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Meeting Julian Bond in a sea of suits

Apr 05, 2007 Meeting Julian Bond in a sea of suits

Around the D.C. Beltway, suits abound. (Image from Library of Congress.)

During a 1987 Amnesty International meeting at my law school, one of the AI officers jokingly warned about one member’s beneficial comments, because the speaker was wearing a suit. John Lennon railed against the suit-wearers running the record company issuing Beatles music. In 1991, during the second anti-Gulf War I weekend march in Washington, I watched a brilliantly-choreographed, eerie and ominous procession of silent papier-mache-headed men in black suits, white shirts and black ties periodically and in unison spinning hand-held oversized new-year-style noisemakers (while bowing), under a “New World Order” banner. Marching along with me was a close friend, who remarked that a “suit” often is used negatively to refer to a member of “the establishment.”

At the time, in 1991, I was yearning to meet more like-minded lawyers devoted to fighting for social justice, wearing suits only so as not to obscure their social justice message, rather than as a message of celebrating the status quo or any classism. I am no fan of suits, even though I wear them to court.

In this context, I met longtime civil rights activist Julian Bond in a sea of suits at last week’s annual local ACLU fundraiser. Also being honored there were lawyers from Covington & Burling — among the most establishment of the establishment law firms — who ably vindicated the rights of several people wrongfully arrested, detained, and hogtied by District of Columbia police in violation of their First Amendment rights and civil liberties during a 2002 anti-World Bank demonstration. This was among several lawsuits filed over the mass arrests.

This was the second time I met Julian Bond, the first time having been around eighteen years ago when passing him on a downtown Washington street. Mr. Bond was active from the outset with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early Sixties. In the United States Supreme Court, he succeeded in reversing a decision by a Georgia House of Representatives committee refusing to seat him. The refusal came over a SNCC statement against the Vietnam war, which Bond endorsed with this amplification: “‘I think that the fact that the United States Government fights a war in Viet Nam, I don’t think that I as a second class citizen of the United States have a requirement to support that war. I think my responsibility is to oppose things that I think are wrong if they are in Viet Nam or New York, or Chicago, or Atlanta, or wherever.'” “‘I’m not taking a stand against stopping World Communism, and I’m not taking a stand in favor of the Viet Cong. What I’m saying that is, first, that I don’t believe in that war. That particular war. I’m against all war. I’m against that war in particular, and I don’t think people ought to participate in it. Because I’m against war, I’m against the draft. I think that other countries in the World get along without a draft — England is one — and I don’t see why we couldn’t, too.'” Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116, 124 (1966).

Mr. Bond was honored in the midst of Gulf War II and the anti-terror war, which have been used by Bush II to justify legions of incursions on our civil liberties. Julian Bond’s courage to stand up against war in 1965 hopefully will inspire those who today stand up against the many injustices surrounding Bush II’s current wars.

As to my fixation over the inundation of suits around the Washington Beltway, in some respects the question comes down to “Who’s co-opting whom?” Ralph Nader has worn them — and filed them — and seems no more watered down for it. Jon Katz.

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