Comment on this article |
Email this article |
Democratie is about to win
by from the village voice
29 Jun 2002
Towns resist the state police and the US Patriot act
[Note from Russ: A new American Revolution is happening right now under the
media's radar. City councils across the US are adopting resolutions to
defend their citizens and the Bill of Rights against the Patriot Act and
other wholesale attacks on liberty. So far, Denver, Ann Arbor, Berkeley,
Cambridge, Amherst, Leverett (Mass.), and Northampton (Mass.) are formally
resisting the federal police state. Other cities are preparing to follow.
The article below explains.]
The Sons and Daughters of Liberty
Village Voice, 21 June 2002
In 1756, in Boston and other cities and towns, the coming of the American
Revolution was speeded by mechanics, merchants, and artisans who organized
against British tyranny. Calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, they set
up committees of correspondence in the colonies to spread detailed news
about British attacks on their liberties. They focused on the general
search warrant, which allowed customs officers to invade and ransack their
homes and offices at will.
In the spirit of the Sons of Liberty, on February 4 of this year, some 300
citizens of Northampton, Massachusetts, held a town meeting to organize
ways to—as they put it—protect the residents of the town from the
Bush-Ashcroft USA Patriot Act. On that night, the Northampton Bill of
Rights Defense Committee began a new American Revolution. Similar
committees are organizing around the country.
Speakers at that town meeting were defying John Ashcroft, who threatened
dissenters in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last
year. He denounced those "who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of
lost liberty. . . . Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our
national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's
But speakers at the meeting emphasized that the USA Patriot Act and the the
succession of unilateral Ashcroft-Bush orders that followed apply not only
to noncitizens but also to Americans in that very hall. William Newman,
director of the ACLU of Western Massachusetts, pointed out that law
enforcement agencies are now permitted "the same access to your Internet
use and to your e-mail use that they had to your telephone records"—and may
overstep their authority. "The history of the FBI," Newman warned, "is that
they will do exactly that."
Also speaking was University of Massachusetts professor Bill Strickland,
whom I first met when he directed the Northern Student Movement during the
civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. Said Strickland, "The
elements of the Patriot Act place all of us in danger."
One result of that meeting was a petition, signed by over 1000
Northamptonites, urging the town government to approve a "resolution to
defend the Bill of Rights." Thanks to a persistent organizing drive, that
resolution passed the Northampton city council by a unanimous vote on May
2. It targets not only the USA Patriot Act but also all subsequent actions
by Ashcroft and others that "threaten key rights guaranteed to U.S.
citizens and noncitizens by the Bill of Rights and the Massachusetts
Among those key rights: "freedom of speech, assembly, and privacy; the
right to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection
from unreasonable searches and seizures."
The city of Northampton officially asks, from now on, that "federal and
state law enforcement report to the local Human Rights Commission all local
investigations undertaken under aegis of the [USA Patriot] Act and Orders;
and that the community's congressional representatives actively monitor the
implementation of the Act and Orders, and work to repeal those sections
This is a signal to the mostly passive members of Congress that actual
voters are watching them.
In April, similar resolutions to defend the Bill of Rights from the Bush
administration and from complicit members of Congress afraid to challenge
Ashcroft were passed in the nearby towns of Amherst and Leverett. And Dr.
Marty Nathan, of the ever industrious Northampton Bill of Rights Defense
Committee, informs me that "the city councils of Ann Arbor and Berkeley
passed civil liberties resolutions in January," as did the Denver city
council in March and the city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June
17. Other cities are also preparing resolutions.
You would think this grassroots movement to secure our liberties would be
of interest to the national media, but I have seen little of it on
television or in the print press.
To find out about these campaigns around the country, and about a range of
organizing tools, you can visit the Northampton Bill of Rights Defense
Committee's Web site, and its links: www.gjf.org/NBORDC.
At the town meeting in Leverett, Massachusetts, Don Ogden, who initiated
the resolution, noted—and I hope the FBI transmits this to John
Ashcroft—that "it is truly Orwellian doublespeak to call such unpatriotic
efforts a 'patriot act.' "
Like Northampton, the town of Amherst also passed its resolution
unanimously. Select Board Person Anne Awad did not at all see Ashcroft's
"phantoms of lost liberty," but rather a clear and present danger to our
"As members of the Select Board," she said, "we want to know that all
residents and visitors to our town feel safe. We do not want to support
profiling of particular types of people. If one group is viewed
suspiciously today, another group will be added to the list tomorrow."
A further indication that many Americans are ahead of their representatives
in Washington in wanting to be safe from Ashcroft is an April 24 Associated
Press report: "Despite the fear of future terrorist attacks, a majority of
Americans are unwilling to give up civil liberties in exchange for national
security, according to a Michigan State University study. Nearly 55 percent
of 1488 people surveyed nationwide said they don't want to give up
constitutional rights in the government's fight against terrorism. . . .
"The telephone survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, was
conducted from November 14 through January 15 and has a margin of error of
plus or minus 2.7 percentage points." Sixty-six percent "opposed government
monitoring of telephone and e-mail conversations."
The original Sons of Liberty were an instrumental cause of the American
Revolution, and they spread the liberating news without an Internet. Think
of how much more and swifter organizing can be done on the Web now. Let me
know, at the Voice, what other towns and cities are doing to keep the Bill
of Rights alive.
Please do not use e-mail.