Let Freedom Ring:
A Collection of Documents From the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners

Edited by Matt Meyer
Foreword by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
Afterwords by Lynne Stewart and Ashanti Omowali Alston

ISBN: 978-1-60486-035-1
PM Press/Kersplebedeb co-publication
Release date: September 2008
912 pages paperback • $37.95

Let Freedom Ring presents a two-decade sweep of essays, analyses, histories, interviews, resolutions, People’s Tribunal verdicts, and poems by and about the scores of U.S. political prisoners and the campaigns to safeguard their rights and secure their freedom. In addition to an extensive section on the campaign to free death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, represented here are the radical movements that have most challenged the U.S. empire from within: Black Panthers and other Black liberation fighters, Puerto Rican independentistas, Indigenous sovereignty activists, white anti-imperialists, environmental and animal rights militants, Arab and Muslim activists, Iraq war resisters, and others. Contributors in and out of prison detail the repressive methods – from long-term isolation to sensory deprivation to politically inspired parole denial – used to attack these freedom fighters, some still caged after 30+ years. This invaluable resource guide offers inspiring stories of the creative, and sometimes winning, strategies to bring them home.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments............. xv
Matt Meyer

Foreword............. xvii
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Let Freedom Ring: An Introduction............. xix
Matt Meyer

Gearing Up: A Guide to This Collection............. xxv
Matt Meyer

The Real Dragons: A Brief History of Political Militancy and Incarceration: 1960s to 2000s............. 3
Dan Berger, 2008

Section I • Putting Political Prisoners on the Map

I.1    Political Prisoners in the U.S.?............. 49
Freedom Now!, 1989

I.2    Political Prisoners and International Law............. 52
Research Committee on Int’l Law and Black Freedom Fighters in the U.S., 1990

I.3    Political Prisoners: Guilty Until Proven Innocent............. 54
Susie Day, 1989

I.4    Glasnost Abroad, Gulags at Home: Political Prisoners in the U.S.............. 63
Matt Meyer, 1990

I.5    A Scientific Form of Genocide............. 68
Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Anthony X. Bradshaw, Malik Dinguswa, Terry D. Long, Mark Cook, Adolfo Matos, James Haskins, 1990

I.6    People’s Tribunal to Expose Control Units............. 89
Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, 1987

I.6.A     Partial Transcript from the Tribunal on Control Units............. 99
José López, Dave Dellinger, and Jean Hughes, 1987

I.7    Strings Attached in the Age of Authority............. 110
Bill Dunne, 2008

Section II • Int’l Tribunal on Political Prisoners/P.O.W.’s in the U.S.A.

II.1    Introduction and Historical Context for the Int’l Tribunal............. 127
Bob Lederer, 1991

II.2    Political Prisoners in the U.S.A.: A Year of Consciousness-Raising Activities............. 134
Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, 1990

II.3    International Symposium on Human Rights Violations on Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in the United States............. 136

II.3.A    In the Final Analysis, Prison Is a Reflection of the Society It Is a Part Of............. 137
Pablo Marcano García, 1990

II.3.B    Our Fight Is Essentially a Work of the Heart and Spirit............. 141
Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, 1990

II.3.C    Marketing War............. 147
Ninotchka Rosca, 1990

—    Literary Reading to Benefit the International Tribunal............. 148

II.4    The Creative Process as a Form of Resistance............. 149
Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, 1990

II.5    A Call to Liberation............. 152
Interfaith Religious Summit on Political Prisoners, 1990

II.6    Special International Tribunal on the Violation of Human Rights of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in United States Prisons and Jails............. 164

II.6.A    Tribunal Indictment............. 165

II.6.B    Political Prisoners in the United States: The Hidden Reality............. 177
Michael E. Deutsch and Jan Susler, 1990

II.7.B    New Afrikan/Black Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War: Conditions of Confinement............. 191
J. Soffiyah Elijah, 1990

II.7.C    Criminalization and Persecution of Opponents to the Colonial Status of Puerto Rico Human Rights Violations............. 201
Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, 1990

II.7.D    North American Anti-Imperialists and U.S. Government Repression............. 210
Elizabeth Fink, Esq., 1990

II.8    Verdict of the International Tribunal on Political Prisoners/P.O.W.’s............. 213

Section III • The Quincentenary: Diss’ing the  “Discovery”

III.1    Weeding............. 239
Chrystos, 2006

III.2    Conference on the Oppressed Nationalities Within the U.S.............. 240

III.3    Diss’ing the “Discovery”............. 243
Meg Starr and Barbara Zeller, 1992

III.3.A    The Real Columbus............. 245
David Gilbert, 1992

III.3.B     If Columbus Had Not Come............. 248
Sundiata Acoli, 1992

III.3.C    Autopsy............. 250
Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, 1992

