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What’s next

In honor of the Year of the Protestor (as proclaimed by Time Magazine), the Journal of Ordinary Thought has reposted three poems from its summer issue on Art as Activism.  I like “What’s Next” by Lester Hemingway  (I like them all, but as you’d expect from a Hemingway, this one is pithy):



you’re angry.  me too

attention! the fruit is rotting

let’s save what we can


One of the best overviews of Occupy Wall Street is “The New Populists” in this month’s American Prospect.  Participant-observer Christopher Ketcham illuminates the fascinating dynamics of the movement with a depth and detail missing from most accounts, from the earliest discussions, to the intricate network of solidarity built on hard work and endless discussion, to the “blitzkrieg” – and markedly violent – police eviction on November 15, followed by a massive protest.

He notes the parallel with the populist movement of the 1890s – even citing a populist song on “the ninety and nine” who live in hunger and cold “that the one may live in luxury” – and America’s history of occupiers: Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, Martin Luther King’s Resurrection City, sit-down strikes in Flint, Coxey’s Army and the Bonus Marchers.  “The idea of occupation has outlasted Zucotti Park,” he writes.

Homes, schools, clinics 

We’ve covered the local movement to “occupy foreclosures”  — its roots in Boston and Florida go back years, and its opportunities are expanding everyday.  Another arena for occupiers is the fight to defend public schools.

At a recent teach-in by CTU and community allies, several angry parents spoke about the need to “occupy our schools.”  The Nation reports on occupy tactics being deployed to oppose the encroachment of charter schools in New York City and New Jersey as well as CPS chief Jean-Claud Brizard’s previous domain of Rochester — and his new one of Chicago.

The fight over school policy presents all the issues of the Occupy movement – the post-hoc, pro-forma charade of public input by CPS , presided over by a rubber-stamp Board of Education, makes a mockery of democracy.  Politically connected groups like UNO and AUSL have the inside track.  The wealthy elite – Penny Pritzker and the “billionaire boys club” — has overwhelming influence, even as corporate interests undermine school funding by evading taxes and sucking up TIF subsidies.

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Rally for ‘Jobs Not Cuts’

A new coalition challenging the federal government’s budget priorities will hold a town hall meeting with three members of Congress Thursday night, then adjourn to join Occupy Chicago outside the Bank of America at LaSalle and Jackson.

The town hall takes place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 20 at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, with a press conference at 5:30 p.m.

Move The Money Chicago, which includes scores of community, peace, and labor groups, calls for a massive jobs program funded by taxing the rich and ending overseas wars.

U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Jan Schakowsky will speak at the meeting, along with local residents spelling out concerns – a public school teacher, a victim of foreclosure, an unemployed worker, and others, said Terry Davis of MTM Chicago.

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Peacemaking: From West Bank to West Side

When he was on the West Bank with a Christian Peacemaker Team in 2005, Chicago organizer Elce Redmond realized the problems people faced there were similar to those faced by people back home – and solutions might be similar too.

Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition, will give the opening keynote for CPT’s 25th anniversary Peacemaker Congress, Thursday, October 13 at 8 p.m. at Evanston Reba Place Church, 533 Custer.  The congress runs through Sunday the 16th.

In 2005, Redmond’s team was providing “peaceful accompaniment” for Palestinian schoolchildren who faced bullying and attacks by adults (“they were mostly from New York,” he says) living in Israeli settlements there.  “I was struck that the same situation happens on the West Side of Chicago, kids trying to get home from school and facing gangs and violence.”

Back home, Redmond began organizing the Austin Peaceforce, with parents and community volunteers trained in nonviolent strategies who are deployed to defuse conflicts and prevent violence.  Today they have a regular presence in Austin schools, including parent patrols after school.

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This could be the start of something big

New and old strands of youth, community, labor and peace organizing – voicing growing anger over the state of our economy and our democracy – will come together in a series of events here over the next week, with thousands expected for a major Columbus Day demonstration.

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Vets: Stop redeploying injured troops

At a Memorial Day ceremony Monday, anti-war veterans will call for an end to redeployment of troops suffering from war-related trauma.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace will gather at the Vietnam War Memorial by the river at Wacker and Wabash at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 30.

