from Ernesto Aguilar
As of late, there has been a great deal of discussion online about the case of Katie Sierra, and what supporters can do to lend their voices to the efforts to help Katie. On Nov. 28, I talked with Katie Sierra and her attorney, Roger Forman, and I wanted to communicate the latest news and ways they suggest people can support this case.
In case you're just learning about this case...
Katie Sierra, born in Panama, is a 15-year-old tenth grader (not ninth... she's behind one class and takes night school twice a week) at Sissonville High School. in Charleston, West Virginia in the United States. She's become the subject of national media attention after the high school suspended her for anti-war sentiments and her desire to start a student anarchist club. She was suspended for three days in October for defying school orders not to form an anarchy club or wear T-shirts that include slogans opposing the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. The handwritten message on the T-shirt that got her in trouble read: ``When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God Bless America."
The school claimed Katie's actions disrupted student learning and a Kanawha County Circuit judge upheld the suspension. The West Virginia Supreme Court on Nov. 27 voted 3-2 not to consider Katie Sierra's petition to prevent the lower court from "continuing to deny her freedom of speech.'' Her attorney says federal court and other legal options are being considered.
Media reports of threats Katie's received are indeed true. She's being homeschooled right now because of those threats (due to her parents' concerns, and the fact the school can't guarantee her safety). She says she'd prefer to be in school. However, the situation as it is has made that a problem.
News: "Student files lawsuit over anarchy club"
Gazette: "Student, principal spar over anarchy club, clothing"
Sun-Sentinel: "Student loses bid to form high school anarchy club"
rules against anti-war student"
Daily Mail: "Student plans to keep fighting"
Advocate: "Free Speech RIP"
"Anarchist Teen Pulled From School"
Interview with attorney Roger Forman by Dan Tsang/Subversity on KUCI in
Interview with Katie and mother Amy by Dennis Bernstein/Flashpoints on
KPFA in Berkeley, Calif.
I cannot emphasize enough, in case that's not completely clear, of how the issues related to what's happening to Katie affect so many movements, from those of us speaking out against U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, to the rights of students to organize, to the growing legal and extralegal movements to repress, intimidate and criminalize dissent (particularly anarchists). You do not need to be an anarchist, however, to see the chilling effect this has on everyone.
If you're a parent with kids in school, or are concerned with how the voices of youth are criminalized by school systems and elsewhere, the obvious question you should ask is, "If Principal Forest Mann and school system lawyer Jim Withrow, in citing fears of students for banning unpopular beliefs, are allowed to then create and support a climate of fear by refusing to stop student violence and intimidation, who's next? If they can't guarantee the safety of a student with as much media exposure as Katie Sierra, what other students -- be they dissenting, "different" or of other races and cultures -- are dealing with violence and initimdation in silence, because Mann and Withrow have given school terrorism a green light?"
Regardless of your political affiliations, or if you're just concerned about this issue on free-speech grounds, Katie's fight is our fight, and our support of this companera is essential. Katie Sierra and Roger Forman are extremely welcoming of support from the community, and I encourage each of you concerned about what's happened to Katie to take action. Katie, obviously, is a really great and gutsy person and she deserves support from all quarters.
a.) Please contact the high school and the county board of education to demand equal opportunity for Katie's education. She has become the target of harassment and attacks at school, and Katie's parents have pulled her from school because school administrators cannot guarantee her safety. This unwillingness to protect Katie from harassment on the part of Principal Forest Mann is nothing less than tacit support for student violence. Mann has spoken to the media in opposition to Katie's right to free speech, and the school and the board of education should take measures to give Katie the education she came to the school for -- in her classes and free from abuse. Send polite but firm letters supporting Katie's rights to education, freedom from abuse and free speech, and demanding Katie be granted security to return to school.
County Board of Education
Education Site Webmaster
b.) If you are in the Charleston, West Virginia region or know people there, protests and other actions are welcomed. Roger says, "I never believe that lawyers work in isolation so I wish people would take to the streets." This represents a great opportunity for anarchists to coalesce with a wide variety of people -- from civil libertarians to peace activists to those concerned about the increased repression many activists are experiencing. Please consider laying down plans for actions now. Roger Forman suggests contacting WV-ACLU Executive Director Andrew Schneider about planning any events. He's at (304) 345-9292.
c.) If you would like to make a donation, Katie and Roger suggest making a donation to the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union (WV-ACLU), which is providing legal representation to Katie. Please make sure to indicate your donation is going to supporting Katie Sierra's case costs.
d.) Send letters in support of Katie to area newspapers, and to challenge the assertions made about anarchists.
Daily Mail [250 words or less]
e.) Send an email in support to Katie directly. Since moving to West Virginia this summer from Florida, Katie's been in a hostile environment. Reports have covered various harassment Katie has endured. Students spit on her mother's car at the high school. A boy wore a T-shirt signed by many Sissonville students that read: "Go back where you came from." The idea is to silence Katie Sierra, and she deserves our support for her courageous stand. Send her an email to email@example.com (she's okayed distributing her address) to express your support.
Attorney Roger Forman is accepting mail for Katie, if you want to send a card or letter:
People of Color Website
Black Cross Network