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The Campaign to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal. Protests from Brazil, South Africa, Germany

NY Spartacist, 7 February 1995

FEBRUARY 7--Faced with an escalating state offensive to shove ever more victims into this country's execution chambers, opponents of the barbaric death penalty around the world are rallying to the campaign to save the life of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal in Pennsylvania. Jamal's case is becoming the focus of opposition to racist capital punishment. Trade unionists, leftists and anti-racist youth have responded to urgent appeals by the Partisan Defense Committee and its fraternal organizations in other countries for united-front actions in defense of Jamal. In Berlin, Germany today, 300 people turned out in a cold rain to demonstrate outside the office of the U.S. embassy to demand: Mumia Abu-Jamal must not die!

As part of the right-wing victory in last November's elections, Republican Tom Ridge became governor of Pennsylvania vowing to speed up the racist assembly line of death. This is particularly threatening for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Immediately after taking office last month, Ridge announced that he would begin signing death warrants in February. He also proposed legislation mandating that executions be carried out within 30 days after warrants are signed. Ominously, on January 13 Jamal was moved to a new maximum security prison in a remote southwestern corner of the state.

Outside Ridge's inauguration in Harrisburg on January 17, some 250 people, including PDC supporters, joined a protest initiated by International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Equal Justice USA and Refuse & Resist. A protest by several dozen supporters of Jamal also took place that day in Minneapolis.

For many seeking to fight the all-sided racist onslaught and capitalist injustice, the international campaign to save Mumia Abu-Jamal is a rallying point for concerted action. His victimization throws a spotlight on what the death penalty in this deeply racist country is all about: "legal lynching." Jamal is a former leader of the Black Panther Party, a supporter of the MOVE organization, and a courageous journalist known for his searing indictments of America's racist rulers. Locked away on death row for 13 years after being framed for the killing of a Philadelphia cop, he remains the "voice of the voiceless," writing a column which regularly appears in many papers including Workers Vanguard.

In the coming weeks, rallies and forums to defend Jamal will be held in cities across the U.S. The New York City rally, to be hosted by Ossie Davis, will be co-sponsored by the PDC and the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, as will the Chicago rally. Joining those sponsors in the Oakland rally will be the Labor Black League for Social Defense. The PDC is also organizing forums in Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and, with the Black Student Alliance of Georgia State University, in Atlanta. There will also be a benefit concert in San Francisco on February 19 by the band Pothole.

In the fight for freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, we place no confidence in the capitalist courts and all faith in the mobilization of the masses. We look in particular to the social power of the working class in defending Jamal and all class-war prisoners. The Chicago and Oakland rallies are being held in union halls, and rallies around the country will be addressed by speakers from a number of unions, representing transit and communications workers, teachers and other public employees.

In Los Angeles, Doris Boyd Snyder, first vice president of SEIU Local 399, known for its "Justice for Janitors" campaign, will be a guest speaker at a forum held at the Local 399 hall. This local held a demonstration last August at the L.A. District Attorney's office demanding freedom for former Black Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt). Geronimo is a victim of the government's COINTELPRO program against black militants and has been imprisoned 24 years for a crime the state knows he could not have committed.

United-front demonstrations and rallies have also been called for Sydney, Australia, February 9; Paris, February 21; Tokyo, February 26; Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, March 11; as well as London in mid-March. As in the U.S., all money raised at these events will go to Jamal's legal defense.

Militants Mobilize for Mumia in Germany

A high point of the February 7 demonstration was a statement from the powerful IG Medien newspaper union, announcing that it had made Mumia Abu-Jamal an honorary member. This act of solidarity exemplifies the considerable union support rallying to Mumia's cause. Another highlight was a statement of greetings from prominent American leftist Angela Davis, who declared, "The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has emerged as the most important case in this challenge to the death penalty."

The demo drew significant numbers of high-school students from as far away as Hamburg and Halle. The rally was addressed by, among others, spokesmen for the Jewish Group of Berlin, the Kurdistan Information Bureau (itself the object of government repression), and by Heinrich Fink, who was witchhunted out of his position as rector of Humboldt University following the capitalist reunification of Germany.

This united-front protest was initiated by the KfsV (Committee for Social Defense--fraternal organization of the Partisan Defense Committee), which along with the Spartakist Workers Party (SpAD) and the radical AGIPA-Press collective have for years been publicizing Jamal's case. The extensive list of endorsers points to broad support for Jamal in Germany, where the death penalty is identified with Hitler's Third Reich. In recent years, tens of thousands of youth have mobilized against anti- immigrant racism and fascist terror. The call for the protest was also issued in Turkish, seeking to bring this campaign to the large, heavily proletarian Turkish and Kurdish communities.

