Mumia on Film LDR

The Long-Distance Revolutionary

MAJ by Rashid

art by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

Many millions around the world are convinced they know imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from closely examining the ‘whodunit’ contentions surrounding his contentious conviction for the December 9, 1981 slaying of a Philadelphia policeman.

However, few really know the ‘Who’ of Mumia –- the individual behind the international image of a victim of injustice; the grandfather with a layered life beyond the simplistic characterizations of opponents who bash him as a murderous monster and of supporters to him powers of mythical proportions.

The all too often missing ‘Who’ of Mumia Abu-Jamal is what is makes the focus of an engaging new documentary film, “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal,” truly unique. The film opens in New York City on February 1 and Los Angeles on March 1.

“Long Distance Revolutionary” presents the personality and the person of Mumia before, during and after his arrest and conviction for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner unlike all the pervious movies on Abu-Jamal that principally probed contours and contradictions of his trial and conviction.

That missing ‘Who’ is what sparked the interest of Stephen Vittoria, a respected LA-based documentarian who wrote, directed and edited the this film.

“The story I found most remarkable is the story of a man who has produced an incredible body of revolutionary journalism and history under harsh conditions, especially after incarceration,” Vittoria said about his movie.

Vittoria screened “Long Distance” at film festivals from California to Copenhagen and other selected screenings before the forthcoming in-theater release Cinema Village in New York City.

“Thirty plus years on Death Row, no computer or Internet access [yet] he’s published seven books, thousands of written and recorded commentaries…For a filmmaker, that offers deep and resonant opportunities,” Vittoria said. “Like the title suggests, he is a long-distance revolutionary, a man who never talks about his own case but instead takes on the responsibility of giving voice to the voiceless…a man who refuses to let the repressive apparatus of a racist state suffocate his soul.”

This film gives viewers a sense of the ‘Who’ of Abu-Jamal , the content and context of his life, including providing views points from acclaimed philosophers, historians, poets, writers, journalists and revolutionaries, as well as perspectives from members of his family.

Vittoria said the one interview in the film that “blows me away” is with Mumia’s older sister Lydia Barashango, who died months after having the on-camera interview with Vittoria.

“She gave us an insight into Mumia’s life at home as a kid, as an up-and-coming journalist in his twenties, his pain and suffering in prison, his separation from his family and children, and how much pain that causes him daily,” Vittoria said.

Full disclosure: I am one of the on-screen interviewees featured in “Long Distance Revolutionary.”

Fuller disclosure: I have been interviewed for every major movie on Mumia made in the 21st Century, including the film released in 2007 produced by Academy Award winner Colin Firth and the 2010 work released by Philadelphia filmmaker Tigre Hill.

Hill’s film simply regurgitated the prosecution’s case of absolute guilt without even referencing the grievous flaws in the prosecution/police case detailed in the Firth and other films.

Abu-Jamal and I worked together as news reporters in Philadelphia before his December 1981 arrest, he as a radio reporter while I worked for newspapers. I have followed his case closely since 1981, including traveling abroad to research and report on the ‘Mumia Movement’ which developed after his arrest and over the years of his incarceration and his legal battles with those trying to execute him.

In October 2012, for example, I traveled to Bobigny, France where officials of that Paris suburb named a street honoring Abu-Jamal. That was the second street-naming for Abu-Jamal in a suburb of Paris -– a city that extended Abu-Jamal the rare title of ‘Honorary Citizen.’

Given the total rejection American courts have given to Abu-Jamal’s appeals of his conviction (he did win an appeal overturning his death penalty conviction), it’s ironic that the Bobigny street bearing his name runs alongside a court building.

Lanquirary Painemal, an activist in Chile, was among the 100-plus attending the Bobigny ceremony, where a banner hung demanding the release of Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, another American political prisoner.

Painemal said many in her country consider Abu-Jamal a freedom fighter because of his advocacy for the oppressed everywhere.

During that Bobigny ceremony, attended by one of Abu-Jamal’s sons, Mumia delivered a pre-recorded message of support in fluent French, a language he learned during his decades in a Death Row isolation cell.

Abu-Jamal once told me he transformed his Death Row isolation into a creative muse.

Vittoria said an amazing aspect for him personally which is displayed clearly in the film, is how Abu-Jamal appears not to be “bitter or broken or defeated” by his draconian incarceration.

