BY SID PATEL
SAN FRANCISCO — Three activists at the University of California-Berkeley have been convicted of student conduct violations for participating in a demonstration on the day after the US war on Iraq began. UC administrators singled out the three from among the 119 people arrested at the protest because they were leading members of the Berkeley Stop the War coalition.
Some 4000 people joined the March 20 protest at the Sproul Hall administration building to call on the school to take a stand against the war — by naming Baghdad University a sister school, refusing to cooperate with FBI investigations of students and promising not to raise tuition fees or lay off faculty and staff members because of budget cuts caused by military spending. More than 400 students entered Sproul Hall and began a peaceful sit-in. But campus police moved in, eventually arresting 119 people.
The Alameda County district attorney's office quickly dropped criminal charges against the protesters. But UC administrators have pursued student conduct charges against Rachel Odes, Snehal Shingavi and Michael Smith in an attempt to send a warning to students that political protest is not welcome on campus, and organisers will be targeted for special punishment. Nor can it be a coincidence that the three anti-war activists targeted by school authorities are also members of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) chapter on campus.
The administrators assigned a full-time, professionally trained prosecutor to spend months preparing a case against the activists. The three students, on the other hand, were given less than a week's notice to prepare for a hearing conducted on October 14. Rachel Odes was not even informed about the hearing. She only showed up because other activists told her it was on.
UC administrators flatly dismissed criticism that they had violated any form of due process. At the hearing, when it became clear that the committee was intent on railroading the activists, the three students decided to make a statement rejecting the legitimacy of the hearing and led their supporters out of the room. Committee members continued with the hearing and convicted the students in absentia — making UC the only university in the US to prosecute students for protesting the start of the war.
The three are due to be sentenced at another hearing on October 28. They could be suspended from school, given probation or community service, which would mean that they would face more serious punishment if they participated in future protests.
Activists at Berkeley — and around the US — are speaking out against this injustice. A letter of protest is circulating on the internet and has gained hundreds of sponsors, including radical historian Howard Zinn, writer Noam Chomsky, Californian Green Party candidate for governor Peter Camejo and other well-known writers and activists. The letter will appear as a full-page advertisement in the Daily Californian, the UC newspaper, which has come out in defence of the three activists.
Sign the protest letter at <l> or send an email with your name and affiliation to <DefendBerkeley3@aol.com>.
[From Socialist Worker, newspaper of the US International Socialist Organisation. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, October 29, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.