Monday, February 2, 2009

Mugabe's NYC supporters

The New York City Council has been the site of some outrageous misbehavior over the years, including the 2003 fatal shooting of a councilman by a frustrated political opponent. (You can read about that here and here and here). Among the most outrageous official acts of the City Council was a special ceremony it held at City Hall in honor of Zimbabwe's murderous dictator Robert Mugabe. The person responsible for that outrage was Councilman Charles Barron. (Read here and here.)

In the years since 2002, Barron's admiration for Mugabe has apparently not been dimmed by Zimbabweans' suffering, as evidenced here:

Barron's undying love for Mugabe is shared by his longtime chief aide Viola Plummer. By way of background, you may remember her as the person formally expelled by the Council for threatening a Councilman with assassination at a press conference at City Hall. That made for entertaining political theater, but in light of the actual assassination of a Councilman at City Hall a few years earlier, the Council found her threat to be beyond the pale of acceptable discourse and kicked her out. She subsequently entered the Council chamber in defiance of this ruling and was physically removed from the chamber. (Read here and here.)

Plummer subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the City over her expulsion, the status of which I do not know. But I do know a few things about Plummer which you may find interesting.

Plummer is one of the leaders of a political organization called the December 12 Movement, a major part of whose mission is to support Robert Mugabe. They organize on behalf of the Mugabe regime, conducting meetings and rallies in New York City, such as the one in July 2008 at Harlem's Abysinian Baptist Church described very effectively in this article from the Zimbabwe Times: "Close shave with Mugabe’s Harlem allies" by Jane Taruvinga. Read that article and take a look at this video of the meeting taken by a Zimbabwe Times staffer:

Here are some excerpts from Jane Taruvinga's article:

“Mugabe is right, U.S. hands-off Zimbabwe” was the headline that caught my eye when a friend gave me a flyer which she picked from the Abyssinian Church in Harlem, New York. On the flyer was the name of an organization, the December 12th Movement. A telephone number was listed and I called it. When a woman answered the phone I asked her to clarify what the flyer meant.

“We are having an event on Thursday July 3rd at 6.30pm” she advised, somewhat impatiently. “Come there and you will find out what we mean.” The line went dead.

Prior to this incident, I had watched and listened with horror to the news coverage of Zimbabwe over the last three months. Most of my news sources have been family, relatives and friends in Zimbabwe as well as online newspapers run by Zimbabweans, because only state run newspapers are allowed in today’s Zimbabwe. They informed me that most schools in the countryside outside the cities were deserted as the teachers had fled. Teachers were being targeted for brutal victimisation by President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.

Some of them had acted as polling agents in the March 29 elections, which Mugabe lost. I read the heartbreaking story of a headmaster who, fearing for his life had fled the school, but had returned after being assured of his safety. A week after his return, he was kidnapped by Zanu-PF militiamen. After two days, his worried wife found his Identity card, tie, shoes, and pair of trousers on the veranda of their home.
She went to the police and was told to go to the local mortuary. His body was there. I have seen pictures of people with their faces smashed in, their backs raw and bones sticking out. I read about people whose homes had been burned; people who had been murdered in cold blood.

Though these events were taking place far away back in Zimbabwe, the stories were real to me because the names of the victims were familiar. These are names that, no matter where they are in the world, if Zimbabweans hear such names they immediately recognise them.
But in the comfort of my life here in New York, I thought I could switch on and off the horrific drama that was unfolding in Zimbabwe when it suited me. Then a week ago I received a phone call that my elderly parents in their seventies had been beaten up by the notorious Zanu-PF youths, led by members of the army. Mugabe’s war had come too close to home. I was distraught with worry.

I spent sleepless nights calling my sisters back at home, trying to persuade them to go to our rural village. They were reluctant to go, because in the rural areas far from the prying eyes of the world, Zanu-PF’s militiamen were unleashing an orgy of violence and intimidation. The rural peasants were reliving the Chimurenga War of the 1970s. People were being rounded up and made to sing war songs. The opposition supporters (MDC) were paraded and forced to take turns beating each other up.

In our village, they went around beating up everyone, including a Mugabe supporter, my father. My father’s philosophy is simple. If people don’t vote for Mugabe, there will be war again. In past elections I threatened to withdraw the money that I sent home. Then I threatened not to speak to him if he went ahead and voted for Mugabe. But, when he became seriously ill and needed surgery, I forked out the US$500.00 required.

