By MARILYN VOGT-DOWNEY
PHILADELPHIA-The largest event ever held for Mumia Abu-Jamal in his home city took place on April 24, his 45th birthday.
Organizers estimated that from 20,000 to 25,000 participated in the event. The energetic crowd was approximately 40 percent people of color and in large proportion youth.
Buses and vans brought people from as far away as Maine and Iowa, Toronto and Georgia.
A large contingent came on almost 200 buses from New York, including 13 buses sponsored by 1199 National Health and Human Service Employees Union and eight buses from Hunter College.
Foreign delegations of Mumia supporters came from Europe, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean.
The rally at City Hall, which began before noon, was followed by a march through center city and then a late-afternoon wrap-up rally back at City Hall.
Among the more than 40 speakers at the first rally were attorney Leonard Weinglass of Mumia’s defense team; Clark Kissinger of Refuse and Resist; and attorney Michael Warren, who has just recently returned from publicizing Mumia’s case throughout Europe.
“Mumia has spent his last 16 birthdays on Pennsylvania’s death row,” Weinglass told the crowd. “A death row which is so violative of basic human rights that two men have asked to be executed rather than continue on death row-and Gov. Ridge obliged.
“A third man has now asked to be executed, and Gov. Ridge has set his day of execution for May 4 in Pennsylvania….”
“We can’t give Mumia the years back that he’s spent on death row,” Weinglass said, “But we can put an end to this travesty.”
“Our next move is to take his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but I am not optimistic. At any moment, Gov. Tom Ridge can sign the death warrant, and then we will have to enter some federal appeals to set aside the warrant.
“Let us hope that they will open the files as they did with Dhoruba Bin Wahad and Geronimo, which led to their freedom. That is our only hope.”
Also speaking were members of a delegation from Europe, led by journalist Julia Wright, daughter of the legendary Black novelist Richard Wright.
The delegation included Aline Pailler, a member of the European Parliament; members of French and Italian trade unions; and Danielle Mitterand, widow of former president of France François Mitterand and head of a French human rights organization that was scheduled to visit Mumia on April 26 in his death row cell in Waynesburg, Pa.
Mumia’s 21-year old son, Mazi, made a moving statement of gratitude to the demonstrators: “These aren’t tears of sadness. … They are tears of joy. … Thank you for coming out here. Free Mumia! Free my Pop!”
A statement was read from a representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who had been denied a visa to attend by the United States government.
Speakers also included Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, whose benefit concert for Mumia in January attracted 20,000 to a New Jersey stadium and focused considerable press attention after the New Jersey governor tried unsuccessfully to shut it down; poet Sonya Sanchez; Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were murdered by the U.S. government in 1953 on frame-up charges; and Geronimo ji jaga, the Black Panther leader released in 1997 after serving 27 years on a frame-up charge.
Other speakers included representatives of the Center For Constitutional Rights, the National Black Police Association, and many activist organizations-including the Nation of Islam.
Will Harrell of the National Lawyers Guild reported that the Guild’s National Executive Committee had elected Mumia Abu-Jamal to be the National Jailhouse President of the Guild, a reflection of the legal expertise Mumia acquired during his fight for justice for himself and others.
The protest march stepped off about 3 p.m. As the throng wound their way through the central shopping area, they chanted, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’ll free Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
The wind-up rally at City Hall focussed on Mumia and the campaign to abolish the death penalty. On the stage was the banner of the group “Families of Death Row Inmates,” which had brought a contingent to the event.
Mothers of inmates stood on the podium holding large placards with photos of their sons who were sentenced to be murdered by the state.
A surprise speaker was Anthony Porter, an innocent man who spent 16 years on death row in Illinois, coming within hours of execution, before he finally won his release.
Porter spoke about the shattering conditions on death row and solidarized himself with Mumia and the fight to free him.
Others speaking at the wind-up rally included Tonya McClary of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Sam Jordon of Amnesty International’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, and other representatives of anti-death penalty organizations.
There are undeniably many millions in the U.S. as well as internationally who support Mumia’s fight for justice and freedom. The large turn-out of youth was very hopeful. Taking the new energy from this demonstration to mobilize these forces and significantly enlarge and broaden the public protests is a serious political challenge that Mumia supporters must meet.
For example, a minister from Philadelphia, the Rev. Benjamin Green, spoke to people who remained at City Hall during the march to hold the area for the closing rally. He noted the fact that the Philadelphia religious community had yet to mobilize for Mumia and committed himself to mobilizing it in the future.
Undoubtedly, police intimidation, pro-police propaganda, and consequently the anti-Mumia bias of the Philadelphia media present enormous obstacles to organizing support for Mumia in this city.
Leonard Weinglass reported that on the previous evening 800 people had paid $1000 each to attend an event in Philadelphia sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police and Maureen Faulkner-the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the policeman Mumia was framed up for killing.
Among those present was Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who as a prosecutor oversaw both the suppression of the MOVE organization, which Mumia defended, and the frame-up of Mumia himself.
The $800,000 raised at this event was to finance campaigns for Mumia’s execution! Weinglass suggested that such a gruesome, macabre phenomenon may be unprecedented in recent history.
“They have the courts,” Weinglass pointed out, “They have the governor, and they have the prosecutors. But Mumia has you!”
The reactionary campaign for Mumia’s death can be effectively counteracted. To carry out the kind of expansion that is called for in this high-stakes battle will take a broad national coalition of individuals and groups working in Mumia’s defense.
In addition, the broader Black community and the mainstream civil rights groups, churches, campus organizations, and unions must be mobilized in the streets if Mumia’s life is to be saved.
In other words, to successfully affect public policy, this struggle to save and free Mumia Abu-Jamal needs to become one that the mainstream organizations of the working people adopt as their own, and which they realize to be a key element in their struggle for justice in this country against the rampant abuse of police power by the state.
As Leonard Weinglass told the crowd: “Make your voices heard. Stand up, your numbers matter. Be there for Mumia!”