The public in-theater release of “Long Distance Revolutionary” comes at a time of new revelations that further undermine Abu-Jamal’s conviction, of a reinvigoration of the Free Mumia Movement, of continued confirmation of the police corruption which stains the very core of Abu-Jamal’s conviction, and of still more of the vile venom that has long been aimed at persons who challenge the integrity and validity of his conviction.

In late December 2012, enemies of Abu-Jamal unleashed a barrage of terroristic threats against Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild and against Professor Johanna Fernandez, a key Abu-Jamal activist, after that pair posted a picture on Facebook showing them standing arm in arm with Abu-Jamal during a prison visit with him shortly after he was finally transferred from his isolation on Pennsylvania’s death row to a regular prison that allowed visits where people could actually contact the incarcerated physically. (Death row inmates are only able to talk to visiters through a bullet-proof window.)

One poster named Ingram said he hoped “…YOU TWO BITCHES GET GANG RAPED AND MURDERED BY A BUNCH OF NIGGERS!!!” and another poster expressed his hope that “those broads suffer a flesh-eating bacteria starting in their cunts!”

Fernandez characterized those Facebook responses, some from active-duty Philadelphia police and firefighters, as “violent and, dare I say, fascistic…”

Fernandez made a 2010 film on the Abu-Jamal case entitled “Justice On Trial.”

In early fall 2012 a new book detailed first-ever accounts of the crass intimidation police, prosecutors and jurists directed at a witness in the Abu-Jamal case who had initially told police about seeing two men flee the scene of Faulkner’s fatal shooting — a claim that if true would totally undermine the prosecution’s case, which was premised on the assertion that Abu-Jamal was the only possible shooter on the scene.

When police arrested Abu-Jamal at the crime scene, they found him critically wounded by a bullet from Faulkner’s gun. Authorities contend no one fled the crime scene despite several accounts from other eyewitnesses to the contrary.

The intimidation of witness Veronica Jones included a bizarre courtroom incident during an appeal-phase proceeding in 1996 where Philadelphia prosecutors, with the consent of the presiding judge, orchestrated her arrest directly as she stepped off the witness stand after she had testified that police had forced her to lie during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial.

This book, “Veronica & the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal as told to her sister, Valerie Jones,” also presents the first-ever revelation of the professional and personal relationship between Veronica Jones (working at the time as a prostitute in 1981) and the married Officer Faulkner — a relationship that she said included their having sex.

While neither Faulkner nor Jones, who died in 2009, are alive to address the sex allegation in the book, many written and verbal records list Jones as persistently maintaining that she knew Faulkner and that Faulkner had helped her.

When Jones recanted her 1982 trail testimony during a 1996 Post Conviction Relief Act hearing, she explained that she needed to clear her conscience more than specially aiding Abu-Jamal, because she knew Faulkner and would do nothing to harm him.

Valerie Jones attended an early December 2012 screening of “Long Distance” held at Temple University in Philadelphia along with an older brother of Abu-Jamal, Keith Cook.

Cook and Professor Fernandez, during a program at that Philadelphia screening, announced plans for a new campaign to secure Abu-Jamal’s release within four years.

For the past six months multiple scandals have rocked the Philadelphia Police Department including misconduct by narcotics officers resulting in prosecutors dropping over 100 cases, a police supervisor discharged for punching a woman, a policewoman discharged for stealing properties and a group of officers fraudulently obtaining federal low-income energy assistance grants including a lieutenant who make $95,000 annually.

Philadelphia’s police department has a sordid history of recurring brutality and corruption scandals dating back over a century. Local prosecutors have a record of generally ignoring those misconduct scandals.

Evidence unearthed by Abu-Jamal lawyers, and by a few investigative journalists like Dave Lindorff and researcher Dr. Michael Schiffmann of Germany, amply document how Philadelphia police manufactured evidence and false testimony to secure Abu-Jamal’s conviction in collusion with Philadelphia prosecutors.

Appellate judges have brushed aside the documented improprieties and misconduct in Abu-Jamal’s conviction–improprieties and misconduct more extreme than in cases of other inmates who have been granted new trials or prison release by the same courts that have consistently upheld Abu-Jamal’s conviction.

Filmmaker Stephen Vittoria said Abu-Jamal’s persistent work exposing misconduct by police and prosecutors’ in Philadelphia and beyond, both before and after his incarceration, is a part of “…what makes Abu-Jamal’s life and work soar.”

For information on buying tickets to the movie, which opens Feb. 1, in New York, click here.

