Presentation on How to Win Real Security and how to survive periods of repression
By Marc Brodine
The history of our country has been, and continues to be, a fight for democracy and to extend that democracy on the one hand, and on the other hand efforts to restrict, limit, or eliminate democratic rights.
From the very start, U. S. democracy was limitedthe Constitution treated slaves as less than full people and much less than full citizens, ignored Native Americans or treated them as enemies, only white male property owners could vote, women were denied not only the right to vote but many other legal rights. From the start, there has been a struggle between those who want to extend democracy further, to make it real for everyone, and those who want to maintain their power by eliminating even the limited democratic rights people have had.
That same struggle is going on today. The Bush Administration wants to limit and eliminate the rights of immigrants, wants to cap jury awards, wants to eliminate union bargaining rights for over 160,000 federal workers, is creating a database with information on each and every person in the U. S., and uses the threat of terrorism as a justification for measures that have nothing to do with real security. This is the same administration that is in office only because of voter fraud, stealing voting rights from thousands upon thousands of African American and Mexican American citizens in Florida.
Why? As many times before in U. S. history, I think it is to maintain their power and control. It is about the oil, about control of trade, about the power to make more money, about trying whip up fear in order to keep large numbers of people from going out in the streets, and about keeping us from electing people who will really represent us.
In the 1920s, the Justice Department led the Palmer Raids which resulted in the deportation of thousands of foreign-born radicals. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the government took the right to travel away from hundreds of US citizens, including Paul Robeson. They jailed some Communists, who were never accused of any illegal actions, only of teaching Marxism. They harassed others out of jobs, through threats and intimidation.
They deported some foreign-born radicals and tried to deport more, including Harry Bridges, founder of the longshoremens union, Hazel Wolf, who went on to become a leading environmental activist, and Ernesto Mangaoang, leader of the Cannery Workers Union.
I want to talk about those three, as examples of many more who fought back. They defeated deportation, they defeated the government attacks on their democratic rights. The Justice Department and the INS tried to deport Harry Bridges five times, and was defeated each time, because of the support of his union and because of a widespread campaign to expose the lies used to attack him. Like Paul Robeson, he refused to be intimidated.
Hazel Wolf was born in Canada, but had lived in Seattle for decades, and had worked as a union activist, legal secretary, and social activist when they tried to deport her. They did not succeed. She was a small, determined woman, and there was this small, determined committee, the Washington Committee for the Protection of the Foreign-Born. That committee raised money for her defense, held demonstrations, wrote letters, got petitions signed. Hazel herself worked long and hard on her own case, and after several years, she was victorious. She went on to become the poster grandmother for environmental activism, winning awards and kudos from activists, governors, and even corporations, without changing her basic ideals. Like Harry Bridges, she refused to be intimidated.
Ernesto Mangaoang came to the US from the Philippines in the 1920s. He worked as an agricultural laborer, and eventually became a business agent of Local 37, ILWU, the Cannery Workers Union, headquartered on Second Avenue in Seattle. The Justice Department tried to deport him and six other members of the Executive Board of that union, all Filipinos. Their case went to the Supreme Court, and led to a landmark decision recognizing the special circumstances of Filipinos who came to the US while the US held the Philippines in a protectorate status. He too was assisted by the Washington Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. Like Hazel Wolf, he refused to be intimidated.
Paul Robeson himself, though he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in concert bookings, refused to be intimidated and refused to compromise his principles. He fought back and after many years won his passport back and was able to resume touring internationally.
There are several lessons we can learn today from these fighters.
First, do not be intimidated!
Secondly, support from small activist groups can defeat stronger-seeming antagonists.
Thirdly, we need to fight to defend each and every democratic right for each and every person. Even if democracy is incomplete, we need to fight to expand and protect our rightsthats the path to defeating those who wrap themselves in the flag to hide their schemes against democracy.
Fourthly, the struggle is a long onevictory or defeat is not measured in hours or days, most of the time. We cant get discouraged and give up. Paul Robeson didnt. Harry Bridges didnt. Hazel Wolf didnt. Ernesto Mangaoang didnt. And neither did thousands of others who outlasted the opponents of justice, equality, and peace.
Lastly, we need to understand that the real targets of the intimidation, the restrictions on democratic rights, the databases and INS raids, are not just those who get arrested, jailed, or deported. The targets are the people of this country, especially the labor movement, the civil rights movements, and the peace movement.
We cant protect ourselves from terrorists who use airplanes to kill thousands of innocent people by invading another country and using airplanes to kill tens of thousands of innocent people.
Real security doesnt come from turning our country into a giant prison. It wouldnt come from deporting everyone who was born somewhere elseremember Timothy McVeigh? It doesnt come from throwing hundreds of thousands of people who need drug treatment into penitentiaries and depriving them of their voting rights.
Real security lies in jobs, in health care, in peace, in justice and equality. It doesnt come from being the country that has the biggest military budget. No other country is responsible for the Enrons, the Worldcoms, the Arthur Andersons, the corporate crooks who have already stolen billions of dollars from the people of our country. We cant let the rhetoric of war and national security blind us to the people who have their hands in our wallets, and the politicians who are bought and paid for by the super-rich.
This administration is engaging in attacks on poor people, on immigrants, on unions, on activist organizations, on seniors, on privacy rights, on voting rights, on womens rights, on affirmative action, and on decent medical coverage. We will overcome these attacks by sticking to basics, by refusing to be intimidated, by demonstrating, by outlasting them, and by out-organizing them.
- Washington State