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. UH 11:00 - 12:20 May 3, 1999 Mumia Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner of the United States of America who was jailed in 1982 for a crime (which has since been proven) he did not commit. As a result of his involvement with the Black Panthers and his occupation as a leftist journalist, Jamal continues to reside in prison on Death Row without any further chance of appeal. Since the rejection of his final appeal (in October, 1998), justice advocates and activists have worked diligently together to give Jamal back his freedom. On April 24th, 1999 (Mumia's birthday) people all across the country asserted their stance on the issue in the form of protest rallies and the Millions for Mumia march. Larger cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, as well as smaller cites such as Eugene, all took part in raising their communities' awareness about Mumia's current situation. Beginning at noon on the corner of 7th and Pearl, the grounds of the local Federal Building, protesters began to rally in support of justice for Mumia. At one o'clock the Eugene segment of the Millions for Mumia march began, overtaking the streets of the city. Over 150 people representing various subcultures attended the event, although Anarchists, Environmentalists, Punks, Hippies, and other leftist subcultures composed the majority of the marchers. Bound together in societal and governmental subversion, these different subcultures combined with ease against the unjust impending death of a man unafraid to speak out against the system. Through their conglomeration, these various subcultures became one--a primarily leftist subculture consisting of those who do not favor the death penalty, who believe that injustice based upon racial inequality should be condemned, and who encourage democracy in the hands of the people (not in the pockets of politicians). Mumia Abu-Jamal's situation eloquently illustrates all of these ideals, and thus the leftists came out publicly to state their opinion. Over a period of 3 ½ hours, leftists overtook many of Eugene's busiest streets. Pearl, 8th Street, East Broadway, Willamette, Olive, 13th Street, Franklin Boulevard, Oak, and 5th Street all had to have their traffic diverted because of the demonstrator's presence. Eugene city police attempted to stop the march, but found themselves instead redirecting traffic and passively videotaping rather than actively causing an end to the demonstration. The march raised the awareness of hundreds of commuters, attendees to the Downtown Saturday Market, students on the U of O campus, private residents, and many others through direct observation or post-event news media coverage. Awareness raising, being the primary goal of the event, was accomplished through both standard institutional and non-standard folkloric means. Signs and chants were methods used to express the protesters' views. During both the march and rally people carried signs depicting Mumia's portrait, as well as that of Leonard Peltier (another renown political prisoner). Along with the faces behind the cause were accompanying slogans: "End the Death Penalty Now!", "We Are All Political Prisoners", "Free Mumia Abu-Jamal", "Free Leonard Peltier", "Honor All Life", "No One Is Free When Others Are Oppressed", "Injustice Hurts Everyone", "Are You Ready To Die For Global Capital?", and others. The three main chants shouted amongst the marchers were: "Free Mumia Abu-Jamal", "Brick by Brick, Wall by Wall, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal", and lastly, "There's No Government Like No Government". These various slogans represent the diversity of subcultures participating in the event. While some people protested solely to express their views about wrongful imprisonment and death, others
used the situation as a vehicle to assert their stance on a variety of issues concerning other political and environmental injustices. However, all of the protesters' propaganda expressed their liberal political ideologies, and thus the leftist views of the various individual subcultures participating in the event. While the primary goal of the march was to raise awareness about Mumia's situation in the community, intentions (such as the advocation of a smaller government, the promotion of localization not globalization, and the support of an anti-corporate capitalism) of the individual punk and anarchist subcultures all found their place in the march. Hippie and environmentalist subcultures also used the march as a platform for the promotion of their subcultures' values, exhibited in signs such as "Honor All Life". These elements of the event, and the event as a whole, explicitly characterizes grass-roots folk activism. Rather than communicate to people through institutional structures like television and formal public announcements, the Millions for Mumia march was mainly advertised through word of mouth. Black and white hand-written flyers and small-scale subcultural publications such as The Student Insurgent, to promote the event. By taking to the streets with signs and chants to raise public awareness, as opposed to television advertising or other formal means of communication, marchers made their voices heard through (as some would see) non-institutional means. Like the grass-roots demonstrations against the English before this country's revolution, the Millions for Mumia march used the power of the voice and body to express the ideology concealed within. The participants of the march also found themselves in a liminal state while protesting: going through a situation which could be construed as ludic recombination. At the rally, people made a formal break from the rest of society. Rather than being the voiceless commuters who drove past, participants held signs and cast their opinions loudly and firmly to all who would listen. Speakers using megaphones expressed their anger at Mumia's imprisonment and the justice system as a whole. All of the rally's participants, including myself, learned more about Mumia's current situation as well as how poorly his case reflects upon our government. At the rally participants left the normality of the ordinary world around them (through listening to public speakers and declaring their opinions loudly) and ventured into a metaphorical state where equality and justice were of the utmost importance. The march became the transitional state, where roads (as characterizations of institutional behavior, i.e. driving) were instead used as sidewalks. The actions of the participants led to this liminality, whereas rather than quietly walk down the sidewalk keeping one's ideas to one's self, participants loudly voiced their opinions as they strolled down the middle of the street; through puppets, signs, and voices, the ordinary world of individual silence found itself inverted into a place of collective disquiet. In this transitional state, the police who monitored (and followed) our activities became agents of suppression rather than officers of peace. Upon reaching the jail, the final destination for the marchers, participants discovered themselves slowly retreating back into normality, but with the effects of the protest still resonating in their hearts and minds. After the protesters collectively sang "Happy Birthday" to Mumia (and thus showed both their reverence and irreverence for societal convention), many began to disperse and reenter the world they had left. For myself, this meant returning home to treat a second degree sunburn. However, I truly didn't enter into the same reality I had left at the rally. Instead of walking down the middle of the street, I had to use the sidewalk: this was very awkward, as moments before the street was my sidewalk. However, the chants and the vigor instilled in me by the march remained even though I found myself reimmersed in the institutions of our society. My new reality (as well as that of the other participants) wasn't the same as the one I had left, but was rather a combination of both the liminal state I had passed through and the original reality I had left before the rally. Although the effects of the march have yet to free Mumia from his death row cell, the awareness that it raised both in Eugene and abroad has definitely made more people conscious of the atrocities committed by our government's injustice system. As evidenced by the march, noninstitutional means of communication are often as powerful as their counterparts. Both participants and
observers found themselves celebrating their revolutionary folk heritage, taking part in a contemporary example of an age old tradition: revolt against the system.
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