III.3.D    In History’s Back Pages: The African/Native American Alliances............. 250
Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, 1992

III.3.E    A Short Story Still Untitled............. 251
Alberto Rodríguez, 1992

III.3.F    The Uprising............. 255
Raymond Luc Levasseur, 1992

III.3.G    A Letter from Mark Cook............. 258
Mark Cook, 1992

III.3.H    Prayer from the Americas............. 259
Marilyn Buck, 1988

III.3.I    Rejecting White Supremacy: Thoughts from a North American Brother............. 260
Jaan Laaman, 1992

III.3.J    Maroon Tunes............. 264
Larry Giddings, 1992

III.3.K    What Are We Celebrating?............. 268
Edwin Cortés, 1992

III.3.L    1992............. 270
Elizam Escobar, 1992

III.4    Freedom Now!............. 272
Matt Meyer, 1993

III.5    International Tribunal of Indigenous Peoples and Oppressed Nations in the U.S.A.............. 276

III.5.A    That Everyone Resist… That No One Stay Behind…............. 276

III.5.B    Indictment of the Federal Government of the United States of America for the Commission of International Crimes............. 280

III.5.C    Verdict of the International Tribunal of Indigenous Peoples and Oppressed Nations in the United States of America............. 287

III.6    Shasta Woman: The Story of Norma Jean Croy............. 298
B♀ (rita d. brown), 2008

III.7    United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People............. 301
Leonard Peltier, 2004

III.8    The IITC and Indigenous Prisoners’ Struggles............. 302

III.8.A    Written Intervention to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights............. 302
International Indian Treaty Council, 2003

III.8.B    To the U.N. Commission on Human Rights Regarding the New Restrictions of Religious Practices in State and Federal Prisons............. 304
International Indian Treaty Council, 2005

III.8.C    Urgent Appeal to U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions............. 306
International Indian Treaty Council, 2005

III.8.D    Letter from Leonard Peltier Defense Committee to IITC............. 308
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, 2005

III.8.E    Resolution on Leonard Peltier............. 309
IITC Commission on Prisoners’ Rights, 2005

Section IV • Campaigning to End Colonialism in Puerto Rico

IV.2    Puerto Rico: The Cost of Colonialism............. 313

IV.2.A    Why Focus on Puerto Rico?............. 314
Matt Meyer, 1992

IV.2.B    The Costs of Colonialism............. 318
Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, 1991

IV.3    Proclaim Release: A Call to Conscience and Action for the Release of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners............. 322
Interfaith Prisoners of Conscience Project, 1997

IV.4 International Call to Conscience to U.S. President William Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno On the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners

IV.5    A Day Without the Pentagon............. 336
Resistance in Brooklyn, 1998

iv.6    The Ones Left Behind............. 339
Matt Meyer, 1999

IV.7    International Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Puerto Rico and Vieques by the United States of America............. 345

IV.8    More Than 25 Years: Puerto Rican Political Prisoners............. 356
Jan Susler, 2007

IV.9    Puerto Rican Independence Movement Under Attack in New York and San Juan............. 359
Jan Susler, 2008

Section V • Resisting Repression: Out and Proud

V.1    After the Confiscation of Gay Community News............. 365
Laura Whitehorn, 1992

V.2    Not Something That We Can Postpone............. 366
Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, 1991

—    Kuwasi Balagoon: In Memoriam............. 370

V.3    Dykes and Fags Want to Know: Interview with Lesbian Political Prisoners............. 372
QUISP, Linda Evans, Laura Whitehorn, and Susan Rosenberg, 1991

V.4    Three Decades of Queer Solidarity and Radical Struggle: A Rich History............. 385
Bob Lederer, 1999

V.5    Queer Activists Demand Liberty and New Trial for Mumia Abu‑Jamal............. 391
Simon Nkoli Queer Crusaders in Support of Political Prisoners, 1999

V.6    One Herstory of Out of Control: Lesbian Committee to Support Women Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War, 1986-2008............. 394
B♀ (rita d. brown) and Jane Segal, 2008

Section VI • Pulling Out the Stops to Free Mumia Abu‑Jamal

VI.1    A Brief History/Herstory of the Movement to Free Mumia............. 403
Suzanne Ross, 2008

VI.2    Death-Row Journalist Barred from National Public Radio............. 413
Bob Lederer, 1994

VI.3    The Congressional Black Caucus Letter............. 415
Suzanne Ross, 2008

VI.3.A    “A Grave Injustice Is About to Be Committed…”............. 416
Chaka Fattah, 1995

VI.4    Art Against Death: Political Prisoners Unite for Mumia............. 418
Laura Whitehorn, 2008

