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Outbreak of Local Democracy Continues
Published on Wednesday, February 4, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Outbreak of Local Democracy Continues
by Betsy Barnum
 

During his State of the Union speech to Congress, President George Bush noted that some provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act were scheduled to expire next year.

Applause broke out.

Bush then urged Congress to make those provisions permanent right away. The applause following this statement was only a little louder.

This break from the usual etiquette at State of the Union addresses, where Senators and Rerpresentatives applaud the President's positive statements and announced initiatives, not his descriptions of problems, underlined the rising resistance across the country to the Patriot Act and other federal legislation such as the Homeland Security Act. Opposition in Congress reflects the growing grassroots opposition to the administration's contention that fighting terrorism requires people to give up some of the rights and protections guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

The day before the State of the Union address, St. Paul became the 235th city in the U.S. to pass a resolution opposing some objectionable provisions of the Patriot Act. The vote, 6-1, showed the same overwhelming majority with which similar resolutions have passed in most of those cities and towns, including three others in Minnesota--Minneapolis (11-2), Duluth (7-2) and Robbinsdale (5-0).

Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the country, passed a resolution on the same day as St. Paul by a vote of 9-2. In Chicago, the third largest city, a resolution passed in October by a vote of 37-7. The total population in the 243 cities and towns and three states that have passed resolutions opposing the Patriot Act is now approaching 35 million.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and his Justice Department continue to insist that fighting terrorism requires all of us to concede long-standing protections against such things as being arrested without any evidence we did something wrong (probable cause), being held in jail indefinitely and not charged with a crime, or having our homes searched or our phones tapped without a reason to suspect us of wrongdoing. They say we have to give up freedoms we have always relied on, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the personal freedom of privacy in our daily lives and decisions, including our credit, medical, education and library records, in order to help law enforcement keep us safe from terrorists.

But a growing number of people around the country do not accept this contention. People organized in local Bill of Rights Defense Committees in hundreds of cities and towns, including St. Paul, argue that laws already on the books give law enforcement agencies all the tools they need to fight terrorism. The administration's efforts to erode civil liberties in the name of this fight are not only unnecessary but threaten the very freedoms that define a free society - freedoms that are encoded in the Bill of Rights, added to the US Constitution more than 200 years ago to ensure that the government's power over individuals would be strictly limited.

In St. Paul, as in other cities with active BORDCs, people from all walks of life and all points on the political spectrum have joined the effort to maintain those limits on government power over individuals. They have worked for almost a year-- holding public forums, collecting endorsements, talking with city council members, appearing on cable television programs, as well as drafting and modifying resolution language --to convince members of the St. Paul City Council to speak officially in defense of civil liberties.

And, like the other city councils, the St. Paul City Council made its voice heard with a resolution publicly affirming its responsibility to uphold the Bill of Rights for all people in St. Paul and calling for the repeal of provisions of the Patriot Act that violate those rights.

Like those in Congress who applauded for the sunsetting of the Patriot Act, the members of the St. Paul Bill of Rights Defense Committee applaud the St. Paul City Council, the other 242 city councils that have passed resolutions, and the people all over our country who are working to ensure that the freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights continue to be extended to everyone.

Betsy Barnum (betsy@greatriv.org) is a member of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Bill of Rights Defense Committees and a fellow of the Center for Prosperity, a think tank focusing on local economics and creative, participatory solutions that help individuals and communities prosper.

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