July 12, 2007 - Issue 237
Lynne Stewart And Ralph Poynter:
Stalwart Cohorts In The People's Struggle
Keeping It Real
By Larry Pinkney
In these days of systemic US corporate fascism, the pathetic spinelessly opportunistic Democrats, and spit-in-your-face Republicans there is to be found in the persons of Lynne Stewart and Ralph Poynter, a breath of revolutionary fresh air that has been actively blowing inside this nation for at least four decades now. Allow me please to share it with you, for this is as Ralph Poynter and Lynne Stewart would say, "The tale of two stories;" their stories.
Few have not heard of the fiery, passionate, and yet gentle & well reasoned legal defenses that Lynne Stewart, as a true people's lawyer, has provided for members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, the Weather Underground, the May 19th Communist organization, American protesters at the presence in New York of the US-backed South African apartheid government's Rugby team, Muslims unjustly targeted by US authorities, and certainly neither last nor least, for her enormously successful defense of Black American Larry Davis, against the racist brutality of the New York City police department.
Never far away was Ralph Poynter, providing Lynne with inspiration, crucial case research, and logistical data which insured the best and most effective legal defense possible for those who were being defended by Lynne. Ralph Poynter came out of a highly politicized Black American family in Pittsburgh, PA where the name of Paul Robeson, among others "was revered." Ralph's father was a union organizer and worked in the steel mills. At the tender age of five Ralph's father began taking him to union meetings. The horrible social and economic inequities of white racism in America were something Ralph directly learned about while growing up at home.
But let's start somewhat from the beginning. How did a then fairly sheltered, young twenty-two year old white American New York City public school librarian evolve into a highly politicized, no-nonsense, passionate people's lawyer who to this very day incurs the ire and consternation of the US government? How did a young Black American man from a politicized family in Pittsburgh cross paths with this mild mannered white American public school librarian in New York City? What really happened and how were two revolutionaries created from such a seemingly innocuous scenario?
The year was 1963. The so-called "civil rights" movement in America was beginning to come to fruition and the cold war between the US and the former Soviet Union was in full force. African liberation movements were forming and waging independence struggles against the colonial powers on the African continent. Malcolm X was alive and preaching in New York City and elsewhere. John F. Kennedy was the US President and white racism was, like today, running rampant in America.
It was against this back drop that the paths of then school librarian Lynne Stewart and then newly appointed school teacher Ralph Poynter were about to cross at Harlem's all Black New York City PS 175 [Henry Highland Garnet] elementary school. Ralph Poynter, then a recent graduate from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and newly appointed school teacher at Harlem's PS 175 in New York City, saw the deplorable physical and social conditions under which Black students were being miseducated and setup to fail. Thus, he began to openly raise embarrassing and important questions addressing these issues, but to no avail. Most of the virtually all white teaching staff were appalled at Ralph's audacity in raising questions at teacher's meetings and his demanding an accounting from his fellow teachers and the school administration. Thus, Ralph was compelled to do the unthinkable: he began passing out informational fliers and organizing in the community. There was however, one lone white voice at PS 175 who persisted in openly raising similar questions to the consternation of most of her colleagues. That lone voice was the young, school librarian Lynne Stewart. About librarian Lynne Stewart's dogged political persistence Ralph was to comment, "Who is that white lady in the back with her hand up?"
Ralph, who was but a few years older than his school librarian colleague Lynne Stewart, was not new to community organizing. As Ralph commented re his organizing, "You never cut it loose." Lynne was intensely observing and becoming ever more radicalized and politicized by those events at PS 175. Ultimately Ralph was fired from PS 175 for his efforts, but as a result of sustained community support was rehired, notwithstanding a brutal physical beating that was inflicted on him by New York City police who were not surprisingly, in opposition to the Black community's efforts to attain a decent education for its children. Nevertheless, an important victory had been won by the Black community at that Harlem school, and Lynne Stewart's direct, political education and radicalization had begun in earnest. As Lynne Stewart stated, her own "intellectual curiosity combined with what [she saw] happen to Ralph" and the Black community around the battles at PS 175 were to have an enormous influence on her. As Lynne puts it, "I loved everybody who fought back and in so doing kept their sanity." The once fairly sheltered elementary school librarian would never be the same again, nor would any who came in contact with her. Lynne was now studying many works including those of John Brown, Booker T. Washington, Mao Zedong, and WEB Du Bois.
Ralph continued his many community political activities including personally accompanying and introducing brother Malcolm X to residents of the East Elmhurst neighborhood in New York City, and actively working on a host of political issues that impacted the various Black communities throughout New York and elsewhere.
Lynne continued as a now politicized school librarian from 1963 to 1971, but the relationship between Lynne and Ralph, as active cohorts, had already begun even if it was not totally consciously known to them at the time. When Lynne left PS 175 she began politically organizing in the Black/Puerto Rican/white neighborhoods of New York. As Lynne and Ralph continued their political activities ranging from union organizing, to struggling in the community re justice issues, and demonstrating their opposition to the Vietnam war, etc., Lynne states that "the early 1970s women's consciousness movement" also played a key role in her development and politics.
A primary personal mentor and political nurturer for Ralph was the activist, organizer and esteemed elder Queen Mother Moore, who encouraged, shocked, and politically educated him in so many areas.
So why were these two people [Lynne Stewart and Ralph Poynter] born as revolutionary defenders of the people? They weren't. They developed into revolutionary defenders of the people.
Now fast forward with me, if you will, from the 1960s through the 1990s, to February 2005. On February 10th, 2005, attorney Lynne Portia Stewart, after having been targeted for many years by the US Government for her vigorous defense of the rights of Black and other people of color, found herself convicted of a despicably and conspicuously bogus "conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism" charge. Standing with Lynne Stewart was her cohort of many years Ralph Poynter. Just as importantly standing in solidarity with the former librarian were and continue to be hundreds of thousands of freedom and justice loving people in America and around the world.
Perhaps the most important miscalculation made by the US Department of [In] Justice and the GW Bush regime's "White" House in the prosecution of Lynne Stewart is the utter failure on their part to understand that it was not Lynne's law degree which she earned from Rutgers University that gave her credibility: it was, is, and will continue to be--the love and deep respect of the people--Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White from whence her credibility and strength is derived. No court in America can boast such credentials. This is something that can never be taken away from Lynne Stewart by any court or government. What motivated and continues to motivate Lynne and Ralph is a very special kind of "revolutionary love" for the people to which the late Ernesto "Che" Guevara often referred. It is that very love that today in 2007, finds Lynne and Ralph still speaking out on behalf of the imprisoned Black Panther veterans known as the San Francisco 8, on behalf of wrongfully imprisoned Native activist Leonard Peltier, on behalf of Mumia Abul-Jamal, Jamil Al-Amin [H. Rap Brown], on behalf of the US Government's victims of hurricane Katrina, and on behalf of the down trodden everywhere in the human family. As Lynne Stewart recently said, "Your politics carry over in whatever you do." Her life and that of Ralph Poynter demonstrate this.
No government or court can revoke or give Lynne Stewart or Ralph Poynter that which they have already repeatedly earned: the title of being stalwart cohorts in the people's struggle. No government or court can either give to or revoke from Lynne Stewart what she is: The People's Lawyer. She has proven consistently that one cannot truely represent the people without understanding who the people really are. Or as Marvin Gaye would sing, "Ainít nothing like the real thing." We must keep it real by nurturing that which is the best in all of us, remembering that as Black Americans there are many more cohorts in the people's struggle who may even now be being developed, honed, and coming into fruition.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist Larry Pinkney is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Click here to contact Mr. Pinkney.