Mandela, A Life of Struggle: The History Most Mainstream Obits Omit December 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in South Africa.
Tags: angola, apartheid, armed struggle, Cuba, derrick o'keefe, fidel castro, harry belafonte, jahanzeb hussain, mandela statement, margaret thatcher, nelson mandela, non violence, Palestine, roger hollander, South Africa, steve biko
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Roger’s note: In the mid 1980s the United States Congress voted to demand South Africa recognize the ANC and free political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. When Reagan vetoed the act, Congress voted to override the veto. A young congressman from Wyoming by the name of Dick Cheney voted both times against the initiative, insisting that the ANC was a terrorist organization. Today Cheney says he does not regret his votes, although he now considers Mandela to be a great man who in his old age has “mellowed.” I kind of agree with Cheney (god help me) in the sense that the post-Apartheid Mandela has been much less threatening to the ravages of racist capitalism than he was in his radical youth. Not that I have any grounds to judge a man who survived 27 years in prison and came out of it with his heart and soul intact. But there is no doubt that the mainstream corporate media and the political whores love the “mellowed out” Mandela and don’t want to think about the kind of principled revolutionary activism he represented and implemented, which spelled the death knell of Apartheid in South Africa.
Nearly 50 years ago, in 1964, Nelson Mandela — along with many other comrades in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa from racist white domination under apartheid — was sentenced to life in prison. His statement to the court, made when he was facing the real threat of execution, remains an historic demonstration of defiance and resistance.
Mandela’s sentence was “reduced” to life imprisonment. He would spend 27 years caged by the brutal racist regime in South Africa, before the resistance movement there and a worldwide solidarity campaign helped to force his release.
Many times, the apartheid government dangled a pardon for Mandela — if he would agree to publicly renounce the armed struggle. Contrary to liberal, depoliticized histories of the life of Mandela, he was in fact a political leader who believed in achieving liberation by any means necessary. Indeed, in 1961 he helped to found Umkhonto we Sizwe — which means ‘Spear of the Nation’ — an armed struggle wing of the liberation movement. Earlier that same year, Mandela gave his first ever television interview. In it, he alluded to the sense of futility of fighting against a violent apartheid regime with only non-violent means.
On non-violence and the use of political violence, Mandela wrote in his autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom:
Nonviolent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me,nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.
In the end, we had no alternative to armed and violent resistance. Over and over again, we had used all the nonviolent weapons in our arsenal – speeches, deputations, threats, marches, strikes, stay-aways, voluntary imprisonment – all to no avail, for whatever we did was met by an iron hand. A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor.
Mandela spent nearly three decades in prison for his defence of principles and for his role in the struggle — alongside hundreds and thousands of other political prisoners. During those years, many others were felled by the apartheid regime: for instance, the hundreds massacred in Soweto in 1976, and Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, who was beaten and tortured before dying in police custody in 1977.
On February 11, 1990, Mandela finally walked free. On that day, he gave a speech to a joyous mass of humanity gathered to hear him on the steps of Cape Town’s City Hall.
“I great you all in the name of freedom and democracy for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people … I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands…”
International solidarity with South Africa took many forms. One under-analyzed factor in understanding the defeat of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela was the military support given by Cuba to Angolan forces battling South African invasion in the late 1970s and 1980s, in addition to Cuba support for Namibian independence and the liberation of other “front line” states neighbouring Apartheid South Africa. In the documentary film, Fidel Castro: The Untold Story, actor and activist Harry Belafonte reflected on the importance of Cuba to the freedom of South Africa:
Had it not been for the Cuban presence in Africa, and in particular in Angola, the history of Africa would have never been what it is now. One of the greatest friends that Cuba has in Nelson Mandela, and his appreciation for what the Cuban people did… If you don’t understand that history, then you’ll never really understand the enormous success and importance of the Cuban Revolution.
In 1991, Cuba was one of the first countries Nelson Mandela visited — in order to thank the Cuban people for their contributions.
Mandela has also been an outspoken proponent of the liberation movement in Palestine, drawing analogies between these two struggles against racism and apartheid: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandela said.
In 1998, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Order of Canada. On that visit to this country, speaking before tens of thousands gathered in Toronto’s SkyDome, Mandela launched his children’s education fund.
In 2001, Mandela was honoured by Parliament with Honourary Canadian citizenship. One Member of Parliament, Rob Anders — who now sits as a Conservative MP — objected, shouting ‘No!’ during the vote in the House, and referring to Mandela as a “communist and terrorist.”
Mandela’s stature in history is now unarguable, and the just nature of the struggle against apartheid is denied only by outright racists and bigots. The likes of Rob Anders today sound like extremists, but in the 1980s it was standard practice for right-wing politicians around the world to disparage Mandela and the ANC as “terrorists.” In 1987, for instance, then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said: “The ANC is a typical terrorist organization … Anyone who thinks it’s going to run a government is living in cloud-cuckoo land.”
Mandela and the ANC did indeed run the government of South Africa; Mandela was democratically elected to the presidency in 1994. And while his, and the ANC’s, record in government was contradictory and is contested because of its failure to reject neoliberal economic measures and eliminate poverty, the democratic struggle he came to personify put the lie to racists and right-wingers like Thatcher.
Mandela made fewer public statements after stepping down from his former role in government. But he did speak out strongly at times on urgent issues. For instance, in 2003 he condemned the invasion of Iraq in unequivocal terms.
Nelson Mandela. Madiba. A voice for justice has gone silent. But the words and example of Mandela will live as long as people struggle against injustice and oppression.
