24th Annual PDC Holiday Appeal Benefits

Supporting the Class-War Prisoners

The following article is reprinted in slightly edited form from Workers Vanguard No. 951 (29 January).

The Partisan Defense Committee’s 24th annual Holiday Appeal benefits held in December in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto raised more than $10,000 after expenses. Funds raised at these events go toward providing monthly stipends and holiday gifts to class-war prisoners and their families, an expression of proletarian solidarity and material support. The PDC carries forward the tradition begun by the International Labor Defense (ILD) under James P. Cannon. As the ILD’s first conference in 1925 declared: “The labor movement must be awakened from its slumber and must be roused to the menacing significance of the attempt of the capitalists to break the morale of the working-class by imprisoning its best fighters.”

The case of death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was central to the Holiday Appeal benefits. PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein noted in her speech at the New York City benefit: “In a naked display of racist contempt the U.S. Supreme Court last April 6 turned down Mumia’s petition to overturn his frame-up conviction…. It has sat for months on the Philadelphia district attorney’s appeal to reinstate the death penalty.” On January 19, the Supreme Court issued a decision that brings Mumia one step closer to execution (see PDC statement, page 3). As Wolkenstein underlined, “The state has made it clear for some 28 years that they want Mumia dead…. They howl for his blood because they see in Mumia the voice of defiant opposition to all forms of racist discrimination.”

Addressing the New York benefit was Francisco Torres, one of the San Francisco 8, former Black Panthers prosecuted by the state on bogus charges of killing a San Francisco police officer in 1971. The state had to abandon its prosecution of most members of the SF8 (see “COINTELPRO Charges Dropped Against Four SF8 Defendants,” Workers Vanguard No. 941, 28 August 2009). The conspiracy charge against Torres has been dropped but the vendetta against Torres continues, as a murder charge still hangs over his head despite the lack of any evidence. After giving a brief update on his case and thanking the PDC for its support, Torres stated, “For those of you who still think these dirty tactics and COINTELPRO programs don’t exist…they still prevail and persist.”

Also speaking at the New York benefit was Ralph Poynter, the longtime companion of Lynne Stewart, a 70-year-old leftist attorney who in recent years has been a regular speaker at New York Holiday Appeal benefits. But she was noticeably absent this year. Stewart was hauled off to prison on 19 November 2009 after the courts denied her appeal of her conviction on bogus charges of conspiracy to provide “material support” to terrorism. The courts have threatened to extend her sentence by 28 more years. The 2005 conviction of Stewart, along with translator Mohamed Yousry and paralegal Ahmed Abdel Sattar, stemmed from her legal defense of her client, Egyptian Islamic fundamentalist cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Poynter spoke to the threat that Stewart’s conviction poses to other defense lawyers, pointing to the upcoming show trial in New York City of Guantánamo detainees: “They picked the time to arrest Lynne Stewart to coincide with bringing the prisoners from Guantánamo, and if you don’t believe that, you wait until you see some attorney stand up and say, ‘Are you going to use torture as evidence?’”

Ralph Poynter sparked some debate when he spoke sympathetically of Cynthia McKinney, the capitalist Green Party’s 2008 presidential candidate who was supported by many leftists: “She began to move and if she can move, what about all those people who believe in her? Maybe we can move them a little bit.” The Spartacist League speaker argued against “unity” with “trade-union bureaucrats and the fake left,” who “build illusions that the capitalist state can be reformed,” adding:

“We stand in opposition to the interests of the bourgeoisie and fight for the interests of the working class. We said: ‘No vote to Democrats, Republicans or Greens!’ Cynthia McKinney runs for capitalist parties! Period. That’s the system she defends. We fight for the independence of the working class and oppose calls for unity with the bosses and their parties!”

At the San Francisco benefit, the speaker for the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense, which is fraternally allied with the Spartacist League, addressed the cases of Aaron Harrison and Jason Ruffin, two black members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 who were prosecuted on frame-up charges of “resisting arrest” after being subjected to a racist, anti-union attack by cops at the Sacramento port. After a nine-day trial ended in a hung jury in January 2009, Ruffin and Harrison’s cases were separated. A second jury found Ruffin not guilty. But Harrison was found guilty and sentenced to one year’s probation, a fine and 30 days of community service. As the LBL speaker emphasized:

“The prosecution of Harrison and Ruffin demonstrates the bipartisan ‘war on terror’ to be a union-busting war on blacks and labor as well as immigrants. It also exposes the treacherous support by the ILWU tops for the maritime security measures that allow the government to ride roughshod over and fire dock workers. Down with the maritime security measures!”

Along with Mumia, the PDC benefits honored 15 other class-war prisoners, whose plights must not be forgotten. American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier has spent more than 33 years in prison for his activism on behalf of this country’s oppressed native peoples. The U.S. Parole Commission again turned down his parole request last August, declaring they would not reconsider his case for another 15 years! Eight MOVE members (Chuck, Michael, Debbie, Janet, Janine, Delbert, Eddie and Phil Africa) are in their 32nd year of prison—their only “crime” was having survived a massive cop assault on their Philadelphia home in 1978.

Other PDC stipend recipients include Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning, the last of the anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 who are still in prison. The Ohio 7 took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Former Black Panther Party supporters Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa are victims of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation against the Panthers, framed up and languishing behind bars for 37 years. Hugo Pinell, a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights organizing, is the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison. At the NYC benefit, Monique Code read greetings from Jamal Hart, Mumia’s son, who was sentenced in 1998 on bogus gun-possession charges, framed up for his prominent activism in the campaign to free his father. (For more on these class-war prisoners, see “Build PDC Holiday Appeal,” Workers Vanguard No. 947, 20 November 2009.)

The above does not exhaust the list of those causes and cases for which the working class should mobilize. The Spartacist League speaker at the Los Angeles benefit underlined: “In addition to those mentioned in the program today, we have taken up the fight for those targeted under the puritanical, anti-sex witchhunt.” The speaker pointed to “the struggle for gay rights and their right to marriage (and divorce)” and our stand “against the vindictive persecution of Roman Polanski.... Our fight for Mumia and the other class-war prisoners must be put in the context of the fight for freedom from this entire system, and for the construction of an egalitarian socialist society.”

Our December 2009 Holiday Appeal benefits took place a year into Democrat Barack Obama’s term as U.S. imperialist Commander-in-Chief, as working people continue to be battered by the Great Recession and death and destruction continue to rain down on the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

As the speaker for the Labor Black Struggle League in Chicago underscored:

“Obama bailed out the banks. The auto companies were given an economic windfall while auto workers have seen their lives shattered, their neighborhoods further blighted…. In Barack Obama, the capitalists now have a black overseer on the master’s capitalist plantation…. Working people are under attack but they are not powerless. What’s needed is a fight to break the labor movement from the Democrats. We need a workers party that fights for a workers government that smashes the system of capitalism, of exploitation and oppression.”

It is under this class-struggle program that we call to free all class-war prisoners now! Contribute to the PDC at P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013.