LINN WASHINGTON, JR. is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues JOHN GRANT, DAVE LINDORFF, LORI SPENCER and CHARLES M. YOUNG, can be found at

From Democracy Now!: “Long Distance Revolutionary”: Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Journey From Black Panthers To Prison Journalist – The new documentary, “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal,” premieres today in New York City. We play an excerpt of the film and speak to writer, producer and director Steve Vittoria, as well as Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, who has interviewed Abu-Jamal many times over the years. The features many supporters of Mumia, including actress Ruby Dee, writer Tariq Ali, and author Michelle Alexander.

Watch the Democracy Now! live telephone interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal, as well as years of reports following his case, visit

Mumia on ‘Democracy Now!': “The United States is Fast Becoming One of the Biggest Open-Air Prisons on Earth” – In a rare live interview, Mumia Abu-Jamal calls into Democracy Now! as the new film, “Long Distance Revolutionary,” about his life premieres in New York City this weekend. After 29 years on death row, he is now being held in general population at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution — Mahanoy. “How free are we today, for those who claim to be non-prisoners? Your computers are being read by others in government. Your letters and phone calls are being intercepted,” says Mumia Abu-Jamal. “We live now in a national security state, where the United States is fast becoming one of the biggest open-air prisons on Earth. We can speak about freedom, and the United States has a long and distinguished history of talking about freedom, but have we sampled freedom? I think the answer should be very clear: We have not.” In 1982, Mumia was sentenced to die for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He has always maintained his innocence and is perhaps America’s most famous political prisoner. In 2011, an appeals court upheld his conviction, but also vacated his death sentence it found jurors were given confusing instructions.

Watch the Democracy Now! interview with Steve Vittoria, director of the new documentary, “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal,” and Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio:

NYT And Variety Movie Reviews: ‘An Insistent Voice From Behind Bars’

‘Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary,’ About Mumia Abu-Jamal

A First Run Features release of a Street Legal Cinema production in association with Prison Radio. Produced by Katyana Farzanrad, Noelle Hanrahan, Stephen Vittoria. Co-producer, Rikki Jarrett. Directed, written by Stephen Vittoria.

With: Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Cornel West, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Peter Coyote, Giancarlo Esposito, Amy Goodman, Ruby Dee, Ramsey Clark, Dick Gregory.
Lou Jones/First Run Features
Mumia Abu-Jamal in the documentary “Mumia.”
From New York Times By 
Coverage of public discourse in the United States often makes it seem as if the only ideologies still in the game were the far right and the moderate everybody else. But “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary,” a documentary by Stephen Vittoria, is proof that there are still outspoken champions of views too radicalized to qualify as left-wing: people distrustful of law enforcement, the political system, the justice system, the news
media and the very notion that America is at heart the land of the free

That isn’t the film’s intent, of course. Mr. Vittoria sets out to tell once again the story of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer more than 30 years ago, and to highlight the considerable writing he has done in prison over the decades. From that standpoint the film will appeal to one side of thatpolarizing case — the side that views Mr. Abu-Jamal as a political prisoner and victim of a racist system — and enrage the other.

The samples of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s writings aren’t generous enough to establish whether his is a singular voice or just a prolific one, with Mr. Vittoria instead letting the film wander considerably, to Frederick Douglass and recent American bombings overseas and everything in between.

But getting a concentrated dose of activists like Angela Davis and Dick Gregory, academics like Cornel West and Michelle Alexander, and the many other talking heads in this film is certainly a bracing change from the usual back-and-forth of the evening news.



View Clip

Stephen Vittoria’s docu about Mumia Abu-Jamal — unrepentant commie cop-killer to some, political martyr to others — makes no bones about its allegiance. “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” delivers a political discourse inspired by its subject and espoused by left-wing writers, actors, educators and activists, with the opposition represented only by man-on-the-street grumblings and vituperative Fox News coverage. Vittoria avoids discussing the crime for which Abu-Jamal spent 29 years in solitary confinement on death row, instead tracing the path of a brilliant journalist whose message cannot be silenced. Opening Feb. 1 in limited release, this passionate advocacy docu should spark debate.Part of Abu-Jamal’s persuasive power flows from the specificity of his analysis of black history and his ability to see the struggle for freedom in larger, nonexclusive terms. Vittoria attempts to mirror that duality by presenting a contextual biography of Abu-Jamal and a forum for his ideas. For many of the film’s interviewed admirers, like Alice Walker, Mumia’s personal integrity is inseparable from his political acuity.At age 15, Abu-Jamal was a founding member and communications secretary of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panthers, getting his start in journalism by writing for the organization’s newspaper. Vittoria quotes Frederick Douglass in 1852, denouncing racism in the City of Brotherly Love, and calls on an array of more contemporary interviewees, including former attorney general Ramsey Clark, to attest to Philadelphia’s heightened bigotry and rampant brutality under police chief Frank Rizzo.

