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WW interviews Stop FBI spokesperson

Published Feb 17, 2011 9:55 PM

Tom Burke
WW photo: Bryan G. Pfeifer

Bryan G. Pfeifer, Workers World newspaper contributing editor and member of the Detroit Committee to Stop FBI/Grand Jury Repression, interviewed Tom Burke of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and spokesperson for the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Jan. 28. Burke was one of the 23 international solidarity activists issued subpoenas by the FBI since September 2010. The committee is sponsoring conferences on Feb. 19 in both New York City and North Carolina. On Feb. 12 there were conferences in Chicago and San Francisco. For more information: www.stopfbi.net.

WWP: There has been and continues to be resistance against the FBI and other agencies of the U.S. government for this most recent attack on international solidarity activists and other progressive individuals, including union staffers and members. Would you expand?

TB: Nine of the 23 solidarity activists subpoenaed were due to appear on Jan. 25, and I’m happy to say all nine of those declined to appear at that time. There were more than 50 protests on Jan. 25 throughout the U.S. and a handful of places like Dublin, Ireland; Kiev, Ukraine; Canada; and Australia too. Hundreds of groups participated, and thousands of people came out to support the people who are anti-war and international solidarity activists who are being targeted by this government repression.

WWP: There was a press conference on Jan. 12 by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression that revealed government infiltration into progressive and revolutionary organizations.

TB: We don’t think who is paid and trained by the government to lie can really make an effective court case but that seems to be what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office is out to do, which is to attempt to criminalize our activism and criminalize our politics. And to intimidate people who have a different ideology or different views. And particularly a view that says the U.S. empire is doing bad things to people around the world, and the U.S. empire is in fact bad for poor and working people in the U.S. too. They are trying to criminalize the fact that that’s our belief. And this is what we express in our websites, in FightBack newspaper, in our anti-war activism and in our organizing and protests.

So it’s really the case that the thought police raided homes and we’re going to be put on trial for our ideas because there is no material aid for terrorism. We understand that they are claiming that their investigation is to look at material aid to groups on their list, but we say there isn’t any evidence because we haven’t done anything like that. And they had more than two years to find that evidence, but it doesn’t exist.

WWP: What has this done to the personal lives of those who’ve been attacked, and how are you dealing with the attempted government repression?

TB: Well, we understand that the government is going to try to disrupt and repress the anti-war movement as well as participate with companies that disrupt labor unions. The government has been oppressing Muslim and Arab groups, putting individuals in jail and setting them up in sting operations.

So we understand that the government is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich and that anyone who challenges that idea with a democratic movement against the U.S. empire is going to come into conflict with the government. But quite frankly we were shocked at the raids, and it turned people’s lives upside down, especially those whose homes were gone through and had their things taken away. It’s like being robbed; robbed of your dignity; robbed of your actual things. And so it really disrupted people initially.

At the same time, because we understand that the government is repressive towards people who want social change in the U.S. and really targets people that are revolutionary and is targeting from the White House and from the Justice Department; targeting people who believe in actual socialism, we were and are prepared to fight back.

Because what the White House is promoting is something called corporatism. And the Tea Party might call it socialism, but they know that’s not true either. They know that it’s corporate control and corporate power that’s being reinforced by Wall Street and the White House and that socialism is driven by working people having more and more democratic control of society.

And this is what we stand for: socialism, socialism from below. And so they are in the midst of this economic crisis and are trying to slow down our ability to organize in the movements against the economic crisis whether it’s low-income people or union workers or any other forms it takes trying to prevent and slow down the economic crisis.

The movement since the raids has been overwhelming. We as leaders are attempting to keep up with the movement at this time. We saw over 70 cities protest in the two and three weeks following the raids. And we have over 500 solidarity statements from big unions; from student networks such as Students for a Democratic Society and Students for Justice in Palestine; churches like the Presbyterian Church have made statements; and many others from the religious sector including Jewish, Christian and Muslim denominations of all kinds have made statements supporting us.

Internationally we’re beginning to gather steam and are getting more contacts internationally to shine a light on U.S. repression at home. We think the repression at home is a result of the decline of the empire overseas. The “American century” is over, and it’s not coming back. So they are beginning to treat people who want social change in the U.S. as an internal enemy. Maybe they’re not just beginning, but they’re intensifying that and we’re returning to a period like we saw in the sixties with Cointelpro. We think Patrick Fitzgerald is like the new McCarthy figure who wants to target activists for their beliefs and put them in jail.