It’s one of many events across the country supporting IVAW’s Operation Recovery, an organizing campaign at Fort Hood in Texas which is pressing the base commander to stop the large-scale redeployment of troops with Military Sexual Trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Fort Hood is a major site for deployment of troops overseas, and WBEZ reports that 22 soldiers committed suicide there last year.

With redeployment rates at historic highs, veterans say about 20 percent of the military are suffering from some form of trauma.  Up to 60 percent of female reservists and National Guard report sexual harrassment on overseas deployments, Chicago IVAW activist Aaron Hughes told Radio Arte last December.

“The Department of Defense has regulations against deploying soldiers who are dealing with trauma,” he said. “But no one is holding them accountable to their own regulations.”

One issue is a lack of testing.  “They are not testing for TBI after every concussion” as they should be, Hughes said.

Soldiers who seek help are often simply medicated and redeployed, Navy veteran David Van Dam told Radio Arte.  He cited a Military Times report that psychiatric drug use by the military has increased dramatically since the current wars began.

According to the report, at least 17 percent of active duty personnel are prescribed antidepressants, and the use of antipsychotic medication is up 200 percent since 2001.  Many troops are prescribed “cocktails” of multiple medications, and “off-label” use is common, with drugs developed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder commonly used to treat PTSD symptoms.

The same drugs are prescribed for veterans with 100 percent disability due to PTSD, Van Dam pointed out.

The drugs have a range of side effects; some can impair motor skills and reduce reaction times; commonly-used antidepressants are known to increase the risk of suicide and aggression.

“These soldiers are over there carrying weapons, putting themselves at risk along with their fellow service members, and the Afghan and Iraqi people,” he said.

Multiple deployments increase the risk of PTSD, and redeployment of soldiers with trauma heightens the risk of serious disability, advocates say.

It’s another reason to “end the occupations,” Hughes said last year.  “The military depends on redeploying these traumatized soldiers in order to keep the wars going.”

FBI documents found after raid released

Local activists will speak out in support of a prominent immigrant rights leader in Los Angeles who was arrested last week as part of an FBI investigation of anti-war groups which first came to light in raids in Chicago and Minneapolis last September.

A press conference at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25 at the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn, will include statements by local leaders of the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign, the Boricua Human Rights Campaign, and the Comite Anti-Militarizacion.

Carlos Montes, well-known in activist circles as a founder of the Brown Berets in the 1960s, was arrested on a weapons code violation May 17 in a raid in which FBI agents broke down his door and took computers, cell phones and political documents, according to the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

The group has posted on its website FBI documents left behind in a raid on the home of two Minneapolis activists last year, including a detailed plan for the raid and a long list of questions to ask subjects of the investigation.

The plan shows that the investigation grew out of public statements by Minneapolis activists criticizing U.S. support for the Colombian government’s counterinsurgency war, based on their personal observations after visiting the country.

The questions are “McCarthyite to a bizarre degree,” said Joe Iosbaker, a local labor and solidarity activist whose home was among those raided.  “It boils down to this: the government wants to know who you know and what are your ideas.

“They’re not looking for guns, they’re not looking for large amounts of money.  They’re looking for names of people in the movement.”

Iosbaker is one of 23 Midwest activists who were subpoenaed by a grand jury.  He said his lawyers expect indictments based on an expanded definition of “material support for terrorism” — that now can include speech advocating legal activity — resulting from a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

In January activists revealed the role of a police infiltrator who targetted groups which organized a massive anti-war demonstration at the Republican National Convention in 2008, linking it to a long history of infiltration and disruption of political dissenters by the FBI.

Chicagoans guilty in drone protest

Three Chicago area residents were among fourteen convicted last week of trespassing for a peace action at a Nevada  air force base aimed at stopping drone attacks in Afghanistan.

Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, an Uptown resident, veteran pacifist Brad Lyttle of Hyde Park, and Libby Pappalardo of Crystal Lake were among those sentenced Wednesday to time served and released by Judge William Jensen.

