Next Wednesday (12/7) I’m joining a panel organized by The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) entitled: Red to Green: Political Panic from McCarthyism to “Eco-Terrorism.” It will take place at the Community Church of New York, 40 East 35th Street, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. Other panel members include journalist Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, and Jenny Synan, activist and partner of jailed environmental activist Daniel McGowan. The panel will be introduced and moderated by Rachel Meeropol, a staff attorney at the CCR. (Oh yes, she’s also my daughter.)
Although some in the RFC’s community are aware of the series of “Green Scare” cases from the last decade, and understand the parallels between them and the Red Scare spy cases of the 1950’s, many of our supporters give me a blank look when I talk about the Green Scare. Many others appear reluctant to equate these “violent environmental extremists” with people like my parents.
We should be wary of accepting the government’s and mainstream media’s characterization of Green Scare defendants. As far as I know none has any caused injury, let alone death, to anyone, yet some have received multi-decade sentences and been branded violent terrorists. True, some have committed property damage, but even that is not always the case.
For instance, six people went to prison under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) for organizing against Huntingdon Life Sciences. The AEPA created the new crime of “animal enterprise terrorism” to punish those who caused physical disruption. The young people who organized Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), and who along with their organization became known as the SHAC 7 caused no physical disruption. Instead, they planned a very public and successful effort to shame and harass a large corporation, Huntingdon Life Sciences. However, in post-9/11 America, prosecutors developed a new legal theory by expanding the “physical disruption” language in AEPA to include loss of profits. The SHAC 7 were convicted of being animal enterprise terrorists under that interpretation of physical disruption. In 2006 a Judge sentenced the “conspirators” to up to six years in prison.
When people turn their backs on those they feel have been imprisoned for being too militant, it reminds me of my parents’ case. Few alive today remember that A.J. Muste, the pacifist mainstay of the War Resisters’ League, refused to get involved in the effort to save my parents’ lives because they had been accused of aiding the Soviet military. Fellow pacifist, Dave Dellinger, disagreed. He argued that regardless of what my parents might have done, all progressives should stand in solidarity with them because they were being subjected to violent, right-wing political repression.
Dellinger foresaw the long-term negative consequences of the split between leftists and liberals generated by McCarthy-era charges of communist subversion. The military industrial complex took this lesson to heart and has repeatedly driven a wedge between mainstream and militant progressive movements ever since. Those on the Left who turn their backs on Green Scare defendants, fail to see that this round of repression is another iteration of the divide and conquer strategy.
Others on the Left, although not necessary members of the RFC community, have characterized environmental and animal rights activists as self indulgent, well-off white kids who seem more concerned with trees, birds and puppies than they are with worldwide human suffering. Those who think this way appear blind to the common thread of corporate exploitation that propels environmental destruction, animal torment and abuse of workers. The successful, big business-driven legislative effort to redefine terrorism as anything that hurts commodities or profits, should set off alarm bells among all people on the Left. This is part of a larger corporate strategy to have law enforcement treat all progressive activism as a form of terrorism.
Finally, while the panel will focus on the Red and Green scares, we should never forget that attacks did not end in the 1950’s, only to resurface after September 11th, 2001. COINTELPRO took a terrible toll on many progressive movements in the 1970’s that were neither communist nor environmental. And the repression did not end with COINTELPRO’s exposure; it has had a significant negative impact on progressive activity during my entire lifetime.
This just scratches the surface of what we’ll be addressing next Wednesday. I hope to see some of you there.
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