Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Person of the Year

Ed Snowden?


He took a dump and he left.

Good for him for getting out but now we're all dependent upon the hoarders of the information to oh-so slowly release it.

Miley Cyrus?

She's certainly replaced Britney Spears as most talked about celebrity of the year and done so without needing to seek treatment or care -- at least so far.

But while many found her various actions interesting or funny, we didn't find them that worthy.


The Mars Land Rover was astounding.

But no.

Political prisoner Lynne Stewart is the person of the year.

Too hot for the Glenn Greenwalds to write or blog about, Lynne is the woman who gave her all.

Even before Howard Zinn's first copy of A People's History of the United States was ever published, Lynne had already become The People's Attorney.

She was there for so many in their time of need.

She didn't run out of fear, she didn't waiver.

She was a defense attorney and proud to be one, proud to be the part of the justice system advocating for innocence, for understanding, for compassion.

She was born in Brooklyn but she spent her formative years in Queens. In the sixties, Lynne was a librarian at Harlem's PS 175 when she met substitute teacher Ralph Poynter.  He explained in 2012, "I have lived with her, fought with her and beside her, and loved her for almost 50 years."

And it really was one of the great romantic stories of the left.  Lynne, an Anglo White woman, and Ralph, an African-American man, meet in the mid-60s, at a Harlem school, fall in love and make a life and family together.

Ralph speaks a lot today of Lynne's strength.   She's spoken a lot of Ralph's strength.  Of how it made her want to become more active, of how it helped her go for the dream of becoming an attorney.  In 1977, she began practicing law in the State of New York.  They gave each other strength.

Mumia Abu-Jamal observes:

Lynne and Ralph ran --  for over 30 years --  a law firm of last resort, for the poor, working-class and political people who stood up to and resisted the Empire.

Now, in connection with the Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, Lynne allegedly broke a facially unconstitutional prison rule, and this became the pretext for jailing and disbarring one of the finest lawyers ever to walk the streets of the Big Apple.

What's he talking about?

To be person of the year, you need to be someone whose life sums up the times in which we live.

Lynne certainly does that.

She's in a federal prison now.

She's in a federal prison yet she broke no law.

For the 'crime' of issuing a press release, she is confined to a prison.  The 'crime' happened on Attorney General Janet Reno's watch.  Reno has her detractors who think she was far too tough as Attorney General.  She also has her supporters who see her as a moderate.  No one saw her as 'soft.'  Reno had her Justice Department review what happened.  There was no talk of a trial because there was no crime.  No law was broken.

The Justice Department imposes guidelines -- not written by Congress, so not laws -- on attorneys.

These guidelines are what Lynne supposedly broke -- not laws -- when she issued the press release to Reuters.

Reno's Justice Department did not try to prosecute Lynne.

Janet Reno had the brains to know you don't go to prison for breaking a guideline.

So, under Reno, Lynne was made to review the guidelines and told not to break it again.

That was her 'punishment' under Janet Reno.

Bully Boy Bush comes into office and the already decided incident becomes a way for Attorney General John Ashcroft to try to build a name for himself. He goes on David Letterman's show to announce, after 9-11, that they're prosecuting Lynne for terrorism.

Eventually tossed in prison?

Even Bully Boy Bush allowed Lynne to remain out on appeal.  It's only when Barack Obama becomes president that Lynne gets tossed in prison.  It's only under Barack that the US Justice Depart disputes the judge's sentence and demands a harsher one (under the original sentence Lynne would be out now).

Lynne is person of the year for many reasons.  She certainly is representative of the American people in a time when the government tramples over Americans' civil rights and disregards the Constitution and think 'legal' is whatever the White House says it is.

She's person of the year also due to the fact that, as the Center for Disease Control notes, "12.7 million people learn they have cancer."

For Lynne, the cancer emerged after the charges.  This was part of the reason the Bully Boy Bush administration didn't demand she immediately begin serving her sentence but instead were willing to let her go through the appeals process and seek treatment for the cancer.

Barack, whose own (White) mother died of cancer, was far less sympathetic or kind.  We think of him as the more brutal Bush -- the Pubic Bush, if you will.

Now the cancer has returned.

In September, on Black Agenda Radio (airs each Monday at 4:00 pm EST on the Progressive Radio Network),  Glen Ford spoke with attorney David Gespass about efforts to help Lynne.

Glen Ford:  People's lawyer Lynne Stewart continues to fight for a compassionate release from prison where she's serving a ten year sentence for zealously defending her client.  Stewart is suffering Stage IV breast cancer but the Obama administration has turned down all of her pleas to be released to her family and doctors.  In Birmingham, Alabama, we spoke with David Gespass, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild.

David Gespass:  My initial position was she never should have been convicted in the first place and certainly should not have gotten the kind of draconian sentence she did.  But beyond that, I think even under the old guidelines, she was entitled to compassionate release given the severe nature of her health and the cost to the government to provide care that would otherwise be provided with her family at home.  Given the new guidelines -- and I think the only possible reason not to release her would be just pure vindictiveness. 

