Students, faculty fight and win
Mumia speaks at college graduation
Mumia Abu-Jamal made history June 11 as the first death-row
prisoner to address a college graduation ceremony.
Before they could hear his voice, students, faculty members
and workers at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., had
to put up a determined fight against an intense campaign by the
government, police and corporate media to repeal their
Like the Jan. 28 Rage Against the Machine benefit concert in
New Jersey, the controversy that raged around the speech
spilled into the national media--creating another breakthrough
in public awareness of Abu-Jamal's fight for a new trial.
His 13-minute speech, entitled "A life lived, deliberately,"
was recorded on death row and played at the ceremony. Abu-Jamal
didn't talk about his own case. Instead, his speech was a
dramatic defense of revolution and a call to action for young
"Why was it right for people to revolt against the British
because of taxation without representation and somehow wrong
for truly unrepresented Africans in America to revolt against
America?" Abu-Jamal asked. "For any repressed people,
revolution, according to the Declaration of Independence, is a
"A life lived deliberately has been the example of people I
admire and respect," Abu-Jamal explained, "such as Malcolm X;
Dr. Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party; like
Ramona Africa, who survived the hellish bombing by police on
May 13, 1985; or the MOVE 9, committed rebels now encaged for
up to 100 years in Pennsylvania hellholes despite their
"These people, although of quite diverse beliefs, ideologies
and lifestyles, shared something in common: a commitment to
revolution and a determination to live that commitment
deliberately in the face of staggering state repression."
He said: "These people dared to dissent, dared to speak out,
dared to reject the status quo by becoming rebels against it.
They lived--and some of them continue to live--lives of
deliberate will, of willed resistance to a system that is
"Remember them," Abu-Jamal urged. "Honor their highest
moments. Learn from them.
"This system's greatest fear has been that folks like you,
young people, people who have begun to critically examine the
world around them, some perhaps for the first time, people who
have yet to have the spark of life snuffed out, will do just
that: learn from those lives, be inspired, and then live lives
of opposition to the deadening status quo."
He received a standing ovation from the students and
Abu-Jamal joined the Black Panthers at age 15. An
award-winning journalist, he was convicted of the 1981 killing
of a white Philadelphia cop, Daniel Faulkner. Supporters call
Abu-Jamal a political prisoner who was framed for his
opposition to racism and police brutality.
"He's a renowned journalist and an amazing author," said
Evergreen student Kassey Baker, a member of the campus's Prison
Action Committee. "[Abu-Jamal gave] a different voice,
something other than the generic graduation speech."
Washington Gov. Gary Locke, the state police, Pennsylvania
Attorney General Mike Fisher and Ronald Reagan Jr. had all
denounced the students' invitation to Abu-Jamal.
In Washington Rep. Tom DeLay--a high-ranking
Republican--denounced Abu-Jamal from the floor of the House of
The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police--through its
front group "Justice for Daniel Faulkner Inc." and the cop's
widow, Maureen Faulkner--took out full-page ads in Olympia
newspapers. The cops held a small protest at the ceremony,
which was countered by a protest on Abu-Jamal's behalf led by
Evergreen President Jane L. Jervis defended the students'
choice. She said Abu-Jamal has used his journalistic talents
"to galvanize an international conversation about the death
penalty, the disproportionate number of Blacks on death row,
the relationship between poverty and the criminal justice
And a letter signed by Evergreen faculty and alumni
challenged the cops' charges: "Abu-Jamal is a `convicted cop
killer' only in the same sense that Nelson Mandela was a
`convicted terrorist.' Abu-Jamal was fraudulently convicted and
framed and has never been convicted on evidence beyond a
"We are very proud of the class of 1999, as it prepares to
enter the `real world,' and in fact is already part of that
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