VI.4.A    Mumia Abu‑Jamal............. 422
Susie Day, 1995

VI.5    The People’s International Tribunal for Justice for Mumia Abu‑Jamal ............. 424

VI.6    An Appeal from U.S. Political Prisoners/POW’s: Mobilize to Save Mumia Abu‑Jamal!............. 429
Herman Bell, David Gilbert, Abdul Majid, Bill Dunne, Jihad Abdul Mumit, Marilyn Buck, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Jaan Laaman, Tom Manning, Richard Williams, Ray Luc Levasseur, Linda Evans, Edward Africa, Sundiata Acoli, Chuckie Africa, Teddy Jah Heath, Phil Africa, Larry Giddings, Robert “Seth” Hayes, Russell “Maroon” Shoats, Yu Kikumura, Janine Africa, Janet Africa, Debbie Africa, Juan Segarra Palmer, Oscar López Rivera, Jalil Muntaqim, Leonard Peltier, Veronza Bowers, Nuh Washington, 1999

VI.7    Direct Action for Mumia............. 431

VI.7.A    How Freedom Rang............. 432
Matt Meyer, 1999

VI.7.B    Why We Are Demonstrating at the Liberty Bell............. 438
Ad Hoc Coalition for the Liberty Bell Action, 1999

—    An Urgent Message from Dennis Brutus and Friends............. 440

VI.7.C    Face Reality! Mumia Is One of Over 100 Political Prisoners in the U.S.A.............. 441
Resistance in Brooklyn, 2000

VI.7.D    Supreme Court and Weekend Actions United Press Release............. 443
Free Mumia Abu‑Jamal Coalition, 2000

VI.8    Worldwide Solidarity with Mumia............. 445
Suzanne Ross, 2008

VI.8.A    Conscious of His Own Destiny............. 447
Angela Y. Davis, 2004

VI.8.B    Regarding U.S. Resolutions Condemning the Naming of a Street for Mumia Abu‑Jamal by the French City of Saint-Denis............. 448
Patrick Braouezec, 2006

VI.8.C    South African Robben Island Press Release............. 451
Dennis Brutus, 2000

VI.9    Confronting the naacp............. 454
Suzanne Ross, 2008

VI.9.A    Emergency Resolution Reaffirming Opposition to the Death Penalty............. 455
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2004

VI.10    This Is No Victory: Analysis of Appeals Court Ruling on Mumia Abu‑Jamal’s Case............. 457
Linn Washington, Jr. , 2008

Section VII • John Brown and Beyond

VII.1    Who Was John Brown?............. 465
Terry Bisson, 2000

VII.2    The Meaning of John Brown, Mumia Abu‑Jamal, and All Political Prisoners............. 476
Jericho Movement & Resistance in Brooklyn, 1999

VII.3    John Brown 2000: U.S. Political Prisoner/Prisoner of War Writings on the 200th Birthday of John Brown and Nat Turner............. 508
Jericho Movement & Resistance in Brooklyn, 2000

VII.3.A    Alliance Building in the Next Period............. 509
Sundiata Acoli, 2000

VII.3.B    A Life Lived Deliberately… and the spiritual grandchildren of John Brown............. 510
Mumia Abu‑Jamal, 1999

VII.3.C    LONG LIVE REVOLUTION!!............. 514
Janine Africa for the move 9 Prisoners, 2000

VII.3.D    NEED FOR TOTAL REVOLUTION!............. 516
Phil Africa, 2000

VI.3.E    Expressions of Solidarity............. 518
Oscar López Rivera, 2000

VII.3.F    To the John Brown 2000 Conference............. 519
Herman Bell, 2000

VII.3.G    John Brown Rises!............. 522
Marilyn Buck, 2000

VII.3.H    Toward Building the Future’s History............. 525
Bill Dunne, 2000

VII.3.I    The Struggle Continues............. 533
Russell “Maroon” Shoats, 2000

VII.3.J    Loving to Be/Struggling to Be Free............. 534
Veronza Bowers, Jr., 2000

VII.3.K    Alliance Building: Looking Forward, Looking Back............. 536
Linda Evans, 2000

VII.3.L    Mixed, Like You; Mixed, Like Me............. 541
Larry Giddings, 2000

VII.3.M    Some Lessons from the 1960s............. 543
David Gilbert, 1991

VII.3.N    For John Brown’s 200th Birthday, three haiku............. 548
David Gilbert, 2000

VII.3.N    Unity of Humanity… 549
Bashir Hameed, 2000

VII.3.O    Reparations… 549
Jalil Muntaqim, 2000

VII.3.P    About Our Commonalities............. 550
Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, 2000

