By JEFF MACKLER
SAN FRANCISCO-A magnificent, youthful, multi-racial, shouting and chanting, two-hour column of 25,000 protesters marched here on April 24 in defense of the Pennsylvania death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Close to 50,000 people attended the coordinated actions in San Francisco and Philadelphia, making April 24 the largest demonstration for a U.S. political prisoner in history.
The San Francisco march was led by a 300-strong contingent of members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) from San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Port Hueneme, Seattle, and other port cities along the Western seaboard.
Chanting, “An injury to one is an injury to all! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” the West Coast-based ILWU set an historic precedent for the U.S. labor movement and beyond.
In a near-unanimous convention several weeks before, the ILWU voted to shut down shipping ports on the West Coast on April 24 to express their solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal. The eight-hour “stop-work meetings” approved by the delegates halted all shipping from Bellingham, Wash., to San Diego, Calif.
Television camera crews were sent to ports that are normally bustling, especially on Saturdays; they were compelled to broadcast to millions of television viewers the undeniable fact that the ILWU action had totally crippled one of the West Coast’s most vibrant industries.
“Stop the Execution!” and “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” were the adopted demands of the ILWU.
Labor speakers at the Civic Center Plaza rally included Art Pulaski, head of the 1.5-million member California Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO); Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council (who proposed a two-hour nationwide strike in defense of Mumia); and ILWU President Brian McWilliams and Vice President Jim Spines.
ILWU Local 10 member Jack Heyman, who had initiated the solidarity action, told the crowd that the ILWU had taken measures in the past to support many international and labor struggles-from opposing apartheid in South Africa to condemning U.S.-trained death squads who murdered working people in El Salvador.
Heyman asked, “If the ILWU goes on strike to defend our union and its ranks, will you be there for us?” A resounding “Yes!” came forth from the cheering crowd, which included a large proportion of African American and Latino youth.
Solidarity greetings from dockworkers’ unions in England, Sweden, Denmark, Cyprus, Finland, and Japan-as well as from the 100,000-member Rio de Janiero, Brazil, teachers’ union, which struck for two hours on Friday, April 23, demanding Mumia’s freedom-were received by the ILWU and the demonstration’s sponsoring organization, The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano read a proclamation calling for a new trial for Mumia, which had been signed by a majority of the city government members.
Other keynote speakers were actors Ed Asner and Peter Coyote; Angela Davis; Aundre Herron, ACLU; Mario Tafur, Amnesty International; Lance Lindsay, Death Penalty Focus; author Jennifer Harbury; Ken Rice, Oakland School Board; Zulma Olivares, National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners; Bernida Regan, National Conference of Black Lawyers; Ethan Flad, chair, Peace and Justice Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of California; and Bill Babbitt, brother of Manny Babbitt (executed on May 4 at San Quentin).
Additional speakers were: Alan Laird, Bethel AME Church; Marty Hittleman, senior vice president, California Federation of Teachers; Gerry Nicosia, Oakland Chapter of PEN; poets Michael McClure and Devora Majors; Karega Hart, Black Radical Congress; Carl Pinkston, board of directors, Vanguard Foundation; Celine Justice, Lick Willmerding High School; Javiar Armas, Vista College; and Gery Armsby, Rainbow Flags for Mumia.
Speakers representing the central groups working to organize the rally included: Ali Bruce, Socialist Action; Gloria La Riva, Workers World Party; Leticia Arellano, International Socialist Organization; and a representative from Refuse and Resist.
The rally was co-chaired by myself, Traci Owens, and Cristina Vasquez Gutierrez-all representing The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal-and by Cameron Sturdevant, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and John Parker, National People’s Campaign.
By far the largest component of April 24 on both coasts were the tens of thousands of high school, college, and working-class youth who have come to see Mumia’s fight against social injustice, racism, and a corrupt legal system as symbolic of all struggles against the status quo. Individual contingents were organized by Youth for Socialist Action; STORM; anarchist organizations; and high school and university youth.
The dynamic and politically explosive Hip Hop performances of Michael Franti and The Coup also gave expression to the militant mood of the radicalizing youth.
The march was featured, along with a front-page photo, in the Sunday, April 25, San Francisco Examiner as well as in most other local newspapers.
The four national network television stations featured keynote speakers and the ILWU contingents in their Saturday and Sunday news coverage.
The struggle for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom took a giant step forward on April 24. It laid the basis for the next mass national mobilizations, designed to include ever broader sectors of the population in this critical battle for democratic and human rights. These events will take place in hundreds of cities across the country during the week of Sept. 19-25.
Mumia’s chief legal counsel, Leonard Weinglass, told the Philadelphia demonstrators that a second warrant for Mumia’s execution could be signed by October, if not earlier. The rapidly expanding movement for justice and freedom for Mumia is a central factor standing between the government’s “legal” death squads and this courageous man’s liberation.
For further information, please contact: The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, (415) 821-0459, or the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, (215) 476-8812.