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Anti-Sweatshop Activists Targeted in Denver

by Free Speech Defense Committee Wednesday, May. 30, 2001 at 9:01 PM
denveractivists@yahoo.com 303-809-2792 or 303-864-9303

As part of an ongoing investigation surrounding a case of vandalism at a Kohl’s clothing store on December 9, 2000, the Jefferson County District Attorney's office established a GRAND JURY and issued subpoenas to a local activist, Doug Bohm, and former Denver Justice and Peace Center staff member, David Martin, to testify. On May 17th Bohm was found in contempt of court and taken into custody for “failing to follow a court order that involved his testimony before a grand jury," said Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney's office. Martin is scheduled to appear before the Grand Jury on May 31st.


Background: Kohl's clothing store profits from sweatshop conditions at Chentex factory, one of the largest in the Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone in Managua, Nicaragua. The factory employs 1,800 workers who produce 25,000 pairs of jeans each day. These workers make on average 20 cents per pair of jeans they sew. The jeans retail at Kohl's for thirty dollars. Chentex currently pays workers about per month. A 'basic basket' of consumer goods such as food and soap for a family of five costs about US0 per month. When the workers organized for eight cent per hour wage increase, the union leadership along with hundreds of other workers was fired.

In support of the workers, an international campaign involving grassroots activists, student activists, unions, and religious leaders has focused on a national leafleting campaign against Chentex's largest customer, Kohl's Department Stores. Solidarity activists in the US, Taiwan, and internationally have mobilized in support of the Chentex workers rights to organize. Over 400 actions have been held at Kohl's stores and concern citizens have written about 4,000.

On December 9, 2000, the Denver Justice and Peace Committee (DJPC) organized a caroling and leafleting protest at the Kohl's clothing store in Golden, CO as a part of the nation-wide campaign, "Holiday Season of Conscience." Four unknown people arrived during the protest wearing Santa suits, entered the store and destroyed property using spray paint. Since then, DJPC has been the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. The police investigation severely disrupted DJPC's political organizing and fundraising. Due to funding concerns, staff members retired.

On December 15th, the Golden Police Department served warrant papers and searched the office of DJPC and obtained DJPC's database. In January and February, police detectives used the database to call or visit the homes of over 50 people, including DJPC's board members, donors, dues-paying members and staff. They also took membership lists from the Chiapas Coalition (a Denver based Zapatista supporting group) and another group.

On April 23rd, the Jefferson County District Attorney's office established a GRAND JURY and issued subpoenas to a local activist, Doug Bohm, and former DJPC staff member, David Martin, to testify.

On May 17, Bohm was found in contempt of court and taken into custody for 'failing to follow a court order that involved his testimony before a grand jury," said Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney's office. The Jefferson County DA's office has used this incident to carry out a virtual witch hunt, a campaign of harassment and intimidation of Denver activists, most not even involved with the demonstration. A hearing scheduled for May 31 will determine whether he has decided to testify. He could spend up to a half year in jail if he doesn't agree to cooperate with the grand jury.

The grand jury, as law professor Susan W. Brenner, an expert in the field, has said, is a 'cheering section' for prosecutors. It is an institution, which operates in secret, and suspends the usual rules of evidence that govern trials, as well as many normal legal protections for witnesses. Its scope of investigation is virtually unlimited, allowing prosecutors to use it to harass and intimidate witnesses and create a climate of fear and mistrust. The grand jury has been called a modern-day Inquisition. If the Jeffco DA's office is really concerned about crime in its community, rather than focus o on non-violent demonstrators, they should investigate the real crime: Kohl's greedily profiting from the exploitation of workers in Nicaraguan sweatshops.

As this grand jury investigation intensifies, we must remember why we are protesting in the first place. The Sweatshop is the icon of globalization. Corporations shift their labor-intensive parts of the production process to where the taxes are non-existent (the free trade zone), the wages are low, the unions are repressed, and working conditions are poor. As poor countries domestic markets are surrendered to transnational corporate dominance through the policies of the IMF, World Bank and WTO, they are forced to compete for the sweatshop investors who produce for the US market.

The intense competition within the global labor force leads to superexploitation and superprofits for US corporations which control access to the markets. The only way to combat global exploitation is with global solidarity. The Kohl's campaign embodied that. Growing global solidarity certainly is a threat to the corporations' superprofits. Is that why the state has intervened in a way that chills anti-sweatshop protests and political organizing?

HELP STOP THIS EFFORT TO DISRUPT grassroots organizing in Colorado. We must stick together and not let the state attempt to divide and destroy our activist community. For more information and updates, please contact 303-809-2792 or email denveractivists@yahoo.com.

Send donations to help pay for the legal funds to Copwatch, 3533 Tejon, Denver, CO 80211. Make checks payable to: Building Bridges (legal defense in memo area).


Write the Jeffco DA and ask him to stop harassing legitimate free speech.

Dennis Hall, DA

500 Jefferson County Parkway

Golden, CO 80401

Phone: (303) 271-6800

Write the CEO of Kohl's and tell him to ask Jeffco to drop charges against the 2 activists who were doing nothing more than exercising their first amendment rights to bring attention to the real crimes in this situation: Kohl

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