Tuesday, January 25th was the day that 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists were made to appear before a Federal Grand Jury in Chicago. It was also the day that all of them refused to testify. In solidarity with those targeted by government repression, several rallies were held in cities across the United States—and the world—including Chicago, Minneapolis, New York City, San Fransisco, Milwaukee and at U.S. embassies and consulates in Canada, Ukraine, Ireland and Australia.
In New York City, over 80 protesters, including members of the Coney Island Avenue Project, Veterans for Peace, Brooklyn for Peace and the War Resisters League, gathered chanting “We are not afraid!” in front of the federal building in downtown Manhattan.
While the policing of dissent is in no way new to the United States, this latest wave, which began with the first round of subpoenas issued in late September of 2010, brings tactics that have not been seen here for some time. Key to this criminalization are policies which have broadened the definition of ‘material support‘ (to include humanitarian aid, lit distribution, and political advocacy for any foreign entity that is called ‘terrorist’ by the executive branch) and the 2008 FBI guidelines signed by US Attorney General Michael Mukasey (Eric Holder’s predecessor) which permit federal agents to monitor and infiltrate without any factual basis for suspicion. Guilty until proven innocent is now the starting point for those that are targeted.
As others have noted, the limits on what the FBI can do which were fought for and won in the mid 70s are what allowed successful movements such as the campaign to end Apartheid in South Africa that peaked in the 80s, to flourish. Subject to the newly empowered FBI, movements that look to stand on the shoulders of past successes will be severely limited and unable to carry out their legacy.
In response, The Committee to Stop FBI repression, which coordinated Wednesday’s actions has put out the following three demands: “Stop the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists, immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell phones, papers, documents, etc. and end the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists.” They are also planning to hold regional organizing conferences nationwide to discuss the issue in early February.
As Maureen Murphy, one of the activists subpoenaed and refusing to testify has written: “We have done nothing wrong and risk being jailed because we have exercised our rights to free speech, to organize and hold our government accountable. It is a dark day for America when people face jail for exercising the rights that we hold so dear.”