Endorsers included the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and a number of prominent individual PDS supporters, including leftist writer and Bundestag deputy Stefan Heym, Dachau survivor Karl Kielhorn, and veteran trade unionist Jakob Moneta. The head of the PDS Bundestag parliamentary group, Gregor Gysi, had earlier endorsed the Jamal demo at the annual January 15 commemoration of the 1919 murder of Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, where over 8,000 brochures on Jamal's case were distributed. Other endorsers of the Jamal demo included the Communist Platform (KPF) of the PDS in Hannover and Sachsen-Anhalt, and the "Red Riot" youth group in Paderborn, supporters of Ernest Mandel's United Secretariat.

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal was a prominent issue at the PDS party congress in Berlin in late January. Posters of Mumia were widely displayed, and stacks of KfsV leaflets were to be found on literature tables of numerous organizations. Hundreds of signatures on petitions to Pennsylvania governor Ridge were gathered. Delegates at the youth session of the congress unanimously voted to join the international campaign for Jamal and to call on all PDS locals and members to build the February 7 protest. However, the day before the demo, the PDS national executive decided, for sectarian reasons, not to have an official presence. Nonetheless, the Mainz PDS sent a message of solidarity and Berlin PDS state assembly deputy Sigrun Steinborn addressed the rally.

Youth have been especially active in the campaign in Germany. The PDS youth in Halle sent a delegation, and the HDS socialist group at Berlin's Humboldt University actively built the protest. At a Berlin high-school conference four days earlier, some 100 students enthusiastically took up the case, hitting the streets with petitions and posters. Through such efforts, the KfsV was able to send petitions to Governor Ridge with over 1,000 names.

International Support for Jamal

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has been taken up by opponents of capital punishment and racial oppression around the globe. The PDC recently received over 120 signatures on petitions for Jamal from the Netherlands. The Confederation of Kurdish Associations in Europe has added its voice to the call to save Mumia.

In France, the Committee in Defense of Liberties and Human Rights, headed by former Communist Party leader Georges Marchais, condemned the judicial vendetta "to reduce to silence, by execution, a man who has put his voice, his pen and his talent at the service of those who suffer." Prominent Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld and his organization, Sons and Daughters of French Jewish Deportees, denounced Jamal's plight as "inhuman" in a February 1 protest letter to Governor Ridge which concluded, "Please don't give your agreement to his execution."

In Brazil, the Palmares Cultural Foundation (named after slave revolt leader Zumbi de Palmares) fired off a letter to Governor Ridge in December. They wrote: "This is the call which, here in Brazil, we have heard in unison from many of the Afro- Brazilian movements and movements for human rights.... As black citizens of a country with no death penalty, we call for saving the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal. And we join our voice to that cry which today is echoing here in Brazil as well: MUMIA ABU-JAMAL MUST NOT DIE!"

That cry echoes today as well in South Africa, where state executions of blacks and others were a central component of repression under the racist apartheid system. Last September, a leftist working-class organization in South Africa sent the following message to the PDC:

The Workers' Organisation for Socialist Action (WOSA), together with the WORKERS' LIST PARTY, wants to express its abhorrence at the continued use, by the United States government, of state terror in the form of capital punishment."The fact that this abominably barbaric measure is also being used in a racist manner and for political ends, as in the case of Cde. Mumia Abu-Jamal, is a clear indication of the bankruptcy of western imperialism."We call for the immediate abolition of the racist and barbaric death penalty, and add our voices to all brothers and sisters in the United States and elsewhere who are demanding a retrial, at the very least, for Cde. Abu-Jamal.

Abolish the Death Penalty!

The campaign for Jamal is an opportunity to mobilize everywhere against the bourgeois injustice system in all its forms. International solidarity actions can be a tremendous impetus in bringing the power of the working class to bear on behalf of Jamal and all class-war prisoners. In the early 1930s, labor-backed protests in Berlin, Paris and other cities in Europe, as well as throughout the U.S., were instrumental in preventing the legal lynching of the Scottsboro Boys, nine black youths falsely accused of raping two white women.

As the recent PDC call to "Save Mumia Abu-Jamal!" (see WV No. 615, 27 January) noted: "The racist death penalty goes hand in hand with the extralegal terror of the KKK and summary executions by cops on the street to keep black people `in their place.' The fight to abolish the death penalty is part of the historic struggle for black equality in America." Mobilize now--join the campaign to save Mumia Abu-Jamal!