Mumia Abu-Jamal — on death row for more than 30 years in Pennsylvania for a murder he didn't commit — is an iconic figure. Yet while the struggle for his freedom continues, less attention is given to his role as a political leader.
While Mumia has not, to my knowledge, used the term ecosocialist, his passionate message to the US Social Forum on June 22 had a clear ecosocialist content.
Referring to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he said: “If ever there were a time to honestly question the madness at the heart of capitalism, it is now, as people are repulsed by what they are seeing, week after week, and now month after month, of environmental wreckage, corporate greed, and government subservience.
“Because, in truth, this is what capitalism, unbridled, unregulated, looks like: the spoilage of the natural world for private gain.”
Mumia signs this and many of his messages with the words “Ona Move! Long Live John Africa!” In doing so, he acknowledges the political influence of the controversial radical Philadelphia radical group, MOVE, an influence reflected in his ecosocialism.
His work in exposing the violence with which the authorities suppressed MOVE was the primary reason for Mumia being targeted and framed.
During the 1970s, Mumia, a former Black Panther Party activist working as a radio journalist, became aware, like many people in Philadelphia, of a group variously described as “violent black nationalists”, a “religious cult” or plain terrorists — the MOVE organisation founded by an illiterate carpenter, Vincent Leaphart, who took the name John Africa.
MOVE activists typically they took the surname Africa because they believed all humanity comes from Africa. Although their members were mainly black, others were white or Hispanic.
John Africa constructed a spirituality based on reverence for all life. MOVE was passionate about animal rights, indeed one of their first confrontations came during an anti-zoo demonstration.
MOVE members lived communally. In Philadelphia, the police had earlier taken on the Black Panthers with extreme violence.
MOVE was now targeted by the authorities. Group members would demonstrate, be beaten for doing so and the conflict dramatically escalated. In April 1976 the police horrifyingly killed MOVE member Janine Africa’s baby, Life Africa.
In 1978, police fired 10,000 bullets during a siege of a MOVE community. A police officer was killed by a bullet that witnesses say was fired from outside the MOVE building. Nine MOVE members were charged with killing the officer and still remain in prison in 2010.
This escalation of state violence peaked with the FBI bombing a MOVE community in 1985, killing 11 people — six adults and five children. The only adult survivor, Ramona Africa, was promptly imprisoned.
Mumia noted: “I have seen every substantive so-called constitutional right twisted, shredded and torn when it comes to MOVE. Since the early 1970s, I've seen male and female MOVE members beaten till bloody and bones broken, locked beneath the jails, caged while pregnant, beaten into miscarriage, starved by municipal decree, sentenced to a century in prisons, homes demolished by bomb, by crane, by cannon, by fire. But I've never seen them broken.”
He observed that he too had been influenced by the negative image of MOVE before meeting and talking with them.
“What I found were idealistic, committed, strong, unshakeable men and women who had a deep spirit-level aversion to everything this system represents. To them, this system was a death system involved in a deathly war.
“To them, everything this system radiated was poison — from its technological waste, to its destruction of the air and water, to its destruction of the very genetic pool of human life and animal life and all life. MOVE opposed all this bitterly and unrelentingly, without compromise.”
Mumia remains, despite decades of imprisonment in US dungeons, a prophet in the true sense — a voice articulating a politics that challenges capitalism and imperialism while speaking for the earth.
We must redouble our efforts to free Mumia but we must also make sure his remarkable voice, which articulates a radical vision with poetry and clarity, is heard.
[Derek Wall is a is a former Principal Speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales and an activist, writer and economist. He is also a member of the eco-socialist network Green Left and maintains the blog