VII.3.Q    To the John Brown 2000 Conference............. 552
Jaan Laaman, 2000

VII.3.R    John Brown 2000............. 556
Ray Luc Levasseur, 2000

VII.3.S    Honoring the People’s Struggle............. 559
Leonard Peltier, 2000

VII.3.T    Reflections on John Brown............. 561
Susan Rosenberg, 2000

VII.3.V     Three Poems............. 564
Nuh Washington

VII.4     The Jericho Movement: Amnesty and Freedom for All Political Prisoners............. 566
National Jericho Movement, 2000

VII.5     Picking Up the Work: Health Care in Prison: A Conversation with Dr. Barbara Zeller............. 569
Matt Meyer and Barbara Zeller, 2008

Section VIII • Critical Resistance and the Prisoner Rights Movement

VIII.1     Criminalization of Poverty in Capitalist America............. 575
Jalil Muntaqim, 1996

VIII.2     The Prison Industrial Complex and the Global Economy............. 582
Eve Goldberg and Linda Evans, 1998

VIII.3     Capitalism and Crisis: Creating a Jailhouse Nation............. 592
David Gilbert, 2001

VIII.4     Prison Abolition, Political Prisoners, and the Building of Critical Resistance: An Interview with Linda Thurston............. 598
Matt Meyer and Linda Thurston, 2008

Section IX • At War: The U.S. Government’s Illegal and Ongoing War Against the Black Liberation Movement

IX.1     An Interview with Assata Shakur............. 605
Matt Meyer, Meg Starr, and Assata Shakur, 1991

IX.2     What the Corporate Media Didn’t Tell You: An Interview with Ramona Africa............. 621
Hans Bennett and Ramona Africa, 2003

IX.3     Adding Insult to Injury: Media Bias Against Dhoruba Bin-Wahad and Other Political Prisoners............. 631
Bob Lederer, 1992

IX.4     Life: A Political Prisoner’s Journey in the U.S. Prison System............. 634
Jalil Muntaqim, 2005

IX.5     Human Rights in the U.S.: The Unfinished Story of Political Prisoners and Victims of COINTELPRO............. 643
Cynthia McKinney, Nkechi Taifa, Kathleen Cleaver, Michael Tarif Warren, Bruce Ellison, Geronimo ji Jaga, Laura Whitehorn, 2000

IX.6     Call for cointelpro Congressional/cbc and TRC Hearings............. 657
National Jericho Amnesty Movement, 2007

IX.6.A    Dear Congressman Conyers...659
Herman Ferguson, National Jericho Amnesty Movement, 2007

Section X • The Struggle Continues

X.1     A Moment of Silence............. 663
Emmanuel Ortiz, 2002

X.2     We Will Rise Again............. 667
Alvaro Luna Hernandez, 1997

X.3     “Please Accept Our Appeal”............. 671
Release 2000 Campaign, 2000

X.4     Political Prisoners and 9/11: The Reality of Political Prisoners in the United States: What September 11 Taught Us About Defending Them............. 675
J. Soffiyah Elijah, 2002

X.5      Who Are the Cuban Five?............. 685
National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, 2007

X.5.A     Response to Court Ruling on Cuban Five Appeal............. 688
International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, 2008

X.5.B     Nobel Prize Winners and World Intellectuals Sign New Call for the Release of the Five............. 690
Granma Internacional, 2007

X.5.C     Freedom for the Five Cubans Imprisoned in the United States!............. 691

X.6     The Green Scare and Eco-prisoners: A Brief Synopsis............. 692
Brendan Story and Margie Lincita, 2008

X.7     Analysis of Green Scare Repression: For Those Who Came In Late............. 699
CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective, 2008

X.8     Kamau Sadiki:  Injustice Continues............. 714
Safiya Bukhari, 2002

X.9     Imam Jamil Al-Amin (the former H. Rap Brown) Moved to the Stateside Guantánamo............. 719
International Committee to Support Imam Jamil Al-Amin, 2008

X.10 A     “Once Upon a Time, They Called Me a Terrorist, Too”............. 722
Naji Mujahid and Ryme Katkhouda, 2005

X.10 B     Former Black Panthers Arrested and Indicted in 1971 Homicide: Charges Based on Evidence Obtained Through Torture............. 725
Center for Constitutional Rights, 2007

X.10 C     Interview with Richard Brown of the San Francisco 8............. 726
Revolution Newspaper and Richard Brown, 2007

X.10 D     Joint Statement from the San Francisco 8............. 733
Herman Bell, Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Hank Jones, Richard O’Neal, Harold Taylor, Francisco Torres, Jalil Muntaqim, 2007

X.10.E     International Call on the San Francisco 8............. 737
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, et al., 2007

X.11     U.S. Government Persecution of Arabs and Muslims Pre- and Post-9/11............. 739
Bob Lederer and Ryme Katkhouda, 2008

X.11.A     Police State America: Sami Al-Arian’s Long Ordeal............. 741
Stephen Lendman, 2008

X.12     A New Generation of War Resisters in Military Jails............. 748
Matt Meyer, 2008

Afterword............. 753
Lynne Stewart
After the Afterword............. 755
Ashanti Omowali Alston

Contributor Profiles............. 759

Political Prisoner Support Organizations............. 807

Index............. 830

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Let Freedom Ring: An Introduction

Matt Meyer

“Face Reality!” The poster screams out at you. Forty-eight faces, men and women of every racial and ethnic group, look determined and active and strong. They stare out, they reach out, of the black-bordered design, stark and clean, with bold white lettering proclaiming the message. “There are political prisoners in the U.S.A.”

