Minnesota Prosecutor Petitioned by Thousands to End Persecution
What do 17,000 members of the Duluth Central Labor Body; the "Minnesota 8" sixty-year olds whose Vietnam draft resistance experiences were commissioned into a 2008 "Peace Crimes" play; over 3000 people from all over the world (many of whom not only signed an on-line petition but also wrote small essays about the need to protect Constitutional rights and freedom in their comments); and nine "Americans Who Tell the Truth"--painted as part of an educational art project all have in common? All strongly support the right to dissent and specifically the eight young organizers of RNC protest actions who were pre-emptively arrested before the Republican National Convention and then later charged under Minnesota's version of the Patriot Act with "incitement to riot in furtherance of terrorism". While there was a common conclusion communicated via yesterday's petition delivery to Ramsey County Prosecutor Susan Gaertner, a variety of reasons and perspectives were brought forward on why dissent needs to be protected and why pre-emptive arrests and prosecuting these young people as "terrorists" is wrong.
History of "Criminal Syndicalism" laws and the Duluth Central Labor Body's Resolution
In the early 20th century (circa 1917), about twenty states, including Minnesota, passed "criminal syndicalism laws" (like the one below) to put more pressure on labor organizers and others who would commit civil disobedience or other "disorderly" political activities.
185.06 POWER OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT OR COURTS NOT CURTAILED UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS; CRIMINAL SYNDICALISM.
Nothing in sections 185.01 to 185.06 shall hamper or curtail, or in any manner take away, the power of the executive department, or of the courts, where there is threatened any irreparable injury to business or property by reason of violence, threats, or other unlawful acts, or where criminal syndicalism, or the acts constituting the same, are involved; and criminal syndicalism is hereby defined to be the doctrine which advocates crime, sabotage, violence, or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial, social, or political reform.
Before 1940, the law was frequently used to put Industrial Workers of the World organizers and publishers in jail in Minnesota. Then the 1917 law sat unused for decades, until January 1986, when the Hormel Local P-9 strike led to the police chief of Austin and the county sheriff holding union members on "criminal syndicalism," in order to undermine the union's plan of peacefully blockading the Hormel plants.
After the Austin situation, labor and college students worked long hours at the Minnesota Legislature to get the "criminal syndicalism" law overturned. So it's not surprising that a Minnesota labor union is among the loudest now crying foul as union members recognize the enormous similarity between the old "criminal syndicalism law" and the Minnesota Patriot Act's "enhancement for terrorism".
Duluth Central Labor Body's Resolution
Resolution in Support of the RNC 8 and Stating that the Anti-Terrorism Act
Should be Repealed
Whereas, a free society is one in which people can organize collectively to
improve their lives without fear of persecution by their government; and
Whereas, the labor movement has historically suffered state intimidation and
repression in our efforts to organize working people, including the
unconstitutional arrest of labor organizers and publishers of union papers
under "criminal syndicalism" laws of the first half of the 20th century;
Whereas, changes to the Minnesota criminal code under the so-called
Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002 threaten political speech by defining acts that
"further terrorism" so broadly as to encompass civil disobedience designed
to "disrupt or interfere with the lawful exercise, operation, or conduct of
government, lawful commerce, or the right of lawful assembly," including
strikes, blockades and other union actions to defend workers' rights; and
Whereas, the first criminal charges under this law were filed by Ramsey County
prosecutors in September of 2008 against organizers of Republican National
Convention protests in St Paul (known as the "RNC 8"), with no evidence that
the defendants committed any act of violence;
Therefore, be it resolved that the Duluth Central Labor Body stands in
solidarity with the RNC 8 and goes on record as opposing the
politically-motivated terrorism charges filed against them; and
Be it further resolved that the Duluth Central Labor Body goes on record as
opposing 609.714 of the Minnesota criminal code ("CRIMES COMMITTED IN
FURTHERANCE OF TERRORISM") and calls on Minnesota state legislators to work
for the repeal of this law;
Be it further resolved that the Duluth Central Labor Body urges that labor
