New York, NY – Jess Sundin, of the Committee to Stop FBI repression, spoke on a panel at the Left Forum here, June 8. Entitled the “Targeted killings of Americans on American soil: the story of Lynne Stewart, political prisoners and all progressive struggles in America.” The panel included Ralph Poynter, husband of jailed people’s lawyer Lynn Stewart and a leader of her defense committee. Also speaking was Ricardo Jimenez and Luis Rosa, fighters for Puerto Rico’s independence who served long prison sentences, Sue Udry of the Defending Dissent Foundation, Reverend Pinkney, Pam Africa, and others.
Sundin’s speech follows:
Greetings comrades and friends. It’s an honor and humbling to speak with you today, and especially to appear on such an esteemed panel – you represent some of the most important movements of our time. Many of you have been invaluable allies to myself and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. Thank you for all of your work.
As Ralph [Poynter] says, the clock is ticking for our brothers and sisters, political prisoners behind bars. These men and women, freedom fighters, were targeted by a government that has no interest in justice.
We are talking about a government that is in the hands of vampires who have no shame. They built a country on stolen land, on the backs of stolen people, by exploiting the labor of working people – especially African slaves, and now super-exploited immigrant workers. They wage brutal wars to seize control of other nations’ wealth, and they protect banksters and bosses who steal the jobs, homes and safety net that thousands of working people need for our survival. They pass laws to limit our rights to organize and pave the way for environmental destruction. We must bear in mind that those in power have no interest in justice. In fact, their interests run counter to justice at every turn. They thirst for profit and domination and it is no surprise that they act out against those who see that another world is possible, and who dare to fight for it.
In preparing for today, I thought back to when I first met Lynne [Stewart] and Ralph, in the summer of 2008 at an anti-war conference in Ohio. This was after her conviction for material support to terrorism and related charges, but before her sentencing. I had stars in my eyes when I met the famous people’s attorney, Lynne Stewart. I was charmed by her warmth and openness, when she signed on in support of the anti-war march I was organizing at the RNC in Saint Paul the following September. At that time, I had no idea that organizing would send me down a similar path to Lynne. Undercover agents surveilled myself and other protest organizers and began to manufacture a case against us, also on charges of material support to terrorism.
In 2010, the FBI carried out coordinated raids at the homes of anti-war and international solidarity activists. When they arrived at our home at 7:00 a.m. on Sept. 24, we did not understand the scope of these events. We were focused on the battering ram poised at the door when my partner and our 6-year-old daughter opened it. It soon became clear that the government was targeting us, just as it had Lynne, as well as so many Arabs and Muslims before us, in an effort to silence dissent and clear the way for imperialist wars abroad. In all, nine homes were raided, 23 people were subpoenaed to the grand jury, and another brother, Carlos Montes, was targeted with felony charges going back to an old COINTELPRO-era case against him as a leader in the Chicano movement. We had to fight back.
We made several important decisions:
First, we refused to cooperate with the prosecution. Not one of us testified at that grand jury, even with the threat of imprisonment for refusing. We would not help the government make a case against our colleagues in the U.S., nor would we give them information that could endanger the lives and work of our comrades abroad.
Our resolve won the support of thousands, who protested, made phone calls, signed petitions, and hosted speakers around our case.
Our second important decision was to build a public campaign in defense of ourselves and our work. I was giving press interviews on my front lawn, while FBI agents carried boxes of my belongings out the front door behind me. We never apologized for our organizing; we stood by liberation movements from Palestine to Colombia, even those unjustly termed ‘terrorist’ by the U.S. government.
Our third important decision was to unite with others fighting repression, starting with other targets of the bogus ‘war on terror.’ We have worked in support of the Holy Land 5, directors of the largest Muslim charity in the U.S., targeted because they are Palestinian and stand with their people against the Zionist occupation. The men of the Holy Land 5 are currently serving sentences as long as 65 years, after the same prosecutor from our case won a conviction on material support for terrorism. Amina Ali and Hawo Hassan, Somali women from Minnesota, were just sentenced last month to 20 and 10 years, for sending a few thousand dollars to support the orphans and widows of the civil conflict in their homeland – material support for terrorism. These are just a few cases, there are hundreds, everyone of them a shameful miscarriage of justice. Defending them is a key part of our strategy to defend ourselves.
Earlier this year, our efforts to unite against repression brought me to the shadow of Carswell, the prison that holds Lynne today. There were two important rallies for Aafia Siddiqui. She is a Pakistani woman about my age, mother of three, who on Sept. 23, 2010, the day before the FBI raided my home, was sentenced to 86 years for a bogus charge of attempted murder of a U.S. soldier holding her captive in Afghanistan, five years after she had been kidnapped from the streets of Karachi.
Unless people of conscience can win her freedom, Aafia will die in Carswell. Shamefully, the same is true for Lynne Stewart, and many people at the protest for Aafia carried signs for Lynne. As I stood outside of Carswell, it struck me that I could die there too. I have significant medical problems, and would likely be imprisoned there if the government made its terrorism case against me. Truth be told, the same could happen to anyone who stands up and organizes against this criminal system run by corporate gangsters and thug politicians.
We have revealing news reports every day, like the idea that the NSA is conducting warrantless phone and Internet surveillance against all of us, all the time. You know, I had a young activist friend, just last night ask on Facebook, why should she care if the government knows who she’s calling or what she’s writing in her emails, because she’s not doing anything wrong. Of course, I wasn’t doing anything wrong either, but an undercover agent spied on me for two years, posing as a friend and comrade, recording and reporting on our conversations and meetings. We need to understand that when the powerful are not openly repressing us, they are gathering information to use to repress us later. Now we are all treated like criminals. We are all Lynne Stewart.
The latest attack on sister Assata [Shakur], like the one on Carlos Montes in our case, shows us that the enemy never forgets. Both of them are heroes. They were attacked during the COINTELPRO era for their work, but they couldn’t catch them then. Now, 40 years later, the government is trying to bring back those old cases, and call them terrorists. But they are heroes.
I want to close by urging everyone here to take real action to win freedom for Lynne Stewart, Mumia Abu Jamal, Oscar Lopez Rivera, and all political prisoners. I’ll begin with my own pledge: The CSFR will stand with you. We’ve won real victories in our case – no one was jailed for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury, and Carlos Montes beat back charges that could have landed him 18 years, to resolve his case with not one day in jail. It’s time for more victories, bigger victories. Let’s bring Lynne home.