2001 decision "overturning" the death sentence. Citing the 1988 Mills v. Maryland precedent, Judge Yohn had ruled that Judge Albert Sabo's instructions to the jury in Mumia's trial were potentially confusing. Because of the way Sabo instructed the jury, jurors may have mistakenly believed that they had to unanimously agree on any mitigating circumstances in order to consider them as weighing against a death sentence (in other words, the case involved the count's attempt to force through a death sentence for Mumia). The recent decision undoes this decision.
What happens now? The case has been referred back to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, to review Mumia's case in light of another case that the USSC just ruled on last week, Smith v. Spisak. This Ohio case unanimously reinstated the death sentence of a neo-Nazi convicted of murdering three men. The two cases are different, and Mumia's attorneys will argue that they are, and seek relief for Mumia. (To better understand the legal relationship between the two cases, see the summary in an October 2009 online commentary in The Legal Intelligencer, at the EMAJ web site: http://www.emajonline.com/index.php?action=4&content_id=288
It is the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals that will now decide whether they will reimpose the death penalty without a jury trial. The 3rd Circuit could still order a federal trial court to consider Abu-Jamal's case anew on other still-pending defense claims.
Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panther Party, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in an early morning confrontation on December 9, 1981. The officer was shot after stopping Abu-Jamal's brother for driving the wrong way down a Philadelphia street. Abu-Jamal was arrested at the scene, and has maintained his innocence since.
Abu-Jamal's jailhouse writings about the justice system have drawn the attention of many people around the world. His case has attracted the support of many death penalty opponents, foreign political leaders and Hollywood celebrities. For decades, supporters of Abu-Jamal have argued that he was wrongfully convicted, as they point to suppressed evidence, perjury, witness intimidation, an admittedly biased judge and a long string of twisted appellate court rulings as evidence of a continuing conspiracy by the state to execute him. In this week's rejection of that decision, supporters of Abu-Jamal see another example of the "Mumia exception": that is, claims that have won the day in other cases that have been repeatedly denied when applied to his highly charged case.
Protests have taken place around the world since the recent news has spread of Mumia Abu Jamal's potentially reinstated death sentence. Just hours after news broke of the January 19th U.S. Supreme Court ruling, protesters gathered in Philadelphia at City Hall, in front of new Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams' office. On January 5, 2010, Williams was sworn in as the first African-American district attorney in Philadelphia. On January 20th, approximately 30 protestors assembled once again in front of Williams' office holding signs that read "Honk for Mumia" or contained messages such as "Demand a New Trial for Mumia" or "Mumia Abu Jamal is STILL Innocent!!"
At this rally, numerous protesters spoke out in support of Mumia, demanding Seth Williams to change his position on Mumia. Pam Africa reminded the crowd assembled that Mr. Williams had run for the office of District Attorney on the platform that when he became district attorney, he would execute Mumia. Africa proclaimed, "Mumia cannot get any fairness in this court system, so we're calling on the U.S. attorney general to do a civil rights investigation into this case, because Mumia is innocent. He is factually innocent!"
She continued, "And I want to point out very clearly, we have no hope whatsoever in the system. Our faith, Mumia's faith, is in the people. Once again, do not be duped by time; time is running out. The time is now for organizing, organizing with all of the strength that you have. People must pull together to abolish the death penalty. Save this brotha who has been on the front lines, from deathrow, on every issue of social justice that there is."
FURTHER COVERAGE OF THE RECENT DECISION:
-- "Supreme Court Tosses Re-Sentencing for Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Democracy Now!) http://bit.ly/8cbBwV
-- "A Supreme Court blow to anti-death penalty icon Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Christian Science Monitor) http://bit.ly/6Yuta9
-- "A legal setback for Mumia," by Marlene Martin (SocialistWorker.org) http://bit.ly/5CiL36
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THE BIGGER PICTURE: IMPORTANCE OF THE MUMIA CASE
Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of the world's most famous death row prisoners. Since his incarceration, he has continued to be a "voice for the voiceless." His journalism and writings about politics and prison conditions--his books, radio commentaries, live addresses and more--have generated a large audience (he has also spoken for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty on our national speaking tour, and written for our newsletter, The New Abolitionist). It is widely recognized that he is a political prisoner, and his case continues to attract international solidarity--representing to hundreds of thousands of people the racism and blatant corruption of the U.S. criminal justice system.