Glen Ford:  Lynne Stewart suffering Stage IV breast cancer is certainly no danger to anybody's community.

David Gespass:  And she was never much of a danger to begin with other than the fact that she was a really vigorous advocate for the clients that she represented.  At this point, she can't practice law because of the conviction.  There is nothing that could cause any harm by her release and an enormous amount of harm could be caused by her staying in prison.

Glen Ford:  Lynne Stewart is in prison because she was a zealous defender of her client.

David Gespass:  That's exactly right.

Glen Ford:  Isn't that the lawyer's job?

David Gespass:  Absolutely.  And I think her prosecution was a warning to defense lawyers that they should not do their jobs as vigorously as they are required Constitutionally to do -- particularly in cases involving allegations of so-called 'terrorism.'

Which is another reason Lynne is the person of the year.

This administration goes after whistle-blowers.  A corrupt administration fears truth tellers.

As Ralph Poynter explained in June of 2010:

Those who have the courage to speak truth are always in danger. Lynne Stewart has the courage to speak truth at a time and place and where denial is king.  And she is in danger of suffering a long slow death in the US penal system.  All that stands between her and this slow death is courage in the judicial system. All that stands between her and torture in a penal medical system is courage on the part of medical professionals. At a time when courage is dwindling we all must support courage and courageous people where and whenever they rise up. America needs courageous people as much now as in any time in history. 

In her late 30s, Lynne graduated law school. She was nearly forty and a lot of people in their forties with a law degree were probably eyeing an early out and hills of gold.  Not Lynne.

Lynne wanted to be in the court room, she wanted to pit her considerable skills and intellect against a prosecutor and argue the law.  Of course, she wanted to win for her clients.  But she also had a belief that lawyers who really care change the system just by participating.

She had hopes, she had dreams.

And she won some cases and she lost some cases.

The losses always weighed heavy on her and she always took it in a what-should-I-have-done-differently manner.  Lynne's never been one to pass up a chance to learn something new.

And an attorney like that, one who gets better with each case, when she's a defense attorney?  That's probably one of the most threatening things to a corrupt government.

Lynne was a danger . . . if you didn't believe in freedom.

Lynne was a danger . . . if you were opposed to justice.

Now, though she's broken no law, she's locked away in a federal prison.

Last August, Oren Yaniv (New York Daily News) reported, "The 73-year-old disbarred attorney was recently given 18 months to live after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer."

And yet she remains imprisoned.

In November, Lynne wrote:

Some of you have written asking where I get the strength to keep on.  My  simple and truthful and sincere and heartfelt answer is that I get it from the depth of love and respect from my beloved partner, Ralph, my dear children and their children, and  from all the people, that stay in touch with me, yes.    I receive regular and wonderful mail from all segments of the movement, from the young asking for advice "on being a lawyer like you", from octogenarians, nonagenarians and 70 + who have given their political all for their lifetimes and continue to do so, from the lawyers in the Guild, from the poets and the songwriters, the rappers and  the writers whose art is not separated from our movement for change -- So Many More. So impossible to include everyone but know that even if I am slow to answer, I read every word I receive and it sustains me and strengthens me and makes it possible to face each new day.  While the political landscape is gloomy at best, I always remember that in the 50′s, no-one imagined that the 60′s were right around the corner !  Onward !!

Barack could order a compassionate release in a minute.

Lynne committed no crime.  She has no history of violence.

She has cancer and its killing her.

This native New Yorker who rarely left her home state for more than a week's time has been confined to a Texas prison.

That's another reason she's person of the year.

Prison is not supposed to remove you from physical contact with your family.

But that's what the prison industrial complex now does.  Instead of being confined in a prison close to your home, you're taken a distance away.  The system that claims it wants to rehabilitate you is in fact attempting to weaken your family ties.

Lynne's an extreme example of that.  Her home is New York City.  No offense to Fort Worth, Texas, but why the hell is Lynne imprisoned there?  Because that was as far from New York as the government could take her?  There were no empty cells in Alaska?

Lynne is America.

She is us at our best.

Fighting, believing we can make life better.

Participating in the system because you think you can make a difference.

Her attitude is the reason we get out of bed in the morning.

What's being done to her?

That's America as well, the dark side, the side ruled by fear.

Lynne's not a terrorist.

But we can be -- and often have been -- tricked to fear.

And that trick is what fueled the unfair and unjust verdict against Lynne.

It's what feeds and fuels genocides, it's what breeds hatred.

These are very difficult days for Lynne.

But she keeps fighting and she keeps smiling.

And if you pay attention, she breaks your heart a little each day because you wonder how can she keep hoping?

So many would give up, refuse to get out of their bed or leave their cell.

But that's not Lynne and it's never been Lynne.

She'll fight to the end because she believes there's a chance things can get better.

Her life is the story of America.

A compassionate release means a better America.

Whatever happens, she has exemplified the country and its messy search for identity and meaning.


If Lynne's going to get a compassionate release, these are the three numbers to call:

President Obama-202 456 1111,

Att.Gen.Holder-202 353 1555

B.O.P. Dir. Samuels-202 307-3250/3062

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