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In arguably the most important area of government -- the preservation of individual liberty in our democracy -- Main Street America has played, and will always play, the preeminent role in gaining and safeguarding American freedoms. American society has a unique ability to achieve social, economic and political progress through spontaneous grassroots movements that begin in neighborhoods, towns and cities and grow into national movements, which, more often than not, actually produce meaningful change in government.
“I have come to the Consider movements that brought about the abolition of slavery, voting rights for women, labor rights, and more
conclusion that politics are recently, civil rights for African Americans in the 1950s and
too serious a matter to be 1960s. Indeed, even our birth as a nation began with a whisper
left to the politicians." of discontent as colonists threw tea into the Boston Harbor as --Charles de Gaulle an act of protest, and grew into a thunderous declaration of our fundamental rights and freedoms. The result? The creation of a nation with ideals of freedom, liberty and respect for the individual as the fundamental core of its foundation.
Today, a new chapter in this history of political mobilization is being written in the latest example of Americans fulfilling their civic entitlements in a free society and of our tradition of rejecting intrusive and offensive government policies, communities are banding together to repudiate congressional and Administration efforts to undermine and in some cases eliminate certain liberties as the price of securing safety after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
All across the country, Americans are challenging the notion that the very liberties that make our nation unique should be sacrificed for the sake of new measures that are of questionable effectiveness in assuring our safety. These communities are standing up to say that while concerned about safety in these difficult times, they believe strongly that our nation can be both safe and free. Their message is one that resonates particularly strongly on Independence Day, a day when the nation pauses to reflect on its founding charter and the men who wrote it more than 200 years ago
To date, more than 130 American communities - of all shapes, sizes, and ideological persuasions – have adopted pro-civil liberties resolutions and laws rejecting federal policies that threaten our basic constitutional rights. Dozens more are considering such initiatives. By all accounts, this grassroots reaction to excessive government policies is only beginning.
What is invoking the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike in these communities? Overbroad federal policies such as the USA PATRIOT Act, new FBI domestic spying guidelines, misguided anti-immigration laws, indefinite imprisonment of American citizens in a manner that strips them of fundamental due process rights, and the failed Operation TIPS program -- which would have recruited neighbor to spy on neighbor -- are but only a few.
Although the Justice Department is actively seeking to downplay the resolutions by inaccurately characterizing them as the product of “liberal college towns," these resolution campaigns are cropping up in such places as the Republican-controlled state Legislature of Alaska to the conservative American heartland in places like Oklahoma City to liberal Democratic communities like Santa Cruz, CA and Cambridge, MA.
The Justice Department's summary dismissal of the resolution movement is particularly interesting given how closely it mirrors what federal government officials said about the political movements of the past that challenged their authority. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, for example, often characterized the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a troublemaker and an agitator whose movement, while annoying, did not merit much serious consideration? Yet, when the civil rights movement really started gaining steam, the government sought to discredit defame and then
The Justice Department's attempt to discredit the resolution campaign are in sync with the words of Attorney General Ashcroft, who in the days after the 9/11 attacks, characterized those who speak up to protect their freedoms and criticize government policies as un-American and unpatriotic. Testifying before Congress, Ashcroft said: “Those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this, your tactics only aid terrorists.
A year and a half later, faced with the fact that communities in more than half the states have passed resolutions that directly challenge anti-liberty government policies, the federal government is beginning to turn from ignoring this movement to seeking to discredit and combat it. Indeed, the Justice Department has deployed U.S. Attorneys and FBI agents in various localities to counter the resolution drives. These measures have ranged from trying to mislead the media in Maine to making false statements about the provisions in the PATRIOT Act in a hearing before the Alaska Legislature.
The civil liberties resolutions movement is a vindication of the intense concerns the ACLU raised about the welfare of our freedoms in the post-9/11 era. In the hopes of detailing just how this popular revolt developed and where it stands today, the following special report documents the resolution movement, its growing momentum and the scope of its impact. While the details are new, the story is as old as our nation -- a story of individuals working at the community level to protect civil liberties.
