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Life After Capitalism Conference


Well, four more days to go before the Life After Capitalism conference being held in New York City, beginning this Friday and continuing throughout Saturday and Sunday. Myself and fellow Vancouver Parecon Collective member Matt Grinder will be attending the conference as participants and as media.

The conference is attempting to transcend the Republican/Democrat party dichotomy as well as the electoral system by developing vision, strategy and tactics for a better world. As the site says, “Life After Capitalism 2004 aims at contributing to this process by providing a space for activists – in the run up to the intense mobilization period – to reflect on the importance of long term vision, strategy, and face to face relationship building. We also seek to bring together and give voice to the (non-sectarian) anti capitalist left in the United States.” 

I will provide blog updates from the conference trying to convey what I see, the issues being discussed, actions proposed, and actions taken.

In related news, a friend has passed along this New York Times article (below) which reports that the FBI is investigating demonstrators across the country who may be attending the Republican National Convention. Joe Parris, FBI spokesman in Washington, says, “We vetted down a list and went out and knocked on doors and had a laundry list of questions to ask about possible criminal behavior,” he added. “No one was dragged from their homes and put under bright lights. The interviewees were free to talk to us or close the door in our faces.”

As for the harassment and intimidation, Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado says, “This kind of pressure has a real chilling effect on perfectly legitimate political activity”…”People are going to be afraid to go to a demonstration or even sign a petition if they justifiably believe that will result in your having an F.B.I. file opened on you.”

New York Times
F.B.I. Goes Knocking for Political Troublemakers
By ERIC LICHTBLAU

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 – The Federal Bureau of
Investigation has been questioning political
demonstrators across the country, and in rare cases
even subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to
forestall what officials say could be violent and
disruptive protests at the Republican National
Convention in New York.

F.B.I. officials are urging agents to canvass their
communities for information about planned disruptions
aimed at the convention and other coming political
events, and they say they have developed a list of
people who they think may have information about
possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began
last month before the Democratic convention in Boston,
are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent,
at major political events.

But some people contacted by the F.B.I. say they are
mystified by the bureau’s interest and felt harassed
by questions about their political plans.

“The message I took from it,” said Sarah Bardwell, 21,
an intern at a Denver antiwar group who was visited by
six investigators a few weeks ago, “was that they were
trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests
and to let us know that, ‘hey, we’re watching you.’ ”

The unusual initiative comes after the Justice
Department, in a previously undisclosed legal opinion,
gave its blessing to controversial tactics used last
year by the F.B.I in urging local police departments
to report suspicious activity at political and antiwar
demonstrations to counterterrorism squads. The F.B.I.
bulletins that relayed the request for help detailed
tactics used by demonstrators – everything from
violent resistance to Internet fund-raising and
recruitment.

In an internal complaint, an F.B.I. employee charged
that the bulletins improperly blurred the line between
lawfully protected speech and illegal activity. But
the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, in a
five-page internal analysis obtained by The New York
Times, disagreed.

The office, which also made headlines in June in an
opinion – since disavowed – that authorized the use of
torture against terrorism suspects in some
circumstances, said any First Amendment impact posed
by the F.B.I.’s monitoring of the political protests
was negligible and constitutional.

The opinion said: “Given the limited nature of such
public monitoring, any possible ‘chilling’ effect
caused by the bulletins would be quite minimal and
substantially outweighed by the public interest in
maintaining safety and order during large-scale
demonstrations.”

Those same concerns are now central to the vigorous
efforts by the F.B.I. to identify possible disruptions
by anarchists, violent demonstrators and others at the
Republican National Convention, which begins Aug. 30
and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of
protesters.

In the last few weeks, beginning before the Democratic
convention, F.B.I. counterterrorism agents and other
federal and local officers have sought to interview
dozens of people in at least six states, including
past protesters and their friends and family members,
about possible violence at the two conventions. In
addition, three young men in Missouri said they were
trailed by federal agents for several days and
subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury last
month, forcing them to cancel their trip to Boston to
take part in a protest there that same day.
Interrogations have generally covered the same three
questions, according to some of those questioned and
their lawyers: were demonstrators planning violence or
other disruptions, did they know anyone who was, and
did they realize it was a crime to withhold such
information.

A handful of protesters at the Boston convention were
arrested but there were no major disruptions. Concerns
have risen for the Republican convention, however,
because of antiwar demonstrations directed at
President Bush and because of New York City’s global
prominence.

