30 January 2009

23rd Annual Partisan Defense Committee Holiday Appeal

Thousands Raised for Class-War Prisoners

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free the Class-War Prisoners! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

Last December marked the 23rd annual Holiday Appeal, which raises funds for the Partisan Defense Committee’s program of sending monthly stipends and holiday gifts to class-war prisoners and their families. Held in New York, Chicago, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Toronto, these benefits raised over $10,000 after expenses as a concrete expression of solidarity with class-war prisoners.

The 2008 Holiday Appeal benefits focused particularly on the struggle to free death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man falsely convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on 9 December 1981. Also honored were 15 other men and women who were singled out by the state for standing up to racist capitalist oppression and exploitation. With this act of solidarity the PDC has revived and kept alive the tradition of class-struggle defense of those imprisoned for championing the rights of labor and all the oppressed. This tradition was begun by the International Labor Defense (ILD) under James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the Communist Party, the ILD’s first secretary (1925-28) and later the founder of American Trotskyism. As a resolution from the ILD’s first conference in 1925 declared: “The workers must not be allowed to forget those who lie in prison for them, but must be stirred into action in their defense.”

In building for these benefits, the PDC—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—addressed trade-union locals in several cities, emphasizing that the working class must break with the capitalist Democratic Party in order to advance its own interests and those of the oppressed. This elicited much discussion and debate, especially in the wake of the election of Barack Obama. In the Bay Area, presentations were made at both the ILWU longshore Local 10 and AFSCME Local 444 unions’ November meetings. Amalgamated Transit Union locals 308 and 241 in Chicago and the New York chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists contributed money for the class-war prisoners and Mumia Abu-Jamal’s defense.

At the Chicago Holiday Appeal, one of the sit-in participants from United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, spoke about the six-day plant occupation by largely immigrant and black workers at the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago, which captured the attention of the nation (see “UE Workers Win Severance Pay,” WV No. 927, 2 January).

The New York City benefit, which drew more than 150 people, including many youth and trade unionists, featured the one-man play, John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom, by George Wolf Reily and Norman Thomas Marshall (who performed the play). The play honored those who fought against slavery in the Civil War, and underlined the significance of John Brown’s 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

All the Holiday Appeals played taped greetings from Mumia Abu-Jamal made especially for the occasion (see below). Wadiya Jamal, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s wife, wrote before the meeting: “There is no word to express the extent of gratitude for the continued support of the PDC to Mumia’s fight for freedom.” Excerpts from greetings by other class-war prisoners, most of whom have been incarcerated for at least a quarter century, were also read.

A letter on behalf of the eight surviving members of the MOVE 9 thanked the PDC for its work “for not only this year, but all of the years in the past, as we approach yet another new administration of capitalism.” The MOVE 9 were framed up on conspiracy and murder charges after a vicious police assault on MOVE’s home in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood in August 1978. For the first time since their imprisonment over 30 years ago, the MOVE 9 became eligible for parole last April. Their parole was rejected. In his greetings to the Holiday Appeals, MOVE 9 prisoner Delbert Africa wrote: “Best believe, the world-wide letters, e-mails, telephone calls, rallies—all the activities scared and shook-up the parole board to the point that they even admitted it was unprecedented! Of course, it did not stop the arrogant bastards from giving us all one year ‘hits’.”

Ed Poindexter, a former Black Panther supporter and a leader of the National Committee to Combat Fascism, also sent greetings. He and his comrade Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa were framed up as part of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed. In his greetings Ed Poindexter wrote:

“I used to think no matter how long I would serve in prison, and no matter what the oppressive conditions, that they’d never break me. But now as I sit here in my wheelchair at 64 years old and cripple, my mind and spirit still maintain my initial position, yet my body is disagreeing. But, rest assured, as long as there is at least a single breath left in this tired body, I will continue to resist, fight for my personal liberty and plan for an eventual future ‘touchdown’ back to the community to resume my life-long passion of serving the people.”

Jaan Laaman and Tom Manning are the two remaining members of the Ohio 7 still in prison. This radical group took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings against symbols of U.S. imperialism in the late 1970s and 1980s. In his greetings Jaan Laaman expressed his gratitude for those “supporting U.S. political prisoners,” and explained that as he was writing these words on 15 November 2008, he had just fully completed his Massachusetts state sentence after being in captivity for over 24 years. But, he added, “Today, I also started my next federal sentence of 53 years. In two days I will be turned over to U.S. Marshals and transported to some federal prison to begin this new sentence.” This is an outrage—free Laaman and Manning now!

Messages were also received from Leonard Peltier and Hugo Pinell (see page 2 for updates on their cases). Peltier has been incarcerated for more than three decades because of his activism in the American Indian Movement. He has come to symbolize this country’s racist repression of its native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Pinell, a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights, is the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison. Despite hundreds of letters of support, Pinell has repeatedly been denied parole. Now in his 60s, Pinell continues to serve a life sentence, and, as he wrote, is being “kept in maximum custody status, totally deprived and not allowed contact visits.”

In New York, the evening concluded with live greetings from federal prison by Jamal Hart, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s son. Hart was framed up for his prominent activism in the campaign to free his father and was sentenced in 1998 to 15 1/2 years without parole on bogus firearms possession charges. In greetings written for the occasion, which were read by Monique Code, he stated:

“As a man who didn’t think twice to become the voice of the voiceless, Mumia stepped up to the plate to expose this demonic system. A system that was and still continues to enforce intense oppression on African Americans throughout this nation by murderous police officers....

“The only way Mumia will be free is for all of us to mobilize like never before and demand that freedom he and all of our freedom fighters so rightfully deserve. We must let them know that we will never give up!”

The cases of the 16 class-war prisoners honored at this year’s benefits exemplify key aspects of our Marxist program. Since initiating the stipends program, we have provided support to 33 prisoners on three continents. These included fighters against black oppression in the U.S. and labor militants slapped with prison sentences for defending strikes and defending their union from scabs and thugs. Overseas, we sent a stipend to Mordechai Vanunu, the courageous Israeli nuclear technician who in 1986 was kidnapped in Italy by Mossad agents and railroaded to prison for 18 years for exposing the extent of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. After the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy treacherously withdrew the Red Army from Afghanistan in 1988-89, the PDC also organized a campaign that raised over $44,000 worldwide in support of the heroic people of Jalalabad who were fighting against the U.S.-backed mujahedin cutthroats.

We urge WV readers to support the work of the Partisan Defense Committee. Become a sustaining contributor to help drive the work of the PDC forward! Contributions can be sent to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013. For more information about the class-war prisoners see: www.partisandefense.org/stipend.html.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 929, 30 January 2009)

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