We Have to Demand What Power Won’t Concede

by Mary Beaudoin

     When abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “Power never concedes anything without demand. It never has, never will,” it was the middle of the nineteenth century. He was certainly prescient in that it “never will.”

Here, in the United States, in the 21st century, the struggle continues. In the following two cases, people had to demand their First Amendment rights, which were violated by overreaching law enforcement.

     We can take heart in that they received some justice, which helps to reaffirm those rights. Greater challenges remain with the subpoenas of antiwar and international solidarity activists, but the following victories can inspire and bolster our fight for First Amendment protection.

On March 31 of this year a federal judge ruled that a jury trial can go forward with protesters suing Ramsey County, former Sheriff Bob Fletcher, and several sheriff’s deputies regarding four raids that took place August 28 and 30, 2008, just before the Republican National Convention, when law enforcement seized thousands of pieces of literature from them.

     U.S. District Judge John Tunheim refused to grant the officers immunity and said they must face trial. He wrote in his opinion: “Based on the volume and breadth of documents seized, a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that the purpose of such broad seizures was to deter plaintiffs’ speech and prevent them from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

     There is now legal standing to challenge not only the warrants, but also the manner in which they were executed. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the jury will recognize the rights of the protesters, but it does give the go-ahead to further their case.

     In the second case in point, on April 26th the city of Chicago agreed to settle a claim filed jointly by the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and by the ACLU over police spying. AFSC was awarded $5000 and the ACLU $7,000, according to the Sun Times.

     The case dates back to 2002 when the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue was planning a major meeting in Chicago. The Chicago Police Department’s “Red Squad” spied on, infiltrated and harassed groups. Ironically, they spied on the Quaker group at a time when the group was negotiating with police on how to keep a planned march and demonstration within police guidelines.

     The ACLU has urged recently elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (former White House Chief of Staff) to have his police superintendent put reasonable suspicion guidelines in place to prevent police encroachment on protected First Amendment activity.

     In both of these cases, people demanded that their First Amendment rights be protected. The same is true of the antiwar activists who were targeted in Chicago and Minneapolis under the new and ridiculously overreaching “material support for terrorism” ruling. They were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, whose proceedings are secret and do not allow them to have legal representation in the room.

     The activists have refused to appear or cooperate with the subpoenas. They have been traveling the country and speaking about the injustice of what amounts to a witch hunt and fishing expedition. It is very important to support them. Nothing less than our First Amendment rights are at stake.

     Ask your member of Congress to join with Representatives Keith Ellison (MN-5), David Price (NC-4), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), and Jim McDermott (WA-7), who each wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. Representative Danny Davis (IL-7) addressed his letter to President Obama. They all wrote to express their concerns about the FBI’s abuse of power in their attacks on the rights of antiwar protesters. For more information, see StopFBI.net.

     Also, something we all need to be aware of: Congress voted to extend the notoriously oppressive USA PATRIOT Act through May 27, 2011 to allow time for more debate on three sinister provisions. These provisions relate to spying on communications and obtaining them through secret orders. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression asks people to demand their Congress members vote not to renew these provisions.

     In addition, we should be aware of the JUSTICE (Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts) Act which was introduced in 2010 by then Senator Russ Feingold, the only senator courageous enough to vote against the PATRIOT Act when it was first introduced in the wake of 9/11. Provisions in the JUSTICE Act are specifically germane to the subpoenas, containing important revisions of the overreaching standard set for “material support for terrorism” in the 2010 landmark Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

     While the 2011 version of the JUSTICE Act has yet to be introduced, it is currently under development and is awaiting cosponsors. In the Senate, interested members of Congress can contact Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). In the House, contact Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ).  More information is available at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee website.

You are invited to hear directly from the antiwar activists targeted by the FBI:
Been to Palestine Lately? The FBI Might Come Knocking at Your Door
Saturday, May 21. 9:30 a.m. Refreshments; 10:00 a.m. Program.
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer, 5440 Penn Ave. So., Minneapolis

Sarah Smith of Chicago and Sarah Martin of Minneapolis, who have both been subpoenaed, will talk about why they wanted to go to Palestine, their experiences, what our government does not want the public to know, an update on their case, and how their lives have changed after being called to testify before a grand jury. Sponsored by: Middle East Peace Now (MEPN) and the WAMM Middle East Committee. FFI: Call WAMM, 612-827-5364.

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By Published On: May 6th, 2011Comments Off on Frederick Douglass on not conceding to power—then and now. . .

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