BALTIMORE – It’s about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, and the city is still sleepy and quiet. In front of the All People’s Congress Hall, at 31st Street and Greenmount Parkway, a few people gather for a bus ride to Philadelphia.
They are going to join in the Unity 2000 March, a rally for a wide range of social and economic issues at the Republican National Convention. The riders on the All People’s Congress bus are going specifically to protest the death sentence of Mumia Abu Jamal, on Pennsylvania’s death row for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer.
But for many on the bus, the protest over Jamal is just one issue in a long list.
Political issues, and especially discontent with the major American political parties, are high on the list of complaints for many of the riders.
Sherry Cassa, a Baltimore resident in her 40s, describes herself as an independent who usually votes for a third-party candidate for president. She is angry that in a two-party system, she is always casting her vote against a candidate, instead of voting for a candidate she would like to see elected.
Jackie, 59, and her friend Daisy, 64 — two of the many riders who would not give their last names — are sitting in the very back of the bus talking amicably.
Jamal is the main reason that Jackie is going. She is convinced of his innocence and talks of her brother’s reports of police abuses in Philadelphia in the 1970s. Jackie has been to several protests concerning Jamal, including a recent gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Daisy, on the other hand, has never been to a protest, and is going to see what it’s all about.
Eventually, the bus arrives and 34 people, ranging in age from early adolescents to senior citizens, file on. Many recline their seats in the coach- style bus and close their eyes, hanging on to a few more moments of solitude.
Severn resident Lee Patterson, 45, is the most outspoken person on the bus. He calls himself a community activist, street vendor and laborer. Patterson is spirited, humorous and sometimes sarcastic as he talks about his discontent with society. Like others on the bus, Patterson thinks that the political and economic systems in the United States are beyond repair.
Economic issues are also a concern of many on the bus. Several said the news about the economic boom in the United States is misleading, and they describe a society and economy that is only concerned with the bottom line and not the lives of the people.
Jeff Bigelow, a labor union member, was going not only to protest Jamal’s situation, but the forces of big business, which he says have co-opted the political process.
Alan Barysch, a performance poet and musician in Baltimore, distributes a newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party. He lists homelessness as a chief concern as does Beth, 26, who refused to give her last name. Beth also said that globalization of the economy is one of the causes for her joining the protests.
The media, or rather how the media cover the protests worries many of the bus riders. Barysch said the media missed the diversity and seriousness of the protesters. Beth was worried that this story would only talk about her friend’s piercings, and how that fit the stereotype of the protesters.
The media image of protesters as 20-ish, white, upper middle-class, malcontent college students is dispelled by a look around this bus. About two- thirds of the riders are black, many middle aged or older, and the majority is women.
The bus ride is mostly quiet. There were no songs or angry words to stir emotions, and some people actually slept.
Shortly after 10 a.m. the bus parked in Center City Philadelphia.
Everyone got off. Some picked up placards to carry, a couple people carried the “Free Mumia” sign for the group and everyone walked towards the much larger group of marchers beginning the morning’s protest.