Madison, Wisconsin. The USA Patriot act was signed into law on October, 26 2001 in the wake of 9/11. Rushed through congressional passage with almost no debate, this assault on freedom was approved overwhelmingly in the House (356-66), with only one dissent in the Senate (98-1)–Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin).
Communities are fighting back. In the early hours of October 16, 2002 the Madison Common Council overwhelmingly passed on a voice vote (17-2 with one alder abstaining) a resolution to defend the Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties.
Madison joins several some 50 municipalities across the nation that have either passed or are considering similar resolutions to defend citizens against the encroachments on liberty by the federal government. (see the Bill of Rights Defense Committee)
Drafted by the Madison Area Peace Coalition www.madpeace.org/) and local high school members of Students for an Informed Response (www.informedstudents.org), the resolution instructs City departments, including the police, not to engage in profiling, random interviews, and reviews of of library, book and video sales as the so-called War on Terrorism continues into its first year, and calls for civil liberties for all citizens.
“Madison has a proud tradition of upholding free speech and free association. We must continue to protect these civil liberties. The Bush/Ashcroft team has certainly created an atmosphere where civil rights are eroded and where people cannot speak freely and associate freely according to their political conscience,” said alderman Mike Verveer. “We want to prevent this encroachment here in Madison by instructing various City departments to not adhere to the USA Patriot Act to the extent possible.”
A broad coalition of community member banded together to support passage on the resolution, especially young people. As reported in the Madison Independent Media Center by John Quinlan (http://madison.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=7755&group=webcast), high school students provided energy and political eloquence in drafting the resolution, getting the issue before the Council and helping to see the resolution through a last-minute revision negotiated with the Mayor’s office which also supported the resolution.
Representing Students for an Informed Response, Madison West High School sophomore Sol Kelley-Jones spoke at the Council meeting, saying: “We believe that our cherished civil liberties are under attack through the implementation of the USA Patriot Act. Passing this resolution will put our city on record as standing firm in the defense of the U.S. Constitution.
“As young people gathered here tonight, we understand that we need to do more than be passive observers of history, because the decisions being made right now are our future. We need to ask questions about our world, to critique what the government and the media tell us, to become a part of the political debate, whether at school or in our community….Since the tragic events of September 11th, our treasured freedom has come under attack–not from terrorists, but from our own leaders in the Congress and the White House. Laws like the USA Patriot Act were passed in the name of freedom, but what they really do is take away our freedom to fully participate in our nation’s democracy.
“…Our government wants to scare youth away from our constitutional right to protest. The Patriot Act means government surveillance of our school, library and Internet activities without our even being told. Even reading certain books or researching certain topics, both constitutionally protected activities, are now grounds for criminal investigation. For many of you in this room who were active in the civil rights movement of the ’60s, you’ve been down a similar road before, and for my generation it’s a road we don’t want to go down again. Further, the Patriot Act is causing an escalation of racial injustice and creates a climate of ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’ Groups who have already faced systematic oppression in our country are being furthered exiled today. This kind of injustice is against everything Madison stands for.
“As we gather tonight, across the generations, we understand the importance of our activism to protect our rights, because if democracy is weakened, it won’t be because of terrorists…. It will be because we stood by and let it happen. Now more than ever, our voices of courage can make a difference. In passing The Defend the Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties Resolution tonight you will be reaffirming our city’s commitment to the founding principles of this great nation. And together we can bring the heart and soul back to democracy.”
Andy Janssen, a long-time Madison political activist, said, “Since September 11th I have been angered by the outright contradictions in the Bush administration. While they claim to be fighting for freedom, our civil liberties are being abridged in the name of U.S. security. I am proud of the Madison City Council in taking a stand against the so called Patriot Act and fighting to restore the very freedoms Bush and Company want to take away. I am especially proud of our young people for leading on this.”
The resolution reads in part:
“…IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED that the City of Madison remains firmly committed to the protection of civil rights and civil liberties for all people. The City of Madison will completely avoid discrimination in every function of city government, and vigorously uphold the constitutionally protected rights of all persons to peacefully protest and express their political views without any form of governmental interference.
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Madison joins communities across the nation in expressing concern that the USA Patriot Act threatens civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the United States Constitution.
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED, and is the policy of the City of Madison, to forbid in the absence of probable cause of criminal activity:
1.any initiation of, participation in, assistance or cooperation with any inquiry, investigation, surveillance or detention; and 2.the recording, filing and sharing of any intelligence information concerning any person or organization, even if authorized by federal law enforcement, acting under new powers granted by the USA Patriot Act or Executive Orders. This includes collection and review of library lending and research records, as well as book and video store sales and/or rental records; and 3.the retention of intelligence information. Information that is currently held shall be thoroughly and carefully reviewed by the City Attorney or other appropriate City official to be designated by the Mayor, for its legality and appropriateness, using the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions. Any information that was collected is permanently disposed of if there is no probable cause of criminal activity; and 4.enforcement of immigration matters, which are entirely the responsibility of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. No city service will be denied on the basis of citizenship; and 5.profiling based on race, ethnicity, citizenship, religion, or political values.
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that any state or federal law enforcement agencies working within the City of Madison comply with the policies and procedures of the Madison Police Department, and regularly report to the Mayor the extent and manner in which they have acted under the USA Patriot Act or new Executive Orders. This includes the names of any detainees held in the Madison area, or any Madison residents detained elsewhere. The Mayor will then publicly report to the Common Council.
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that the City Clerk communicate this resolution to all city departments, the Governor and Attorney General of the State of Wisconsin, the President and Attorney General of the United States of America and to call upon our congressional representatives to actively work to repeal the USA Patriot Act.”
For a draft of the resolution see the Madison Common Council website after October 16.
MICHAEL LEON is a writer living in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org