Dissent Is Patriotic
October 24, 2002, Vol. I, No. 1
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- Introduction to the Premiere Issue
- Focus on Status of Our Rights and Liberties Post-September 11
- BORDC's Strategy to Restore Civil Liberties
- Tools and Tips: Effective Petitions
- News: Berkeley and Madison pass resolutions
- Recent Publications
Welcome to the premiere issue of Dissent Is Patriotic. In this edition and future issues, we will explore the status of civil liberties in the wake of September 11 and what communities, organizations, and individuals can do--and are doing--to restore the basic democratic rights potected by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.
More than a year after the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, people in the United States find themselves less free yet no more safe from terrorist threats than they were one year ago. On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed into law the USA PATRIOT Act (acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"). Click here for a summary of how the USA PATRIOT Act and certain Federal Executive Orders threaten civil liberties.
The goal of our newsletter is to provide information on the status of civil liberties and on the grassroots movement to help restore them. We hope it will stimulate a national dialogue as to whether the sacrifices made of our democratic rights are worthwhile. If your answer is no, we hope our newsletter encourages activism to help restore civil rights and liberties.
Focus on Status of Rights and Liberties Post-September 11
Under the USA PATRIOT Act and other legislation, at least 1,500 noncitizens were rounded up and detained indefinitely without judicial appeal. Most have now been either deported or released after hearings held in secret. Two U.S. citizens, Yasser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla, have been declared enemy combatants by the Bush Administration, stripped of their democratic rights to due process, and held incommunicado in military brigs.
Communities Make Demands
In the words of U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar, "Democracy dies behind closed doors." Accordingly, several local civil liberties resolutions ask that:
The U.S. Attorney's Office, the Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and their State Police report regularly and publicly the extent to and manner in which they have acted under the USA PATRIOT Act, new Executive Orders, or COINTELPRO-type regulations, including disclosing the names of any detainees held in the area or any community residents detained elsewhere; and
Their United States Congressman and Senators monitor the implementation of the Act and Orders and actively work for the repeal of the parts of that Act and those Orders that violate fundamental rights and liberties as stated in the United States Constitution.
Monitoring by Judiciary Committee
The Justice Department, after months of stonewalling the House Judiciary Committee's requests for answers about how the new laws have been used, this week responded to requests. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the committee's chairman, concluded that the Justice Department has not abused its new powers of intelligence gathering and surveillance. However, many of the answers provided to Sensenbrenner and the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers, were classified. For more information, see the October 18, 2002 Washington Post article Justice Made Limited Use of New Powers.
BORDC's Strategy to Restore Civil Liberties
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (formerly the Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee) formed in November 2001 to begin a community dialogue about the USA PATRIOT Act and to work with the community to decide what to do about it. Six months later, after the Northampton City Council unanimously passed a strongly worded resolution, we began spreading the news nationally and enhancing our web site to help other communities take similar action. To date, ten cities and towns have passed resolutions, and three dozen more are working on them.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee seeks to promote, strengthen, and support the voices of people and groups nationwide who are calling for amending the Act and executive orders through effective bottom-up democracy. Our action plan to amend the Act and orders involves working at the local level to:
- Educate community members and local legislators about the threats
to civil liberties, and
- Organize locally to support the passage of resolutions establishing "civil liberties safe zones."
In order to translate local action into national legislative strategy:
- Communities that have passed resolutions form statewide coalitions
composed of elected leaders and community members.
Coalition members then meet with all members of their Congressional delegation and encourage their Senators and Congresspeople to take a public stand and actively work for national legislation to restore civil liberties.
To view our Tools section, with an outline of suggested steps and links to Tools you may adapt for your city or town, click here.
Tools and Tips: Effective Petitions
A petition drive is an excellent way to show your local government that the community supports passage of a "civil liberties safe zone" resolution. Find out from your city or county council sponsor how many signatures would show sufficient community support for voting on a resolution. Place petitions in bookstores, cafes, food co-ops, and other local businesses, and bring them to local events.
Ask people on a downtown street or in front of the grocery store to sign your petition, and most people will ask you, "What is the PATRIOT Act?" The petition helps you start a conversation and to educate one person at a time. View Northampton's petition.
Berkeley and Madison Pass Resolutions
Congratulations to cities that have recently passed civil liberties resolutions. Madison, Wisconsin, became the 9th city on October 15, thanks to the hard work of the Madison Area Peace Coalition and Madison's high school organization, Students for an Informed Response. Our web site description contains links to articles on Madison's effort in CounterPunch, the Badger Herald, and the Madison Capital Times. Berkeley, California, became the tenth city on October 22, thanks to the efforts of Councilmember Kriss Worthington and his staff.
On October 6, Not In Our Name rallies of resistance were held in several cities across the U.S. Members of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee tabled and spoke at the rally in Central Park, where hundreds of people signed up to join the New York City committee. Norman Siegel, former Executive Director of the ACLU of New York, has offered to train committee members to be speakers who will go out and address community boards and other groups. To get involved in New York City's committee, send an email to NYCBORDC@yahoo.com
On October 26 (first anniversary of USA PATRIOT Act) there will
be demonstrations around the world to stop the war in Iraq before
International A.N.S.W.E.R. has organized rallies and marches in Washington, D.C., and in San Francisco. Other demonstrations will be held in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Japan, India, Korea, Italy, Germany Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, France, and Britain. BORDC will have a table at the rally. Look for our banner: DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC, and come say hello.
Nancy Chang, Senior Litigation Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, has published Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Undermine the Constitution (2002, Seven Stories Press).
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee has published "A Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act and Federal Executive Orders that Threaten Civil Liberties." Nancy Talanian's summary places certain provisions of these new laws within the context of the Bill of Rights to show how they threaten and diminish the civil liberties of U.S. citizens and noncitizens. You may download the article from the BORDC web site as an Acrobat Reader file. It is also available in booklet form. Click here for ordering information.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Codirector
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
140 Pine Street, Room 10
P.O. Box 60591
Florence, MA 01062
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