By ERNIE GOTTA
“I ask you, how many times does Barack Obama have to lie to you before you get it?” journalist and author Chris Hedges asked the crowd of over 200 gathered in Torpe Theater at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) on March 29. Hedges was the keynote speaker at the 2nd annual civil liberties conference here, which was titled “One Nation Under Surveillance.”
Barack Obama’s presidency has shown that Democrats are just as insidious as Republicans—if not worse. Obama has deported two million immigrant workers, expanded a massive national and international spying program, and imprisoned more Black workers than were incarcerated during the days of apartheid in South Africa.
Again and again, Obama has supported corporate interests over the interests of working people. His ability to do so has largely depended on a massive repressive apparatus that Hedges pointed out, “primarily advanced and protected the profits of corporations, and solidified state repression and further imperialist expansion.”
The one-day conference was politically sharp and insightful, which flowed from the experience and diversity of guest panelists who included Robert King of the Angola 3; Lynne Jackson of Project SALAM; author and professor Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean; Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project; and many more. The event was initiated by the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Indefinite Detention, ACLU-CT, CAIR-CT, and United Action-CT, and hosted by the CCSU Youth for Socialist Action. Dozens of other organizations endorsed and sponsored the conference.
Student organizer Daniel Adam opened the proceedings by illustrating the continual erosion of civil liberties in the U.S. “Before we begin,” Adam stated, “I want to take a moment to consider the context of our conference. On the one hand, there are the most recent outrages:
“In just the last month, in the midst of NSA revelations, a federal judge threw out a challenge to the NYPD-CIA campaign of mass surveillance of Muslim American community institutions, businesses, and campus groups. He claimed the only harm done was by the press who reported the spying. Northeastern University has suspended its campus Students for Justice in Palestine and begun proceedings to expel members for an educational campaign they carried out on campus.
“This month, the federal government sent an officer to the workplace of Majida Salem to begin garnishing her wages as part of her husband’s punishment for supporting charities for Palestinian children. Her husband, Ghassan Elashi, is serving 65 years in prison as part of the Holy Land 5.
“And in recent weeks, prisoners have again organized hunger strikes against cruel abuses in Georgia and Colorado Special Management Units and in a deportation center in Washington State. The advancing militarization of local police featured a trip last month by the LAPD to Israel for training in the use of domestic drones and other handy skills.”
Another student organizer, Nicole LoPriore, emphasized the historical continuity of government repression: “We are meeting as the nation opens up its commemoration of World War I. This is important to think about because the domestic repression that stemmed from that conflict was brutal.
“Here in Hartford, when pacifist speakers at a mass meeting in the Socialist Party hall opposed conscription, the speaker and the whole audience were rounded up and thrown in jail. The Hartford jails became the holding pens prior to deportation for hundreds of union leaders of Russian descent who had been leading the fight for the eight-hour day. Entire organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World were completely crushed by the work of government spies and provocateurs, jailing, and deportations.”
Although workers and students face a difficult battle to defend their civil freedoms, past and recent history shows us that it is not impossible. Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer, unjustly imprisoned for defending a man who was a target of the so-called War on Terror, won her release from prison on grounds of rapidly failing health. Her release was largely due to tens of thousands of calls, letters, protests, articles, and defense forums.
Conference participants also learned how young immigrant rights activists have taken to the streets, demanding an end to deportations of undocumented workers. Their slogan is: “Don’t Deport My Mother!” These bold activists have even chained themselves to buses filled with immigrant workers headed for deportation. It is important that we do everything in our power to build and support their efforts.
“Educate, organize, and mobilize” were three lessons clearly drawn from the day’s activities. In that spirit Daniel Adam concluded, “This can be the future. A future where we roll back this offensive against our rights, and build a society where democratic rights can be exercised by every community—people with or without papers, those criminalized by the state, and low-wage working people fighting for more pay and benefits.”
Photo from Democracy Now! — Keynote speaker Chris Hedges.