I have at my disposal in New York many news sources out of Zimbabwe. I remember telling my sisters on the phone that I had seen Tsvangirai’s new red campaign bus. I also told them of incidents that had happened outside Harare, which they did not know about. My family’s knowledge of what’s happening in Zimbabwe has been limited to what is passed on to them by word of mouth. Sometimes they will find out what happened weeks after an incident took place - like the beating of our sister-in-law’s cousin and his wife (both teachers) and their son.

When my sisters visited our sister-in-law they found out that she had just arrived from visiting the trio in hospital. They are still in hospital today, more than a month after the vicious assault.

It was against this background that I was driven by curiosity to find out who these supporters of Mugabe in New York were. I asked a friend who has a video camera to come along with me. My idea was not only to find out the identity of these supporters but also to capture them on video.

When we arrived at the Abyssinian Church the event was already in progress. The room was packed . . . I turned to the man seated next to me and asked him how he had found out about the meeting. He . . . pulled out a letter from WBAI. “I am a member,” he said with a grin.

I took the form from him. It was from WBAI, requesting members to send contributions. I handed it back to him.

“Don’t you listen to WBAI?” he asked me. “That’s where I got the information about this event, they announced it.”

Sure enough, I noticed something that had not occurred to me before. Most of the audience comprised WBAI listeners. I did an internship at the station a few years ago. WBAI . . . relies on contributions from listeners. These members have a lot of control over the program and if they don’t like what they hear, they call up to complain. When I went on air to read international news, which included reports about the bloody land invasions in Zimbabwe, the listeners called the station soon after I came off air. They called me names. . . .

(P)residing over . . . Thursday’s meeting was one Viola Plummer. She rallied against Human Rights Watch (and) Amnesty International, accusing them of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe. The MDC, she told her audience, was a front of the white people.

When a young black reporter asked her why Mugabe had banned all the NGOs, she replied that they were distributing food as well as the opposition pamphlets. What about Save the Children (UNCEF), the reporter asked. “They are all the same,” Plummer said, “including CARE.

As her audience cheered her on, she vowed to fight to the death. Trade unions in Zimbabwe were the most racist, she declared. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, of which Morgan Tsvangirai was secretary general, has an almost exclusively black membership. Plummer claimed that the international organizations in Zimbabwe were funded by the Bush administration and the British government.

To the people of Zimbabwe, Viola is a foreign dignitary. Over the last several years, she and her entourage have been the guests of Robert Mugabe’s government. In his book, Against the Grain, Geoffrey Nyarota [read here] says as Zanu-PF’s circle of friends in the international community diminished, the December 12 Movement of Harlem in New York shot to prominence in Harare.

“The head of the movement acquired an avant-garde name, Comrade Coltrane Chimurenga, to reinforce his revolutionary credentials,” Nyarota says. “Comrade Chimurenga and one Sister Viola Plummer undertook an annual pilgrimage from Harlem to Harare, their visits timed to coincide with Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations on April 18.

The delegation from Harlem was flown across the Atlantic and accommodated in the five-star Sheraton Hotel at taxpayers’ expense. After being feted, entertained and flown to exotic tourist attractions like the Victoria Falls, they were paraded at the Independence Day festivities.

“They inevitably granted so-called exclusive interviews to the Herald, the Sunday Mail and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s radio and television channels in which they extolled the virtues of the ruling party and the allegedly profound wisdom of its leaders. They told Zimbabwe’s long-suffering taxpayers what a good job their President was doing for the nation and urged them to support Zanu-PF unflinchingly.

“Soon after the land invasions in 2000, Comrade Chimurenga was quoted by the government media as having unreservedly endorsed the ‘Third Chimurenga’, or Third Revolution, whose centrepiece was the violent occupation of white-owned farms. In New York, Mugabe relied on the December 12 Movement to organise an occasional demonstration, even at short notice - rent-a-crowd events, as Bill Saidi aptly summed up their timely interventions - in support of Zimbabwe’s President and government.”

An editorial in the June 12, 2007, issue of the New York Daily News has this to say of Plummer. “Who is Viola Plummer? Let’s go to the record. In 1985, she stood trial with seven co-defendants on charges of plotting to crash out of prison two members of the gang that pulled off the 1981 Brink’s armored car robbery in which a guard and two cops were killed in Rockland County. “Acquitted of the most serious charges, other members of the group, including Plummer’s son Robert Taylor, were convicted of possessing weapons such as dynamite and machine guns. In the transcript of an undercover recording introduced at the trial, a leader of the bunch, Coltrane Chimurenga, instructed Taylor in the ways of armed robbery.”