In the 1990s, Mumia's case brought a huge number of people into the anti-death-penalty movement. Demonstrations around his case attracted tens of thousands of people. Two decades of setbacks have had a bruising effect on this movement, wearing away at the forces around him. Today, while many people know Mumia Abu Jamal's case and its importance, there are still many more people we meet who are seriously thinking about the prison crisis or other cases like that of Troy Davis, but who are not clear about the issues in Mumia's case.
It is impossible to know what will come next--but Mumia's case remains of symbolic significance for the right wing in Philadelphia (evidenced by the fact that the new DA actually ran on a "kill Mumia" platform), which would seriously like to see him put to death. Given the history of this case, any attempt to do so will attract wide attention and spark demonstrations.
However, given the persecution and demoralization faced by his supporters over the last decades, many people we meet will also have questions about the case, and want to know more about the background. In order for our chapters to play the best part, it is important to recognize this, and organize actions of solidarity based on answering these questions. Below are some suggestions and resources for CEDP chapters.
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WHAT CAN WE DO?
The most important single focus for activism right now is the "Civil Rights Petition" to Attorney General Eric Holder. This is the center of Mumia supporters' organizing. It has been getting some press--it is mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor article, above--and recently, several high-profile supporters have signed on: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, world-famous MIT professor Noam Chomsky, civil rights activist Angela Davis and US Congressman Charles Rangel. In December, over 5,000 signatures on petitions addressed to Holder were delivered to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The petition text reads:
To: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Department of Justice
cc: President Obama, Vice President Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, Secretary of State Clinton, the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Congressional Leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus, U.N. Secy Gen Ban, and members of the media
I write to you with a sense of grave concern and outrage about the U.S. Supreme Court's denial of a hearing to Mumia Abu-Jamal on the issue of racial bias in jury selection, that is, the "Batson issue".
Inasmuch as there is no other court to which Abu-Jamal can appeal for justice, I turn to you for remedy of a 27-year history of gross violations of U.S. constitutional law and international standards of justice as documented by Amnesty International and many other legal groups around the world.
I call on you and the Justice Department to immediately commence a civil rights investigation to examine the many examples of egregious and racist prosecutorial and judicial misconduct dating back to the original trial in 1982 and continuing through to the current inaction of the U.S. Supreme Court. The statute of limitations should not be a factor in this case as there is very strong evidence of an ongoing conspiracy to deny Abu-Jamal his constitutional rights.
I am aware of the many differences that exist between the case of former Senator Ted Stevens and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Still, I note with great interest the actions you have taken with regard to Senator Stevens' conviction to assure that he not be denied his constitutional rights. You were specifically outraged by the fact that the prosecution withheld information critical to the defense's argument for acquittal, a violation clearly committed by the prosecution in Abu-Jamal's case. Mumia Abu-Jamal, though not a U.S. senator of great wealth and power, is a Black man revered around the world for his courage, clarity, and commitment and deserves no less than Senator Stevens.
For more information about the petition (as well as continual updates about the case), see http://www.freemumia.com.
Chapters should send out the link to their listserves, print out the petition, and encourage people to sign online: http://www.iacenter.org/mumiapetition/
There is a second petition for Mumia, directed to President Obama, which can also be signed. The Mumia Coalition is asking that people sign both: http://www.petitiononline.com/Mumialaw/petition.html
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OTHER IDEAS AND RESOURCES
As stated above, it is important to keep in mind that we might need to refresh people about the issues in Mumia's case, and the extreme injustices that he has faced. Perhaps even people in our chapters could use a refresher on the issues. Can your chapter organize a film screening of one of the movies about Mumia's case? Would it be helpful to do a book club or reading group around one of Mumia's books? Would someone in your chapter do a section at a chapter meeting, presenting on his case, to arm new chapter members with the facts?
Here are some resources:
-- In Prison My Whole Life -- Netflix: http://bit.ly/6ZMqIF Unfortunately, it appears not to be currently in stock--it can be purchased here: http://www.inprisonmywholelife.com/dvd
-- A powerful and personal recent (2007) documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, featuring interviews Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Mos Def and Snoop Dogg. It has been shown at festivals worldwide, including at Sundance in 2008, and is a great way to introduce people to the case. (A trailer is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=580sUAPKs5U
-- Mumia Abu Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?: This older documentary does not have all the newest material about the case, but it will do in a pinch. It is available in six parts on YouTube:
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT3ubcPE1aU
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9cWwBQipVI
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ9936CkQTk
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuN6japybgE
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpW9hC_dEEY
Part 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4waugM2cG0
Readings about Mumia's Case:
-- The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal, by J. Patrick O'Conner -- Amazon: http://bit.ly/646FxF
An excellent recent account of the background of Mumia's case, and his trial, featuring extensive quotations from the actual trial transcripts, and dissecting all the developments up until 2008. It is a quick and engaging read, and makes a persuasive case that new evidence would exonerate Mumia.