When the coalition known as Freedom Now! first produced that poster in the late 1980s, many in the U.S. left were unaware of most of the names attached to those faces and of the fact that over 100 people who could easily be classified as political prisoners by the standards of the Geneva Convention or the United Nations languished in U.S. jails. Even figures who now serve as icons in the struggle against the death penalty, such as death row journalist Mumia Abu‑Jamal, or respected leaders of the American Indian Movement, such as Leonard Peltier—who has had petitions calling for his release signed by literally millions of people across the globe—were not easily recognizable amongst progressives in their own country. Twenty years later, that situation is somewhat improved; the existence of U.S. political prisoners is readily accepted throughout movement circles. And, in what may be surprising news even to ardent antiprison campaigners who face depressing conditions every day, no fewer than 27 of the men and women on that Face Reality poster are now out of jail, living productive lives back in their communities. There has been progress, born of struggle, over these two decades.

But three of those pictured are dead. Albert Nuh Washington and Richard Williams died in prison, away from their families, of cancerous cells and infections that ate away at their bodies with a speed indicative of their deadly surroundings. They were denied humanitarian release, even in the late stages of the disease—when freedom would have simply meant the ability to lie in a nonprison hospital bed, surrounded by family and friends. Filiberto Ojeda Riíos, also on the original poster, did not die in prison. As is known throughout the island of Puerto Rico, Filiberto—who had been living a quiet, clandestine life in the years since escaping the jailer’s grasp—was gunned down at his home by the same fbi that is largely responsible for the unjust and illegal incarceration of his comrades. That the fbi selected to assassinate the 72-year-old Filiberto on Grito de Lares, the traditional day of celebration of Puerto Rico’s short-lived independence from Spain (before the U.S. Marines showed up), is further indication of the provocative and hateful manner that U.S. authorities have dealt with these “enemies of the state.” Nuh, Richard, and Filiberto, along with Merle Africa, are dead, and 18 others on that critical old poster are still imprisoned. And new faces continue to be jailed, taking the place of some of those now free.

This book is being put together as a guide to the past 20 years of campaigning for the release of political prisoners, prisoners of war, and prisoners of conscience held in U.S. jails. We are doing so at this time because we believe it to be a crucial moment to redouble our efforts for justice for all. We want to look clearly and strategically at some of the successes we’ve had; we do not for a moment believe that the release of political prisoners in this past period was merely a matter of luck or good timing, or the act of benevolent politicians. We want to examine, without undue pride or remorse, the strengths and weaknesses in our own movements that have helped bring about the condition we face today. Most of all, we want to make available some of the documents, and some of the thinking that went behind the tactics and strategies used, that produced—in our evaluations—some of the strongest results. We want to push the level of dialogue and work. If you were involved, what efforts have we left out? What critiques have we overlooked? What analysis is shaky? If you were not involved, did you think the issue didn’t touch your own work for social justice and peace?

"Within every society there are people who, at great personal risk and sacrifice, stand up and fight for the most marginalized among us. We call these people of courage, spirit and love, our heroes and heroines. This book is the story of the ones in our midst. It is the story of the best we are."
asha bandele, author of The Prisoner’s Wife

Why political prisoners?

The history of the world—from before the days of Jesus of Nazareth till long after any alleged combatant is held by the U.S. military at Guantánamo Bay—can be rightly told by the prominent examples of people held unjustly because of their beliefs. Many of those now considered political prisoners are jailed because of their participation in various movements for social change. Since the end of World War Two, in an effort to ensure that the policies and practices leading to and executed by the Fascists of Nazi Germany would never again rip the heart of humankind, the international community established regulations to serve as global guideposts. Though too often ignored by the governments of the world, these guidelines regarding the waging of war, the treatment of prisoners, and the rights of all peoples nevertheless serve to remind us all of some basic standards, internationally discussed and ratified, during the worst of times. The definitions of who qualifies as a political prisoner may be long debated and cause for disagreement; the International Declaration of Human Rights may be a far from perfect document, administered unevenly in a far from perfect world. As we campaign for a peace based upon justice, however, it helps to hold to some standards that can be easily communicated no matter what the date and place and time.

