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Commentary :: Organizing : Politics : Race
Open Letter to Fighters for Mumia’s Freedom
15 Apr 2008
Open Letter to Fighters for Mumia’s Freedom: For Mass Labor Mobilizations to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! For United-Front Action!

The Partisan Defense Committee issued the following open letter on April 8.
The March 27 Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision condemns Mumia to either execution or the living death of life in prison. This ruling should make clear to all who are committed to the fight to free this innocent man that he can get no justice at the hands of the very forces that framed him up and sentenced him to die. At every step, the courts have made clear that Mumia has no rights that they are bound to respect and that innocence does not matter. Even those who have mobilized for many years on the basis that Mumia could get a “new, fair trial” now proclaim that there should be no illusions in the American injustice system. Now more than ever, mobilizing mass militant protest in the fight for Mumia’s freedom must be based on rejecting any reliance on the courts.

The Partisan Defense Committee and its fraternal defense organizations internationally have put out a call for united-front action, centered on the social power of the multiracial labor movement, from Oakland and L.A. to Chicago, London, Sydney and elsewhere under the slogans: “Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent! Free Mumia Now! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” These protests have been endorsed by trade unions, such as United Auto Workers Local 3212 in Chicago, the New York City chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the Finsbury Park Branch of the RMT rail and transit workers union in England; by former Black Panther Party militants, including Emory Douglas and David Hilliard as well as Ray Boudreaux and Richard Brown, two of the “San Francisco 8” who are being dragged through the courts on frame-up charges of killing a cop that had been dismissed 30 years ago.

But when we went to an April 5 meeting of the San Francisco Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal to propose that they endorse the Oakland mobilization initiated by the PDC and Labor Black League for Social Defense, they outright refused. Jeff Mackler, a leader of Socialist Action and director of the Mobe, pointed to the PDC/LBL mobilization call and denounced the criticisms there of Socialist Action and others who have subordinated the fight for Mumia’s freedom to the call for a “new trial.” He said that he would not want the “good name” of the Mobe tarnished by endorsing the Oakland demonstration. He accused us of being sectarian. In fact, the Spartacist League, with which the PDC is associated, gave critical support to Mackler’s 2006 Senatorial campaign.

Over two years ago, when the Third Circuit Court allowed Mumia to raise a paltry three—out of over two dozen—issues on appeal, Mackler declared that the ruling was “a major blow to the Pennsylvania legal establishment.” When the recent court ruling burst his bubble, Mackler conceded that his Mobe was in a “demoralized state.” Indeed, this meeting, which was to plan for a protest announced by the Mobe for April 20 in defense of Mumia, made clear that they have no concrete plans for a protest.

On April 6, PDC representatives attended a New York planning meeting called by the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC) for the April 19 demonstration in Philadelphia. Unlike their past appeals for a “new trial,” the Coalition’s flyer for the Philly protest declared, “We Say Free Mumia Now!” Recognizing that this opened the possibility of building a united-front action to mobilize the broadest number of forces on the basis of fighting for Mumia’s freedom, we distributed a letter signed by PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein (printed below) and sought to present a motion motivating the need for united-front action. In response, Suzanne Ross, a leader of the New York Free Mumia Coalition, declared there would be no united front and physically excluded us from the meeting. What are they afraid of?

Ever since the PDC took up Mumia’s case over 20 years ago, we have sought to mobilize the broadest forces in his defense. Rallies and protests initiated by the PDC for Mumia’s freedom have always welcomed organizations and individuals representing diverse political viewpoints and encouraged them to air their points of view, including political differences. Indeed, we had offered the New York Coalition a speaker at the PDC/LBL-initiated emergency protest in lower Manhattan on March 28 (an offer they rejected). We also recognized that these forces were very far removed from our class-struggle perspective. Our fight to free Mumia and abolish the racist death penalty is part of our struggle to bring working people and the oppressed to the conscious understanding that the capitalist state, its cops and courts, is not some “neutral” agency that serves society as a whole, but rather exists to defend the class rule and profits of the capitalists against those whom they exploit and oppress. The frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a stark expression of the class and race bias of the capitalist courts and underlines the need for the multiracial working class to champion the fight for black liberation.

We fight for mass protest for Mumia’s freedom based on labor’s social power, which lies in its ability to choke off the profits that are the lifeblood of capitalism. To that end, the PDC has fought for genuine united-front action in Mumia’s defense—i.e., unity in action based on agreed-upon slogans and complete freedom of criticism. That means an open debate about what strategy is needed to rebuild the movement for Mumia and fight for his freedom. The call for a “new trial” is based on a political program of reliance on the capitalist class, its politicians and courts to afford justice to fighters for the oppressed. Nobody ever called for a “new trial” for Angela Davis, Huey Newton or Nelson Mandela. Had the political counterposition between our call to “Free Mumia” and those advocating a “new trial” been openly debated over the past decade, the movement for Mumia today would have been stronger and firmly based on the need to mobilize to free this innocent man.

Our exposure of how the liberals and reformists have undermined the fight for Mumia’s freedom with their calls for a “new, fair trial” has earned us the wrath of those who are hostile to the perspective of a class-struggle movement for Mumia’s freedom. The rejection of our urgent call for united-front action by the Mobe and the New York Coalition is political cowardice. At this urgent hour, they are subordinating the fight for Mumia’s freedom to their fear of political debate.

