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Fight to free U.S. political prisoners

Published Dec 2, 2010 10:48 PM

Gloria Verdieu
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Following are excerpts from a Nov. 13 talk by Gloria Verdieu at the Workers World Party national conference. Verdieu is an organizer with the San Diego International Action Center and the San Diego Coalition to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Freeing all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war is at the top of the list in the struggle for social justice, because the state uses the criminal justice system to lock up those who sacrifice their livelihood for freedom and justice for the masses.

The U.S. government claims there are no political prisoners here, yet there are political prisoners in jails throughout the U.S. They make up the majority of the more than 2 million people locked up in U.S. prisons. A political prisoner is someone held in prison or otherwise detained for his or her involvement in political activity.

There are also prisoners in exile. Assata Shakur has been exiled in Cuba for 31 years.

One of the most well-known political prisoners is Mumia Abu-Jamal. He has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for 28 years. A revolutionary, Mumia speaks out against social injustice wherever it shows its ugly face.

Native American Leonard Peltier, imprisoned for 33 years, is an activist and member of the American Indian Movement. In 2009, he was granted a full hearing before the United States Parole Commission; his parole was denied.

Sundiata Acoli has been in prison for 38 years. The state gave him a 20-year hit, the longest one in New Jersey’s history, to attempt to force him to renounce his political beliefs and tell the world that he was wrong to struggle for the liberation of his people. In 1992, he was denied parole.

The MOVE 9 Charles, Debbie, Delbert, Edward, Janet, Janine, Michael and William Africa — have been imprisoned in Pennsylvania for 32 years. The remaining eight women and men were denied parole. As a condition for parole, they must renounce MOVE and their deeply held religious beliefs.

The Cuban Five are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René González, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González; they have been imprisoned for 12 years and are now held in five different states. Three fought in Angola during the anti-apartheid war. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review their case. The Five are viewed as national heroes, having sacrificed their liberty in the defense of their country.

Óscar López Rivera, one of 12 Puerto Rican political prisoners, has been jailed for 11 years. He turned down the offer of leniency because, “Accepting the offer is like prison outside of prison.” His release date is July 2027.

Imam Jamil, in jail for eight years, was transferred in 2007 from Georgia to a supermaximum prison in Colorado; Georgia officials decided that he is too “high-profile” an inmate for their prison system to handle.

Marilyn Buck was incarcerated in California for 27 years due to her political activism. She has been compared to famed abolitionist John Brown. Whites who stand against racism and discrimination become “race traitors” and are labeled “terrorists.” She was released on July 15 and died on Aug. 2, surrounded by her friends at home in Brooklyn.

California has imprisoned Ruchell Magee for 42 years; he is the longest-held political prisoner in the U.S.

The activist lawyer, Lynne Stewart, was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison. Mumia’s essay entitled, ‘Punishing Lynn,” said, “This outstanding lawyer, a 70-year-old grandmother, who is facing the serious threat of breast cancer, was originally sentenced to two years and four months, but the federal appeals court felt that wasn’t enough.”

Mumia’s solidarity statement to the 2005 Millions More Movement in Washington, D.C., said: “We need a movement of millions of the poor, of workers, of women, of youth, of students, of prisoners, of all those dedicated to change to build independent organizations that can’t be bought or sold and will do the work necessary to be free.

“We need a movement of millions to resist the state oppression that has brought us Patriot Acts, but not patriotic actions, wars for empire and countless attacks on the poor. We need a movement of millions to make common cause with oppressed people the world over. In Cuba, in Iraq, in Venezuela, in the Congo, in Haiti, in the Philippines.

“We need a movement of millions that is anti-imperialist, anti-racist and that unites us, not divides us. Let us begin right here.”

Build unity. Build Workers World.