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Related Categories: California | Police State & Prisons
How to support SHERMAN AUSTIN
by adrienne
Friday Oct 24th, 2003 8:12 PM
20 year-old activist and webmaster Sherman Austin remains in federal prison for information another youth had on his website, which was linked to Sherman's site. Why should you care about this?
You may already know about Sherman Austin, a 20 year-old African American activist and webmaster who is currently serving a one-year sentence in federal prison for information another boy had on a website that was linked to Sherman's site. This message will provide links to additional information, provide a brief background, and tell you what you can do to support him.
When he was only 16, Sherman started running a website out of his home, on a server he had in his bedroom. His site included a free-hosting area. Another boy linked his site to this area, and his site included bomb-making information, the kind that is readily available on a variety of websites and even through amazon.com. That boy has never been charged with any crime, but Sherman, who did not author or post this information, became the FIRST and only person to be charged under 18 U.S.C. 842(p), a federal law sponsored by Dianne Feinstein in 1997 that makes it illegal to "distribute" bomb-making information with the "intent" to use it in a federal crime of violence. Sherman did not author or post this information, which was posted to a free-hosting area he offered on his website. He has no history of violence. Plenty of people with histories of violence post such information on their websites, but they have not been charged. This begs the question: why Sherman Austin? The answer has everything to do with the PATRIOT ACT and the post Sept. 11 climate of increased repression, as well as Sherman's race and his success as an internet activist.

You can learn more about the case via the following links:

These stories appeared in the San Francisco Bayview newspaper:

http://www.sfbayview.com/100803/webmaster100803.shtml
http://www.sfbayview.com/100803/lifeinthehole100803.shtml

You can listen to the Democracy Now interviews by going to:

http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=03/09/03/1442239
and
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=03/09/09/151213

There is also an interview and essay that appeared in Counterpunch at:

http://www.counterpunch.org/merlin08162003.html
and
http://www.counterpunch.org/merlin10112003.html

Below is a letter that is being circulated in support of Sherman and in opposition to his selective prosecution and imprisonment. The letter is meant to encourage politicians and prison officials to ensure Sherman's safety while he is in prison and to advocate for the terms of his plea to be reexamined. Because white supremacists have placed a price on Sherman's head, his safety in prison remains a concern.

So far, a wide range of nearly 400 notable activists, artists, and educators such as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Zack de la Rocha (of the band Rage Against the Machine), and the Indigo Girls have added their support, as you will see below.

If you would like to sign the letter (below), please send an email to <ahurley [at] stanford.edu>, indicating how you would like your name to appear. You will also need to send a verifiable home or work address, which will not be shared or made public, but is necessary to ensure that the letter is as effective as possible.

Legal teams are currently looking into possibilities for a plea withdrawal. If you can, please also send donations to his legal defense c/o Jennifer Martin at:

12115 Magnolia Blvd. #155
North Hollywood, CA 91607

"The events reported in the statement below are deeply troubling. Sherman Austin appears to be the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I hope that this matter is pursued quickly, fairly, and justly." Noam Chomsky

We, the undersigned, are united in our opposition to the selective prosecution and imprisonment of Sherman Austin, a twenty year-old African American webmaster and activist. Sherman’s sentencing sets a dangerous precedent for the future of our right to express dissent and marks a troubling escalation in the criminalization of critical thinking and the erosion of the very civil liberties and rights our society purports to value.

On September 3, 2003 Sherman Austin surrendered himself to begin a one-year term in federal prison for the contents of a website that was authored by another boy and linked to Sherman's site, http://www.raisethefist.com, on a free-hosting area Sherman provided there. The other boy's site included a direct link to the "Reclaim Guide,” a manual that provides crude instructions on how to build explosives. While this boy has not been charged with any crime, Sherman, who had no part in writing or posting any of the offending material, was prosecuted under a 1997 law sponsored by Dianne Feinstein that makes it illegal to distribute information related to explosives with the intent to use that information in a "federal crime of violence."

Numerous websites feature bomb-making instructions, and while such information is easily accessed via the internet and online bookstores such as amazon.com, Sherman, who has no history of violence and who did not write the "Reclaim Guide,” is the first person to be charged under this law. The key element in the case against Sherman hinged on the question of "intent." Because Sherman's site is critical of U.S. government policy, police brutality, globalization, and racism, the prosecution and judge maintained that his politics provided grounds for proving intent.

