By JEFF MACKLER
“The Sunday, Aug. 13 protest at the Democratic Party National Convention,” according to Jim Lafferty, co-coordinator of the Los Angeles Committee to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, “will be the largest demonstration for innocent death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal in Los Angeles history.”
Lafferty, also the Los Angeles executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, told Socialist Action that buses have been chartered by Mumia support groups throughout the Western states.
“Despite police and city council efforts to prevent us from exercising our legal and democratic rights,” said Lafferty, “and despite media attempts to falsely portray our demonstration as violent in order to discourage participation, we expect thousands of people to join us in Los Angeles for a massive, legal, peaceful protest for Mumia. Ours is an independent demonstration against the bipartisan attacks on Mumia.”
The Los Angeles Committee was initially granted a Pershing Square assembly site permit and a Broadway march route to the Staples Convention Center, the site of the Democratic Party Convention. But when the LA City Council rescinded these permits, the committee was compelled to file a court suit.
The ensuing battle over the right to peacefully protest hit the front pages of local newspapers, as city officials conjured up spurious arguments to deny Mumia protesters their democratic rights. The fact that Democratic Party presidential candidate Albert Gore was scheduled to stay in a hotel across the street from Pershing Square, for example, was cited as a reason to deny the permit.
The legal battle was resolved in mid-July when a local judge chastised both the L.A. city council and police department and ordered the granting of permits for every aspect of the Mumia protests, including a 12 noon assembly site at Pershing Square and a final rally site within 30 to 100 yards of the Democratic Party convention.
To further insure the peaceful and orderly character of the march and rally, the host L.A. Mumia committee is organizing volunteer monitors and legal observers.
Importance of mass action
Several months ago, a few small groups proposed that the Aug. 13 Mumia demonstration include a civil disobedience component. But this was unanimously rejected by protest organizers, who aimed at mobilizing the largest number of Mumia supporters possible.
Civil disobedience protests by Mumia supporters in recent years have been essentially small-scale non-violent actions designed in their organizers’ view to try to capture media attention because of the willingness of participants to risk arrest for a just cause. To date, no more than a few hundred people have participated in such actions, while tens of thousands of others have joined mass demonstrations that are accessible to everyone.
The latter demonstrations offer the best opportunity of involving the broad new sectors of the population necessary to make the price of Mumia’s “legal” murder too high to pay for this country’s rulers in regard to a fundamental loss of credibility in the criminal “justice” system.
Unlike the mass civil disobedience that was an important part of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, often involving tens of thousands of people, today’s civil disobedience advocates are largely isolated from the broad constituencies that have yet to be won to active involvement on Mumia’s behalf.
Mumia’s freedom and other significant social movement victories will be won by the engagement of broad sectors of U.S. society, as opposed to the dedicated, but isolated, actions of the few who tend to substitute their own personal commitment for the winning of the mass movement that is today within our capacities.
The Los Angeles Mumia protest has been endorsed by scores of local, state, and national organizations, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and several locals of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The L.A. County AFL-CIO endorsement follows a resolution adopted on July 18 by the state convention of the 1.8 million-member California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. The resolution “calls upon [Federal Appeals Court] Justice William H. Yohn Jr. to hear Mumia Abu-Jamal’s new evidence and witnesses, and if he refuses, calls upon the president of the United States to intercede and order a new trial.”
The California AFL-CIO pointed to “compelling evidence of [Mumia’s] innocence and to gross misconduct on the part of the police, prosecutor, and judge.” Approved unanimously and forwarded to the national AFL-CIO for similar action, it urged “the entire labor movement to organize and educate our members and to bring organized labor’s power to bear to assure justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
A broad range of speakers will be featured at the Los Angeles rally, including actor Ed Asner; representatives of labor, church and human rights organizations; Mumia’s chief legal counsel, Leonard Weinglass; and Pam Africa, leader of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia national defense coordinators Clark Kissinger, Jeff Mackler, and Monica Moorehead will also speak, along with representatives of various local and regional solidarity groups.
