The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Mumia Abu-Jamal, an American convict currently serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philidelphia police officer. For decades, Mumia’s case has been the focus of international outrage from human rights activists, labor unions and foreign governments alike, over the use of the death penalty and what many saw as an unfair trial for Mumia.
This letter, written by Mumia from the State Correctional Institution – Mahanoy in Pennysylvania, is a part of the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series. It can be purchased through Zuccotti Park Press.
Dear Brothers & Sisters, Compañeros y Compañeras, to all those who rebel:
I greet you all. Not with the condescension of the elders, which has flavored virtually every media report you have read, heard or seen. Take no mind to those noises, for they are the shrill hissing of the envious or the fearful. They fear not what you are, but what you may become. They dread the rushing torrent of CHANGE.
I greet you with a feeling that I’d almost forgotten to feel: Awe. Surprise. Glee.
For, if those of my generation are honest, they would tell you that not only didn’t they see you coming, they didn’t think it possible!
Like the scholars and so-called Arabists that head global Middle East studies who taught generations that the Arabs wanted, or even worse, needed strong military or royal rulers, they could neither see nor believe what became Tahrir Square. That’s because their knowledge, formed by crusts of racist presumption, could not imagine people cracking their shackles off their wrists and ankles.
Nor could they imagine you. In their age-leavened arrogance, they though “their” generation – the 1960s – were the real rebels, even as they are blind to the betrayals that have marked them as enemies of the very things they fought for as youths.
They sat down. They walked away. They smoked their brains out. They twisted their spines with yoga. Or, as an old movie title tells us, the experienced The Big Chill, and chilled out.
In a word, they sold out. They became lawyers, accountants, journalists, scholars, or worse, politicians, and they served the very 1% that have forced you to take the streets, in fear, in fury, in dread – and, yes – in hope.
I, an elder nearer to my sixth decade than my fifth, who studies constantly and reads like a scribe from the Middle Ages in a cell, didn’t see it coming.
But you did. Like every generation of human who has come before, you regain that mad ability to surprise, and to surpass your elders. That, brothers and sisters, is your highest glory.
But, if I may share a few things with you, I would be honored, for I have seen some things that most of you have not. I have seen the foul insides of prisons longer than most of you have been alive. I have seen death rows, and holes, and places foul enough to curdle your stomachs. I have seen betrayals that would dry crocodile tears. I have seen men wail at the moon with madness, and weep blood.
Many things have I seen, but this – this Occupy movement – has surprised me.
Thank you all for that surprise.
What would I say to you? I would reach back to one of my elders, Malcolm X, who learned from his elder a very potent truth: “Of all our studies, history best rewards our research.”
I really don’t mean that boring shit you learned in high school (or often, in some colleges). Read true history. Read real history. Read Howard Zinn’s classic, A People’s History of the United States. Read There Is a River by Vincent Harding. Study. For by so doing you will do far more than to merely feed your head. The information will inoculate you against ignorance and the trap of ideological thinking. It will broaden your perspective. But it will do more.
It will show you that your job, as long as you are part of this movement (I hope until it prevails), isn’t to remake history. Do not idolize, nor idealize the 1960s. If the Sixties were so cool, you wouldn’t have to do what you’re doing NOW.
Don’t remake the 1960s. Make the 2010s!
Don’t remake the wheel. Learn from our mistakes and those of our parents.
When you are engaged in a movement, go through with it. Don’t sell out. Don’t drop out. Don’t stop. Our your children – and grandchildren – will inherit your failures, and be burdened with the Herculean tasks of trying to undo the mess resulting from what you failed to do.
This America is the way it is because many people took the easy road. They cut their hair. They shaved their beards. They took off their beads and peasant tops and put on power suits. In the 1990s people called it “The Me Generation” – but that generation gave you this generation, of a busted economic system built on broken dreams, shattered homes, and mass legalized thievery.
It brought you credit-default swaps, mortgage bonds, tranches and the Wall St. before you, standing as a Monolith of Greed.
That generation not only shattered your dreams – it shattered their own. They settled.
So, DO NOT SETTLE or you will look in the mirror one day – and see them glaring back.
History isn’t so that you can learn about yesterday. It’s so you see why today is the way it is. It shows how the brick and mortar of time and sweat and blood and tears – and the dregs of politics – created the world that you see before you.
In a nutshell, it teaches you what not to do.