The judge rejected the protestors’ “necessity” defense – that their crime was necessary to prevent a greater harm.  Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and retired Air Force Colonel Ann Wright testified on their behalf in a trial last September.

The protestors entered Creech Air Force Base, about an hour north of Las Vegas, on April 9, 2009, asking to speak to the base commander.  In a gesture of good will, they brought pizza to share with base personnel.

Creech is “the little-known nerve center of drone operations,” according to the Las Vegas City Blog, where air force personnel at computer terminals operate drones which track and target alleged terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“A July 2009 report from the Brookings Institution found that for every supposed terrorist killed by a drone strike, more than ten Afghan or Pakistani civilians have been killed,” City Blog reports.  The drones are believed to have killed upwards of 1,000 civilians.

In statements prior to sentencing, Kelly spoke of her recent trip to Afghanistan, where she met with victims of drone attacks.  One man showed her photos of the carnage from an attack that killed his wife and five children.  She also met a nine-year-old girl who lost her arm in the same attack.

“It’s criminal for the U.S. to spend $2 billion per week for war in Afghanistan that maims, kills and displaces innocent civilians who’ve meant us no harm,” Kelly told the court, according to a post on the VFCN website.

“The use of drones has increased hatred and violence in our world,” said Pappalardo. “Our country is worse off because of the violence of war and militarism….I will continue to struggle for human rights and nonviolence, so that all the world’s children can feel safe and embraced by peace and hope.”

Noting that “we are shooting missiles and killing [people] in an arbitrary manner” and “generating great hatred” which could lead to retaliation, Lyttle said:  “We need to establish peaceful, just ways to resolve disputes…. We have to develop non-military means for achieving justice and therefore peace.”

Fitzgerald to be ‘subpoenaed’; FBI infiltration revealed

Marking Martin Luther King’s birthday by recalling the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of the civil rights leader, local students will deliver a “people’s subpoena” to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tomorrow morning, calling for an end to a federal investigation of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis.

“Fitzgerald is leading the outrageous political witchhunt against antiwar activists, international solidarity activists, and Palestinian-Americans, in an attempt to intimidate and criminalize those who speak out against U.S. foreign policy,” said Chapin Gray of the UIC chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.

Members of local SDS chapters, Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul and UIC, and others will  deliver the subpoena at the Dirksen Federal Building on Friday, January 14 at 9 a.m.

Three DePaul students who are active in Students for Justice in Palestine are among nine activists, most of them Palestinian-Americans, who have been subpoened to appear before a grand jury in Chicago on January 25.  One of them, Sarah Smith, will speak on Sunday (January 16, 2 p.m.) at Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington, on the topic, “Can Travel Be Criminal?”

The three students traveled to Israel and Palestine last summer; a statement from Smith is posted on the website of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

The new subpoenas are on top of 14 issued in September (see previous post for background) when activists’ homes were raided in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere.

Details of investigation

The students’ “street theater” subpoenaing of Fitzgerald comes two days after a press conference in Minneapolis where subpoenaed activists revealed they’ve learned “in conversations with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago” that a law enforcement agent known to them as Karen Sullivan infiltated the Anti-War Committee of Minneapolis and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Video of the press conference is available at Twin Cities Indymedia Center.

At the press conference, Jess Sundin of AWC said it  appears that Fitzgerald’s investigation is focused on small donations to the daycare and women’s center projects of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

“It appears the only thing they’re suggesting could have been criminal is this fundraising for the women’s union,” Joe Iosbaker, a target of the September raids, told Newstips.  “That’s the crime.”

“We were very open about our work to support the UPWC,” said Sundin in Minneapolis. The group “is registered with the Palestinian Authority and is not illegal under Israeli or international law,” she said.  It works for women’s equality and provides basic social services, she said.

Sundin said that Sullivan infiltrated AWC prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis – AWC organized antiwar protests during the convention – and subsequently became very active with the group, chairing meetings, representing AWC in local and national coalitions, and for the past year helping with bookkeeping.

“She had full access to membership lists, financial information, and decision making,” said Sundin.  “If there were any criminal activity happening here, agent Sullivan would have known about it.”  She added: “The only crimes committed here were the abuse of our rights by Karen Sullivan herself.”

