“I was moved by your testimony, not only by the words but by the breadth of community groups represented here tonight,” said Mayor Heather Fargo as she called for the vote at 11:30 p.m. “This is clearly an issue that affects our country. People here tonight have shown that they are not just concerned about the civil rights of themselves, but the rights of others.”
During much of the meeting, a long line of over 100 people, virtually all supporters of the resolution, stood outside in the cold, waiting for seats to vacate as other people left the room. The crowd inside and outside the Council Chambers was a diverse array of Sacramentans from different ethnic groups, religious beliefs and political views.
Although 60 members of the community had signed up to speak, the Mayor asked City Council members if they wanted to take a vote after 30 representatives of organizations, including the ACLU and Physicians for Social Responsibility, had already spoken.
“I don’t need another 30 people to tell me what they think about this issue,” said Councilman Jimmy Yee. “I’m ready to support it. I don’t know how much more it takes.”
The crowd, filled with supporters of the Sacramento Coalition to Stop the Patriot Act, applauded Yee. After it was clear to Fargo and other members of the council that the remaining speakers were willing to forego their chance to address the council, the Mayor called for the vote.
Only Councilman Robbie Waters voted against the resolution. In spite of a compelling 15-minute presentation by Coalition members Keith Wagner, Jason Rabinowitz, Stella Levy and Rashad Baadqir on how the Patriot Act specifically attacked our civil rights and liberties, Waters concluded that there was “no evidence of any violation of civil rights under the Patriot Act.”
Waters affirmed support for the Patriot Act and for Larry Brown, the First Assistant U.S. Attorney, who spoke to the council against adopting the resolution, “I hope our children and grandchildren never experience another 9-11,” said Waters, who said the act was needed to thwart terrorism. “It’s a declaration of war just like the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 was.”
The resolution was introduced by Councilwoman Lauren Hammond and supported by Councilman Dave Jones. It was approved by the Law and Legislation Committee of the City Council on October 21, picking up Councilman Steve Cohn and Bonnie Pannell as supporters.
However, the vast outpouring of public support for the resolution prior to and during the meeting apparently moved the other members of the City Council - Sandy Sheedy, Ray Treathway, Jimmy Yee and Mayor Heather Fargo - to vote for the resolution.
Both Hammond and Jones said that opposing the anti-Constitutional provisions of the Patriot Act was the patriotic thing to do in a city that is considered one of the most integrated and diverse in the country.
“It’s unfortunate that some people believe that supporting this resolution is unpatriotic," said Hammond. “However, this resolution declares that our civil rights and liberties should not be abridged."
She added, “We’ve been down this road before with Joe McCarthy during the anti-communist scare and during World War II, when our government put Italian, German and Japanese Americans in detention camps. We’ve already done this and it doesn’t make us more secure.”
Dave Jones, who formerly worked for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Sacramento, said “it’s absolutely critical to use the available resources to fight terrorism, but we need to preserve our civil rights and liberties. We need to strike a balance between the two - and the Patriot Act doesn’t.”
Sacramento will now join 209 other communities and three states in opposition to the Patriot Act. This growing movement has been supported by groups on the political left as well as groups on the political right, such as Gun Owners of America and the American Conservative Union.
Stella Levy, coalition member and attorney, summed up the real agenda of the Patriot Act - and why it has united such a wide variety of organizations in opposition to it. “The Patriot Act criminalizes dissent in the exercise of our Constitutional rights,” she said.
The adoption of this resolution will send a strong message to Washington that Sacramento residents will not tolerate spying on peace activist organizations; investigations and other actions against “dissident” citizens; and the secret arrest and detention of “disfavored classes” of immigrants.
“The USA Patriot Act goes against the very foundation of living in a free and open society,” said Rashad Baadqir, Executive Director for The Council of American-Islamic Relations. “Every citizen and community should stand up against the provisions of The Patriot Act.”
After the Council voted overwhelming in support of the resolution, many local peace, social justice, immigrant rights and labor activists were elated.
“You know what this means,” quipped Ellen Schwartz, co-chair of the Sacramento Coalition to Stop the Patriot Act. “ We don't all have to move to Vermont, where it is sooooooo cold in the winter. We can stay here in beautiful Sacramento, where freedom rings!”
The USA PATRIOT Act was passed by Congress and signed into law on October 26, 2001, three days after it was introduced. The House and Senate each had but one day to consider this massive bill, which in many ways restructures law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels. The initials stand for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”
Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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