Excerpts from Lynne Stewart’s Speech
February 17th, at the Community Church of New York (Hall of Worship) at 40 East 35th Street
(Lynne enters to a standing ovation, wild cheers, and applause— audience chants, “No justice, no peace!”)
…I came down from Harlem where I spoke at a rally. I spoke on the radio this morning to Portland, and on our own WBAI.
Tuesday night we were on the way home. We were at the drugstore, and who comes on the radio, but my friend and comrade Mumia Abdu-Jamal. He has a clear and concise statement which is here for you to take. I said to Ralph (her husband Ralph Poynter), “He’s buried in the belly of the beast on death row, and he’s taken the time to elucidate, to champion (me).” If Mumia can do it, why can’t we do it? (audience claps)
I’d like to say that the most remarkable thing, as I look around this room, is the people who have come together. We have all lived for decades through the so called “sectarian left”. We’ve all been together, together on marches, but it really shows that when there is an issue, an issue that affects us all, we can come together (audience claps) and we need to come together.
…We’re out here now. We are under the heel of this boot. The idea of not fighting this is unthinkable. I’m not saying that we’re not doing this for us. We’re doing this for us. I am saying that if we don’t stop it now, they, our children and grandchildren, will not have the opportunity to rise up in a way that we have now, and say, “No more!”
We wanted this to be the biggest victory party that ever was. We wanted to bring a victory to the movement that has seen so many setbacks, starting with the election, the Florida results, when people did not take to the streets… followed the by the attack on Afghanistan and the attack on Iraq. All of these things we have not had the strength to fight enough to really organize people, to really get to the people.
I‘m not saying that my case can get to the people, but it certainly speaks in a way very personally to people. I think it is something that we can use to organize around, and I am perfectly willing to be the foil…
I don’t want folks to get distracted by those naysayers who want to say, “She went over the line. She is not like the rest of us lawyers. We would not do that”…
There is opposition. This is not universal. We knew it was not universal when that jury spoke… We all had high hopes. We thought that these are Manhattan people. These are New Yorkers like we are. If anyone could understand what’s at stake here, they can do it. We put our faith in them. We were disappointed. There’s no question about that. It hit us like a truck, a Mac Truck. It took a while for us to bounce back, but were back! (audience claps)
The fact of the matter is we need to create the climate in which jurors are not afraid, in which people are not afraid.
I was asked on the radio with Portland, Oregon today, and I really thought that fascism is the word to describe what is happening. I remember when I was a teenager, in the early 1950’s, they used to talk about creeping socialism. That the country was going to wake up one morning and be socialist. (audience claps)…
We really have been subject to creeping fascism. It comes in very slowly, but it still stands on your neck when you least suspect it. I said to the woman in Oregon, that it (fascism) is not creeping in anymore; It’s galloping. (audience claps)
There are people in the audience that I know have been fighting fascism in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s up until today. Many are tired, but we must continue because there is no other place to go. If we don’t fight it, it will take over, and we will not be able to live a life or be the human beings that we need and want to be. (audience claps)
There is an announcement that I’d like to make. An announcement that very saddens me, and sad I know to all of you because my beloved lawyer, my comrade, my tall Texan who held me up during this trial, and figured the strategy, and made the summations, the openings and the pretrial motions, has had to withdraw from the case. Michael Tiger has withdrawn from the case for health reasons. He asks us all to respect his privacy and not go further than that, and I for one will not, but I don’t want anyone to think there is any ill will because Michael and I dearly love each other. I know if he could, he’d be sitting right up here (on the panel) helping, supporting and explaining what went on. (audience claps)
I’ve decided that his place will be taken by Josh Dratel. He is not necessarily a Manhattan household name. Then again neither was Michael Tiger when he started out. Josh is well known among the circles of lawyers who respect and understand those who take on the representation of people who are least favored by the government. Josh had represented people from the embassy bombing and in Guantanmo. He has written a book. It’s called the “Torture Papers.” I feel that him coming into this case gives us a leg up because he has written many of the briefs which backed up our legal positions with the court. He is brilliant. He is caring and someone you can rely on in a situation like this although, I have to tell you, he like all the lawyers said to me, “Lynne, do you think you could tone it down a little.” (audience laughs) Well, you know what my answer was to that. I said, “Josh, I’ll do anything, but I can’t do that.” (wild applause from the audience).
There was an instance once again of some insidiousness by a person who called many of the organizations to announce that he was calling from the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee and claimed, “Lynne Stewart no longer wanted the support of all these leftist groups because they were ruining her image.” (audience laughter) Fortunately people like Leslie Cagan know that people like Pat are a phone call away. She was like, “Who the heck is this guy? What was he talking about?” Within a matter of hours, that bright notion was completely squelched. Whoever this person may be, and the phone number he left is no longer on the scene, and Ralph (her husband Ralph Poynter) said something to the effect that anytime, anywhere, anyplace, he’s ready for him! (audience laughter).
I want to close by saying we are going to fight, and, you know, it’s a funny thing, people told me that when they got up on Friday they were so disheartened, they just wanted to go back to bed and hide under the covers. I think that the attitude has to be that of a dear friend, who has been my friend since I was fifteen years old, who called me up Friday morning and said, “Sad? I’m not sad. I’m fighting mad! I’m angry! How dare they do this to you!” That I think has got to be our response.
We have to organize ourselves. Organize others. Get out there. Protest. We need your input into this. We have ideas. We want to do meetings like this. This is not something we can do on our own. We have ideas. We want to do readings like this. We want to do small meetings. We want to organize people to write letters.
I was on Air America over the weekend. I said, “Gee, I’d like it if we could get a 100,000 letters to the judge. You know miracle on 34th Street. He said, “A hundred thousand? We can get a million letters!” (audience claps)
We’re not looking for treatises. We’re looking for people who can say, “I know of this woman’s work, and I don’t think she should spend one day in jail.” (audience claps) We are going to organize around that. We have samples letters here, and some on the website as well…
We also, of course, would like a tremendous outpouring for the sentencing date, which is now in September, which as activists, you all know is a better month than July to get people out. No one is vacationing, no schoolteachers gone. This a good month in New York. We are looking for a tremendous turnout that day. We’d like to fill up the park down there, people shoulder to shoulder…
I just want to say in closing that when you get up in the morning, sometimes it’s hard to put your shoes and socks on, and make it out the door, but I tell you it is the only way to live. It’s to do this type of work, to be political, to join with comrades, to join other people in fighting the good fight. I know this because I have done it for a life-time. I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I wouldn’t change any of the things I have done. It’s going to be very hard for the Probation Department to get any contrition out of me (audience laughs) because I think our task is to represent zealously, and zealously is not a word that comes in half shares, and that goes for all of you, whatever your interest whether you’re the green peace guys who got beat up on the floor of the London exchange today, or whether your leading a one man demonstration like my friend Gary out here. You need to be able to call a lawyer, and have that lawyer be there. An elderly man from Minneapolis said, “I’m really scared, when I heard you were arrested because I get arrested a lot!” (audience laughs) Some of us do; some of us don’t. The fact is that if you, or if you are in a posture where you need a lawyer, you want to be sure that that lawyer can be in your court. That that lawyer will have nothing but your concern in his or her mind. That is what this case is really all about. We have to be vigilant… We have to make sure that there are lawyers out there to protect us all. Thank you.