Instead, “lacking any evidence to charge anyone with a crime, today people are being dragged through an intimidating grand jury process, which is a fishing expedition.,” said Sundin.

Looking for names

Iosbaker said that in inventories of materials seized in the raid on his home, “the single main thing they took were pieces of paper with names, phone numbers and email addresses.”

Speaking on Democracy Now in December, former FBI agent Mike German said the subpoenas mainly focused on “associational information…address books, computer records, literature and advocacy materials – First Amendment [protected] materials.

“So that creates a huge chill beyond these activists and their associates to the entire advocacy community,” said German, who is now security policy counsel for the ACLU.

“It damages our democracy because people start to be afraid of participating in the political process,” he said.

Also on Democracy Now, local activist Maureen Clare Murphy noted the “irony” of a federal investigation of activists who have often protested at federal buildings and written to federal officials.

“We’ve been very vocal and public in our calls for a more just U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, so I don’t think the government needs to subpoena us to find out what we believe and what we do,” she said. “So that’s why we think this is really about trying to intimidate and silence our movement.”

Murphy, one of the nine subpoenaed for January 25, is managing editor of Electronic Intifada and active with the Palestine Solidarity Group.  She’s posted a statement at the Middle East project of the Nation Institute.

Electronic Intifada has noted that grand juries have become “a tool of political inquisition” in recent decades and called the current investigation “part of a broad attack on the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements and a threat to all of our rights.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, former FBI agent Colleen Rowley pointed out that protections were put in place to guard against political spying following revelations of widespread surveillance and disruption of progressive movements by the FBI under COINTELPRO, including actions against Martin Luther King.  But the safeguards were lifted following the attacks of September 11, 2001, she said.

“Those were the standards I operated on doing domestic terrorism investigations, and I found they were very helpful,” German commented  “It helped me focus on people who were actually doing bad things rather than people who were saying things that I didn’t like or didn’t agree with….

“After 9/11 these standards have been diluted significantly to where the FBI literally requires no factual predicate to start and investigation….

“Your innocence doesn’t protect you any more.  They can literally start collecting information on anybody.”

The FBI and MLK

Under COINTELPRO, Martin Luther King was subjected to wiretaps, burglaries, harassment by poison pen letters and stories planted in newspapers by the FBI.  And after he criticized the FBI — he said the bureau’s civil rights investigations were hampered by the predominance of white segregationists in its southern offices – the group he headed, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was infiltrated.

ADD 1-14-11

According to CNN, tens of thousands of FBI documents show “the fanatical zeal with which the FBI tracked King” and “spell out in detail the government agency’s concerted efforts to derail King’s efforts on behalf of civil rights.”

After King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, an FBI memo cited by CNN called him “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country,” and FBI department heads met to discuss ways of “neutralizing King” – “without embarrassment to the Bureau.”

Historians including King biographer David Garrow (also author of “The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr.”) dismiss charges of goverment involvement in King’s assassination, as did a 2000 Department of Justice investigation.  An earlier House Select Comittee on Assassinations found the “likelihood of a conspiracy.”  And in 1999, a jury in a civil trial brought by the King family found there was a conspiracy involving “government agencies.”

Evidence brought by the King family in that trial – which generated almost no media coverage – suggested involvement by the FBI and military intelligence in planning and covering up King’s assassination.

Among the witnesses was former Representative Walter Fauntroy, who chaired the House Select Committee and testified that the committee was denied access to FBI files on the assassination.

One of the few reporters who covered the trial published an extensive report in Probe Magazine in 2000.

In 2004, Rev. Jesse Jackson told Democracy Now:  “I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.”

It is known that a year and a half after King’s assassination, the FBI helped plan the assassination of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.  An FBI infiltrator provided local police with a sketch of Hampton’s apartment, and it’s believed he drugged Hampton earlier in the evening.  The informer received a bonus and commendation from the FBI after Hampton’s killling.

Following King’s assassination in 1968, the FBI maintained surveillance on Coretta Scott King until 1972.

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