Los Angeles Militant Labor Forum panel discusses fight for constitutional rights

By Laura Garza
July 3, 2023

LOS ANGELES —“Defend constitutional freedoms: Oppose U.S. government spying, harassment and frame-ups” was the topic of the May 21 weekly Militant Labor Forum here. Speaking were Mwezi Odom, from the African People’s Socialist Party, and Norton Sandler, from the Socialist Workers Party.

Odom is the chairperson of Hands Off Uhuru! Hands Off Africa! Counteroffensive. The defense committee is fighting the frame-up of APSP Chairman Omali Yeshitela and Uhuru Movement leaders Penny Hess and Jesse Nevel. The three are facing up to 15 years in prison after being indicted May 2 on federal charges of conspiring to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government.

Odom showed forum participants a video of the July 29 FBI military-style assaults on the Uhuru Movement’s headquarters and residences in St. Louis and St. Petersburg, Florida. The FBI used flash-bang grenades, drones, armored vehicles and automatic weapons wielded by scores of flak-jacketed agents from an FBI swat team. You can view the video on YouTube.

“The vicious raids were on seven properties,” Odom said. “They started at 6 a.m. on the East Coast and 5 a.m. in the Midwest. In St. Petersburg, $40,000 of damage was done. They stole archives, laptops and cellphones.

“This is a struggle for democracy, for freedom of speech,” Odom emphasized. “The government is trying to silence leaders of the Uhuru Movement.

“They charge that we are operating as Russian agents because we have run candidates, pushed for reparations, and charged the government with genocide. We don’t need Russians to tell us what to do,” she said. Supporters of the fight against the frame-up seek to raise nearly $300,000 for the legal defense effort. Participants at the forum kicked in contributions.

Sandler said the pretext of serving a foreign power has been used by the government for decades to go after militant workers, Black rights fighters, the Socialist Workers Party and others. These foreign-agent laws are a key part of the government’s “national security” arsenal — a direct attack on First Amendment protections. “If any of your political positions are similar to some other country’s government, you are fair game to be spied on, disrupted and prosecuted.”

Sandler noted that the raid on the African People’s Socialist Party was within days of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. Both were organized by President Joseph Biden’s Justice Department.

“Currently,” Sandler said, “Democrats are pressing seven different civil and criminal proceedings against Trump, all partisan efforts aimed at accomplishing the same goal — preventing him from running again.”

The stakes, he said, are substantial in defending constitutional freedoms. “Make no mistake, they may start with Trump but the target is the working-class vanguard and organizations that are the most conscious fighters. The capitalists are in power — it’s their police, FBI and CIA. When working people threaten their interests, both parties turn their repressive forces loose against us.”

He described the SWP lawsuit against the FBI filed in 1973 that helped expose the extent of the government’s vast, unconstitutional Cointelpro operations against the SWP, Communist Party, Black Panther Party and many others involved in the labor movement, civil rights struggle or the movement against the Vietnam War. The attacks included spying, blacklisting, mail covers, wiretaps, use of undercover informers and break-ins at party headquarters.

Accompanying Mwezi Odom to the forum was her husband, Matsemela Odom, a fellow APSP member, who spoke in the discussion. “I told Mwezi on the way up here that it is an honor to speak at the Militant Labor Forum. Malcolm X spoke at these forums,” he said.

He also noted that I.B. Tabata had spoken at Militant Labor Forums. Tabata was a member of a revolutionary organization in South Africa and a leader of the Unity Movement of South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. He was forced into exile by the apartheid government.

Matsemela Odom noted Tabata’s preface to the pamphlet Why Watts Burned, published by the Los Angeles Local of the Socialist Workers Party. It describes the social conditions and cop brutality that led to the uprising in the Watts section of L.A. in 1965.

What Sandler said about the unconstitutional attacks targeting Trump, Matsemela Odom added, “is spot on.”