November 8, 2011 Fight Back! News
Chicago, IL - Over 150 people gathered here, Nov. 5, for the first national conference of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.
Conference organizer Tom Burke said, "The national conference was a grand success. We united movement leaders from Florida to San Jose, from New Jersey to L.A., in opposing political repression, Islamophobia and the criminalization of whole communities. We dedicated ourselves to a campaign in solidarity with the famous Chicano leader and anti-war activist Carlos Montes, demanding "Drop the charges!" We discussed how, with the upsurge around the Occupy Wall Street movement, we are joining in efforts to lead protests while also popularizing the Carlos Montes solidarity campaign. With local police, directed by the FBI, arresting thousands of Occupy Wall Street movement protesters, there is an opportunity to organize thousands against political repression and to support Carlos Montes. If we go out and organize, we can beat these attacks."
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression was formed in September, 2010 after anti-war and international solidarity activists’ homes were raided by the FBI and 23 people were subpoenaed before a Chicago-based grand jury in a witch hunt chasing after phony ‘material support for terrorism’ charges.
This conference brought together supporters of the 23 activists, along with Carlos Montes, whose Los Angeles home was raided on orders from the FBI this past May as part of the same witch hunt, as well as family members of Arab and Muslim political prisoners in the U.S.
The conference passed resolutions committing to focus on defeating the charges against Carlos Montes; reaffirming the Pledge to Resist in support of the 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists who have refused to appear before the Chicago grand jury; and to build a broad front against U.S. government repression.
The last resolution recognizes the reality that the only way to stop the very serious attacks on so many Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs and anti-war and solidarity activists is through building broad unity to defend everyone under attack. Speakers emphasized that the laws and court interpretations have become so bad that they have unleashed a general wave of repression that must be pushed back against as a whole.
There were also resolutions passed in support of continuing international solidarity work with Palestine and in support of mobilizing for mass anti-war protests at the G-8 and NATO meetings in Chicago in May 2012.
The resolution calling for a broad front against repression reads, in part:
“The government of the U.S. has constructed an immense repressive apparatus that is aimed at the Arab and Muslim communities, other oppressed peoples, and progressive social movements. The tools used by this apparatus include spying and surveillance, anti-democratic grand juries, repressive legislation, preemptive prosecutions and imprisonment. We condemn the green scare repression and the police violence that has been directed at occupy Wall Street/occupy everywhere movement.
“These attacks on our democratic and civil rights need to be meet with an effort to build the broadest possible united front against repression. Repressive legislation, such as the ‘Patriot Act’ and laws on ‘material support’ should be scrapped. Those who are facing repression need to be supported. We favor cooperation and coalitions with those who are working towards these ends. We will do everything in our power to put an end to these attacks. We understand the need for solidarity and that an injury to one is an injury to all.”
An impressive and inspiring range of speakers addressed the conference. There were family members of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim people facing political repression speaking alongside representatives of the 23 from the anti-war movement, as well as lawyers and activists from other organizations fighting against repression.
Sarah Smith of the Chicago Committee Against Political Repression opened the conference. She was one of the 23 activists subpoenaed to a grand jury because of her solidarity with Palestine. Tom Burke of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, who was also subpoenaed, welcomed people to the conference.
Carlos Montes, the Chicano movement leader, anti-war and immigrant rights activist whose home was raided and ransacked by the FBI and L.A. County Sheriffs, spoke in the morning about his activism and the repression he is facing. Montes faces six felony charges is mounting a vigorous political and legal defense.
Jeff Mackler spoke for the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) about the importance of defending the anti-war and international solidarity activists facing repression and the need to support all those under attack by the U.S. government. Mackler talked about his early political activism protesting against the McCarthyite wave of anti-communist repression, including the House Unamerican Activities Committee.
