This Monday, the City Council of Takoma Park, MD approved a resolution condemning indefinite detention and urging Congress to partially repeal the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The resolution by Takoma Park -- which borders Washington, DC -- was the latest silver lining at the grassroots level in the wake of last week's vote in the House of Representatives to reject a bipartisan effort that would have banned indefinite detention. Also raising its voice in favor of fundamental liberty principles was Hawaii, which last week became the first blue state to formally oppose domestic military detention.
BORDC has worked closely with the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) since its inception in 2010. Since then, the MCCRC has conducted vigorous public education campaigns on numerous fronts. Before persuading the Takoma Park Council to approve the resolution against domestic military detention, previous campaigns included working to stop random bag searches on the regional transit system, challenge discrimination against Muslims, and successfully stopping a proposed youth curfew.
Two grassroots organizers active with the MCCRC, Jim Kuhn and Martine Zee, offered their thoughts on the NDAA and strategies for grassroots activism.
JK: One of my biggest concerns relates to what I see as an increasingly militarized response to Americans exercising First Amendment rights. Since 2001, there have been numerous occasions of nonviolent peace and environmental activists being charged with terrorism. The NDAA adds a new threat to our constitutional rights of free speech and free association by presenting the very real possibility of indefinite detention without charge or trial.
MZ: Many people are getting wise to the entire "fear-mongering" program that is the War On Terror, and that it is a front for U.S./NATO/corporate aggression. With Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, the Justice Department successfully equated advocacy, and even mere speech, with "material support of terrorism." As a result, our prisons now house people whose only crime was performing charitable work with organizations that our government doesn't presently "like" (i.e. now deems FTOs [foreign terrorist organization]).
If you're following the Mujahedin-e Khalq story you know how pliable is the FTO definition. (Cooperating with the U.S. War on Terror? Not an FTO. Resistant to U.S. foreign policy? Then you're an FTO) With these NDAA indefinite detention provisions, Congress and the Obama administration are taking it a step further by pushing the judiciary, and judicial review, out of the picture completely.
Whenever they want to silence critics in the future, they can just accuse them of supporting terrorism or al-Qaeda's "associated forces." They've done this before: WikiLeaks is an organization whose only "crime" has been to challenge illegal government secrecy, and it's been called a terrorist organization by some in Congress.
It's the '"You're either with us or against us" mentality continuing forward. But now it's more than just talk. They're making laws that will allow our government to condemn dissenters without giving the judiciary the opportunity to review the charges. Thankfully, Judge Forrest correctly ruled that detention without trial is unconstitutional (duh!) and placed an injunction on this section of the NDAA. Since her ruling might not survive appeal, we have to act now to ensure that those sections are repealed.
JK: Local resolutions help make it abundantly clear to lawmakers in Washington that we are paying close attention, and won't be quiet when they undermine fundamental civil rights. But more than that, this is an important opportunity to make it clear that people of good will from across the political spectrum -- Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Tea Partiers, and Occupiers -- can unite to effect positive change!
MZ: We're amplifying the message that our liberties continue to be eroded, and showing how We the People can raise our voices to defend our rights. We're sending smoke signals to other concerned Americans in other cities and towns, while reminding our public officials that we remember their oaths of office, even if they don't.
JK: Education played a key role, I think. We can't assume that city officials will know all the nuances and details of dangerous threats to civil liberties. These are extremely busy people, and I respect and value the many essential day-to-day services provided by our local public employees. So we all took multiple opportunities to engage in conversation, in public comment periods, and in outreach to city council members. I think that helped.
MZ: We also hosted a local forum on the NDAA that two of our councilmembers attended. They had a chance to ask questions, and hear feedback both from issue experts and their constituents.
JK: This vote was on a resolution, rather than an ordinance. The two clauses that were omitted were taken out so that the city attorney could conduct additional research on their implications. Takoma Park has a strong history of enacting ordinances that protect the rights and liberties of residents against abuses of power and authority by federal officials, and it is my view that these NDAA provisions are in harmony with existing ordinances already on the books. So I look forward to working with other members of the MCCRC to ensure that this research is conducted, and that positive action is taken afterwards.
JK: Nope. But stay tuned, because we're not done yet!
JK: Part of being American is understanding that nobody should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law. Our system of justice and governance demands nothing less. This used to be considered a strength of our system in America. Seeing this understanding turned on its head reflects the depth of our current crisis.MZ: Without rights we are serfs, not democratic citizens. And they can't be arbitrarily granted to some and withheld from others. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, our military-industrial-congressional complex has used terrorism as the new boogie-man to replace communism as justification to continue massive military spending, to grow the security/surveillance state and as an excuse to invade, occupy, and arm dictators the world over.
It's just too lucrative for too many people -- so we've got a tough fight ahead to try to cut off these funding streams, especially since Citizen's United allows war profiteers to donate unlimited anonymous cash to politicians. It's not in Congress' 'interest' to address abuses by the Pentagon, CIA, FBI and DHS, just like it's not in their 'interest' to regulate the financial sector.
Our political, economic institutions in the U.S. are systemically corrupted. Our rights, eroding as they are, are our only protections in trying to fight and unite to end this corruption.
JK: Passage of city resolutions is important, but clearly is not enough. We are working on our strategies for taking this success to the next level.
MZ: We plan to meet with our Senators, and if they need convincing about the need to clearly prohibit indefinite detention, to also bird-dog them at public events on matters of civil liberties, War on Terror, and military spending.
JK: I've been a civil libertarian my whole life, but got involved with the MCCRC only in the last year or so. I've been really impressed with the leadership and membership and am really proud and pleased to count myself as an active member.
MZ: I got interested in civil liberties when I found out that, along with other activists in the DC metro area, I had been spied on by the Maryland State Police (MSP) for my involvement with Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP). The ACLU brought a lawsuit against the MSP and a friend called me to tell me my name was listed in the newspaper story.Thanks to our state representatives, new regulations were implemented to beef up the review process that is required prior to giving squads permission to monitor political activist/advocacy citizen groups. The MSP agreed the spying was improper and should never have happened -- that citizens have the right to assemble to together and build campaigns to advocate for change.
JK: Speak up! You're not alone.
MZ: Keep spreading the word - and don't be chilled into silence!