16 December 2016

Former Class-War Prisoners Address NYC Holiday Appeal Benefit

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

Some 150 people turned out on December 2 for the Partisan Defense Committee’s 31st annual Holiday Appeal benefit in New York City. This year’s lively benefit included two new guests for the PDC, courageous former class-war prisoners Robert King and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. The successful event raised funds for the PDC’s monthly stipend program and holiday gifts to class-war prisoners—not as an act of charity but of solidarity with these victims of racist capitalist injustice.

The Spartacist League initiated the PDC in 1974. The model was the International Labor Defense under James P. Cannon of the early Communist Party. As a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization, the PDC takes up cases and causes whose successful outcome is in the interests of the whole of the working people. Those defended need not, and often do not, share our Marxist outlook. It is more important than ever to continue the work of the PDC. As a PDC spokesman noted at the event, “Class-struggle legal and social defense, including support for class-war prisoners, is of vital importance to labor activists, fighters for black rights and immigrant rights and defenders of civil liberties.”

The stipend program, which began in 1986, currently provides material support to 12 prisoners: 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; Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning of the Ohio 7; and Ed Poindexter, a Black Panther supporter and leader of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. Poindexter’s comrade and fellow stipend recipient Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa died last March after 45 years behind bars and was recognized for his unwavering opposition to racial oppression.

This year’s benefit provided an occasion to honor the Angola 3 (King, Woodfox and Herman Wallace), who collectively spent over a century in solitary confinement at one of America’s most notorious hellholes, Angola prison. Its jailers entombed these Black Panther Party members in retaliation for their having organized work stoppages and other protests against horrific prison conditions. Woodfox and Wallace were falsely convicted of the 1972 killing of a guard; King was framed for killing a fellow inmate the next year. Wallace died from liver cancer in October 2013, three days after his release from prison. King was released in 2001, and Woodfox finally in February.

King and Woodfox (who became a stipend recipient in 2014) were introduced at the New York benefit by a recorded greeting from America’s foremost class-war prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who also wrote a preface to King’s book From the Bottom of the Heap. A former Panther spokesman and journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless,” Mumia was framed up for his political views on false charges of killing a police officer and spent nearly three decades on Pennsylvania’s death row. Now consigned to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, Mumia is fighting for medical treatment to save his life, as well as for his freedom, which the PDC has long championed. In his recording for the Holiday Appeal, Mumia observed:

“Today you’ll hear from two of the finest former members of the Black Panther Party, brothers Albert Woodfox and Robert King. Truth is, if the free political prisoner movement was stronger, there’d be three brothers standing here, Herman Hooks Wallace among them. Yet we remember Hooks, the third of the Angola 3. These brothers survived decades in solitary, decades in one of the most hellish prisons in America, one whose very name reflects its horrid inheritance of a slave plantation, Angola, Louisiana. All members of the Black Panther Party knew of these brothers because they had the nerve, the revolutionary audacity, to organize a chapter of the Black Panther Party in the very bowels of a maximum-security prison: Angola. For that, and that alone, what the state called ‘Black Pantherism,’ they were sentenced to life bits in solitary, the dictionary definition of torture.”

Both Woodfox and King received standing ovations (for Woodfox’s remarks, see separate article). King, who upon release dedicated himself to winning freedom for his comrades Wallace and Woodfox, thanked Mumia “for his touching introduction of us, and I need to say to Mumia and all the brothers and sisters who remain in prison that hope is on the way.” King explained, “When we say free all political prisoners, free prisoners of class war and so forth, we really mean this. You know, Frederick Douglass said a long time ago, this struggle may be a moral or may be a physical one, but nevertheless there has to be a struggle and the struggle goes on. It continues.”

Touching on a theme of his book, which chronicles the series of racist frame-ups that landed him in Angola, King said: “Legality and morality do not shake hands in a courthouse. They don’t meet.... Because something is legal does not mean that it is morally right, and we have a right to challenge that.” He observed that the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, maintained involuntary servitude for those “duly convicted” of a crime. He added, “How many people in this United States have been duly convicted of a crime but are actually innocent of it? So, it means that slavery still exists.”

King pointed to “those brothers and sisters who are in prison, who were targeted by COINTELPRO, who were targeted by the FBI” because they “had the audacity” to fight back. He emphasized that these fighters “had this moral right to do so. Anybody in their right mind would do so.” Encouraging everyone to “get out of the box,” he concluded: “Malcolm said a long time ago that if you believe a lot of the stuff that’s out there, they’ll have you loving your enemies and hating your friends.”

Other benefit speakers included Charles Jenkins and Francisco Torres. Jenkins, a member of the powerful Transport Workers Union Local 100, spoke on behalf of the New York chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, which has for years contributed to the PDC stipend fund. Torres is one of the San Francisco 8, former Black Panthers prosecuted on bogus charges of killing a San Francisco police officer in 1971. The charges against Torres were thrown out in 2011. After mentioning recently released prisoners, Torres offered: “This is what your work has produced, some of your work anyway. I hope it produces more, which is, you know, the eventual overthrow of the capitalist system.”

Lynne Stewart, who, like Torres, is a familiar face at New York benefits, was not able to attend this year but sent a statement. A lawyer known for representing Black Panthers and leftist radicals, Stewart was imprisoned in 2009, having been convicted in a frame-up “war on terror” show trial for defending an Islamic cleric who was jailed for an alleged plot to blow up NYC landmarks in the early 1990s. After nearly dying from breast cancer in prison, she was finally released in December 2013. Stewart wrote: “There is no event more enjoyable and important than the Holiday Appeal. That is so because it so clearly highlights and champions our true heroes and sheroes—those who wait to be released from sinister political imprisonment. None are more aware than your guests of honor, Robert King and Albert Woodfox, who suffered Angola.”

To support the work of the PDC, 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. 1102, 16 December 2016)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.