The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 41           November 9, 2004  
Firebombed SWP campaign hall in Pennsylvania reopened
HAZLETON, Pennsylvania—“Holding this meeting tonight is a big victory for political rights. It would not have been possible without the support and generous contributions of people around the world like yourselves,” said Kristofer Barkanic October 16, at the grand reopening of the Socialist Workers Party campaign hall here.

Barkanic is the SWP candidate for Pennsylvania State Assembly in the 116th District, which includes Hazleton.

The campaign hall, now reconstructed, had been firebombed in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2004. In the arson attack a brick with incendiary material attached to it was thrown through the front window, igniting a slow-burning fire and badly damaging the front of the hall and burning campaign literature. The smoke that filled the room rendered the center’s book stock unusable.

Walking into the headquarters for the reopening event and reception, participants were struck by the hundreds of brand-new, brightly colored Pathfinder books. “These new books are just beautiful!” exclaimed one contributor to the Rebuilding Fund, which raised more than $4,000. More than 20 people attended the meeting, including a student from Penn State at State College and a young worker from the Lancaster area.

The books and campaign material can be seen through the newly rebuilt storefront window, glass door, and display area facing Wyoming Street in the middle of a working-class shopping area.

Outside, above the window is an eight-foot-wide sign reading “Socialist Workers 2004 Campaign.” Inside, the headquarters is now brightly lit with a new ceiling replacing the old soot-blackened panels.

Since the firebombing, more than 100 people have come by to inquire about the arson and wish socialist campaigners well. Residents from throughout the region have bought more than 200 books that were the least smoke-damaged.

Copies of some of the 70 messages of support were on display too, including letters sent to Hazleton mayor Louis Barletta urging the apprehension and prosecution of those responsible for the firebombing.

As the letters began pouring into the mayor’s office, Barletta was asked about the arson attack on Hazleton Channel 13 TV. “There was a firebomb thrown into the headquarters of a campaign on Wyoming Street and we’re investigating that right now as we speak,” the Republican mayor said. “And we plan to take swift action. It’s a crime that we will not condone, and again, we’re going to do everything and anything to bring these people to justice and take swift action against them.”

At the reopening meeting, Barkanic read some of the protest messages. “These letters have made it clear to the city administration that acts of intimidation against those who express political ideas at odds with the governing parties should not be tolerated.”

Messages read included those from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit; René Villasboa of the Revolutionary Socialist Nucleus of Paraguay; Gillian Barker, philosophy professor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania; Carmen Febo San Miguel, executive director of Taller Puertorriqueño in Philadelphia; and Normand Faubert, vice-president of the Labatt Brewery Workers Union in Montreal, Quebec.

“The history of Birmingham, where bombings were carried out frequently against participants in the civil rights movement, clearly shows the grave danger in allowing such an attack to pass without a serious response,” said Shirley Hyche of United Mine Workers Local 2368 in Birmingham, Alabama, in a letter to the Hazleton mayor. “If left unanswered, this assault will have a chilling effect on the right to civil discourse and to engage in political activity free from harassment.”

The main speaker at the program was Tim Mailhot, SWP candidate for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania’s 11th District. Mailhot is a meat packer at Cargill Meat Solutions and a member of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776. Several of his co-workers have visited the campaign headquarters during the reconstruction to express their support.

Mailhot underlined the importance of the new books arriving in time for the meeting. “Unlike the candidates of the capitalist parties, we put great importance on workers being able to read, think about, and discuss ideas. This is opposed to the very low level and coarseness of the political discourse we heard in the debates between Bush and Kerry and the rest of their campaigning.

“Here we have the lessons of 150 years of revolutionary struggle analyzing the political roots of imperialism, the exploitation of workers, and the lines of resistance of workers around the world.” He said these books are tools that workers can and do use today in their struggles to organize unions and to make them more effective in resisting the bosses’ attacks.
Related articles:
SWP presidential candidate in L.A., on last stretch of U.S. campaign tour
SWP candidates: ‘Free locked-up Vieques protesters’
SWP candidates get good response at N.Y. college
Stumping for socialism from Reykjavík to Seattle
Calero meets farmers in Tchula, Mississippi
SWP candidates in New York campaign among meat packers at Hunts Point Meat Market in Bronx
SWP candidate speaks to striking Iceland teachers
SWP campaign in Florida: ‘Vote No on parental notification act, Yes to increase in minimum wage’
SWP candidate for Senate campaigns among cannery workers in Washington  
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