WWP: Many of those targeted by the U.S. government are Palestinian solidarity activists. Why do you think they are being targeted?

TB: The original infiltration began during the Republican National Convention, and we were able to unite all the groups in the anti-war movement and all the different kinds of trends that wanted to protest against the Republicans. We think that had an impact on the outcome of the elections. Our view was that McCain and the other warmongers of the Republicans should be defeated, and we organized to help make that happen. The night McCain was nominated he had to share a split screen [on major media outlets] with our protest, and that sent a clear message against war and against the occupation of Iraq and the continuation of the war in Afghanistan to the people of this country who were going out to vote.

And then you update it to now. I think we are the people who are effective at organizing solidarity with Palestine. Along with others, we are able to unite many groups and individuals to protest the Israeli occupation, to protest U.S. funding of Israel and its occupation of Palestine and war making in Palestine.

And Israel is becoming more and more isolated in the world as young people around the world see that it’s an apartheid state the way South Africa used to be, and there’s no turning back now. There’s all these young Jewish Americans who are anti-Zionist, and they’re speaking out against it, and it’s terrific. They’re standing against oppression and standing for the freedom of the Palestinian and other Arab peoples, and they know we can live in a world where Jews and Muslims and Christians and Palestinians and people who are their neighbors can all live in peace together, but it can’t be under the boot heel of the U.S. empire.

WWP: Why are the regional conferences being held this month, and what’s their focus?

TB: On Feb. 12 we’ll be having regional conferences for the West Coast in Oakland at the Humanist Center, and in Chicago at Teamster’s City. The following weekend on Feb. 19 in New York City and in Durham, North Carolina, there’ll be an Eastern and Southern regional conference.

If the government is allowed to say that a humanitarian donation to refugee camps is a crime, it’s going to affect not just hundreds of groups but thousands. Church groups that are sending warm clothing to a refugee camp in a war zone will have to figure out first whether the U.S. government is going to approve of that or whether they might go to prison for it. And people who do medical projects, people who do education projects, will all have to question their solidarity work.

Whatever ideas they’re motivated by, they are all threatened by this court case that’s coming up. We think the Obama administration should put a halt to it and say international solidarity is not a crime, free speech is important and the right to organize is a right that we cherish.

WWP: Many of those raided by the FBI and subpoenaed by the government are affiliated in some capacity with labor unions or labor-related organizations. What has been the response from the labor movement to the attempted government repression? And why do you feel it’s so important that the labor movement responds strongly against the attempted repression - especially during this time of economic crisis?

TB: Ten of the original 14 activists subpoenaed either belonged to trade unions or are or were members of trade unions. Many of them are elected as stewards or officers of the local unions that they belong to.

The outpouring of support, especially those unions that we’re directly connected to, such as AFSCME and the SEIU, has been terrific, which shows we think that people know who we are, and they know the government is trying to criminalize our activity. And they are willing to come out strong and stand with us. The Chicago Teachers Union and the United Electrical Workers have passed resolutions supporting us.

The San Francisco Labor Council I have to mention too, and their resolution was probably the strongest so far, and it came within days of the raids. And honestly we didn’t know anyone in those unions or on that council, but they saw what happened and sent us a solidarity statement, and four other unions in the Bay Area sent individual statements too. So the outpouring from labor has been terrific.

We think that the government is more and more getting involved in the repression of the labor movement, especially given that there’s such a deep economic crisis, and unemployment is not going away anytime soon. And people are being threatened with being kicked off the rolls, not hundreds or thousands but millions of people threatened with a loss of income in this country, and they are right to be angry about it.

People not getting raises are right to be upset when the bankers who were bailed out by Bush and the new administration are bringing in huge profits again and giving out Christmas bonuses of tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars while ten percent of America is jobless. People don’t need to be told that this is unjust. They know it. When their houses are being foreclosed on, they know it. When they’re being made homeless, they know it. And we know it, and we are able to organize. So in some ways this attack by the government has prevented us from focusing our efforts there. So we’re asking the labor movement to stand with us.

WWP: Any other comments?

TB: International solidarity is not a crime and we will continue to organize. We think we’ve done a good job so far, and we appreciate all those people who have turned out and are helping us to build a leadership across the country. We’re not in this fight alone, and we don’t plan to move forward alone, and we thank our friends and comrades. I also want to encourage people to turn out for the protests on April 9 against the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq and to continue building the movement to stop U.S. aid to Israel.