Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On the convening a grand jury for the Irvine 11

     I'm going to get back to the cultural and literary criticism that I usually produce, but the current events of my town have intervened again.  The large and vibrant protest movement of last year has produced criminal charges this year.  The first charges were placed against the participants in the sit-in in the administration building last year.  That group, along with a pair of outside supporters, has been put up on a variety of  misdemeanor charges on the part of the Orange County District Attorney's office.  For more information, look here.  These charges were seen as a fairly substantial attack on the right to protest and freedom of speech at the University.  However, the same office has just has subpoenaed six UCI Muslim students and compelled them to testify before a grand jury with the possibility of felony charges coming out of the process.  These students will be potentially charged with felony conspiracy charges for a demonstration that briefly interrupted a speaker at a public event, a common and perhaps even banal protest tactic at the university.   In addition, these criminal charges are on top of a set of administrative punishments on the part of the University of California-Irvine.  Here are my thoughts on the university's action against the MSU (who was uninvolved as a group in the protest.)
     To give a sense of the mildness of the protest, I was involved in a protest of UN Ambassador Bill Richardson in the late 1990's.  Richardson was speaking at the university to drum up support for a new attack on Iraq on behalf of the Clinton administration (for those who feel nostalgic for Clinton, his sanctions campaign led to the death of at least 600,000 Iraqi civilians.)  For some reason, the organizers of the talk in the Humphrey building thought that 75-100 angry anti-sanctions protesters were going to sit back quietly and listen to Richardson advocate for the mass death of more Iraqis.  Within a minute of the speech, the ambassador was drowned out by the protesters, and the speech was entirely shut down.  I'm still proud of that event.  Our disruption of the event along with the Ohio State protest cut through the pro-war propaganda of the administration and the news networks.  Like the milder five minute protest of Israeli Ambassador by the Eleven, we effectively transformed a monologue into a real political dialogue with our actions.  At the same time, we faced no school or criminal charges for these much more militant and disruptive tactics, and our protest was an official action on the part of our organization, the Progressive Student Organization.  I don't think that it's a coincidence that our group of protesters, unlike the Irvine protesters, was almost exclusively white.
     There are calls to support the Irvine 11.  One can find a petition here.  In addition, there are calls to send emails to the district attorney, Tony Rackauckas to drop the charges.  Here is the email.  In addition, you can call the office to get the charges dropped.  Here is the telephone number for the Orange County District Attorney's office. (714) 834-3600  Keep your comments respectful.  You're not helping anyone by being a jerk on the phone or over email.

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