Rob has just completed serving a seven-year sentence for his role in a clash between police and protesters during anti-globalization protests in Eugene, Oregon on June 18, 1999. A Chicano and longtime anarchist organizer, he was convicted of rioting and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly chucking a rock at a cop.|
Rob greeted those gathered at Portland's Laughing Horse Books with individual hellos and handshakes, stating repeatedly how overwhelmed and happy he felt to be released. He spent most of the evening taking questions from supporters, who mostly wanted to hear about his day-to-day life behind bars. Rob said he spent most of his time writing letters. "It helped me remember who I was," he said. "It saved my life."
In addition to that, he said, he took up running, learned to play the guitar, and participated in a "Toastmasters" speech training group. "I tried to do one on 'who I am,' -- that's the topic they gave everyone -- but that got really long!" So he turned his attention to Albert Parsons, one of four anarchists activist hanged in the aftermath of the Haymarket Riots of 1886, and for which the May Day is a remembrance.
In part by intention and in part by accident of history, the anarchist identity and tradition framed Rob's prison experience. He was jailed just as the movement he helped to build reached the tipping point in the streets of Seattle in November 1999. Authorities weren't sure what to make of this group of people and their ideas, and many feel that Rob bore the brunt of their hasty reaction.
Last night Rob explained how he and his cell mate realized that mail marked with a circle-A insignia was getting classified as "gang-related" and confiscated. They embarked on a campaign to challenge this practice, which culminated in a successful lawsuit. Through that process, he explained, they were able to change a few minds. "People began to see that anarchism doesn't just have to be about being confrontational, but that it can be more philosophical -- something in your heart."
Rob spoke also of some fear of how the world has changed since he has been in jail, a sentiment that others in the room seemed to share. Discussion also hovered around the recent organizing around immigrants rights, and the hope it holds for a world where people matter more than national borders. This year marked the largest May Day protests in US history, and coincided with a general strike by immigrant workers and their supporters. In Chicago alone, an estimated 700,000 people marched past the monument erected to the Haymarket Martyrs.
Albert Parsons has more than one reason to be proud.
Background On Rob's Case | Rob's Last Communique from Prison | Announcement for Laughing Horse Event