Friday, November 06, 2009

University of Massachussetts Bows to Right-Wing hysteria

Bowing to pressure from the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Union, and assorted right-wing gutter journalists, and the Governor of Massachusetts, the University of Massachusetts has caved, pulling the plug on a talk by Ray Luc Levasseur that was to take place next week.

Ray Luc Levasseur is a revolutionary comrade, but as you all know words are cheap, and saying that about the man does not explain the fuss about this event. Until you realize that Levasseur not only talked the talk, he also walked the walk. As he has wroitten elsewhere:
In 1967 I did a tour of duty in Vietnam where I was deeply affected by the devastation of the war on the Vietnamese people and their country. In 1968 I began my first political activism with the Southern Student Organizing Committee in Tennessee. Our work centered on bringing an end to the war, supporting the formation of labor unions, and support work for Black liberation. Police repression ensued, and from 1969 through 1971 I spent most of my time in segregation cells of the Tennessee State Penitentiary. When released in 1971 I became a state organizer for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). In 1973 I left VVAW and began working with prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. I became an organizer with a [Maine] community-based group called SCAR (Statewide Correctional Alliance for Reform)… In 1974 I was involved with the formation of the Red Star North bookstore, which also operated a free books-to-prisoners program. In late 1974 I went underground became of my commitment to building a revolutionary movement that could grow, sustain, and defend itself at each stage of its development. In 1974 police repression had reached intolerable levels.

In 1984 I was captured by agents of the federal government [along with others in a case that became known as the Ohio 7]. In 1985 I was tried and convicted of bombings against U.S. military facilities, military contractors, and corporations doing business in South Africa. I received a 45-year sentence. In 1986, I was indicted with seven others for seditious conspiracy and RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations). The indictment charged me with membership in the Sam Melville-Jonathan Jackson Unit and the United Freedom Front. These groups carried out a series of actions from 1976 through 1984 in support of Puerto Rican Independence; freedom struggles in Southern Africa; ‘for the Sufferers—the Homeless—the Unemployed—the Hungry—the Imprisoned—those who die in the streets of amerikkka;’ and in opposition to U.S. war crimes in Central America. In what became the longest sedition trial in the history of the U.S., I was acquitted of seditious conspiracy. The jury deadlocked on the rico charges and the government was forced to dismiss them. Following our victory in this trial, I was sent directly to the control unit at Marion, Illinois. In 1995 I was transferred to the government’s highest security prison—Administrative Maximum, Florence, Colorado. I stayed there until 1999, when I was transferred to U.S. Penitentiary, Atlanta.
What many of us only learned following his capture was than Ray Luc is an eloquent writer. His text "Until All Are Free" was turned into a booklet by anarchists in the UK, and became one of the most widely read resistance texts in the 80s anarchist scene. (More of his writings are available online here.)

Ray Luc was finally released in 2004 - by that time he had spent twenty years in prison, fifteen of them in solitary.

Next week's talk had been organized in the framework of the Fifth Annual Colloquium on Social Change, sponsored by UMass Amherst Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), Food for Thought books, Vermont Action for Political Prisoners, the Rosenberg Fund for Children and the Massachusetts ACLU. The goal of the conference was "to examine how ideas about social justice have shaped American lives with speakers who represent distinctly different radical challenges to American society."

In a series of events reminiscent of the silencing (not!) of Ward Churchill, right-wing media activists combined with political pressure and police lobbying led the University to announce today that they were canceling the event.

It remains to be seen how local activists will respond to this; an email from one organizer does indicate that there may be plans to hold an alternative event, hopefully during the same time slot as the originally planned lecture; possibly a panel discussion on Academic Freedom in the Post-911 era.

Stay tuned for more on this (hopefully).

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