Monday, January 27, 2014

FROM PARIS TO PELICAN BAY by Kiilu Nyasha, February 2001

In behalf of two of our most treasured prisoners of war -- Mumia Abu-Jamal
and Leonard Peltier -- we visited seven European cities in ten days and
spent our last four days in Paris where a major demonstration happened on
December 2, 2000. A letter from one of the longest held political prisoners
in the country (37 years!), Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi) awaited my return from
Paris. I thought to myself, if I could travel all over France for Mumia and
Leonard, I could make it to Pelican Bay to see Yogi again.


On November 20, 2000, Yroko Major-Nealy and her son, Omari, age two, met me
at San Francisco's airport to fly nonstop to Paris where we would join other
activists to begin our tour of six cities in France plus Geneva,
Switzerland. I was invited to join the group of five already in Europe by
Julia Wright, daughter of the famous author, Richard Wright, former
correspondent of the Black Panther Party, and a leader of COSIMAPP
(International Support Committee for Mumia Abu-Jamal and All Political
Prisoners) based in Paris. Yroko, daughter of our distinguished poet/writer,
Devorah Major, and granddaughter of writer/BPP historian, Reggie Major, a
poet herself who has lived in Paris and speaks French, kindly agreed to
accompany and assist me (I'm a disabled wheelchair user.) Omari became our
little mascot and provided us with comic relief during the long distance
drives between cities. By trip's end, he had captured everyone's heart,
especially mine.

The delegation, which left Paris on November 22, also included Apache-Xicano
Bobby Castillo from the Bay Area, international spokesperson for Leonard
Peltier; Sylvain Duez, Alessandrini, co-coordinator of the Leonard Peltier
Defense Committee in France; Katherine (French) and Lauren Cunningham
(American resident of Geneva) who handled all the driving, and yours truly,
activist/journalist and former member of the New Haven Chapter of the BPP.

Local activist groups in the various towns prepared meetings with the public
and the press to raise awareness about these two cases, the FBI's
COINTELPRO, the situation for all political prisoners and prisoners of war,
racism and oppression in the United States, the struggle to abolish the
death penalty and other pertinent issues. The panel addressing the various
audiences included Bobby, Sylvain, Julia, and I, plus interpreters. Sylvain
would commence in French with a full report on the case of Peltier. Our
Native American comrade-brother and leader of the American Indian Movement
was falsely convicted of killing two FBI agents in 1975 at Pine Ridge. Bobby
would follow Sylvain describing his prison experiences, meeting Peltier at
Lompoc Federal Prison in Southern California, and raising consciousness re
the plight of indigenous and Chicano peoples in the U.S.
Julia, who has lived in France since she was four, would provide audiences with a detailed report on Mumia's case and the breadth of international support he has for a
new trial to prove his innocence. I would speak last and invite questions
from the audiences to allow the panel to respond and facilitate further
discussion. Since Mumia and I are on the same page, I tried to represent him
by painting a global picture of our revolutionary movement and objectives,
in addition to exposing the spiraling prison industrial complex, death row
and prison populations, etc.

We spoke to standing-room-only crowds in Caen and Amiens, in northern
France. In the former, mostly teachers and other professionals attended,
while in Amiens and Geneva the interest came largely from a younger audience
of students and activists. Even with the obstacle of translating between
English and French, the question and answer periods were lively and fruitful
for the audience and the speakers.

In Geneva, a demonstration ended in front of the office of the United
Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and in a public
conference. Unfortunately, Yroko, Omari and I missed the demo, but were
present at the evening event where our panel plus a guest speaker from
Amnesty International addressed a very multi-cultural audience. We spent two
days there and had a successful press conference with reporters from major
dailies present. Lauren later sent me the newsclippings from Le Courrier,
Tribune de Geneve, and movement tabloid Aujourd'hui No. 74. Both major
dailies reported Amnesty International's support for Mumia and Leonard,
citing a letter dated November 16, 2000 to President Clinton by its
Secretary General, Pierre Sane, stating "All the legal channels open to
Leonard Peltier being exhausted, we are firmly convinced that an act of
clemency is not only opportune, but necessary, in the name of justice." But
of course we know that Clinton refused to grant the pardon. After all, the
LPDC didn't contribute millions of dollars to his enrichment.

One of the highlights for me in Geneva was the opportunity to lunch with a
Libyan national who answered some hard questions. When I asked him (through
a translator) about housing in Libya, e.g., he said "If you live in it, it's
yours." He also noted that there was no evidence against the Libyans then on
trial in the Lockerbie case, that the evidence pointed to Iran wherein the
motive is clear. The U.S. had shot down an Iranian commercial jet killing
nearly 300 civilians, numerous children among them, and never compensated
the families. This could well have been a retaliatory strike. (See Alexander
Coburn's post-trial editorial.)

