He also told of how the American civil rights movement had been born out of the resistance of tens of thousands, mainly poor and working class. Their strikes, sit-ins, marches and growing radicalisation forced concessions from the government. Nothing was granted voluntarily, all the reforms had to be wrested from them.
Today the death penalty is increasing being used. More and more prisoners are going to the gallows, the electric chair, the gas chamber, the firing squad or the poison injection. A hugely disproportionate number are black. Perhaps the best known death row prisoner is the former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose case has been taken up by anarchists all over the world.
An international day of protest had been called for July 4th by death row inmates in Texas. The Workers Solidarity Movement undertook to organise a demonstration outside the US embassy. While the denizens of Dublin's embassy belt celebrated America's Independence Day, over 60 people arrived outside the door with placards condemning state murder.
After leaving Ireland, Ervin had spoken in Britain and Belgium and then on to Australia. His arrival was marked with a media campaign, started by an extreme right wing MP called Pauline Hanson, labelling him as some sort of dangerous terrorist. His visa was revoked and he was assaulted, had his glasses broken and was hauled off to Brisbane prison.
There was to be no free speech for this man. However, Australian anarchists' got the news out to anarchists elsewhere. Within hours pickets at embassies and consulates took place in 17 countries, protests were arriving from anarchist, socialist, black, human rights and trade union groups. The story started appearing in newspapers and TV in over a dozen countries.
In Ireland the Australian embassy received so many complaints they had to dedicate one phone line exclusively for logging protests. The WSM picketted outside and handed out leaflets about Racism, Australian style.
In Australia it was front page news. Such was the reaction to the state's crude attempt to silence Ervin that the dockers' union threatened to strike if any attempt was made to deport him by sea. Three days later he won a court order for his release, an order for the government to pay his costs, and in place of the seized 30 day visa he was issued with a new 90 day one.
His speaking tour now drew far greater crowds, he met with Aboriginal organisations, and was a guest speaker at the national Aboriginal celebration (NAIDOC). What the government had unwittingly done was draw attention to the reality behind their polished facade. Ervin put it this way at his final press conference:
"...explaining what I think about what's happened, including being exposed to police brutality, illegal arrest and having my rights stripped in a fashion that I haven't had done since the days of the old racist south.
What happened to me is what happens routinely to blacks and other peoples of colour in this country. I've spoken to black Americans who have been arrested, thrown in jail, tried in courts. I've talked to the families of Aboriginal people who have had family members die while in police custody. I've talked to Aboriginal leaders in all the cities I've been to and a lot of people have expressed that this is a racist country, a violent country, and they have no rights".
A few brief facts show Aborigines are systematically discriminated against. Compared to other Australians they suffer
The biggest achievement of the state in this affair was to publicise its own racism and the desirability of the anarchist alternative.
Red & Black Revolution is the magazine published by the WSM which covers issues in more depth than is possible in this paper. Articles in no.3 include a look at how the anti-water charges campaign beat the government; ideas for building a new anti-capitalist movement based on the realities of the late 1990s instead of nostalgia for the past; a previously unknown slice of Irish socialist history which details the first anarchists all the way back in the 1880s; interviews with South African and Italian anarchists; reviews of books discussing how trade unionists can use the internet, and the debate among anarchists on the best way to organise. Copies can be obtained from the shop where you bought this paper, or for £2.00 (inc. postage) from P.O. Box 1528, Dublin 8.