- October 22 - At the Silver Spring (MD) Hilton last weekend, more than 200 representatives from Bill of Rights Defense Committees from 27 states gathered to strategize about how to advance the work they have begun organizing 199 community and state resolutions and ordinances defying the Patriot Act and other post 9/11 federal orders abridging the Bill of Rights. The conference, Grassroots America Defends the Bill of Rights, enabled many organizers to meet for the first time face-to-face.
This was a watershed moment for a movement gaining ground at an ever-accelerating pace, with an average of one resolution passing each day. The resolutions are strong expressions affirming the importance of the Bill of Rights and strongly rejecting its weakening. Members of Congress have introduced more than a dozen pieces of legislation aimed at disarming the Patriot Act, and Grover Norquist from Americans for Tax Reform told conference-goers, "Youre responsible for the shift in Congress; theyve been influenced by your resolutions."
On Sunday, Norquist and David Keene, from the American Conservative Union, joined in a "strange bedfellows" forum with Jim Dempsey from the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Ralph Neas from People For the American Way. They praised conference attendees for their work in passing resolutions and shining a light on government abuses of the Bill of Rights via the Patriot Act, and key Executive and Department of Justice Orders. After Neas gave a long explanation for how these laws have altered the checks and balances of American government, Norquist gave his reply in one word, "Ditto," at which point actor/activist Alec Baldwin, who was moderating the panel, quipped, "Can't you feel the love?"
But the grassroots campaigners were the true stars at the conference. Among them was Arcata, CA, City Councilor Dave Meserve, who was instrumental in the passage of an ordinance against the Patriot Act that bans city officials from cooperating with the Act under penalty of a $57 fine. Meserve told conferees, with reference to the federal assaults on privacy rights and due process, "Our message is simple Not in our town, you dont!"
Hope Marston, an organizer from Eugene, described how the Oregon Bill of Rights Defense Committee recently swept the state Senate into passing a resolution, despite reluctance from many of their allies who said they couldnt do it. "The grassroots cannot be stopped," she said, relating the work that brought many Republicans to vote with Democrats 23-2 for the measure.
Jennifer Rudinger from Alaska inspired the audience with her practical insights into the effort that enabled Alaska to become the second state in the nation to pass a resolution upholding the Bill of Rights against current threats to civil liberties. Resolutions have also been passed by the states of Hawaii and Vermont.Bill Perkins, a city councilor from New York City, told attendees that New York City may be the next community to pass a resolution. Perkins said, "We believe that New York is catalytic in terms of making this movement move forward because we know that we were symbolically the target of the terrorist attacks...We're gonna have a great holiday season in New York City as we join the rest of you on behalf of our democracy."
The Grassroots America Defends the Bill of Rights was the first national conference of community groups from across the nation, as well the national organizations contributing to the movement. On October 18th and 19th, in Silver Spring, groups from Alaska to Maine joined together to expand a movement that grows stronger with each resolution passed.
The steering committee that planned the conference represented many of the 45 endorsing organizations and donors who made the conference possible. A list of steering committee members and conference endorsers can be found at the conference website, http://www.grassroots-america.org.