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20 March Peace Demonstrations still on Despite Pre-Protest Suppression of Dissent

Despite serious assaults on free speech rights that have been intended to obstruct mobilization for the 20 March Peace demonstrations in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and in LA and San Francisco, leaders of labor organizations, Unions, the Muslim-American community, Veterans and Military Families of Peace continue to plan and organize their rallies.

Though I personally believe that harassment from federal government and local law enforcement can be expected for any dissenting voice on war(s) that have lasted near a decade and for two political administrations, but arresting people for posting signs and fliers plus slapping them with $20,000 bail bonds is going a bit overboard.

The irony is that as local law enforcement arrests people for putting up signs announcing an anti-war protest, the city and tax payers get sued for far more than fines and money paid to bail Peace activists out of jail. It would be more fiscally responsible for the District of Columbia, and LAPD to just let the signs go up rather than tread on people’s civil liberties and get the city sued – DAH!

Robert L. Hanafin, Staff Writer, Veterans Today News

Police harassment leads to class action lawsuits against Washington, DC and possibly Chicago, LA and San Francisco, CA.

Last Sunday night, March 6, volunteers in LA were arrested for allegedly putting up three posters announcing the March 20th Peace demonstrations to be held on that area. Peace activists were charged with felony vandalism and kept in jail on $20,000 bail for each of them. Thanks to volunteers coming together, they were able to raise bail money. The heavy felony charge and huge $20,000 bail in Los Angeles came shortly after a nearly identical situation in San Francisco. Two other organizers were arrested on felony vandalism charges for allegedly putting up a political poster and also each given a $20,000 bail.

In Washington, D.C., Peace activists have also been hit with another wave of fines for March 20th political posters. These thousands of dollars of new fines are on top of an unprecedented $70,000 fines from the two most recent Peace mobilizations.

Peace activists are legally challenging the old and new fines. The posters conformed to lawful regulations—as they always have. Anti-war organizations and volunteers are also being hit with heavy fines in Chicago, New York City and elsewhere.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), a public interest legal organization,  filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia on behalf of Peace activists and the Muslim American Society Freedom that challenges the constitutionality of the D.C. postering regulations.

Their tireless pro bono legal effort resulted in an important victory at the federal U.S. Court of Appeals, which allows the lawsuit to proceed. The government had tried to stop Peace activists from even having their day in court.

Read the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Report on Suppression of Dissent.

In California, constitutional rights attorney Carol Sobel has waged a major legal battle against the Obama administration’s efforts to target free speech postering activities.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is a charitable and educational organization dedicated to the defense of human and civil rights secured by law, the protection of free speech and dissent, and the elimination of prejudice and discrimination. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is based in Washington, D.C. Its attorneys have served as lead counsel or co-counsel or consulted in support of constitutional rights lawsuits across the U.S.

Founded by Carl Messineo and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the PCJF’s attorneys have litigated landmark First Amendment Rights cases. In the area of constitutional rights litigation, attorneys of the PCJF have represented hundreds of activists and political organizations (as well as those whose rights were violated simply because they associated with or were in proximity to free speech activities).

The PCJF’s litigation program works alongside an equally important programmatic emphasis on education and outreach. Their Mission is to defend and advance fundamental civil, constitutional and human rights secured by the U.S. Constitution and under law.

Their approach is uncompromising. They do not believe that civil, constitutional and human rights are negotiable or to be compromised. Where the government refuses to acknowledge or respect basic democratic rights – – including, critically, the right to engage in small and mass collective action – – they will without compromise litigate and advocate for the full recognition and enforcement of the rights secured to us all, and essential to a democracy.

Those in the federal government, local law enforcement or pro-war movements in general who deprive others of their constitutional and civil rights must be held accountable and liable for their constitutional wrongs. This is necessary so that our government and law enforcement figures, and others who might follow in their footsteps, are deterred from the constitutional violations that have grown far too frequent, during the Bush and Obama administrations, from ever recurring again. No remedy is comprehensive unless it works to prevent recurrence and protects the rights of all.

In order to blaze the way for a return to democracy, progressive social change has never come from those who would tread on others civil and first amendment right. . The civil rights movements, suffrage movements, anti-war movements (embraced today as “mainstream” movements, but disparaged in their time) have all been grassroots collective actions – people’s movements.

With the resurgence of the social justice movement and mass anti-war movement in the U.S. the government has, in recent years, grown more overtly repressive of domestic progressive political activity. It didn’t start under the Bush administration, but there is no denying that there has been a disturbing and marked movement towards reactionary government policies in general, and an overt return to the use of federal and local “law enforcement” resources to infiltrate, target and disrupt progressive organizing and action.

