January 21, 2004

Resistance to Patriot Act Gaining Ground

You are not alone.

Boston Globe: The burgeoning nationwide movement has
prompted three state governments, and 236 communities
in 37 states, to pass resolutions against the Patriot
Act. If the backlash continues to grow, opponents of
the Patriot Act believe, their momentum will force
Congress and the White House to address some of the
law's unpopular elements.

Save the U.S. Constitution, Show Up for Democracy:
Defeat Bush (again!)


Published on Tuesday, January 20, 2004 by the Boston
Resistance to Patriot Act Gaining Ground
Foes organizing in communities

by Thanassis Cambanis

More than two centuries ago, the patriots of Brewster
shut down the Colonial courts on Cape Cod in one of
the first acts of resistance against the tyrannical
rule of King George III.

Also See:
Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Now, deliberately evoking its Revolutionary history,
Brewster Town Meeting has formally condemned the
antiterrorist USA Patriot Act, united against the laws
of a different leader named George.

While the act is largely symbolic -- federal law
enforcement agencies, not local governments, enforce
the Patriot Act's new search, seizure, and detention
provisions -- the grass-roots opposition has forged an
unlikely alliance of people angry at Washington's
domestic handling of the war on terror. In Brewster,
anger at the Patriot Act has drawn together
libertarians, an antitax group, and a Unitarian
congregation, as well as a more traditional coalition
of civil libertarians and antiwar activists.

A similar story has already played out in 16
Massachusetts communities, and 16 more, including
Salem, Waltham, Watertown, Gloucester, Beverly, and
Bedford are preparing measures against the Patriot Act
this spring.

Opponents of the antiterrorism measure say the nascent
bipartisan groundswell in communities across the
nation signals a growing dissatisfaction with the
expansion of federal powers -- and will reshape the
national debate if it continues to accelerate with
support from disparate groups, from gun owners to
librarians to fiscal conservatives.

The burgeoning nationwide movement has prompted three
state governments, and 236 communities in 37 states,
to pass resolutions against the Patriot Act. If the
backlash continues to grow, opponents of the Patriot
Act believe, their momentum will force Congress and
the White House to address some of the law's unpopular

"If anyone takes time to read the Patriot Act, there's
no question that our First Amendment rights are being
eroded," said James Geisler, treasurer of the Brewster
Taxpayers Association, a 52-year-old group whose
mission is to curtail government spending.

His family has been Republican "for a hundred years,"
Geisler said. But it was loyalty to the Constitution,
not party politics, that drove the Taxpayers
Association's board of directors to support the
ultimately popular Brewster resolution.

Across the Commonwealth, Republicans, gun lobbyists,
and libertarians have taken up the call against the
Patriot Act. So have a cadre of previously apolitical
people such as Jake Beal, 25, a self-described
computer nerd who is now leading the drive for a
resolution against the Patriot Act in Somerville.

"It's the first political issue I've taken an active
stand in," said Beal, an MIT graduate student who
characterizes himself as a conservative Democrat.

He was spurred to action after hearing the sheriff in
his hometown of Portland, Maine, describe the federal
government's new powers at a forum one year ago. The
sheriff said immigration officials took a detainee
suspected of terrorist activity to an undisclosed
location and never told the detainee's family -- or
local law enforcement officials -- where the suspect
was taken or what charges he faced.

The Somerville group has collected 1,200 petition
signatures and said the City Council is likely to
consider the measure next month.

"These local efforts will build up the pressure
nationally," Beal said. "Wouldn't you like to live in
a community where you know that nobody is going to get
`disappeared' by the federal government?"

Local resolutions aren't the only vehicle of
grass-roots fervor.

Dozens of Commonwealth libraries have purged lending
records -- or stopped keeping them -- to protect
patrons from federal agents newly empowered to monitor
their reading habits.

"What people read is their own business, and as
professional librarians we don't feel it's appropriate
to share that information," said Ann Montgomery Smith,
librarian at the University of Massachusetts at
Dartmouth and president of the Massachusetts
Conference of Chief Librarians of Public Higher
Educational Institutions.

At her university library, Smith changed the computer
system so that lending records are erased as soon as a
book is returned.

The US Department of Justice says that such alarm over
the Patriot Act is unfounded. Attorney General John
Ashcroft, in Boston in September on a nationwide
speaking tour to rally support for the legislation,
said critics misrepresent the law.

Federal law enforcement officials in Massachusetts
have said that they rarely, if ever, use the most
controversial provisions of the act -- such as the
measure allowing federal agents to secretly subpoena
library records, or "sneak-and-peek" warrants that
allow investigators to conduct a secret search.

Those assertions have done little to allay the
increasing anxiety over the Patriot Act, which in New
England has drawn in equal measures on strains of
Yankee independence, social libertarianism, and
liberal progressivism.

In New Hampshire last week, the Legislature began
debating a bill to nullify the Patriot Act, sponsored
by four Republican representatives who see the
legislation as part of a larger trend of federal law
overwhelming the independence of states.

The Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union is quietly
paving the way for a statewide resolution, said Nancy
Murray, who follows the issue for the union. Murray
said that as more and more municipalities pass
resolutions, state lawmakers will be compelled to
follow suit. Alice Weiss, 62, began the petition drive
that led to Brewster's resolution. She found that
people she considered politically conservative quickly
made it a common cause once they read the Patriot Act.
It was after a session in the library studying the
text of the bill with Weiss that the conservative
Taxpayers Union secretary decided to back the
anti-Patriot Act campaign.

"This is not a liberal town," Weiss said. "I was
amazed at the support we got."

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company


Posted by richard at January 21, 2004 06:39 PM