- Co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Legal Defense & Education Fund
- Attorney for the International Action Center
- Anti-war activist
Born on August 28, 1964 in Washington, D.C., Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is an attorney who in 1994, while she was affiliated with the International Action Center (IAC) — a front group for the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party (WWP) — co-founded an IAC sub-unit called the Partnership for Civil Justice Legal Defense & Education Fund (PCJ-LDEF).
In the early 2000s, Verheyden-Hilliard served on the legal team — composed of PCJ-LDEF and National Lawyers Guild members — that sued Philadelphia officials for having sometimes “use[d] city regulations to dissuade members of controversial [left-wing] political groups and causes from holding public demonstrations.” Known as International Action Center v. City of Philadelphia, et al, the lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of organizers who had been denied a permit to hold a two-day vigil in support of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal at Philadelphia’s City Hall. On the eve of the trial, which was scheduled for July 7, 2003, the City of Philadelphia agreed to provide the relief demanded by the plaintiffs. “This victory for people’s rights came about because attorneys and activists initiated a struggle in the courts and in the streets against the illegal abrogation of free speech rights,” said Verheyden-Hilliard. “… For too long, activists seeking to exercise their fundamental First Amendment rights in Philadelphia have been obstructed and denied those rights. The City has used unfettered discretion to grant use of the people’s parks and streets to favored permittees like the Republican National Convention, and either denied permits to those who challenge government policies or tried to broker inadequate and unequal access to public space.”
A strong supporter of the anti-Iraq War movement in 2002-03, Verheyden-Hilliard was a guest speaker at numerous peace rallies around the country, and she counseled against a military response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the time, she was a steering committee member of the pro-socialist, antiwar group International ANSWER.
On June 18, 2002, Verheyden-Hilliard was among the International ANSWER representatives and supporters who held a news conference to announce the formation of a National Campaign to Defend Civil Rights, which planned to hold demonstrations at the headquarters of the FBI and Justice Department eleven days later. Other speakers at the news conference included Brian Becker as well as representatives of the Muslim Students Association of U.S. & Canada, the Mexico Solidarity Network, the Nicaragua Network, and Black Voices For Peace.
While the U.S. geared up for war against Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq, Verheyden-Hilliard was part of a five-person “fact-finding peace delegation” that traveled to Iraq in late August 2002 to meet with Iraqi government officials as well as family members of people who had been killed in the August 26 U.S. bombing of Basra. Other notable delegates included IAC founder Ramsey Clark, IAC co-director Brian Becker, People’s Video Network co-director Johnnie Stevens, and Committee In Solidarity With The Iraqi People coordinator Kadouri al-Kaysi,
On January 19, 2003, Verheyden-Hilliard spoke at a massive International ANSWER anti-war rally in Washington. Other speakers included WWP leader Larry Holmes and the IAC’s Brian Becker; Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange; Elias Rashmawi of the Free Palestine Alliance; New York City Councilman Charles Barron; the widow of the late peace activist Philip Berrigan; and representatives of United American Indians Of New England, Military Families Speak Out, AFSCME, New York City Labor Against The War, the AFL-CIO, U.S. Labor Against War, Doctors & Nurses Against The War, IFCO/Pastors For Peace, United For Peace & Justice, Black Voices For Peace, Not In Our Name, Queers For Peace & Justice (New York), and the December 12th Movement.
As of 2009, Verheyden-Hilliard was a member of the National Lawyers Guild‘s National Executive Committee.
In December 2008 in Los Angeles, Verheyden-Hilliard spoke at the Party for Socialism and Liberation‘s National Conference on Socialism. Other speakers included Sarah Sloan as well as representatives of the Free Palestine Alliance, the Alliance For Just & Lasting Peace In The Philippines, the Japanese Communist League, the Center For The Study Of Investment & Commerce, the Movement For Peace & Social Justice In El Salvador, the FMLN, the newspaper Liberation, the National Council Of Arab Americans, the National Lawyers Guild, the Communist Party Of Cuba, the Communist Party Of The Peoples of Spain, and the People’s Socialist Party Of Mexico.
In July 2013, Verheyden-Hilliard joined Larry Holmes and Ramsey Clark in a three-person delegation that traveled to North Korea to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of active fighting in the Korean War.
In a December 2012 appearance on Democracy Now!, Verheyden-Hilliard talked at length about newly revealed documents — obtained by PCJ-LDEF through a Freedom Of Information Act request — allegedly showing that the FBI had monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement from its earliest days in 2011. “The documents that we have been able to obtain,” she said, “show the FBI communicating with the New York Stock Exchange in August of 2011 about the upcoming Occupy demonstrations, about plans for the protests. It shows them meeting with or communicating with private businesses. And throughout the materials, there is repeated evidence of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, American intelligence agencies really working as a private intelligence arm for corporations, for Wall Street, for the banks, for the very entities that people were rising up to protest against…. [E]ven in these heavily redacted documents, you can see the FBI using at least private entities as a proxy force for what appears to be infiltration…. [T]hey often reference anarchists in these materials and other materials … even where they know there are not acts of violence.”
In February 2018, Verheyden-Hilliard and PCJ-LDEF filed a lawsuit against DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Attorney General Karl Racine, alleging that federal prosecutors and the DC Metropolitan Police Department had colluded with “far-right groups” in recent court cases against anti-Donald Trump protesters. “The police here are really serving the political goals of these far-right organizations,” said Verheyden-Hilliard. “We are seeing a pattern of this taking place around the country … at an institutional level.”
Further Reading: “Philadelphia’s Unconstitutional Permitting Scheme Taken Down” (Mumia2000.org, 7-8-2003); “Mara Verheyden-Hilliard” (Keywiki.org); “The FBI vs. Occupy: Secret Docs Reveal “Counterterrorism” Monitoring of OWS from Its Earliest Days” (DemocracyNow.org, 12-27-2012); “Lawsuit Accuses DC Police of Collusion with Far Right” (AlJazeera.com, 2-19-2018); “Partnership for Civil Justice Fund v. The District of Columbia” (2018).