Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, covering the MECAWI demonstration in downtown Detroit on October 5, 2010. (Photo: Bryan Pfeifer), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
National Conference Opposing FBI Repression Held in Chicago
Muslims, peace and solidarity activists speak out against government repression
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A national conference on the need to build a broad-based alliance against the increasing political repression of the US government was held on November 5 at the Kent College of Law in downtown Chicago. The all-day gathering featured speakers from the anti-war, left, Puerto Rican, Muslim, Latino/a, African American, Middle Eastern and Asian communities who came together from throughout the country to provide details on the various cases of racial and religious profiling, preemptive prosecution, political persecution and prisoner abuse that are taking place throughout the United States.
This event was organized by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) which sprang up in late 2010 in the aftermath of a series of FBI raids on the homes anti-war and international solidarity activists in various Midwest cities as well as other regions of the country. 24 people were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago as part of an investigation into purported “material aid to terrorists.”
All of the activists that were subpoenaed have refused to testify and are saying that they have done nothing wrong. The various groups targeted in the raids and subpoenas include the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), among others.
This conference brought together both the victims of the FBI attacks on left and anti-war activists alongside those within the Muslim, Puerto Rican and Latino/a movements who have been selected for prosecution as part of a US so-called “war on terrorism.” According to a pre-conference document published by CSFR, “While the White House lectures Arab and Muslim leaders in the Middle East about democracy and the treatment of their citizens, we experience FBI raids, grand jury investigations and outrageous criminal charges.” (stopfbi.net)
The conference was opened by two activists that were subpoenaed by the federal grand jury in Chicago, Sarah Smith and Tom Burke, both organizers in CSFR. Smith and Burke welcomed the delegates and stressed the importance of building a coalition to halt the escalating law-enforcement, intelligence and grand jury efforts to stifle dissent against the domestic and foreign policies of the U.S.
Chicano Veteran Activist Greeted by Conference
Carolos Montes, a veteran Chicano liberation movement activist, was warmly welcomed to the conference and commended for his decades of work in the areas of education, land reclamation and international solidarity. Montes, whose home was raided on May 17 by Los Angeles Sheriff Department officers at the aegis of the FBI, recounted his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 in Washington, the Chicano student walkouts of the late 1960s and the Chicano Moratorium Movement against the war in Vietnam.
“I am being targeted due to my years of work in the anti-war movement,” Montes said. He is currently facing trumped-up charges supposedly related to violations of the firearms laws of California.
During the raid on his home in May, the cops confiscated Montes’ computer, cell phone and documents dealing with his political activism. The authorities claim that he had a felony conviction that legally prohibits him from buying or owning firearms.
Yet the purported felony charges were related to the police raid on East Los Angeles Community College in 1969 when Montes was accused of throwing an empty aluminum can that bounced off a sheriff’s arm. Legal documents from the case do not back-up claims that the matter was sentenced as a felony.
Speakers Attest to Pattern of Persecution and Selective Prosecution
Jeff Mackler, a national steering committee member of the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC), brought solidarity from the peace movement to the conference. UNAC was formed in July 2010 at a national conference that drew over 800 delegates in Albany, New York.
Jim Fennerty of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) addressed the conference and discussed the role of the FBI and federal grand jury in the current wave of government repression. Fennerty has been working on the defense campaign of the targeted activists that were raided and subpoenaed after September 2010.
A panel discussion was held featuring Alejandro Molina, a Puerto Rican activist representing the National Boricua Human Rights Network, and Ali Al-Arian, the son of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, who served years in prison for being an alleged supporter of Palestinian statehood, even though he was never convicted of a serious crime.
Other speakers including Sharmin Sadequee, the sister of Shifa Sadequee, who is serving a sentence in federal prison after being kidnapped in Bangladesh on spurious charged of aiding a terrorist conspiracy. Noor Elashi, the daughter of Ghassan Elashi, an official within the Holy Land Foundation, who the government accused and convicted of assisting resistance forces inside of Palestine.
Also related to the Palestine question, Asmaa Ashqar, the spouse of Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, spoke about her husband’s conviction and sentencing to many years in prison for merely refusing to tell falsehoods about his associates. Hatem Abudayyeh of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, who was subpoenaed and had his bank account frozen, spoke in support of the right of people within the country to oppose Washington’s foreign policy towards the State of Israel.
“It is the United States that determines the policies of the State of Israel and not vice-versa,” Abudayyeh said. The activist pointed to the importance of identifying the source of the ongoing support for Israel inside ruling circles within the U.S.
In the afternoon sessions speakers included Steff Yorek, one of the Minneapolis activists raided and subpoenaed, Michael Deutsch of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, Steve Downs of Project Salaam, Kay Guinane of the Charity and Security Network, Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Committee, Merideth Aby of CSFR and Prexy Nesbitt, a professor at Columbia College and longtime Southern African solidarity activist.
Also statements of solidarity were delivered via videotape from Professor Cornell West of Princeton University and Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were framed, convicted and executed in 1953 on false charges of conspiracy to commit espionage.
A series of workshops were held on immigrant rights, political repression and the occupy wall street movement, strategies for the landscape of struggles and organizing efforts against the G8/NATO Summits in Chicago and the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Florida. In Chicago, the police have arrested hundreds of anti-capitalist activists and banned the usage of Grant Park for the Occupy Chicago encampment.
In response to calls for demonstrations at the May 2012 G8/NATO Summits, the city administration has refused to officially respond to requests for permits to legally march and is threatening to mobilize the entire 13,000-member police force to engage in mass arrests. Rahm Emanuel, the current mayor of Chicago, is the former chief-of-staff for President Barack Obama.
During the concluding session, a number of resolutions were passed in solidarity with the defense campaign for Carlos Montes, a reaffirmation of a pledge to resist government raids and subpoenas, and the need to build a united front against U.S. homeland security repression.
Government Copies and Returns Tens of Thousands of Documents to Activists
Just prior to the convening of the National Conference of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, the federal government responded to a legal motion filed on behalf of Jess Sundin demanding the returning of materials seized in the raids of September 2010. The FBI announced that it had completed the copying of over 50,000 documents taken during the raids on homes and offices of several organizations and was returning all of these materials to the activists.
On November 1, the FBI returned the last batch of the documents to their rightful owners. Activist Jess Sundin of Minneapolis said that “This is a serious violation of our right to organize against war.” (stopfbi.net)
Sundin continued by pointing out that “The FBI took the computers from the office of the Anti-War Committee and made copies of lists that include thousands of our supporters. They copied our personal papers, political materials and books from my home. They are stepping all over our rights to organize, associate and speak out.”
These attacks on broad segments of the working class and organizations that represent the interests of the proletariat and the oppressed both domestically and internationally are designed to intimidate and demoralize those who seek to speak out against injustice in the U.S. and around the world. All sectors within the popular classes, the nationally oppressed, civil rights and human rights organizations must work to defend those who are victims of political repression, profiling and selective prosecution.
With the rising tide of the mass movements within the U.S., Europe, North Africa and Latin America, the right to organize and demonstrate must be upheld. The ruling class feeling threatened by the upsurge in political struggles will act even more desperately to halt the trend towards mass mobilizations, rebellions and general strikes.