by Wanda Sabir
Saturday morning, Aug. 19, the day dawned bright and sunny, not a hint of the rain that drenched us the evening before. At 10:30 a.m. when I arrived at Freedom Plaza, there were people with posters and event T-shirts and a brother with a bullhorn. Robert King and Albert Woodfox were there in Amend the 13th T-shirts. King was passing out information about the law – the constitutional amendment – that legalizes slavery. Later on, at the rally, he would conclude the event, which lasted about five hours.
The march through the streets was exciting, as the people along the route learned about legal slavery in this country and the millions of people currently barred from citizenship. King called it a moral dilemma. “All that is legal is not moral,” he stated; and just the way chattel slavery was abolished in 1865, the same can happen in 2017 with the 13th Amendment and the clause which permits slavery under certain conditions: incarceration or judicial supervision or parole. As long as a person cannot vote or serve on a jury, he or she is neither a citizen nor free.
The evening before there was a reception at the famous East Union Baptist Church with introductions of the local organizing committee and convener, Krystal Rountree. Local organizers included Tomiko Shine of Aging People in Prison Campaign, Christen Boas, Yango Sawyer of Voice for Returning Citizens, Debra Rowe of Returning Citizens United, Tyler Hopkins of DC Marijuana Justice, Elize Manoukin, Nicole Meyer, Tracey Zhang and Anna Cohen. That evening was a part of the Black August Commemoration weekend.
The keynote speaker that Friday evening was Lashonia Thompson-El, WIRE founder and published writer. Before she spoke she invited to join her and speak the other women who are a part of the Women Involved in Reentry Efforts. They spoke the following afternoon at the rally as well. Many featured speakers spoke at the rally on Saturday.
Ms. Rountree’s organizing paid off with a program that was comprehensive; however, except for the inclusion of Allegra Taylor, Hugo “Yogi” Pinell’s daughter, who presented a statement by the San Quentin 6, there were no other representatives to speak about the issues of prisoners in California. Allegra’s statement that afternoon and later that evening at the Black August dinner was a highlight of the Black August event, Black August created to honor George Jackson, his brother Jonathan Jackson and other fallen soldiers killed this month.
However, I was surprised no one mentioned the Hunger Strike in California or the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Persons and Families Movement, which convened a large conference in Oakland last September on the anniversary of the Attica Rebellion. If there were 16 rallies throughout the country, Rountree did not mention where, so I do not know if there was one in New Orleans.
I was happy to see folks from the Bay. One young woman from Alabama is studying at Stanford and a prisoner she visits at San Quentin told her about the March and Rally and encouraged her to attend since she would be in Washington. There were lots of youth on the march and at the rally. A contingent from Howard University were there with signs.
One young white man there said he felt obligated to be present given his white skin privilege and policies and positions taken in his name. There were union organizers present and when the shade moved and the audience shifted to follow it, the organizers moved the chairs on the stage so that it faced the White House. Agents told Krystal immediately that they could not face the White House, so the podium had to be at a cattycorner to the building.
Secret Service and other police stood as the afternoon wound down within view. A few white women held hands – their bodies a barrier between their Black allies and the police force. The agents even sent in a rabble-rouser, who tried unsuccessfully to stop the rally by challenging the speaker, James Makey, Stuck on Replay, out of Boston who had a contingent of 20 or so youth with him. His poetry addressed the trauma that shadowed his birth and childhood. Inarticulate, he had no words to name what he felt before he was born, so as he writes in his poem, he kept replaying the drama that characterized the fatalism that was his life until he lost his brother and woke up.
Other speakers were Michael Bonds, from Boston, who was eventually exonerated after serving 10 years, the last three in solitary confinement; Ramona Africa, MOVE Organization, joined us to talk about Mumia Abu Jamal, whose body shows no trace of the hepatitis; Tribal Raine, D.C., shared a poem about a broken system and a broken government; and her husband, Max Parthas, New Abolitionist Radio, gave a comprehensive history of the 13th Amendment.
Gen. Rashid of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika spoke as did Gen. Parker, Central Illinois Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Parker wore an All of Us or None shirt. Tomiko Shine who’d spoken the evening before gave an impassioned speech about the Aging People in Prison – Human Rights Campaign. What she stated was so true: They have our bodies and by the time our people are released they are all but dead.
Jihad Abdulmumit spoke about the Jericho Movement and Paulette Dauteuii brought revolutionary greetings and words from Comrade Leonard Peltier. Shaundra Scott, ACLU South Carolina, spoke, as did Yusuf and his mother Shaundra Salaam about the Central Park Five and Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted. Yusuf’s story was made into a Ken Burns film about the five Black and Latino boys convicted of raping and beating a white woman jogger in Central Park. Though the charges were later dropped, the boys’ lives were ruined. What moved me the most was Mrs. Salaam’s story of how losing her son affected her life then and now.
Shoutouts were given at each gathering I attended, even the Black August dinner Saturday evening, where a preview of the Sunday program honoring the San Francisco Bay View newspaper was shown. I kept wondering why no one gave a shoutout to California, one of the largest slave states in the country. I also did not understand why, considering she knew I was present, Kilaika Anayejali kwa Baruti, the host at the dinner, did not at least acknowledge my presence, considering the Black August Committee was honoring my paper and I was shown in the video footage. Even acknowledgment as one of the “I Am We: Ubuntu” sponsoring organizations would have been nice. Wanda’s Picks and Maafa San Francisco Bay Area are listed there.
Krystal concluded the rally with remarks on where do we go from here with a commitment to not stopping until slavery behind bars ends. Speakers addressed ban the box without referencing the successful campaign in California and the National Ban the Box Campaign demand led by California’s Dorsey Nunn, director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPW). I hope she connects with the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples and Families Movement, All of Us or None, LSPW and California Coalition for Women Prisoners (where I am a board member) and is more inclusive of the rest of the country, especially California, next time or perhaps I should march closer to home.
It was great though being in Lafayette Park, the White House a part of the backdrop, demanding an end to legal slavery.
Mark Hubble, Ph.D., and JC Gardner of JC Speaks both spoke about confinement. JC’s story was crazy. The professional athlete – a pitcher with the Chicago Cubs – spent 10 years in prison, the last three in solitary for a crime he did not commit. He studied the law and exonerated himself. Mark Hubble spoke about how he ended up with a doctorate degree while locked up. Education rehabilitated him.
At the Black August Event that evening, the program honored fallen comrades. Allegra spoke about her father, Hugo Pinell. She spoke of her father’s love of music, especially Sam Cooke. The prisoners would know he was OK if, after the guards would harass or beat him, he was able to sing a few bars of a Cooke song. When Pinell was quiet after an attack, they worried. As she told us this sad story, of course she cried. Jihad Addulmumit told us about his comrade, Sekou Kambui, who died May 10, 2017, soon after his release.
The evening’s host played clips of those honored so we in attendance could hear their voices. It was really a special evening, so when Souledad Njara’s mother Monica shared stories about her son and then read a letter he prepared for her before he died – wow. She had made a quilt which two men held behind her while she spoke. Afterward she had some of his art for sale. What I loved was the stuffed monkey she had with her son’s last phone message. To listen, all his mother had to do is press the bear’s foot.
I was really disappointed that I would miss the following afternoon’s program honoring the San Francisco Bay View.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.