Civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart passes away

Nov. 2013 Lynne4

BY JEFF MACKLER
— UPDATED March 7 — A few minutes ago my dear friend and comrade Ralph Poynter called to say that his lifelong companion, Lynne Stewart, passed away. She was 77, of Irish origin, and a born fighter who unswervingly devoted herself to humanity’s cause.
Just a few weeks earlier Lynne pledged to meet me in NY in a couple of months, over dinner to be sure, when we would dance once again to demonstrate that her life still had some time to go …  and for joy.
A few years earlier, when prospects looked bleak to win her freedom based on “compassionate release,” Lynne insisted that she would prevail and that she would celebrate with us in San Francisco to the tunes of a brass band. Sure enough, a brass band did appear at Lynne’s welcome home San Francisco rally, and she and Ralph, surrounded by her loving friends, danced in the streets at 15th and Valencia. It was a victory well worth the effort, allowing Lynne a couple of more years to fight on against all that is evil in this barbarous capitalist world, and to smile at every inch we collectively gained as we fought back.  
Lynne was always surrounded by family and loved ones, with children from her first marriage, and Ralph’s too, as well kids together, and grandkids—all filled with admiration for Grandma Lynne—all the recipient of Lynne’s warmth, dedication, mindfulness and love.
Lynne was fond of saying, including to The New York Times reporter who interviewed her at her home a few weeks before her death, that she had no intention of leaving this earth quietly. Quoting Dillon Thomas she told The Times, whose reporter followed the next day with a contemptuous hate piece  recounting his corporate master’s ire for everything wonderful in Lynne life and struggles, that she had no intention of “going gently into that good night.”
That was Lynne’s credo, her detractors notwithstanding. Always the poet’s words in mind, Lynne insisted:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Funds are urgently needed to cover final family expenses. Give generously comrades and friends. We are honoring Lynne’s gift to us all and to all who rage against injustice everywhere.
 Lynne Stewart Organization, 1070 Dean St., Brooklyn, NY 11216. 1st floor. (Make checks payable to Lynne Stewart Org.)

*****

By JEFF MACKLER

March 6 — This morning I spoke with Lynne Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter, at their home in Brooklyn, N.Y. We managed to do the call via video camera, where Ralph and the family were surrounding Lynne, who had just had a second series of mini-strokes that rendered her unable to speak but able to hear what were perhaps my last words of love and solidarity. Lynne opened her eyes in acknowledgment, bravely trying to muster a smile.

Lynne’s cancer has now spread throughout her body, including her brain. Ralph explained that her days are numbered and she is unlikely to make it to her next scheduled medical appointment on March 16.

Lynne and I go back some 63 years, to 1954-58 when we were students at Jamaica High School in Queens, N.Y. We relished singing the Jamaica High School song together at many a solidarity meeting. Decades later, we taught school in NYC, and were union activists in the late 1960s, when we opposed the 1968 racist school strike led by the AFT’s reactionary leader, Albert Shanker. In those days, young Lynne, now 77, was often seen unconventionally riding on the back of Ralph’s motorcycle, on her way to this or that protest.

Another several decades later, when Lynne faced frame-up charges of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism stemming from her issuing a press release on behalf of her client, the famous blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rachman, we engaged once again to try to win her freedom. After a long legal battle, when I headed Lynne’s defense committee on the West Coast, Lynne was cruelly sentenced to 10 years in a Texas prison, after vindictive federal prosecutors appealed a federal court judge’s sentence of some 18 months.

After she had served three years in prison, we mounted a campaign that won the support of 70,000 social activists across the country. Lynne, cancer ridden, was finally granted “compassionate release” following her prison doctors’ diagnosis that she had less then a year to live. Lynne beat the odds and spent almost three years in freedom, continuing her lifelong commitment to defending all those victims of capitalist injustice.

Lynne was among [unjustly imprisoned political activist and writer] Mumia Abu-Jamal’s most ardent supporters. Lynne’s court cases included some of the seminal Weatherman cases in the 1970s as well as an amazing victory on behalf of Larry Davis, who defended himself against a multiple cop shooting invasion of his house, where a number of the shoot-first police were killed.

Pilloried by the corporate media, who mocked her every success in the rigged criminal “justice” system, Lynne never bent to her accusers’ contempt for an attorney for those on the other side of the class line, as Lynne aptly described it, no matter how unpopular her client.

Lynne’s life was one of dedication to all the people’s causes. I valued her friendship, her humor, her sparkle, and her hatred for all that is evil and yet love for all that is beautiful. Only Lynne began or ended her speeches by reading from one of the world’s great poets, whose universal appeal to what is best in all of us, rang true.

No doubt we will remember Lynne well when we in the Bay Area plan to memorialize her lifelong achievements. Meanwhile, her family is in dire need of financial support as these last days painfully proceed and the months before. Here’s an appeal by Ralph and the family’s long-term friend, Betty Davis.

Please send your generous contribution as per the information below.

In solidarity and with the greatest admiration for a comrade and friend whose life set the bar high for all of us who cherish human freedom and dignity.

Jeff Mackler is the past West Coast coordinator of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee and director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

From Ralph and Betty:

Once again the clock is ticking for Lynne Stewart. She has been in a state of medical crisis for a week and  all of the expenses are mounting.  We urgently need her supporters and all concerned ‘spirit warriors’ of ‘good will’ to  check out the INDIEGOGO Appeal or send a donation  ASAP to the: Lynne Stewart  Organization, 1070 Dean St., Brooklyn, NY 11216-1st fl. (make checks payable to Lynne Stewart Org.)

A message from Bob Lederer:

Please forward widely and share Facebook post to encourage donations. Ralph Poynter told me the following very sad news last night, and has authorized me to distribute it publicly: Our beloved People’s Champion (and WBAI Local Station Board member) Lynne Stewart suffered a major stroke last Wednesday, the latest complication from the cancer that has now spread throughout her body and invaded her brain. She is resting comfortably at home and is not in pain, but can only speak sporadically. Her doctor has said she does not have much time left.

Ralph and Sister Betty Davis are of course taking good care of her, as are her doctor-daughter Zenobia Brown and long-term friend of 63 years Virginia Gernes. Ralph welcomes your emails: (at mailto:ralph.poynter@gmail.comralph.poynter@gmail.com ). Because of the high expense of Lynne’s ongoing care, Betty has launched an online fundraising campaignPlease donate generously.

I learned all this minutes after Ralph accepted an award for Lynne at a major public event by the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, which honored a large group of lawyers and doctors who have supported U.S. political prisoners. As we know, for years Lynne went out of her way to provide strong representation to a pantheon of dedicated radical activists facing prison — before she herself suffered a similar, cruel fate.

Let’s all send Lynne, Ralph & Betty our hugs, love, and best wishes for this final journey. Such a heroic fighter—Lynne, we love you!

P.S. Ironically, her latest stroke occurred hours after a New York Times article appeared based on an interview with her, which noted that she had survived 3 years beyond the compassionate release granted her (on Dec. 31, 2013), following a statement by her prison doctor that she would not likely survive beyond 18 months:   Ms. Stewart said in a 12-page handwritten letter to the judge in 2013: “Isolated, in hospital, as I now am, I have time to contemplate life and death. I do not intend to go ‘gently into that good night,’ as Dylan Thomas wrote. There is much to be done in this world. I do know that I do not want to die here in prison — a strange and loveless place. I want to be where all is familiar — in a word, home.”

This is a fitting reminder of that people’s victory 3 years ago, brought about by Lynne’s will of steel, Ralph’s indefatigable barnstorming, and the movement’s rallying behind her.