Jericho '98! The Mass Protest that Never Happened

Virginia Sellner (
Mon, 30 Mar 1998 15:06:54 -0800

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>>Date: Mon, 30 Mar 1998 16:36:20 -0500
>>From: "John V. Wilmerding" <>
>>Subject: Jericho '98!  The Mass Protest that Never Happened
>>X-UIDL: fc5da0af93c8de2998eb64ba8a7356fc
>>Cross-posted to several lists -- please delete any duplicates you may
>>recive -- thank you -- John Wilmerding, CERJ
>>Last Thursday night I caught a bus to Washington, DC.  There was a massive
>>demonstration there -- Jericho '98 -- and I took
>>part in it -- but you wouldn't know it from the mass media.  It was the
>>'mass demonstration that never happened'.
>>The folks I rode down to DC with are by-and-large much more radical than I
>>am -- real far-lefters.  I can share their company 
>>and enthusiasm for this issue though, even though I think of myself as a
>>pacifist and political centrist -- in particular, I 
>>share their outrage with this fact:  the USA's policy of taking political
>>prisoners is not something that our government wants
>>us to think about or act upon.  In this respect, we are apparently no
>>different than the worst third-world dictatorships that 
>>our big corporate government patrons want the US government to prop up in
>>power.  I am an American Patriot -- I love my 
>>country and I have carefully raised, lowered, and folded its flag thousands
>>of times.  However, I returned home yesterday with
>>much less faith in the USA's system than I left with two days earlier --
>>and my faith was already severely shaken beforehand.
>>Why?  Well, you see, we virtually mobbed the city.  We were an eclectic
>>gathering of many, many thousands of people of all colors 
>>and racial/class backgrounds.  We marched several miles through downtown
>>Washington DC and completely encircled the White House.  
>>We sang, we shouted, we chanted.  We had many ranks of police arrayed
>>against us -- no violence, though, that I am aware of.  I 
>>know of only one law being broken -- some demonstrators spray=painted the
>>slogan 'free all political prisoners' on a police car 
>>as they passed!  We stopped traffic in downtown Washington, DC for hours.
>>>From where I marched on the long, straight thoroughfare 
>>we took to get downtown, you could see the broad avenue filled with people
>>as far as the eye could see in both directions!  The 
>>media *were* there -- TV cameras, interviews, the whole ball of wax.  
>>My part in it?  I carried a two-sided hand-lettered sign with the
>>politically-oriented saying "We are the prisoners of the 
>>prisoners we have taken" -- a quote from the music of South Africa's
>>liberation from Apartheid -- and the Biblically-related 
>>saying (which I made up on the spot) "This is Jericho -- Sound the
>>Trumpets!"  I didn't really make it all up -- it was derivative
>>-- the "This is Jericho" part, like the other, is also a quote from South
>>Africa's Johnny Clegg:
>>"This is Jericho, and the walls reach up to the stars!
>>Outside, we are singing psalms.
>>Such a strange, strange place,
>>for we are the prisoners of the prisoners we have taken,
>>and the prophets' dreams are all forsaken."
>>[Johnny Clegg and Savuka, from the CD/album Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World]
>>Many people asked me about my signs, and I explained that they were meant
>>to convey the moral imprisonment of the people of the 
>>United States -- we are prisoners of a moral debt that is skyrocketing --
>>the debt incurred by our gross and pervasive violation 
>>of the underprivileged ethnic groups and classes in our midst.  I also saw
>>part of the famous quote from my fellow Quaker and 
>>socialist Eugene Debs: "As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it;
>>as long as there is a lower class, I am in it; as 
>>long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."  How close I feel to
>>that sentiment today.  How it 'speaks to my condition'.
>>Then we went home (or in my case, to my host's home) and watched to see
>>some evidence that our protest 'counted' -- watched to
>>hear our hoarse voices and see our sunburned and/or deeply pigmented faces
>>on the news.  We watched the national network news 
>>and there was nothing.  We watched the local Washington DC news, and there
>>was nothing.  Nothing.  There was NOTHING on the news.
