Lynne Stewart: Some Thoughts for May 1, 2012

May Day, a celebration of the Worker and May Day, a commemoration of the Immigrant migration has now become a single holiday—and how appropriate that is !! The massive immigrant influx of the late 19 century was primarily  a new supply of workers for the unending appetite of capitalism. Cheap Labor.  Europe had become a dead end — wars, a class and land system that allowed no upward mobility and less and less opportunity for their children to learn or be somebody.  My own Swedish great grandparents came over as indentured workers–having to pay for their passage by the sweat of their (yes, women too) brows doing farm labor for two years.  This is a story that had been repeated through all the waves of immigrants–Italian, Greek, Slavic, Eastern European, Asian (Chinese, Filipino), Caribbean and now Latin American and African.  What has shifted is the structure that now has the United States as the Great Imperialist, first ravaging their homes militarily and economically and then casting large numbers of newly created displaced people adrift on the economic seas.  As one Jamaican friend and immigrant once said to me “Why shouldn’t we come here?  You have everything stolen from us !!”

Before I go further, I have a word for two special groups of workers and their paths and current status in America.  Blacks were kidnapped and brought here 400 years ago because it was “difficult “to enslave native Americans on their own lands.  Africans were readily identifiable-and thus if you were  Black you were a Slave.  That has not changed much in 400 years.  Just Ask Travon Martin and the other “targets”. Through all the years and all the continued resistance and struggle, that simple fact has always been determinative.  Today, it is also being used as a wedge to separate natural allies into enemies.  In the days preceding the Civil War,  Workers and Abolitionists fought side by side to achieve equality for both.  And that of course continues to be the goal–to demonstrate convincingly that all the media and all the tricks cannot divide the 99%.  Black people can rightfully claim their fair share of all the wealth, they slaved for no pay, but that does not mean that others are not entitled as well.  Mexicans, whose land was stolen from them, the other special group that must be mentioned, have this year almost stopped coming to the US.  Does that mean more jobs for those already here?—NO NO NO that is a cruel and cheap hoax.  Mexican immigrants do not take jobs that Blacks and other Americans want. Like all newcomers they do the grunt and dirty work — no-one in New York City could have a meal in a restaurant if it were not for the immigrants–mostly Latino, who provide the infrastructure. This is not a competition for jobs except so far as those who control the dollars make it so.

Two warnings to all from my own experience.  First, as immigrants anxious to be part of the American dream DO NOT join the part of it that says I can get past on skin color and I can advance myself by being racist and exploiting “those” people just as every preceding immigrant group has done.  My other alert is to People of Color—Do not blame the immigrants for your plight in white America, they came to work and made themselves indispensable. It is the same old white power structure that exploits both labor and race and racial differences for their own advancement that is responsible. Don’t adopt convenient scapegoats when the battle is there to be fought with the courage to do so against the true enemy.

The only PROGRESS to be sought on May DAY 2012 by all of us is a unity of purpose, by truly believing that an injury to one is an injury to all and acting in self defense against the powerful, unscrupulous forces who seek to destroy our movement.  This year we are once again confronted with a Presidential Election that for many is choosing the “lesser of two evils”.  Let me remind you that as James Baldwin, the Black author, once said–evil is always evil and the politicians including Mr. Obama have demonstrated their total untrustworthiness over and over and over.  Promises ?– a hollow joke; and Programs?– on paper or words of the air — never put into practice.  This is not to be Tolerated!!!
May Day is for the beginning of new offensives and we certainly have a vast choice — there is so much wrong, so much that needs fixing.  We must band together until they are more afraid of OUR power than their greedy fear of losing their vast fortunes.  This we Must do — our children and grandchildren assure us there is no choice, if there is to be a world for them to live and work and raise the next generations in.

The Texas Death Row Occupy Movement


by Tony Egbuna Ford

Polunsky Unit/Death Row, Livingstion, TX

November 1993 was the beginning of what could be called “The Texas Death Row Occupy Movement.” A plan of action was planned for years by myself and other Texas Death Row inmates to protest an execution date if one was set for certain individuals, namely John “Jazz” Barefield Bey, Sam Miguel, Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd and Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson.

