By JEFF MACKLER
Demonstrations demanding a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal took place in scores of cities around the world on May 13. It was truly the International Day of Solidarity With Mumia Abu-Jamal that its organizers projected last December at a New York City conference attended by hundreds of activists.
Abu-Jamal, an award-winning journalist framed up in 1982 on charges of murdering a Philadelphia police officer, has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for the past 18 years.
Abu-Jamal’s three books, numerous articles and audio-taped statements, and his courageous fight against the racist U.S. criminal “justice” system have won him the support of groups ranging from Amnesty International to national and international trade-union bodies, the European Parliament, and the Japanese Diet.
At the end of May, meeting in Pittsburgh, 30 miles from his Waynesburg, Pa., prison, 1100 delegates to the convention of the 1.4 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) voted without dissent to support a new trial for Abu-Jamal as well as a moratorium on the death penalty.
The SEIU action opens the door to the support of the entire 14 million-member AFL-CIO, a powerful potential ally in Abu-Jamal’s struggle against the state and federal authorities that seek his execution.
In the United States on May 13, local rallies of about 300 took place in Philadelphia and Chicago-while in San Francisco, more than 6000 rallied in a Western regional protest initiated by the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The San Francisco event was endorsed by more than 100 national, regional, and local groups-including six of the seven San Francisco Bay Area central labor councils and scores of local unions.
A rally at San Francisco’s Civic Center featured representatives from Amnesty International; the ACLU; the National Lawyers Guild; Tom Ammiano, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Dolores Huerta of the United Farmworkers Union; Leo Seidlitz of the San Francisco Labor Council; and youthful leaders who have emerged as important organizers of Abu-Jamal’s defense efforts.
Socialist Action leader Carole Seligman addressed the rally, as did Gloria La Riva of the Workers World Party, Tod Cretien of the International Socialist Organization, and Bob Price, Freedom Socialist Party.
The day before, Bay Area labor councils and some 20 local unions sponsored a “Labor for Mumia” conference attended by 100 labor officials and union members. The Oakland conference approved plans to deepen Mumia’s support among working people and to ready a union contingent for May 13 in San Francisco.
The youthful San Francisco march and rally drew Mumia supporters from throughout the Western states and from as far away as Florida and Tennessee. The rally was addressed by Charleston, S.C., leaders of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and by the West Coast-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union-which last year closed down all West Coast ports from Mexico to Canada to demand Jamal’s freedom.
ILA Local 1422 President Ken Riley described his union’s successful battle to prevent a shipping company from using non-union workers on the Charleston docks. Following a police assault on ILA members during this struggle in January, several ILA members were arrested and today face trumped-up charges. Riley also spoke of his union’s joining the protests to bring down the Confederate flag in Columbia, S.C.
Rallies on five continents!
Rallies, protests at U.S. embassies, and marches demanding a new trial for Mumia took place on May 13 in cities across Europe, as well as in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and in Canada. In Italy, demonstrators mobilized in 20 cities. In France, more than a dozen cities scheduled local rallies-including Paris, where 2000 mobilized.
Sit-ins and other protests were organized at U.S. embassies in Madrid, Barcelona, Quebec, Toronto, Capetown, Vienna, Malta, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City. In Brazil, a score of Mumia solidarity demonstrations were organized across the country. Marches were also organized in Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, and in Luxemburg and Pakistan.
A number of these international protests were initiated by the International Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, the group that initiated the January protests at the U.S. Department of Justice that resulted in a meeting between Justice Department officials and an international delegation of prominent trade unionists and elected officials.
A broad range of national and local Mumia organizations as well as political parties also joined in the international protests. In France, several of the protests were co-sponsored by the French Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League, and the Workers Party.
A week earlier, on May 7, in New York City’s Madison Square Garden Theater, 6000 attended a sold-out rally to hear actors Ossie Davis and Ed Asner, former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, Mumia’s chief legal counsel Leonard Weinglass, and many others.
The New York City rally, initiated by the International Action Center, was the largest indoor protest for a U.S. political prisoner since the struggle for the life of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the early 1950s.
Students at two of the colleges at the University of California Santa Cruz won a victory recently when Provost John Schechter agreed to their request to listen to a taped message from Mumia at their graduation ceremonies this month. This follows a similar action by graduating students at Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in May.
Hearings in federal court
Mumia’s case is now before Federal District Court Judge William H. Yohn Jr., who in May agreed to a defense team request to file a supplementary brief on the issues raised by recent Supreme Court rulings on cases that challenged the notoriously racist and anti-democratic 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act.
The defense team was given until June 2 to file its brief on this matter, limited to 15 pages. The prosecution has until June 23 to reply, after which time Judge Yohn is expected to set the date for oral arguments for which Jamal will be present. A united national effort is underway to pack the Philadelphia courtroom, federal courthouse, and surrounding streets on this still unknown date.
At that time, Abu-Jamal’s defense team will argue for a full evidentiary hearing and new trial to present critical evidence proving Mumia’s innocence that was banned from the trial and appeals record by the notorious state court “hanging” Judge Albert Sabo.
(Jeff Mackler is the National Secretary of Socialist Action, Co-Coordinator of The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a National Coordinator of Mumia’s defense.)