In city after city, including repeatedly in Washington, D.C., government has engaged in preemptive disruptive attacks and mass false arrests of persons believed to be protesters or who happen to be in physical proximity to free speech activity. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is advancing constitutional rights litigation in Washington, D.C.(including two class actions), New York City (where we are fighting to stop the corporate privatization of Central Park and open it to the people for mass free speech activities), and Miami, Florida (where we are part of the NLG Mass Defense legal team litigating from the FTAA protests).

They’ve succeeded in overturning the unconstitutional system that the City of Philadelphia had used for years to try to prevent and disrupt groups with disfavored political opinions from collective action, marches and demonstrations and, as you can see from the Litigation page of their site, they have had many other victories along the way.

In relation to the current law suit pending against the cities of Washington, DC, San Francisco, and LA, although fines and bail bonds were a staggering $20,000 for each Peace activist arrested for posting fliers, the city of DC had to pay out $8.25 million to settle class action law suits stemming from police aggression during 2002.

Wash Post: D.C. to pay $8.25 million to settle suit over ‘02 mass arrests

The focus of their legal Campaign to Defend the First Amendment is to, literally, make way for democracy in the streets, the park lands and on the sidewalks. These are public forums that belong to all Americans and that have historically been reserved to the public for free speech activities, but that are now threatened in an alarmingly systematic manner, particularly for groups engaged in vigorous dissent of existing social and economic and military policies. These are the assembly sites, the launching pads, and the speakers platforms for social change and progress. As the Veterans community learned in dealings with the Department of Veterans Affairs, nothing will move the VA to do its job faster than legal litigation. The approach of legal defenders of freedom is to make it too costly for those who would tread on our freedoms to be able to do so.

In addition to supporting those who are taking to the streets to bring an end to the occupation of Iraq, and escalation of war in SW Asia, the Partnership for Civil Justice is defending humanitarians who stepped forward to challenge the lethal sanctions and blockades that the U.S. imposes which target civilian populations in order to achieve strategic and political goals. They have invoked international law in the defense of Voices in the Wilderness, which ran the Iraqi sanctions blockade in order to deliver medical supplies desperately needed by the sick and dying children and civilians of that nation.

Defending Targeted Communities

Working with ethnic communities, including the Arab and Muslim community, which have been particularly targeted and terrorized in the past few years with raids, home invasions, interrogations and arrests, the PCJ has sought to provide both legal support and Know Your Rights educational information.

Working With the Community in Washington, D.C.

With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and as members of that community, the work of PCJF is also local, as well as national and international in focus. When the Mayor’s Office took steps to close down the only public hospital in the District, religious, community and labor leaders turned to the Partnership, which filed an  in federal court opposing the closure.When local housing activists turned to the PCJ for legal representation when the government sought to interfere with the return of abandoned housing stock to the community, PCJ stepped in to stop the government from eviction at a community rehabilitated house.

Contact Information: Partnership for Civil Justice, 617 Florida Avenue NW Washington, DC 20001 at (202) 232-1180

The stakes here are high.

The massive fines and felony arrests with extraordinarily high bail come just before what Peace organizers believe will be the largest outpouring to date against the war in Afghanistan.

Suppression of dissent that was so widespread during the Bush administration has only intensified under the Obama. No Pro-War organization, Tea Baggers, corporate entity or politician has ever been hit with these massive fines just for posting fliers.

The large corporations, including the biggest war contractors and banks, have billions of dollars to advertise their message of war and profit. Grassroots organizations have always relied on leaflets and posters to build progressive grassroots movements for change.

The government and national and local law enforcement agencies are now engaged in a nationally coordinated effort to stamp out the exercise of classic grassroots organizing and dissent against the continued occupation of Iraq and war for Defense Industry profits in Afghanistan.

Protest organizers such as those speaking out below vow to never surrender to this Police State campaign that aims to intimidate and bankrupt the progressive movement. They are fighting back. Most importantly, they continue to mobilize despite police harassment.

They ask for our support by coming to the March 20 demonstrations and by bringing our friends, families, co-workers and fellow students. The voice of dissent will not be silenced.

March organizers said that in order to win this fight, they have to both defend our rights in the courts and to show solidarity with activists who are facing suppression of dissent. And each and every American can do our part to help support the mobilization of the people against war and occupation.

Even Tea Baggers would agree that basic rights were never a gift from politicians. Important change, including basic free speech rights were the result of the struggle by generation after generation.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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