Last week I posted a blog about Ohio 7 defendant, Ray Levasseur making his first public speech locally in 20 years. In late 1989, Ray, along with his fellow defendants, was acquitted of Seditious Conspiracy after a trial in Springfield, MA. Since he was already serving a multi-decade sentence after being convicted of politically motivated crimes, he remained in prison until being paroled in 2004.
His talk was scheduled to take place tonight (11/12), but since my posting last week it was canceled, rescheduled, and finally will be held in his absence. I will outline these twists succinctly, before explaining why the Ohio 7 case is so important to the RFC.
Ray had originally been invited by the UMass library to speak at its social change forum. Police organizations pressured the Governor and University Chancellor who in turn pressured the Library department into withdrawing the invitation. In response faculty incensed at this trampling of free speech re-invited him. Next his parole board revoked Ray’s permission to travel to Massachusetts after the head of the Massachusetts Fraternal Order of Police convinced them to do so. As of now the event is going forward with several of Ray’s attorneys from the Sedition trial, and even one of the jurors, attending. It is also my understanding that despite Ray’s absence State Police and their supporters will be out in force to protest.
I’ll be attending this event. While I believe we need to make a statement that the State Police should not be permitted to dictate who can speak on any state university campus, that is not why the RFC is one of several groups sponsoring this program. (Sponsorship only included lending our name and publicizing the event to our constituency, we did not provide any financial assistance.)
The reason the RFC is involved is because of our long-standing connection to the Ohio 7. I first heard about this group in the fall of 1988. I learned that the defendants included three married couples. Each of the three couples had three children and the FBI seized them all when the Ohio 7 defendants were arrested in 1985. The two eldest children, then aged 8 and 11, were interrogated by the FBI. Six children of two of the couples were held briefly by Virginia Protective Services, but the third couple’s children aged 11, five and three, were held by authorities for almost two months! 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 was even worse. I wrote the following in my blog last week, but it is worth repeating here. “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.”
When my parents were arrested the vast majority of Americans considered them to be the epitome of evil, worse then any of the Ohio 7 defendants. But people came forward to protect my brother and me, even some who felt my parents might have been guilty. These people were our champions and I owe my survival to them. The RFC’s mission is to serve as the champions of children in similar circumstances today. I believe the story of the Ohio 7 and what happened to their children must be told and it was my hope that Ray would make their story a part of his presentation. I hope that still happens, even in his absence.