In contemporary world history, few would deny that much of the moral leadership of our age has come from political prisoners. Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi made going to jail a rite of passage for those campaigning for his country’s freedom; Pan Africanist Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana followed suit. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote some of his most famous words while jailed for his political beliefs and actions, and Malcolm X left his cell so energized, he built a Nation upon release. Puerto Rican freedom fighter Lolita Lebrón, one of the first 20th-century Latin American women who took up arms for their people, found God in her prison cell and remains today the conscience of her nation. Nonviolent human rights fighter Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work against the Burmese dictatorship, though she still remains under house arrest for her efforts. Her Nobel Prize-winning colleague, Nelson Mandela—African National Congress leader who spent 27 years under lock and key for his refusal to give up his principles or his tactical beliefs—is probably the most recognized and respected person on the face of our planet today. Mandela spent his quarter-century in jail for refusing to renounce the right of oppressed people to wage armed struggle for liberation, though now is correctly viewed as a great force of nonviolence.

The current U.S. political prisoners have received no Nobel honors and scant little attention from the human rights community. But they share many similarities to their above-named predecessors, playing leadership roles for progressive social change, standing fast in their beliefs that a better world is possible. This is true whether we are talking about Dr. Mutulu Shakur, a proponent of New Afrikan independence in the Black Belt south, who pioneered acupuncture techniques for intravenous drug users in Harlem trying to free themselves from substance abuse, or about Oscar López Rivera, a decorated Vietnam Veteran from the Puerto Rican community of Chicago, who has found out the hard way that one does not receive commendations for fighting for one’s own people here at home. This is certainly true of Native elder Leonard Peltier, whose main crime was a commitment to defend his community against fbi military attack. This commitment, though real and undeniable, must be understood in the light of mountains of legal evidence that suggests that Peltier never took any action that resulted in any harm to anyone. It is true for the many former Black Panthers, who had the audacity to want to defend themselves against police violence, and it is true for the Cuban 5, who may be considered terrorists simply because of the country of their birth—and whose nonviolent actions were clearly in the cause of peace. It is true for white activists Marilyn Buck and David Gilbert, who wanted to demonstrate by their actions that some would stand in solidarity when attacks were waged against the Black Panther Party, their allies, and their offshoots. It is true for the many Plowshares campaigners, who beat their hammers on real, not imagined, weapons of mass destruction, and for the new wave of animal rights and environmental defenders. It is true for the growing number of U.S. military resisters, whose political act is refusing to fight and be killed in a war that most would agree (now even in Congress!) is unjust and unnecessary. Taken together, the current U.S. political prisoners represent the heart of people’s movements, past and present. They symbolize the unfinished legacy of recent struggles for humanity. Their freedom represents nothing less than claiming our history with pride, proclaiming our certainty that the struggle, indeed, does continue.

"This extraordinary volume powerfully and eloquently brings together the voices of so many U.S. political prisoners. Taken one at a time, the stories, poems, communiqués, and analyses are not only heartbreaking in the suffering, courage and indomitable fortitude they manifest, but also paint a clear and damning picture of routine U.S. repression. When read as a whole, this book can do no other than inspire a new generation of activists and revolutionaries to free these prisoners and to bring down this whole wretched system of exploitation, theft, and murder. Thank you to the editors and to the contributors, and thank you most especially to the political prisoners themselves, who are giving their lives and are teaching us by their example how to be free men and women."
Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame

Why now?

When the patriot Act informed all U.S. citizens that the price of freedom was freedom itself, Orwellian double-speak surpassed even Reagan-era standards. With habeas corpus and the First Amendment under attack, it was clearly time to act. When the atrocities of Abu Ghraib sparked a public discussion about the effectiveness of torture, it was clearly time to act. When Filiberto was murdered, six years after 11 Puerto Rican Prisoners of War were granted clemency, to provoke angry independentistas to take actions that might lead to a new generation of presos políticos, it was clearly a time to take action. When governmental representatives met in guarded General Assembly quarters, and the new Latin American radical momentum enabled the president of Venezuela to laughingly call the president of the United States “the devil,” there was not just time, but opportunity for us to act. When nongovernmental representatives meet in open tents at World Social Forums in Brazil and Venezuela, Mali and Kenya, India and Pakistan, calling for grassroots U.S. activists to focus energy on the social justice issues in our own backyard, there was—and is—clearly a responsibility for us to act.