It was under Rizzo’s watch that Abu-Jamal started reporting on radio, his deep, persuasive voice and informed commentary winning devoted listeners; his analyses of current events, including the local war against John Africa’s Philadelphia-based Move enclave, and the federal government’s covert clash with the Black Panthers, attracted the animus of the police and the FBI. An oncamera Peter Coyote wryly fills in the narrative blanks in Abu-Jamal’s story — except as concerns the shooting of policeman Daniel Faulkner.

The docu doesn’t become fully focused until Abu-Jamal is incarcerated and gains international attention, his trial disputed by organizations such as Amnesty Intl. and Human Rights Watch, his continued imprisonment the subject of protests in France, Germany and beyond. The Republican Party’s attempt to condemn the French town of Saint-Denis for naming a street after Abu-Jamal furnishes some welcome comic relief.

In prison, a focused, likable Abu-Jamal gave interviews, many of which figure prominently in the docu (along with low-lit re-enactments of an actor portraying him writing in his cell), and penned a series of books on black history, the Black Panthers, jailhouse lawyers and the hell of prison — all of which are lauded here by educators, writers and black activists like Cornel West, Angela Davis, Dick Gregory and Walker, and quoted by Giancarlo Esposito onstage.

Vittoria closely follows the government’s desperate efforts to silence Abu-Jamal. His scheduled broadcast with Amy Goodman on NPR’s “All Things Considered” was quashed; the film shows a C-Span clip of an outraged Sen. Bob Dole condemning NPR on the floor of Congress. In order to shut Abu-Jamal up and prohibit him from being contacted by journalists or broadcasters, the state of Pennsylvania denied those rights to all death-row prisoners.

Vittoria triumphantly heralds the Abu-Jamal’s return to the political scene as a rallying cry for an alternate political discourse joyously shared by the film’s community of interviewees.


‘Long Distance Revolutionary’ Debuts In Theaters Feb. 1st



NEWSFLASH: First Run Features books Los Angeles opening of Long Distance Revolutionary
Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills
9036 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Opens Friday, March 1, 2013

NEWSFLASH: First Run Features books LDR
for a week in Seattle!
Grand Illusion Cinema
1403 NE 50th St.
Seattle, WA 98105
February 22-28, 2013


The Unsilenced Voice of a ‘Long-Distance Revolutionary’

By Chris Hedges from Information Clearing House” 


I am sitting in the visiting area of the SCI Mahanoy prison in Frackville, Pa., on a rainy, cold Friday morning with Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner and one of its few authentic revolutionaries. He is hunched forward on the gray plastic table, his dreadlocks cascading down the sides of his face, in a room that looks like a high school cafeteria. He is talking intently about the nature of empire, which he is currently reading voraciously about, and effective forms of resistance to tyranny throughout history. Small children, visiting their fathers or brothers, race around the floor, wail or clamber on the plastic chairs. Abu-Jamal, like the other prisoners in the room, is wearing a brown jumpsuit bearing the letters DOC—for Department of Corrections.

Abu-Jamal was transferred in January to the general prison population after nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row and was permitted physical contact with his wife, children and other visitors for the first time in three decades. He had been sentenced to death in 1982 for the Dec. 9, 1981, killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His sentence was recently amended to life without parole. The misconduct of the judge, flagrant irregularities in his trial and tainted evidence have been criticized by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

Abu-Jamal, who was a young activist in the Black Panthers and later one of the most important radical journalists in Philadelphia, a city that a few decades earlier produced I.F. Stone, has long been the bête noire of the state. The FBI opened a file on him when he was 15, when he started working with the local chapter of the Black Panthers. He was suspended from his Philadelphia high school when he campaigned to rename the school for Malcolm X and distributed “black revolutionary student power” literature.

