By JEFF MACKLER
Two months in the planning, the April 6 public forum at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley represented a profound contribution to renewing the justice and freedom struggle of the innocent and framed for murder political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
A capacity-filling multi-racial and multi-generational crowd of 400 people, including a broad range of political activists from many social movements, youth, students, old timers, and newcomers, packed the church to hear prominent and inspiring speakers in the freedom movement including:
- Ula Taylor, chair, UC Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies
- Stephen Bingham, past president, San Francisco Bay Area National Lawyers Guild
- Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist
- Angela Davis, civil and human rights activist, scholar, and founder of Critical Resistance
- Judith Ritter, Mumia’s lead attorney
- Pam Africa, founder, leader, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
- Jeff Mackler, director, Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
At one point in the rally Pam Africa asked the audience to rise and display hundreds of signs reading “Krasner: Drop the Appeal!”
Eleven days later, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office was indeed rescinding its appeal of Judge Leon Tucker’s Dec. 27 ruling that grants Mumia the right to re-open his appeals.
Africa has told this writer that the Berkeley event, coupled with the decision of Yale Law School students to dis-invite Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner from a conference there last month, as well a myriad of other coordinated protests and petitions, had the effect of compelling Krasner, who continues to oppose Mumia’s freedom, to “do the right thing.”
An awe-inspiring spirit of solidarity and enthusiasm for renewing the struggle to win Mumia’s freedom prevailed throughout the meeting, with the audience rising at least a dozen times with standing ovations to mark profoundly unifying and penetrating remarks of one speaker after the other.
April 6 evidenced a classic united-front-type mobilization, with almost everyone present contributing to building it in one form or another, especially in the social media. Friends brought friends and helped to spread the word far and wide. Campus Black Student Unions, Cuba solidarity networks, death penalty activists, antiwar coalitions, churches, the UC Berkeley African American Studies Department, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Palestinians, and environmental organizations, as well as several socialist groups, joined to make this event a huge advance for Mumia’s freedom struggle. Local left-oriented radio stations joined the building effort, with Mumia supporters appearing on five occasions. The two-hour rally was videoed by three groups.
A total of $6,500 was collected at the door, during the fund pitch and via some advance contributions. St. John’s Presbyterian Church waived the $1500 rental fee. Professional artists largely waived their fees for designing the flyer accompanying this page. The proceeds of the evening went to the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, via its founder-leader, Pam Africa.
Over 100 attendees signed the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal mailing list. Literature tables from several social movements crammed the large antechamber leading to the spacious St. John’s Presbyterian Church main cathedral.
With the help of Prison Radio, Mumia presented taped remarks to the meeting thanking all the speakers and praising their enduring social justice work. He gave special credit to this writer, the event’s coordinator. He praised Socialist Action for its decades-long dedication to his freedom and its leadership role in the antiwar/anti-imperialist movements. He also credited Socialist Action for its central role in winning a reprieve and freedom for Lynne Stewart, the magnificent attorney who was a government frame-up victim on charges of “conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism.” Stewart served as lead counsel for the “blind sheik” and Egyptian cleric, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was similarity a frame-up victim of the government’s “war on terrorism.”
A 20-foot banner, “Mumia Abu-Jamal Voice of Freedom, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal,” was prominently displayed across the stage.
April 6 was truly a movement effort that came at the right time and with the right cast of speakers, activists, and promoters. The key political lessons attendant to Mumia’s renewed efforts were hammered away by all speakers, each in their own style and in their own manner. They insisted that Mumia’s case, riddled with manufactured “evidence,” racist judges, lying police testimony, intimidation of key witnesses testifying to Mumia’s innocence, exclusion of Black jurors, etc., is no exception but rather a profoundly revealing example of the racist, classist, and corrupt nature of the U.S. criminal injustice system.
The U.S. leads the world in incarcerating the largest number and percentage of its population, the majority Black, Latinix, and Native American. It stands first in the world in the number of people on death row, slated for execution. All agreed that this racist, school-to-prison for profit mass incarceration abomination must be challenged and abolished. A united and massive movement to do so is on the order of the day.
The “Evening for Justice and Freedom” meeting served to re-open Mumia’s case and to introduce his struggle to a new generation of activists, who look for ongoing leadership to the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, after its almost three decades of struggle on Mumia’s behalf in Northern California.