Clara Fraser 1988

The Four Years of Living Dangerously

Published: 1988
Written: January 1988
First Published: February 1988
Source: Fraser, C. (1998). The Four Years of Living Dangerously. In Revolution, She Wrote (pp. 210 - 213). Seattle, WA: Red Letter Press.
Transcription/Markup: Philip Davis
Copyleft: Internet Archive ( 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Only a few months after winning her case against [Seattle] City Light, Fraser and eight [Freedom Socialist Party] leaders were slammed with a malicious lawsuit by a greedy ex-member, Richard Snedigar. Under the pretense of demanding back a donation he made [to the FSP Eviction Fund], Snedigar launched a full-scale McCarthyite campaign aimed at smashing the FSP. He and his shameless lawyers Thomas Wampold and Michelle Pailthorp demanded that the party hand over names of members and supporters, internal meeting minutes, and financial records.

This column was written halfway into the eight year case. After a long string of negative rulings and fruitless appeals, the party had been declared in default for refusing to comply with Snedigar's demands. At the hearing where Fraser presented this statement, she and FSP attorneys [Valerie] Carlson and [Fred] Hyde were ruled in contempt of court and sentenced to jail, although the sentences were stayed. It took another two years before the state Supreme Court, swayed by the arguments of acclaimed civil liberties attorney Leonard Boudin, ruled that the party's internal records were privileged information. Finally, in April 1992, the party was vindicated of Snedigar's charges.

It's Tuesday, January 12 and tomorrow I go to court to be grilled about my personal finances. Together with my two attorneys, Valerie Carlson and Frederick W. Hyde, I've been subpoenaed to testify about my private fortune so that $50,000 or so can be seized to payoff a trio of mercenary villains named Snedigar, Wampold and Pailthorpe (no, these monikers don't come out of Dickens, they're for real).

I haven't got fifty grand, and if I had I still wouldn't hand it over to this radical-baiting, witchhunting triumvirate of vengeful scoundrels. Yet I won't take the stand and plead poverty. I'll use my assertiveness training (it's chic these days) and I'll refuse to answer any questions at all. I'll read a statement - until they stop me - and then prepare for the wrath of a coldblooded judicial system that will not tolerate defiance of its silly, Mickey Mouse rules.

This is what I will try to say to the King County Superior Court on January 13th:

I would like to explain to the court the problem I have in answering Mr. Wampold's questions.

Six years ago, in this courthouse, Judge Goodloe and I had a fascinating discussion about the importance of freedom of belief and the Bill of Rights. He had just ruled that I could not be punished and discriminated against by City Light because of my beliefs. This upset many people in the city establishment, who have harassed me ever since.

And it made Richard Snedigar envious and spiteful. Why should I have the right to my meager $85,000 net back pay award, when the Freedom Socialist Party still had the $22,500 donation he and others made to our eviction fund?

Three months after my victory in 1983, he demanded the gift back, and then he sued me, my attorneys and six political leaders. He attempted to blackmail us into paying him off by demanding that, in the discovery process, we disclose confidential FSP membership lists, minutes and contributor lists.

I refused; people trust me to safeguard their jobs, their anonymity perhaps, their personal privacy. I cannot betray them. It's a matter of conscience.

A default judgment was entered as punishment for our refusal to turn over the minutes. Yet no court has rendered a judgment after a fair trial on the merits of the case. Even so, I'm hauled up here like a criminal to divulge my finances. But why should I voluntarily contribute to my own impoverishment, or become a stoolpigeon like Snedigar, or sell out the organizations and people I've dedicated my life to?

My financial affairs are interrelated with others, you see, and to disclose them would violate my First Amendment rights to associational privacy, because disclosure would subject me and my colleagues to further political and legal harassment. Free speech and free association are the very rights that are at issue in our appeal. Yet you force me into these proceedings before our appeal has been decided and our rights vindicated, and I believe this amounts to punitive retaliation against me for having asserted my rights in the first place. It's double jeopardy!

I never had a trial, I've not been proved guilty of anything, and I cannot give credence and legitimacy to this punishment by participating in it.

I take this position not out of disrespect to the court, but as a matter of fairness and principle. I believe that the state law or practice which allows a person to be convicted on a procedural technicality instead of the substance of a case is wrong and illegal.

I believe I have the right to question and challenge the system itself when it is screwed up, and I refuse to become a hatchet man against myself.

Snedigar, Wampold and Pailthorpe know full well what my answer will be. This proceeding is unnecessary, unwarranted, unfair, and deliberately provocative, and I cannot dignify it by being an accessory to it.

I decline to testify on the grounds of the First Amendment, and I ask you to respect my convictions.

Sixty-two years ago, in 1926, the great socialist leader James P. Cannon wrote an article titled "The Cause That Passes Through a Prison." Wrote Cannon,

The path to freedom leads through a prison. The door swings in and out and through that door passes a steady procession of "those fools too stubborn-willed to bend," who will not turn aside from the path because prisons obstruct it here and there.

The door may swing in for Fred and Val and me, but I promise you: they'll know we were there. And they'll know what cause made us pass through.