Students Leave the Zapatistas’ First School With Homework August 25, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Latin America, Mexico, Revolution.
Tags: comandante marcos, ezln, marta molina, Mexico, mexico ezln, mexico indigenous, mexico pri, non violence, popular education, revolutiion, roger hollander, zapatista school, Zapatistas
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The 1700 students who travelled from across Mexico and the world to attend the Zapatistas’first school last week are leaving with an important homework assignment: to transfer what they learned to their respective collectives and movements.
Some left with blisters on their hands from working in the fields with a machete for the first time. Others told stories of waking before the sun rose to prepare tortillas and beans and pozol (water with corn flour added) for their companions who were going to work in the milpa (cornfields) and to chop and carry wood. As the students prepared these meals, often for the first time, they listened to the sounds of indigenous languages like Tojobal, Chol, Tzeltal, and Tzotzil. As they ate, they shared experiences and began understanding that their sense of resistance came from their own families, from the very beginning of their childhoods.
The focus of the five-day school’s curriculum was liberty according to the Zapatistas, and students grew to understand how the home stays in Zapatista territories were an integral part of the lesson. “They care for Mother Earth because it’s what brings them food,” explained Marcos, a student from Argentina. “In the cities we buy everything in containers, and we don’t even know where it comes from. That [growing one’s own food] is also part of liberty.”
Others said that liberty lies in exercising autonomy without government help. It is the hard daily work that allows the Zapatistas to survive without the government and be free, said the students. Coherence, resistance and responsibility were words they repeated often in describing the Zapatista way of life.
“To be free is to be able to decide for themselves what lives they want to have,” said Marcos.
“What education they want. How they want to raise their children. How they want to organize. We have to go to the supermarket, go to the school that the system offers us to then reproduce that system — at university as well. We have to take the healthcare system that the system offers us and that we don’t understand,” he said.
During the school, Toño from Brazil stayed in the Rosario de Río Blanco in the Caracol La Realidad, close to the city of Las Margaritas. “It was the best school I’ve been to in all my life,” he said. Toño and other students learned how a Zapatista family can live peacefully in communities where the majority of people support the PRI, the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, and receive money from government projects. “But if one day they lose their government financial support, they won’t know what to do,” said Toño.
Erwin, a student from Cuetzalan, a small town in the Mexican state of Puebla, works to build autonomy for the community where he lives, and he understands how the Zapatistas navigate relationships with their non-Zapatista neighbors.
“They have differences with their neighbors, but they don’t treat them as enemies,” he said. “The system is negatively affecting the everyday life of all, partisan, non-partisan. Even the army has indigenous people in it. And that’s what capitalism wants: for brothers to fight each other.”
Many felt that learning how the Zapatistas live alongside, and assume a non-confrontational attitude toward, people who don’t think like them was an indispensable lesson. Non-Zapatistas can even come to the autonomous clinic when they are sick, and they will be attended to rather than rejected. “In this same community we greet all people who are not Zapatistas with affection, because we are all affected by the system…The real enemy is the same, the system,” said Erwin.
The fact that oftentimes students did not speak the same language as their host families, teachers and guardians, called votanes, was not necessarily a problem. “We wound up understanding each other,” said 17-year-old Camila, who is a student at the College of Sciences and Humanities at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The texts provided by the Zapatista school were very different than those she was familiar with from college. “They explain through anecdotes, which are reflections of practice.” Camila said she hopes that a second grade will be added to the escuelita, and that, if one is, she will be allowed to attend. She said she learned over the course of those five days that autonomy exists and is possible.
The lesson that most impacted Uruguayan Mónica Olaso was when she asked her teacher why they were summoned and what the Zapatistas expected of the students. The response, Mónica recounted, was, “You know, Mónica, a bullet is not going to reach Uruguay. But our word will.” She is returning to her country, she said, with the mission to insist on organizing with the patience required to realize the commitments they make with people in her communities. She also feels the responsibility to pass along the lessons both in the books she was given by the Zapatistas and those already within her — her experiences.
“The Zapatistas wanted us to hear them, to see them, to share with them their experiences of struggle. Now, we have a mission: that every one of us, in accordance with our ways and places, continue organizing according to our context,” said Mónica from Uruguay. Toño, who is part of the Passe Livre Movement in Brazil, which helped organize the mass protests against the fare hikes earlier this summer, agreed. “Rural movements, urban movements, no matter which. But we have to learn how to be more autonomous, and therefore we will be more free. We will even live alongside the enemy itself, because if you are autonomous and free, then you can live with them,” he said.
Alex, a student from San Francisco, Calif., stayed at the Caracol La Realidad with Toño during the school. He says that he learned discipline, listening and the importance of having a long-term strategic vision. In his opinion, these are three things that are missing from social movements in the United States. “There are two main lessons,” he said. “First, is the discipline to accomplish what you say you’re going to do. The second is being self-critic and evaluating our mistakes and victories.” He quoted the Zapatista saying — “we walk slowly because we are going far” — as he explained the longevity of the movement: the Zapatistas have already celebrated 30 years since founding the EZLN, 20 years since establishing the municipalities and starting to build their autonomy, and ten years since the creation of the autonomous governing structure, the Councils of Good Government. This long-term view, Alex said, is lacking in the United States.