Rendell: a typical Democrat
The L.A. Mumia coalition and virtually all co-sponsoring organizations have scored the policies of Democrats and Republicans alike in regard to Mumia’s case.
Democratic Party National Committee Chair Ed Rendell has been a central figure in the persecution of Abu-Jamal. Rendell was an early supporter of the Frank Rizzo-led Philadelphia police department, which in 1970 launched raids on the local offices of the Black Panther Party. Rizzo forced the beleaguered Panthers to strip naked and line up against a wall for news photographers. He declared “open season” on Black radicals.
Rendell’s cop friends in the 39th district of the Philadelphia police department became the only major police unit in America to be investigated for corruption by the U.S. Justice Department.
Both Rendell and Rizzo had typical Democratic Party careers-serving wealthy business interests at the expense of working people and the oppressed. While Rizzo was elected mayor, Rendell became Philadelphia District Attorney and helped to preside over the police persecution of the MOVE organization [that Mumia had defended while a radio journalist].
In 1977 Mayor Rizzo set up a blockade of the MOVE house in the Powelton Village district of Philadelphia to starve out its residents. Under pressure from the federal government, it was DA Ed Rendell who entered into an agreement to end the police blockade by settling all the trumped up charges brought against MOVE. But Rendell then reneged on the agreement, and the courts soon issued arrest warrants for virtually every MOVE member.
On Aug. 8, 1978, the police launched an all out assault on the MOVE house. They opened fire on the house and MOVE members barricaded in the basement were flooded out with fire hoses.
It was Rendell’s office that then prosecuted the survivors of the attack. The MOVE 9, as they became known, were charged in the death of a police officer, shot (most likely by other cops) during the wild police firing on the MOVE house. The nine were each sentenced to from 30 to 100 years in prison, despite the fact that the trial judge admitted in public that he had no idea who fired the shot that killed the cop.
In 1982 Rendell oversaw the prosecution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Just last year, Rendell was associated with the publicly discredited effort to present a demonstrated liar, Philip Bloch, as a person who had allegedly heard Mumia confess more than a decade earlier.
Eight years ago, Rendell, the Democratic Party candidate, was elected mayor of Philadelphia on a promise to “tame” the municipal workers’ unions in order to “save” the nearly bankrupt city. He remained mayor until last year when his “tough on crime” and anti-labor career was advanced with his appointment as head of the Democratic Party National Committee.
The role of the Democrats in Mumia’s persecution is front and center at the Aug. 13 protest. President Clinton was the guest of honor at the national convention of the Fraternal Order of Police, (FOP) the only national group that has organized and financed a national campaign for Mumia’s execution.
Clinton seated Maureen Faulker at his FOP convention banquet table. Faulkner, the wife of the Philadelphia police officer Mumia was falsely convicted of murdering, has been a virtual FOP spokesperson, traveling the nation to advocate Mumia’s murder.
In 1996 President Clinton signed into law the notorious Effective Death Penalty Act. This racist throwback to the pre-civil rights era was designed to render state court death penalty convictions almost immune from federal court review.
Democratic Party presidential candidate Albert Gore’s advocacy of the death penalty parallels Clinton’s. Gore solidarized with his presidential “opponent,” Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who leads the nation in execution orders, in the recent state killing of the innocent death row prisoner, Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham). Gore supported Clinton’s allocation of billions in federal funds for the hiring of 100,000 new police officers to help fill the jails of Clinton’s increasingly privatized-for-profit prison industrial complex.
The L.A. demonstration will also protest Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Thomas Ridge, who signed two warrants for Mumia’s execution and sought the Republican Party’s vice presidential nomination on the strength of his racist application of the death penalty.
Advancing one’s political career at Mumia’s expense and in the name of “crime fighting” is the stock in trade of all “Republocrats,” Mumia’s term for the twin parties of bigotry that will be protested on Aug. 13.
For Los Angeles information, call: (323) 653-4510. In San Francisco, call: (415) 695-7745.