Former political prisoner Arthur League talks about the ILWU shutdown and the campaign to free Black political prisoners, some of whom have been imprisoned for over 50 years.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Eddie Conway: Welcome to this episode of Rattling the Bars. I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore for the Real News Network. After the death of George Floyd, protests have spread across the United States and around the world. One of the things that’s happening is that there’s a call for justice, a call for de-funding the police, a call for creating a better society. One of the things that’s left out of this call is the call for the release of political prisoners, some that’s been held almost 50 years since the ’60s and the ’70s. So toward that end there’s a action taking place across the nation, up and down the West Coast and the East Coast, that will make demands for all those things that the protesters are calling for, but also to include the plight of the political prisoners.
So here with me today is Arthur League who represents, and who’s a former political prisoner himself, but represents a lot of the political prisoner cases in terms of his activities and organizing on the ground. So Arthur, thanks for joining me.
Arthur League: Thank you for having me.
Eddie Conway: Arthur, start off by telling me about this action on the West Coast and the East Coast, and who’s organizing it? And why is it taking place?
Arthur League: Well, it’s an action to shut down the ports of entry, where all the trade that is conducted between nations that come into the United States, go through ports that come across the water. So all the ports on the West Coast on Juneteenth, this Friday, is going to be shut down to call attention to the plight of people in this country who are being systematically murdered by police, and not being treated as equal human beings. The West Coast ports are all shutting down. The East Coast ports have joined in that effort, and will be making a statement on their own and we’ll be shutting down for some period of time. So I’m not privy to the organizing on the East Coast. I just received the word that they are going to participate.
And it’s a most powerful thing because some of the important union sector of the working people in this society are taking a chance or taking a stand, I’m, sorry, that’s not just a young people in the street demanding justice.
Eddie Conway: One of the issues that’s part of the demands is for the political prisoners, and both you and I have been formal political prisoners, but a lot of people don’t realize that there are people that’s held in prison as long as almost I think almost, I think Chip Fitzgerald, is almost 50 years now, and other prisoners are well into past their 40th year, 45 years. Can you talk a little bit about the political prisoners, the ones that people don’t talk about, like McGee and so on. Could you give me kind of like, give me a little rundown on each one of them, maybe a minute about their case, and what’s their status now?
Arthur League: Well, the reality is it takes much more than a minute because they’re all complicated. And so Chip, for an example, will be locked down 51 years October the 9th, and people often ask me, “Man, why do you know all the way down to the day of something that happened 51 years ago? And I just tell them that my son was born October the 9th, 1969, the very day Chip was locked up. So it’s really near and dear to my heart, because we were comrades, and we functioned together, out from the Los Angeles chapter. So in his case it’s 51 years. In Ruchell McGee’s case, it’s even longer, it’s like 55 years that he’s been locked down.
But there are others. There are, not so much with George Jackson but with his brother, Jonathan Jackson. And it was the case at the Marin County Courthouse, where that was an attempt to liberate prisoners, and the guards opened fire and shot up and killed a bunch of people. And he’s been held ever since the day.
Well, Jalil is in New York. He’s been locked up 48 years, since he was 19. Chip started in the party when he was 19. But Jalil, people have called for his release and he was granted released and the district attorney of New York appealed the grant based on the COVID virus going around, they appealed, it was overturned, and sure enough, he ended up with the COVID-19 virus. He’s in recovery now. Certainly we hope that it’s recovery, you never could be too sure about the information you get from the dungeons. But he’s another one that needs to come home.
And if I can, I can tell you why. People just stood up, like the people are doing today. We didn’t have thousands. And today these young people are going to be new political prisoners, if we don’t stand up for justice for people who stood up in the past.
Eddie Conway: Veronzo, Sundiata, if you can talk a little bit about them. Russell Shoatz.
Arthur League: It is the whole list. And I would direct people, and I think people should do some research because I think it’s important that knowledge is power, and that there are some groups out there. There’s one called the Jericho Movement. You can go online and get their contact information and they have a list of all of these political prisoners, and the political prisoners that you just named are mostly from the East Coast. In fact, we have two in California, and by the way, they’re not all black people. They’re native people. There’s some white people. And today we call them Mother Country radicals, but we called them that, it’s a term of endearment. So don’t get it twisted, that they fought with us, alongside of us and in some cases just as hard. We’ve lost many of them to the dungeons.
