Last year, when Ray Luc Levasseur was invited to speak on the University of Massachusetts — Amherst campus to commemorate the anniversary of a federal sedition trial held in Springfield, the speech prompted vehement protests from police groups and state officials.
Two decades earlier, Levasseur had represented himself against federal prosecutors and won acquittal in that sedition case. Subsequent trials on different charges saw Levasseur convicted of involvement with the United Freedom Front, a radical group that waged an underground revolutionary campaign between 1975 and 1984. (The UFF bombed several targets in New England, including Boston's Suffolk County Courthouse in April 1976.) Levasseur served two decades in jail before being paroled to Maine, his home state, in 2004. Ultimately, it was parole restrictions that prevented him from speaking at UMass.
Since then, Levasseur, a self-described radical activist and former political prisoner, has been released from federal parole. He returns to the Commonwealth this month to speak at the Rosenberg Fund for Children's Anniversary Gala, in Northampton, on October 17. Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, established the Rosenberg Fund For Children in 1990 to assist the children and families of American activists and political prisoners. Levasseur said that his speech will focus on personal experiences of his that would help illuminate the Rosenberg Fund's mission, such as, "How the (Rosenberg) fund helped my kids out, and the issue of activism and raising a family. How all this comes to bear. The consequences of it, and the issues people have to deal with, and why activists do have children, despite the obstacles and hardships they sometimes face."
How did it feel to be released from parole, free for the first time since 1984? "It was a lot like getting my military discharge papers, when I finally got out of the service. It was a tremendous relief on my part. I was very pleased with it. I don't want to say happy, because with everything I've been through, particularly the 20 years in prison, with so much time in solitary, I'm not sure I can be happy anymore, but it was definitely a moment to savor," Levasseur says. Did he consider police protests possible at this week's event? "I don't anticipate (police protests), but I'm ready for it, as are the organizers of the event, but I don't think that my speaking at a private venue in the same area, and using my voice to raise money for the support of children, is the kind of venue they're going to be particularly interested in."
Levasseur's winter plans? "I've been really thinking hard about putting pen to paper, seeing if I can get a book written," he says. "I have several reasons why I want to do it, but in and of itself, I think it can be a type of political activism. I have a certain history, a certain experience, and if I can get it on paper and convey it to people, it might be a real contribution."
PHOENIX Last fall you were invited to speak at UMass — Amherst, but the scheduled speech proved so controversial that ultimately you were unable to give it. On October 17 you will return to Massachusetts to speak at a different event. What can you tell us about it?