In addition to organizing the escuelita, the EZLN also brought together representatives of indigenous peoples from all over Mexico to inaugurate the first Tata Juan Chávez Alonso Traveling Seminar. Held directly after the escuelita at the Centro Indigena de capacitación Integral,
The University of the Earth, in San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas, the seminar was a gathering of members of indigenous communities from around the world. The location for the inaugural seminar was significant because the Zapatistas are organizing — like so many other indigenous communities in resistance — to defend their territories from threats by transnational corporations, narco-trafficking and governments. Some students who attended the escuelita to listen and learn with Zapatista families about the meanings of liberty and autonomy also attended the Tata Juan Chávez Alonso Seminar. Indigenous participants shared their victories and organizational missteps as a way to measure of the strength of the indigenous communities that conform the National Indigenous Congress, and those who still do not belong to it.
The ongoing seminar will continue to re-convene in different regions of the Americas and is intended to create a traveling forum for indigenous voices, while the Zapatistas have announced that they will hold a second escuelita this coming winter.
Tags: anti-nuclear, anti-war, Criminal Justice, dissent, doj, eric holder, fran quigley, greg boertje-obed, megan rice, michael walli, non violence, nuclear, nuclear weapons, oak ridge, pacifism, peace, peace protestors, ramsey clark, roger hollander, swords into plowshares
Roger’s note: if this doesn’t send a chill up the spine of anyone with spine enough to peacefully challenge US war mongering, then I don’t know what will. This case is Lewis Carroll, Orwell and Kafka rolled up into one. Don’t fail to realize that this is happening under a president who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism. Now in jail awaiting sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent in the US.
Here is how it happened.
In the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 2012, long-time peace activists Sr. Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and trespassed onto the property. Y-12, called the Fort Knox of the nuclear weapons industry, stores hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and works on every single one of the thousands of nuclear weapons maintained by the U.S.
“The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
- Sr. Megan Rice
Describing themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares, the three came as non-violent protestors to symbolically disarm the weapons. They carried bibles, written statements, peace banners, spray paint, flower, candles, small baby bottles of blood, bread, hammers with biblical verses on them and wire cutters. Their intent was to follow the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Sr. Megan Rice has been a Catholic sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus for over sixty years. Greg Boertje-Obed, a married carpenter who has a college age daughter, is an Army veteran and lives at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota. Michael Walli, a two-term Vietnam veteran turned peacemaker, lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington DC.
In the dark, the three activists cut through a boundary fence which had signs stating “No Trespassing.” The signs indicate that unauthorized entry, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
No security arrived to confront them.
So the three climbed up a hill through heavy brush, crossed a road, and kept going until they saw the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) surrounded by three fences, lit up by blazing lights.
Still no security.
So they cut through the three fences, hung up their peace banners, and spray-painted peace slogans on the HEUMF. Still no security arrived. They began praying and sang songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace is Flowing Like a River.”
When security finally arrived at about 4:30 am, the three surrendered peacefully, were arrested, and jailed.
The next Monday July 30, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were arraigned and charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Frank Munger, an award-winning journalist with the Knoxville News Sentinel, was the first to publicly wonder, “If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the plant’s core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the plant’s security against more menacing intruders.”
On Wednesday August 1, all nuclear operations at Y-12 were ordered to be put on hold in order for the plant to focus on security. The “security stand-down” was ordered by security contractor in charge of Y-12, B&W Y-12 (a joint venture of the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Bechtel National Inc.) and supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
On Thursday August 2, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli appeared in court for a pretrial bail hearing. The government asked that all three be detained. One prosecutor called them a potential “danger to the community” and asked that all three be kept in jail until their trial. The US Magistrate allowed them to be released.
Sr. Megan Rice walked out of the jail and promptly admitted to gathered media that the three had indeed gone onto the property and taken action in protest of nuclear weapons. “But we had to — we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that’s our obligation,” Rice said. She also challenged the entire nuclear weapons industry: “We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than 7.2 trillion dollars,” she said. “The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
Then the government began increasing the charges against the anti-nuclear peace protestors.
The day after the Magistrate ordered the release of Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli, a Department of Energy (DOE) agent swore out a federal criminal complaint against the three for damage to federal property, a felony punishable by zero to five years in prison, under 18 US Code Section 1363.
The DOE agent admitted the three carried a letter which stated, “We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war. Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based on war-making and empire-building.”
Now, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were facing one misdemeanor and one felony and up to six years in prison.
But the government did not stop there. The next week, the charges were enlarged yet again.
On Tuesday August 7, the U.S. expanded the charges against the peace activists to three counts. The first was the original charge of damage to Y-12 in violation of 18 US Code 1363, punishable by up to five years in prison. The second was an additional damage to federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The third was a trespassing charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison under 42 US Code 2278.
Now they faced up to sixteen years in prison. And the actions of the protestors started to receive national and international attention.
On August 10, 2012, the New York Times ran a picture of Sr. Megan Rice on page one under the headline “The Nun Who Broke into the Nuclear Sanctum.” Citing nuclear experts, the paper of record called their actions “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”
At the end of August 2012, the Inspector General of the Department of Energy issued at comprehensive report on the security breakdown at Y-12. Calling the peace activists trespassers, the report indicated that the three were able to get as far as they did because of “multiple system failures on several levels.” The cited failures included cameras broken for six months, ineptitude in responding to alarms, communication problems, and many other failures of the contractors and the federal monitors. The report concluded that “Ironically, the Y-12 breach may have been an important “wake-up” call regarding the need to correct security issues at the site.”
On October 4, 2012, the defendants announced that they had been advised that, unless they pled guilty to at least one felony and the misdemeanor trespass charge, the U.S. would also charge them with sabotage against the U.S. government, a much more serious charge. Over 3000 people signed a petition to U.S. Attorney General Holder asking him not to charge them with sabotage.