Stephen Vittoria’s new film documentary about Abu-Jamal, “Long Distance Revolutionary,” rather than revisit the case, chronicles his importance and life as an American journalist, radical and intellectual under the harsh realities of Pennsylvania’s death row. Abu-Jamal has published seven books in prison, including his searing and best-selling “Live From Death Row.” The film features the voices of Cornel West, James Cone, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and others. It opens in theaters Feb. 1, starting in New York City. In the film Gregory says that Abu-Jamal has single-handedly brought “dignity to the whole death row.”

The late historian Manning Marable says in the film: “The voice of black journalism in the struggle for the liberation of African-American people has always proved to be decisive throughout black history. When you listen to Mumia Abu-Jamal you hear the echoes of David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and the sisters and brothers who kept the faith with struggle, who kept the faith with resistance.”

The authorities, as they did before he was convicted, have attempted to silence him in prison. Pennsylvania banned all recorded interviews with Abu-Jamal after 1996. In response to protests over the singling out of one inmate in the Pennsylvania correction system, the state simply banned recorded access to all its inmates. The ban is nicknamed “the Mumia rule.”

“I was punished for communicating,” Abu-Jamal says.

Cornel West says in the film: “The state is very clever in terms of keeping track, especially [of] the courageous and visionary ones, the ones that are long-distance runners. You can keep track of them, absorb ’em, dilute ’em, or outright kill ’em—you don’t have to worry about opposition to ’em.” 

“If you tell them the truth about the operation of our power this is what happens to you,” he goes on. “Like Jesus on the cross. This is what happens to you.”

During my four-and-a-half-hour conversation with Abu-Jamal I was not permitted a pencil or paper. I wrote down his quotes after I left the prison. My time with him mirrors the wider pattern of a society where the poor and the destitute are rendered invisible and voiceless.

The breadth of his reading, which along with his writing and 3,000 radio broadcasts has kept his mind and soul intact, is staggering. His own books are banned in the prison. In conversation he swings easily from detailed discussions of the Opium Wars between 1839 and 1860 to the Black Panthers to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the series of legislative betrayals of the poor and people of color by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. He cites books by Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur, Eric Foner, Gore Vidal, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, James Cone and Dave Zirin. He talks about Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, “Cinque,” Harriet Tubman, Charles Deslondes, Denmark Vesey and Sojourner Truth. He is reading “Masters of War” by Clara Nieto, “How the World Works” by Noam Chomsky, “The Face of Imperialism” by Michael Parenti and “Now and Then” by Gil Scott-Heron. He wonders, as I do, what shape the collapse of empire will take. And he despairs of the political unconsciousness among many incoming prisoners, some young enough to be his children.

“When I first got out in the yard and I heard groups of men talking about how Sarah was going to marry Jim or how Frank had betrayed Susan, I thought, ‘Damn, these cats all know each other and their families. That’s odd,’ ” he says. “But after a few minutes I realized they were talking about soap operas. Television in prison is the great pacifier. They love ‘Basketball Wives’ because it is ‘T and A’ with women of color. They know how many cars Jay-Z has. But they don’t know their own history. They don’t understand how they got here. They don’t know what is being done to them. I tell them they have to read and they say, ‘Man, I don’t do books.’ And that is just how the empire wants it. You can’t fight power if you don’t understand it. And you can’t understand it if you don’t experience it and then dissect it.” 

Abu-Jamal’s venom is reserved for politicians such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whom he correctly excoriates for speaking in the language of traditional liberalism while ruthlessly disempowering the poor and the working class on behalf of their corporate patrons. And he has little time for the liberals who support them.

“It was Clinton that made possible the explosion of the prison-industrial complex,” he says, speaking of the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill.

He looks around the visiting area at the 30-odd prisoners with their families.

“Most of these people wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Bill Clinton,” he says of the other inmates. “He and Barack Obama haven’t done anything for poor people but lock them up. And if our first African-American president isn’t going to halt the growth of the prison-industrial complex, no president after him is going to do it. This prison system is here to stay. The poor and the destitute feed it. It is the empire’s solution to the economic crisis. Those who are powerless, who have no access to diminishing resources, get locked away. And the prison business is booming. It is one of the few growth industries left. It used to be that towns didn’t want prisons. Now these poor rural communities beg for them. You look down the list of the names of the guards and see two or three with the same last names. This is because fathers, brothers, spouses, work here together. These small towns don’t have anything else.”

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world—742 adults per 100,000. There are some 2.2 million adults incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails. About 5 million are on probation or parole. Seventy percent of the inmates are nonwhite.