-- A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a 2000 report by Amnesty International -- http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/001/2000
Amnesty International is certainly one of the most famous mainstream organizations to take a stand for Mumia. This 34-page report clearly outlines the reasons that he deserves a new trial, going through the evidence of racism in his case. (As a plus, it is also downloadable in Spanish.)
Prison Radio keeps a complete archive of statements by Mumia, which are on a variety of subjects. Some of these might be suitable to play for an audience -- http://www.prisonradio.org/mumia.htm
Books by Mumia:
-- Live From Death Row -- http://bit.ly/7ONswN
-- Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience -- http://bit.ly/8KJoza
-- All Things Censored -- http://bit.ly/4RMiu3
Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USA -- http://bit.ly/6c6zpt
Mumia in The New Abolitionist:
-- "On Jailhouse Lawyers" -- http://bit.ly/8vurFG
-- Address to 2008 CEDP Convention: -- http://bit.ly/8boYrx
-- "The Next Stage (on the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act)" -- http://bit.ly/6r130C
-- "Remembering Stan Tookie Williams: A Political Killing" -- http://bit.ly/6N2zMy
I had a friend one time refer to a “pluralistic multi-cultural” level of development that only 10% of the world population achieves. I thought about this ability to look to something greater than ourselves as I was reading Susan Nathan’s “The Other Side of Israel”.
Nathan is a Jew who used her “Right of Return” under Israeli law to move to Israel and become an Israeli citizen. Having been born in England, she was a part of the Diaspora that felt out of place. From an early age she had been indoctrinated with Zionist ideology, telling her that the only true home she had was in Israel. So, she left her family behind and traveled to the “Holy Land” and established a good income for herself teaching English in Tel Aviv.
Through a series of events, Nathan was asked to write a funding application for disadvantaged communities in Israel read: ARAB Israeli communities. After visiting one of these communities, and through Nathan’s obvious “pluralistic multi-cultural” level of development, she had the mental capacity to step back and realize that something was not right. So, she chose to live amongst the Arab Israelis and witness first-hand their day to day lives and try to understand the intense discrimination they faced. We must stop for a moment here and realize that this would be equivalent to a middle-class white American choosing to live with the outcasts in the ghettoes of our nation. An even greater example would be a white South African choosing to live among the blacks during the apartheid era. In other words, it was unheard of.
Relationships were developed and deep friendships were made. Susan Nathan was shocked. These Arabs were nothing like she had been taught from her Zionist childhood…they were not savages. They were oppressed people…equal human beings…looking for their place and a homeland to call their own much like the Jews who were oppressing them. In fact the greatest irony to the entire situation is that the Palestinian Arabs are the new Jews. They have taken the place of the Jews who were in the past the people without a homeland.
The parallels between the Israeli “left” and the American “left” were what struck me most about this book. There are certain debates…even among so-called liberals…that are not allowed in either country. For example, those Israelis who claim to be leftists will fight for Palestinian rights to an extent, saying that the occupation shouldn’t continue, etc…but will stop at declaring that the Palestinians should have equal rights. Only those who can objectively step outside of themselves, look at the bigger picture of “pluralistic multi-cultural” levels of development will be able to see the injustices. Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are so indoctrinated that the idea of equality has been erased from the collective consciousness. Until we as citizens of the world, and especially those of us activists(myself included)can battle this line of thinking, there is little hope for reconciliation. It will be a slow process, but if you value human rights it is a situation that can not be ignored, especially in the West which often sides unconditionally with Israel. I’m not talking about rhetoric; I’m talking about the stronger language of continued military aid. The opportunity to defuse a situation that could plunge the entire world into war is there…will we take it before it’s too late?
Thank you Lenore Holz
A Message from Michael Moore about Left Forum...
Dear Fellow Travelers in the Post-Bush Era,
I write you at a time of unparalleled national trauma. The banks have been rewarded for bringing on the Great Recession (a Depression here in Michigan). When the real statistics of unemployment are revealed, almost a third of our nation is out of work, no longer looking for work or employed in part time jobs they cannot survive on. The new administration should have ended the eviction of millions of people from their homes. It should have stopped the barbarous reality that more and more are not earning enough to get by with dignity. We have no reason to celebrate Washington’s generosity to the greedy. As to making this country what we the people want it to be, our democracy’s representatives do not want to move beyond pro-capitalist compromises and misdirected military, environmental, and economic policies.
