ON THE DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT BY MONA WASHINGTON
CAST: Me, Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporter, Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporters, Pedestrian, and Amsterdam Tourists One and Two (“Amsterdam Tourists”)
MLK, Jr. weekend 2014. 11 am on Friday, January 17th. Philadelphia. A sunny winter day at 4th and Market Streets. On the southeast corner, MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTERS hold up large signs as drivers and pedestrians pass by. On the northeast corner a bank’s employees distribute new account brochures and trinkets to pedestrians.
On the southwest corner, a MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER holds a sign: “Mumia is innocent. Seth Williams is a (****). Free Mumia”. I hold a sign: “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!” Some MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTERS chant slogans as Mumia Abu-Jamal’s voice booms from loud speakers.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: We should move over to the other corner so the people who stop at the light can see us.
ME: Sure. Watch the cars. You know some of them probably want to run us down.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: Right.
I move to the opposite corner with the MUMIA ABU JAMAL SUPPORTER. We hold our signs aloft and smile when drivers honk at us and nod their approval. When they don’t, we vigorously shake our signs.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: We have to hold them higher.
ME: I need to go to the gym.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: What?
ME: My arms are tired already.
We laugh. A PEDESTRIAN pauses, then stops in front of me.
PEDESTRIAN: What does Mumia Abu-Jamal have to do with the bank?
I walk with the PEDESTRIAN.
PEDESTRIAN: It’s confusing.
ME: Sorry. Would you like to hear about Mumia Abu-Jamal? He was wrongly convicted and incarcerated, and–
PEDESTRIAN: I know who he is. He’s a cop killer.
ME: Sir, he’s not. He’s–
PEDESTRIAN: A cop killer.
The PEDESTRIAN quickly walks away, and I turn back, toward the crosswalk. TWO AMSTERDAM TOURISTS walk toward me. They smile and read my sign. I meet them halfway and walk them through the crosswalk.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: This is interesting.
ME: Definitely. Are you tourists?
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Yes.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: Who is this man people are shouting about?
ME: Mumia Abu-Jamal.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: What does he have to do with the bank?
ME: Nothing. The bank is a different group. Where are you from?
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Amsterdam.
ME: Fab city.
They nod yes.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: We like it too.
ME: How is Philadelphia treating you?
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: It’s good, and pretty. We don’t have much time.
We step up to the curb and I rest. They pause.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Do you live here?
ME: Close by.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: Could you tell us more about your protest?
ME: How much time do you have?
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: We have a few minutes.
ME: In short, Mumi Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: What did he do?
ME: Nothing. He was falsely accused of killing a policeman. Total sham trial. Witnesses backed out of their stories, irregular procedures for evidence. Awful.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: Where is he now?
ME: In prison. For life.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Where?
ME: In this state, in Pennsylvania. The entire ordeal has been an egregious–terrible–injustice.
A motorist honks loudly at Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporters, and gives a fist of support. I hold up my sign and smile.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: And you think it is because he’s Black?
ME: No. I know it’s because the legal system is inherently racist, and this country has serious problems with racism.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Is it not better here now? You have a President who is Black.
ME: We do. But one man doesn’t change the power structure in this country. Don’t get me wrong–President Obama’s election is a sign, but of what I’m not so sure.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: There is still a lot of racism?
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: It’s nice you can yell out here.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: Yes.
ME: It truly is, and because of that, I’m one of the most patriotic people I know.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Really?
ME: I don’t think I could yell and scream like this in just about any other country in the world, not in this body anyway.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Oh. Maybe you’re right.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: But now, the government can watch you. With the internet and the cameras.
ME: They’ve always watched us. People are just waking up. This country is becoming more like a military state each day.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: I’ll look up information about him when we get home.
ME: Great. I think it’s easier for Europeans to talk about racism here than it is for white Americans.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: I understand what you’re saying. Every country has its problems.
ME: And its blind spots. Paris has a street named after Mumia, but France doesn’t want to deal with Algerians. France knows it was wrong, and they try to shut down their protests.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: And Germany doesn’t like to confront the Holocaust.
ME: I know. And neither does the Netherlands, much less the whole Afrikaaner crazy people in South Africa thing.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: Yes. We do have this too, this…
ME: Blind spot.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Blind spot.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: Blind spot. We have to start to move now.
ME: Where’re you headed?
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: The Liberty Bell.
ME: Don’t forget to visit the President’s House. It’s right next to it.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: OK. Thank you.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO: We don’t want to run out of time. There’s so much to see in this area.
ME: Lots. Philadelphia’s one of our oldest cities. Just remember that the U.S. government started here.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Right. That’s why we want to see the Liberty Bell.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST TWO checks her watch.
ME: You’re fine. You’re less than two blocks away. There’s a big Visitor’s Center with great maps. It’s right across from the President’s House.
I point down Market Street toward the Liberty Bell and The President’s House.
AMSTERDAM TOURIST ONE: Thank you. We’ll look up Mumia Abu-Jamal on the Internet.
ME: Fab. Spread the word.
They walk away. The MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER walks over to me.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: That looked like a long conversation.
ME: They were nice. Tourists from Amsterdam.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: What were you talking about?
ME: Democracy, I think.
I run to my car, and successfully avoid an overzealous meter person hovering nearby. I start my car, then honk my horn as I pass the MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTERS. They wave, and hold their Mumia signs even higher.
AND THE DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT CONTINUES…..