By JEFF MACKLER
The Feb. 19 Emergency National Conference to Save the Life of Mumia Abu-Jamal represented the broadest unity thus far achieved in the fight to save the life and win the freedom of U.S. political prisoner and death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Seven hundred of the nation’s leading activists, representing political forces and social organizations that have long been at odds on every conceivable issue, jammed into New York City’s Synod Hall at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine Church on Feb. 19 and achieved a unity of purpose and level of commitment that was truly inspiring.
The participants took heed of the remarks of Mumia’s chief legal counsel, Leonard Weinglass, who stated that the next 90 days were the most critical in the 18-year struggle to save Mumia’s life and win his freedom.
Weinglass noted that a crucial decision from Third Circuit Federal District Court Judge William H. Yohn was expected in April or May. Yohn will decide whether to challenge the fraudulent findings and constitutional violations of the notorious Pennsylvania state court “hanging” Judge Albert Sabo or to restrict himself to a rigid interpretation of the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act and deny Mumia a full evidentiary hearing.
Only such a hearing, said Weinglass, can provide the legal team the opportunity to introduce for the first time the evidence that Sabo banned from the state court record. This evidence includes new eyewitness testimony, ballistics and forensic evidence, and other material that proves Mumia was the victim of a police frameup.
The conference unanimously approved plans to set Saturday, May 13, as a nationally coordinated bi-coastal mobilization in San Francisco and Philadelphia. A year ago, 50,000 participated in the April 24 protests organized in these cities. Organizers expect this year’s actions to be considerably larger.
May 13 was also set as a worldwide day of protest. Present at the conference were representatives from Mumia solidarity groups from France, Germany, Norway, and several other countries.
A major Eastern regional mass action for Mumia was also set for Sunday, May 7, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. “Millions for Mumia” organizer Monica Moorehead, a national coordinator of Mumia’s defense, projected that the 2 p.m. event would overflow the 6000 seat arena at the Garden, with thousands more participating in a rally in the streets.
Confirmed speakers for May 7 include Ossie Davis, Susan Sarandon, Gloria Steinem, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, Ed Asner, Johnnie Cochrane, Pam Africa, John Conyers, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and Leonard Weinglass-as well as Rage Against the Machine and the Indigo Girls.
At the Feb. 19 conference over 60 educators from across the nation attended a workshop that focused on the placement of a full-page ad in The New York Times to be signed by 1000 educators at a cost of $35,000. Ad organizer Mark Taylor announced that late March was projected as the publication date and that more than half the funds for the ad had already been collected.
The workshop also noted the continued success of educators everywhere in bringing Mumia’s case to the attention of students and the general public. Especially important was the decision of one of the largest teacher unions, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, to organize Mumia lesson plans throughout the district’s secondary schools.
Some 50 representatives of the religious community, including the National Council of Churches and the Episcopal Church of the United States, met at the conference to finalize plans for another full-page New York Times ad aimed at the religious community.
Workshops dealing with the mobilization of youth, oppressed nationalities, lesbians and gays, the legal community, and many others attracted impassioned activists who approved plans for concerted action for Mumia.
Over 100 participated in a workshop that planned the peaceful civil disobedience actions that took place last week in Washington, D.C., and in San Francisco. An estimated 175 people in Washington, D.C., and 150 in San Francisco were arrested in these non-violent protests, including many who were prominent in public life. The D.C. protest had 2000 demonstrators, with an additional 800 demonstrating their solidarity in San Francisco.
The conference laid plans for an emergency national mobilization in Philadelphia on the first day of the oral arguments in Mumia’s case in Philadelphia. While no date has been set for this hearing, the legal team estimates that it will be in April or May and that there will be some 7-10 days of advance notice provided.
This will be the first time that Mumia himself will be present in court. Tens of thousands are expected to converge on Philadelphia to express their solidarity.
The new breadth to the movement was expressed by a longtime Mumia supporter, actor Ossie Davis. He observed: “An obvious, apparent truth screams at us: We’re ona move! Every conflict, every confrontation, every clash leaves us stronger. We are growing!
“Every attack, every assault, every angry outburst rebounds to our favor. We are growing!
“We are broadening and deepening our movement, reaching a widening class and range of people. A movement, like life itself, moves. It doesn’t stand still. We are trading punches; taking some shots for sure, but also giving them back. We are growing!
“And we shall win! Ona Move! Long Live John Africa!”
The May 13 national and international protests for Mumia Abu-Jamal promise to be the largest demonstrations for a political prisoner in U.S. history. We urge all of our readers to participate.
The author is the Co-Coordinator of The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and a National Coordinator of Mumia’s defense effort.