Senator Feinstein, in a press release issued the day Sherman entered prison, expressed “dismay” that prosecutors had not pursued the “bombmaking” law “aggressively” enough as a “tool in fighting terrorism.” We ask, why is it that a nonviolent twenty year-old, someone whom the California Department of Corrections Senior Staff Psychologist determined “does not represent a risk to society whatsoever” and described as “a very, very peaceful, mild-mannered” person, has been sentenced under this law while others who present clear and identifiable threats, such as certain white supremacist and anti-choice organizations, have been permitted to distribute bombmaking information and make direct threats on individuals, clinics, and groups? We contend that the selective prosecution of Sherman Austin had everything to do with his race, his
politics, his effectiveness as an internet activist, and his mother’s lack of financial resources to mount an aggressive legal defense. We find it significant and telling that the actual author of the site directly linked to the "Reclaim Guide" is the son of affluent and conservative white parents.

We also question the validity of Sherman’s plea itself. Sherman, who was eighteen years-old when this case began, was told a "terrorism enhancement" would be applied to his case if he went to trial. This meant that he could have been subjected to an additional 20 years in prison if found guilty. We challenge the notion that a plea made under such circumstances could be truly voluntary. Sherman accepted two plea bargain agreements, one of which the judge rejected, sentencing Sherman to a term longer than what the prosecution suggested.

As is evident in the court transcripts, the decisions of U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson were neither fair nor impartial. He stated that he hoped Sherman’s case would serve as a deterrent to other activists and “revolutionaries” and that he wanted to "send a message" by subjecting Sherman to a harsher sentence. As activists, educators, artists, and concerned individuals, we stand together to send a message back to Judge Wilson. We will not be silenced or deterred.

Many of us have published, recorded, performed, or presented work that is critical of U.S. foreign policy, domestic examples of social injustice, and the effects of globalization. Some of us have made statements that could provide even more compelling grounds for applying the standard of “intent” invoked in Sherman’s case had we offered free-hosting website space that the author of the “Reclaim Guide” could have used. Because Sherman is now serving time in federal prison for having expressed opinions not unlike our own, we feel compelled to speak out lest we be next.

Two days after entering prison, Sherman was moved into isolation because of death threats made by white supremacist groups. Thanks to numerous calls, faxes, and letters sent to prison officials, Sherman has now been transferred, but his safety in prison remains a concern. In the words of the Department of Corrections Psychologist, Sherman “is likely to become a victim by virtue of his youth, slight build and naiveté. He is totally unprepared to defend himself in such a setting. He is more likely to become brutalized by the experience than to learn from it."

We support the efforts underway to challenge the terms of Sherman's plea and probation, and we demand that prison and government officials ensure the safety of Sherman Austin while he remains in custody.

Aaron R. Aarons
Berkeley, CA

Tarnel Abbott
Richmond, CA

Wil-Dog Abers
Ozomatli

Kevin Akin
Congressional Candidate
44th Congressional District of California
Peace and Freedom Party

Marika Albert
BC, Canada

Michael Albert
Z Magazine and Znet

Neal Albright
San Jose, CA

Stacey Alexander
Ontario, CA

Daisy Ambia
Santa Ana, CA

Anarchist Action, Australia
Australian RTF Chapter

Charles Anselm
Los Angeles, CA

Blake Anthony
Irvine, CA

Steve Argue
Editor, Liberation News
Santa Cruz, CA

Louise Auerhahn
Researcher
San Jose, CA

Jim Ausman
San Francisco, CA

Antonio Austin
artist and writer
Los Angeles, CA

Melanie Austin
Englewood, New Jersey

Rachel Austin
graphic artist
Los Angeles, CA

Shermane Austin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Computer Science
Medgar Evers College
The City University of New York

Vincent Avila
San Jose, CA

Daniel Axtel
Web developer
Shelton, CT

Craig W. Baal
Riverside, CA

Robert Badger
Hollywood, CA

Miriam Baker
Jacksonville, FL

Elena Banales
Retired LaborWorker, Cake Designer

Guadalupe Banales
Environmentalist and Artist

Monica Banales
College Student

Shaymus Banks
Student

Sandra Barbosa
Bloomington, CA

William H. Bardin
Oakland, CA

Ulises Bella
Ozomatli

Patricia Bennett
Riverside, CA

Kevin Bernhardt
Los Angeles, CA

Samir Bitar
Performance Artist/Writer
Brooklyn, NY

Gay Block
Photographer
Santa Fe, NM

Linda Boigon
Teacher
Valley Village, CA

Blase Bonpane, Ph.D.
Director, Office of the Americas

Rushay Booysen
Obscure Promotions
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Bridget M. Borer
Minneapolis, MN