But on December 4, 2012, the U.S. filed a new indictment of the protestors. Count one was the promised new charge of sabotage. Defendants were charged with intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Counts two and three were the previous felony property damage charges, with potential prison terms of up to fifteen more years in prison.
Gone entirely was the original misdemeanor charge of trespass. Now Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli faced up to thirty-five years in prison.
In a mere five months, government charges transformed them from misdemeanor trespassers to multiple felony saboteurs.
The government also successfully moved to strip the three from presenting any defenses or testimony about the harmful effects of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a document they called “Motion to Preclude Defendants from Introducing Evidence in Support of Certain Justification Defenses.” In this motion, the U.S. asked the court to bar the peace protestors from being allowed to put on any evidence regarding the illegality of nuclear weapons, the immorality of nuclear weapons, international law, or religious, moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg principles developed after WWII, First Amendment protections, necessity or US policy regarding nuclear weapons.
Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli argued against the motion. But, despite powerful testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a declaration from an internationally renowned physician and others, the Court ruled against defendants.
Meanwhile, Congress was looking into the security breach, and media attention to the trial grew with a remarkable story in the Washington Post, with CNN coverage and AP and Reuters joining in.
The trial was held in Knoxville in early May 2012. The three peace activists were convicted on all counts. Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli all took the stand, admitted what they had done, and explained why they did it. The federal manager of Y-12 said the protestors had damaged the credibility of the site in the U.S. and globally and even claimed that their acts had an impact on nuclear deterrence.
As soon as the jury was dismissed, the government moved to jail the protestors because they had been convicted of “crimes of violence.” The government argued that cutting the fences and spray-painting slogans was property damage such as to constitute crimes of violence so the law obligated their incarceration pending sentencing.
The defense pointed out that Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli had remained free since their arrest without incident. The government attorneys argued that two of the protestors had violated their bail by going to a congressional hearing about the Y-12 security problems, an act that had been approved by their parole officers.
The three were immediately jailed. In its decision affirming their incarceration pending their sentencing, the court ruled that both the sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress as federal crimes of terrorism. Since the charges carry potential sentences of ten years or more, the Court ruled there was a strong presumption in favor of incarceration which was not outweighed by any unique circumstances that warranted their release pending sentencing.
These non-violent peace activists now sit in jail as federal prisoners, awaiting their sentencing on September 23, 2012.
In ten months, an 82 year old nun and two pacifists had been successfully transformed by the U.S. government from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.
Cesar Chavez: A True American Hero March 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
Tags: agriculture, boycott, cesar chavez, child labor, dick meister, farm workers, grape boycott, history, immigrant labor, labor, labor organizing, labour, non violence, roger hollander, ufw, union rights, unions
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Cesar Chavez. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Saturday, 31 March 2012 09:22
Dick Meister, Dick Meister’s Blog | Op-Ed
I hope we can all pause and reflect on the extraordinary life of a true American hero today (March 31). It’s Cesar Chavez Day, proclaimed by President Obama and observed throughout the country on the 85th birth date of the late founder of the United Farm Workers union. It’s an official state holiday in California, Texas and Colorado.
As President Obama noted, Chavez was a leader in launching “one of our nation’s most inspiring movements.” He taught us, Obama added, “that social justice takes action, selflessness and commitment. As we face the challenges of the day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez.”
Like another American hero, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez inspired and energized millions of people worldwide to seek and win basic human rights that had long been denied them, and inspired millions of others to join the struggle.
Certainly there are few people in any field more deserving of special attention, certainly no one I’ve met in more than a half-century of labor reporting.
I first met Cesar Chavez when I was covering labor for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was on a hot summer night in 1965 in the little San Joaquin Valley town of Delano, California. Chavez, shining black hair trailing across his forehead, wearing a green plaid shirt that had become almost a uniform, sat behind a makeshift desk topped with bright red Formica.
“Si se puede,” he said repeatedly to me, a highly skeptical reporter, as we talked deep into the early morning hours there in the cluttered shack that served as headquarters for him and the others who were trying to create an effective farm workers union.
“Si se puede! – it can be done!”
But I would not be swayed. Too many others, over too many years, had tried and failed to win for farm workers the union rights they absolutely had to have if they were to escape the severe economic and social deprivation inflicted on them by their grower employers.
The Industrial Workers of the World who stormed across western fields early in the 20th century, the Communists who followed, the socialists, the AFL and CIO organizers – all their efforts had collapsed under the relentless pressure of growers and their powerful political allies.
I was certain this effort would be no different. I was wrong. I had not accounted for the tactical brilliance, creativity, courage and just plain stubbornness of Cesar Chavez, a sad-eyed, disarmingly soft-spoken man who talked of militancy in calm, measured tones, a gentle and incredibly patient man who hid great strategic talent behind shy smiles and an attitude of utter candor.
Chavez grasped the essential fact that farm workers had to organize themselves. Outside organizers, however well intentioned, could not do it. Chavez, a farm worker himself, carefully put together a grass-roots organization that enabled the workers to form their own union, which then sought out – and won – widespread support from influential outsiders.
The key weapon of the organization, newly proclaimed the United Farm Workers, or UFW, was the boycott. It was so effective between 1968 and 1975 that 12 percent of the country’s adult population – that’s 17 million people – quit buying table grapes.
