|Tony Serra's Noon
Rally Speech -- October 8, 2004
Tony Serra is a renowned criminal defense attorney and San Francisco
counter-culture icon. For more than 40 years, he has dedicated his life to
defending Americans against government oppression. His clients have
included Hell's Angels, Black Panthers, and the Symbionese Liberation
Army. He was part of the legal team that recently won a $4.4 million
judgment against the government in the case of Judi Bari vs. the FBI. He
is currently representing forest activists who have sued Humboldt County
for police violence in the notorious "Pepper-spray Case."
What has become of our country? How has it come to pass that the land of
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson has become the land of George Bush,
Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft? How is it that our country has traveled from
the majesty and idealism of Mt. Vernon and Monticello to the travesty and
shame of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?
Our country's wealth has been squandered on
endless war. The United States has become the bane of the civilized world.
Now, in the name of fighting "evil," this government is trying to strip
away our basic freedoms, one by one.
[In the background, the ominous hooded effigy of
the Abu Ghraib prisoner begins to slowly rise above the crowd]
Surreptitious investigations, warrantless
searches, detention without bail or charges, racial and religious
profiling, abandonment of jury trials, incarcerations without benefit of
legal counsel and, yes, even torture.
In Humboldt County, police swabbed pepper spray
directly onto the eyes of young, idealistic, nonviolent demonstrators!
That is illegal! That is immoral! That is torture. And that is
I understand the need for law enforcement, but
this is completely out of control. Instead of a "thin blue line," an
expanding police state threatens to become a "thick blue wall" that
suffocates our freedoms. The USA PATRIOT Act has not made us more secure.
It has made us less free.
They still haven't captured Osama bin Laden. But
they did manage to catch Cat Stevens. They haven't caught the guy who sent
anthrax powder to the offices of leading Democrats. But they did manage to
arrest 5,000 of our neighbors who were labeled "terrorist suspects,"
detained without probable cause, incarcerated without charges, and denied
legal counsel. Notably, none of these arrests has resulted in a single
conviction for terrorism. Meanwhile, the unresolved plight of these
prisoners marks the annihilation of the very foundation of our judicial
Our Constitutional rights are the most precious
gift that any society has ever bestowed on its citizens. But now we
confront a threat from our very own leaders.
They want to conduct secret "sneak and peak"
searches of our homes. They want to peer over our shoulders to monitor our
reading, our writing, our time on the Internet. They want to turn
Americans against one another, using the specter of "terrorism" to
encourage citizens to fear their neighbors. This "spy culture" of "citizen
informers" is stuff of totalitarianism.
The PATRIOT Act's definition of "domestic
terrorism" includes any acts "intended to influence the government by
intimidation or coercion" and that may prove "dangerous to human life."
Under this definition, any individuals or groups that engage in acts of
civil disobedience or nonviolent direct action could be labeled
"terrorists." If Dr. Martin Luther King were leading sit-ins today, he
could be labeled a "domestic terrorist."
Secret "no-fly lists" have been used to ground
peace activists, members of the Green Party -- and Senator Ted Kennedy.
When two middle-aged peace activists were detained at San Francisco
International, the ACLU of Northern California sued to force the FBI to
explain how many people are on this secret list, how you get on it, and
how can you get off it. All they got back was hundreds of pages of
Then there's the case of Richard Humphreys who
made a joke in a South Dakota bar about "God speaking through a burning
Bush." He was convicted of making threats against the president and
sentenced to 37 months in prison.
We are now living in a totalitarian country. The
Constitution burns as we lawyers sit on our hands in mute astonishment. We
huddle like sheep before the slaughter. Is this what happened in 1939,
when Hitler first ascended to power?
But our children -- on college campuses and on the
streets of Washington, Paris, London and Madrid are loud and angry. They
are protesting the loss of civil liberties, protesting the rape of our
planet's resources, protesting the Pentagon's unconscionable military
[Pause to invoke Mario Savio's famous opening
"There is a time
Forty years ago, on this very spot, thousands of
Berkeley students rose up against an "odious machine." A civil rights
activist was arrested and hundreds of students surrounded the squad car.
For 32 hours, that police car did not move. One after another, students
climbed onto the roof of the captured car and spoke their minds. It was a
magic and truly revolutionary moment. In one unplanned act of spontaneous
moral courage, a group of individuals became a force of history. And in
that moment, by their will and by their growing numbers, they transformed
what had been an unchallenged symbol of state power into a public stage.
It was at great risk. Remember, this was not long
after the time when Berkeley professors were required to sign Loyalty
Oaths. This was during the panic of the Cold War, when dissidents --
including these Berkeley students -- were accused of being "Commie dupes."
But despite the slurs, beatings, detentions,
threats of suspension, trials and jail terms, these students remained
consistent in their principled belief that the US Constitution applied
within the gates of America's great universities.
And, thanks to their generation, the First and
Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution are now honored on these
"There is a time
Once again it is time to join this march that our students and our
children continue to lead. We all must become new Washingtons, Jeffersons,
and Tom Paines -- The new Harriet Tubmans! Emma Goldmans! Barbara Lees!
It is time to come to confront false patriotism
and rally to the defense of true liberty. We must not let the American
Dream of freedom die. We must demand the abolition of the PATRIOT Act! We
must "rage against the dying of the light!" We must denounce repression!
And we must redouble our efforts to defend liberty, justice and the Bill
[Intro to Bob Kearney]
One of the greatest defenders of the Bill of
Rights is the American Civil Liberties Union. On September 29, a Federal
Court upheld the ACLU's challenge to Section 505 of the PATRIOT Act. The
court ruled that granting the government the right to spy on citizens' use
of the Internet was a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. This
was the first ruling to strike down a provision of the PATRIOT Act!
It is now my pleasure to introduce Bob Kearney of the Northern California
chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.