John Bouchard
Riverside, CA

Adrienne Braun
San Bernadino, CA

Rivers Brown
Ashland, OR

Chris Brozda
Soquel, CA

Renae Bryant
Norco, CA

Chris Burnett
LA Indymedia
Los Angeles, CA

Bruno Cabral
Porto Alegre, Brazil

Daniel Cabrera
Plumber

Mat Callahan
Musician, author

Jim Calvert
Amarillo, TX

Robert Calvert
Huntington Beach, CA

Laura Cambron
Whittier, CA

Scott Campbell
Oakland, CA

Michael Cardenas
Independent Media Center

Conan Dean Carey
Ph.D. Candidate, Japanese Literature
Stanford University

Margaret B. Carey
Attorney at Law
Denver, CO

Willard Carpenter, Instructor
Social Sciences Dept.
City College of San Francisco

Mar Carrillo
Chino, CA

Rose Marie Castro
Richmond, CA

Cherry Cayabyab
Seattle, WA

Karina Cesa
Arleta, CA

John Chionis
Sedona, AZ

Ashlee Christoffersen
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Alison Chubb, Ph.D.
Biologist and videographer
Redwood City, CA

Wei-min Brian Chiu, Ph.D.
United Auto Workers
Los Angeles, CA

Erick Church
Hillsdale, MI

Schaun Clark
Customer Service Rep.
Compton, CA

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Nottingham, England

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Costa Mesa, CA

Dan Clore
Columbia City, OR

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UK

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Los Angeles, CA

Compassion for Farm Animals
San Diego, CA

Betty A. Connolly
Earth First!

Matthew Convey
Victoria, Australia

Jay Conway
Riverside, CA

Yvette Cooper
Los Angeles, CA

Yannis Cosdmadopoulos
San Francisco, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

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Bettendorf, IA

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San Jose, CA

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School Administrator

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Athens, Greece

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Richmond, CA

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Athens, Greece

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Jerome, AZ

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Jerome, AZ

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Sunnyvale, CA

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Shaker Heights, OH

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Grad student, Interdisciplinary Studies
University of Washington, Tacoma

Rev. Pondurenga Das
Berkeley, CA

Sharon Davidson
Montrose, CA

Richard C. Dawson
Torrance, CA

Nicholas De Genova
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Latina/o Studies
Columbia University

Naomi De Gracia
Los Angeles, CA

Zack de la Rocha

Jesus Diaz
Vancouver, WA

Resha DiMenna
B.C., Canada

Danny Dixon
Riverside, CA

Frank Dorrell
Publisher of Addicted to War

Jim Douglas
Davis, CA

Mike Dow
Alameda, CA

Mike Drum
Oakland, CA

Gary Dunaway
Peoria, IL

B.R. Dupuis
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Seattle, WA

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Selden, NY

Riva Enteen

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Richmond, CA

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Visalia, CA

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Berkeley, CA

Michael Farrer
NSW, Australia

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Coordinator, East Timor Action Network/Madison
Madison, WI

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UCB/PMB/PGEC
Albany, CA

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Silver Lake, CA

Folk This!

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Metamora,IL

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Noisy Neighbors Recording Artist
RTF Orange County Chapter

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Houston Coalition for Justice Not War
Houston, TX

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San Francisco, CA

Jessica Friedrich
Angwin, CA

Cameron Frost
Victoria, Australia

James Fujii
Associate Professor of Japanese Literature
University of California, Irvine

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Citizen
Walnut Creek, CA

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Riverside, CA

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Santa Ana, CA

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San Diego, CA

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Ottawa, Canada

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Racine, WI

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UC Berkeley graduate student

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Berkeley, CA

Warren M. Gold, M.D.
Professor of Medicine
University of California San Francisco

