Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
May 2008, Vol. 7, No. 4
In this issue:
- People's Campaign for the Constitution: Momentum Grows; New Flyers, Tell a Friend Email Available Online; This Independence Day, Sponsor a "Declaration for Our Times" Signature Ad; Share Your Outrage on Video
- Legislation: National Security Letters, State Secrets and Telecom Immunity
- Grassroots News: Westchester County, NY - In Memoriam: Wesley Stromberg, Hudson Valley Activist; Chapel Hill, NC - New Local Initiative for Civilian Review Board
- In Brief: Buffalo, NY - Charges against Buffalo Art Professor Dismissed; Durham, NC - Activists Grapple with Persistent Torture and Rendition Policies; WA - Internal Checkpoints Rile Washington Residents
- BORDC News: Goodbye to Hope Marston; BORDC Receives CS Fund Grant for People's Campaign for the Constitution; BORDC Now on Facebook
BORDC has a big vision for restoring civil liberties in America. We rely on grassroots support and donations to turn that vision into reality. When you give for the first time, or when you increase your donation, your gift will go twice as far, thanks to a challenge grant from the Open Society Institute that will match up to $40,000 in new or increased donations dollar for dollar.
Please help us meet the challenge. To contribute funds or stock online, click here, or mail a check or money order to:
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
How exciting to see the People’s Campaign for the Constitution (PCC) moving forward! Within the campaign's first few weeks, people in 21 states and 60 locales have pledged to use the 2008 election year and beyond to hold their members of Congress accountable for restoring our Constitution's full promise.
Help us continue the momentum by pledging today. Our organizing staff is committed to supporting you as you organize a local People's Campaign committee. We're here to provide supporting materials, advice and networking help.
New Flyers, Tell a Friend Email Available Online
One person is enough to start a local committee. To help you build your local group, we've put together a "Tell a Friend" email and two fliers: one for outreach to the general public and one especially for outreach to local organizations and activists.
For a full list of existing and planned campaign resources, click here.
This Independence Day, Sponsor a "Declaration for Our Times" Signature Ad
Would you and your friends like to sign your name to a "Declaration for Our Times", adapted from the Declaration for Independence signed on July 4, 1776? BORDC is preparing camera-ready artwork, including brilliant text written by Christopher Pyle, for full-page and half-page signature ads in two newspaper sizes - standard and tabloid. Read the Declaration text here. Poll your friends, colleagues and allies, and enlist their help in gathering signatures.
By placing this "Declaration" ad in your local newspaper on Independence Day this July 4, you will not only demonstrate to your community the broad support for civil liberties in your area, but you will also identify other community members who are ready to work for the restoration of the Constitution and its limitations on governmental power as the heart of our democratic republic. You may find new members for your committee among the signatories of your local ad and among newspaper readers who contact your group after your ad appears.
Independence Day is just two months away, so start today. As the federal government sends out the first "economic stimulus" checks this week, consider asking those who sign the "Declaration" to devote a small fraction of their checks to the cost of the ad. For tips on placing and financing a signature ad, click here.
Share Your Outrage on Video
BORDC is producing a short video on DVD that you can use to promote the People's Campaign for the Constitution in your community. The video will start with a montage of people from across the country stating what they believe is the most outrageous abuse of civil liberties or human rights since 9/11.
That's where you can come in: We invite you to videotape yourself or your friends and to upload your video on YouTube by May 27. For more information, click here.
National Security Letters, State Secrets and Telecom Immunity
National Security Letters. In late April, armed with a second internal Justice Department audit revealing more FBI abuses of National Security Letter powers, the Judiciary Committees of both the House and the Senate held hearings on the need to roll back the power in order to protect innocent Americans’ personal information from being acquired and kept in a database indefinitely. House and Senate versions of the National Security Letters Reform Act, H.R. 3189 and S. 2088, contain beneficial reforms, and both have bipartisan support. Although the bills are unlikely to reach floor votes and to become law during this Congress, your support in the form of telephone calls to your senators and representative right now will help build the momentum for reform under a new administration.
