In the face of the Bush administration’s relentless drive to erode civil liberties under the banner of the war on terror, a novel form of protest is spreading across the country. Eighteen cities and towns have declared themselves “civil liberties safe zones,” and at least 40 others in 24 states are considering doing the same, reports Nat Hentoff in a recent Village Voice column.
The movement was born last February, when 300 citizens in Northampton, Massachusetts formed the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Angered by the hasty and secretive passage of the USA PATRIOT Act–a sweeping anti-terrorism bill that gave federal law enforcement broad new powers to snoop on citizens–the Northampton BORDC began lobbying the city council.
In May, the council passed a unanimous resolution affirming the town’s support of the constitutional rights threatened by the Act, namely: the rights to freedom of speech, religion, assembly and privacy; the rights to counsel and due process; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. The declaration goes on to request that the local police not cooperate with federal officials in any action that infringes on these rights; that the Feds act according to local policies when in Northampton; and that local members of Congress work to repeal the USA PATRIOT Act.
The recent election results, the Homeland Security Act, and revelations of the Pentagon’s new Office of Total Information Awareness have given the effort a renewed sense of urgency. “More Americans are coming to agree with [conservative House Majority Leader] Dick Armey,” writes Hentoff, “that Ashcroft’s Justice Department ‘is the biggest threat to personal liberty in the country.'” BORDC’s are popping up everywhere from Anchorage, Alaska to Broward County, Florida.
For tips on how to find or form a group in your town, visit the BORDC website.
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
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Nat Hentoff, Village Voice (November 22, 2002)