The FBI’s War On Democracy
--Claude Marks discusses the new film COINTELPRO 101
By Angola 3 News
Claude Marks, Director of The Freedom Archives, talks to Angola 3 News about the highly anticipated new documentary film, entitled COINTELPRO 101, which is premiering on October 10, at the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Arts in San Francisco.
According to its website, the Freedom Archives “contains over 8000 hours of audio and video tapes. These recordings date from the late-60s to the mid-90s and chronicle the progressive history of the Bay Area, the United States, and international solidarity movements. The collection includes weekly news/ poetry/ music programs broadcast on several educational radio stations; in-depth interviews and reports on social and cultural issues; diverse activist voices; original and recorded music, poetry, original sound collages; and an extensive La Raza collection.”
Freedom Archives has released other audio and video documentaries, including the recent video about the San Francisco Eight, entitled "Legacy of Torture." Legacy of Torture can be viewed online, as well as the previous films Voices of Three Political Prisoners (featuring Nuh Washington, Jalil Muntaqim and David Gilbert), Charisse Shumate: Fighting for Our Lives, and Self Respect, Self Defense & Self Determination (featuring Mabel Williams and Kathleen Cleaver, introduced by Angela Davis).
Angola 3 News: What can you tell us about your upcoming film COINTELPRO 101?
Claude Marks: We’ve been aware of the need to talk more about COINTELPRO since we made The Legacy of Torture – the video about the government torture of the Panthers in New Orleans in 1973 – which later became the unjust basis for the San Francisco 8 Case. In travelling with that film and organizing for the dropping of charges, we referred to COINTELPRO but often were talking to younger people in particular, who had not heard the term and had no historical frame of reference for that period of intense repression.
So we undertook to make this new film, knowing that no government agent or agency has ever been held accountable for the assassinations of leaders, the destruction of organizations, the imprisonment and political targeting of so many people – people who still remain prisoners of the wars against movements for liberation and self-determination within the US borders.
COINTELPRO 101 is not the first or only film on the subject, although there have not been many, but we hope it can help reinvigorate some organizing work, and reopen some thinking about the violence directed against progressive movements, this hidden history, and nature of the state and its agencies of repression.
A3N: How was the film showing and related workshop at the US Social Forum received by the audience?
CM: This was a good opportunity to infuse the very broad conversations at the Social Forum with a self-conscious discussion about the nature and continuity of government repression. From the European invasion & Middle Passage forward, we have always seen genocide. Prisons, COINTELPRO, Abu Ghraib…all represent the continuity of what any movements to change power relations are and will be up against.
A3N: Your website states that the film’s “intended audiences are the generations that did not experience the social justice movements of the sixties and seventies.” Given that COINTELPRO officially ended in the early 1970s, why is this story so important for the younger generation to know about?
CM: Well, the mission of the Freedom Archives is to help educate people, and especially the rising new generations, as to the true nature of recent radical history. The high point of struggle represented by the loosely used term “the sixties” and the violent repression against it, contains essential lessons for every young person seeking a more just society. More generally, people should not be misled by the myth of democracy, the idea that the system can be made to work for “us” or that those in power will somehow reach a moral epiphany and give up anything of consequence without a fight.
We see this myth exposed today in many ways – mass imprisonment, the tearing up of families and communities – driven by racism – the criminalization of dissent so any act of resistance becomes by their definition an act of “terrorism.”
This is a continuum that is unleashed upon the world’s peoples as well as internally. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are targeted. Muslims and South Asians are targeted. Women and queer folks are targeted. Prisoners are subjected to the worst inhumanities, and if they are ever released, what do they have they to look forward to?
The U.S. has by far the largest incarceration rate in the world—as they build more prisons, the schools deteriorate and the public education system lies in racist tatters.
A3N: How do you think the US government’s repression of the Left today differs from the COINTELPRO era?
CM: In the 1970s, the public and some officials, faced with the exposure of the illegal acts of government and police agencies against dissent, feigned concerns about the loss of civil liberties, held hearings, and alleged that reforms would take place. But today, the acts of the FBI, police, and other agencies, once illegal, are now legitimate, legal – via the Patriot Act and other unconstitutional measures, all in the name of homeland security and defending the nation against “terrorism.”
The playing field has changed. The government now openly conducts assassinations anywhere in the world, can declare people to be “enemy combatants” and imprison them indefinitely without charges; drone warfare permits mass civilian murders by so-called military experts thousands of miles away without risking US military casualties – it’s a “game” except to the thousands of victims.
Today the government claims the right to breach international human rights laws and conventions with no accountability. And the corporate media is so integrated into this strategy, that there is little room for “legitimate” opposition to get a hearing. So it becomes incumbent upon us to organize and message independently and with few resources.
COINTELPRO 101 is made with mainly love and fumes, but we hope that it will be a useful tool to engage in dialogue and to help organize movements that challenge the mythology that dissent is a guaranteed right, that seek the release of political prisoners, that counter the miseducation of our youth with an understanding of the past so they can better shape the future.
A3N: Knowing what we do about this repression in the past and present, how can activists today best defend ourselves? How should our organizing strategies be modified?
CM: We must organize to show our outrage with more consistency and despite risks. There is an urgency to demand more of one another as well. Challenging the state is serious and will not succeed as a result of stroking egos or the pronouncements of self-declared leaders. It is hard work and requires a deep commitment and a passion for serving the people and rebuilding our communities. Our capacity must grow in realistic ways as there are no shortcuts, and the path includes defeats and sacrifice. This is one of the things that our political prisoners and the many martyrs can teach us.
A3N: For our readers not close enough to San Francisco for the October 10 premiere, how will folks be able to watch the new film?
CM: The film will begin to show in communities and on campuses this fall and winter. People can reach us to make arrangements. At some point we will also manufacture DVDs. We hope to have it available with subtitles in other languages as well. Also check the website as we have resources about COINTELPRO posted and will also add a teaching curriculum to accompany the film.
A3N: How can folks best support your efforts?
CM: We are very much a grassroots organization. We have no corporate or government funding. We are one voice among many, but we encourage people to support the work of independent media, including ourselves. We welcome your questions and comments and greatly appreciate your support.
Also please use the audio and video documentaries that we’ve produced as educational materials and organizing tools. The actual Freedom Archives is searchable on line and is intended to preserve radical history and culture. So check us out!
A3N: Any closing thoughts?
CM: Years ago, as the movements grew and we worked in various political and media organizations, we were fond of quoting part of an 1857 speech by Frederick Douglass, often using Ossie Davis’s dramatic rendition of his famous words. They sum up a lesson that is central to what I am saying, and is at the heart of COINTELPRO 101. Many of your readers are probably familiar with it, but its essence bears repeating:
“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle… If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.