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Residents rally for more protests

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Saturday July 13, 2002

Calling for a return to the massive, social protests of the ’60s, hundreds of residents from Berkeley and across the Bay Area gathered Thursday night to decry the loss of civil liberties in the United States since Sept 11.  

Speakers at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley said that federal policy makers used the terrorist attacks as an excuse to execute racist and restrictive laws. 

“Many people in America were afraid of terrorism after 9-11,” said Barbara Lubin, director of Friends of Free Speech Radio and co-host of the forum. “I’m not afraid of a bomb. I’m afraid of John Ashcroft. I’m afraid of what’s happening today in America. It’s clear what’s happening and it’s horrifying and frightening,”  

Many at Thursday’s meeting titled, “The Coming of a Police State in the US,” came to support embattled New York attorney Lynne Stewart, who faces 40 years in prison for allegedly aiding a terrorist organization. Receiving several standing ovations and loud cheers from the crowd and mixing humor with stern warnings, Stewart, an attorney for Saudi Sheik Omar Abel Rahman, said that she has done nothing wrong. 

Stewart was charged with helping Rahman, convicted in 1995 of plotting terrorist attacks, by releasing a press statement from the Sheik. However, Stewart claims that she is the victim of government wiretapping and that officials violated her attorney-client privileges.  

“This isn’t about lawyers. It’s about clients,” Stewart said. “If the government is permitted to listen in on communication between lawyers and clients then the entire system, as perverted as it is, is at stake.” 

Stewart is out of jail after raising $500,000 bail. 

Several prominent civil rights and immigration law attorneys also spoke on Thursday. Bob Bloom, a longtime civil rights lawyer who recently helped two Earth First! environmental activists win $4.4 million in their case against the FBI, urged attendees to scrutinize mainstream media reports. 

“I am sick of the incredibly inept national news stories cheerleading for genocide, racial profiling and the American form of terrorism,” Bloom said. 

While each speaker criticized current policies, there was a combined call to unite against alleged government injustices. 

“It is time to pick ourselves up individually and collectively despite these pressures,” Boom said. 

“These circumstances are not unlike those of Germany in the 1930s. We have to be very conscious. We really have a job to do. The worse it gets, the more important is our work.”  

Bloom noted that he was inspired by Earth First! trial jurors who found members of the FBI and Oakland Police Department responsible for violations against First and Fourth Amendment rights. He says the case is important because it represents a victory by the people over the government’s attempts to neutralize dissent. 

“I’m a cynical person but even I found myself inspired by what these people were able to do,” Bloom said. 

Much of the attack on government Thursday was aimed at tightening immigration policies. Critics, including Marc Van Der Hout, an immigration law specialist, say that basic constitutional rights were violated during the patriotic surge of the last year.  

“Even though the American public is willing to accept some curbs, we are not willing to accept a fundamental change,” Van Der Hout said. “We don’t know what’s going on with the military tribunals. We only know the tip of the iceberg.”  

Some at the meeting said they were there because they believe fundamental changes are taking place in the United States. 

“I’m very concerned about what’s happening to the country today,” said Burlingame resident Bill Wolfe. “It’s obvious to me that members of the government are using 9-11 to promote their own agenda.”  

Another policy they criticized was the U.S. Patriot Act, passed by Congress after Sept. 11. The act allows government officials an unprecedented and unwarranted level of power, proponents of the Act said.  

While many individuals often feel powerless to challenge government policy, Stewart says that now is the time for change.  

“The question here is what can we do?” Stewart said. “The toughest question for the left is, “What can we do?’ My answer: organize, organize, organize. I’m here to organize.” 

Citing the success of the social and political protests of the ’60s and ’70s, Stewart said, “We could have another opportunity here. This may be it.”