“The SWP won and has maintained this exemption for the same reason the government and its cops have targeted the party from the beginning,” John Studer, the Socialist Workers Party’s national campaign director, told the Militant Nov. 7. “Over decades the SWP has shown its ability to chart a revolutionary political course to strengthen working-class struggles and to win workers to the fight to overturn the rule of capital. That includes mounting an effective fight against disclosing supporters’ names.”
The SWP’s disclosure exemption is justified because it has faced a “long history of being subject to both government and private threats, harassments and reprisals,” states the application filed by the party’s attorneys, Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank, of the prominent civil liberties firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman.
The request documents continuing threats and harassment directed at the Socialist Workers Party and supporters of its election campaigns. And it documents “federal, state and local governments’ well-publicized programs of stepped-up surveillance of advocacy groups engaging in protected First Amendment activities.”
One key argument for the exemption is the decades-long campaign against the Socialist Workers Party by the FBI and other spy agencies. This record, and the FBI’s secret SWP Disruption Program, were exposed in a landmark 15-year legal battle against the government won by the SWP in 1986. The FBI was forced to admit that between 1960 and 1976 alone it collected more than 8 million documents on the party’s members and supporters, used some 1,300 undercover informers to spy on and disrupt the party, and conducted more than 200 burglaries of party offices.
“This history is especially resonant today when revelations continue to be made of mass surveillance by the government of protests, demonstrations and political advocacy groups engaged in constitutionally protected activity, such as union and Black Lives Matter activities, as well as government surveillance of the Muslim community,” Krinsky and Frank state.
The application points to the explosion of spy agencies targeting unions and political activity in recent years — FBI-run Fusion Centers, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, special state police units and city Muslim squads, as well as electronic surveillance by outfits like the National Security Agency.
“Private surveillance of protected First Amendment activities has also increased,” the SWP attorneys say. They cite a November 2015 report by Bloomberg Businessweek that describes how retail giant Walmart has “hired an intelligence-gathering service from Lockheed-Martin, contacted the FBI, staffed up its labor hotline, ranked stores by labor activity and kept eyes on employees” in an effort to counter workers campaigning for better conditions. Members and supporters of the SWP, including the party’s 2016 presidential and vice-presidential candidates, have worked at Walmart and participated in actions for $15 and a union.
The exemption request details 33 specific examples of harassment, threats and reprisals directed at the Socialist Workers Party and its supporters over the last four years. These include:
• A July 2013 break-in at the home of Jacob Perasso in Omaha, Nebraska. Perasso, a well-known SWP member who had been the party’s candidate for City Council, found his papers strewn about, but the only thing stolen was a smart phone containing political contacts, although other items of value were in plain sight;
• On Oct. 4, 2014, the plate glass window of the party’s campaign headquarters in Los Angeles was smashed following a public forum opposing Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
• SWP campaigners staffing a literature table at an Oct. 9, 2016, rally in Washington, D.C. to free Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López were repeatedly accosted by a man who verbally insulted them, shoved one campaigner and kicked the door of their car;
• Several state and federal prisons have improperly refused to permit inmates to receive issues of the Militant, which editorially supports the Socialist Workers Party, because of the political content of the articles (see article in this issue);
• A series of documented incidents of harassment by police and threats by individuals aimed at supporters of the Socialist Workers Party campaigning door to door across the country; and
• Declarations about individuals who expressed support for the party but declined to sign a petition or subscribe to the Militant for fear of reprisal from the government and/or their employers.
“The bosses and their government agencies increasingly fear the working class,” Studer said. “Not because there are large labor battles or social movements yet, but because more and more workers recognize the rulers have no solution to the crisis of their capitalist system except to deepen their attacks on us. That has sparked a far-reaching discussion among workers and the Socialist Workers Party is getting an unprecedented response.
“It’s also why the rulers keep driving against political rights and civil liberties, often in the name of ‘fighting terrorism,’” he added. “The fight to maintain the SWP’s disclosure exemption defends rights working people need. Militant readers can support this effort by documenting any cases of threats or harassment by cops, government agencies, bosses or rightist thugs.”
‘Militant’ appeals censorship: ‘Rights do not end where prison walls begin’
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