Repudiate the Patriot
An unexpected grassroots movement has swept Main Street America this past year. A just-released report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) documents how some 130 communities across the country have passed resolutions rejecting government policies that go beyond fighting terrorism and into the area of suppressing basic constitutional rights. In California alone, cities like Oakland, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Watsonville and counties like Contra Costa, Sonoma and Tehama have passed such resolutions.
Unfortunately, so far, Sacramento is not on this list.
According to the new report, “Independence Day 2003: Main Street America Fights the Federal Government’s Insatiable Appetite for New Powers in the Post 9/11 Era,” all these communities began passing resolutions out of a growing awareness that basic freedoms—such as the rights to free speech and privacy—must not be surrendered in the name of national security. The ACLU’s tagline is a good one: “We can be both safe and free.”
At the heart of this democratic backlash is the USA Patriot Act (“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”) which was passed in a rush by Congress just after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, during a time when most senators and representatives couldn’t even get into their offices because of the anthrax scare.
The 342-page Patriot Act is complicated and dense; the ACLU refers to it as an unprecedented assault on basic constitutional rights. Among other things, it allows the collection of private data, on citizens and non-citizens alike, including wiretapping of phones and surveillance of library and Internet use; and tracking of medical, financial and academic records—all with radically reduced court oversight. The detention of immigrants without probable cause also is allowed under the Patriot Act. Meanwhile, a draft of a document dubbed “Patriot II” was leaked to the press in February from inside the Justice Department. This follow-up legislation, not yet introduced in Congress, is seen by many as an even worse attack on civil liberties.
In addition to the community resolutions, almost 100 national organizations—from the Gun Owners of America to the American Library Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—have gone on record opposing Patriot II. It’s cheering to see that the opposition has support not just from liberals but also from many privacy-loving conservatives, such as former Nixon speechwriter William Safire, who calls Patriot II “an abomination.”
Locally, the Davis City Council and Yolo County Board of Supervisors both have joined this Main Street movement and have passed resolutions repudiating aspects of the Patriot Act. Kudos to them. We urge the Sacramento City Council and other local governmental bodies to accept this as a challenge and begin preparations to do the same.