The UFW’s grape boycott and others against wineries and lettuce growers won the first farm union contracts in history in 1970. That led to enactment five years later of the California law – also a first – that requires growers to bargain collectively with workers who vote for unionization. And that led to substantial improvements in the pay, benefits, working conditions and general status of the state’s farm workers. Similar laws, with similar results, have now been enacted elsewhere.
The struggle that finally led to victory was extremely difficult for the impoverished workers, and Chavez risked his health – if not his life – to provide them extreme examples of the sacrifices necessary for victory. Most notably, he engaged in lengthy, highly publicized fasts that helped rally the public to the farm workers’ cause and that may very well have contributed to his untimely death in 1993 at age 66.
Fasts, boycotts. It’s no coincidence that those were the principal tools of Mohandas Gandhi, for Chavez drew much of his inspiration from the Hindu leader. Like Gandhi and another of his models, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez fervently believed in the tactics of non-violence. Like them, he showed the world how profoundly effective they can be in seeking justice from even the most powerful opponents.
“We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons,” Chavez explained.
His iconic position has been questioned recently by outsiders claiming Chavez acted as a dictator in his last years as head of the UFW. But what the UFW accomplished under his leadership, and how the union accomplished it, will never be forgotten – not by the millions of social activists who have been inspired and energized by the farm workers’ struggle, nor by the workers themselves.
Chavez deservedly remains, and undoubtedly will always remain, an American icon who led the way to winning important legal rights for farm workers. But more than union contracts, and more than laws, farm workers now have what Cesar Chavez insisted was needed above all else. That, as he told me so many years ago, “is to have the workers truly believe and understand and know that they are free, that they are free men and women, that they are free to stand up and fight for their rights.”
Freedom. No leader has ever left a greater legacy. But the struggle continues. Despite the UFW victories, farm workers are in great need of fully exercising the rights won under Chavez’ leadership. They need to reverse what has been a decline in the UFW’s fortunes in recent years, caused in part by lax enforcement of the laws that granted farm workers union rights.
Many farm workers are still mired in poverty, their pay and working and living conditions a national disgrace. They average less than $10,000 a year and have few – if any – fringe benefits. They suffer seasonal unemployment.
Job security is rare, as many of the workers are desperately poor immigrants from Mexico or Central America who must take whatever is offered or be replaced by other desperately poor workers from the endless stream of immigrants. Child labor is rampant.
Most hiring and firing is done at the whim of employers, many of them wealthy corporate growers or labor contractors who unilaterally set pay and working conditions and otherwise act arbitrarily.
Workers are often exposed to dangerous pesticides and other serious health and safety hazards that make farm work one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. They often even lack such on-the-job amenities as fresh drinking water and field toilets, and almost invariably are forced to live in overcrowded, seriously substandard housing.
Cesar Chavez Day should remind us of the continuing need to take forceful legal steps and other action in behalf of farm workers – to help them overcome their wretched conditions and finally provide a decent life for all those who do the hard, dirty and dangerous work that puts fruit and vegetables on our tables.
We need, in short, to carry on what Cesar Chavez began. We could pay no greater homage to his memory.
Copyright © 2012 Dick Meister
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.
Tags: #occupy movement, academic freedom, dave zinn, fbi, first amendment, graham spanier, linda katehi, militarization, national security, non violence, penn state scandal, police brutality, roger hollander, uc davis
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Two shocking scandals. Two esteemed universities. Two disgraced university leaders. One stunning connection. Over the last month, we’ve seen Penn State University President Graham Spanier dismissed from his duties and we’ve seen UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi pushed to the brink of resignation. Spanier was jettisoned because of what appears to be a systematic cover-up of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial child rape. Katehi has faced calls to resign after the she sent campus police to blast pepper spray in the faces of her peaceably assembled students, an act for which she claims “full responsibility.” The university’s Faculty Association has since voted for her ouster citing a “gross failure of leadership.” The names Spanier and Katehi are now synonymous with the worst abuses of institutional power. But their connection didn’t begin there. In 2010, Spanier chose Katehi to join an elite team of twenty college presidents on what’s called the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, which “promotes discussion and outreach between research universities and the FBI.”
Spanier said upon the group’s founding in 2005, “The National Security Higher Education Advisory Board promises to help universities and government work toward a balanced and rational approach that will allow scientific research and education to progress and our nation to remain safe.” He also said that the partnership could help provide “internships” to faculty and students interested in “National Security issues.”
FBI chief Robert Mueller said at a press conference with Spanier, “We knew it would not be necessarily an easy sell because of the perceived tension between law enforcement and academia. But once we’ve briefed President Spanier on the national security threats that impact all of you here at Penn State and at other universities, it became clear to all of us why this partnership is so important. “
But the reality of this partnership is far different. Its original mandate was about protecting schools from “cyber theft” and “intellectual property issues.” As has been true with the FBI since Hoover, give them a foothold, and they’ll take off their shoes and get cozy. Their classified mandate has since expanded to such euphemisms as “counter-terrorism” and “public safety.” It also expanded federal anti-terrorism task forces to include the dark-helmeted pepper-spray brigades, otherwise known as the campus police.
As Wired magazine put it in 2007, “presidents are being advised to think like ‘Cold Warriors’ and be mindful of professors and students who may not be on campus for purposes of learning but, instead, for spying, stealing research and recruiting people who are sympathetic to an anti-U.S. cause.”
Chancellor Katehi said in 2010 that despite these concerns, she was proud to join the NSHEA because “it’s important for us to learn from the FBI about the smartest, safest protocols to follow as we do our work, and it is equally important that the FBI has a solid understanding of matters of academic freedom.”
