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Reports from the struggle

November 15, 2002 | Page 10

Campaign to End the Death Penalty
Defend gay rights
School of the Americas

Howard Zinn on war and terrorism

EVANSTON, Ill.--More than 600 people turned out to hear radical historian and activist Howard Zinn speak at Northwestern University November 6. Audience members packed the auditorium, sitting in the aisles and standing along the walls.

Speaking on "History, War and Terrorism," Zinn challenged the idea that the U.S. government has ever been "of and for the people." "We've been a class society from the beginning, from before the Constitution," he told the crowd. "Trace the history of legislation in the U.S., and it's a history of class legislation…only interrupted when there were major movements in the 1930s and 1960s."

Zinn's message was that the only way to win real gains and stop a new war on Iraq is to fight and struggle to build a movement from the bottom-up. "If people continue, if people persist, if the movement grows, who knows? Things change because of social movements, not because of edicts from on high…It's possible for things to change if people persist," said Zinn.

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Campaign to End the Death Penalty

CHICAGO--More than 100 people attended the second annual convention of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty last weekend. The event brought together activists from across the country to plan strategies for the anti-death penalty movement at this critical time.

The convention acknowledged that the sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area and the clemency hearings in Illinois have put some wind in the sails of pro-death penalty forces. But in the last year, there have also been a string of victories for the abolitionist movement--including a moratorium on executions in Maryland and a string of court decisions on a range of issues.

Keynote speaker Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights laid out in sharp detail the injustices and barbarism of the death penalty while Marlene Martin, the Campaign's national director, addressed the state of the abolitionist movement today.

And a plenary session called "The Face of Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System" brought together exonerated prisoners who put a human face on the racism at the heart of the death penalty system. The panel was made up of Angola Three member Robert Wilkerson, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement; Shujaa Graham, an exonerated California death row prisoner and former Black Panther; Angel Rodriguez, from the Comité Exegimos Justicia, who spent four years in prison before being exonerated; and Larry Ollins and Omar Saunders, two of four young, Black men who spent nearly 15 years in prison for a murder they didn't commit.

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Defend gay rights

By Martin Smith

SAN FRANCISCO--Gay rights activists in the Bay Area are preparing for the visit of hate preacher Fred Phelps later this month. Phelps is best known for protesting the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a brutal hate crime outside Laramie, Wyo., in 1998--with signs that read "God hates fags" and "Matthew burns in hell."

Phelps is coming to the Bay Area in the wake of the recent murder of 17-year-old transgendered student Gwen Araujo. On November 5, more than 40 students at the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC) held a rally against hate and to organize an emergency response team to demonstrate against Phelps if he should make an appearance on campus.

Hate crimes and gay bashing often increase when homophobic bigots like Phelps visit a given area. That's why it's critical to organize large numbers against Phelps' bigotry.

For more information about UCSC demonstrations against Phelps, e-mail [email protected]

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School of the Americas

By Russell Pryor

COLUMBUS, Ga.--Just miles from Ft. Benning, which houses the infamous School of the Americas (SOA), a historic debate took place between Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, and Col. Richard Downie, the SOA's commandant.

The SOA--a military training school for Latin American soldiers--has pumped out death squad leaders and dictators trained to terrorize peasants, workers and the poor. Today, the SOA continues business under its new name--the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Col. Downie opened the debate with the jaw-dropping assertion that the SOA and SOA Watch were both dedicated to promoting the welfare and rights of the workers and peasants of Latin America and that both had a deep concern for democracy. Had anything he said been true, the debate would have ended there.

There was one simple thing that he didn't deal with in anything that he said--reality. When it came time for questions from the audience, Father Roy did an excellent job, but Col. Downie also dodged every question, refusing to give straight answers.

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