A lack of wheelchair access made the trip very difficult for everyone. In
fact, I often felt such a burden (had to be lifted in and out of the van), I
wondered if my participation was worth all the trouble. I didn't miss too
many opportunities to speak out about the lack of accessibility, touting our
ADA of '90, and urging them to liberate the disabled in Europe. However, I
must say that all the cities we visited were immaculately clean and very
beautiful. I found Amiens especially charming. It was such a pleasure to
walk and roll through clean city streets with no homeless folks sleeping in
doorways or pushing shopping carts.

From Switzerland, we drove to Southern France, Lyons, Montpellier, and
Dijon. The French/Swiss countryside was surprisingly green and lush for
winter months, making the scenery that includes centuries' old houses and
castles very beautiful.

At the University of Montpellier (20,000 students) we were very well received even though we arrived late. We ran overtime and had to move from one classroom to another with considerable delay, which I thought would cause us to lose the audience. But they all stayed with us and had lots of questions; one of the most common was on the presidential debacle. I expressed delight that the UNdemocratic electoral process was finally being exposed; that if Bush won he would “organize” women, and provide
a wake-up call to all oppressed Americans to get busy. On the other hand, a
Gore win might have lulled folks into a false sense of well being.

The day after arriving back in Paris, Bobby and I were interviewed
separately by Dennis Brown of Radio France International reaching some 126
stations worldwide. They were edited into two 24-min. programs. I was asked
to send back a few samples of my programming here; and I left him a CD I had
with me of Mumia's commentaries ("Man is the Bastard" that includes "Black
August," etc.) to sample as well. Incidentally, Lauren called me to the
window at the radio station and there brightly lit with its 2000 flashing
lights was the Eiffel Tower close by and so magnificent. It really is "all

On route back to the hotel from RFI, we were stuck in a traffic jam for 2
1/2 hours due to a subway strike. We tuned in to a public radio station
where Bobby and Julia were to be on live. We heard the DJ stalling, playing
KRS-One, and other progressive hip hop artists, waiting for them to arrive
because they were stuck in traffic too. They made it and did a great job. It
was soooo good to hear advocacy for Mumia and Peltier going out over the
airwaves of Paris.

December 2nd, the day of the major rally, we were apprehensive about the
turnout because it was raining off and on, as it had through most of the
tour. When we finally got to where the march was starting, my mind was
blown. Thousands of people of all colors from all over France and Europe had
gathered led by a humungus banner hand-held by some 20 or more people and
stretching across the wide boulevard. Julia, Bobby, Yroko, Omari, an
Afro-Frenchman, Andre, in a manual wheelchair, and I (in a motorized chair)
were positioned in front of the banner and behind two flatbed trucks
carrying sound and camera people. One woman walked alongside the sound truck
with a mic leading the chants in complete harmony. I cried tears of joy on
hearing thousands chanting in cinque, "Liberez Mumia, Peltier and tous les
prisonniers politiques!" and "Abol le peine du mort" or "Bush, Clinton,
assassins!" (Free Mumia, Peltier. and all political prisoners; abolish the
death penalty; and Bush!Clinton! murderers!).  I was chanting in French too
after a few blocks of marching. When we got to the U.S. embassy, our "panel"
spoke to the crowd. I shouted the names of as many political prisoners as I
could recall off the top to the Paris throng: "Liberez Mumia, Peltier, Hugo
Pinell, Ruchell Magee, Chip Fitzgerald, Warren Wells, Marilyn Buck, Sundiata
Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Assata Shakur, et tous les prisonniers." After the
rally ended, peacefully, a group of young Afro-European men who had come all
the way from Amsterdam videotaped an interview asking me lots of questions.

Police kept a very low profile throughout the march; I didn't notice any
until we got to the U.S. Embassy where we were greeted by an enormous
military contingent. Several of us had to wait for Sylvain and Lauren to
bring the van back to pick us up. So we saw the police vans leave and there
must have been nearly ten vans including an army truck. Talk about overkill!

It is also interesting to note that the established press in Paris is
similar to that of the U.S. in that there was absolutely no coverage of the
march. Imagine! Nearly 5,000 people marching through Paris in the rain
shouting and chanting in unison and not a word about it in the media.

