12 February 2016
30th Annual Holiday Appeal
Solidarity with Class-War Prisoners
(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)
The Partisan Defense Committee held its 30th annual Holiday Appeal in January and raised thousands of dollars for its program of sending monthly stipends to class-war prisoners. For three decades, the PDC has sent money to those imprisoned for standing up to racist capitalist repression and has also given holiday gifts to them and their families. Support for class-war prisoners is not an act of charity but an act of solidarity from those fighting on the outside to those behind prison walls. The fundraisers took place in New York, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles and Toronto and were attended by PDC supporters, former political prisoners, trade unionists and others.
Launched in 1986, the PDC stipend program revived a tradition of the International Labor Defense (ILD). Under James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the Communist Party and the ILD’s first secretary (1925-28), that organization provided support to over 100 class-war prisoners. Today, we send $50 a month to each of 14 prisoners: former Black Panther and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal; American Indian Movement spokesman Leonard Peltier; Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janine Africa, Janet Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa and Chuck Africa of the Philadelphia MOVE organization; former Black Panther members and supporters Mondo we Langa, Ed Poindexter and Albert Woodfox; and Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning of the Ohio 7. (For more information on the prisoners, see: “Free the Class-War Prisoners!” WV No. 1080, 11 December 2015.)
This expression of support helps ameliorate the harsh conditions of prison hell, both by reminding the prisoners that they are not forgotten and to help them buy things they need in prison, such as snacks, postage, writing materials and sometimes art supplies. As expressed by Ed Poindexter in his greetings to the Holiday Appeal: “Having been abandoned by my five-member team of attorneys, it’s heartening to know that your generous donations are enabling me to retain the services of a new attorney, and for that I’m profoundly thankful.”
This year’s Holiday Appeal was dedicated to the memory of two recently deceased class-war prisoners. Phil Africa died under suspicious circumstances in January 2015. Phil and eight others known as the MOVE 9 were wrongly convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years for the killing of a police officer during a 1978 raid on their home. Hugo Pinell, a courageous anti-racist activist who fought vehemently for prisoners’ rights, was brutally assassinated in New Folsom prison in August 2015, two weeks after his release into the general prison population after 40 years of solitary confinement. Pinell was the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison. They were framed up on charges stemming from the prison upheaval sparked by the August 1971 assassination of Black Panther Party member George Jackson by guards.
Pinell’s daughter Allegra Taylor was a featured speaker at the Oakland fundraiser (see facing page). A poignant tribute to Hugo was also sent by his San Quentin 6 comrades, Willie Sundiata Tate and David Johnson, who recalled: “Those of us who knew him loved him, and those that he railed against hated him because he would not stand by and watch injustices being perpetrated by racism and white supremacy.” On Hugo’s decades in solitary, they noted, “He never broke...and never lost touch with his humanity.”
Every year, a highlight of the Holiday Appeals is the opportunity to hear from the prisoners—and former prisoners—themselves. Mumia sent recorded greetings as did Jaan Laaman (see facing page). Thomas Manning reported that he is waiting to hear about his parole eligibility. The PDC also received greetings from MOVE 9 members Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Eddie Africa, Janine Africa and Janet Africa.
Medical needs are a constant concern for many of the aging class-war prisoners. The generally dismal state of prison health care is exacerbated by the state vendettas against them. Manning’s letter queried whether the prison authorities would allow him to receive desperately needed neck and back surgery. Leonard Peltier was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm. Participants at the New York City fundraiser heard a report of a recent PDC visit to Mumia, including an update on his medical crisis (see page 7).
In New York City we also again welcomed Lynne Stewart. As a lawyer, Stewart spent decades defending Black Panthers and leftist radicals until she was arrested in 2009 and subjected to a frame-up “war on terror” show trial for defending an Islamic cleric imprisoned for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. After nearly dying from breast cancer in prison, Stewart was finally released in December 2013 after a months-long fight for compassionate release, a demand supported by more than 40,000 petitioners worldwide, including the PDC.
Over the past 30 years, the PDC has provided stipends to over 40 prisoners internationally, including eight union militants. Many of these prisoners, largely victims of the racist rulers’ war against militant black activists, have been supported since nearly the beginning of our stipend program. Among them are victims of the notorious FBI Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, frame-up and murder.
One COINTELPRO victim, Francisco Torres, spoke at the New York benefit. Torres, along with other former members of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army known as the San Francisco 8, was falsely charged in 2007 for the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer. The charges against Torres were finally thrown out in 2011.
In his speech referencing protests against the epidemic of racist cop killings in the U.S. and student protests in Puerto Rico, Torres pointed to the importance of our stipend program, emphasizing how any dissent against the racist capitalist system could land someone in the crosshairs of the racist rulers: “You are potential political prisoners. Like when you get arrested at demonstrations, they try to criminalize you, but you are a political prisoner once you are arrested.”
Protests against the epidemic of racist cop killings and other forms of police terror were in the forefront of all presentations. Other speakers in New York included Muata Greene of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and MOVE supporter Orie Lumumba. In Toronto, Bruce Allen, vice president of the Niagara Regional Labour Council, spoke to the ongoing ordeal of Albert Woodfox.
James P. Cannon described the defense work of the ILD as a “school for class struggle,” an opportunity to learn the real nature of the capitalist state. Along those lines, comrade Vincent of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste Montreal local described to the Toronto event his experience of brutal state repression during the 2012 student strike in Quebec. Experiencing that repression taught him some basic truths about the capitalist state. But, as he explained, it took the study of Marxism and the workers movement to understand that “without a perspective of socialist revolution centered on the working class, you end up vainly pressuring one wing or another of the bourgeoisie.”
We urge our WV readers to support the work of the Partisan Defense Committee and to write to these prisoners. Become a PDC sustainer to help drive the work forward. Send contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013. For more information on how to contribute and how to correspond with the class-war prisoners, go to www.partisandefense.org.
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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1083, 12 February 2016)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.