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Mumia Abu-Jamal's Radio Essays

Commentaries by the award-winning journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal
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Mumia Abu-Jamal's Radio Essays
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Now displaying: Page 91
Feb 2, 2007
For years, decades now, folks have celebrated Black History Month, with a plethora of events. There will be movies, book readings, poetry events, concerts and the like. Coming, as it does, on the heels of the nation's celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., much of what will be heard will no doubt echo that event. But Black History is far richer, and far deeper than King. Rev. Dr. King, who has been edited into a safe, sweet, nonviolent modern-day Christ-like figure and icon of peace, forgiveness and forbearance, has himself been transformed into a one-dimensional figure which ignores his fullness as a growing, thinking, developing man. He was far more radical than many of those who now call his name are ready to admit. There will be little, if any, remembrance of the men and women who fought for freedom in far more aggressive, and militant ways. While some may hear the occasional names, usually they too are softened and sweetened with time, to make them safe historical morsels for white, and corporate consumption. It's doubtful that the name William Parker will be shouted out, even though, over a century and a 1/2 ago, he led the Christiana Revolt in Pennsylvania, which, because of its nature, sent shock waves across the country, so much so that historians of that era, like James McPherson and Phillip Foner considered Christiana to be harbingers of the Civil War to come. Parker, his wife, Eliza, and other members of "The Special Secret Committee" (a black self-defense group) fought against slaveowners and U.S. marshals who wanted to send people back into slavery. The Parkers and their neighbors fought with guns, machetes, and sticks. Parker and his clan of freedom fighters had to flee the US to find freedom. The Christiana Revolt of 1851 should be on millions of lips during Black History month. But there will be no movies, no special notices in the corporate press, and few scattered references to this signal event in the history of the struggle for freedom. The great Frederick Douglass later wrote of Christiana, that it "more than all else" destroyed the fugitive slave law. Douglass wrote: "It became almost a dead letter, for slaveholders found that not only did it fail to put them in possession of their slaves, but that the attempt to enforce it brought odium upon themselves and weakened the slave system." [Cited in: Forbes, Ella. But We Have No Country: The 1851 Christiana Pennsylvania Resistance. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Africana Homestead Legacy, 1998), p. 114.] And while we may know the name of the famous rebel, Nat Turner, how many of us actually celebrate his memory? His fight for freedom echoed around the world, for it showed that the violence of slavery would be answered by the violence of the oppressed. For what was slavery but violence, and resistance against that violence but self-defense? I doubt that the name Charles Deslondes will elicit the least flicker of recognition, but he was the leader of a slave revolt that rocked New Orleans in 1811. The revolt aboard the Amistad is known to many (due in part to movies). But the Amistad wasn't the only one. Ships like the Little George were seized over a century before the Amistad, but, today, who knows its name? Here in 1730, some 96 captives seized the craft, and in 9 days, successfully sailed back to Africa. Two years thereafter, Africans aboard the William did the same thing, set the crew adrift, and sailed back home. The late, great Herbert Aptheker, in his classic American Negro Slave Revolts, recounted over 250 such rebellions against the vile slave system. Coming closer to our time, how many of us will look back, not centuries, but mere months, to the horrors and hypocrisies of Hurricane Katrina? For Black History didn't end centuries ago; and didn't begin with the Civil Rights Act. It's an ancient history, and also as present as yesterday. Katrina -- the ravages, not of weather, but of government, as Black Arts Movement poet, playwright, and essayist Marvin X put it so eloquently in his recent *Beyond Religion -- Toward Spirituality: Essays on Consciousness* (Cherokee, CA: Black Bird Press, 2006): "We have tried their sham democratic elections to no avail, as we saw in the 2000 general election when our votes were discounted. Between our treatment in the 2000 election and Katrina, what else do we need to know about American democracy? What part of no don't you understand? Both events revealed America to be nothing more than a banana republic with respect to us: we were treated worse than dogs in both respects." [p. 192] Another poet, Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad, used her art to pose a potent question raised by Katrina: "Who do we pledge our allegiance to? A government that leaves its old To die of thirst surrounded by water Is a foreign government." [Fr.: What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation, ed. South End Press Collective (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007), p. 187] Black History Month -- a time to remember that which the corporate culture wishes is forgotten. A time to remember rebellion, resistance, and what it means to be Black in the White Nation -- today. Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Jan 26, 2007
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Jan 26, 2007