This report is the latest in a series of special reports issued by the ACLU on govemment actions since 9/11 that threaten our fundamental rights and freedoms without making us safer. These special reports include: The Dangers of Domestic Spying By Federal law Enforcement (January 2002), Insatiable Appetite (April 2002), Civil Liberties After 911 (September 2002), Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains (January 2003), Freedom Under Fire: Dissent in Post-9 11 America
"Morning Edition" NPR. “Many Americans criticizing USA Patriot Act as Allomey General John Ashcros asks for expanded powers.** 06/09/2003 ? Mary Zepernick, "About a most dangerous man." Cape Cod Times, 01/14/2000. Available at: http://www.peace ca/dangerousman him
Testimony of The Honorable John Ashcroft Attorney General. United States Department of Justice, Before the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on "DOJ Oversight: Preserving our Freedoms While Desending Against Terrorism," December 6, 2001. Available at: http://www.senate.govi-judiciary/testimony.cfm?id=121&wa_id=42
(May 2003). Taken together, all of these reports document policies that underlie this local discontent with the state of liberty today.
I urge members of communities interested in passing their own resolutions to contact the nearest ACLU affiliate, or to visit our Web site (www.aclu.org/resolutions), for sample resolutions and strategies for getting them passed. Every resolution sends a message to the President, Justice Department and Congress that we can be both safe and free.
The growing resistance to intrusive government policies is a reminder that Americans remain committed to liberty and democracy. What was true in 1776 remains true today; Americans will not tolerate infringements on our core freedoms.
Laura W Murphy, Director
How IT ALL STARTED...
A week after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Attorney General Ashcroft submitted to Congress a package of legislative proposals ostensibly designed to combat terrorism in the United States. Formulated by the Department of Justice in part from proposals previously rejected by Congress, the package came with an ominous warning: pass these quickly because we need these new powers immediately to prevent other attacks.
To win quick passage for the bill, which was to become known as the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 or the USA PATRIOT Act -- Attorney General Ashcroft and the Bush Administration told Congress that if it didn't rush the bill through immediately any further loss of life would be on lawmakers' hands. The Attorney General demanded that his bill be passed in less than a week, a speed unheard of in the deliberative world of congressional legislating."
When lawmakers demurred, hoping to draft and pass more reasonable legislation than the wishlist bill the White House was trying to force into law, Ashcroft upped the pressure, using public speeches, phone calls, personal meetings and intensive lobbying on Capitol Hill. According to congressional aides, the Attomey General encouraged an atmosphere of hysteria, insisting that without this bill, new catastrophic attacks were a virtual certainty."
In the end the Administration prevailed, and Congress passed the 342-page bill on October 26, 2001 with little debate and a precious few dissenting votes (66 in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate). Most Members of Congress did not even have a chance to read the bill, the final version of which was only made available to lawmakers in the House mere hours before they had to vote on it.
As it was signed into law by the President, the USA PATRIOT Act includes a hodgepodge of expanded surveillance and law enforcement powers, many of which had actually been collecting dust at the Justice Department after having been rejected previously by Congress because of privacy or civil liberties concerns.
Under the PATRIOT Act, the judiciary's role in serving as a check on certain executive branch powers was minimized, curtailing judicial oversight over wiretapping and other investigative techniques. The PATRIOT Act facilitated government secrecy while dramatically rolling back Americans' privacy rights. The Attorney General was given broad new powers to detain noncitizens and other provisions expanded the definition of domestic terrorism," so that it could potentially encompass domestic groups such as Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, PETA and World Trade Organization protesters. It imposes severe new criminal penalties for certain types of unlawful protest
Groups on the political right and left were quick to point out those provisions of the PATRIOT Act violated basic constitutional freedoms of speech, free assembly and due process. Initially, those voices went unheeded. Yet, as national concern over these implications began to grow in intensity, the latest chapter in American political protest began to write itself.
Controversial provisions in the PATRIOT Act include one that expanded the power of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which meets in secret, does not ordinarily publish its decisions and only allows the government to appear before it. With passage of the bill, Congress also granted its approval for “sneak and peek” warrants, which allow federal agents to enter private homes without notifying the owner until much later. Congress also weakened the standards for intelligence wiretaps, permitting them to be used for criminal investigations so long as a “significant purpose" of the surveillance is foreign intelligence. Given the vagueness of the term “significant,” the potential for abuse is obvious.
IK HETOR Under the highly controversial Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the FBI was also granted access to highly personal “business records” – including financial, medical, mental health, library and student records -- with no meaningful judicial oversight. In other words, federal officials actually can obtain a court order for records of the books you borrow from libraries or buy from bookstores, without showing probable cause of criminal activity or intent – and the librarian or bookseller cannot even tell you that the government is investigating what you read. The only standard for obtaining these records is that the FBI must deem them "relevant to an ongoing investigation,” after which a judge must issue the court order to seize them. And, under new information sharing provisions, the agency can provide these and other records - without adequate safeguards to prevent their harmful dissemination - to other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the State Department and the CIA.