April 24, 2000

Statement from Antioch students who have selected Mumia Abu-Jamal to
be the keynote speaker at their graduation ceremony

Antioch students, under attack from the Fraternal Order of Police, prepare for Mumia's keynote commencement address

Friends, It is an honor to have the opportunity to present our words to you on this historic night to demand a new trial for a man unjustly incarcerated.

Today on our campus in Southwestern Ohio it is April 24th One year ago today thousands marched in Philadelphia and San Francisco in the Millions for Mumia demonstrations, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down ports from Tijuana to Vancouver, encouraged by a two-hour strike of 150,000 Brazilian teachers in Rio de Janeiro the day before.

That day marked a turning point in the international movement for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Much less significantly, it was also the day of Antioch's 1999 graduation, and some of the student speakers honored Mumia Abu-Jamal in their speeches, and spoke of the other Antioch students who missed their peer's graduation to join the marchers in Philadelphia.

One year later, we are thinking about Mumia Abu-Jamal's case even more. As you may be aware, Mumia was selected by students to be our co-keynote speaker, sharing the graduation podium with Leslie Fienberg, our other keynote speaker, who is speaking to you here tonight.

We've endured a most vicious and well orchestrated assault of hate-mail and phone calls from the Fraternal Order of Police and agents of racist terror like the National Association for the Advancement of White People, and many other organizations and individuals.

Clearly, the prospect of Mumia speaking at our graduation has struck anger, even fear into those who advocate for his murder. Is Mumia Abu-Jamal to be considered dangerous, even from behind the walls of a maximum-security prison? What is there in this, a six-minute taped speech, that has ignited such opposition?

We think they are afraid of the truth. The truth about Mumia's political railroading at his 1982 trial and the continued repression of his commentary, living under the threat of death each and every day.

But it's not just Mumia they fear. They fear the very truth about our society that Mumia has so explicitly-and at his own peril-exposed even from death row. The truth about a society that build's it's jails faster than it's schools, that has awaiting for millions of young people not the college education that we at Antioch have been so privileged to receive, but prison.

The truth about a society that would solve it's economic and cultural problems not through social programs and education, but in police repression, the incarceration of the desperate, and state-sanctioned murder.

The truth about a state, clinging to white supremacy, that now has more Black men in prison that did South Africa at the height of the apartheid regime.

The truth about a nation, where, as the income gap grows wider still, the pockets of the rich continue to be lined with the spoils of a global economic empire, maintained if necessary by military aggression or simply Third World debt. And for those here at home, minimum wage, slashed benefits, prison labor, and for a growing number, poverty and hopelessness.

We know-and those opposed to Mumia's tape-recorded presence at our graduation know—that this graduation controversy goes far beyond the innocence or guilt of one man who is but one among so many thousands of others unjustly incarcerated in America. It is an issue that speaks to one crucial question. What kind of a society do we want to live in? What is the innocence or guilt of the American political system?

Yes, the police and their supporters are right in a way. Mumia is dangerous, dangerous to an unjust political system. We students chose Mumia as our commencement speaker because he has been a courageous inspiration to our political work both on campus and off.

We believe Mumia Abu-Jamal must be heard, and we are honored by his tape-recorded presence at our graduation, an event that will mark for many of us the beginning of our engagement as activists in the years to come. And we look forward to the day in the future when not just Mumia Abu-Jamal will have a fair and just trial, but all those under assault in this society, whether victimized by poverty, racism, gender oppression, queerphobia, or religious persecution will find the strength and wisdom to unite as a people, across all so-called divisions, to forge a powerful and victorious movement for radical social change.

 

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