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Meeting pledges to ‘stop grand jury’

Published Nov 12, 2010 7:53 PM

“Stop the grand jury!” That was the main message of a Nov. 6 meeting here called to form a national defense committee to defend anti-war, anti-racist and international solidarity activists from the Midwest who were hit by FBI raids on their homes on Sept. 24. Some 150 people jammed the back room of the Church of St. Marks on the Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where they pledged to help build a movement against FBI repression and grand jury intimidation.

Anti-war activists targeted by FBI establish
national defense committee at New York
WW photo: John Catalinotto

Many in the audience were themselves anti-war activists. About half had attended the United National Antiwar Committee’s regional meeting at the same location earlier in the day. UNAC spokesperson Joe Lombardo pledged support to those under attack.

Many others were stalwarts of local committees to defend political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal. Many came from political organizations in the city, including a strong delegation from Workers World Party. All were in solidarity with those under attack.

The audience applauded the decision of the 14 subpoenaed activists not to appear before a grand jury. They each signed a letter from their lawyers stating they would refuse to testify. The subpoenas were then withdrawn, but this did not mean that the case was dropped.

At the Nov. 6 meeting, civil liberties attorney Bruce Nestor, who represents those subpoenaed, said the Department of Justice is re-subpoenaing three of the 14 targeted anti-war activists. Nestor explained that they have the choice of testifying against their friends and the movement or potentially serving jail time for contempt of court if they refuse.

Among those speaking were several of the activists whose homes were raided: Steff Yorek, Mick Kelly, Hatem Abudayyeh and Jess Sundin. Tom Burke co-chaired the meeting with Cherrene Horazuk.

Kelly gave an overview of the FBI offensive, which reached as far as California and North Carolina, although most of those subpoenaed were in Minneapolis and Chicago. He also thanked the movement in general for the quick and widespread solidarity expressed in demonstrations in more than 60 cities in the first weeks after the home invasions.

Sundin and Abudayyeh added more political insight, and also gave a feel for the personal side of being ambushed by the FBI and having your home, your life and your children’s sense of security disrupted by the brutal state apparatus.

A special report from Noor Elashi, daughter of Holy Land Foundation founder Ghassan Elashi, made it clear that the repressive law making it illegal to give “material aid” of any sort to a group the U.S. State Department decides to call “terrorist” is an ugly, undemocratic weapon. After Ghassan Elashi’s first trial ended in a hung jury, another jury at a retrial found Ghassan guilty of giving aid to the Palestinian liberation group Hamas, which was elected by the people of Gaza and has resisted Israel’s blockade of the densely populated area. He was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

Noor Elashi, who has been working on a book about her father’s case, has not been allowed to visit him for a year. She pointed out that Attorney General Eric Holder praised the prosecutors and the FBI investigators at an awards ceremony in Washington Oct. 27 for their persecution of the Palestinian philanthropist.

The organizers introduced Sara Flounders of the International Action Center, underlining the contribution that she made to building the meeting. Flounders made an appeal for funds. Both the response to this appeal and many comments showed the breadth of support within the anti-war and progressive movements for those under attack. Ten of the 14 are trade unionists, some are known for organizing the protests at the Republican National Convention and anti-war activities as well as showing solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles in Colombia and the Middle East.

The audience was clearly heartened that those under attack had refused to cooperate, that this set an example for the movement as a whole; many said it was the only way to stop the grand jury. At least 100 people committed to take to the streets in emergency protests the day after new subpoenas are served.

Some of the activists also made it clear they believed it was completely legitimate to show political solidarity with the liberation movements in Colombia and Palestine.

To anyone knowledgeable of the crimes of U.S. imperialism, it was painful to think that the criminals in the state apparatus, who are responsible for the most horrible murders of the Iraqi and Afghan people, who finance state and paramilitary terror against the people of Colombia, who arm the Israeli terrorist state against the Palestinians, can dare to threaten activists here for taking the side of oppressed peoples fighting for their freedom. Stop the grand jury!

For more information see StopFBI.net. To sign a petition of support, see iacenter.org/stopfbi/.