Several University student organizations embarked on a four-day road trip to Washington, D.C., Wednesday to march in Jericho 98. The rally, which attracted more than 2,500 people, called for the release of what the groups consider political prisoners in the United States.
The march is named after a biblical story in which a group of people unifies to invade an impenetrable city surrounded by heavy walls.
“That’s basically the idea, to try to get enough people on the outside who are going to raise the issue, because the folks on the inside are very oppressed,” said Juliana Pegues, a member of the Jericho Committee.
The Minneapolis group of 28 marchers included 14 University students representing the University Young Women, American Indian Student Cultural Center and the Progressive Student Organization.
The trip was organized by the Jericho Committee, a local branch of a 6-month-old nationwide coalition. The coalition focuses on the emancipation of what the group considers to be political prisoners currently being held in United States prisons.
The Jericho Committee asserts that the U.S. government kept files on many of the alleged political prisoners before they were imprisoned, monitoring their political activities through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then trying them as criminals.
The government maintains that there are no political prisoners or prisoners of war within its borders.
Among those the groups believe should be freed are Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement and Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Peltier was imprisoned in 1975 for the murder of two federal agents during the 1973 Wounded Knee stand-off between AIM and government agents in Pine Ridge, S.D. Abu-Jamal was imprisoned and sentenced to death in 1982 for shooting a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Traveling in rented vans, the group left the Bedlam Theatre on the West Bank Wednesday to arrive in Washington by early Friday morning, the day of the march. The marchers returned to Minneapolis late Sunday night.
The rally began at Malcolm X Park and moved on to the White House. The group then headed for Lafayette Park, where speakers from organizations such as the Black Panthers and MOVE — an African-American group that has focused on the issue of police brutality in the last several years — addressed the crowd. The rally at Lafayette also featured rappers and vendors from other political organizations selling buttons and t-shirts.
Although the Jericho Committee predicted an attendance of 10,000 to 40,000 marchers, the actual turnout was approximately 2,500 activists and was a disappointment to University marchers. However, General College freshman Jon Collins said the low turnout didn’t diminish the intensity of the rally.
“I know that we got a little bit of exposure and the people who went are hopefully a little more motivated to work on it and more unified about it. That will contribute a lot,” he said.