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writer
Berkeley, CA

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Alexandria, VA

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San Francisco, CA

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Ada, OH

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ACLU
Glendale, CA

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San Francisco, CA

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Stow, OH

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Los Angeles, CA

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Lawrence, KS

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Joliet, IL

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San Diego, CA

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San Diego, CA

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Woodland Hills, CA

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Culver City, CA

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Stanford, CA

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Moreno Valley, CA

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Richmond, CA

Theodore Harris
artist
Philadelphia, PA

Patricia Hartz, Ph.D.
Humanities
University of California, Irvine

Chris Hayden
Lawrence, KS

Darlene Heinz
Registered Nurse
Kansas City, MO

Carl Henriksson
Solidarity Organization Twiga
Sweden

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Los Angeles, CA

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San Diego, CA

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Everett, MA

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Pasadena, CA

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Social Science
University of California, Irvine

Tomoyuki Hoshino
Novelist
Japan

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Obirin University
Tokyo, Japan

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Stanford Institute for International Studies

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Richmond, CA

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Attorney
San Diego, CA

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Larkspur, CA

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Co-Founder Santa Clara County
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Palo Alto, CA

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Santa Cruz, CA

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construction worker, artist, founder of Now or Never
Waldorf, MD

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Tacoma, WA

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Wrightwood, CA

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Wrightwood, CA

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Kensington, CA

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Victoria, Australia

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Oxon Hill, MD

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Riverside, CA

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Staten Island, NY

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Dallas Committee to Keep Assata Shakur ‘Free’
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Carmel, NY

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Berkeley, CA

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Iowa City, IA

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Mission Viejo, CA

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Life Sciences Exhibit Developer
e x p l O r a t o r i u m
Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception
San Francisco, CA

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San Francisco, CA

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Oakland, CA

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Associate Professor of Physics
California State University, San Bernardino

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Berkeley, CA

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Chandler, AZ

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Studio City, CA

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Cha-am, Thailand

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Lansdale, PA

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Richmond, CA

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Creative Spirit
Berkeley, CA

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Nashville, TN

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Lawrence, KS

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Santa Cruz, CA

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Oakland, CA

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Peace & Freedom Party State Central Committee (SCC)
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Perris, CA

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Perris, CA

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Chico, CA

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Altadena, CA

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Sylmar, CA

Laura Lindley
Los Angeles, CA

Roger Linn
Roger Linn Designs

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Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

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Baldwin Park, CA

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Ladera Ranch, CA

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Lawrence, MA

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Co-Founder, Media Justice Network
Oakland, CA

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Riverside, CA

Keith McHenry,
Tucson, AZ

Gayle McLaughlin
Richmond Greens

Robert T McQuaid
Ontario, Canada

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Los Angeles, CA

David Marquez
Vice President Riverside County Young Democrats
Riverside, CA

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Palo Alto, CA

Stephen A. Martin
Fort Madison, IA

Adam Marx
Hopkins, MN

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Anaheim, CA

Anna Meehan
San Bernadino, CA

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Mt. View, CA

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Journalist
Los Angeles, CA

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Salt Lake City, UT

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activist, craftsperson, and reporter

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El Sobrante, CA

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Palo Alto, CA

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Richmond, CA

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Berkeley, CA

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Centuria, WI

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Santa Fe, NM

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Tokyo University
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Tokyo, Japan

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Granada Hills, CA

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Fullerton, CA

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Bangkok, Thailand

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Activist and father

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Studio City, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

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Costa Mesa, CA

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Santa Cruz, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

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San Jose, CA

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Richmond, CA

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Berkeley, CA

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Sydney, Australia

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Ozomatli

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Oakland, CA

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Fort Wayne, IN

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Editor, Molokai Advertiser-News
Kaunakakai, Molokai, HI

Joe Peacock
Hampton, GA

Monika Penner
BC, Canada

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Bodyworker/Student of Chinese Medicine
Los Angeles, CA

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Teacher of English to second language students
Golden Valley High School
Merced, CA

