To the Editors:
I would like to tell you what is happening to my son, Jeff Dowd. I hope you will listen because it may happen to all our sons. Last year Jeff went to Seattle to live. Already committed to the goal of social change, he joined with other like-minded young people in forming the Seattle Liberation Front. The SLF has grown as a coalition of political activists concentrating on work among Boeing employees, high-school and university students, and Seattle’s rapidly growing number of unemployed. Among their highly successful programs have been hot breakfasts for the unemployed, day-care centers for infants of working mothers, and now they are planning a medical-care facility.
The day after the verdict in the Chicago Conspiracy trial was announced, the SLF helped to organize and participated in a protest demonstration at the federal courthouse in Seattle. What followed bears frightening testimony to what’s happening in our country:
(1) A spontaneous, unplanned clash erupted between the police and some 2,000 demonstrators. Some windows were broken, but no one was injured and property damage was minor.
(2) About a month later eight young people, most of them members of the SLF, were arrested on federal charges of inciting to riot. Some of them, including Jeff, were also charged under the notorious “Rap Brown Act” with crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot. They were charged with no specific acts (trespass, assault, etc.). Several of the accused were not at the demonstration, and one was not even in Seattle! Most of them had been living in Seattle for months and still are living there.
(3) The local US District Attorney refused to prosecute the case, so Attorney General Mitchell sent in one of his special assistants to do the dirty work.
(4) A special federal judge, sent in to try the case, allowed the defense only twenty days for pretrial motions (Judge Julius Hoffman in Chicago had allowed thirty days) and set August 10 as the trial date despite defense lawyers’ protest that this would not allow enough time to prepare their clients’ case.
What are these young people really being tried for? Michael Lerner, who was a visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Washington this year and is one of the eight accused, explained very clearly in a statement to the Washington Post columnist Nicholas von Hoffman: “Essentially what they’re charging us with is organizing a demonstration. What happened at the demonstration was quite out of our hands. But what it means is that…the second you decide to organize any kind of demonstration you risk losing your First Amendment rights and getting ten years in jail.”
It is not only “movement” people who agree with this. Senior partners of the prestigious Wall Street law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore have filed a lengthy brief on behalf of the Seattle Eight arguing the unconstitutionality of the Rap Brown Act. The brief makes it quite clear that even many establishment lawyers are alarmed at the repressive tactics of Mitchell and Nixon.
The Seattle case has had little national publicity, and yet it is clear that it is part of a national pattern of political repression which began at Chicago. First Chicago. Then St. Louis. And now Seattle. Where next? If we don’t stop it here and now, we may not be able to stop it at all. But who knows about it? Do you? Have you seen it in The New York Times? Or heard about it over CBS? Clearly every step of this creeping repression must be exposed and fought, on every level. With publicity, with money (trials are terribly expensive, and one of the purposes of the authorities in forcing them on activists is to cripple their work). Not just for my son, or your son, but for all of us.
A Seattle Conspiracy Legal Defense Fund has been established. It is estimated that $30,000 to $40,000 must be collected to meet the costs of the trial. Can I count on you to help? Please make checks payable to the Seattle Conspiracy Legal Defense Fund and send them to me at the address below.
With thanks from me and the embattled Seattle Eight who are continuing their organizing work and meeting with remarkable success in what is now one of the country’s most depressed big cities.
2 Lindsley Drive
Larchmont, N.Y. 10538
November 5, 1970