Sometimes they played with our hearts. They let one of our comrades, Marilyn Buck go, only to lose her within days of her release, from cancer. Herman Wallace, after 40 plus years of solitary confinement, they decided to let him go. We lost him within weeks of him coming home, from cancer. But the people Sundiata, all these people, they have one in common. That they stood up to fight for the very issues that people are in the streets today fighting for. Back in the day we had our slogan, and one of them was All Power to the People. We knew the people would be there. We knew they would come. We just didn’t know the date. And I am so giddy and pleased to see people in the street, and how fortunate I feel to be one of the ones who was able to live to see it, and how much I wish that there was some way that I could have our people who did not make it through this process to be able to see these beautiful people out in the streets.
And I would actively encourage people to get on your computer, hashtag political prisoners, hashtag anything you want to, but to ask other people to free these prisoners.
Eddie Conway: That was my next question. In fact, when I look at the protests around the country, and around the world, one of the things I don’t see on the signs is a call for the release of political prisoners. I think that’s missing right now, but it’s not something that young people are completely unaware of. They just don’t seem to be mobilizing young people and old people right now. And I’m bringing this up because the Puerto Ricans political prisoners, which also got locked up around that same time, have mostly been freed now because of the great effort that the Puerto Rican community launched over the decades, it took them decades, they just recently within the last 10 years I believe, got released. But it seemed like we need to take a page, the people of America that is, need to take a page from that campaign, that support.
What would you suggest that young people do besides finding out who these political prisoners are?
Arthur League: So let me give you an observation. I went out amongst these young people in the streets, in Oakland, and I marched with them, even though I’m over 70, they gave me so much energy of being out there that made these old bones move. And I asked people, did they know that right here in America, there are people who were locked up for what they’re doing right now, in the ’60s, and in some cases have been locked up for over 50 years? In most cases, over 40? Some cases, maybe less. And people consistently didn’t know. And I asked them, were they willing to let other people know, and were they willing to call for their release? And if they was willing to do anything to help those people, and reminded them that if we don’t come for them, if we don’t help them, who’s going to be there for you? Because these are the people that preceded you.
They didn’t follow you. Don’t make you better than them, or them you. But that’s the reality. And, for Chip, an example, we have a website, it’s freedom4chip.org. And we had a petition calling for his release on the website. And we had around 7,000 signatures. And three days after that rally in March, we checked the signatures, and it had gone up, 15,000, and we’re getting thousands of signatures today. We also know that there are young people in the streets calling for other young people to hashtag, to find out who these people are, but we have to put in the work.
And fortunately for the cause, and unfortunately, maybe for me, because I’m not really much into about talking about stuff, I’ve been able to be listed and as on as a speaker for the big rally of closing down the ports. And I’ll be able to talk to people about this, but go to freedom4chip, go to the Black Panther Party’s alumni committees website, go to Jericho, go to Freedom Archives, great source of information. But you have to put in some work, because there’s preparation right now to come for these young people. Right now, they are pouring over videos. They’re using this technology called face recognition to try to point out people, and then ultimately they’re going to come for you, and somebody’s got to be there for you.
There’s no guarantee some of us old folks is going to be around a whole lot longer, that we are part of nature, we understand that things come into being and go out of being. But as long as the people who took those chances years ago are around, we going to come for you as best we can.
Eddie Conway: I think that should be the last word. Arthur, thanks for joining me, and giving me this update, and we’ll come back, and we’ll actually do a report on the work stoppage in the ports. Thanks for joining me.
Arthur League: Brother, thank you for having me and thank you for everything you’re doing.
Eddie Conway: Okay. And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars for the Real News Network.
Eddie Conway is an Executive Producer of The Real News Network. He is the host of the TRNN show Rattling the Bars. He is Chairman of the Board of Ida B's Restaurant, and the author of two books: Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther andThe Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO.A former member of the Black Panther Party, Eddie Conway is an internationally known political prisoner for over 43 years, a long time prisoners' rights organizer in Maryland, the co-founder of the Friend of a Friend mentoring program, and the President of Tubman House Inc. of Baltimore. He is a national and international speaker and has several degrees.