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Sunday, December 04, 2005


Home again, and the tension has broken ...

In all of the days leading up to this one, I've not known just what to expect of our San Quentin Prison gate protest.

The Stanley Tookie Williams case has shadowed my life for about five years, ever since meeting Barbara Becnel and through her, moving closer to the prison and judicial systems than I could ever have anticipated. In the abstract, capital punishment was indefensible to me -- but after meeting Stan -- it was no longer an abstraction, but had living breathing corporeal reality -- all leading up to this day.

I've wondered over the years how it would feel when someone I'd come to know was facing the death penalty? Wondered how Barbara would fare in the aftermath -- when the cause of saving this life had dominated her own over the past ten years? She is stronger than anyone I know. A statuesque black woman of unique beauty and brilliance. But would she be strong enough for what this week may bring?

Today I'd committed myself to silence. There were lots of people who might be anxious to be on camera and to make statements. I mentioned to my friend, Marilyn, that I would not risk my position by being too visible here at the prison. I insisted (when she protested) that there would surely be no pressure brought against me for stands I may take on my own time, but that I wanted to be sensitive to public image in light of my work and the doors that were just now opening up to so many dreams I've held for so long.

I listened for a while -- sure that anything I might have said would surely be expressed by others and that it wouldn't be necessary for me to be more than one more supportive smiling face in the crowd. But it didn't happen. I hadn't counted on the fact that I would be the only person in that crowd with the distinction of having actually met Stanley Williams, and could speak firsthand of what that might mean in this context.

I asked for the mike and all of those cameras suddenly turned toward me. It was not intimidating. It was as though all I could see were the faces beyond them. I don't remembers my exact words, but whatever it was must have been effective since those faces smiled and heads nodded in agreement and it all felt right.

Country Joe Macdonald sang, Paul read from Walt Whitman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Justice Brennan. But we were from the old revolution for social change. Beautiful young dreadlocked Michael Franti appeared from the edge of the crowd with his lovely little boy, bare feet despite chill and the hard pebbles underfoot, guitar slung carelessly over his shoulder, and I knew that the baton has been passed and that our revolution continues toward changing this recalcitrant world! His music was all the more inspiring in his presence. I've only heard his voice on the air. Joe and I exchanged knowing glances and relayed them to Paul. The revolution is in good hands.

I was glad to have thrown caution to the winds and said my piece. I won't watch the newscasts tonight. Whatever words I spoke did their job and to try to edit myself at this point would serve no purpose. I just don't want to know.

It was a good day.

I'm hopeful.

Photo: Singer Michael Franti whose songs were the highlight of the experience for me. His lyrics were chosen for relevance and were a strong reminder of the period in history when Paul Sawyer, Joe Macdonald, and tomorrow's vigil participant, Wavy Gravy, held the same magic and power for change that is emanating today trom a new generation. Was reminded that I, too, was one of them.

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