January 13, 2011

Speech by Jess Sundin at Jan 12, 2011 Press Conference

The following is a transcript from a speech given by Jess Sundin, one of the original 14 activists issued a subpoena during the FBI raids of September 24, 2010.

We are here today to express outrage that our democratic rights have been violated by a government operation of spying, infiltration and disruption of our anti-war movement, which was carried out over the course of at least two and half years.

In April 2008, law enforcement officer Karen Sullivan, joined the Anti-War Committee. In 2008, we were involved in organizing the anti-war marches on the first and last days of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. At that time, there was a massive security operation here which included the infiltration of the RNC Welcoming Committee. We now have it confirmed that in this same time period, we too became the subject of government investigation. The difference is that our spy made herself comfortable and decided to stay awhile, posing as a fellow anti-war activist and pretending to befriend us.

For two and a half years, Officer Sullivan participated, sometimes even serving as chairperson, in weekly AWC meetings where everyone present has a say in the decisions the committee makes.  Officer Sullivan had a key to this office, a key which was later used by the FBI on September 24th, to enter and search our office, seizing our computers, financial records and other materials. For the last year or so, she assisted with the bookkeeping, and had unimpeded access to our financial records. On several occasions, Officer Sullivan gave public speeches on behalf of the AWC, including on Colombia and Palestine. Some of these speeches can be found on our website to this day. My point here is that Officer Sullivan had full-access to all the work of the Anti-War Committee – to our membership lists, our finances, our decision-making and anything else she wanted to know about us.

Even after two and a half years of this full access, there are no charges against anyone. Instead, nearly two dozen people are being dragged through an intimidating grand jury process, a fishing expedition. If there were truly criminal activity happening here, Agent Sullivan would have known all about it. The only crimes committed here were the abuses of our rights carried out by Karen Sullivan herself.

Unfortunately, Officer Sullivan took a special interest in the Anti-War Committee’s coalition work. She represented our committee at meetings of the Iraq Peace Action Coalition and the Coalition for Palestinian Rights. She also represented us in national venues – the Latin America Solidarity Coalition, at the School of the Americas Watch protests, and at the US Social Forum in Detroit last summer. About a year ago, she also joined Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which is talked about by the government in this case, in a manner reminiscent of the McCarthy era political witch hunts.

The government has no right to spy on the Anti-War Committee, or the many organizations we work with. Officer Sullivan’s actions reflect only the latest example of FBI surveillance of progressive movements in this country. These kinds of actions were described in the October 2010 Inspector General report, which documents efforts to spy on peace movement groups like the Anti-War Committee.

These actions make a mockery of our democratic rights, as outlined in the Constitution – the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of dissent, and freedom of association. Officer Sullivan went beyond simple surveillance, to become an active participant in the work of the AWC, to the point of disrupting it.

When I speak of disruption, I am referring to an August 2009 solidarity delegation to Palestine. This delegation was a fact-finding mission, where participants were to witness the conditions for Palestinians living under US-backed occupation, and to express our solidarity in a person-to-person way. Officer Sullivan made public her plans to join this delegation, she helped to promote it and fundraise for it here in our community. At the same time, she was secretly working to sabotage the trip entirely. Through her work, reports were passed onto Israeli authorities, who then barred entry to the two Minneapolis women traveling with Karen Sullivan. Her action, on behalf of the US government, deprived these women of their rights to travel, association and dissent. The government was wrong to disrupt our important and legal work against US aid to Israel.

It has become apparent to us that this delegation, and some of the fundraising work done to support it, is of great concern to the US attorney’s office in Chicago. In order to help fund the travel of the three women from Minneapolis – including Officer Sullivan – and to send a token symbol of solidarity to the Palestinian people, a series of fundraisers were organized. We were very open about our work to support the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, which is an NGO registered with the Palestinian Authority, and which is not illegal under Israeli or international law.

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees works for women’s equality. Their activities include support for women refugees and women political prisoners, and providing basic social services for women, including several child care centers. These women are right to be working for justice in Palestine, and there is no reason we should be criminalized for supporting them. However, that is exactly what has happened.

On September 24th, federal agents burst into our homes and turned our lives upside down. The community, fellow activists, co-workers, friends and family have all rallied around us. In fact, people we never met, from across the country have stood by us, to defend our right to engage in anti-war and international solidarity activism.

But one person disappeared entirely – a person we thought was a fellow activist and who had claimed to be our friend: Karen Sullivan. This woman not only worked with us in the Anti-War Committee and other groups, she involved herself in our personal lives. Getting to know our children, joining in birthday celebrations, paying visits on our families when someone’s sick.

In conversations with the US Attorney’s office in Chicago, it has become clear that everything we thought we knew about Karen Sullivan was a lie. She was never a friend, or a person of conscience helping us to work for peace with justice.

Instead she was a law enforcement officer, working to surveil us, our friends and our organizations. She was working to disrupt our political organizing. This is more than a story of personal betrayal, but one of political repression. It sickens me that on the word of this liar, the government came into our homes, seized our property, and launched a grand jury witch hunt that has snared not only those that knew Karen Sullivan, but now so many other good people from here to Chicago. On the word of this liar, the FBI has questioned our colleagues across the country – from North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona and California. 

Rather than crumble under this pressure, our movement is responding with strength and unity. We will stand together behind every woman and man that Patrick Fitzgerald tries to haul before his grand jury. On January 25th, when nine Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists are called before the grand jury in Chicago, people will be protesting at Federal Buildings and FBI offices across the country.

We, the anti-war and international solidarity activists being targeted by Fitzgerald, have the support of every progressive movement in this country – from trade unionists to the immigrants rights movement, from students to people of faith, and everyone in between. Opposing war is no crime. International solidarity is not a crime. We are not alone, we have done nothing wrong and we will not be afraid.