That is why this year’s Left Forum – which will take place on March 19-21 at Pace University (across from Mr. Bloomberg’s City Hall office) – is so important. The theme of the event "The Center Cannot Hold: Rekindling the Radical Imagination" could not have been better chosen. The Right and Wall Street have plenty of funds at their disposal and are pushing a "populist" line that exploits the growing anti-capitalist sentiment by misdirecting anger to reactionary ends. The administration has no critique of capitalism to speak of.
As the largest yearly gathering of the broad array of progressives, radicals and other concerned citizens, Left Forum is one of those vital places that offers alternatives to this dangerous political-intellectual vacuum. It brings together thousands of activists, intellectuals, trouble makers and questioners of the Crap We Are Told.
But a funny thing happened on the way to this year's Forum – everyone thought with the election of Barack Obama our work was done, we could go home, and we wouldn't have to contribute our hard-earned bucks to things like Left Forum anymore.
And then the President went to West Point and surrendered to the Generals. Was that enough of a jolt for you? Do you think our work is over? No, my friends, it has just begun.
Without your assistance however, the conference’s future is in serious jeopardy. Admission fees cover only a portion of all of the cost involved. While it is imperative to keep fees low, so that people can afford to come, the costs of running this huge conference continue to escalate. Many of you getting this letter come to this crucial event, and understand how valuable it is. A vital progressive movement needs Left Forum and Left Forum needs your support. I'm doing all I can to help it continue, but I can't, and won't do it alone. Please take a moment now and write a check to Left Forum. Contributions are tax deductible, they're accepted from all 50 states (and you, too, Canada!) and they are gluten-free.
Hope to see you in March at the Forum!
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I notice a great deal of legitimate concern for Haiti as I monitor the social networks. The earthquake is an unthinkable catastrophe to this island nation with a history of poverty, exploitation and slavery. It is incredibly sad to watch the reports of the devastation. Added to the sadness is the realization that this small country was a disaster long before the buildings shook and collapsed.
My concern is the reactive mentality that is seen in the West when it comes to donating to worthy causes. What’s ignored is the roots of why some of these disasters are so extreme. The tendency to react rather than prevent is counter-productive. Instead of pre-emptive warfare, the West needs to realize the value of pre-emptive disaster planning and compassionate aid.
I watched Obama, Bush and Clinton with skepticism and a touch of cynicism as they announced their charity for Haiti. After all, their neoliberal economics have contributed to the poverty of the island nation.
Haiti is a desperately poor country, with few skilled workers, and has barely survived over the years from crippling Western loans and high interest rates. Consequently, it is one of the most debt-ridden nations in the Western hemisphere. During the embargo imposed after the coup on Aristide in 1991, Haiti’s unemployment rate increased significantly. This was due to the fact that their manufacturing industry depended upon foreign supplies (mostly from the United States) to keep it’s exports and GDP off life support.
What Haiti and many other nations in the southern hemisphere need are interest free loans, outright grants, education, basic supplies and the opportunity for self-determination. They do NOT need more disaster capitalism. Naomi Klein defines this as multi-nationals coming in, “investing” in the economy, making an already dire situation worse and taking all the profits back home. Nations are particularly vulnerable after natural or other disasters.
When we look at a nation like Haiti, we must ask ourselves: What could have been done to prevent the severity of this tragedy? The United States and other nations of the West could have taken some of their immense wealth and worked with the people of Haiti to develop a sustainable and safe infrastructure with sound building policies. They could have given greater efforts towards training doctors and ensuring adequate medical supplies. They could have initiated more food programs. They could have created economic policies free of restrictions in regards to government actions and democratic elections.
The memory of the Haitian crisis will fade from the minds of people around the world just as the tsunami, Katrina and Gaza did before it. In another month or two things will return to the status quo. Meanwhile the people of Haiti will continue to re-build their country for years to come, just as the victims of the tsunami, Katrina and Gaza are still doing today.
The victims receive millions in initial contributions, and are then left to fend for themselves with their economic status rarely improving over the long term. The giving to Haiti and other nations going through times of great need is commendable. However, a change in the base motives and methods of Western giving must occur. A re-distribution of wealth to help those who do NOT have that “equal opportunity” so often associated with “personal responsibility” is crucial BEFORE an emergency arises. Only then can we have a more peaceful, less desperate world. Only then can we work to achieve a level of equality commensurate with the great resources of the world.