Washington DC rally demands compassionate release of Lynne Stewart
_Leonard Peltier and other political prisoners send messages of support _
Washington, DC – 50 people gathered at Columbia Heights Civic Plaza, July 12, to demand compassionate release for Lynne Stewart. Music and speakers rallied the crowd, reaching thousands of passersby at this busy square during evening rush hour. Undaunted by rain, protesters passed out hundreds of flyers and collected petition signatures urging the release of Stewart, imprisoned on bogus terrorism charges for her work as a defense attorney. Although Stewart has stage four cancer and qualifies for early release based on compassionate grounds, the Bureau of Prisons has refused to release her.
Speakers traveled from New York, Boston, Minnesota and Tennessee to join the growing effort to free Lynne Stewart. The D.C. rally follows actions earlier this week in Los Angeles and New York City and comes in the midst of an ongoing vigil in front of the White House. 23,000 people have signed the petition for her release and supporters are urged to continue collecting signatures and making calls to President Obama and to Attorney General Holder.
A drummer, a guitarist and singers played throughout the rally, performing the Cuban song, Guantanamera, and U.S. civil rights song, Eyes on the Prize. Spirits were high as protesters chanted, “What do we want? Free Lynne Stewart! When do we want it? Now!”
Stewart's husband, Ralph Poynter, opened the rally saying Stewart “knew what her job was: bringing truth and justice to those who never had truth and justice. When I say support those who support us, I'm talking about Bradley Manning. I'm talking about all those people who dared tell us the truth. I'm talking about Julian Assange, he dared to tell us the truth. Snowden, he dared to tell us the truth. And we have Lynne Stewart who dared tell us the truth and we must dare to support her.” He urged people to keep up the fight, “So dare to join me every day all day in front of that White House supporting myself, supporting you, supporting truth, supporting the history that we claim is a just history of a just people. Let us show the world that we have not been intimidated by this government that kills, murders, occupies and destroys around the world.”
Leonard Peltier, a political prisoner from the American Indian Movement, sent a statement that was read at the rally. Another powerful message came from Mutulu Shakur, in jail for liberating Assata Shakur. “My dear sister Lynne, the total disrespect of her personage enrages us. Our lack of ability to affect change in her condition continues to highlight the sad state of our abilities to muster political capital to alter the state of affairs. It begs the question, where can new find the process that is at least more productive than the present one... We have always fought and raised the slogan that health care is a human right. Are there no human rights for my sister, Lynne?”
Kazi Toure, former political prisoner from the United Freedom Front, came from Boston to address the rally. “That brings us back to the struggle that Malcolm was pushing for, the one of human rights, when we were dealing with civil rights. Its 40 years later, and we're still here talking about, can we get some human rights. Animals have more rights than we do. We're gonna have to do something to really save this sister's life – more than vigils, more than signing petitions, we have to do something more, or she's going to die in prison.”
Jess Sundin, international solidarity activist and grand jury resister from Minnesota, also addressed the crowd. “We need to fight back against this injustice, and we need to win. We need to fight like the 30,000 hunger striking prisoners in California. We need to fight like those who beat back apartheid in South Africa – heroes that the U.S. government called terrorists in the 80s, but history will remember as heroes. We need to win, like Carlos Montes, who beat prosecutors’ attempts to jail him for 18 years, spending not one day in prison. We need to win like Assata Shakur, who though she’s on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list, is living free in Cuba today. Like Carlos, like Assata, like Mandela, Lynne Stewart is a hero. It’s time to bring her home!”
Preston Gilmore came from Clarksville, Tennessee, and pledged to mobilize Students for a Democratic Society to join the growing struggle for Lynne Stewart's freedom. He said, “Lynne stands against anti-Muslim bigotry and against imperialism and endless wars. Currently, the U.S. government is waging a campaign of fear to criminalize and imprison Muslims and Arab-Americans at home, in an effort to justify and promote U.S. war and occupation in the Middle East and Asia. They are attempting to deter us from carrying forward the struggle against war and racism and advancing the movement. However, all we have to do is look to Lynne Stewart’s life of selfless struggle to realize the necessity of struggling against this system of injustice.”
To support Lynne Stewart, Sign the petition at LynneStewart.org and call to urge these offices to grant her compassionate release:
White House, President Barack Obama: 202-456-1414 Attorney General Eric Holder: 202-514-2001 Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels: 202-307-3250