Note: Sadly my scanner refused to work today and scan more of the photos from this period in history. History can be a revolutionary teacher. Since this is a presidential election year, please see the end of this essay for a quote from Mumia Abu-Jamal on what elections mean.- Orin Langelle

Two protesters slammed to the asphalt by police as they tried to block President Bill Clinton and his motorcade from attending the National Governor’s Association conference in the Sheraton Hotel in Burlington, VT – Photo: Langelle (1995)

Burlington, VT- National Governors’ Conference July 28-Aug 1, 1995

Four days of militant protest in defense of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal

 

Governor Ridge Welcoming Committee

All photos by Orin Langelle (1995)

Burlington, VT – A coalition of groups demonstrated against the impending execution of award-winning journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal during the National Governor’s Association conference held in that city. The militant protests spanned five days from July 28th to August 1st, and were directed at Pennsylvania’s then Governor Tom Ridge, who signed the death warrant for Jamal.  Jamal was to be executed August 17, 1995.  Ultimately the death warrant was rescinded and Abu-Jamal is still alive.  Ridge later became the Director of Homeland Security after September 11, 2001.

The convener of the conference, VT Governor Howard Dean went on to run for president, but that’s another story…

Burlington was not the only city that erupted in defense of Abu-Jamal. Protests were international.

Many suffer from the induced historical amnesia caused by the corporate press, incessant advertising and so on.  In an effort to counter that collective amnesia, and in time for the Northeast Governor’s Conference and protests this weekend in Burlington, VT,  we are providing this photo of the month from the 1995 National Governor’s Association conference protests, plus below are a few excerpts from Refuse and Resist (in their own words) that describe in detail the events that occurred over those 5 days of militant protest.

[I could not find the link for this post but it is an authentic and was covered on the ground]

“We not only rained on the Governors’ Conference parade,” said Deb Ormsbee, “we pissed on it!” Ormsbee, of the Burlington Solidarity Coalition, was one of the 8 arrested on Monday’s street blockade in front of the Sheraton hotel where President Clinton addressed the governors. There were a total of 24 arrests by Mumia supporters during the four day conference. All 24 arrestees are out of custody from the state.

From Refuse and Resist:

Burlington, VT, Thursday, July 28, 1995 —

…Bishop Angell of the Catholic Diocese of Burlington issued a press release asking Pennsylvania Governor Ridge to rescind the warrant of execution of the four men scheduled for death in August. Bishop Angell joined Philadelphia Cardinal Bevilacqua who strongly encouraged Ridge to not allow the imposition of the death penalty.

 

Breakfast was spoiled when the governors arrived at the Ethan Allen Homestead, named after Ethan Allen, who stole Abenaki Indigenous Peoples’ land in the 1700’s

 

Friday, July 29, 1995

Today, Saturday, July 29, there was a low-key opening to the National Governors Convention in the small liberal city of Burlington, Vermont, but Mumia supporters have already taken to the streets to show their anger to governor Ridge.

Two women Mumia supporters breached Sheraton hotel security and set foot in the Emerald Ballroom where a plenary session of the Governors’ Conference was taking place on July 29. The women were escorted out shouting, “Free Mumia Now!”

Other clandestine activities occurred that the Mumia Solidarity Coalition were not privy to or involved with during the four days of militant action here. Saturday morning’s breakfast was spoiled when the governors arrived at the Ethan Allen Homestead; named after Vermont’s first famous racist, Ethan Allen, who blatantly stole Abenaki indigenous peoples’ land in the 1700’s. The museum garage was spray painted with numerous slogans including, “Fuck You Gov Tom Ridge, Ridge is a racist”, and “FREE MUMIA.” Vermont Governor Howard Dean called the graffiti, “an embarrassment to the state.” Other reports came in that the electric buses transporting the governors at various times were also egged.

Words and image of the rage against a system of death

 

 

 

 

In a park by a pretty lake, the Progressive Coalition (surely everyone out there knows Bernie Sanders? the so-called “socialist” (NOT!) congressman from Vermont) organized an alternative event called the People’s Conference for Economic Democracy. There were lots of speakers and a parade of 2,000 people through the city. This march was led by a theatre group with an awesome big “Free Mumia!” banner.

Peter Schumann with Bread and Puppet lead the march. Schumann is the founder and director of the Bread & Puppet Theater

At the back of the march, there was a bloc of 200 Mumia supporters. Despite being a wicked hot day (ouch! I feel the sunburn as I type!) the mood was good. The Mumia bloc led a diversion near the end of the march and went right to the front doors of the Radisson Hotel where the governors and their families and staff are mostly staying. Other folks joined in and there was an awesome crowd of like 300 people chanting really loud stuff and a very nervous line of Vermont police and hotel staff keeping people out. Lots of media, too, like C-SPAN and CNN and others. Eventually people ended the hotel siege feeling really good. (The police dogs showed up after we had already left.)

In the evening, actions continued as 100 Mumia supporters took to the streets and headed down to the lakefront where the governors were having a nice dinner. Police set up barricades, so people just took over the streets and caused traffic havoc. Some buses of important people got snarled, but eventually made it in by another entrance. This whole deal lasted in the streets for about two hours. The cops threatened to intervene, but didn’t. Then we went back to the downtown shopping street where there was a tent set up for a nice dinner for the staff people, complete with crappy Vermont country music. We responded with newspaper boxes used for a metal jam and other general noise making. All the people trying to enjoy their quaint evening looked less than happy. As did the cops.