Jim Fennerty of the National Lawyers Guild and Jess Sundin of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee explained the case of the 23 anti-war and solidarity activists. They made it very clear that although the raids happened over a year ago, all signs point to the fact that the government is still planning to bring multiple indictments to try to jail people for a long time on ‘material support of terrorism’ charges. So, while it’s a good sign that nobody has been jailed for refusing to testify to the grand jury and that nobody has been indicted yet, it would be very unwise for people to think that the case is over. Fennerty made reference to the Holy Land 5 case, in which the government took several years before bringing the indictments that ultimately led to convictions and 65-year prison sentences.
Speak Out Against Repression
The next panel was the most moving of the conference, featuring family members and friends of people imprisoned for their ideas and political activism. Alejandro Molina of the National Boricua Human Rights Network spoke about the ongoing imprisonment of Puerto Rican independence activists.
Ali Al-Arian spoke about the case of his father, Dr. Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian has been through a years-long ordeal of imprisonment, isolation and multiple grand juries which he refused to speak to. Sharmin Sadequee spoke movingly about the case of her brother Shifa Sadequee. Noor Elashi also spoke movingly on the case of her father Ghassan Elashi and the Holy Land 5. The Holy Land Foundation was the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. and sent humanitarian aid to Palestine as well as other places. In Palestine they sent money to the same community organizations that the USAID and other international agencies also sent money to. But after 9/11, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down and the directors ultimately jailed for terms up to 65 years for ‘material support of terrorism.’ Mrs. Asmaa Ashqar spoke of the case of her husband Dr. Ashqar, who was one of the first people jailed under the 1996 anti-terrorism laws. Finally, Hatem Abudayyeh of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network spoke. He is one of the 23 solidarity activists raided last September and has been an outspoken advocate of Palestinian national unity and liberation.
After this panel there were workshops on labor solidarity, student activism, Palestine solidarity and legislative work.
During lunch there were video solidarity messages from Cornel West and Robert Meerpol, who were unable to attend the conference but sent their greetings. West praised the Committee to Stop FBI Repression and the 23 activists who have refused to cooperate with the grand jury witch hunt for keeping up vocal and vigorous activism. Meerpol, whose parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the 1950s during the McCarthyite anti-communist witch hunt, sent a message about the importance of this case. Jacques Rivera was also saluted. Rivera was wrongfully convicted in Chicago, Illinois and after years of campaigning for his freedom, he was finally freed in October after 21 years in prison. Stephanie Weiner, who had worked for his freedom with the Comite Exijimos Justicia, gave a moving talk about his struggle. Rivera emphasized the need to continue working to free all people who are unjustly imprisoned.
Understanding and Opposing FBI Repression, Grand Juries, and Pre-emptive Prosecution
After lunch there was a panel of legal experts and activists. The panel was introduced by Abayomi Azikiwe, of the Michigan Emergency Coalition Against War and Injustice (MECAWI), who talked about the link between U.S. wars and repression at home.
Michael Deutsch of the People’s Law Office spoke on the political use of grand juries and conspiracy charges. Steve Downs of Project Salam spoke on pre-emptive prosecutions and ‘thought crimes.’ Kay Guinane of the Charity and Security Network spoke about efforts to amend the ‘material support’ law and about the conflict between the Supreme Court’s Humanitarian Law Project vs. Holder decision and free speech. Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee spoke on the material support standard, ending the Patriot Act and local civil rights defense. Meredith Aby of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression spoke on the need to build a broad front against repression.
Another set of workshops then covered the upcoming G8/NATO meeting in Chicago and the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and the certainty of repression against activists protesting those events; mapping the landscape for struggle against repression; the immigrant rights movement and the fight against repression; and the Occupy Wall Street movement and political repression.
Finally there was a plenary where the above-mentioned resolutions were presented and passed. The plenary was introduced by Prexy Nesbitt, who played an important role in the South Africa anti-apartheid movement.
The conference was an important effort to build the movement to defend Carlos Montes and the 23 anti-war activists subpoenaed before a grand jury witch hunt in Chicago. The conference also put the case in the context of the growing repression over the past 15 years against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims and built deeper ties of unity and solidarity with all people facing this wave of repression, with a deeper commitment to push back against the U.S. government’s wave of repression as a whole.