Schooled in the revolutionary teaching of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, all of us were committed to protesting an execution in the way deemed best for us as we saw it. Any action taken by us in protest would be justifiable self-defense. After all, the State of Texas would literally be trying to kill us! However, before any one of us received an execution date, another inmate would take the vanguard and protest his execution. He would be gassed. A team of guards would forcibly extract him from his cell. Beat him. Then take him to the death house in Huntsville, Texas. The name of the first was Desmond “Lil’ Dez” Jennings and he wouldn’t be the last. This happened in the mid-90s.

Over the years, an inmate from outside our group bonded by a pledge to resist/protest an execution would step up. Notably, Shaka Sankofa aka Gary Graham, who vehemently declared his innocence till his last breath. The most daring of those of us to resist/protest was Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson. Brother Kamau is famous for his revolutionary practices against those who would seek to end his life. His daring escape attempts. Hostage taking of a guard with inmate Howard “I. D.” Guidry. Smacking the Warden during negotiations to spitting n hand cuff from his mouth even as the poison was pumped into his body to finally take his life.

“I will not participate”

All of the original pledgers are dead, executed by the state of Texas. I am the last. However, my way of protest was inspired by Kevin Cooper.

In October 2005 I had been fasting Ramadan. Seeking the peace of mind and spirit for what I intended to be my stance against my execution. I had listened to Democracy, Now! Host Amy Goodman had interview Brother Kevin Cooper about the prospect of being killed by the State of California and I remember his saying to the effect that “it’s a sick and twisted practice to expect another human being to participate in his own murder. I will not participate or cooperate…” He described how in California they even expect you to help them find a suitable vein in which to stick you with the needle! I agreed with Brother Kevin Cooper whole heartedly. My course was set. I’d not do anything violent. I’d not try to be provocative. But, I would not participate. I would do non-violent resistance.

Most of the previous efforts at resistance had been violent, with participants being gassed and beaten. However, there had been a few notable exceptions. Todd Willingham knelt down and refused to be put in the execution van to be taken to the death house.  Similarly, David Harris. But they did their protest of resistance on the day of their own execution, as did everyone else. I decided that I would have my last visits at least a month prior and dedicate at least a month to non-violent resistance of my execution date. And that’s what I did.

On November 19, 2005, coming back from a legal visit, I “occupied” and sat down in the area outside of visitation. I was picked up, placed on a wheeled gurney bed and taken back to my cell. The day before, Rob Will of the DRIVE movement got gassed in solidarity protest. He knew what I’d do.

After my protest, Gabriel Gonzales and Kenneth Foster–both of whom are no longer on Death Row–would follow Rob Will’s example. I got gassed after “occupying” the day rooms and refusing to be racked up. Robert Woodard would hang a sheet banner in the day room protesting executions and specifically my execution date. He was taken to the disciplinary wing. Randy Arroyo and Daniel Simpson would join in as woud Reginald Blantton. All protesting execution dates and the inhuman conditions we were forced to live under.

Our “occupy” movement would last for the better part of a year, even after I received a stay. Day rooms would be “occupied,” Hallways. Medical. Disciplinary hearings. The food slots and showers. Non-violently, changes would occur. For the better part of a year, other inmates would be inspired to protest their execution dates, like Tommy Hughes, Marion Dudley and Lamont Reese, whose actions would make the CNBC news. We declared our lives–all lives–have value. Our lives–all lives–have worth! We stated that. We meant that.

And today I see the same declaration across this nation. As Mumia Abu-Jamal and Kevin Cooper stated in their articles in the Occupied Oakland Tribune news lette: Don’t forget the prisoners! Don’t forget Death Row! We’re with you. We support you! We are also the 99%, as we declared in protest back here on Death Row.

Our lives–all lives–have value! Our lives–all lives–have worth! We stand with you in that declaration.

In Solidarity.

Always, In strength and In Spirit!

Tony E. Ford

This letter from was sent to the Occupied Oakland Tribune after Tony received a copy of their prisoner solidarity issue. He is on Death Row in Livingston, Texas.

Blog at

Up ↑