Monday, February 22, 2021

Student Power and Mental Liberation: Mumia’s Journey to Higher Ed from Inside

(This article is featured in the Jamal Journal, issue #1)

(PHOTOS: Above and below, Mike Africa Jr. speaks at UC Santa Cruz in support of COLA.)

Student Power and Mental Liberation: Mumia’s Journey to Higher Ed from Inside

Written by The UC Santa Cruz Mumia Abu-Jamal Solidarity Collective 

In 2019, Mumia Abu-Jamal was accepted into the University of California, Santa Cruz as a Ph.D. student with the History of Consciousness department. He continues the radical lineage of Black revolutionaries like Huey P. Newton, whose 1981 thesis is touted as a History of Consciousness accomplishment, and Dr. Angela Y. Davis, a professor emeritus of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies. 

Mumia, however, has found many obstacles in engaging with his coursework and has continuously been restricted access to lecture notes, the ability to attend lectures and discussions, and materials. He has been institutionally abandoned since being accepted into the program. Much of the labor of supporting Mumia has come from other students and organizers part of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, like Johanna Fernandez, associate professor of History at Baruch College, City University of New York, who played a key role in helping Mumia get into the program in 2019. Mark Taylor, Professor of Theology at Princeton University also helped facilitate the application process. 

The department may be progressive in what it teaches, but has in many ways untethered itself from a practice of radical and abolitionist politics by failing to give attention, structural institutional support and aid to Mumia Abu-Jamal as he studies from his currently incarcerated position. We have requested and are ready to demand a subsidized graduate student assistantship that will function as Mumia’s eyes and ears on campus and purchase his books in advance of the start of the semester. We also expect the department and the University to initiate a conversation with the PA Department of Corrections to make sure that Mumia is given access to the technology he needs to connect to the classroom. 

UC Santa Cruz celebrates itself as the “authority on questioning authority,” while simultaneously brutally repressing student and worker struggles. Since Mumia’s acceptance, we have seen a graduate student movement, demanding a cost of living adjustment (COLA), and several service worker’s strikes. These have  been met with intense policing and surveillance. After a conversation with UC Santa Cruz students and Professor Fernandez, Mumia shared a statement of solidarity where he compared the COLA movement to the communist sharecroppers movement in Alabama during the 1930s. Referencing Robin D.G Kelley’s book Hammer and Hoe, Mumia says “what unites these two periods is the presence of state violence against people truly trying to live better lives, in [the graduate students’] case, trying to pay rent.”

In a similar show of support, Mike Africa Jr spoke at the COLA picket line in Santa Cruz, saying, “It is a crime for any system to give people a wage that is not liveable… if you can’t live off the wages that they give, it is time to find a new way. It is time to find a new way and it is time to withdraw your support from that system.”

In the same way that the courts continuously expose their corruption at each step of Mumia’s case, the colonial, neoliberal and racist institutional nature of UC Santa Cruz is also exposed. If our demands that the institution meet Mumia’s needs continue to go unmet, perhaps this is another moment to “withdraw [our] support” and “find a new way.” Formerly and currently incarcerated people seeking knowledge in their cells, at universities, and in their communities teach us how to struggle for, as Mumia recently said, “mental liberation and student liberation.” Mumia simply asks to study, just as any other student. 

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