The Omnibus Crime Bill, pushed through the Senate with the help of Joe Biden, appropriated $30 billion to expand the nation’s prison program. It gave $10.8 billion in federal matching funds to local governments to hire 100,000 new police officers over five years. It provided $10 billion for the construction of new federal prisons. It expanded the number of federal crimes to which the death penalty applied from two to 58. It eliminated an existing statute that prohibited the execution of mentally incapacitated defendants. It instituted the three-strikes proposal that mandates life sentences for anyone convicted of three “violent” felonies. It ordered states to track sex offenders. It permitted children as young as 13 to be tried as adults. It set up special courts to deport noncitizens alleged to be “engaged in terrorist activity” and authorized the use of secret evidence. The prison population during the Clinton presidency jumped from 1.4 million to 2 million. The United States has spent $300 billion since 1980 on the prison system. 

Abu-Jamal talks in the interview about being a Black Panther and the use of violence as a form of political resistance throughout history. He speaks of visiting the Chicago apartment where Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was shot to death by Chicago police and the FBI while he slept on Dec. 4, 1969. He calls Hampton, who was 21 when he was killed, “one of the bright lights.” Abu-Jamal chokes up and his eyes glisten with tears. “Fred … ,” he says as his voice trails off.

“It used to be that a politician promised jobs, a chicken in every pot,” Abu-Jamal says. “But in our new national security state they promise law and order. They get elected by saying they will be tough on crime and by calling for the death penalty. Death sells. Fear sells. What was a crime by the state in the 1960s is now legal. The state can wiretap, eavesdrop, listen to phone calls and break into homes. And there is nothing we can do about it. The mass incarceration and the mass repression impact every community to make people afraid and compliant.”

“In this place, a dark temple of fear, an altar of political ambition, death is a campaign poster, a stepping-stone to public office … ,” Abu-Jamal has written. “In this space and time, in this dark hour, how many of us are not on death row?”

“The brutality of the empire was exposed under George W. Bush,” he says to me. “The empire desperately needed a new face, a black face, to seduce the public. This is the role of Barack Obama. He is the black face of empire. He was pitched to us during the most recent presidential campaign by Bill Clinton, the same Clinton who gave us NAFTA in 1994 and abolished good-paying manufacturing jobs for millions of workers. The same Clinton who locked us up. Clinton and Obama represent the politics of betrayal at the heart of the corporatist machinery. And they have fooled a lot of people, especially black people. During slavery, and even post-Reconstruction, there were always a few black people who served the system. The role of these black servants to white power was to teach passivity in the face of repression. This is why Obama is president. Nothing has changed.”

It is only by stepping outside the system, by carrying out acts of civil disobedience, by defying both of the major political parties, that we have any hope of resisting the rise of an oligarchic and totalitarian corporate system that will finally enslave us all. Abu-Jamal sees hope in the Occupy movement, largely because white middle-class youths are beginning to experience the cruelty of capitalism and state repression that has long been visited on the poor. But, he adds, we must recover our past. We must connect ourselves to the revolutionaries, radicals and prophets who fought injustice before us. We must defy the historical amnesia the corporate state seeks to cement into our consciousness. His book “Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African-American People” sets out to do precisely this, to recover a past intellectual and spiritual life for African-Americans that is trivialized, ignored or censored by the dominant culture. He is worried that the mindless diversions of popular culture and the assault by corporate power on education are keeping many from grasping not only what is happening but the continuity that modern systems of oppression have with older systems of oppression.

“We would not be who we are as African-Americans of this date were it not for the Reverend, the Prophet, Nat Turner—who brilliantly merged the religious with the political,” Abu-Jamal says in the film. “Who didn’t just talk about the world to come but fought to transform the world that is. You know, he is honored and revered today—not because he could quote the Bible well, he could do that, but because he worked in the fields of life to get the slave master off of his neck, off of all of our necks.”

On the far side of the visiting area are vending machines that dispense White Castle hamburgers, soda, candy and Tastykake cupcakes. We drop in the prepaid tokens—no money is allowed inside the prison—and the fast food is dumped in the vent. To Abu-Jamal, forced to eat prison food, it is a treat, especially the Hershey’s bar. He watches as a boy darts past him toward his father.

“I didn’t see children for 30 years on death row,” he says softly. “It is a delight to see them here. They are what is most precious, what the struggle is finally about.”