Oh yeah, while we were messing up evening traffic, a group of four people got onto the New York-Vermont ferry boat which comes into port right next to the boathouse where the governors were dining and unfurled a huge “Free Mumia!” banner which was viewed by all the governors. Hopefully Ridge saw this! These people were not arrested and were simply escorted away after getting off the boat. They even kept the banner! Good job!

All in all, a really spirited day. Our goal today was to be loud, make our presence known, and come away feeling good. I think that was all accomplished. The action at the hotel was cool, the only bummer being the realization that if a few hundred more people could have mobilized for this, it would have been amazing. There aren’t that many cops, and they aren’t too sure how to handle an angry demo. Oh well! Big thanks to all the comrades that did come, from New Jersey, Maine, Pennsylvania, Canada…lots of places!

So, no arrests today, but tomorrow, Sunday, July 30 is the day we are aiming for. With hopefully more people coming into town, we will march from downtown up to the Sheraton Hotel where the governors will be meeting. People are very determined to make their presence known! Mumia’s name was definitely heard all around town all day long today, and tomorrow should be even better.

 

[excerpted from several separate reports]

July 30 

15 protestors were arrested today in a spirited demonstration against the planned execution of prize-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose case has become an international cause celebre. This was the second day of demonstrations in Burlington for Jamal that occurred during the National Governor’s Association annual conference. Some 150 demonstrators assembled outside the Sheraton Hotel to confront Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.

One of the marches for Mumia that week in Burlington

The protest began with a march up Main Street from Burlington’s City Hall Park to the Sheraton. Protestors, traveling from St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Montreal, Ontario and Boston, said that they had come to raise awareness of the ‘racist nature’ of Jamal’s case, who is scheduled to be executed on August 17th. “This is a political lynching,” said protestor Robert Newmark of New York City. “The evidence shows that Mumia is innocent and that he is being targeted for political activities.” Jamal was a leader of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia.

As the boisterous crowd assembled outside the Sheraton, where the Governors were meeting, speeches were made and chants were shouted like “Stop the execution. Free Mumia Now!” Protestors ripped down police barricades and continually pressed closer to the Sheraton. A group of fifteen, including ten Canadians, suddenly surged over a row of hedges and through police lines in an attempt to gain access to the hotel. Police tackled and arrested the protestors, who were charged with unlawful trespass. ” We are committed to freeing Jamal by any means necessary,” said arrested protestor Jack Winston of Calias, Vermont. “This is just the beginning of a movement that is growing by leaps and bounds.”

Organizers said the demonstrations would continue through the end of the National Governors Association Tuesday, August 1.

 

July 31

Seven law officers, one protester

During Clinton’s downtown visit and tour of Burlington on July 31, several contigents of Mumia supporters vocally were on hand catching the president’s eye. One protester came within a few feet of the president, yelling Mumia slogans. The pristine image of Burlington’s business district mandated by Mayor Peter Clavelle was spoiled. Incidentally, Clavelle, who purports to be the mayor of “the People’s Republic of Burlington” refused Mumia Solidarity Coalition requests to allow pro Mumia supporters to camp in the city’s parks.

Support and legal aid for jailed protesters were overwhelming. At all times during the detentions legal and support teams were present; as were packing the courtrooms during the arraignments.

On July 31, when eight arrestees were being held in South Burlington’s Fire Station, word came that the governors were being transported via bus near the Fire House to Shelburne Farms for a “Vermont Tasting.” Jail support became a mobile protest waving signs and yelling at the cringing governors in the buses. Far from that legal protest, it was reported that as the buses neared Shelburne Farms, they were pelted by eggs.

 

August 1

Protest for Mumia Abu-Jamal, during the final day of the Governors’ Conference, was taken to a newer height. “Come on down or we’ll come up and take you down,” shouted a cop with bullhorn up to a climber perched 200 feet above on the University of Vermont water tower. On that command a 20 by 40 foot banner was unfurled proclaiming FREE MUMIA.

The banner was in full view of the Sheraton hotel where the governors, their aides and corporate sponsors were meeting. The FREE MUMIA banner was up from 8 am to 1:30 pm when the climber was taken into custody by the authorities at the official closing of the Governors’ Conference.

The banner hanging was preceded by three days of militant street demonstrations in opposition to the planned execution of black revolutionary award-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. The total four days of protest embarrassed the Governors’ Conference and succeeded in gaining media attention for Mumia’s plight.

“We not only rained on the Governors’ Conference parade,” said Deb Ormsbee, “we pissed on it!” Ormsbee, of the Burlington Solidarity Coalition, was one of the 8 arrested on Monday’s street blockade in front of the Sheraton hotel where President Clinton addressed the governors. There were a total of 24 arrests by Mumia supporters during the four day conference. All 24 arrestees are out of custody from the state.

 

the Ethan Allen Homestead; named after Vermont’s first famous racist, Ethan Allen

 

All of the above happened 25 years ago.

 

Final thoughts of this post – Prior to the Barack Obama Presidency, Mumia Abu-Jamal shares his analysis:

“Politics is the art of making people believe that they are in power when, in fact, they have none. It is a measure of how dire the hour that they’ve passed the keys of the kingdom to a Black man…. With the nation’s manufacturing base also a thing of history, amid the socioeconomic wreckage of globalization, with foreign affairs in shambles, the rulers reach for a pretty brown face to front for the Empire. Real change that you could believe in would be an end to Empire and an end to wars for corporate greed, not just a change in the shade of the political managers. That change, I’m afraid, is still to come.”