Feb 18, 2007
She has been gone for almost a century, and still her name is on millions of lips; her memory sacred among those who love freedom.
Her parents named her Araminta, the daughter of Black slaves in the Tidewater area of Maryland, perhaps in 1820 (or 1821 -- no one is sure).
As a baby, the slaves shortened her fancy name into the nickname, "Minty."
History remembers her by her married name: Harriet Tubman, freedom fighter.
She began on the road to freedom as a child, for she wasn't even 10 years old when she ran away from cruel slaveowners, people who used naked violence against babies and children to force them to do their will.
Harriet was a tender 5 years old, when she was forced to take care of a white baby, to keep house, to work day and night for others. She was all of 7 years old when she got caught eating some sugar, food that only white people were allowed to eat. Threatened with a beating, the girl fled, and running so fast that her little legs gave out, she fell into a hog slopping sow. Hunger forced her to return to the house of her 'mistress', where she was promptly and viciously flogged by the 'master.' This child no doubt learned an important lesson by the violence, but doubtless it wasn't what the slaveowning class wanted her to learn. They wanted to instill the seed of terror into the child, so that she never thought of running away again. Instead, it appears she learned that if she ran, there would be no return.
She married a 'free' man, John Tubman, who was free in name, and in law, but hardly in mind. When she talked about freedom, he shouted at her to stop it. "You take off and I'll tell the Master. I'll tell the Master right quick," he threatened.
As she looked at her husband, a feeling of disbelief washed over her, "You don't mean that."
But, in her guts, she knew. He did mean it.
Yet, she meant to be free. No doubt she learned another important lesson. Everybody can't be trusted. She must be watchful, attentive, and observant.
When the time came, she left, walking through thick forests, over rivers, and over hills. She avoided open roads. She followed the North Star, and when she got to Pennsylvania (a so-called 'free' state), she noted:
"I had crossed the line. I was 'free': but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home, after all, was down in Maryland; because my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and friends were there. But I was free and they should be free! I would make a home in the North and bring them there!"
She said it. She meant it. She did it.
She returned repeatedly to the Tidewater, and carried folks off, with cleverness, courage, and determination.
She returned to the plantation 2 years after her escape for John Tubman, but the 'free Negro' had remarried, and thinking himself free, didn't want to leave Maryland! Still, this wouldn't deter her from her sacred mission: freedom.
She carried a pistol, and once, while leading some 25 captives North, came within a hair's breadth of using it. One of the men, bone-tired, hungry, and scared, decided that nothing was worth this scampering through the swamps. He refused to be persuaded to move on, until she moved close to him, and aiming the weapon at his head, said, "Move or die." He moved.
In several days they were in Canada.
Harriet knew that a returned slave would be tortured until he told all he knew, thus endangering all who wanted to be free. To her, it was freedom or death. That simple.
She would later say, of her upbringing, and of slavery itself:
"I grew up like a neglected weed -- ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. I was not happy or contented: every time i saw a white man I was afraid of being carried away. I had two sisters carried away in a chain gang -- one of them left two children. We were always uneasy .... I think slavery is the next thing to hell."
Her raids into the prison-states of the South led to the freedom of literally hundreds of Black people -- including her own aged parents, Harriet and Benjamin Ross.
It is thought her family originally came from the Ashanti people, a tribe which hails mostly from the West African coast. (The central region of Ashanti life would be modern-day Ghana.)
Her life, from beginning to end, was one of resistance and struggle in freedom's cause.
There may have been 15 to 19 raids led by her into the South to free Black captives. In these raids, she liberated between 300 to 500 people.
Recruited to aid the Northern forces during the U.S. Civil War, Tubman organized and led the Combahee River raid in South Carolina, which netted some 800 slaves, and caused thousands of dollars damage to Southern installations. She reported with glee the sight of so many people escaping bondage. Tubman would later recall the scene:
"I never saw such a scene. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Here you'd see a woman with a pail on her head, rice-a-smoking in it just as she'd taken it from the fire, young one hanging on behind ... One woman brought two pigs, a white one and a black one; we took them all on board; named the white pig Beauregard (a Southern general), and the black one Jeff Davis (president of the Confederacy). Sometimes the women would come with twins hanging around their necks. It appears I never saw so many twins in my life; bags on their shoulders, baskets on their heads, and young ones lagging behind, all loaded .... [Fr. Butch Lee, Jailbreak Out of History: The Re-Biography of Harriet Tubman] (Brooklyn, NY: Stoopsale Bks., 2000), p. 78]
Harriet Tubman left this life in 1913, living into her nineties.