>>Nothing about the dozens of political prisoners being held for excessively
>>long prison sentences in this country -- many of them 
>>certified as political prisoners by Amnesty International.  Nothing about
>>Merle Africa, who died in custody a couple of weeks ago 
>>under circumstances of obvious neglect.  Nothing about Fred Hampton, Jr.,
>>whose father, a Black Panther, was murdered in bed 
>>years ago by the police and who now languishes in a US prison.  Nothing
>>about the Puerto Rican independentistas who have been 
>>rotting in prison for decades.  Nothing about Mumia Abu Jamal, a deeply
>>articulate journalist and political resister imprisoned 
>>for murder whose case certainly warrants a new trial at the very least.
>>Nothing about Leonard Peltier, the Lakota (Sioux) 
>>activist who was apparently framed for shooting a policeman while engaged
>>in a militant American Indian Movement action in South 
>>Dakota.  Nothing about the dozens of people whose names were cried out
>>inanguish in the air of the Nation's Capital by thousands 
>>of people who are deeply concerned for their well-being and devoted to
>>their freedom.  Nothing about how these thousands of 
>>people were bussed in from all over the country -- from California to the
>>New York island, from the redwood forests to the Gulf 
>>Stream waters -- we, the people, who brought this concern to the rest of us
>>-- the people of this country -- by bringing it to 
>>the Nation's Capital.
>>No, the media (and/or their corporate owners) don't seem to care.  More
>>than that, they apparently don't want you to care either.
>>They don't want you to know, or to care about, the fact that this society
>>is an oppressor -- perhaps the grossest and most 
>>massive of oppressors in the world today.  If you simply count non-violent
>>resistance to this oppression, then perhaps you can 
>>agree with Amnesty International that the USA has imprisoned dozens of
>>political prisoners.  If you count politically-motivated 
>>violence, then perhaps you will agree with those who count scores of
>>political prisoners in the USA.  And if, as I do, you count
>>the modern-day POW's -- the victims of the Drug War -- then you must admit
>>to hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in 
>>this country, with hugely disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and
>>hispanics among them -- and most of them far too 
>>young for such a drastic societal response to its problems.  Genocidal
>>numbers and percentages of 'minorities' in prison, 
>>despite the conclusive research -- even by right-wing conservative
>>institutions -- saying that sending people to prison only 
>>causes more crime when they get out -- and that substance-abuse treatment
>>is far superior to incarceration in preventing 
>>re-offending -- and is vastly superior to three-strikes-you're-out and
>>mandatory minimum sentencing.  And that any kind of 
>>approach that is community-based is much better than the same or similar
>>methods in a prison setting.  Not that it matters, 
>>because there's no more prison-based rehabilitation anyway -- it's been
>>done away with by the Newt Gingriches of this country 
>>in a fit of political pique.
>>No matter what your count of how many political prisoners there are, there
>>were many thousands of people marching in the streets
>>of the Nation's Capital on Friday, March 27, 1998, protesting the fact that
>>there are political prisoners in this country, and 
>>asking for their release.   Regardless of the other gross human rights
>>violations being perpetrated in the name of justice in 
>>this country, such as state-sponsored retributive homicide (the 'death
>>penalty') -- evan regardless of all of these facts, these 
>>thousands of people were peacefully petitioning their government for a
>>redress of grievances -- a right guaranteed by the US 
>>Constitution.  Where is the response?
>>Such an obvious story for the media -- on the very day when President
>>William Jefferson Clinton, on a supposed 'good-will' 
>>visit to South Africa -- was escorted by that country's President (whom the
>>Sohth Africans, black and white alike, call 
>>'father of the nation') -- Nelson Mendela -- to the very isolated cell
>>where he spent so very many years as a political 
>>prisoner of the former Apartheid (racist) regime.  There were images of
>>Clinton grasping the bars of Mandela's former 
>>cell and peering out the window, stories of him hearing about how the only
>>furnishing in the cell was a rusty bucket for 
>>the President-to-be to defecate and urinate into -- and marveling that
>>Mandela emerged from this most horrible of 
>>experiences still whole -- still able to lead a revolutionary nation into a
>>new millenium.  
