Defend right to free speech! Protest attacks by Democrats

By Brian Williams
September 11, 2023
Panelists at New York forum, Aug. 26. From left, John Studer, Socialist Workers Party; Manuel Meléndez Lavandero, Comités de la Resistencia Boricua; Oronde Shakur, African People’s Socialist Party. Inset, Milagros Rivera, Cuba Soldarity Committee in Puerto Rico, participating via video link.
Militant/Tamar RosenfeldPanelists at New York forum, Aug. 26. From left, John Studer, Socialist Workers Party; Manuel Meléndez Lavandero, Comités de la Resistencia Boricua; Oronde Shakur, African People’s Socialist Party. Inset, Milagros Rivera, Cuba Soldarity Committee in Puerto Rico, participating via video link.

NEW YORK — In several cities around the country the Socialist Workers Party has helped initiate panels hosted by the Militant Labor Forum to bring groups together to speak out in defense of constitutional rights. Regardless of differing points of view on other issues, they joined together to speak out in defense of free speech and other political rights and against government attacks and frame-ups.

“Drop the charges against the African People’s Socialist Party!” was one of the demands raised at all these meetings. The speakers at a New York forum Aug. 26 were Oronde Shakur, from the APSP; Manuel Meléndez Lavandero, Comités de la Resistencia Boricua; John Studer, Militant  editor and a leader of the SWP; and Milagros Rivera, president of the Cuba Solidarity Committee in Puerto Rico, who participated by Zoom. Similar Militant Labor Forum panels have taken place in Cincinnati; Los Angeles; Miami; Oakland, California; and elsewhere.

APSP Chairman Omali Yeshitela and Uhuru Movement leaders Penny Hess and Jesse Nevel were indicted May 2 on federal charges of conspiring to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government — Russia. If convicted they each face up to 15 years in prison.

The New York meeting opened with a video of the armed FBI raid on offices and homes of APSP and Uhuru Movement leaders in St. Petersburg, Florida, and St. Louis last July. The FBI used flash-bang grenades, drones, armored vehicles and automatic weapons, restraining party leaders and seizing computers, files and financial records.

The African People’s Socialist Party fights for the liberation of Africa from imperialist rule, Shakur said. “These outrageous charges come from the Biden administration and the Democratic Party.” What’s involved is “our freedom and the right to speak, whether you agree with what we say or not.”

Meléndez expressed solidarity with the APSP’s fight against these frame-up charges. “Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S.,” he said, and those fighting for self-determination and independence have faced a long history of battling FBI harassment and frame-ups.

Drop the charges against Trump!

“It’s useful to step back and look at what has transpired over the past seven-plus years in the relentless campaign by the Democrats and FBI against former President Donald Trump,” said Studer. First they tried to prevent him from being elected in 2016, and pointed the finger at their real concern: those who Hillary Clinton described as the “deplorables,” working people who voted for Trump, hoping for some change from the blows of the deepening crisis of capitalism.

We saw two impeachment trials — both of which failed to get convictions — followed by the orchestrated show trial called “hearings” in the House of Representatives about the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol melee and then the prosecution of well over 1,000 on seditious conspiracy and other frame-up charges, based on testimony from FBI informers, Studer said.

And now the far-reaching indictments against Trump in Florida; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; and New York.

“They’re seeking to drive him out of politics by any means necessary,” he said, “targeting his friends, employees, political allies and his lawyers. These charges are all frontal assaults on free speech and constitutional freedoms — rights won in past class-struggle battles that are crucial for the struggles of working people today and tomorrow.”

That’s why the SWP says, “Drop the charges against Trump!”

The issue here isn’t Trump’s politics, or whether he knew he had lost the 2020 election or not, Studer said. Trump’s a lying capitalist politician like all the rest. That’s what they do. But lying is not a disqualification for the right to free speech.

“The SWP in its landmark 1973-87 lawsuit and political campaign against the FBI and other federal agencies exposed their use of informers, burglaries, wiretaps, provocateurs and dirty tricks,” Studer said. “We said, ‘Yes, we’re a revolutionary organization and have every right to be one,’” and we won, exposing and pushing back the FBI. Now the Biden administration and other liberals are trying to “refurbish” its image.

In an Aug. 2 New York Times  opinion piece, Thomas Edsall shows how the liberals embrace their abandonment of the First Amendment today, Studer said. Edsall quotes from an article by University of Michigan law professor Catherine MacKinnon, “Weaponizing the First Amendment: An Equality Reading”:

Once a defense of the powerless, the First Amendment over the last hundred years has mainly become a weapon of the powerful. Starting toward the beginning of the 20th century, a protection that was once persuasively conceived by dissenters as a shield for radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists, the excluded and the dispossessed, has become a sword for authoritarians, racists and misogynists, Nazis and Klansmen, pornographers and corporations buying elections in the dark.

We’re also seeing attempts by the New York Red Squad to refurbish its image, Studer said. Rebecca Weiner, the new head of the 1,500-cop “intelligence and counterterrorism squad,” says today it targets only the right-wing, white-supremacist movements and Islamic State.

Milagros Rivera described the fight waged by participants in the Juan Rius Rivera Solidarity Brigade against FBI harassment after they returned from Cuba last year in July.

“FBI agents contacted 72 of the 102 brigade members,” Rivera said. “They tried to put forward a friendly face, saying we want to talk to you because there’s good and bad in your organization.

“We informed our people not to talk with the FBI.”

The U.S. government “wanted to intimidate and impede travel to Cuba,” she said, so we raised, ‘We’re Puerto Rican and we’re going to Cuba.’” And that is what the brigade did again this past July. “Solidarity from everybody is the most effective thing to do.”



CINCINNATI — A panel organized by the Militant Labor Forum here Aug. 20 featured Kerry Porter of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, John Hawkins of the Socialist Workers Party, and civil rights fighter Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester. All spoke on the importance of protesting any attack on free speech — from the African People’s Socialist Party to Donald Trump.

“I was eight years old when our family moved to ‘Bombingham,’ as the city of Birmingham, Alabama, became known because of the racist violence and bombings carried out against Black people fighting for our rights there,” Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester explained.

Her father, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, then the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, was the central leader in Birmingham of the mass working-class movement for Black rights that smashed Jim Crow segregation and permanently strengthened the fighting capacity and unity of the working class in the U.S.

In those days just like today, “the FBI was always trying to stop you, stop the forward movement of Black people,” Bester said.

“My father and others joined the NAACP to organize against racist discrimination,” she said. In 1956 the Alabama attorney general ordered them to turn over their membership list to the state, and they refused and were forced to shut down. “My daddy reorganized it as the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and they set about desegregating the buses and schools.”

Bester and the rest of her family were home on Christmas night in 1956 when a bomb exploded there. Shuttlesworth and other fighters put out a call for Blacks to desegregate the city buses the next day. “My father refused to be intimidated, and the next morning he got on the bus.” Shuttlesworth and 21 other people were arrested.

“When I was 12 years old,” she recalled, “my father and mother took three of us kids to enroll us at the all-white Phillips High School. Brown v. Board of Education was the law, but Birmingham schools were still segregated.” She described how her father was brutally beaten and her mother stabbed in the hip by a crowd of racist thugs.

A lively discussion followed the presentations.