State Secrets. Also in April, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the State Secrets Protection Act, S. 2533, which would restrict the executive branch's use of the State Secrets privilege. President Bush has used the privilege to block lawsuits related to torture, rendition, and warrantless wiretapping. However, the bill is unlikely to be voted on this year, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has warned the bill’s sponsors, Senators Edward Kennedy and Arlen Specter, that the president would veto the bill if it is passed.
FISA. House Republicans continue their attempts to force a House vote in favor of telecom immunity. The latest plan is to attach the Senate-passed FISA bill, which would provide blanket immunity, to the war spending bill. House leadership, which has earned our respect by standing up to the Bush administration, has now indicated that negotiators in the House and Senate are exchanging drafts, which suggests that a compromise bill may reach the floor as soon as next week (week of May 12). Call your representative today, and insist on:
- No blanket immunity for telecommunications companies.
- No wiretapping of Americans without warrants.
We will update you with an action alert if any of these bills nears
In Memoriam: Wesley Stromberg, Hudson Valley Activist
Westchester County, NY - Wesley Stromberg, a tenacious and principled community organizer in Westchester County, NY, died peacefully of cancer in a hospice nearby one of her two daughters in Reading, MA, on April 29. Among many projects for justice and peace that she took on throughout her life, Stromberg was a leader in the effort that persuaded the Westchester County Board of Legislators to adopt a resolution for the Bill of Rights on September 14, 2004. Every week throughout the campaign, Stromberg helped lead the local committee in holding meetings with members of their county board, usually individually. With her leadership, the local group built the movement and raised awareness through a huge petition drive, public debates, and other events.
People who collaborated closely with Stromberg said that she knew
how to work with people, and she always knew how to help draw out
people's strengths. She got others more involved in local campaigns
by reaching out to people in ways that made them feel respected and
listened to and by living as an example of engaged public participation.
The tremendous dedication and effort she put forward inspired her
colleagues. She was also an astute observer and strategist who was
unfailingly kind, and as a result everyone – including government
officials – trusted her.
Services were held to commemorate her life on May 3rd at the Ethical Culture Society in White Plains, NY.
Local Initiative for Civilian Review Board
Chapel Hill, NC - At the April 28 meeting of the Chapel Hill City Council, members of the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee presented a proposal for establishing a Civilian Review Board (CRB) for the local police department in order to provide a role for the community in overseeing the police. The proposal follows many years of the group advocating for change in both federal and local policy in order to protect constitutional rights.
The purposes of the CRB are 1) to establish greater mutual understanding between citizens and police, 2) to provide residents with a process for making complaints about police treatment of citizens, and 3) to provide suggestions to the police department for improving procedures of the department.
Margaret Misch of the OCBORDC said, "What's most important is to have an independent civilian review board, not a civilian review of an investigation conducted by a police internal affairs bureau." The Council has referred the measure to staff for review and will take it up again later this year.
Charges against Buffalo Art Professor Dismissed
Buffalo, NY - On April 21, a federal judge dismissed the government's indictment against Steve Kurtz for mail fraud and wire fraud. Judge Richard J. Arcara ruled that "the indictment is insufficient on its face" and stated that no party was defrauded.
In May 2004, Kurtz, an art professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and a cofounder of the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), had been preparing an art installation critical of genetically modified food for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. One morning, Kurtz awakened to find that his wife, Hope, had died, so he phoned 9-1-1. The paramedics who responded were apparently alarmed by the presence of laboratory equipment and petri dishes in the Kurtz's apartment, so they alerted the FBI.
The following day, when Kurtz was on his way to the funeral home, he was detained for 22 hours by the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, questioned, and told that he was suspected of "bioterrorism." Law enforcement entered his home and seized the exhibition, Kurtz's car, and several other items, and they seized his wife's body from the coroner. Eventually, lab tests confirmed what Kurtz had been saying: that the substances were harmless bacteria and posed no risk to public health. Unwilling to admit that no laws were broken, however, the Department of Justice charged Professor Kurtz with mail fraud and wire fraud related to his purchase of the harmless bacteria.