>>Was Clinton, who is in fact my distant cousin, truly trying to get a
>>feeling of what it must have been like for Mandela 
>>to experience his life and his youth rotting away in that stinking hole? 
>>Is it any wonder that so many thousands of young men and boys do not leave
>>our prisons whole -- if they manage to leave alive?  
>>Why do we send our most troubled youth to prison, at ages when their lives
>>and personalities are still being shaped by their 
>>society and their immediate surroundings -- at ages when they are supremely
>>vulnerable to the cultures of violence and 
>>addiction that exist in our prisons?  Again I say this country is engaged
>>in a violent genocidal war against its most 
>>underprivileged classes, and against its youth -- our only hope for the
>>future.  As the world champion of empire-building, 
>>we are experts at having others fight our battles for us -- and the Drug
>>War is just one more proxy war that we are 
>>prosecuting against a nearly-helpless people who are being pushed far, far
>>beyond the limits of human endurance.  The Drug
>>War is the supreme poetic irony -- it is America's War Against Itself. 
>>One very important thing happened to me there -- I wanted you to know about
>>it.  An angry hard-bodied young man with deeply-
>>pigmented dark brown skin came up to my friend and was talking with her.
>>As I moved closer to hear what he had to say, he 
>>looked at me somewhat derisively  -- me, the overweight, out-of-shape,
>>middle-aged, pale creature fresh from a long Vermont 
>>winter and endless hours in front of the computer, me sporting my
>>lobster-like sunburn and blistered feet, and said to her:  
>>"The only reason I come down here is to tell people like you that something
>>has to change NOW, or else I'm ready to start 
>>snapping the necks of people like you.  People like this (he nodded at me)
>>who just come down here because they think this is 
>>'something', y'know ... there ain't nothing more for me to do but just
>>start snapping your necks, and I'm ready to start doing 
>>it right now."
>>That is why I can say to you that my activism for social justice is no only
>>because of my compassion for those suffering under
>>the injustices -- it is also a deep concern for people of my own class and
>>ethnic background, increasingly outnumbered, who are 
>>assuming a greater and greater moral and economic burden for the ignorant,
>>fallacious and destructive public policies being 
>>foisted upon us by a cynical and self-centered political 'leadership' and
>>the baldly system-centered (and now also profit-
>>centered) criminal injustice system.  We have a choice -- to struggle for
>>what's right -- struggle non-violently and perhaps 
>>save many lives, as Gandhi did in India; as King did in Birmingham -- or to
>>resign ourselves to all-out violent revolution 
>>and increasing conflict in the streets -- it's already happening, folks --
>>tell me, what is the most compassionate response?
>>And what is the most politically pragmatic response?  And no matter how you
>>cut it, aren't they exactly the same thing?
>>"Love becomes suffering love because love which leads to Shalom (justice,
>>peace, and salvation) is active, engaged love.  
>>Jesus suffered and died in part because he challenged the elite and their
>>structures.  So, too, if we struggle for Shalom, 
>>we shall suffer because we are actively confronting and resisting the
>>structures of oppression and working for the liberation 
>>of powerless and oppressed people.  Shalom love is not love at a distance,
>>not love in the abstract, not love in the rocking 
>>chair -- it is the love of confrontation, of strike, of protest, and of
>>disobedience to the structures of violence.  Shalom 
>>love is suffering love because it is a love manifested in struggle and
>>opposition; it is embodied in conflict with the forces 
>>which hold people in bondage.  Shalom love is suffering love because it is
>>militant love struggling for human liberation, 
>>justice, and Shalom which is G-d's will for our world.  Suffering love will
>>not stop until this struggle succeeds." [from 
>>Shalom: the Bible's Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace; by pacifist and
>>Mennonite Christian Perry B. Yoder, 1987, Faith 
>>and Life Press, Newton, Kansas.]
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>>We are the prisoners of the prisoners we have taken - J. Clegg