Guilty by Activism: Knowing your rights


Guests gathered in CAIR-Chicago’s gallery on Thursday night for a panel event, “Guilty by Activism”. The panelists included two civil rights litigators, Michael Deutsch – litigator at the People’s Law Office, Kevin Vodak – CAIR-Chicago’s head litigator, and Hatem Abudayyeh – Executive Director of the Arab American Action Network.

The event began with Michael Deutsch giving a comprehensive history of F.B.I. repression of Americans in this country, dating back to the 1960s. Activists today face similar if not more extreme backlash, especially those involved in Palestinian solidarity work. New legislation such as the NDAA and the Anti-Trespassing Bill as well as extrajudicial killings have left groups paranoid and feeling helpless at times. Legislation such as this has been used as justification to punish activists in recent years.

Hatem Abudayyeh spoke about the reasons behind these new laws being passed, and why he and other activists are being targeted. Many of the 24 activists who were subpoenaed in 2010 were involved in organizing the Republican National Convention protests in Minneapolis in 2008, as well as having been on delegations to Palestine organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Group. Another activist, Carlos Montes – who founded the Brown Berets and is a well-respected activist from Chicago has been added to all of the subpoenas of the other 23 activists as well. It has been made clear that the U.S. government has a calculated and very well-organized agenda to stop activists from organizing and to rip apart the very fabric of solidarity which many organizations have been working on for decades.

Kevin Vodak began his speech on President George W. Bush’s promise that “Muslims will not be targeted” after the September 11 attacks, however this has clearly not been followed. First, American activists were punished with the PATRIOT Act, and later with more laws and surveillance, much like what has recently been uncovered in New York City and New Jersey, which was dubbed the “human mapping program.” This program included the infiltration of mosques, restaurants, and community centers with informants producing weekly reports to the FBI and NYPD.

This program also targeted Muslims who were changing their name to either a more Anglo sounding name, or recent converts changing to a more Arabic sounding name. The consequences of this have been profound- attendance at mosques is declining, and political discussions have been virtually eliminated. In addition to this, the Muslim community now has “no reason to trust law enforcement officers,” according to Vodak.

Guilty By Activism was overall an event which brought together several civil rights and activist groups – CAIR Chicago, American Arab Action Network (AAAN) and The Committee Against Political Repression all of which are working towards the same goals. The experienced lawyers, Kevin Vodak and Michael Deutsch provided advice and insight into recent laws passed by the U.S. government as well as for activists who are targeted or may be targeted by the FBI. The message of all three speakers was clear- communities and activists should know their rights, but also should refrain from losing hope and backing down.