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“Law as a weapon of war” people’s assembly held in Atlanta

By Kosta Harlan |
May 17, 2011
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Over 80 people attended the Atlanta people's assembly, "Law as a weapon of war"
Above:
Over 80 people attended the Atlanta people's assembly, "Law as a weapon of war" (Fight Back! News/Kosta Harlan)
Jess Sundin from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression Laila Yaghi, mother of imprisoned Muslim youth Ziyad Yaghi. Wall of names showing people targeted by preemptive prosecution
Left:
Wall of names showing people targeted by preemptive prosecution
Center:
Laila Yaghi, mother of imprisoned Muslim youth Ziyad Yaghi.
Right:
Jess Sundin from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression

Atlanta, GA - Over eighty people from across the South gathered at the Auburn Research Library in downtown Atlanta on May 14 for the people’s assembly, “Law as a Weapon of War”.

The assembly brought together people directly affected by repression from the war on terror, anti-immigrant legislation, and the war on drugs. As Stephanie Guilloud of Project South said in opening remarks, “Everyone here is on the front lines of a crisis.”

On the front lines of state repression

The assembly began with a panel of speakers to discuss the impact of state repression from the “war on terrorism” on their families.

Laila Yaghi, the mother of Ziyad Yaghi, one of the “North Carolina 7”, spoke to the assembly. Ziyad is facing trial for terrorism-related offenses in which he maintains his innocence. Laila reported that Ziyad faces harsh treatment at the detention center, including being denied medical care and isolation.

Barandra Bujol, whose brother Barry is imprisoned for attempting to provide material support to terrorists, talked about the affects of state repression on dissent. “It is not until they hit your doorstep,” Bujol said, “that you realize anyone could be labeled a terrorist for dissenting from foreign policy.” Bujol urged people to speak out against government repression, stating, “Silence is not only complacency but complicity.”

Jess Sundin, who had her home raided by the FBI in the September 24 raids on anti-war and international solidarity activists, spoke about her ongoing case. The assembly broke out in applause when Sundin emphasized that the 23 activists subpoenaed to the federal grand jury in Chicago are refusing to participate in the witch hunt against the anti-war movement. Sundin also described the broad support that the Committee to Stop FBI Repression has received in the last six months, with hundreds of organizations issuing statements of solidarity, labor unions representing over 600,000 workers in support, and thousands of people pledging to resist and protest should activists be indicted or imprisoned. Sundin also mentioned the growing response from congressional representatives, eight of whom have written letters of concern to President Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder about the FBI raids.

Following up on Sundin’s talk, Steve Downs from Project SALAM told audience, “If they can do it to the peace activists, that could happen to anyone.” Downs also talked about the unjust imprisonment of Iraqi-American Dr. Rafil Dhafir and the highly political nature of the “material support for terrorism” charges.

Law as a weapon of war

A second panel in the afternoon covered some of the repressive tools being used against people targeted by the war on terror and war on immigration. Nahal Zamani from the Center for Constitutional Rights gave a sobering overview of the Communication Management Units (CMUs) in which prisoners are kept in isolation. Zamani explained that while 6% of the federal prison population is Muslim, 65-72% of the CMU population is Muslims. Zamani also talked about the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which like the CMUs, are used to isolate and repress prisoners.

Azadeh Shashahani of the ACLU discussed the attacks on the immigrant community in Georgia, as the Georgia governor had just signed into law a copycat SB1070 boil, HB 87. “HB87 is not happening in isolation,” Shashahani stressed. “All of these attacks on our communities are related. The only way to resist is to work together.”

Building unity against repressive laws and institutions

Sonali Sadequee from the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative spoke about the importance of building unity, and discussed ways in which the community, organizations, and mass movements can unite in support of each other when facing different kinds of repression. Mauri Salaakhan with the Peace Thru Justice Foundation also spoke about the importance of cross-movement organizing.

A large contingent of student and youth organizers from Gainesville Florida attended the conference. "It was important for Gainesville SDS to mobilize for this conference because we need every part of the community coming together to resist and struggle against government repression,” said Fernando Figueroa with Gainesville SDS and the Gainesville Committee to Stop FBI Repression. “It doesn't matter if the government is repressing Muslims or anti-war activists or African-Americans - only by uniting our causes and resources can we beat back oppression in our cities and towns and ensure our own right to be free.”

The people’s assembly is one of many being organized across the country in the coming months. The main goal is to unite different sections of the people in a common struggle against state repression. The Atlanta assembly was an important event in building such unity in the South.

The assembly was organized by the National Coalition To Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF); Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR); Project South; Families United For Justice In America (FUJA); The Peace Thru Justice Foundation, Project SALAM, Atlanta International Action Center, National Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), National Jericho Movement, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)-GA, Amnesty International-GA, Georgia Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition, Movement to End Israeli Apartheid (MEIA-GA); Friends of Human Rights-Tampa; Rights Working Group-Washington, DC; and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MAS Freedom).