Workers Vanguard No. 991
25 November 2011
Free the Class-War Prisoners!
26th Annual PDC Holiday Appeal
An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!
(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)
The holiday season is once again upon us. Any day now, we’ll be assaulted 24/7 with commercials hawking the latest PlayStations, full-page newspaper ads featuring Christmas lingerie and jewelry, sitcoms with oafish dads sporting hideous Christmas ties and endless broadcasts of the movie about the Midwestern banker who, thanks to his guardian angel Clarence, discovers that “It’s a Wonderful Life.” For most, this year’s holidays mean that the bosses are in the Bahamas sucking up single malt scotch while paychecks are replaced with pink slips and the Santa shimmying down the chimney is a marshal serving a foreclosure notice. At the same time, poor families debate whether the small bit of money set aside for the holidays will be spent on presents or a bus ticket to visit their loved ones behind bars.
For us, this time of year is an occasion to redouble our commitment to those among the inhabitants of America’s vast network of prisons who were singled out for standing up to racist capitalist oppression—the class-war prisoners. Twenty-six years ago, the Partisan Defense Committee revived the program of the early International Labor Defense (ILD) under its secretary, James P. Cannon, of sending stipends to the class-war prisoners—irrespective of their political views or affiliations. As Cannon wrote:
“In one sense of the word the whole of capitalist society is a prison. For the great mass of people who do the hard, useful work there is no such word as freedom. They come and go at the order of a few. Their lives are regulated according to the needs and wishes of a few. A censorship is put upon their words and deeds. The fruits of their labor are taken from them. And if, by chance, they have the instinct and spirit to rebel, if they take their place in the vanguard of the fight for justice, the prisons are waiting.”
—James P. Cannon, “The Cause that Passes Through a Prison” (Labor Defender, September 1926)
We provide monthly stipends to 16 class-war prisoners and holiday gifts for them and their families. The $25 monthly stipends help ease a little bit the horrors of “life” in capitalist dungeons. More importantly, they are a necessary expression of solidarity with these prisoners—a message that they are not forgotten.
Since we initiated this program in 1986, we have provided stipends to over 30 class-war prisoners around the world. Among the first was former Black Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), who spent 27 years in prison, for a crime that the state authorities knew that he did not commit, before being released in 1997. Geronimo died in June, an untimely death undoubtedly linked to his many years in prison.
Most of the class-war prisoners who receive PDC stipends have already spent decades in prison, and the capitalist rulers are determined not only to see them die behind bars but also to repeatedly subject them to harassment and degradation. American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier wrote us about his recent transfer to a prison in Florida far from his family and supporters, where the authorities placed him in a cell with a skinhead sporting on his back a tattoo of a KKK nightrider!
For those behind bars, the human tragedies that befall us all are made ever more acute by the enforced separation from family and friends. Jaan Laaman recently informed us of the death of his son Rick. Earlier this year, death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal lost his sister, Lydia Barashango, who was a tireless activist in Mumia’s fight for freedom. Mumia also had the bittersweet experience of seeing his son, Jamal Hart, railroaded to prison on bogus gun-possession charges in retaliation for speaking out on his father’s behalf, finally released from prison after serving every single day of his 15 and a half year sentence.
Persecution of those imprisoned for their political views and actions has not only continued unabated, but Obama and his top cop, Attorney General Eric Holder, are making reservations for many more to join those already behind bars. The Obama administration has expanded the repressive measures adopted during the Clinton/Bush years that are being wielded against those who propelled him into office—labor, blacks, immigrants and liberal youth. Obama has used the “anti-terror” laws to target leftist supporters of Latin American guerrillas and oppressed Palestinians, far surpassed the Bush regime in deporting immigrants and carried out the assassination abroad of an American citizen without even the pretense of charges or a trial.
The struggle to free the class-war prisoners is critical to educating a new generation of fighters against exploitation and oppression—a schooling centered on the role of the capitalist state, comprising the military, cops, courts and prisons. In recent weeks, the young activists of the “Occupy” protests have been on the receiving end of pepper spray, tear gas and police truncheons, with thousands arrested—a small taste not only of the daily hell of life for black people in this country but also what the bosses’ government unleashes against workers when they engage in class struggle. This was seen in the brutal cop attacks and arrests this September of over 130 leaders, members and supporters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Longview, Washington. In its battle with the giant union-busting EGT grain exporter, the union has engaged in the kind of militant labor actions that built this country’s industrial unions. A defeat in Longview would be a body blow against the ILWU as a whole.
