Detroit — Activists here gathered on July 8 to celebrate a rare victory in the struggle against capitalist oppression. More than 150 supporters of the Rev. Edward Pinkney’s struggle against the Whirlpool Corporation and the city government of Benton Harbor, Mich., filled the St. Matthew St. Joseph Episcopal Church in Detroit to celebrate Pinkney’s release from prison.
The church was filled with joy, the smell of home-cooked food and soul music. When Pinkney walked into the room, he was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of “Free at last!”
Pinkney was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of falsifying signatures on a petition to recall the mayor of Benton Harbor, James Hightower. The case, which went to the Michigan Court of Appeals, concluded when the court decided no evidence was necessary to convict Pinkney, and that his past organizing work created suspicion of motive to forge dates on the petition. This grievous miscarriage of justice was merely a front to attempt to murder Pinkney, a Black man in his 60s, via incarceration.
A series of speakers from Michigan and national activist groups recited messages of solidarity and victory, and a consistent refrain that the struggle continues despite the movement’s success in freeing Pinkney.
Speakers delivered messages from Workers World Party Secretariat member Monica Moorehead; the United Steelworkers Local 8751, Boston School Bus Drivers Union; as well as various other supporters of Pinkney’s struggle. Some compared his release to the freeing of other political prisoners, like Nelson Mandela.
Other organizations and speakers included Detroit water activist Monica Lewis-Patrick, We The People Of Detroit, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, the Detroit Active And Retired Employees Association, the Green Party, the Michigan Peoples Defense Network and the Moratorium NOW!, Michigan Emergency Committee On War and Injustice. Poets Wardell Montgomery and Dr. Gloria Aneb House delivered verses on the past and present of the struggle in Michigan. Dorothy Pinkney, the Reverend’s spouse, introduced him.
Pinkney’s speech proved that prison bars, corporate corruption and SWAT teams could not break his spirit. His mood was uplifting, even as he recognized the fight still ahead. He detailed the ways the prison system tried to break him: constant harassment by prison guards; rotten, maggot-laced food; and false charges of smuggling that landed him in solitary confinement. The state took away his phone privileges for six months in an attempt to isolate him.
None of this stopped him from continuing to struggle, and even inspired him further. He beat the false charges of smuggling. He organized a hunger strike to win better food for the prisoners. The prison complied, and then shipped him to a distant prison in north Michigan in a further attempt to break him.
Pinkney taught math and religion to his fellow prisoners, uniting them in the struggle — and in turn, they respected him enough to let him pick the TV programs to watch in the slammer rec room, he said with a laugh.
Pinkney ended his speech by calling for a new, stronger activism, and for communities to say no to the racist oppressive apparatus of the capitalist system. He peppered his words with call-and-response chants of “It’s going down!”
“We have to learn to fight back,” Pinkney said. “We have to say enough is enough. We gotta say that we won’t allow this to happen in our community anymore. Whatever needs to be done, we’re gonna do it, whether they like it or not! If you get in our way, we gonna run you over. This is the future of our children at stake. We’ve allowed these people to kick us around, bully us and do exactly nothing. It’s time to change the way we do business, and we can do it!”
Activists fundraised to provide Pinkney with funds to get back on his feet after his imprisonment, and presented him with a generous donation at the end of the event.
“When you get love like this, it makes you want to fight,” Pinkney concluded.