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 (email@example.com) 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.