Craig D. Peterson
Pleasant Hill, CA

Maggie Phair
Los Angeles, CA

Rita Pickering
Coral Springs, FL

Kathleen Pliska
Long Beach, CA

Csaba Polony
Editor, Left Curve

Justin Poree
Ozomatli

Cecil Powers
Hunting Beach, CA

Judith Poxon
Sacramento, CA

James Pratt
Richmond, CA

Mary Prichard
Pt. Richmond, CA

Gilberto Ramirez
Brooklyn, NY

Edessa Ramos
poet, writer, theater artist
Zurich, Switzerland

Mary Ratcliff
Editor, San Francisco Bay View newspaper

Amy Ray
Indigo Girls

Sarah Rea
Student Journalist
Los Angeles, CA

Juan Reardon, MD, MPH
Richmond, CA

David Remer
Frankfurt, Germany

Revolution Summer
San Diego, CA

Richard Reynoso
Riverside, CA

Michelle Richardson
Engineer, Silicon Valley for Civil Rights, ACLU
San Jose, CA

Ed Rimbaugh
Sebastopol, CA

Jose Rios
Peoria, IL

Melissa Rodriguez
Anaheim, CA

Stephen F Rohde Esq
Rohde & Victoroff
Los Angeles, CA

Mili Rosenblatt
Oakland, CA

Kyle Rotterman
Woonsocket, RI

Jennifer Martin Ruggiero
Teacher of Computer Science & Imaging
Los Angeles, CA

Stephen Ruoss, M.D.
Associate Professor
Stanford Medical School

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Oakland, CA

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Berkeley, CA

Ray Sakover
Riverside, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

Emily Saliers
Indigo Girls

Talene Salmaszadeh
Riverside, CA

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High Bridge, NJ

Marc Sapir, MD, MPH
Berkeley, CA

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Mountain View, CA

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Schrassig, Luxembourg

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Lawrence, KS

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Assistant in Nursing
Australia

Palak Shah
Brookline, MA

Ruth B. Shields
San Francisco, CA

Miriam Shipp, MD, MPH
State of California
Department of Health Services
Oakland, CA

Asdru Sierra
Ozomatli

Marko Sihvo
Espoo, Finland

Jennifer Silvers
Norman, OK

Steven Slap
anti-racist activist
Lake Pleasant, MA

Michael Slate
writer, Revolutionary Worker newspaper
host, Beneath the Surface, KPFK Radio, Los Angeles

Charles Slay
East Palo Alto, CA

Ashley Smith
Flushing, MI

Naomi Snyder
Santa Monica, CA

Howard Sodja
El Sobrante, CA

Matthew Sorensen
New School University
New York, NY

Tye Southard
Hollywood, CA

Carolyn Spidle
Santa Fe, NM

Brian Squadrilli
Huntington Beach, CA

Starhawk
author and international activist

Christian Stauffer
Silver Spring, MD

Joseph Stewart
Santa Cruz, CA

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Berkeley, CA

Roger Nathan Strickland
Lawrence, KS

Samina F. Sundas
Palo Alto, CA

Sue Supriano
Berkeley, CA

Jeff Swanson
Los Angeles, CA

Colin M. Sword
CEO & Chairman
Delta Engineering Corporation

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Chappaqua, NY

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San Jose, CA

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San Francisco, CA

Jon Taylor
Los Angeles, CA

Wesley Teal
Lawrence, KS

Judith Tekampe
student

Sheila Thorne
Berkeley, CA

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Anchorage, AK

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Boston, MA

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Human Resource Support

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Tucson, AZ

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Trinidad, CA

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Newport Beach, CA

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Stanford, CA

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University of Texas at Dallas

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Los Angeles, CA

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Co-editor, The G-Spot
Arizona State University

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Berkeley, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

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Mother and activist
San Francisco, CA

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Women for Peace, East Bay
Oakland, CA

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Vineland, NJ

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Laguna Hills, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

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San Francisco, CA

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Saginaw, MN

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Chino Hills, CA

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San Jose, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

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Executive Director
International Society of Political Psychology
Pitzer College
Claremont, CA

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San Francisco, CA

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Los Angeles, CA

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Riverside, CA

Susan Whitmyre
Long Beach, CA

Carla Williams
writer and artist
Oakland, CA

Cynthia (Cindy) Williams
Political Activist, Stained Glass/Mosaic Artist

James Williams
Huntington Beach, CA

Melba Williams
filmmaker
Palo Alto, CA

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Huntington Beach, CA

Whitney Williams
Providence, RI

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Nashville, TN

Deborah Willis-Kennedy
Professor of Photography & Imaging
Tisch School of the Arts
New York University

Steve Withers
Electoral Reform Coalition
Wellington, New Zealand

Gordon Wright
Berkeley, CA

David E. Wunsch
Unemployed electronic engineer
San Jose, CA

Jiro Yamaguchi
Ozomatli

Armando Yañez
San Jose, CA

Jim Yarbrough
Newbury Park, CA

A. Daniel Yavuzkurt
Student, Penn State University

Melissa Yang
Dayton, OH

Kortney Zeman
Pomona, CA

Howard Zinn

Sharon Zorn-Katz
Riverside, CA

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