Address to the Million Family March
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Ona Move! I want to thank Minister Louis Farrakhan and the organizers of the Million Family March for this opportunity to address you here today and an opportunity to address one of the most important themes in the world today: family.
Our history here on the shores of what would later be called North America begins for most of us with the destruction of family. In traditional African societies the very notion of who a person is, is determined by family ancestry. When an African person spoke of his tribe or clan, he was describing a large group of people descended from a common, ancient ancestor. The American experience meant the severing of tribe from tribe, of clan from clan, of father from son, of wife from husband, of mother from child, of a people from their land. How many of our brothers, our sisters, our clansmen, our people were separated in shackles and sent to Haiti, to Brazil, to Cuba, to the Bahamas, to Surinam, and beyond?
What was important to the Americans, to the British, to the Spanish, to the French, and to the Portuguese was not the people, but profit. Why is that important today, over five hundred years later?
History Repeats Itself, But Differently
There is an old saying that we’ve all heard before. It’s “History repeats itself.” Well, a truer, more accurate saying might be, History repeats itself, but in different ways.
Look at our present condition and you’ll see, not slavery, but a legalized descendant, the prison-industrial complex, where African Americans and other people of color form a disproportionate percentage of those encased within the system. America, with something like 6% of the world’s population, has over 24% of the world’s prison population. With over 2 million men, women, and juveniles in cages, perhaps most for nonviolent drug offences, this America, which boasts of being the land of the free, is the prison house of nations, an empire built not on liberty but on repression.
And once again, what matters is not the people, but profit. For as radical scholar activist Angela Davis explains, prison construction is a very big business. Billions of dollars for prisons, while schools crumble and teachers bargain or beg for decent pay. Billions of bucks for prisons, while homes and buildings crumble in Philadelphia and New York. What also crumbles are families, as children are separated from parents, as wives are separated from husbands, and people are separated from their communities. All at the hands of a system that is demonstrably unjust and riddled with class and racial disparities.
You are all perhaps aware of numerous studies which document such disparities. But studies don’t change policies, and the American policy of caging, repressing, and devaluing Black life is centuries old. History repeats itself, but in different ways.
Build a New History
It is our challenge to construct, to build a new history, one where the liberation of our people is central. We can think as tribes did, as the so-called Indians did, and we will fail. Or we can think as a people, utilizing the precious tool of unity.
The late great Malcolm X explained that our repression didn’t stem from our various religious, political or fraternal associations, but from our being Black in a white supremacist and racist nation. That truth has not changed.
Neither Party Is for Black Liberation
Do you really think that voting for one or the other politician that’s running for president will really mean anything close to liberation for our people? The party which once carried Lincoln’s flag is now the party of the right wing. The party which now claims most Black voters once called itself openly the white man’s party. They’ve changed masks, but their objectives remain the same — white supremacy.
The politics of the prison industrial complex, the politics of the death penalty, the politics of repression— do you think that will change because you pull a little tiny lever in November?
Change will come when we fight for our families. For as Frederick Douglas taught us, power concedes nothing without demand. He also taught us, without struggle there is no progress.
When the government attacked MOVE on May 13, 1985, killing 11 men, women, and children, what did they care about family? Did it matter that the mayor was Black? Did it matter that he was a Democrat? Legendary revolutionary John Africa wrote in his Judge’s Letter: It is insane not to resist something that gives nothing but sickness to you, your mothers, your fathers, your babies, your family.
When the state and big corporations allow and place incinerators in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, when the worst and least nutritious foods are sold in food markets and bodegas; when trees are cut down and schools become mere training grounds for burgeoning rural prisons; when toxic images are pumped into young impressionable minds which glorify gangsterism, pimping, and mindlessly shaking boot; when racist twisted cops look at a man standing on a stoop and automatically see a suspect; when the State wages what is in fact an undeclared war on the poor, well, you have some serious sickness that needs to be resisted.
Driving While Black
And although we all come from various and differing perspectives, faiths, and beliefs, our problems seem to be far more similar than different. When a Black man gets pulled over for the unwritten offence of DWB, or Driving While Black, it doesn’t matter if that driver is a cop or a cosmetologist, a Muslim or a Methodist, a republican or Rastafarian. It doesn’t matter if your name is Johnny Cochran or Joe Mokinayata. For Blacks in this country the very act of driving is suspect. One need only recall the recent case of the Black husband and wife who worked as White House aides. Guns were trained on them. They were handcuffed for what was DWB.
For those of us who were breast-fed on the Bible, like me, I urge you to read and even to study the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. For those who are Jewish, this book and the story in it has extra significance, for it is remembered every year, for thousands of years, by a fast and a feast called Purim,a high holy day. Esther, who became queen of another people, never forgot her own people. And when they were in danger she made a moving plea to her husband, the king. She told King Ahasuerus, For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people, and how can I endure to see the destruction my kindred? (Esther 8:6)
Think of this, a young woman made queen of a vast empire, rich beyond dreams. And what does she ask of the king? Help my people, she said. If you love me and if I find favor in your sight, save my people, she said.
There’s a lesson for all of us in this biblical story, about what is more important than riches and rites, about thinking and doing for one’s people.
And if you consider that this is the only book in the Bible where the name of God is not mentioned even once, well, it teaches that to care for one’s people is a holy thing, it is a righteous thing, it is one’s religious duty.
We need to build independent institutions with the best interest of our communities, our people, and our families in mind and heart. We need to resist and we need to persevere.
I thank you. Ona Move.
Long Live John Africa!
Free the MOVE 9!
From Death Row,
This is Mumia Abu-Jamal