The call for a “new trial” was consciously tailored to appeal to liberals whose concern lies with preserving the fraud of American “democracy,” not with Mumia’s freedom. A prime example is journalist David Lindorff, who openly stated in his book, Killing Time, that “I’m not convinced that Mumia Abu-Jamal was simply an innocent bystander” and that Mumia may have shot officer Faulkner. Lindorff is welcomed with open arms by the reformists while the PDC, which has fought for 20 years to prove Mumia’s innocence and win his freedom, is excluded.

When Mumia was faced with imminent death at the hands of the state’s executioner in 1995, mass protests, including by unions and other organizations representing millions, were mobilized around the world and stayed the executioner’s hand. Before this, Socialist Action and others had little to say about Mumia’s case. Court hearings that summer to overturn his frame-up conviction revealed more and more evidence of Mumia’s innocence, much of it uncovered by PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper, who served on Mumia’s legal defense from 1995 to 1999. But rather than using this evidence to arm Mumia’s supporters and win new activists to the fight for his freedom, the reformist left adopted the call for a “new trial.” As each new witness gave further proof of Mumia’s innocence—William Singletary, Veronica Jones, Pamela Jenkins—the reformists deepened their commitment to promoting illusions in American “justice.” This demobilized a movement of millions—the clear message was: Why mobilize on the streets and in the unions if Mumia can get justice in the courts?

By 2001, the reformists were actively burying evidence of Mumia’s innocence. In March of that year, Dan Williams, then co-counsel to Leonard Weinglass on Mumia’s legal team, published Executing Justice, which denigrated evidence of Mumia’s innocence, denouncing the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, killed officer Faulkner, before that evidence was filed in court. For this betrayal, Mumia fired Weinglass and Williams. In May 2001, Mumia’s new legal team filed the Beverly evidence in state and federal courts along with sworn declarations by Mumia and his brother, Billy Cook, that Mumia had nothing to do with Faulkner’s shooting. These statements only amplified the mountains of evidence of Mumia’s innocence. But they were too hot for the reformists and liberals to handle. Speaking to them, Mumia wrote in May 2001: “Many of you have said that you don’t believe in the system, yet, in your hearts you refuse to let it go.”

Four months later, in the face of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the liberals and reformists recoiled under the pressure of increased repression and “national unity” patriotism. In December 2001, federal district court judge William Yohn overturned the death sentence while affirming Mumia’s frame-up conviction. This was a demoralizing blow to the advocates of a “new trial,” who had long preached that Mumia would find justice in the federal courts. But rather than mobilizing on the call to free Mumia, they told activists to look to the next federal appeals court. Protests that once drew tens of thousands were reduced to a few hundred at best.

Time is short. Mumia has nearly reached the end of the legal road, and there is no reason to believe he can receive a better outcome before the full Third Circuit Court or from the neo-segregationist U.S. Supreme Court. Mumia’s struggle embodies the struggle against this system of capitalist exploitation and racist oppression. This underlines the urgent need to mobilize the social power of labor in his defense. There can be no flinching on Mumia’s innocence, on the need to fight for his freedom and to abolish the racist death penalty. We call on all fighters for Mumia’s freedom to mobilize now and join in genuine mass united-front protests. Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent! Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!

* * *

We print below in full the letter, signed by PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein, that was distributed at the April 6 New York Free Mumia Coalition meeting.

We were pleased to see a leaflet calling for the 19 April demonstration in Philadelphia under the slogan “We Say Free Mumia Now!” The fight for Mumia’s freedom is at an urgent juncture. The recent court decision illuminates for any who continued to have such illusions that there is no justice in the capitalist courts. As Pam Africa stated in her “Call for 19 April Mobilization” that was published in Workers World on 3 April: “We have absolutely no faith in the judicial system, but if Mumia does have a court proceeding, we will continue to mobilize to pack the courtroom and the streets in support of Mumia, just like we have always done whenever there was a courtroom proceeding for Mumia, whether he was present or not. However, we know that if Mumia gets justice, it will not come from the courts, but only from the pressure generated by the people.”

We need to bring out all the forces who agree to fight for Mumia’s freedom in a mass united-front action in Philadelphia on 19 April. We are already working to that end and are building a contingent for that demonstration. This is an urgent situation since the racist rulers are still committed to putting Mumia to death or entombing him for life—which we cannot allow. The March 27 decision by the Third Circuit Court is a wake up call to any activist who thought that the federal courts could be equitable and fair to Mumia. 25 years of legal proceedings starkly show that there is no middle ground—it’s either fight for Mumia’s freedom or accede to his legal lynching or life in prison.

As the Partisan Defense Committee argued in Philadelphia at the 31 March planning meeting, we are renewing our appeal that the 19 April demonstration be built on the basis of a united front: unity in action while having freedom of criticism. That means all participating organizations agreeing with the slogan “Free Mumia Now!” should be encouraged to put forward their own views in their leaflets, placards and chants to build for the 19 April rally under their own names. Every endorser should be encouraged to put out their own statement for the rally with which other endorsers would not necessarily agree. Endorsers would only agree with the united front slogan—Free Mumia Now!—and the time, date and place of the rally. No endorser would be affiliated with the content of the leaflets of any other endorsing organization. All endorsing organizations would be able to have a speaker at the podium as well. This way, the maximum number of organizations representing the most diverse opinions can be united against this racist frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal and fight for Mumia’s freedom!

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