March 2001 - C. Clark Kissinger: Journalist, Political Activist
On March 5, C. Clark Kissinger was released from three months in the federal detention center in Brooklyn. His crime? Fighting for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal!
Clark has been a journalist and political activist since the early 1960s. “In an earlier life,” as he puts it, “I was National Secretary of Students for a Democratic Society and organized the first March on Washington against the war on Vietnam in 1965.” So Clark has been on the government’s shit list for a long, long time.
In recent years, Clark has been one of the leading writers and activists in support of condemned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. So it was no surprise when Clark was scooped up along with 95 other people at a demonstration for Mumia at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia on July 3, 1999. What happened after that is quite instructive.
Clark was issued a summons by a federal Park Ranger (complete with Smokey-the-Bear hat) for “failure to obey a lawful order.” This is a federal Class-B misdemeanor, and is roughly equivalent to a speeding ticket. Most people just checked “guilty” and mailed it in with a fine. But Clark asked for his day in court.
When Clark and seven other went to trial, the judge not only found him guilty and fined him, but put him on one year of supervised probation with the added requirements that he turn in his passport and be restricted from traveling outside his home federal court district for one year. In addition, contact with convicted felons (i.e. Mumia) was forbidden.
The purpose of these restrictions was to stop Clark from continuing his traveling and speaking on Mumia’s behalf.
But Clark is hard to stop. On August 1, 2000, in Philadelphia during the Republican Convention (the “Executioners’ Ball”), there was a large rally in support of Mumia and against the death penalty held in Thomas Paine Plaza in downtown Philadelphia. This was part of a whole day of action against the criminal injustice system.
C. Clark Kissinger was not supposed to be there. He had asked the judge for permission to go and speak, but was denied. Yet someone looking amazingly like C. Clark Kissinger, and introduced as his twin brother D. Clark Kissinger, did speak to a cheering crowd. “D. Clark” denounced George Bush and the way the death penalty is administered in this country, and called on people to fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
As a result, Clark was sentenced to jail for 3 months. During this time he was thrown in “the hole” three times, had his mail censored, and had his phone calls cut off when he did radio interviews from the inmates’ phones.
As far as we can tell, Clark is first person to be sent to jail by the federal government since socialist leader Eugene Debs in 1919. His crime was speaking out against World War I. In rejecting Clark’s appeal, Federal Judge Bruce Kauffman warned that if Kissinger’s lawlessness went unpunished, it “would lead inexorably to anarchy.” Wow, we sure wouldn’t want that!
Support for Clark has rolled in from many quarters. He has been nominated for the PEN/Newman‘s Own First Amendment Award. In addition, an open letter support him, signed by Terry Bisson, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Norman Mailer, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich and others sums up: “It is not polite, sanctioned, or permitted speech that the First Amendment is intended to protect. It is political dissent-and dissidents.”
Clark is out now and back in the movement to save Mumia-only still on probation and under virtual house arrest until April 21. Asked what he wanted to say to Rage fans, Clark said, “The truth won’t set you free, but it will sure make you angry! Every so often an issue comes along that compels us all to act. The frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of those issues. I hope everyone will get Terry Bisson’s new book On a Move, which tells Mumia’s story. Then when Mumia finally gets his day in federal court in Philadelphia, we have to be there and make that town rock.”
Much information on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is available at the web site of Clark’s organization, Refuse & Resist!, at www.refuseandresist.org.