Her name has come to mean freedom fighter. It is a holy name, high on the altar of freedom.
Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[Sources: Lee, Butch. Jailbreak Out of History: The Re-Biography of Harriet Tubman] (Brooklyn, NY: Stoopsale Bks., 2000). Petry, Ann, Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad. (NY: Harper Collins, 1955 ; unpubl. sources].
Feb 8, 2007
Have you ever thought (but were afraid to admit) that there really wasn't such a thing as a 'war on terror?'
Well, worry no more.
England's top prosecutor has set the record straight.
Britain's director of public prosecutions, Ken McDonald, gave a speech in late January to the nation's Criminal Bar Association. In words that few U.S. figures of such stature could ever muster, McDonald told the assembly:
"On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'."
McDonald, who heads the Crown Prosecution Service, warned of the "fear-driven and inappropriate response" of the nation's political and legal community, which could threaten the fairness of trials and due process of law.
"The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by the infringement."*
How utterly refreshing! Leave it to the Brits to stick a pin into the U.S. balloon of the 'war on terror.'
Presidents love to sell the war metaphor to support their prerogatives to accrue more power than their predecessors. Every war sets the stage for the strengthening of the nation's executive power.
That's what McDonald meant when he referred to 'fear-driven responses.'
It may begin in Britain, but it won't end there.
That's because neither wisdom nor common sense can be segregated behind borders.
That's because fear doesn't last forever.
Generations ago, during World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans, men, women, and babies, were placed in concentration camps all across the country -- based purely on fear and racist projections.
Today, people look back at that era with embarrassment and deep misgivings. There was no real, honest basis for this kind of treatment of such citizens.
It took decades, but presidents have condemned such treatment, and reparations (albeit quite modest) were made to survivors of that social tragedy.
Today, a host of errors and evils accompany the so-called 'war on terror.' The president has tried to sell the Iraq debacle as 'the central front' of this war, but fewer and fewer Americans are buying it.
And while politicians insist on swearing their false fealty to it (even though they don't believe in it, but are afraid to do so, lest they be marked as 'soft'), public opinion polls show most folks are echoing the views of a British prosecutor.
False pretexts -- false wars. With millions of people refugees, hundreds of thousands dead, land and lives ravaged by American maniacs, and their imperial subjects.
Americans hear 'war and on terror' today, and turn to American Idol.
That's because they know -- in their innards -- that it's a crock.
The time will come when we look back, and may dare to smile.
Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[Source: Asheville Global Report, No. 420, Feb. 1-7, 2007, p. 15.]
Feb 5, 2007
A woman is stopped for a traffic violation.
She tearfully explains that she is pregnant, she is bleeding, and she begs -- at least a dozen times -- to be taken to the hospital.
She might as well have been talking to the wall.
The cops either ignore her, or make light of her plight. They respond, when they bother to do so, with replies like, "What do you want us to do about it?"
She was jailed -- and not taken to a hospital despite her pleas.
Several days later, upon her release, she gives birth to a premature baby, who breathes precisely for one minute -- and dies.
When I heard this story, I thought of the motto, 'protect and serve' -- and wondered, 'protect who?' -- 'serve who?'
A young pregnant woman, bleeding -- begging -- and it means nothing. Less than nothing. One of the cops, a female, replied, "How is that my problem?"
Will these cops, who saw a pregnant woman suffering -- bleeding! -- ever face reckless endangerment charges? Nope. Were they fired? Nope. Will they be? I doubt it.
The most that may happen -- I say may -- is the woman may file a civil suit -- and some years later, she may even win (unless a judge decides the cops are immune from suit, as is often the case).