As she angrily rallied against white injustice here and abroad last Thursday, her audience cheered and clapped their hands. She characterised what was happening in Zimbabwe as white retaliation for the land invasions. Some in the audience were wearing Zanu-PF T-shirts with the campaign message: “100% empowerment, VOTE for Mugabe.”
But the people of Zimbabwe, including her contacts in Zanu-PF do not seem to know who Viola Plummer really is? Viola Plummer is a former aide to councilman Charles Barron, who is also known as a former member of the Black Panther Movement. She was fired by New York City Council Speaker Christina Queen after she threatened to assassinate a New York City councilor over a legislative dispute. The (threatened) councillor had refused to support her measure to have a street renamed after a black activist called Sonny Carson.
Prior to this incident, Viola Plummer went on trial after being accused of trying to stage the jail break-in to free two fellow activists who had been jailed for their involvement in the1981 Rockland County robbery. Plummer ended up only being convicted of falsely identifying herself to the police.
Plummer was in Zimbabwe during the independence celebrations this year and prior to the June 27 presidential runoff. At the meeting, she said she had attended the inauguration of Mugabe in Harare on Sunday, June 29.

You may know Comrade Coltrane Chimurenga by one of his aliases, listed on the caption of this federal lawsuit: "randolph Simms", "rashidpendergrass", "lionel Jean-baptiste", "john Thomas", or "macio Mcadams".

Prior to Zimbabwe's March 2008 election, the Mugabe regime had banned most foreign observers, as reported here and here. They did, however extend an invitation to a delegation from the December 12 Movement. Readers will be reassured to learn that, according to this article in Zimbabwe's official government-sanctioned newspaper, the Herald Reporter:

THE December 12 Movement, one of the foreign observer missions that witnessed the June 27 presidential run-off election, has endorsed the poll as an expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

The African-American organisation, based in New York in the United States, however, said the existence of sanctions and the disproportionate and biased reporting of what was taking place in Zimbabwe by a few media outlets with global outreach had skewed the playing field against Zanu-PF. Members of the mission yesterday said their findings so far indicated that the poll outcome was not only a free expression of the will of Zimbabweans, but that it set an example for the rest of Africa and the Africans in the Diaspora.

If you want a sense of what the December 12 Movement think of Mugabe's Zimbabwe and want it from the horse's mouth, read this transcript from WBAI Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now. The subject was the March 30, 2008 election in Zimbabwe. The speaker was Omowale Clay of the December 12th Movement "International Secretariat". Clay was part of the delegation invited by Mugabe to observe the election, which occured on the day preceeding his report.

Omowale Clay: I have something very important to report to the Pacifica community in general and to African people, in particular. Yesterday the people of Zimbabwe resoundingly said they will never be a colony again. Unofficial results have confirmed that Zanu PF has won a major victory, and by all counts will in fact capture over 2/3 of the electoral vote, which will give them the ability to restructure their constitution, to institutionalize the [inaudible] which was always the view of them fighting for the total emancipation of their people politically and economically. So I wanted to make sure to bring back the people, to also let them know, Amy, that democracy in Zimbabwe is not anything new. For the past 25 years as we celebrate the 25th silver jubilee, democracy was brought to Zimbabwe through national liberation armed struggle and it was never given to the Zimbawean people. But since 1980 when the first elections took place, there have been six major parliamentary elections that have taken place, and there have been three presidential elections that have taken place. So no one can teach Zimbabwe democracy. Zimbabwe is teaching it to the African and pan-African world, as well as to the neo-colonizers who are trying to re-colonize Zimbabwe.


In case you wondered where Viola Plummer landed after leaving the City Council, well ...she fell up. In December 2008, Viola Plummer was chosen to be chief of staff for newly elected New York State Assembly Representative Inez Barron, who just happens to be the wife of Councilman Charles Barron. Here's a local blog post about that appointment:


Assembly member Inez Barron has selected Viola Plummer to join her staff. Ms. Barron made the announcement during her judicial swearing-in ceremony at the House of the Lord Church. Ms. Plummer, who served as Chief of Staff with Council member Charles Barron, will work in Assembly member Inez Barron's 40th AD district office. Ms. Barron has also selected Mel Faulkner to staff the district office. Mr. Faulkner has worked in Council member Barron's district office.