While media pundits and politicians bum rush the mike about President George W. Bush's plans to "surge" U.S. troop forces in Iraq, little is being said about another army there. By this I refer not to the British, who, as the junior partners in this nefarious occupation, have contributed a significant number of troops to this operation, nor to the other so-called 'coalition of the willing', most of whom have only sent token numbers. I mean the private armies, known best by the term "contractors" -- men (mostly) who work for private corporations, who are often heavily armed, and who number some 100,000. They often wear camouflage fatigues -- and many are paid six-figure salaries! Remember the notorious scandal of Abu Ghraib prison? While the fate of 7 low-level soldiers (and one female general) is generally well-known, there is rarely discussion (and rare still, legal action) on the actions of contractors. Such people played a key role in Abu Ghraib -- and play vital roles everyday in Iraq, separate and apart from the U.S. military, or any governmental structure. In Abu Ghraib, around the exact time of the events that are now infamous and historic, all of the interpreters at the prison worked for one U.S. company -- Titan Corp. At the same time (as of Jan. '04), over 1/2 of all interrogators and analysts worked for a Virginia-based company -- CAGI International. As novelist-essayist Joan Didion noted in a recent edition of The New York Review of Books: "There are now, split among more than 150 private firms, thousands of such contracts outstanding. Halliburton alone had by July 2004 contracts worth $11,431,000,000. "Private firms in Iraq has done more than build bases and bridges and prisons. They have done more than handle meals and laundry and transportation. They train Iraqi forces. They manage security. Contract interrogators from two firms, CAGI International (according to its web site 'a world leader in providing timely solutions to the intelligence community') and Titan ('a leading provider of comprehensive information and communications products, solutions, and services for National Security'), were accused of abuses at Abu Ghraib, where almost half of all interrogators and analysts were CAGI employees. They operate free of oversight. They distance the process of interrogation from the citizens in whose name, or in whose "defense," or to ensure whose "security," the interrogation is being conducted. They offer 'timely solutions.'" [Fr.: Didion, Joan, "Cheney: The Fatal Touch," The New York Review of Books, October 5, 2006, p. 56.] More than any other war in U.S. history, big companies are making big bucks by privatization of almost everything. Indeed, in a very real sense, it can be said that even torture was privatized -- as shown by the allegation that Abu Hamid, a Titan employee, hired to do interpreting at Abu Ghraib, reportedly raped a 15-year old boy there. Titan held contracts worth an estimated $657 million. CAGI had contracts in the tens of millions, at least. Speaking of Halliburton (where Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO), it proceeded to run up so many bills that it overcharged the U.S. government by more than $1 billion! One Billion! Halliburton, by the way, provided U.S. service members with contaminated drinking water -- and charged Army folks $99 to wash their laundry -- and didn't get it clean! No matter what Bush ultimately decides, a private army continues to roam Iraq, answerable only to their bosses. Armed to the teeth, they are a private army for business. Who says war is bad for business? Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Jan 26, 2007
Harold C. Wilson is still fighting -- even though he's been 'free' since November 2005. He's been off Death Row since his acquittal on *three* counts of murder by a Philadelphia jury on retrial. DNA evidence proved his innocence of the crimes, after 17 years on Death Row -- years that have left him almost broken in health, but not in mind. He's fighting these days to teach people what the death penalty really means -- not in theory, but in fact. He's been forced to work to build the Harold C. Wilson Foundation, to create awareness about what it means for people to live on Death Row, how easily prosecutors and judges can railroad people there, and also to impact public policy about how those who are exonerated should be meaningfully remunerated upon their release. Speaking recently at a panel discussion on the death penalty at Philadelphia's Drexel University, Wilson explained: "My life was gone, and no one in the system cared about my innocence. Even when one tries to fight for the rights one is granted by the Constitution, you are immediately beaten down mentally ...." [Qari, Ali, "Death penalty 'is not a simple question'," The Triangle (Nov. 10, 2006).] In describing his experiences Wilson told those assembled: "Imagine your hands and your feet chained whenever you left your room. Imagine living in a room the size of your standard bathroom. Imagine being told you could only shower twice a week. Imagine seeing bodies bloodied and beaten before you. I do not have to imagine. I lived it for 17 years." [Ibid.] Harold C. Wilson is working to build his foundation, not just to teach folks about the horrors of Death Row, but because he hasn't been able to get a real job since his release. In part, that's because of his health problems spawned by living so many years in cold cells on bare concrete. It's also because potential employers can't get past his three murder convictions -- as if the acquittals don't really matter! He therefore has had to grab the bull by the horns, and engage in public speaking about the worst years in his life, instead of private employment, where he could try to rebuild what's left of his life and family. Wilson returned to a world with an elderly mother, a son in Iraq (who has since re-enlisted!), and a daughter who works -- in of all places -- as a *prison guard* -- in another state. If you want to know about life on America's Death Row, Harold Wilson is quite able to tell you, or your group. Contact the Harold C. Wilson Foundation, at: Ph.#: (215) 834-4676 Mail: P.O. Box 32084, Phila., PA 19146 email: haroldcwilson@gmail.com Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Jan 22, 2007