The last day, our day of rest, Yroko, Omari and I managed to get to Le
Louvre and see the Egyptian exhibit and old masters' and French
impressionists' paintings including the Mona Lisa. The Egyptian sculptures,
artifacts, jewelry, etc., dating as far back as 3,000 BC, were magnificent
and testimony to ancient African greatness. This most famous museum is
awesome -- beyond my wildest imagination. It would take days, perhaps a week
to see it all. And I ran out of juice just seeing a little of it. On
leaving, with my wheelchair light flashing, we found the only restaurant
that was accessible in the area and it was Mexican. With a straight face
they ask if you want smoking or non-smoking, then put you one table away
from the smokers. It appeared that every other person in Europe smokes.

In summary, I learned that globalization is already a fact of international
life. Traveler's checks are obsolete; I could use my ATM card everywhere in
Paris and the ATM machines would spit francs right out of my U.S. checking
account. I saw more people of color in Paris than one normally sees in
downtown San Francisco, and, needless to say, MacDonald's, etc., are
ubiquitous. Anti-American feeling is strong, so it wouldn't be too hard to
win European solidarity for our efforts to transform this
capitalist/imperialist system. Immigration is as big a problem in Europe as
it is here, which made me feel more keenly the need for open borders and
revolutionary globalization. I.e., if the corporations can freely move all
over the globe, then people (the corporate employees) should be just as
internationally mobile.

The 11 ½ hour flight home made me never want to fly again. I don't know how
I would have survived it had it not been for the showing of Crouching
Tiger/Hidden Dragon, which I saw twice before landing at SFO, December 4.

Pelican Bay

After sufficiently recuperating from this grueling journey, I resolved to go
and see about our Yogi Bear, who unlike Mumia and Leonard, has been all but
forgotten. As some of you know, Hugo Pinell was one of the San Quentin Six
charged with assault, murder, and conspiracy in the wake of the August 21,
1971, tragedy. In what is believed to have been a prison administration
setup, Soledad Brother George Jackson was assassinated in an alleged escape
attempt during which three guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed.
Labeled "the most dangerous prisoner in California," Yogi was convicted of
assault on two guards in the State's longest trial ending in 1976. The six
prisoners were forced to bear 30 lbs. of chains at every court appearance,
which in itself is unconstitutional. Yogi is the only defendant to remain
locked down. He's been in prison for 37 years now, most of them in solitary
confinement, the last 11 in the notorious torture chamber in Pelican Bay
known as the SHU (Security Housing Unit), a hi-tech, windowless monstrosity
designed to drive people insane.

Ida McCray and Lesley Phillips helped me rent an accessible van and make the
long drive to Crescent City on the 27th of January for my appointment with
Yogi on the 28th. I definitely got my batteries recharged on seeing our
brother in such great shape. Yogi has lost all his color (11 years without
sun) but none of his strength both physical and spiritual. He is truly
amazing. We were all inspired to work harder for his release and that of all
our POW's. Yogi's lawyer, Lisa Short of Portland, Oregon, is back to work on
his case and will accompany him to his next Board appearance in April, 2001.

It's imperative that we struggle hard for the release of our warriors who
put their lives dead on the line for their people -- us! Although Yogi was
first incarcerated when he was only 19 for a criminal offense, he came under
the influence of W.:L. Nolen, George Jackson, Howard Tole, et al., who were
struggling to transform the criminal mentality into a revolutionary one.
These soldiers who formed the Black Movement behind the walls, made it safe
for other Blacks to walk the yard in the Sixties when brothers were commonly
subjected to stabbing and assaults by racist inmates in collusion with
racist guards. Yogi saved lives. But by intervening in guard-prisoner
assaults, he subjected himself to the wrath and enmity of the Administration
as well as the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mexican Mafia, suffering untold
beatings, stabbing and tortures, but always fighting back and standing
strong. He's one of our unsung heroes who has sacrificed so much for our
liberation. He turns 56 on March 10. Enough is enough and too much is too
damned much. He has maxed out on all his convictions, and the only thing
keeping him in prison now -- especially since he has had no infractions for
17 years -- is pure vengeance. ("Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.") I urge
you to write Yogi and let him know you support his release. His address is
as follows: Hugo L.A. Pinell, A88401, D8-214, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City,
Ca., 95531-7500. You may write Leonard Peltier, who is serving his 24th year
in Federal prison and is in failing health, at 89637-132, P.O. Box 1000,
Leavenworth, Ks. 66048. Mumia Abu-Jamal, nearly 20 years in prison, can be
reached at AM 8335, 175 Progress Drive, Waynesburg, Pa. 15370-8089. Mumia
and Leonard were activists and leaders targeted by COINTELPRO and framed for
murder We must accelerate our campaign for their release and that of all our
POW's and political prisoners.

For more information on Mumia and Leonard:

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