By JEFF MACKLER
OAKLAND, Calif.-In the midst of a storm of protest by police, public officials, and school board members, thousands of students participated on Jan. 14 in teacher union-sponsored classroom discussions on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the death penalty.
The Oakland Educational Association (OEA), at an electrifying meeting of school site representatives, reaffirmed the union’s decision to present comprehensive lesson plans on the case to students at the secondary, middle school, and adult school levels. The vote was 48-42 with 11 abstentions.
Shortly before the scheduled teach-in, opponents used the occasion of the recent murder of an Oakland police officer to pressure school district officials to cancel the event. School Superintendent Carol Quan, who originally had approved the OEA decision, which included the organization of school assembly programs on the case, ordered the cancellation of these assemblies.
School officials contemplated ordering Oakland teachers to cancel their planned classroom presentations. But the teachers have a reputation for militancy, having struck five times in their history, and the officials decided to avoid another confrontation.
The debate over the teach-in was covered daily in the Bay Area media, including front page articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and debates on the major television and radio stations. The controversy sparked a national debate, which brought the case to the attention of millions.
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s chief legal council, Leonard Weinglass, was a featured speaker at several Oakland high schools, including a large combined classroom forum of some 60 students organized at Castlemont High.
Leaders of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, including this writer, were also invited to join the classroom inquiry.
Teach-in organizer Bob Mandel presented the background of the teach-in to the Jan. 23 New York City national leadership meeting on Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mandel’s proposal to encourage similar activities in school districts, community colleges, and universities across the country was adopted unanimously.