Before Congress votes to reauthorize or amend controversial sections of the USA PATRIOT Act set to expire this year, a coalition of grassroots groups and national organizations plans to make sure Congress members hear their constituents concerns. From July 2 through 8, they will be holding educational and civic events dubbed Patriot Days of Action in cities nationwide to encourage people to consider how the Act affects civil liberties and to join in the growing national debate.
Community-based coalitions will also be visiting their Congress members district offices to discuss proposed legislation they see as antidotes to post-9/11 federal excesses such as the SAFE Act, Freedom to Read Protection Act, the Restore FOIA Act, the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act, and other liberty-restoring bills. Information about Patriot Days of Action, including event postings, suggestions, materials, and endorsing organizations, is at http://www.bordc.org/involved/weekofaction.php.
Independence Day is a good time to expose our post-September 11 laws and policies such as the so-called PATRIOT Act to the rockets red glare and to ask ourselves what our founding fathers and mothers would think if they were alive today, said Nancy Talanian, director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), which is sponsoring Patriot Days of Action. They would be disappointed to learn, for example, how the USA PATRIOT Act diminishes the Bill of Rights they fought so hard for, by weakening our rights to free speech and assembly, our right to be left alone if we are doing nothing wrong, and to receive due process of law. They would surely notice that the balance of power has shifted in many cases, so that the judicial and legislative branches no longer have oversight over certain executive branch actions.
So far nearly 400 state, local, and county governments serving a combined population of 62 million have enacted resolutions and ordinances upholding their constituents civil liberties and criticizing laws and policies such as the USA PATRIOT Act that violate Bill of Rights protections. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas, as well as the state legislatures of Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, and Vermont have all passed resolutions. Organizations with resolutions include the American Library Association, the National League of Cities, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Electrical Workers Union, and more than 50 campus bodies.
Organizations endorsing Patriot Days of Action include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International USA, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Friends Committee on National Legislation, National Lawyers Guild, People For the American Way, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and several state and local organizations. Talanian hopes many cities will participate. This is a critical moment for everyone who thinks theyll ever need their civil liberties. We are seeing movement in Congress in both directions: A win in the House on the Bernie Sanders Freedom to Read amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State, and Science Appropriations bill, and a defeat in the Senate with the Senate Intelligence Committees support of an expansion of the Patriot Act providing administrative subpoena power for the FBI.
Talanian warns, The people must speak up now or forfeit the rights we celebrate on Independence Day.