Free Speech is Not Given, but Taken

Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be. —James Baldwin

Five little words on a picket sign — Victory to the Iraqi Resistance — were all it took. Suddenly, rightwing radio zealots, Christian news services and the website of a bayonet-loving militia group went nuts. The Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women in Seattle were committing treason! How to shut us up or, even better, kill us? Topping the list were bombing, shooting, hanging, and the advantages of knives with exotic names like Khukri and Tantos San Mai — with fire ants an also-ran.

A radio jockey who despises affirmative action and women’s rights accused us of hate speech and exhorted his listeners to gather on the doorstep of New Freeway Hall, where the sign was one among many displayed in the window. Within hours, the pro-war fanatics arrived like the good little thought police they wish to become.

Mostly male and all white, they came in their burly SUVs with U.S. flags, a baby tank (I kid you not) and words like faggot and n-gger to hurl at those who did not know how to tow Rumsfeld’s line with the proper decorum.

As it turned out, there were quite a few of us recalcitrant types. Friendly folks came from next door and from, originally, across the planet: from Guatemala and Somalia; from pacifist peace fellowships and revolutionary communist parties; from unions and churches; from high schools and queer groups; from the American Indian Movement and immigrant rights organizations. Brown, Black, yellow, red and white stood together on one side of the street while the red, blue and very white folks stood on the other.
The Allen Combs show, a national FOX radio program, invited me to spend an hour defending us from the accusation that we are in favor of killing U.S. soldiers. To my surprise, three or four out of seven or eight callers expressed some degree of sympathy for the popular uprising in Iraq, despite the fact that U.S. soldiers are dying. A veteran who called from Texas said the U.S. invasion of Iraq, not authorized by Congress, was a “bastard war just like Vietnam and Korea.”

The funny thing (if I can use those words) is that several weeks before we became the target of this rightwing hate-o-rama, I had written a letter for the national Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) in solidarity with another group taking fire for their support of the Iraqi resistance.
Three leaders of the Anti-Imperialist Campaign in Italy had been arrested in Perugia as terrorists, along with several members of a Turkish organization. Their crime? Antiwar activities and a “10 euros” campaign to raise money for Iraqi organizations. But since this political work is not a crime in Italy, they were charged with supporting the “terrorist” actions of the pro-Kurdish Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) of Turkey.

One of the Anti-Imperialist Campaigners arrested was Moreno Pasquinelli. “What is really at stake,” he wrote from jail, is “the right of the Iraqi resistance to be defended from Italian soil — which implies not only liberty of expression in this country but also the simple affirmation of the national sovereignty of Italy” (against U.S. imperialism).

In FSP’s statement on behalf of the arrested activists, I wrote: “We too support the victory of the Iraqi people over the forces of imperialism. We call for the end of the U.S. occupation and for full democratic rights, especially for women, in Iraq. We support the strikes and struggles of Iraqi workers. This is not terrorism, but advocacy of the ideals of the right of nations to self-determination, workers’ rights and women’s liberation. Until the recent emergence of the openly expansionist doctrine of the neoconservatives in the Bush regime, these were ideals supported (at least in words) by the majority of Western democracies.”

Now, of course, the Bushites want the whole world to just shut up and follow them quietly, even gratefully, into their nightmare where occupation equals liberation, resistance equals terrorism, and smug bastards lie for a handsome salary in government jobs.
Well, I’m not going peacefully. They’ll have to pry that picket sign from my dead cold hands. I was born in the South; I know that had I lived there during the Civil War, it would have been right to speak out against slavery even though Yankee soldiers were killing Confederates. Sometimes you just have to take a stand.

This piece ran in Freedom Socialist • Vol. 25, No. 2 • June-July 2004. In his cover note to CounterPunch Guerry wrote: “Below is a column I wrote about what happened when a small sign advocating solidarity with the Iraqi resistance went up in the window of Seattle Freedom Socialist Party’s headquarters. Reading your July 14 column “Support Their Troops?” in CounterPunch ( prompted me to send it. I agree with you on every point, but it seems to me you left out fear of rightwing backlash as a factor in why the movement doesn’t dare whisper support for the right of Iraqi self-determination. Anyway, thanks for addressing the issue. Sincerely, Guerry.

GUERRY HODDERSEN can be reached at