The day started out with good news: a combination of comrades and liberal supporters of academic freedom and freedom of speech had stood up to the right-wing campaign against Ray Luc Levasseur. These folks had taken a stand in the small university town of Amherst, Mass., organizing an event where Levasseur – the former political prisoner who spent twenty years in prison (eighteen years in solitary) for resisting imperialist crimes – could speak on the subject of “The Great Western Massachusetts Sedition Trial: Twenty Years Later”. This was after an alliance of cops and right-wing media hacks had had the university administration cancel the talk just last Thursday.
Ray Luc Levasseur is a Vietnam veteran, a former organizer for Vietnam Veterans Against The War, and a revolutionary communist. He was a political prisoner from 1984 to 2004 – twenty years, eighteen of them in solitary – accused of membership in the Sam Melville/Jonathan Jackson Unit and United Freedom Front, two anti-imperialist organizations that carried out armed attacks in the 1970s and 80s in solidarity with national liberation struggles in the U.S. and internationally against apartheid in South Africa, U.S. intervention in Central America and in support of Puerto Rican independence.
Given his track record as a committed opponent of U.S. crimes, it is no wonder that the swine have lined up to try and silence him. At first it was police associations – i.e. the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Fraternal Order of Police, etc. – and then Mass. governor Deval Patrick chimed in. That’s when the university caved, canceling Levasseur’s appearance at Fifth Annual Colloquium on Social Change.
But yesterday it was announced that several progressive groups and faculty members concerned about freedom of speech announced an alternate event, to be held at UMass’ School of Management, sponsored by a half-dozen academic departments.
This wonderful initiative has pushed the state to take an aggressive stance opposing Levasseur’s right to speak. Deval Patrick – a Democrat, and Massachusetts first Black governor – condemned the talk again: “I am more than a little disappointed about this invitation having been extended,” Patrick said at a State House news conference. “I fully get the point and respect the idea of free speech. But I think it is a reflection of profound insensitivity to continue to try and have this former terrorist on the campus.”
This was followed with a bipartisan motion – passed 33-1 – condemning the planned talk.
Then, late this afternoon, the state played its trump card: the U.S. Parole Commission weighed in, officially denying Levasseur the right to leave Maine in order to attend the Massachusetts event.
Through such a blatant act of political censorship, the Parole Commission has shown itself for what it is – the repressive arm of the state charged with controlling and regimenting survivors of the u.s. prison system. And by adopting such an aggressive posture, the state has created a teaching opportunity for us, a moment where we can intervene and show that this kind of gagging is not exceptional, it is in fact simply one of the top goals of the prison system.
(Indeed, we have seen something much worst for the past several years, as the Parole Commission and the same right-wing police associations have intervened to keep political prisoner Veronza Bowers held in prison for years after his mandatory release date, purely because of his political history as a Black Panther.)
Comrades in Amherst – and of course Ray Luc himself – deserve our gratitude and support for resisting the state’s attempt to decide how our movements can communicate. The state has adopted an aggressively repressive stance – if this is not resisted it could further chill the movement on u.s. campuses – but if it is resisted we can turn their arrogance into a vulnerability.
If you’re in the Amherst area you are encouraged to attend the event (sadly, without Ray Luc), which will nonetheless take place on Thursday November 12 at 7:15 p.m. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in School of Management Room 137. Participants will include sedition trial defendant Pat Levasseur, members of the 1989 Springfield sedition trial legal defense team, and a juror from the trial.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, people should check out various prison writings by Ray Luc Levasseur, available on the Letters from Exile website.