Don’t Let Them Divide Us

The nationally coordinated raids that occurred on September 24th at 7 a.m. targeted many activists in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan. Some 14 individuals were subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. The WILPF MN Metro Branch was one of the first groups to publicly stand in solidarity with other peace organizations and progressive activists in condemning the FBI raids. The branch’s statement said, in part: “Such tactics serve only to suppress dissent, inhibit action for peace and justice, and discourage legitimate travel abroad. They are evidence of an ongoing climate of curtailment of civil liberties under the pretext of the ‘war on terror.’”

We encourage other branches to make and publicize similar statements, and meet with their legislators to protest these invasions. The national meeting of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression was called to address the ongoing FBI actions and three key demands were discussed: ending the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists, returning all materials seized in the raids, and calling off the Grand Jury. During the meeting, Attorney Bruce Nestor of the National Lawyers Guild explained that the Guild sees the material support laws, which are the basis of the investigation against the 14 anti-war activists, as an attempt to repress U.S. activists' involvement and solidarity with liberation struggles.

The federal law cited in the search warrants prohibits “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations”. Strengthened by the PATRIOT Act, this law allows for U.S. citizens to be prosecuted for their speech if they coordinate nonviolent action with a designated “foreign terrorist organization.” So far, this law has largely been used against individuals, often Muslim Americans. This is the first time the government is going directly after the antiwar and peace movement. The National Lawyers Guild has a hotline with “Know Your Rights” materials for anyone who needs them.

These raids represent an attack on civil liberties in general and the peace movement in specific. As Nestor points out, the FBI targeted “people who are deeply rooted in the progressive community…These are grandmothers, they’re mothers, they’re union activists. They were some of the organizers of the largest antiwar march at the 2008 Republican National Convention.”

Also in November, the local WILPF Branch in Philadelphia helped sponsor “The War on Dissent: A Town Hall” meeting. This town hall meeting, held on Nov. 10, was organized by the ACLU-PA. It was convened in response to the revelation that hundreds of activist groups in Pennsylvania were being tracked by "terror-watch" intelligence bulletins created by the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR), a private firm paid by the PA Office of Homeland Security to monitor peaceful activities such as taxpayer protests and candlelight vigils.

Panelists discussed the rise in surveillance and harassment of activists, including the dangers of fusion centers (mechanisms created to share federal, state and local intelligence), the use of the PATRIOT Act’s “material support” statute to go after activists, and the risks of privatizing intelligence-gathering. The panel included Jess Sundin, one of the targets of the recent FBI raids on activists. (Sundin also spoke in New York, where she said she watched officials who raided her home “....going through all of our personal belongings, every book, paper, our clothes, and fill[ing] several boxes and crates with our computers, our phones, passport. And when they were done, they had many crates full of my personal belongings, with which they left my house.”)

In Philadelphia, the First Amendment Network has come together to organize for protection of all people from government surveillance, including its suppression of our right to freedom of speech and the right to dissent. The Philadelphia Branch urges member to watch carefully the activities of your state Office of Homeland Security and the FBI in particular.
WILPF stands in solidarity with anti-war activists across the nation and the globe and calls on President Obama to end this assault on civil liberties.

Special thanks to Pat O’Brien, Marge Van Cleef, Laura Roskos and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

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