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Latino and immigrant leaders speak against political repression

By Brad Sigal |
April 18, 2011
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Minneapolis, MN - On April 7, four Latino and immigrant leaders spoke against political repression on a panel at the University of Minnesota. They spoke out in solidarity with the 23 anti-war activists facing FBI and grand jury repression and told their stories of solidarity in the face of repression.

Anh Pham spoke first. She is one of the 23 anti-war activists recently subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in a sweeping investigation of “material support to foreign terrorist organizations.” The anti-war movement considers this witch hunt baseless and reminiscent of McCarthyism. These activists face potentially long jail sentences because of their ideas, their speech and their anti-war and international solidarity activism. She gave the background information on the case and talked about the organizing going on to stop the repression.

Pham is a Vietnamese immigrant. She talked about the experience of many immigrants who come to the U.S., saying, “My family and I moved here from Vietnam in 1975. Very typical immigrant story - we came over here because there was a war in Vietnam, as people know. My family came over here to escape the war. I think that’s a very typical story of many immigrants.” Her life experience brought her to see the importance of struggling against U.S. wars, as well as the importance of working for the rights of immigrants who face discrimination and inequality here in the U.S.

Francisco Segovia then spoke about the repression he lived under in El Salvador during the civil war there, before he came to the U.S. as an immigrant. He recounted personal experiences living under the U.S.-backed military dictatorship saying, “We always had that fear that we were being investigated and knowing that eventually something was going to happen to us.” Segovia explained how the repression there functioned - the National Guard would arrest someone and threaten them or torture them until they named names of others that the National Guard would then go after, creating a never-ending chain of repression.

He talked about the importance of international solidarity in building relationships between the people of the U.S. and El Salvador to end government repression there. He said, “If it wasn’t for those groups and institutions in solidarity with El Salvador we wouldn’t be able to explain the reality of our country and also the reality of United States involvement and how citizens of this part of the world could intervene to change those policies that were killing people in El Salvador. It was key to us that there were people from here in the U.S. coming to our country and educating people here about our struggle. Again, when you’re trying to change government policies, you become at risk because there are so many political and economic interests to keep things the way they are.”

Segovia ended his talk by saying, “At one time people from the United States were in solidarity with El Salvador, and still many people are, and I think today is my time to be in solidarity with everyone here who is looking for a better society.”

Veronica Mendez, an organizer with the Center for Workers United in Struggle (CTUL), spoke about her organization’s experiences with repression against Latino immigrant workers trying to organize for better wages and working conditions. She talked about the recent firing of a leader in their retail cleaning campaign and the outpouring of solidarity to protest that firing of a key organizer. 

Mendez said, “The reason I came here is to make clear that repression happens all around us in so many different forms and it’s so crucial that all of us stand in solidarity because what hurts one of us will hurt the rest of us.” She continued, “We’re standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are currently facing this repression because workers know, and all of us know, if they can come for you they can come for us next.”

Manuel Barrera is a professor at Metro State University with a long history of activism in the Chicano liberation movement. His involvement in the Chicano movement started with the struggle against police repression against the Chicano moratorium anti-war protest in East Los Angeles in 1970, at which the police unleashed violence on protesters and in the process they killed journalist Ruben Salazar. Barrera has been involved in many anti-repression struggles since then.

Barrera strongly praised the 23 subpoenaed anti-war activists for their decision not to testify before the grand jury, giving his view that their stand takes great courage and carries personal risk, but that it’s the only principled option for activists. Barrera spoke of the repression against all movements fighting for the basic rights of workers and oppressed people. He talked about the history of repression against the Chicano liberation movement, from the repression against the Chicano Moratorium in 1970 to the government effort to destroy the La Raza Unida Party (an independent Chicano political party) in Texas.

Barrera spoke about the need to stand up for the right to disagree with the government’s wars (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere) and the necessity to defend activists that come under attack for doing so. He said that those in power will do anything, including using extreme repression, to stop people from expressing themselves in a way that challenges their interests.

He emphasized that the struggle against repression underlies all other political struggles, saying, "This struggle against repression is really a powerful demand, and a very attractive one. It's associated with the struggle for union rights, and it is associated with the struggle against repression in El Salvador or Honduras, or the right for workers to organize at Jimmy Johns or Chipotle or Target. It’s also totally associated with the idea that a group of anti-war activists have the right to express their point of view and not be prosecuted simply for having ideas."

Video from the April 7 panel: Latino & immigrant leaders speak out on solidarity & repression:

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