Another forest activist has been called before the U.S.grand jury now sitting in Portland, Oregon. It is expected that she will refuse to cooperate with the secret inquiry. A demonstration in solidarity with the young defender of forests will be held at 8:30 AM at 1000 S.W.3rd Avenue at the site of the U.S. courthouse in downtown Portland this Tuesday, August 6th.
The alleged focus of the grand jury is attacks on logging equipment in Oregon's forests. Subpoenas to appear before the grand jury have been delivered by the F.B.I. to a number of people who have been associated with or are members of the Cascadia Forest Alliance.
Last month at least one person refused to assist in the investigation by citing her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. She was in and out of the jury's hearing within minutes. Others have responded to the questions placed before them by the U.S. attorney.
Since all proceedings of the grand jury, including the questions and who has been called, are supposed to be secret it is impossible to say what evidence, if any, has been gathered by the F.B.I. and the U.S.attorney's questioning.
There are a number of reasons why anyone who considers themselves a supporter of democracy, whether they are a member of the ACLU or of ALF, would oppose the existence of grand juries and this particular grand jury.
First, it is a secret court. Witnesses who refuse to testify; either because they are not allowed to have an attorney present or because they have no Fifth Amendment rights (they can be given immunity and then forced to testify or face up to eighteen months in federal jail) or because they object to the political use of the legal system, face government harassment up to and including jail.
Second, it is not a true jury of one's peers. Grand jury members are typically drawn from those who are retired and/or economically well-off enough that they can take weeks to months off to serve on a jury. How many single moms qualify? How many young people? How many people of color?
Third, the goal of this grand jury is not information about a particular crime, but an attack on a particular organization and a successful movement. A legal approach such as the grand jury can tie up an organization or movement in legal battles, where the government is strong. The success of forest activists in demonstrations and direct actions and other organizing can be countered in a small room where only one activist is allowed at a time.
Finally, whatever the intent of the individual grand jury members, they are being used to get information about a movement that can't be gotten otherwise. Who would willingly tell the F.B.I. about political associations and personal friendships, about arguments and alliances? That is the meat and potatoes (or tofu and noodles) of the questions asked in grand jury sessions. Those who refuse to talk are threatened with jail and, in a number of instances over the last thirty years, given jail time for refusing to rat on their friends and associates.
Those who do talk, either because of bad advice from attorneys, a bad political perspective ("If I just tell them the truth they'll leave me alone") or because of lack of a movement's support, are then stigmatized for having given information to the government. They can also be called back before the grand jury for further questioning at any time. Once they talk they are expected to continue to answer any questions. In effective, they are sitting down for a chat with the F.B.I.
More information about the use of grand juries can be found easily at the websites of the National Lawyers' Guild, Political Research Associates and Protectcivilliberties.
It is important to support those who will resist the grand jury. You're not only protecting Cascadia Forest Alliance or the individual activist, you're protecting yourself, all progressive movements and the earth.