When, during the summer of 2006, five men in their fifties and sixties—all former members or associates of the Black Panther Party—were called before a San Francisco-based grand jury allegedly investigating a crime committed over three decades previously, the state threw down a gauntlet. When it became clear that the investigations were reopening cases based on evidence obtained primarily through torture, the message was unmistakable: Be afraid, be very afraid, and don’t even think of fighting back. When these same men stood strong, firm on the principle that they would not take part in a new, government-sponsored witch hunt, they sent a counter-message on behalf of us all: We will not allow our struggles, our communities, our very lives to be criminalized by a corrupt and racist criminal justice system. When, in the first weeks of 2007, indictments were handed down for eight former Panthers—including four of the five previously mentioned and two political prisoners, Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell, who have already served more than 30 years behind bars—the responsibility to speak out became that much more urgent. We must speak out not only for the San Francisco 8 and for the movements they symbolically represent. We speak out for ourselves, as the legacy of those movements and the growing interest in them among younger generations today help inform a new wave of struggle that learns from the mistakes of the past. We speak out for tomorrow.

Enough is enough! The message we must send is a simple one: Never again. Never again will progressive people in the U.S.—liberals and radicals, Black, white, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous—remain divided or inactive as government agents jail our leaders, criminalize our movements, and terrorize the people. Never again will we allow torture, abroad or here at home. Never again will we allow illegal wars and immoral laws used as excuses to roll back hard-earned human rights that are considered basic in most of the world. Never another political prisoner; never another colony.

The means of achieving these goals are not so simple, but the task is clear. It’s not enough to pledge that the building of empire must end; Puerto Rico must be freed of its colonial status, and the neo-colonies and internal colonies must be granted sovereignty as well. It’s not enough that the members of the San Francisco 8 not yet convicted of any crimes must be kept out of prison. Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim (and all the political prisoners) must be immediately released and returned to the communities they have worked so hard to enrich. The tactics and even some of the strategies can and must be varied. Some of us must engage in genuine, respectful, interactive meetings with those in power; others of us will be chanting and getting arrested on the other side of those same meetings—involved in massive and disciplined direct actions that will demonstrate by our deeds that we are prepared to shut the system down if our demands are not met. Many of us must hand out petitions, send out e-mails and mailings, organize educational events, and make telephone calls to let new people learn about our work in ways that they are ready to hear. And all of us will have to learn that most basic of acts of communication and dialogue; we must knock on a neighbor’s door, introduce ourselves politely, and begin telling the story of our buddies behind bars. Whether at our places of work or our local schools, the place we do our laundry or the places we go to relax, we must talk about the real people whom the U.S. government would like to make disappear.

This book was quickly thrown together, chronologically and thematically arranged as a resource guide for organizers. It is filled with old documents and speeches, essays, and calls to action, from a variety of the campaigns over the past 20 years. There are a few new pieces as well, and joined together they give us a sense of where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and where we might be heading. As you read through these resources, you will find some information that is dated and some that was written for a particular audience or event. They are included not simply to give one a sense of the time, but to help frame the context for certain strategies utilized in the various campaigns described. We hope that they are all informative and inspiring. But more than that, we hope that when put together as a whole, they can inform our collective thinking about the movements we must build today. They are not all-inclusive; there are examples of good work done for the release of U.S. political prisoners that are only briefly referred to, or not reproduced at all. We present the texts we do with an eye toward what we consider particularly strategic. We present them for review in reference to the next steps we feel need to be taken in building the next broad campaign—to let freedom ring for all the remaining U.S. political prisoners.

For many peoples, from a broad historical perspective, liberty has never truly been won. Let us begin today, freeing those who are bound.

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After the Afterword:America Means Prison

Ashanti Omowali Alston, 2008

Dear to our hearts: the political prisoners. In fact, not just dear to our hearts, but—in the words of New Afrikan People’s Organization founder Ahmed Obafemi—they are the heartbeats of our movements. They are the red ink dripping on the pages of our ongoing, unfolding stories of liberation within the confines of this prison called the United States of America.

Whether we are talking about Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement or the Black/New Afrikan liberation fighters, the Chicano/Atzlan liberation fighters or the independentistas of Puerto Rico, the white anti-imperialists or the earth/animal liberation fighters, we are essentially raising up the very foundational horrors of the American Empire. It’s a fact that nothing can be truly done about changing our world or creating a new one without acknowledging and joining with these representatives who stood up to resist.

Land? “Free Leonard!” is also about coming to terms with the theft of this land and continuing genocide of the Indigenous peoples. ”Free the San Francisco 8!” is also about coming to terms with the kidnapping, enslavement, and continuing judicial and social mass confinement of people of African descent. “Free Alvaro Luna Hernandez!” is also about coming to terms with the U.S. war on Mexico, the theft and incorporation of Mexican lands into the present-day U.S. You’ve heard the slogan: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”

“Free Oscar López Rivera!” is about coming to terms with the 1898 U.S. war with Spain, taking as its spoils the islands of Puerto Rico—still a colony to this very day. “Free Marilyn Buck!” is about coming to terms with revolutionary white folks who are not only post-modern-day Jane and John Browns giving unconditional support to folks of color liberation struggles, but who totally understand that their own humanity and liberation is tied to their frontline sacrifices. And “Free the shac 7!” is about coming to terms with new generations of folks who link their vision for nonoppressive, liberatory relations between human beings with all living things and the very planet. We have here the most ancient messages and wisdoms. Think of this, these political prisoners and their visions—their political vision quests—in light of all that is going on in the U.S. and the world empire today. In spite of how bad it looks, folks come forward to act. How can we not support them and work for their total freedom from judicial confinement?

