In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist
Then they came for the Catholics
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
- Martin Neimoller
It was early October and I was standing outside the Loosemore auditorium in the downtown campus of GVSU. There was a forum on the USA Patriot Act, hosted by GVSU and the US Attorney’s office for Michigan. I was handing out an information flyer for those going in when 2 campus security guards approached by to say “you can’t do that here.” I said it was a public forum at a tax-payer supported public university. Not to be outwitted the man sworn to protect and to serve said that it was a public university, but was privately owned. Therefore, I could not provide information to the public. I wasn’t following his logic, so I said that I was going to continue handing out flyers to all who would take them.
Minutes later the head of campus security came out and said “what is going on here.” I repeated that we were engaged in public education at a public university. He smiled and said that we were welcome to come into the event. I said we were planning on it, but were going to wait to the last minute in order to distribute the flyers.
The event was packed, standing room only. The US Attorney for Michigan first presented a power-point break down of the USA Patriot Act. I detest power point as a general rule of thumb, but this was even more obnoxious. You can’t take a very complicated issue like the USA Patriot Act (a 350 page document) and summarize it with bullet points, especially when people’s civil liberties are at stake.
The US attorney was followed by two GVSU professors, both of which had problems with the current legislation, but were only allotted a few minutes to make their case. Lastly, someone from the FBI spoke. He was very polished and adept at speaking in front of crowds. He was defending the Patriot Act by using two examples where the FBI was able to apprehend suspects who were on the verge of committing acts of violence, members of the Michigan Militia and the Unabomber.
As soon as the Q & A began someone quickly pointed out that both of the examples that the FBI agent gave to justify the USA Patriot Act were both acted upon before the 2001 bill went into effect, thus suggesting adequate legislation existed before the Patriot Act that allowed law enforcement to arrest people before they committed violent acts domestically. The Federal Bureau of Intimidation agent had no response. I then jumped into the mix by stating that the agent did also not provide the audience with examples of previous abuse by the FBI and other government agencies in regards to surveillance of citizens or organizations in the last 100 years. I mentioned that the FBI wire tapped the phones of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panther Party, the Puerto Rican Independence movement and the Sanctuary movement. He agreed and then listed others ? the Japanese-Americans interned during WWII and the Palmer Raids. I was surprised that he would mention these examples and bolster my argument, but then he said something that revealed either his naivet? or his contempt for the public. He said “we did make mistakes before, but I think we got it right this time.”
Apparently the public is buying the fear mongering from US Attorney General John Ashcroft and company. As of this writing there are over 200 communities in this country who have passed resolutions against the USA Patriot Act. (Bill of Rights Defense Committee) Here in Grand Rapids there is an organized group called Citizens for a Safe & Free Grand Rapids. We have written our own resolution that we hope to get the City of Grand Rapids to adopt, adding their name to the litany of local communities who are saying that our security can never come from the theft of our civil rights!
You can download a copy of the resolution, petition and other educational materials on the USA Patriot Act at http://www.griid.org/progressivedirectory/campaign.php, or contact us at 459-4788×122 and we can mail you hard copies of the campaign materials. We are having a kick-off event on Monday, December 15, which is Bill of Rights Day. People are invited to join us at noon on December 15 at the Community Media Center, 711 Bridge St. NW, 2nd floor for a press conference.
Lastly, it is important for all of us to sign on to this for 2 very important reasons. First, while many of us may not feel like we are at risk with this new legislation others are. The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has documented hundreds of hate crimes committed against Arabs, Muslims and southeast Asians in the US since 9/11. As reflected in the comments by Martin Neimoller at the beginning of this article, let’s speak up for those who are more vulnerable to arrest under the USA Patriot Act. Secondly, we can’t let John Ashcroft and his cronies win. Here is a guy who lost an election in Missouri in 2000 to a dead guy. The odds are in our favor. Oh, by the way, you may not remember any news coverage of the GVSU forum on the USA Patriot Act in October. The reason being….the local TV news decided that an intra-squad game by the Detroit Red Wings at the Vandal Arena was more important.
Jeff Smith runs the GR Institute for Information Democracy, a local group which has just taken over the Total Information Awareness Project from John Poindexter.