Sacremento’s FBI special agent in Charge, Drew Parenti, praised her involvement, saying, “The FBI’s partnership with higher education is a key component in our strategy of staying ahead of national security threats from our foreign adversaries…. we are very pleased that Chancellor Katehi has accepted an appointment to serve on the board.”
As for the actual meetings between the presidents of academic institutions and the FBI, those discussions are classified. If you are a rabble-rousing faculty member or a student group stepping out of line, your school records can become the FBI’s business and you’d be none the wiser.
Chris Ott, from the Massachusetts ACLU, said of the NSHEA, “The FBI is asking university faculty, staff, and students to create a form of neighborhood watch against anything that is so called ‘suspicious.’ What kinds of things are they going to report on? Who has the right to be snitching? One of the scary things is who [on the campuses] will take it upon themselves to root out spies?”
In the wake of the scandals that have enveloped and now destroyed the careers of Spanier and Katehi, the very existence of the NCHEA should now be called to question. Given the personal character on display by these two individuals, why should anyone trust that the classified meetings have stayed in the realm of “cyber theft” and intellectual property rights? What did the FBI tell Chancellor Katehi about how to deal with the peacefully assembled Occupiers? Was “counter-terrorism” advice given on how to handle her own students?
As for Spanier, how much of Sandusky’s actions at Penn State, which were documented on campus but never shared with the local police, was the FBI privy to? Why did the school hire former FBI director Louis Freeh to head up their internal investigation? Does that in fact represent a conflict of interest? And most critically, did the “chilling effect” of a sanctioned FBI presence at Penn State actually prevent people from coming forward?
When Spanier was asked in 2005, if he was concerned about whether a formal partnership with the FBI would cause objections he said, “If there is an issue on my campus, I’d like to be the first person to hear about it, not the last.” In the context of recent events, it’s probably best to let those words speak for themselves. But fear not for the futures of these two stewards of higher education and academic freedom. Maybe Spanier can put his experience as a federal informant to good use from inside a federal prison. As for Katehi, if, as suspected, she’ll be unemployed shortly, perhaps she can take advantage of one of those fabulous internship opportunities having the FBI on campus provides.
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ten Things You Should Know About Friday’s UC Davis Police Violence November 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Tags: #occupy movement, angus johnston, civil disobedience, first amendment, lt. pike, non violence, occupy wall street, ows, pepper spray, police brutality, roger hollander, student activism, student protest, uc davis police, ud davis
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November 20, 2011 in Students
1. The protest at which UC Davis police officers used pepper spray and batons against unresisting demonstrators was an entirely nonviolent one.
None of the arrests at UC Davis in the current wave of activism have been for violent offenses. Indeed, as the New York Times reported this morning, the university’s administration has “reported no instances of violence by any protesters.” Not one.
2. The unauthorized tent encampment was dismantled before the pepper spraying began.
Students had set up tents on campus on Thursday, and the administration had allowed them to stay up overnight. When campus police ordered students to take the tents down on Friday afternoon, however, most complied. The remainder of the tents were quickly removed by police without incident before the pepper spray incident.
3. Students did not restrict the movement of police at any time during the demonstration.
After police made a handful of arrests in the course of taking down the students’ tents, some of the remaining demonstrators formed a wide seated circle around the officers and arrestees.
UC Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza has claimed that officers were unable to leave that circle: “There was no way out,” she told the Sacramento Bee. “They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.” But multiple videos clearly show that the seated students made no effort to impede the officers’ movement. Indeed, Lt. Pike, who initiated the pepper spraying of the group, was inside the circle moments earlier. To position himself to spray, he simply stepped over the line.
4. Lt. Pike was not in fear for his safety when he sprayed the students.
Chief Spicuzza told reporters on Thursday that her officers had been concerned for their safety when they began spraying. But again, multiple videos show this claim to be groundless.
The most widely distributed video of the incident (viewed, as I write this, by nearly 700,000 people on YouTube) begins just moments before Lt. Pike begain spraying, but another video, which starts a few minutes earlier, shows Pike chatting amiably with one activist, even patting him casually on the back.
The pat on the back occurs just two minutes and nineteen seconds before Pike pepper sprayed the student he had just been chatting with and all of his friends.
5. University of California Police are not authorized to use pepper spray except in circumstances in which it is necessary to prevent physical injury to themselves or others.
From the University of California’s Universitywide Police Policies and Administrative Procedures: “Chemical agents are weapons used to minimize the potential for injury to officers, offenders, or other persons. They should only be used in situations where such force reasonably appears justified and necessary.”
6. UC police are not authorized to use physical force except to control violent offenders or keep suspects from escaping.
Another quote from the UC’s policing policy: “Arrestees and suspects shall be treated in a humane manner … they shall not be subject to physical force except as required to subdue violence or ensure detention. No officer shall strike an arrestee or suspect except in self-defense, to prevent an escape, or to prevent injury to another person.”
7. The UC Davis Police made no effort to remove the student demonstrators from the walkway peacefully before using pepper spray against them.
One video of the pepper-spray incident shows a group of officers moving in to remove the students from the walkway. Just as one of them reaches down to pick up a female student who was leaning against a friend, however, Lt. Pike waves the group back, clearing a space for him to use pepper spray without risk of accidentally spraying his colleagues.
8. Use of pepper spray and other physical force continued after the students’ minimal obstruction of the area around the police ended.
