Volume , Number 0
Europe in Ten Questions
Redistricting Returns With A Vengeance
Repairing the damage
Democracy and the War on â€¦
Jonathan lawson and susan Gleason
Unions Must Tap Young Workers
2001 In Music
The Fruits Of NAFTA
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Journal of 15th Year
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A Long Winter Ahead For American Dissent
Attorney General John Ash- croft's recent statement that anybody who criticizes the administration's crackdown on civil liberties is “aiding terrorists” does not bode well for the future of healthy dissent.
The abolition, suffragist, and civil rights movements all started small, but grew to transform America for the better, steering society towards more democratic and humane ways. But reduced civil liberties, suspicion, and sweeping anti-terrorist legislation could muzzle this vital and unique tradition of American political life.
Many grassroots groups that we work with in Boston and across New England are already feeling the pinch. Outspoken proponents of peaceful alternatives to the war are being branded as unpatriotic and, in some cases, receiving violent threats. Locally, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization with branches in Boston and throughout New England, has received “anthrax” letters and death threats in response to their peace activities. In Hartford, anti-war activists were stunned by the virulence of the police reaction to their October 25 rally and the out-of-proportion penalties that 18 of the protesters received.
Even community groups not directly related with the peace movement have been targeted. On November 8, Boston's Abortion Access Project and hundreds of pro-choice groups and clinics nationwide received letters filled with white powder. Though they were hoaxes, the effects have been destructive, the message ominous.
Nowhere has the impact been more devastating than among immigrant groups and communities. The ongoing harassment of residents of Arabic descent has been widely reported, and as one Massachusetts immigrant activist noted, “many Americans associate immigrants with terrorists, regardless of where they come from.” News of over 1,100 people detained with no legal recourse, new secret military tribunals, and plans for new INS police to hunt down immigrants is sending shock waves through most immigrant communities. The recent requirement that non-citizens carry identification documentation at all times strangely parallels the similar requirement made of Jews, gays, lesbians and Gypsies in 1933 in Nazi Germany.
Human rights advocates and community groups across New England are finding that immigrants, whether Arab, Latin American, South Asian or African, must grapple with much higher levels of intimidation and uncertainty. In the current atmosphere, the simple act of going outside, let alone confronting abuse, entails the possibility of being physically or verbally assaulted. Somali girls were recently attacked in a Boston high school because they were wearing Muslim headdresses. Latino youth are afraid of being mistakenly rounded up in a police dragnet operation because they look “Arabic.” With immigrants already struggling with labor exploitation, racial harassment, and civil rights violations, this new situation sets the stage for increased abuse and tragedy. As one Hartford-based Cambodian war refugee grimly noted, “This doesn't look like America any more.”
The ripple effects of this new situation are spreading beyond immigrant communities. The USA Patriot Act, which allows wiretaps, surveillance, “sneak and peak” house searches, and preventative arrests, raises up the specter of past abuses of ordinary American citizens. Four decades ago, under the guise of “protecting national security,” the FBI resorted to wiretapping, surveillance, threats and media manipulation to destabilize the civil rights, gay- lesbian, and peace movements. Many community organizers worry that the Patriot Act could similarly pave the way for the harassment of any group, which incurs the wrath of the political establishment.
At a time of job layoffs and budget slashing, poor communities, contingent workers and women who no longer have welfare benefits will be the first to feel the brunt of the economic and political crisis. More than ever, they need to organize to defend their rights, and they need strong community groups to organize with them. Z
Jonathan Leaning is with Boston's Haymarket Peoples Fund.