Over the last four years, BORDC has periodically reported to newsletter readers on Kurtz's case, including the CAE Defense Fund’s efforts to raise funds for Kurtz's defense and on Strange Culture, Lynn Hershman Leeson's award-winning documentary about the case. Find more information at the CAE Defense Fund website.
Activists Grapple with Persistent Torture and Rendition Policies
Durham, NC - On May 3, North Carolina Stop Torture Now and the Duke Human Rights Center co-sponsored a major event at Duke University highlighting the US’s violations of international law through its practices of torture and so-called “extraordinary rendition.” Moazzam Begg, who has authored a book about his experience surviving torture and detention without charge at Guantánamo Bay and Bagram Air Force Base, joined the conference by video link. Other experts included human rights attorney Tina Monshipour Foster and Retired FBI Agent Brad Garrett. Read local news coverage of the event here. For more info, click here.
Internal Checkpoints Rile Washington Residents
WA - Since late February of this year, the US Border Patrol has been demanding that people prove their citizenship at checkpoints on certain ferry routes that connect islands within Washington State. Matt Adams, Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, has been conducting legal seminars on the rights of ferry goers, and informs people that the law protects their rights. He suggests that all people who are questioned or asked for their papers at these checkpoints "politely refuse to answer questions, and then if they still don't let you go, to say 'Am I under arrest? If I'm not under arrest, I'd like to continue on my way.'"
NPR recently ran a story on the current situation.
Goodbye to Hope Marston
We at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee are sorry to say goodbye to Hope Marston, who has been BORDC's West Region Organizer since January 2005. For more than three years, Hope has maintained contact with community committees and other constituencies in the western US, supported their work, developed resources, planned and co-hosted several nationwide grassroots teleconferences and workshops, and researched and written for our website and for many action alerts and newsletters. We will miss her extensive knowledge of legislative history, her patient persistence, her kindness and her profound dedication to the grassroots and civil liberties.
Prior to joining the BORDC staff, Hope was a volunteer organizer for the Lane County Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Eugene, Oregon, where her group worked for passage of Resolution 4743, unanimously approved on November 25, 2002. It was the 16th resolution nationwide. The following year, Hope helped the Lane County BORDC successfully shepherd through a county resolution prohibiting any county funds from being used to support secret detentions or to comply with the USA PATRIOT Act. She also organized and facilitated several statewide workshops and meetings, and was a catalyst for grassroots civil liberties education and action in the Pacific Northwest, and she served on the Grassroots America Committee that organized a national conference held in Silver Spring, Maryland, in October 2003.
We know many of our subscribers join us in wishing Hope the best of luck in her future work. As we consider how we will be restructuring our work with the arrival of a new organizer, we invite our West Region supporters to email our East Region Organizer, Ben Grosscup [east (at) bordc.org], about ongoing grassroots work and the People's Campaign for the Constitution.
BORDC Receives CS Fund Grant for People's Campaign for the Constitution
BORDC is pleased to announce that CS Fund has approved a $25,000 grant specifically for the People's Campaign for the Constitution. The grant will partly fund staffing for the campaign and the Human Rights Abuse Database, preparation and printing of booklets and other materials to support local grassroots education and organizing, and other resources for the campaign. We are grateful to the CS Fund's Board of Directors for this project-related grant, and for the fund's generous support of BORDC's work since 2004.
BORDC is on Facebook!
Thanks to Genesis Mullins, our Smith College Intern this year, BORDC
now has a page on Facebook.com,
where you will find a discussion board as well as links to our current
news, legislation and subscription pages. If you are a Facebook member,
you can now spread the word for BORDC and increase our visibility
by asking your Facebook friends to join our group!
Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writer: Ben Grosscup, East Region Organizer
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
Email: [info (at) bordc.org]