Defend the Berkeley 3!
By Sid Patel | October 24, 2003 | Page 2
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 U.S. war on Iraq began. UC administrators singled out these the three--from among the 119 people arrested at the protest--because they were leading members of the Berkeley Stop the War coalition.
Some 4,000 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 to not raise tuition or lay off faculty and staff 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 all the protesters. But UC administrators have pursued student conduct charges against Rachel Odes, Snehal Shingavi and Michael Smith to send a message--that protest isn't welcome on this campus, and organizers will be targeted for special punishment. Nor can it be a coincidence that the three antiwar activists targeted by school authorities are also members of the International Socialist Organization chapter on campus.
In fact, administrators stacked the deck by assigning 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 last week. In fact, one of the three--Rachel Odes--wasn't even informed about the hearing. She only showed up because other activists told her it was happening.
Administrators flatly dismissed criticism that they 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 U.S. 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--or given probation or community service, which would mean that they would face more serious punishments if they participated in future protests.
Activists at Berkeley--and around the country--are speaking out against this injustice. After the hearing last week, a letter of protest circulated on the Internet--and had gained hundreds of sponsors in a matter of hours, including Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Peter Camejo and other well-known writers and activists. The letter will appear as a full-page advertisement in the Daily Californian--the campus newspaper, which has come out in defense of the three students.
The fight to defend the three Berkeley activists goes beyond these students and this school. It is part of the struggle to defend our right to protest and use civil disobedience to challenge injustice.