18 November 2016
31st Annual Holiday Appeal
Free the Class-War Prisoners!
Featured NYC Speakers: Albert Woodfox and Robert King of the Angola 3
“The path to freedom leads through a prison....
“In one sense of the word the whole of capitalist society is a prison. For the great mass of people who do the hard, useful work there is no such word as freedom. They come and go at the order of a few. Their lives are regulated according to the needs and wishes of a few. A censorship is put upon their words and deeds. The fruits of their labor are taken from them. And if, by chance, they have the instinct and spirit to rebel, if they take their place in the vanguard of the fight for justice, the prisons are waiting.”
—James P. Cannon, “The Cause that Passes Through a Prison,” Labor Defender, September 1926
As the Partisan Defense Committee mobilizes for its 31st annual Holiday Appeal to raise funds for monthly stipends and holiday gifts to class-war prisoners, the capitalists’ jails are being filled with hundreds of young activists who have protested the election of racist demagogue Donald Trump, adding to the many more who have been jailed for protesting racist cop terror over the past couple of years.
At this year’s New York City benefit, featured speakers will be Albert Woodfox and Robert King, who along with Herman Wallace were known as the Angola 3. These intransigent opponents of racial oppression spent decades in prison, victims of a state vendetta for forming a Black Panther Party chapter in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison. Woodfox and Wallace were falsely convicted of the 1972 killing of prison guard Brent Miller. King, who was framed up for the killing of a fellow inmate in 1973, was released in 2001, and dedicated himself to fighting to prove the innocence of his imprisoned comrades. Wallace was released in October 2013—just three days before dying of liver cancer! Despite seeing his conviction overturned twice, Woodfox spent nearly 44 years in solitary confinement—the longest stint of any prisoner in the U.S.—before being released this past February, on his 69th birthday.
The PDC stipend program is a revival of a tradition of the International Labor Defense (ILD) under its first secretary, James P. Cannon (1925-28), an early leader of the Communist Party who went on to become the founder of American Trotskyism. Like the ILD before us, we stand unconditionally on the side of the working people and the oppressed in struggle against their exploiters and oppressors. We defend, in Cannon’s words, “any member of the workers movement, regardless of his views, who suffered persecution by the capitalist courts because of his activities or his opinion” (First Ten Years of American Communism ). In its early years, the ILD adopted 106 prisoners—socialists, anarchists, union leaders and militants victimized for their struggles to organize the working class and for opposition to imperialist war.
The PDC started our class-war prisoner stipend program in 1986, during the Reagan years, a period of rampant reaction. Those years were marked by vicious racist repression, brutal union-busting, anti-immigrant hysteria, malicious cutbacks in social services for the predominantly black and Latino poor as well as government efforts to equate leftist political activity with “terrorism.” Over the decades since, we have supported dozens of prisoners on three continents, among them militant workers railroaded for defending their unions during pitched class battles—including coal miners in Britain and Kentucky.
The 1980s were a time of waning class and social struggle, but the convulsive battles for black rights in the 1960s and ’70s still haunted America’s capitalist rulers, who thirsted for vengeance. Among the early recipients of PDC stipends were members and supporters of the Black Panther Party, the best of a generation of black radicals who sought a revolutionary solution to black oppression—a bedrock of American capitalism. Other early stipend recipients were members of the largely black Philadelphia MOVE commune. Among those prisoners to whom we continue to provide stipends are Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost class-war prisoner, and Ed Poindexter, a leader of the Omaha, Nebraska, Committee to Combat Fascism, whose comrade and fellow stipend recipient Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa died in March after 45 years in prison.
There is every reason to believe that the period we are entering will be no less reactionary than the one we faced 30 years ago. Class-struggle legal and social defense, including support for class-war prisoners—those today behind bars and any militants who join them—is of vital importance to labor activists, fighters for black rights and immigrant rights and defenders of civil liberties. In a small but real way, our prisoner stipend program expresses the commonality of interests between black people, immigrants and the working class. The struggle to free the class-war prisoners is critical to educating a new generation of fighters against exploitation and oppression—a schooling centered on the role of the capitalist state, comprising at its core the military, cops, courts and prisons. Join us in generously donating and building our annual Holiday Appeal. An injury to one is an injury to all!
The 12 class-war prisoners receiving stipends from the PDC are listed below.
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Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a well-known supporter of the MOVE organization and an award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless.” Framed up for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer, Mumia was sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. Federal and state courts have repeatedly refused to consider evidence proving Mumia’s innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed the policeman. In 2011 the Philadelphia district attorney’s office dropped its longstanding effort to legally lynch Mumia. In a significant development in the decades-long battle for his freedom, on August 7, attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal filed a new petition under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). Mumia’s application seeks to overturn the denial of his three prior PCRA claims by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If successful, he would be granted a new hearing before that court to argue for reversal of his frame-up conviction. In the meantime he remains condemned to life in prison with no chance of parole. Mumia also faces a life-threatening health crisis related to active hepatitis C, which brought him close to death in March 2015. On August 31, eight months after oral argument in Mumia’s lawsuit to obtain crucial medication, a federal judge rejected his claim on the pretext that the lawsuit should have been directed against the members of the state’s hepatitis committee—a secretive body which Mumia’s attorneys had no way of knowing even existed at the time the suit was initiated! The Pennsylvania prison authorities have adamantly refused to treat his dangerous but curable condition.
Leonard Peltier is an internationally renowned class-war prisoner. Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country’s racist repression of its Native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier was framed up for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents marauding in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Although the lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 72-year-old Peltier is not scheduled to be reconsidered for parole for another eight years. Peltier suffers from multiple serious medical conditions and has received a confirmed diagnosis of an abdominal aortic aneurysm—a life-threatening condition which the federal officials have refused to treat. He is incarcerated far from his people and family and is currently seeking executive clemency from Barack Obama.
Seven MOVE members—Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa and Eddie Africa—are in their 39th year of imprisonment. After the 8 August 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by over 600 heavily armed cops, they were sentenced to 30-100 years, having been falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops when a bomb was dropped on their living quarters. After nearly four decades of unjust incarceration, these innocent prisoners are routinely turned down at parole hearings. This year Eddie, Debbie, Janet and Janine were all denied parole.
Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning are the two remaining anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 still in prison, convicted for their roles in a radical group that took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism, such as military and corporate offices, in the late 1970s and ’80s. Before their arrests in 1984 and 1985, the Ohio 7 were targets of massive manhunts. The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of radicals but, like the Weathermen before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the “respectable” left. From a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not crimes. They should not have served a day in prison.
Ed Poindexter is a former Black Panther supporter and leader of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. He and his former co-defendant, Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, were victims of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation, under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Poindexter was railroaded to prison and sentenced to life for a 1970 explosion that killed a cop, and he has now spent more than 45 years behind bars. Nebraska courts have repeatedly denied Poindexter a new trial despite the fact that a crucial piece of evidence excluded from the original trial, a 911 audio tape long suppressed by the FBI, proved that testimony of the state’s key witness was perjury.
All proceeds from the Holiday Appeal events will go to the Class-War Prisoners Stipend Fund. This is not charity but an elementary act of solidarity with those imprisoned for their opposition to racist capitalism and imperialist depredation. Send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013; (212) 406-4252. For more information about the class-war prisoners, including addresses for correspondence, see: partisandefense.org.
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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1100, 18 November 2016)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.