Proud to Be Un-Patriot-Ic
"They don't know what they're talking about," a security guard was overheard saying outside the Federal Building Thursday afternoon. "They" were lawyers, clergy, veterans, and activists who staged a press conference seeking an Austin City Council resolution or ordinance against the USA PATRIOT Act, passed in 2001 by Congress in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The guard made his comment just minutes after Austin Bill of Rights Defense Committee coordinator Mac McKaskle had read the Bill of Rights -- proving that one doesn't necessarily have take to heart basic principles of freedom, or constitutional rights, in order to work for the federal government. Indeed, while the conference took place, workers were noisily erecting a metal security gate to restrict public access to the supposedly public Federal Building at Ninth and San Jacinto Boulevard.
Thursday's conference was a local response to a nationwide effort to repeal the PATRIOT Act, which gives intelligence agencies new powers to engage in domestic spying activities such as spying on citizens, wiretapping phones, and following people's library records. Represented groups included the Texas Civil Rights Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, Veterans for Peace, and the City Council-appointed Human Rights Commission (which has endorsed the resolution), among others. Holding signs that read, "Hey, I was using those rights," "Has anyone seen the Constitution lately?," and the like, ABORDC members and speakers urged the council to consider passing an anti-PATRIOT resolution at its July 17 meeting. Such legislation, supporters say, could send a message to local elected officials wish to reclaim liberties lost to the likes of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who currently is pursuing passage of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 ("PATRIOT II"). The new regulations would broaden powers awarded by its predecessor, and legalize secret arrests, deportation of people perceived to be dangerous to national security, and revocation of citizenship for anyone found to have given resources to organizations deemed by the government as "terrorists."
Anti-PATRIOT resolutions have been passed in approximately 100 U.S. cities, and by the state of Hawaii. In Texas, similar campaigns are under way in Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fredericksburg, Houston, and San Marcos. In Austin, an anti-PATRIOT act may be more than just symbolic. In addition to millions spent on beefing up public safety, money has gone toward "domestic spying" by Austin police, said ACLU attorney Ann del Llano. Austin Police Dept. officers have already admitted to taking photographs of anti-war protesters, said del Llano. "The police are there to fight crime."