A letter of protest from Freedom Socialist Party organizer Steve Strauss to Code Pink about suppression of free speech at an October 3 event in Washington, D.C., called “The Urgency of Pursuing Peace in Ukraine.”
Dear Code Pink,
I wrote to you about an incident that occurred at your October 3rd event in D.C. with Medea Benjamin, Lee Camp, Claudia de la Cruz, Eugene Puryear, and Cornel West. I received an automated reply that I would hear from you shortly. Since I have not, I have decided to send you the facts again.
I am a member of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP). I and a supporter registered for your October 3 event on Ukraine. We RSVP’d as directed. We arrived at the site and registered with no problem at the registration table finding our names on the RSVP list. We had brought FSP leaflets with us to hand out. We identified ourselves at the registration table as being with the FSP and asked if we could hand out our leaflets in the building. We were told that we could only do so outdoors and we were in fact thanked for even asking about that.
We exited the building and began distributing our leaflets near the entrance, with more than adequate space between us and the doorway. At some point a man from Code Pink approached me. I do not know his name but can tell you he was dressed from head to toe in pink clothing. He took a leaflet, read it, and began shouting at me that I was pro-war. Our view, as you perhaps know and as expressed in the leaflet, is that the Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves if they so choose. This man interpreted that as “pro-war” and was visibly angry and disturbed. He left only to return about 20 minutes later. He physically body-shoved me, demanding that I “get out of the way.” I stepped away and ignored him, a more pacifist behavior than his, for sure.
Finally, shortly before the event was to begin, I and my supporter re-entered the building and took our seats. Literally within two minutes we were approached by this man and two security people (one with an ID that he flashed, which seemed like something a little stronger than a building security person). We were told to leave. Naturally I asked why. The security men told us we were being “disruptive.” We asked who told them that and they indicated the man in pink, who was standing right there. I asked them if they or anyone else saw us being disruptive and complained about it and they said “no.” That man then added that we had not registered or RSVP’d, a complete fabrication. There was a little commotion over this and not one of your people, nor any of Cornel West’s people, nor people from the Party for Socialism and Liberation [an event promoter] came over to find out what was going on. This was nothing less than a violation of our democratic right to express our ideas to people. Furthermore, we did so in a respectful manner, asking first where we could do this and keeping our distance from the entranceway. At no time were we disruptive.
Yes, our view on Ukraine is different from yours. That’s politics, as you must certainly understand. But I am sure that you can also understand, given your history of fighting against U.S. imperialism and other forms of violations of people’s rights, that suppressing dissent, especially non-disruptive dissent, is profoundly dangerous for our movement. It betrays an authoritarian arrogance. It gets in the way of finding common ground for those times we will need to build strong united fronts. Your group owes the FSP, and the entire peace-loving community, a political apology. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to consider your professed pacifism hypocritical.
Steve Strauss, Freedom Socialist Party, Baltimore, Maryland.