[Ppnews] Pick Up the Work: Report on the Safiya Bukhari Human Rights Weekend

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Tue Mar 15 18:13:47 EST 2005

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Pick Up the Work: Report on the Safiya Bukhari Human Rights Weekend

By two members of Break The Chains

Two members of Break The Chains traveled to New York City to attend the 
Jericho Movement’s Human Rights Weekend to honor the work of the late 
Safiya Bukhari. Safiya, a former Black Panther, former political prisoner, 
representative of the Provisional Government of New Afrika and co-founder 
of the Jericho Movement for Amnesty for Political Prisoners, died on August 
24th 2003 at age 53. In the aftermath of her death Jericho activists 
decided to plan an event honoring her life, and December 10th 2004 
(International Human Rights Day) was selected as the day. Strategizing 
sessions for supporters of Political Prisoners (PPs) were scheduled for 
Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th, and a demonstration in support of 
PPs was also held in front of the NYC United Nations building on the 
evening of the 11th.

The weekend’s events began Friday night with a cultural event at the John 
Jay Criminal Law School. Jericho member and WBAI radio host, Sally O’Brien 
emceed for the night and introduced most of the numerous speakers and 
musicians. An excellent video about Safiya was showed and recorded 
statements from PPs Jalil Muntaqim and Mumia Abu-Jamal were played. 
Speakers included Jericho co-chairperson and former political prisoner 
Herman Ferguson; a representative from Chicago’s Irish Freedom Committee; 
Jericho co-chairperson Efia Nwanganza; Russell Shoats, Jr., son of 
political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoats, Native activist and radio show 
host Tiokasin Ghosthorse, and others. Excellent performances came from 
Palestinian hip hopper Ash-One, Boston Jericho’s “Presente!” musical group, 
Puerto Rican poet Mariposa, and slam poet Hector from the Welfare Poets.

The event was good but the attendance was surprisingly small considering 
the size of New York and the amount of planning that happened before the 
event. The relative absence of young people in attendance was also 
disappointing. Without being overly critical, we would like to say that we 
found the location of this event to be strange. From what we understand, 
this criminal law school trains future FBI agents. Attendees also had to 
show identification to someone at the front desk of the school to get in to 
the event. Perhaps some people were intimidated from attending the event 
due to these issues?

On Saturday morning we went to a union building in Manhattan for a 
“networking session for activists”. The “networking session” seemed to be 
more of a reunion for Jericho and friends. This would have been fine were 
it not for the fact that people traveled to NYC from all over the country 
to strategize with other activists, not merely to socialize.

After the “networking session” we made our way to the United Nations plaza 
for a demonstration. Despite a great line-up of speakers, as well as 
beautiful banners and posters, the demo could only be described as 
preaching to the converted. The U.N. building was closed, the crowd was 
tiny, and the few onlookers ignored us. In the future, more thought should 
be given to location, time, and outreach, because demonstrations should be 
inspirational and not demoralizing.

The Sunday strategizing session fared much better than Saturday. It was 
positive to see more people present who are committed to this work. Despite 
a rough and scattered beginning, the session began to have a focus in 
discussing strategies for winning the release of political prisoners. We 
were able to have many meaningful conversations with people from Malcolm X 
Grassroots Movement, Resistance N' Brooklyn, Critical Resistance, Irish 
Freedom Committee, Jericho and other groups.

We felt most excited learning about plans for a December 3rd 2005 
“International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners” from all over 
the world, which came from a resolution passed at a recent symposium of the 
International League of People’s Struggle in the Netherlands. The day of 
solidarity will be spear-headed in the US by prison activists in the Bay 
Area who are also organizing the upcoming “From Attica to Abu Ghraib” 
conference to be held this spring. It would have been nice if more time was 
spent discussing Jericho’s promising “US Political Prisoners School 
Supplies Drive for AIDS Orphans in Africa” considering the first shipment 
of supplies was recently delivered to a community center run by exiled 
former Black Panthers in Tanzania. A growing number of organizations are 
supporting the campaign, but it has a long way to go before it can r eally 
meet its potential.

Overall, the conference didn’t meet our (perhaps naïve) expectations, but 
we’re glad we came because it allowed us to develop new relations with good 
people involved in prison activism and nurture old one’s too. It’s unclear 
to us if the shortcomings of the conference were a result of poor planning, 
sectarianism, lack of interest in the issues at hand, or just plain burn 
out. It was probably a bit of all the above. Most of the Jericho folks have 
been doing this work for many years and they deserve a lot of applause for 
their tireless efforts. However, in the end, only time will tell if this 
conference made a difference or if it was another failed attempt to make 
North American radicals “pick up the work” and mount a real struggle to 
free all political prisoners.

After the conference, we were able to use a car loaned to us by a Jericho 
comrade to visit with political prisoners Herman Bell, Jalil Muntaqim, and 
David Gilbert. We had intended to also visit with Robert Seth Hayes, but 
upon arriving at Clinton Correctional Facility, David informed us that Seth 
had been moved to Wende (in Western New York) a few days prior. We had 
wonderful visits all around and great conversations. We brought along our 
friend Camilo, who is a tenant organizer in Massachusetts and was recently 
acquitted of charges stemming from the Republican National Convention from 
2000 in Philadelphia. His presence added to a wonderful trip and we would 
like to thank Herman, Jalil, and David for such great visits. They are an 
inspiration. It is so necessary to visit our comrades behind bars and to 
learn from each other. We discussed our feelings about the Jericho 
conference, strategy ideas, the current work we are all involved with, as 
well as our personal lives and interests.

Overall, we had a great trip to the East Coast and feel lucky to have been 
able to go. We came home more determined to do this work and look forward 
to the “From Attica to Abu Ghraib” conference. For another account of the 
Safiya Bukhari Human Rights Weekend, please write to Sister Hira Al-Amin, 
210 West Jolly Road, Lansing, MI 48010 (email: 
<mailto:tea-tree at comcast.net>tea-tree at comcast.net).

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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