Quite recently, I offered some thoughts on the startling warm winter weather we're having. While I talked about the probable impact of global warming (greenhouse gases), I didn't directly address the sources of much of it. Let's be clear. Much of it, perhaps most, is cars. Some folks may be thinking -- 'uh oh -- here he goes again with that back-to-nature, John Africa talk again. He actually wants us to give up our cars!' But how many of us know that in the good old days -- say, in the 19-teens, and the '20s, cars were electric cars -- run on batteries? In the early third of the 20th century, most American mass transit was an electrical affair -- relatively quiet, with far fewer pollutants being belched into the air. What happened? Greed happened. Corporate crime happened. Then mass pollution happened. Writer and researcher Mark Zepezauer, in his brilliant 2004 book, Take the Rich Off Welfare (Cambridge, Ma.: South End Press) tells the story with brevity and clarity, as he writes: "The extent to which automobiles dominate our lives didn't just happen by accident -- at least part of it was the result of a criminal conspiracy. Back in the early 1930s, most people living in cities got around on electric streetcars. Concerned that this wasn't the kind of environment in which they could sell a lot of buses, General Motors (GM), using a series of front companies, began buying up streetcar systems, tearing out the tracks, buying buses from itself, and then selling the new, polluting bus systems back to the cities -- usually with contracts that prohibited the purchase of 'any equipment using fuel or means of propulsion other than gas.' Sometimes the contracts required that the new owners buy all their replacement buses from GM. "GM was soon joined by Greyhound, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Standard Oil of California (also called Chevron), and Mack Trucks. In 1949 -- after these companies had destroyed more than 100 streetcar systems in over 40 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Oakland, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Salt Lake City -- GM, Chevron, and Firestone were convicted of a criminal conspiracy to restrain trade. They were fined $5,000 each, and the executives who organized the scheme were fined $1.00 each." [p. 139] Boy -- what does that tell you about 'equal justice under law?' (Speaking of John Africa, I'm reminded of the opening words of his The Judges Letter, which reads, "The courts are the tools of industrial plague, granting big business privilege to poison our earth.") There are some 520 million cars in the world today; 200 million (38.5%!) are driven in the U.S. The U.S. has only 5% of the world's population, and drives nearly 40% of the cars. When we are faced with the chilling spectacle of global warming, with the rising of the oceans along with temperatures, and with the very real threat to coastal cities and populations all around the world, there's a reason for it. And some big U.S. businesses made plenty of money off it. The pollution in our lungs, the warming air currents melting the arctic snow and creating rising sea levels, the very same man-made temperature changes that have spawned stronger, more destructive hurricanes was translated into billions of dollars in U.S. corporate coffers, amassed over decades. It is the very essence of capitalism. It didn't have to be this way. It could've been very different. Only people, awake and aware -- and determined to build a new world, can begin to change it. Time is running out for over 1/2 a billion people, whose living space is seriously threatened with flooding. It's not too late to reverse this monstrous trend. But, it can't be kept for later.
Jan 21, 2007
When I went into the yard several days ago, (OK--cage) I couldn't help but be shocked. It was still dark, as the sun hadn't yet risen, not quite 7 a.m. It was nearly 60 degrees. When I felt how warm it was, I was absolutely stunned. The grass was still green, and it felt like a moist, spring morning. I couldn't help but think of global warming -- the dumping of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which traps heat near the earth's surface, like a blanket on a bed. It has been clearer than I've ever seen it in over 50 years of life. I then thought that it was a mixed blessing that Al Gore wasn't elected in 2000, for if he had been it's doubtful that he would've been so outspoken about the causes of global warming, and the consequences for the powerful oil companies. The theft of the election freed him to spend his time and attention on a matter close to his heart, and his resultant filmed lecture (and book), An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It (Melcher Media/Rodale) has reached more people, at a deeper level, than any presidential press conference could've. Although long derided by corporate-paid pundits and conservatives (why are people called 'conservatives' who don't care about conservation of the planet?) as tree-huggers and many environmentalists who want to destroy U.S. business, there are few thinking people who dare to challenge the obvious signs of global warming. In December and January, cherry blossoms bloom in Washington, D.C. Flowers and bugs react to the warmth like it's an early spring. In the frigid polar region, polar bears are drowning -- drowning! -- because of the growing distance between ice floes. Human habitation (at least in cities) is endangered in this new world formed by human hands. How serious is global warming? Jim Hanson, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote recently in The New York Review of Books (7/13/06) in the article, "The Threat to the Planet", what the difference of 5 degrees warmth means to global sea levels: "Here too, our best information comes from the Earth's history. The last time that the Earth was five degrees warmer was three million years ago, when sea level was about eighty feet higher. "Eighty feet! In that case, the United States would lose most East Coast cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Miami; indeed, practically the entire state of Florida would be under water. Fifty million people in the US live below that sea level. Other places would fare worse. China would have 250 million displaced persons. Bangladesh would produce 120 million refugees, practically the entire nation. India would lose the land of 150 million people." [p. 13] That means the land and living areas for over 570 million people, all around the world would go underwater: 5 degrees! Never in human history have people caused so much vast devastation on such a scale. This is civilization? This is one of the costs of 'the American way of life.' The catastrophe threatened by such an ecological crisis kinda puts terrorism on another plane of worry, doesn't it? There have been wars and rumors of wars for fuels that are contributing to the destruction of the earth, and the flooding of its cities. Politicians haven't moved a muscle to solve this very real crisis. That's because they are, by their very nature, but henchmen for corporations, which are concerned only about profit. This system ain't the solution. Indeed, it is the problem. Only the people, repudiating the system, can begin to change this emergent tragedy, by working together to build a new world.