unions across Minnesota consider the implications of the RNC 8 case and the
Minnesota Anti-Terrorism Act on their own organizing and to support the cause
Proposed and passed with unanimous support from the delegates of the Duluth
Central Labor Body on March 12, 2009
The "Minnesota 8" vs. the Vietnam War
The Minnesota 8 were part of a larger group, called "The Minnesota Conspiracy to Save Lives," whose members raided Selective Service draft boards in various non-urban areas of Minnesota on July 10, 1970 during the height of the Vietnam War. The FBI arrested eight men in three draft boards - at Alexandria, Little Falls and Winona. Three trials were held from November 2, 1970 through January 18, 1971 in the Minnesota federal district courts in Minneapolis and St. Paul. One of the 8 pleaded guilty, and he received probation. The other seven received the maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
To grasp the tenor and temper of the times, the 8 were arrested on the charge, "Sabotage of the National Defense." This carried a ten year sentence. Bail was initially set at $50,000.00 each. This despite the fact that they were all first-time offenders, and arrested for an ostensible act of nonviolent civil disobedience. The 8 were indicted on "interfering with the Selective Service System by force, violence or otherwise." They were convicted of an act of violence, and they received the maximum sentence of five years. All mention of the Vietnam War and any tradition or principles of morality were judged "irrelevant and immaterial." One Judge stated, "You gentlemen are worse that the common criminal who attacks the taxpayer's pocketbook. You strike at the foundation of government, itself."
But nearly 40 years later, as history would have it, the Minnesota 8 developed a project "Peace and War in the Heartland - What has history taught us?", a project that led to production by the Minnesota History Theatre and the University of Minnesota Theatre Department of a "Peace Crimes" play in 2008. The play was produced because democracy is best served by informed citizens who are actively involved in forming public policy and public opinion and there has been too few public conversations and too many discordant and polarizing discourses. The Minnesota 8 continue to value the Quaker principle of "speaking truth to power" and the practice of bearing witness. They believe no person, organization or movement has a lock on power or truth, and it is timely for everyone - from every "side," "perspective," "opinion," and "moral stance" - to open a conversation with their fellow citizens about what history has taught us concerning the issues of peace and war.
Photos then and now
The Minnesota 8's statement about the right to dissent in support of the "RNC 8":
Over 3000 people from all over the world have already signed this on-line and hard copy petition with many writing short essays on their support for Constitutional protections in the comment section. Many signing were those who had themselves experienced or witnessed the indiscriminate police violence and/or had been unfortunately caught up in one of the three mass arrests that occurred in St. Paul at the time of the RNC. It's going to take the poor county prosecutor a long time to read through this two inch thick stack! If you haven't done so already, take a look for yourself at the comments of defenders of democracy. (It's also not too late for anyone to sign and comment yourself.)
Nine "Americans Who Tell the Truth" (educational painting series by artist Robert Shetterly)
Legendary musician Pete Seeger, Ray McGovern, Sandy O and Pat Humphries ("Emma's Revolution" singing duo), Daniel Ellsberg, Ann Wright, David Rovics, Medea Benjamin, and yours truly who participated in the Peace Island Conference, Picnic/music concert and/or other events during the RNC (or in the case of Pete Seeger and Daniel Ellsberg, had a close family member or friend who did) submitted their own separate "Right to Dissent Statement" (below). As background, Artist Robert Shetterly began painting his great series--134 paintings and still going--of "Americans Who Tell the Truth" to, in part, facilitate lessons of U.S. history and civics engagement. Shetterly's subjects are noted for one or many moments of truth and/or speaking truth to power and their quotes and bios are a part of the art work. This group's support for First Amendment rights and for dropping charges against the RNC 8 stems from their own past experiences in having spoken out to confront problems or repression (as in the case of Pete Seeger's being blacklisted during the period of McCarthyism) or having faced difficult decisions (i.e. Ellsberg's to release the Pentagon Papers documenting the truth about U.S. government policy in Vietnam).
Maybe the varied perspectives presented about this kind of repression being wrong could be more simply summarized as: "Why can't we learn from history?"