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San Diego Activist Community Stumbles
In light of the recent jailing of two activists for standing up for their constitutional rights, some in San Diego question whether we have a movement here or just fragmented groups.
San Diego Activist Community Stumbles
San Diego: Moving to open a new front in its preemptive war on dissent; the federal government, in mid-June, began a campaign of skip bombing and reconnaissance by force. FBI agents fanned out into the activist community; visiting staid, middle-class organizational headquarters and harassing independent journalists while the U.S. Attorney, manipulating the oppressive grand jury process, jailed two animal rights activists.
The Feds used an unsolved August, 2003 fire at a half-built La Jolla apartment complex and a lecture by Rod Colorado, later that same day, as an excuse to threaten, harass and create divisiveness in the San Diego activist community. These local attacks jelled with Bush’s national campaign to create a new fear factor, a media peddled concept, “eco-terrorists” to further his own agenda - corporate control of the economy and environment.
While Danae Kelley, 21, and David Arganoff, 31, of Compassion for Farm Animals, refused to testify and were imprisoned; their courageous stance brought forward the rifts and fault lines that underlie the difficulties of developing effective resistance locally.
In what could loosely be called a tale of two movements - it was the best and worse of justice activism. A sad dichotomy; where most San Diego peaceniks, civil rights devotees, Sierra Club neighborhood canyon hikers, surfboard environmentalists, animal cuddlers (as opposed to free’rs), liberals and progressives either hid under their beds, went to visit grandma or, sadly, just didn’t give a damn that the rights of free expression and the right to associate with others was under attack.
Several hundred, mostly young, radicals rallied in support of the original nine activists subpoenaed. They included local anarchists, animal rights activists, the Organic Collective, artists, students and members of the growing alternative media; sandiego radioactive radio and the IndyMedia Center. They moved forward, loudly and forcefully, to protest the governments efforts at attempting to label dissent, attending forums, associating with others and civil disobedience as anti-American, terrorist activities.
A few “older” organizations also stepped into the fray, like the city’s ancient Peace Resource Center (30 years) led by Carol Jahnkow; the small, but scrappy, Peace and Freedom Party (the Greens were silent), and the working-class San Diego Renters Union. Giving far too few, tepid, press releases from a safe-distance: a couple of middle-class activist organizations, who, at least, try to recruit young people, engaged through their keyboards; however, most of the community’s power liberals and left-wing mouse warriors simply ignored the fed’s attack on fundamental rights. This stunted support was a disappointment for some, they noted that the renters union had issued a city-wide plea suggesting that “our response to these FBI actions will determine whether we are a movement or just a rag-tag group of isolated noisemakers and rabble rousers.”
A seventy-five year old member of the renters union, Helen Stone, expressed her outrage after being wheeled to a demonstration in front of the Federal Courthouse saying “it’s a damn shame that these young people are out here facing the full might of the United States police force alone.”
Others pointed out that here in San Diego, the umby cord has been severed, with young radicals forced onto the streets without mainline liberal organizational support; thus exposing the underbelly of the movement - soft and vulnerable to targeting and fear of extra-judicial punishment; and that, indeed, for many older activists, too much may be asked, beyond the rituals of protest and prattle that temporarily shakes off the dust of complicity in a militarized, corporate owned superpower.
Two of those hauled before the grand jury were mainstream activists who's actions highlight the fault lines that clash together, creating rifts in the movement One, Elise Casley, 28, works with voters rights and the other, Colleen Dietzel, is a middle-aged owner of the Green Store, near the beach. Coming out of the Federal Courthouse after testifying, they were happy to see protesters in the streets, but failed to attend the subsequent demonstrations, during the following weeks, for the other seven inquisitor-ees. They even issued a statement that questions whether “Americans have to fear attending events, films and talks that cover controversial subject matters,” Proving, like most “activists” in so-called progressive organizations, talk is cheaper (and certainly less risky) than action. For many liberals, to know the right path is enough. God forbid that one may actually tread it. Education, forums, teach-ins, endless meetings; a grand circle-jerk that prevents the scarier transformation that is needed if we are to be freed from our personal fear toward the task ahead - dismantling the American Empire.