The line of seated students had begun to break up no more than eight seconds after Lt. Pike began spraying. The spraying continued, however, and officers soon began using batons and other physical force against the now-incapacitated group.
9. Even after police began using unprovoked and unlawful violence against the students, they remained peaceful.
Multiple videos show the aftermath of the initial pepper spraying and the physical violence that followed. In none of them do any of the assaulted students or any of the onlookers strike any of the officers who are attacking them and their friends.
10. The students’ commitment to nonviolence extended to their use of language.
At one point on Thursday afternoon, before the police attack on the demonstration, a few activists started a chant of “From Davis to Greece, fuck the police.” They were quickly hushed by fellow demonstrators who urged them to “keep it nonviolent! Keep it peaceful!”
Their chant was replaced by one of “you use weapons, we use our voice.”
Six and a half minutes later, the entire group was pepper sprayed.
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To the UC Chancellor: Pepper-Spraying, Baton-Wielding Police Do Not Constitute “A Safe Welcoming Environment” November 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Tags: #occupy movement, civil disobedience, first amendment, free speech, linda katehi, nathan brown, non violence, occupy wall street, ows, police brutality, roger hollander, student protest, uc davis
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In the wake of the horrific assault by police against UC Davis students protesting “in the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience,” an open outraged letter from faculty member Nathan Brown calling for the resignation of chancellor Linda Katehi, who Brown calls “the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis.” Wow.
Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi
Linda P.B. Katehi,
I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.
You are not.
I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:
1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today
2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality
3) to demand your immediate resignation
Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.
Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.
What happened next?
Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.
This is what happened. You are responsible for it.
You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt. One of the most inspiring things (inspiring for those of us who care about students who assert their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly) about the demonstration in Berkeley on November 9 is that UC Berkeley faculty stood together with students, their arms linked together. Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan was grabbed by her hair, thrown on the ground, and arrested. Associate Professor Geoffrey O’Brien was injured by baton blows. Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton. These faculty stood together with students in solidarity, and they too were beaten and arrested by the police. In writing this letter, I stand together with those faculty and with the students they supported.
One week after this happened at UC Berkeley, you ordered police to clear tents from the quad at UC Davis. When students responded in the same way—linking arms and holding their ground—police also responded in the same way: with violent force. The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.
You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.
On Wednesday November 16, you issued a letter by email to the campus community. In this letter, you discussed a hate crime which occurred at UC Davis on Sunday November 13. In this letter, you express concern about the safety of our students. You write, “it is particularly disturbing that such an act of intolerance should occur at a time when the campus community is working to create a safe and inviting space for all our students.” You write, “while these are turbulent economic times, as a campus community, we must all be committed to a safe, welcoming environment that advances our efforts to diversity and excellence at UC Davis.”
I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to “a safe and inviting space for all our students” or “a safe, welcoming environment” at UC Davis: 1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or 2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating “a safe and inviting space?” Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to “a safe, welcoming environment?”
I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.
Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.
I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.
Nathan Brown Assistant Professor Department of English Program in Critical Theory University of California at Davis
New York Police Brutality in Living Color: Obama’s “Democracy” in Action November 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, New York, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Tags: #occupy movement, first amendment, new york, new york police, non violence, occupy wall street, ocw, police brutality, police violence, protest, roger hollander
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A picture is worth a thousand words. I urge you to take a good look at this slide show. You won’t see these scenes at a Tea Party gathering.
Tags: anti-pipeline, bill mckibben, civil disobedience, environment, global warming, greenhouse gas, james hansen, keystone xl, martin luther king, mlk, non violence, oil pipeline, roger hollander, tar sands
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Writer and climate activist Bill McKibben was among several dozen arrested outside the White House on August 20 at the start of more than two weeks of planned demonstrations by activists opposed to the construction of an oil pipeline carrying petroleum from the Canadian “tar sands” to the US. (Photo: jaymallinphotos)
I didn’t think it was possible, but my admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., grew even stronger these past days.
As I headed to jail as part of the first wave of what is turning into the biggest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement for many years, I had the vague idea that I would write something. Not an epic like King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but at least, you know, a blog post. Or a tweet.
But frankly, I wasn’t up to it. The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming — and so with our first crew they were… kind of harsh.
We spent three days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds like it might be. You lie on a metal rack with no mattress or bedding and sweat in the high heat; the din is incessant; there’s one baloney sandwich with a cup of water every 12 hours.
I didn’t have a pencil — they wouldn’t even let me keep my wedding ring — but more important, I didn’t have the peace of mind to write something. It’s only now, out 12 hours and with a good night’s sleep under my belt, that I’m able to think straight. And so, as I said, I’ll go to this weekend’s big celebrations for the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Washington Mall with even more respect for his calm power.
Preacher, speaker, writer under fire, but also tactician. He really understood the power of nonviolence, a power we’ve experienced in the last few days. When the police cracked down on us, the publicity it produced cemented two of the main purposes of our protest:
First, it made Keystone XL — the new, 1,700-mile-long pipeline we’re trying to block that will vastly increase the flow of “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico — into a national issue. A few months ago, it was mainly people along the route of the prospective pipeline who were organizing against it. (And with good reason: tar sands mining has already wrecked huge swaths of native land in Alberta, and endangers farms, wild areas, and aquifers all along its prospective route.)