With the F.B.I. given more authority after the Sept.
11 attacks to monitor public events, the tensions over
the convention protests, coupled with the Justice
Department’s own legal analysis of such monitoring,
reflect the fine line between protecting national
security in an age of terrorism and discouraging
political expression.

F.B.I. officials, mindful of the bureau’s abuses in
the 1960′s and 1970′s monitoring political dissidents
like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., say they are
confident their agents have not crossed that line in
the lead-up to the conventions.

“The F.B.I. isn’t in the business of chilling anyone’s
First Amendment rights,” said Joe Parris, a bureau
spokesman in Washington. “But criminal behavior isn’t
covered by the First Amendment. What we’re concerned
about are injuries to convention participants,
injuries to citizens, injuries to police and first
responders.”

F.B.I. officials would not say how many people had
been interviewed in recent weeks, how they were
identified or what spurred the bureau’s interest.
They said the initiative was part of a broader,
nationwide effort to follow any leads pointing to
possible violence or illegal disruptions in connection
with the political conventions, presidential debates
or the November election, which come at a time of
heightened concern about a possible terrorist attack.

F.B.I. officials in Washington have urged field
offices around the country in recent weeks to redouble
their efforts to interview sources and gather
information that might help to detect criminal plots.
The only lead to emerge publicly resulted in a warning
to authorities before the Boston convention that
anarchists or other domestic groups might bomb news
vans there. It is not clear whether there was an
actual plot.

The individuals visited in recent weeks “are people
that we identified that could reasonably be expected
to have knowledge of such plans and plots if they
existed,” Mr. Parris said.

“We vetted down a list and went out and knocked on
doors and had a laundry list of questions to ask about
possible criminal behavior,” he added. “No one was
dragged from their homes and put under bright lights.
The interviewees were free to talk to us or close the
door in our faces.”

But civil rights advocates argued that the visits
amounted to harassment. They said they saw the
interrogations as part of a pattern of increasingly
aggressive tactics by federal investigators in
combating domestic terrorism. In an episode in
February in Iowa, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Drake
University for records on the sponsor of a campus
antiwar forum. The demand was dropped after a
community outcry.

Protest leaders and civil rights advocates who have
monitored the recent interrogations said they believed
at least 40 or 50 people, and perhaps many more, had
been contacted by federal agents about demonstration
plans and possible violence surrounding the
conventions and other political events.
“This kind of pressure has a real chilling effect on
perfectly legitimate political activity,” said Mark
Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil
Liberties Union of Colorado, where two groups of
political activists in Denver and a third in Fort
Collins were visited by the F.B.I. “People are going
to be afraid to go to a demonstration or even sign a
petition if they justifiably believe that will result
in your having an F.B.I. file opened on you.”

The issue is a particularly sensitive one in Denver,
where the police agreed last year to restrictions on
local intelligence-gathering operations after it was
disclosed that the police had kept files on some 3,000
people and 200 groups involved in protests.

But the inquiries have stirred opposition elsewhere as
well.

In New York, federal agents recently questioned a man
whose neighbor reported he had made threatening
comments against the president. He and a lawyer,
Jeffrey Fogel, agreed to talk to the Secret Service,
denying the accusation and blaming it on a feud with
the neighbor. But when agents started to question the
man about his political affiliations and whether he
planned to attend convention protests, “that’s when I
said no, no, no, we’re not going to answer those kinds
of questions,” said Mr. Fogel, who is legal director
for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
In the case of the three young men subpoenaed in
Missouri, Denise Lieberman, legal director for the
American Civil Liberties Union in St. Louis, which is
representing them, said they scrapped plans to attend
both the Boston and the New York conventions after
they were questioned about possible violence.
The men are all in their early 20′s, Ms. Lieberman
said, but she would not identify them.

All three have taken part in past protests over
American foreign policy and in planning meetings for
convention demonstrations. She said two of them were
arrested before on misdemeanor charges for what she
described as minor civil disobedience at protests.

Prosecutors have now informed the men that they are
targets of a domestic terrorism investigation, Ms.
Lieberman said, but have not disclosed the basis for
their suspicions. “They won’t tell me,” she said.
Federal officials in St. Louis and Washington declined
to comment on the case. Ms. Lieberman insisted that
the men “didn’t have any plans to participate in the
violence, but what’s so disturbing about all this is
the pre-emptive nature – stopping them from
participating in a protest before anything even
happened.”

The three men “were really shaken and frightened by
all this,” she said, “and they got the message loud
and clear that if you make plans to go to a protest,
you could be subject to arrest or a visit from the
F.B.I.”

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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