At a community forum organized right after the subpoenas were handed down, it became evident that some of the government’s strategy was working. All mainstream leaders stayed away, even the commies and socialists went bowling, while those few older activists who were there bristled with uncertainty and fear. One couple, long time leaders, even unsuccessfully asked that everyone introduce themselves and point to four people who could vouch for them. Before the evening was over, all but five older, middle-class activists had slipped out the door. Reflecting on the government’s use of the grand jury process, Carol Jahnkow, sadly noted “it attacks the whole foundation we have of freedom of association and freedom of speech.” She pointed out that “grand juries were used repeatedly in the 60’s and 70’s to disrupt and undermine the civil rights and anti-war movements of that time and it looks like we’re seeing that same pattern again today.”
Rob “Ruckus” Middaugh, of Los Angeles, who served 3 years in jail after he was attacked by police at an anarchist May Day celebration, and one of those ordered before the grand jury, called the process a “modern day inquisition” and a “witch hunt.”
For the local FBI Office, the use of the grand jury process is a win-win situation. Not only does it create fear and suspicion in the local activist community; it develops favorable press that they are actually doing something. The local feds are not only reeling from public criticism by their superiors in Washington, D.C. over failures to weed out the two 9-11 highjackers who lived and trained in San Diego; they are also under intense citizen outrage over targeting three democratic councilmen who took campaign contributions from a strip club operator.
Also, is the possibility, like Keystone Cops, they might stumble upon information about the Earth Liberation Front, blamed for the LaJolla arson, they can pass along to the national office. Some locals feel, however, that the developers needed cash and set the apartment complex fire for insurance purposes - and the FBI knows it.
The San Diego Renters Union issued a press release days after the arrest of Kelley and Arganoff saying that their punishment for refusing to testify obscures the real issues, criminals and villains at play on the larger stage in our corporate owned government. The local tenants’ group said it recognized that the Bush Administration would stop at nothing to make the world safe and profitable for pharmaceutical companies, bio-piracy firms, animal testing facilities and chemical factories. They suggest that the FBI and, particularly, it’s deputy assistant director of the counter-terrorism division, John E. Lewis, has been charged to come up with creating a domestic terrorism threat to cover legislation and administrative decisions, as well as strengthen judicial retribution, against those who target gross polluters, animal torture factories and poisonous, dangerous drugs being peddled in our pharmacies.
The intent is to create new COINTELPRO units which were used decades ago to “disrupt, discredit and otherwise neutralize” civil rights and social justice groups. In a famous memo, then FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover directed agents to “prevent coalitions from forming, pick-off leaders and prevent the groups from gaining respectability.”
About the same time, in June, as several grand juries in several states, began issuing sophenoes against environmental and animal rights activists, agent Lewis appeared before the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s convention in Philadelphia to assure the 18,000 CEO’s and corporate snake-oil peddlers that their profits and activities were safe. Surrounded by hundreds of police, soldiers and federal agents at the National Constitution Center, he pointed to the recently amended Federal Enterprise Protection Act, which, incredibly, equates constitutionally protected areas of free speech, exposing cruel, illegal activities of a corporation and it’s employees as acts of “domestic terrorism.” Six members of the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty group are presently facing federal charges of conspiracy and interstate stalking in Trenton, NJ under the act for calling attention to the torture of thousands of animals in Huntington Life Sciences labs, a private vivisection firm.
The renters union also called attention to the fact that one of those in San Diego’s federal jail, being punished for upholding his rights, David Agranoff, was targeted after attending an anti-Huntington demonstration, and is mentioned by name in a court order that forbids “using anti-HLS posters or literature within 100 feet of HLS employees.”
“The misuse of federal legislation to curb freedom of speech creates a dangerous precedent, barring activists from confronting any corporation,” the press release stated.
They also noted that during a recent Senate hearing, Agent Lewis, was again spreading tall tales of possible domestic eco-terrorism and suggesting that bio-tech executives were becoming increasingly grumpy over costs associated with the publicity over their environmental destructive actions and animal torture as well as the actual cost of security. One company, Chiron, complained to the senators about having to spend $2.5 million on heightened security after a relatively minor, legal demonstration at its Emeryville facility. Also, attending that Senate pow-wow was the attorney for one of the developers for the La Jolla apartment complex.
Almost 100 years ago, members of the Industrial Workers of the World were under attack in San Diego for their “Free Speech Movement.” Emma Goldman was run out of town and her boyfriend tarred and feathered by vigilantes, while individual wobblies were jailed.
Today, in San Diego we again have vigilantes roaming the county and young, idealistic Americans in jail for standing for free speech and the right to free association. Shame on San Diego’s leftist, progressive community. Maybe they didn’t come for you in mid-June, but what about tomorrow?
Rocky Neptun is director of the San Diego Renters Union. In 1972, he was thrown into prison in Portugal for his work against the fascists.