Now, however, people are coming to understand — as we hoped our demonstrations would highlight — that it poses a danger to the whole planet as well. After all, it’s the Earth’s second largest pool of carbon, and hence the second-largest potential source of global warming gases after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. We’ve already plumbed those Saudi deserts. Now the question is: Will we do the same to the boreal forests of Canada. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has made all too clear, if we do so it’s “essentially game over for the climate.” That message is getting through. Witness the incredibly strong New York Times editorial opposing the building of the pipeline that I was handed on our release from jail.
Second, being arrested in front of the White House helped make it clearer that President Obama should be the focus of anti-pipeline activism. For once Congress isn’t in the picture. The situation couldn’t be simpler: the president, and the president alone, has the power either to sign the permit that would take the pipeline through the Midwest and down to Texas (with the usual set of disastrous oil spills to come) or block it.
Barack Obama has the power to stop it and no one in Congress or elsewhere can prevent him from doing so. That means — and again, it couldn’t be simpler — that the Keystone XL decision is the biggest environmental test for him between now and the next election. If he decides to stand up to the power of big oil, it will send a jolt through his political base, reminding the presently discouraged exactly why they were so enthused in 2008.
That’s why many of us were wearing our old campaign buttons when we went into the paddy wagon. We’d like to remember — and like the White House to remember, too — just why we knocked on all those doors.
But as Dr. King might have predicted, the message went deeper. As people gather in Washington for this weekend’s dedication of his monument, most will be talking about him as a great orator, a great moral leader. And of course he was that, but it’s easily forgotten what a great strategist he was as well, because he understood just how powerful a weapon nonviolence can be.
The police, who trust the logic of force, never quite seem to get this. When they arrested our group of 70 or so on the first day of our demonstrations, they decided to teach us a lesson by keeping us locked up extra long — strong treatment for a group of people peacefully standing on a sidewalk.
No surprise, it didn’t work. The next day an even bigger crowd showed up — and now, there are throngs of people who have signed up to be arrested every day until the protests end on September 3rd. Not only that, a judge threw out the charges against our first group, and so the police have backed off. For the moment, anyway, they’re not actually sending more protesters to jail, just booking and fining them.
And so the busload of ranchers coming from Nebraska, and the bio-fueled RV with the giant logo heading in from East Texas, and the flight of grandmothers arriving from Montana, and the tribal chiefs, and union leaders, and everyone else will keep pouring into D.C. We’ll all, I imagine, stop and pay tribute to Dr. King before or after we get arrested; it’s his lead, after all, that we’re following.
Our part in the weekend’s celebration is to act as a kind of living tribute. While people are up on the mall at the monument, we’ll be in the front of the White House, wearing handcuffs, making clear that civil disobedience is not just history in America.
We may not be facing the same dangers Dr. King did, but we’re getting some small sense of the kind of courage he and the rest of the civil rights movement had to display in their day — the courage to put your body where your beliefs are. It feels good.
Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben
FBI Expands ‘Witch Hunt’ Against Antiwar Activists December 22, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Peace, War, War on Terror.
Tags: activism, Afghanistan, anti-war, charles davis, civil libeties, Civil Rights, eric holder, fbi, first amendment, free speech, human rights, israeli occupation, non violence, pacifism, pacifist, peace, roger hollander, terrorism, war, war on terror
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The FBI on Tuesday added four more names to the list of antiwar activists subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury as part of an investigation into whether members of the peace movement provided “material support” for terrorism.
In all, 23 people have been subpoenaed since September 24, when the FBI raided the offices and homes of prominent activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. None has been charged with a crime. Several have also refused to testify in what they say is a witch hunt aimed more at intimidating those who dare speak out against U.S. foreign policy than uncovering actual ties to terrorists.
And they’re probably right.
Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling this past June, the definition of “material support” for terrorism is now so broad as to include any sort of “advice” to a State Department-designated terrorist group, even if that advice is “stop engaging in terrorism and embrace nonviolence.” Former President Jimmy Carter and groups such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch have spoken out against the ruling.
Because the definition is so broad, though, it provides the perfect legal basis for the government to go after those opposed to its policies abroad. And as the Bush administration ably demonstrated, there are plenty of people in government who would be all too happy to equate opposition to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen – just to name a few – as de facto support for terrorism.
“We are being targeted for the work we do to end U.S. fundig of the Israeli occupation, ending the war in Afghanistan and ending the occupation of Iraq,” says Maureen Murphy, editor of the news outlet The Electronic Intifada and one of those subpoenaed on Tuesday. “What is at stake for all of us is our right to dissent and organize to change harmful US foreign policy.”
Meredith Aby, another prominent antiwar activist who had her home raided by the FBI, likewise believes she is being targeted for exercising her right to free speech, not because the government actually believes she and other committed pacifists would actually support terrorist violence. She says that the questions U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wants activists to answer – like which activists they met with abroad and what ideas did they express – proves as much. And like other activists, she said she wasn’t interested in answering.
“I’ve never killed anyone,” Aby says in an interview. “I have no blood on my hands. The blood is on the hands of the U.S. government, on the Israeli government, on the Colombian government. I’m not interested in helping kill people, and so there’s no way that I can testify at a grand jury about what people’s political ideas in places as dangerous as Colombia and Palestine.”
“We need to send a message that this has gone far enough,” she said. “We need to send a message to politicians that they will understand.”
Her advice? Tell Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald that you oppose using the law to intimidate committed, nonviolent peace activists whose only crime is exercising their right to dissent. Fitzgerald’s office can be reached at (312) 353-5300, while Obama and Holder can be contacted by signing this petition.
“At the end of the day, these men are politicians,” Aby says, “and they will make their decision in a political fashion about … how wide this investigation will go.”
© 2010 Change