Speech by Thistle Parker-Hartog
Women in the anti-war and international solidarity movements, and our colleagues are under attack. As many of you know, there are 23 of us who have received subpoenas from the FBI to testify before a Grand Jury about supposed involvement in the material support of terrorism. We are a diverse group of people: many of us are union members, many of us are of Palestinian descent, we range in age from a recent college student to a great grandmother, we are teachers, paralegals, cooks, community organizers. And of the 23 of us, 12 are parents, mostly of young children, and 19 of us are women. In the Twin Cities, those of us targeted, work with various organizations including WAMM, SDS, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and the Anti-War Committee, all of which are mostly led by and composed of women, and in particular, queer women. We are all activists who have worked for justice and peace. Like people of conscience around the country, we have met, protested, written letters, spoken out, had sit-ins, vigils, and pot lucks. We have lifted our voices on behalf of our sisters and brothers around the world suffering at the hands of US-bought oppression. And some of us have travelled to other countries to meet directly with activists abroad. In particular, we have a history of working with the most marginalized, with Queer groups and with women’s groups, like the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, which Jess discussed, and teachers collectives in Colombia.
A quick civics lesson about that material support of terrorism which the FBI is interested in: “Terrorists” are anyone the State Department decides should be on the “Foreign Terrorist Organization” list. There is no review, oversight or appeal of this decision. The FMLN, which is the current recognized government in El Salvador was on this list. “Material Support” is not just about whether someone sends money to a designated “terrorist” organization. A supreme court ruling last summer affirmed that any form of communication with a designated “terrorist” is considered “material support.” In that case, the Humanitarian Law Project was trying to assist with setting up fair elections in Turkey and Sri Lanka. Potentially under this law, Jimmy Carter is a felon for helping to organize fair elections in Lebanon, where he, of course, had to coordinate with Hezbollah, which is a designated terrorist organization. By the same token, had this law been in effect in the 1980’s, the entire S. African Anti-Apartheid movement, which Obama is so proud of his involvement in, could have been considered material support to terrorists since Reagan had designated the African National Congress a terrorist organization. So, when I listened to the stories of the women activists of the teachers unions in Colombia, who were trying to get better education for rural children, women the Colombian government considers terrorists and FARC sympathizers, it is possible our government considers that solidarity to be material support of terrorism.
Each one of the 23 of us has refused to testify before the Grand Jury we were subpoenaed to, where no attorneys are permitted to accompany the witness and all testimony is kept secret. We don’t know exactly what the mis-named Department of Justice is seeking in this fishing expedition, but we will not be a party to this misapplication of justice or this attempt to solicit incriminations against ourselves or our fellow activists. This decision by each of us is not without risk. At any point, any one of us could be thrown in jail for refusing to testify. And at any point, the Attorney General could decide to finish with the dog-and-pony show and start the real circus by actually indicting and putting any number of us on trial.
These are not risks we take lightly. By refusing to cooperate or in the event of charges, we could be jailed for an indeterminate amount of time. I risk not being there to see my son off to his first day of Kindergarten next Fall, and I risk placing the full burden of parenting both our small children on their father. One sister risks her toddler and one brother his 3 month old baby not knowing them if they return from jail after several years. Another risks her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s forgetting who she is should that sister go to jail. In three families, both parents were subpoenaed. In one of those families, the sons are in high school and college and would suddenly be without the support of both their parents. In another family, the two moms risk having to send their young daughter across the country to New York to live with her uncle.
Lost time in jail could result in lost jobs and lost homes. Even the smear campaign which we expect will be launched against us could cost one of us her teaching career, another, the acceptance of her immigrant community, and others the ability to stay in this country where they have grown up. The raids and the stress have already affected our families. At least one child who was home when the FBI stormed in is in therapy, and another still jumps anytime she hears a knock at the door. At least one of us is in ill health, and has been hospitalized due to the aggravation of her illness from the stress. Another was nearly denied her home loan for the purchase of her house.
Yet, we really have no choice. Participating in the fishing expedition not only would legitimize it, it would open up the possibility of further harassment of activists around the country based on information we unwittingly provide, and it could actually endanger the safety and lives of activists we have met with in other countries, who risk physical danger in their efforts to work for social change.
But it is not like we make any secret of the work we have done. We have testified before the Grand Jury of the world about the crimes of the United States Government. We are being targeted for speaking out against policies which allow union activist Liliany Obando in Colombia to have been locked away from her two young children for the last two and a half years. And because we oppose the real material support of terrorists, the funding of Israeli apartheid which keeps families in abject poverty, and locks away from their mothers and sisters and daughters most Palestinian men at some point in their lives.
The movements for social change in Colombia and Palestine, in Egypt and Libya, in Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan require the support of all sectors of the community, and would not happen without the participation of women. Likewise, the anti-war and international solidarity movements in the US are dependent on women’s participation, and indeed our local movement is primarily women. We don’t know if the FBI and the Attorney General thought we women would be an easy target, but we absolutely will show them just how very wrong they are. And we invite you all to stand up for yourselves, for us, and for women and men everywhere working to make a more just, hopeful and peaceful world.