Ray Returns- RELOCATED & REVAMPED

[Update: The blog post below was published 11/05/09. Later that evening, word broke that the University of MA, apparently under pressure from the office of MA Governor Deval Patrick, canceled Ray's appearance scheduled for 11/12/09.

Organizers worked hard to find an alternate venue so that this event could proceed as planned, and on 11/10 a new set of sponsors and new venue on the UMass campus were announced so that the talk could go forward as planned at 7:15 pm on Thursday, 11/12/09.

However, on 11/11, the parole commission to which Ray reported, rescinded his permission to travel to this event, so he was not able to be present. Instead, attorneys from his sedition trial, a juror from that trial, and Ray's former wife, Pat Levasseur, were among the participants.  Police groups from across the region turned out en masse to protest this event.

Media coverage and other information about the UMass event is available at the "Let Ray Have His Say" Facebook Group page here.]


Next Thursday night Ohio 7 defendant, Ray Levasseur will make his first public speech in our local area in twenty years. In late 1989, after a 10-month trial in Springfield, MA, Ray, along with his fellow defendants, was acquitted of Seditious Conspiracy to overthrow the US government by force and violence. Since he was already serving a multi-decade sentence after being convicted of politically motivated crimes while engaging in clandestine activity during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, he was imprisoned until being paroled just a few years ago. Although he remains on parole to this day, he was finally granted permission to return to our area to speak about his case at the University of Massachusetts.

I am looking forward to his talk with great anticipation for two reasons.

I first heard about the Ohio 7 in the fall of 1988. I’d been working as a business and tax lawyer for a firm in Springfield for a little over two years and was becoming increasingly unhappy with my work. I learned that these defendants were called the Ohio 7 because they were three married couples, and a single man who were arrested in Ohio in 1985 after evading capture for almost ten years. The three couples had nine children between them. The government seized three of the children, interrogated them and held them incommunicado for weeks. They were not released to the custody of relatives until their parents began a hunger strike.

This horrible story evoked distressing memories of my childhood, but what happened to these kids, aged 1l, five and three, seemed even worse. Their plight percolated in my subconscious only to reemerge five months later with the realization that my dream of starting a foundation in my parents’ name had found its focus. The foundation would help children today suffering the same nightmare I endured as a child. While there were other factors involved, it is no exaggeration to say that the case of the Ohio 7 gave birth to the RFC.

The second reason I’m eagerly awaiting Ray’s talk is that the last time I heard him speak was when he gave his final statement (he defended himself) at the close of his trial. He gave one of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard.

Judge Young, who presided, was fond of reminding the Jury to pay no attention to what the clock on the courtroom wall read, he would determine when they recessed for lunch or the day’s session would end.

Ray, in his summation, pointed out that there were many points he wished to make in his defense to provide a context for his actions, but the Judge ruled they were irrelevant and would not allow him to present them to the jury.

I could see the Judge fuming because while he could prevent Ray from telling the jury what those points were, he could not stop Ray from saying he’d been prevented from making them. And then Ray drove his point home by saying essentially, “It’s like the clock. We know it tells us what time it really is, but we have to ignore it because the Judge says so.”

I could see that the jury got Ray’s point. There was a real world out there, and the Jury should take that world into consideration no matter what the Judge told them to do. I believe Ray’s speech helped sway the jury towards dismissal.

Ray was taking a terrible chance. If the jury did not acquit him, the Judge would surely vent his fury during sentencing at being outwitted by someone whom this elite and very arrogant man considered light years beneath him. But Ray carried the day, and I’ll never forget that speech for as long as I live.

Join me if you can on Thursday, November 12th, at 7pm, in the Amherst Room on the 10th Floor of the UMass Campus Center, Amherst, MA

(Ray's prison writings and his statements from the Springfield sedition trial are available at the following links: http://home.earthlink.net/~neoludd/ and http://home.earthlink.net/~neoludd/statement.html.)

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Comments

Just learned that the University caved to the right-wingers and pulled the plug on this event. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I certainly will not be giving my alumni contribution this year!