The announcement was made during the first of 2 consecutive ceremonies celebrating Ms. Barron's new position. Judge Sylvia Ash gave Assembly member Barron the Oath of Office at both events - first at the House of the Lord Church, then later that evening at St. Paul's Community Baptist Church. Rev. Herbert Daughtry gave a historical perspective of community activism and electoral politics. Councilman Charles Barron spoke of his love and support for his wife.

Elected officials in attendance at the events were Judge Geraldine Picket, Assembly members Annette Robinson, Karim Camara, and Michael Gianaris, State Senators Eric Adams and Bill Perkins, Council members Letitia James, Bill DiBlasio, and Eric Gioia. Others who came to witness Ms. Barron's oath were family members and a variety of community leaders: Dr. James McIntosh, Faye Moore (Local 371 Public Sector Social Service Workers), David Galarza (CSEA Local 1000), Ms. Ollie McClean, Dr. Ron Daniels and his wife Mary France, Sam Anderson, Kevin Powell, Stan Kinard and his wife Tulani (candidate for the 41st Council seat), Bob Law, Dr. Lenora Fulani, and Brenda Walker.

Special acknowledgements were made to those who assisted in getting Ms. Barron elected: Paul Washington (Inez Barron's Campaign Manager) and his wife Peggy, Andre Mitchell, founder of Man Up, Inc. and Hip Hop SUV (Stand Up and Vote), December 12 Movement, Operation Power, the United African Movement, and the Coalition of the Outsiders.

Noted at both events was the history made: a siting council member and assembly member husband- wife team covering the same geographic area at the same time.

You may recognize Dr. Lenora Fulani as the public face of the sometimes far-left, sometimes far-right political cult called the New Alliance Party. (Read about them here.) Fulani, who has over the years run for several positions without success, may be considering another run for office, this time for New York mayor, according to this blog post.)

To bring this post full circle, Paul Washington, Inez Barron's campaign manager, was Charles Barron's chief of staff. He's also the guy who introduced Mugabe at New York City Hall when he recieved the official honors of the City Council in 2002 (read here). According to this blog post:
(The City Council honoring Mugabe) was the inspiration of Councilman Charles Barron, and his Chief of Staff, Mr. Paul Washington, whom Barron calls his "Comrade in Struggle and Co-Council Member," brought it to fruition.

And now, according to the Daily Gotham (read here):

Charles Barron is intent on running his former chief-of-staff (Paul Washington) to replace him after he is term-limited from his seat in the council.

So it appears likely that Robert Mugabe will continue to have a voice both in the New York State Assembly and in the New York City Council (as well as on WBAI radio) even as the most of the world condemns him.

December 12 Movement Rally, NYC


UPDATE 4/14/2009:

Plummer Case Redux

(By Elizabeth Benjamin on April 7, 2009)

The case brought against the city and Council Speaker Christine Quinn by Councilman Charles Barron's ex-chief of staff, Viola Plummer, in the wake of the 2007 Sonny Carson street re-naming flap is one step away from being dismissed.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling today that overturned a lower court decision denying immunity to Quinn on Plummer's claim that the speaker's decision to fire her violated her First Amendment rights and ordered the case remanded for dismissal.

The decision note the city's burden in making its case was lower due to Plummer's status as a high-ranking public employee and the fact that her use of the word "assassination" in connection with Councilman Leroy Comrie sparked a reasonable concern for his safety in Quinn, given the 2003 muder of Councilman James Davis.

"The First Amendment does not require employers to sit idly by when an employee engenders such concerns. In view of these two incidents of “disruption,” taken together, and because we conclude that there is no genuine issue as to whether Quinn’s actions were taken in retaliation for Plummer’s speech...For these reasons, we hold that Plummer’s First Amendment rights were not violated and enter summary judgment for Quinn and the City of New York."

According to an attorney in the city's Law Department, unless Plummer decides to appeal, the case will end here.

I reached Plummer at her new job as director of operations in Assemblywoman Inez Barron's office. She hadn't yet heard of the ruling, and thus couldn't comment on what her plans might be.

NOTE: The decision is by three judges: Circuit Judges Rosemary Pooler and Debra Ann Livingston and District Judge Jed Rakoff.

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