The 16 class-war prisoners receiving stipends from the PDC are listed below:
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a well-known supporter of the MOVE organization and an award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless.” This year the Philadelphia district attorney’s office unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty for this class-war prisoner. The D.A. now has until mid April to convene a new sentencing hearing, the sole purpose of which would be to determine whether Mumia is to be again sentenced to death or will rot in prison for life.
This December marks the 30th anniversary of Mumia’s arrest for a killing that the cops know he did not commit. Mumia was framed up for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. Mountains of documentation proving Mumia’s innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner, have been submitted to the courts. But from top to bottom, the courts have repeatedly refused to hear this overwhelming evidence.
While others plead with the current U.S. president and his attorney general to “investigate” violations of Mumia’s “civil rights,” the PDC says that Mumia’s fate cannot be left in the hands of the government of the capitalists. The racist rulers hate Mumia because they see in him the spectre of black revolt. The stakes are high and the situation is grim, but any real fight for Mumia’s freedom must be based on class-struggle opposition to the capitalist rulers, who have entombed this innocent black man for more than half his life.
Leonard Peltier is an internationally renowned class-war prisoner. Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country’s racist repression of its native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier’s frame-up trial, for the 1975 deaths of two marauding FBI agents in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation, shows what capitalist “justice” is all about. Although the lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 67-year-old Peltier is still locked away. This year, Peltier, who suffers from multiple serious medical conditions, was thrown into solitary confinement and then transferred to Florida, far from his family. He is not scheduled to be reconsidered for parole for another 13 years.
Eight MOVE members—Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa and Phil Africa—are in their 34th year in prison. They were sentenced to 30 to 100 years after the 8 August 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by over 600 heavily armed cops, having been falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops in collaboration with the Feds. After more than three decades of unjust incarceration, most of these innocent prisoners had parole hearings this year, but none were released.
Lynne Stewart is a radical lawyer incarcerated for defending her client, a blind Egyptian cleric imprisoned for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. Last year, she was resentenced to ten years, more than quadrupling her earlier sentence, in a loud affirmation by the Obama administration that there will be no let-up in the massive attack on democratic rights under the “war on terror.” Stewart, now over 72 years old and suffering from breast cancer, is known for her defense of Black Panthers, radical leftists and others reviled by the capitalist state.
Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning are the two remaining anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 still in prison, convicted for their roles in a radical group that took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism, such as military and corporate offices, in the late 1970s and ’80s. Before their arrests in 1984 and 1985, the Ohio 7 were targets of massive manhunts. Their children were kidnapped at gunpoint by the Feds.
The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of radicals during the Vietnam antiwar movement and by New Leftists who wrote off the possibility of winning the working class to a revolutionary program and saw themselves as an auxiliary of Third World liberation movements. But, like the Weathermen before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the “respectable” left. From a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not a crime. They should not have served a day in prison.
Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa are former Black Panther supporters and leaders of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. They were victims of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Poindexter and Mondo were railroaded to prison and sentenced to life for a 1970 explosion that killed a cop, and they have now served more than 40 years in jail. Nebraska courts have repeatedly denied Poindexter and Mondo new trials despite the fact that a crucial piece of evidence excluded from the original trial, a 911 audio tape long suppressed by the FBI, proved that testimony of the state’s key witness was perjured.
Hugo Pinell, the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison, has been in solitary isolation for more than four decades. He was a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights organizing along with George Jackson, his comrade and mentor, who was gunned down by prison guards in 1971. Despite numerous letters of support and no disciplinary write-ups for over 28 years, Pinell was again denied parole in 2009. Now in his 60s, Pinell continues to serve a life sentence at the notorious torture chamber, Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit in California, a focal point for two recent hunger strikes against grotesquely inhuman conditions.
Contribute now! All proceeds from the Holiday Appeals will go to the Class-War Prisoners Stipend Fund. This is not charity but an elementary act of solidarity with those imprisoned for their opposition to racist capitalism and imperialist depredations. Send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013; (212) 406-4252.