I have made several donations in the past to RFC. I am afraid that I will have to hold back this year. As a peace activist, I cannot make common cause with a man who bombed a Boston courthouse and maimed an innocent man. I have read up on the machine guns, explosives, shrapnel, and other means UFF used against people and I cannot in good conscience support those tactics.

I do not think that RFC would sponsor a paroled KKK member, abortion clinic bomber, or the killers of Matthew Shepard. I fail to see what makes this man any more notable. His targeting methods indicate a hate criminal of the highest order.

There is a bright line between activism and terrorism. Sadly, your judgement seems to have slipped in this case. There were better, more peaceful, choices for this talk.

Dear Friend,

I believe you have incorrect information. Ray was acquitted of being involved in the bombing of the Boston Courthouse. If memory serves me well - that can be a question these days - he was convicted, along with several others of 20 bombings, none of which resulted in death or injury. The objective of these bombings was to destroy the property of corporations who were propping up the murderous apartheid regime in South Africa.

While I do not condone these activities, I do not believe that the destruction of corporate property is terrorism when it is clear from the actions of the perpetrators that they are trying to avoid any damage to human beings rather than terrorize the civilian population.

The plight of Ray Levasseur's and his co-defendants' children provided the inspiration for the RFC. Regardless of what you think of Ray's actions, his children were abused by our government for political purposes. (And, by the way, the very first grant the RFC made enabled two of his co-defendant's children to attend a Quaker - that is pacifist - summer camp.)

Finally, we are supporting Ray's right to speak, not endorsing his views. The State Police and their right-wing supporters do not believe we have the right to hold a public civil discussion of an important political trial that took place 20 years ago. What organizations you decide to support is your business, but I believe you should support Ray's right to speak and our right to hear what he has to say.

Robert Meeropol

Robert,

I won't argue with you, but I urge you to go back and look at some of the old news articles. People were injured in the UFF bombings and the UFF did admit the Boston courthouse bombing. The Boston Herald has some of the horrific pictures. As an attorney, I think you will be angered to see the innocent court workers bleeding from the UFF's bombing. These people didn't oppress South African blacks. They just went to work. Many look like they could have been our fellow travelers.

Yes, many of the police groups have gone overboard with trying to *ban* him. But can you understand their frustration? Levasseur's best friends were convicted of murder in one case and attempted murder in two others. He has had several opportunities to condemn this but hasn't. I was arrested five times for anti-Vietnam War direct actions. I never brought two machine guns to a dark rest area to ambush two innocent state police officers. I never tried to hide from the consequences. I never set off bombs here to protest injustice somewhere else. That's not revolution. That's cowardice. That's injustice.

I don't know about you, but I chained myself to military recruiting centers and went to the clink for it. My message was peaceful activism against violence. Yes, cops treated me like crap. But my message won in the end. The moral superiority of the peace movement was as much about its methods as its message. Yes, I am an idealist in the MLK/Gandhi vein.

Don't get me wrong. I do believe that he should be allowed to speak. The question was whether, knowing the bad name he gives leftist activists and the hurt he brings many families, you were doing us any favors by inviting him. I'm not against RFC supporting his children. I'm against you validating the worst stereotypes of our larger movement and giving a platform to a violent man in the process. Again, there were better choices and I suspect you know this deep down. As someone who was orphaned by injustice, I hope you can look inside yourself and sympathize with the woman who was widowed by the UFF's injustice.

We shall agree to disagree. But the reason I will no longer give is that, given your response above, I think you would invite Tom Manning to speak if and when he is released.

Dear Friend,

Yes, we can agree to disagree, and it is not my intention to run this dispute into the ground.

I am commenting one more time, however, to correct something I wrote in my prior comment. I wrote that Ray had been acquitted of involvement in the Suffolk County Court House bombing. That is not quite correct. That bombing was one of the acts described in the Ohio 7's sedition trial indictment. The government never pursued that aspect of the case after the sedition trial defendants were acquited. In other words, it would be more accurate to say that Ray was never convicted of the Suffolk County Court House bombing.

I intend to post another blog today to update the RFC community on the latest developments, and I intend to continue this discussion more generally in future postings.

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