But it will mean nothing -- for a baby is dead, forever.
No judge on earth can restore that infant's spark of life.
That all of this was caught on video, and was hot news (until the tornadoes ripped through Florida), tells us that the cops weren't terribly concerned about it.
It was just the job -- hospitals might've involved too much paperwork -- or perhaps overtime.
I've named no city: nor the woman. I haven't had to.
For it could've been anywhere -- and almost anyone.
It's not like these were mutually exclusive choices -- take her to the hospital, or take her to jail. Observers know that when folks are injured, they are often carted to the hospital, where facilities exist to insure security.
That didn't happen -- because those two people holding her hostage didn't want to.
It's really that simple.
It happened in early 21st Century America, and shows us vividly what's going on these days.
'Protect and serve?' Protect who? Serve who?
Not her. Not that baby.
Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Feb 4, 2007
A lifetime ago, when the British rock band, the Beatles were at the top of the charts, and before cable TV and the reign of computers, anti-war activists sang a haunting chorus as they demonstrated by the tens of thousands at the Pentagon: "All we are saying, is give peace a chance."
Decades later, and there is still war (albeit in another place, and for another 'cause'), and demonstrations seem far less potent than times past.
American imperialism, unshackled by the prospect of a true global rival, now fairly bellows in the face of its own unpopularity (in the voice of its acolytes, like George W. Bush): "Give war a chance."
The Iraq invasion and occupation has been an admitted disaster, and those who called for it the loudest are deserting that sinking ship like rats on a wharf.
The US imperial president, flirting with disapproval numbers that rivals Nixon's at the height of the Watergate scandal, is overwhelming only in his irrelevance, and perhaps his inability to convince anybody to believe his blather about the so-called 'war on terror.'
So, in light of the administration's latest maneuver to support the flagging war with 'new ideas' about a "surge", the White House and its minions on the Hill are asking Americans to 'give the president's plan a chance.'
In the face of this catastrophe, what is the role of Congress?
It proposes to debate, and then, after debating, to issue a nonbinding resolution, which condemns the current troop build-up, and also critiques the president's present handling of the war.
In essence, Congress agrees to say, 'We don't like what you're doing, but we won't stop it.'
This, in a time of war, a war launched on lies and subterfuge.
Apparently, over 600,000 dead Iraqis, over 3,000 dead Americans, and over 400 billion dollars lost in this failing effort, isn't quite enough.
In fact, the Congress could stop the war today, by cutting the war budget. But it won't do this, for it might endanger a congressman's future political prospects.
Most of the millions of people who voted in the mid-term elections did so to send a strong anti-war message.
The majority party heading both houses of Congress has indeed changed, but little else has. It has resolved to issue words, while the president launches bombs.
And given his profoundly neoconservative bent, it is entirely possible that, before the remaining two years have passed through time's hourglass, the US may've launched a strike against Iran.
Even now we hear the media stirrings, provocations meant to soften up the American populace for a new 'preemptive war.'
What did your votes really mean?
Do you really still believe that you live in a democracy?
What you voted for, and what you believe, is ultimately irrelevant.
The words of the legendary Black freedom fighter, Frederick Douglass echo through the annals of time: "Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has, and never will."
Voting is never enough.
These ruinous wars didn't begin in a voting booth; nor will voting, standing alone, end them.
It will take much stronger stuff.
Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Feb 3, 2007
This message was delivered at the Opening Session of the 3rd World Congress against the Death Penalty on February 1st. The Congress, held this year in Paris from February 1-3, 2007, gathers hundreds of abolitionists from all over the world: activists, elected officials, legal specialists and others.
The Opening Session, an "Overview of the situation of the death penalty worldwide and its abolition," featured Mumia's message and presentations from Sidiki KAaba, President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Piers Bannister, death penalty team coordinator at Amnesty International, Danielle Mitterand, President of France Libertés, Peter Rothen, office of the presidency of the European Union and Emmanuel Maistre, Director of Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (Together Against the Death Penalty).
For more information, go to the website of Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (Together Against the Death Penalty), hosts of this year's World Congress.