Jan 15, 2007
Waterfront union workers will mark Martin Luther King's birthday Sunday, January 14th, with a special demonstration starting at Hornblower headquarters, Pier 3, at 11am and marching to the Alcatraz ferry at Pier 33. The ten year "exclusive and lucrative Alcatraz ferry contract" was awarded Hornblower Cruises by the Bush Administration last fall and workers have been protesting ever since as Terry MacRae, Hornblower boss, "refuses to hire qualified, trained, professional Inland Boatmen's Union (IBU) and Masters, Mates, and Pilots association (MM&P) workers who have performed this work safely since 1973." For the VERY latest visit: www.alcatrazunion.com.
Jan 15, 2007
Soon, every TV station and network, and many of the nation's radio stations, will air stock film footage (or tape) of Martin Luther King, Jr., his handsome dark face shining in a sea of dark faces, captured in his moment of triumph: the "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington. They will gladly air this 'safe' Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke loftily and eloquently of dreams. Few will dare air his remarks made at Riverside Church in New York City, where an older, wiser Martin spoke, not of dreams but of realities -- of social, and especially economic injustice -- of rampant American militarism, and yes -- the nightmare of white racism. One of those with him, who, too, would become a Rev. Dr., was Vincent Harding, a man who loved Martin, and who knew him as a brother, rather than an icon. Rev. Dr. Harding, a leading theologian and historian, wanted others to know the Martin he'd known; so he wrote a book: Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1996 [8th printing]). As Harding teaches us, King fell into the pit of betrayal, when he took on the war in Vietnam: ".... King was bitterly rebuked for taking on the issue of the war. Some called it a diversion from the issue of black rights. Others feared the terrible rage of [President] Lyndon Johnson who brooked no opposition (certainly not from black Martin Luther King!) to his destructive policies. "Some members of King's own Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) board of directors opposed his role in the antiwar movement, partly because they had seen the way in which the liberal white allies of the movement had withdrawn financial support from the radicalized young people of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), who dared stand in solidarity with the Vietnamese opponents of America's intervention ... "In the face of all this, partly because of all this, King persisted, and the Riverside speech - delivered exactly one year before his assassination, was the most notable result of his decision. Immediately the drumbeat of harsh criticism was heightened. It came from many ... including such black stalwarts as Jackie Robinson, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, and Carl Rowan." [pp. 70-71] Rev. Dr. Harding also recounts how the allegedly 'liberal' Washington Post assailed Rev. Dr. King for daring to oppose the war. The newspaper editorial called his words "Bitter and damaging allegations and inferences that he did not and could not document." In the view of the Post's editors, "many who have listened to him with respect will never again accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people." [Harding, p. 71] To his credit, Harding explains, King did not heed such criticisms, for he knew that they were on the side of war and death. Harding writes that King became increasingly radicalized, and emboldened to speak out against injustice; Riverside was a turning point: "(Who knew that night, April 4, that he had precisely one more year to live, that the bullet was closing in?) For King saw the larger context. He had already declared in other places that his "beloved country" was "engaged in a war that seeks to turn the clock of history back and perpetuate white colonialism." Underlying this backwardness, he said, was America's refusal to recognize that "the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism." [p. 101] This ain't the Martin Luther King we see on commercials, nor the ones we see in newspaper ads around the days of his birth or death. That Martin Luther King, anti-war critic, economic justice activist, advocate for the poor, fellow sufferer of the bombed and oppressed in Vietnam, a budding socialist (or at least anti-capitalist), had become, in Harding's words, 'the inconvenient hero.' May we remember who he really was. That King has almost vanished from our popular media, white-washed culture and history. Were it not for folks like Vincent Harding, he might have. Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
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