Incarceration Nation

Lynne Stewart’s Message to a Civil Liberties Conference

Connecticut, December 8th

There is a disturbing image of our brother, the Polar Bear, floating on a piece of shrinking ice in a hostile sea as Global Warming closes in on him. We, progressive, radical, revolutionary activists likewise find ourselves on a shrinking islet in a hostile sea of government repression. Make no mistake, bothers and sisters, they are out to destroy us and the only solution is to shake their foundations—to make it so public and so despicable that they dare not.

We all, I hope, know that the original Bill of Rights had to be added to the Constitution because the people, a revolutionary lot, recognized that if Government were not restrained they were no better off than they had been under the King. Since the ratification finally made the Bill of Rights the law of the land, there has been a consistent tension engendered by the entrenched powers of privilege to erode those basic rights and silence those who believe in change. We are well aware that 9/11 was instantaneously followed by the Patriot Act, which had actually been on the repressive forces’ wish list for many eons. Hiding behind the fear of that moment, the people through their so-called representatives ceded to “Big Brother” most if not all of the crucial rights necessary to resist and organize. Technology has complimented this government plan with spy devices that are not only unseen but virtually undetectable.

More important to us, I think, are the all-too-human techniques used to infiltrate and destroy the movement. These “undercover” “spy in the camp” maneuvers implicate the rights to free speech and assembly. There is no freedom if every projected cause and idea is reported back to the very entity that it challenges. Nor is there freedom if “initiatives” come not from a dedicated group of freedom fighters but from trained infiltrators whose mission is to incriminate and arrest. Historically we should be aware that the Black Panthers and the BLA (Black Liberation Army) as viable organizations were destroyed from within by the twists and turns of Iago-like evil informants. It was revealed and there were a series of well-publicized hearings.

Consciences of the left were shocked and saddened. But today the volumes produced by the Church committee of the U.S. Senate are relegated to use as doorstops. The human lives targeted (Fred Hampton, Little Bobby Hutton) lie in cold graves and those that were prosecuted continue to rot in jail. (Angola 3, Sekou Odinga, Mutulu Shakur, Sundiata Acoli, Bashir Hamid, Jalil Montaquim, Mondo we Langa, etc.) Unfortunately the relevance of what occurred to the BPP (Black Panther Party) is rarely taken into account by us. To the enemies of positive change however, those techniques are alive and thriving. The arrest of activists, the targeting of the impressionable and naive, and also even long-term but impatient wiser persons, sometimes Muslim, sometimes anarchist, sometimes antiwar, sometimes Earth and Animal-Firsters, sometimes Marxists, or nationalists, is more often than not a plot concocted and carried out and financed by Government.

I am often criticized and rightly so for not talking about the assault on my own civil liberties. I guess, sitting here in the belly of the beast with the ten-year sentence still in place, I feel that I am old news! But there can be no more fundamental affront to us than the silencing, the icing of the lawyers that have always, as part of their personal and political commitment, been there to defend against the criminalization of the movement. Not only in the courts but in the torture chambers and in the press, lawyers should be on the front line. What happened to me is the method the government used to intimidate and also to delimit the decisions that once were the sole province of attorney and client.

When people ask what I am in jail for, I frequently boil it down to that I was too good a lawyer for the clients and the government decided I must be silenced and forgotten. What I did was to make a public press release to Reuters on behalf of my client—his right? My right? In my view, this was pure First Amendment to say nothing of the Sixth, Right to Counsel. It also has the imprint of rescuing him from cruel and unusual punishment as he was held (and still is) in solitary confinement, exacerbated by his blindness, his inability to read Braille as diabetes takes its toll on the sensitivity in his fingers, and his lack of fluency in English. By imposing prison restrictions known as SAMS, the Department of Justice made rules into laws and then indicted me for breaking them. We go to the U.S. Supreme Court in the very near future and will be raising many issues of Constitutional dimension. Will they even hear the case? Stay tuned, but know that we will fight on. What else?

Finally, I think that outrage and anger also must be our response to the killing by drones. To think of the President sitting in the Oval office checking off names on a list prepared by the hopelessly inept intelligence community of those to be murdered because “they bother us” sounds more like the Godfather and maybe it is—the USA being the criminal enterprise to be upheld at any cost. As people in prison say, when a fight starts “Don’t put MY name in it!” But all our names are in it because the population believes that these assassinations are what protects us. That fear is the greatest stumbling block we face in organizing.

Right after 9/11 our in-laws—blonde, blue-eyed apolitical people announced that they were happy to give up their “rights” in order to be safe. Our son-in-law, a bright and sympathetic young man, turned to them and said “it isn’t you who will be pinched by this outrage but my wife (our daughter) will be constantly harassed.” Our daughter, who has a name out of ancient Palmyra (Syria), and most decidedly a person of “color,” has definitely found this to be the case. I use this story to close because it is our most daunting and difficult task to convince people that the degree of separation between persons is really a mirage and what happens in this shrinkage of liberties if it affects one of us, it affects and harms and can ultimately destroy all of us!! Let us keep up our fight until victory is ours!

Lynne Stewart #53504-054

Unit 2N, Federal Medical Center, Carswell

P.O. Box 27137

Fort Worth, TX 76127

Lynne Stewart Defense Committee

1070 Dean Street

Brooklyn, New York 11216

For further information: 718-789-0558 or 917-853-9759