Movements today extend from our political prisoners. Antiwar activists, do you know David Gilbert and the Vieques political prisoners? Environmental and animal rights activists, do you know Rod Coronado and Lauren Gazzola? Do you know the move 9? Cop-watch activists, do you know Abdul Majid and Bashir Hameed, the Queens Two? Do you know Chip Fitzgerald? International solidarity supporters, do you know Leonard Peltier? You, who feed the hungry, demand housing for the homeless, and work for the best and free treatments for those with hiv/aids, do you know who came before you? 

The political prisoners tell us by their very presence that the Empire will not disappear or give in. It will not even compromise. Whatever it offers as a solution will only “fix it” to last a little longer. Those crumbs will solve or resolve nothing. Yet the political prisoners say that “Power to all the Peoples” is the only solution. And victories, real victories, can only happen when those who came before us are put on the top of our agendas. We cannot just fight for the future. We must fight for the past, present, and future.

We must figure out how to bring it all together. This issue is not just about freedom for the confined revolutionaries. It is about freedom with dignity for all of us that can only come about through rejuvenated struggle. Freedom for the political prisoners can only come about when grassroots movements are organized for our lives and use the act of putting political prisoners on the top of our agendas as a momentous and monumental seizing of hearts from judicial confinement. This issue is for communities and for the people’s institutions in our communities. It is for the revival of dignity amongst the Elders. It is for nurturing a dignified and righteous anger amongst the young. At the bottom line, we are at war!

We are at war, and they are closing in on us. They are using all the mechanisms at their disposal: the prison-industrial complex, the continued segregation and militarization of the police, the increased police occupation and murder of our communities, the underground drug economy’s use as mass social control, and the increasing distance put between people and formal mechanisms of power. We are living under a system that has no more need for Black, Asian, Latin@, and Indigenous peoples and poor Whites. It is a system that criminalizes youth, hip-hop culture, attempting to unravel any hope for self-determination. It is a system that uses the “drug war,” the “war against terrorism,” and the patriot Act to stimulate fear of so-called dangerous people. It is obvious that one key function of the democratic fascist state is to pre-empt revolutionary consciousness and organizing from gaining any ground. And one key to turn this back has to be free all political prisoners.

Free those whose armed points-of-entry into the brain of the Monster in the 1960s and 1970s led directly to their political confinement. They gave their all to struggle, to glorious revolution, to (as the Indigenous Elders would say) the next seven generations still unborn. We must fight aggressively for their total freedom, as powerful, organized grassroots movements!

In asking you to join us, we are asking you also to reclaim the honor of the phrase “revolutionary” for yourself. We must join together as revolutionaries who still believe in the dreams of our peoples. Our peoples… with many dreams flowing like rivers. We are asking that you not only be able to envision wonderful “after” scenarios, but that you also envision ourselves as daring to take on this Monster empire more assertively, more daringly. We are about reclaiming our lives, reclaiming the desire to live dignified lives. We are diverse peoples, respectful of each other and all living things. That’s all, that’s all. But to be willing to resist like a Geronimo, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Brad Will, Richard Williams, Nuh Washington, Safiya Bukhari, Judi Bari, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos is a way of honoring those who sacrificed so much to prepare the way. To be willing to sacrifice like an Assata Shakur is a way of preparing your way, preparing our ways.

Thus we say that revolution ain’t over, that no empire is invincible, and that the final determinator of all social dreams is the people, all the people.






"As a convicted felon, I have been prevented from visiting many people in prison today. But none of us should be stopped from the vital work of prison abolition and freeing the many who the U.S. holds for political reasons. Let Freedom Ring helps make their voices heard, and presents strategies to help win their release."
Daniel Berrigan SJ,
former Plowshares political prisoner
and member of the FBI Ten Most Wanted List

Support the Certain Days Free Political Prisoners Calendar!

Buy 1 Copy of Let Freedom Ring, and Receive a Free Copy of Certain Days 2009!

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by Elspeth Meyer

Support the Certain Days Free Political Prisoners Calendar!

Buy 1 Copy of Let Freedom Ring, and Receive a Free Copy of Certain Days 2009!

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