Socialist Workers in Omaha
respond to political break-in
Organize campaign to defend workers rights
Militant photos: above, Alex Huinil; inset, Jacob Perasso
|July 16 break-in at house of Jacob Perasso, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Omaha City Council in May elections, was clear act of political intimidation, right. Above, Perasso addresses March 24 picket of postal workers against proposed cuts in Saturday delivery, one of many fights the party has and will continue to join with other working people in region.
BY LAURA GARZA
AND JOE SWANSON
OMAHA, Neb. — “I knew this was no ordinary robbery. This is what’s done when the authorities or their vigilante friends want to send you a message,” Jacob Perasso told the Militant, in an interview following a July 16 break-in at his house. Perasso was the Socialist Workers Party candidate for City Council District 4 in the May elections here and is active in support of workers’ struggles, fights against police brutality and other social protests in the interests of working people.
“They are trying to intimidate us, but we are going to fight back,” Perasso said, announcing plans to organize a broad international defense campaign.
“They have picked on the wrong guy,” Carl Tyler, 74, a longtime resident of north Omaha who knows Perasso from common political work, told the Militant. “Jacob is an open book, he doesn’t have anything to hide. He looks out for the working people and I stand with people like that.”
“Those behind this are challenging our right to be politically active,” Perasso said. “In response, we will step up our political activity in Omaha and the region. We’ll continue to run for political office, advancing demands in the interests of workers, taking our campaign door to door to introduce the Militant newspaper in working-class neighborhoods and asking workers we meet to join in the defense effort. We’re also going to open a public campaign headquarters.
“Driven by the deepening crisis in their capitalist economic system, the bosses are speeding up production and pushing to drive wages, working conditions and workers’ very dignity down,” Perasso said. “One of the things the campaign talks with workers about, and gets a good response on, is the need to fight for a government-funded public works program to put millions back to work to build hospitals, schools, child care centers — things workers need.
“We call for a big increase in the minimum wage. Under capitalism, wages are set from the bottom up,” Perasso said. “Forcing the government to raise the minimum wage will push wages up for all workers. Fighting for these immediate measures would reduce divisions between us and boost our confidence, making the working class stronger to fight against the attacks.
“We also introduce workers to the international campaign to win freedom for the Cuban Five,” Perasso said. “These revolutionaries were framed and imprisoned here for their efforts to defend the Cuban Revolution from attacks and provocations by paramilitary groups that operate from U.S. soil with the tacit backing of Washington. Workers in this country who have relatives and friends caught up by the cops, courts and prisons can identify with their frame-up and treatment under U.S. ‘justice.’
“The fight we are involved in here is an opportunity to defend the political rights of the entire working class,” Perasso said.
Those who organized the break-in did not steal valuable items out in plain sight — a laptop, an e-reader and a tablet computer, Perasso said. And rather than conceal their intent, the culprit left clear evidence of a political purpose, pulling out drawers and files and leaving them strewn about the house.
“The only thing taken was a cellphone that contained phone records of people I called and emailed while I was part of a fight earlier this year against police brutality in Omaha. The phone would provide information for anyone looking to harass political activists,” said Perasso.
Appeal for solidarity
“Our response is to appeal for solidarity — an injury to one is an injury to all. When anyone’s rights are challenged, we all need to speak out to defend everyone’s rights to free speech and association,” said Perasso. The Socialist Workers Party in Omaha is asking all supporters of political rights, wherever they may be, to join in calling on the mayor and other city officials to press the police to find and prosecute those who organized the break-in.
A neighbor’s surveillance video captured images of a man casing the house, breaking in, and later scurrying out from behind the house. Omaha police were given a copy of the video.
In getting the defense campaign off the ground, supporters of the SWP have learned about harassment of others who are politically active in the area.
James Dugan, a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an activist with Perasso in the fight against police brutality, said that his car tires were slashed a month ago. Despite repeated calls to the Omaha police, no cop has ever come to investigate.
Perasso has been working with Dugan and others since the spring to demand action against police caught on video beating and attempting to frame up Octavious, Juaquez and Demetrius Johnson, three brothers in the Black community of north Omaha. Four cops were eventually fired as a result of community protest. Several of those organizing the protests have been followed and stopped by the police repeatedly.
Perasso, 36, who lived in Omaha a decade ago, returned in 2012 to help reestablish the party here. He worked as a meat packer at the ConAgra cut and kill plant here in 2002 and joined with fellow workers in the United Food and Commercial Workers to defend workers who were targeted by the bosses for their union activity, fight for union recognition and in defense of the rights of immigrant workers.
A major manufacturing center in the Midwest, Omaha has been the site of bloody labor battles over decades between the bosses and railroad and packinghouse workers.
The Omaha area was a battleground in the Teamsters’ efforts to organize over-the-road truckers in the 1930s and the union remains one of the region’s largest.
Omaha is home to the national headquarters of the Union Pacific Railroad, ConAgra, and Mutual of Omaha, in addition to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. In May SWP campaign supporters joined a United Mine Workers action in Omaha at the annual stockholders meeting of Berkshire Hathaway as well as in Des Moines, Iowa, outside the offices of Buffett’s company, to protest moves to slash the UMWA’s contract at a subsidiary in Utah.
Large banks, including the First National, have tentacles throughout the state, tying farmers into debt as they seek to finance seed and fertilizer as well as farm equipment.
In recent decades packinghouse workers have fought the bosses to organize the slaughterhouses and defend themselves from dangerous conditions, speedup and efforts to divide them by race or immigration status.
In the course of these struggles, workers and political militants have faced frame-ups, company thugs and cop violence and provocations.
When Perasso and his supporters collected signatures to put him on the ballot earlier this year, they found a receptive ear from working people. But they also ran into threats from political enemies of the working class.
Campaign supporter Frank Forrestal was accosted in February by a thug who told him, “You deserve to die, you commie bastard.”
In front of Forrestal, the goon called a friend saying, “Come down right away. We need to beat the s--t out of him.” In order to avoid confrontation, Forrestal left.
“It is precisely to put pressure against those who would take such measures that we need to respond publicly with a fight for our right to speak out,” Perasso told the Militant.
Documentation on the incident was filed along with dozens of other reports of harassment sent by workers to support the party’s application to have the Federal Election Commission continue its exemption from having to file the names of contributors to its election campaigns, opening them to potential harassment from government spy agencies, bosses and rightists.
The SWP won an important victory for its campaign supporters and for the working class as a whole in April, when the FEC, which had threatened to weaken or eliminate the protections the party had won against persecution in the past, had to admit the evidence of past and present harassment was more than enough to grant the extension.
Perasso will be bringing the new defense campaign to the Aug. 2-3 Black August Weekend Human Rights-Political Prisoners Commemorative Festival at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Center in north Omaha. The event is organized to win support for the fight to free Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, two Black Panther Party members who were framed up and have been incarcerated for more than 40 years.
Perasso will speak at the event on the case of the Cuban Five. He will have just returned from participating in the Seventh Continental Conference in Solidarity with Cuba held in Venezuela July 24-27.
To find out how you can get involved in the free speech fight in Omaha, contact the SWP, P.O. Box 7908, Omaha, NE 68107. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone: (402) 779-7696.
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