Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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August 2012:
How to promote civil liberties during the congressional recess

What you can do:


Attend a Town Hall Meeting

Step 1: Find your members of Congress, including both senators and your representative in the House

Step 2: Check the websites of your representatives for information about any public events they may have scheduled during the August recess. Often, these events are included in “News and Events” sections of their websites. Not all members of Congress schedule public events during the in-district period, but many do. If you don’t see any events posted, call up your local office and ask if there are any scheduled events.

Step 3: Determine what action(s) may be appropriate given the type of event. For a Town Hall meeting at which the representative will accept questions, prepare 2-3 questions about the NDAA, the JUSTICE Act, and/or ERPA (see talking points below) that can be asked in a public forum and will require a direct response. At a public speech without opportunities for questions, you may want to instead make some large signs to express your concerns.

Step 4: Let us know what you are planning, and invite press to your event by writing a press advisory. Since your representative has organized the event, there will likely already be press there. You want to make sure they are interested in writing about the issues you want to emphasize. By issuing a press release to local media, you can direct their attention to these issues specifically, helping to shape the press you see as a result. Capture the event on video whenever possible and distribute a link from your Youtube account to the same press outlets as soon as possible to follow-up on the event.

Step 5: Let us know how your event went by filling out a short survey We can write about your action on our blog, helping to ensure that it reaches an audience beyond your local community.


Visit your representative's office

Step 1: Find your members of Congress, including both senators and your representative in the House.

Step 2: Call the district offices nearest you and ask to schedule a meeting with your represenative. If the member is not available, ask to meet with a legislative aide who addresses civil rights issues, congressional oversight, or votes on matters referred to the Judiciary Committee. Introduce yourself as a constituent and offer your name and address.

Step 3: Don’t go alone. Invite a few (at least 2, or as many as 10) like-minded friends and neighbors in your congressional district to join you at the meeting. Meetings with congressional representatives can be important leadership-building opportunities for members of your group, or neighbors who share your concerns. They can also present outreach opportunities to engage alliedroganizations inyour community.

Step 4: Prepare. Before the meeting, review the issues and prepare yourself. Start with the talking points listed below.

Step 5: Check past votes. Research how your members of Congress voted on the 2012/2013 NDAA, so you can either thank them for their vote supporting the Smith-Amash amendment or share your disappointment that they failed to support your constitutional rights. In addition, research how they have voted on reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act, which may help suggest their attitudes towards JUSTICE or ERPA.

Step 6: Meet with your elected officials to share your recommendations. Arrive on time and dress professionally. At the meeting, always be respectful and polite—even with representatives who oppose your interests. Outline your requests:

  • Vote NO on versions of the NDAA that do not affirmatively eliminate the domestic military detention powers of the 2011 NDAA. Amendments offered by Reps. Smith (D-WA) & Amash (R-MI), as well as standalone legislation sponsored by Rep. Garamendi (D-CA) offer the most effective protections.  Several proposed alternatives, including an amendment by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) adopted by the House, actually make the NDAA’s detention provisions even worse while claiming to fix them.
  • Support the JUSTICE Act. The JUSTICE Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans' constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism. It is easily the most aggressive proposal in Congress to roll back executive power. 
  • Support the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). ERPA was first introduced in 2001, and was set to pass with bipartisan support before the attacks of 9/11 derailed the bill. ERPA would make it illegal for federal, state, or local law enforcement to profile based on race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin. In the wake of  controversial programs such as NYPD’s ineffective “Stop and Frisk” program that threatens to extend to other municipalities, Arizona’s SB 1070 provision aimed at profiling Latinos/as, and the profiling of Muslim, Arab and South Asian individuals since 9/11 , Congress is long overdue to enact ERPA and put an end to racial profiling, once and for all.

Step 7: Ask for a response. Make a specific request and proactively seek a direct response. Do not just say "we want Represenative X to support civil liberties." Instead, consider asking "Will Representative X suppor the Civil Liberties Act, HR 5936? See below for further talking points.

Step 8: After your meeting, complete this short survey to let us know how your meetings went. Getting that information will help BORDC to do crucial advocacy work to restore our most fundamental rights. Make sure your voice is counted!

Step 9: Follow up. Write a letter in response to your conversation. Ask whether the aide you met with needs further information, or has any further information to share with you.


Organize a public action

This tactic can be useful if (a) your representative does not respond to requests to meet with you or (b) your representative has a track record of voting against civil liberties and will likely not be swayed by an individual meeting. This tactic is not necessarily useful if your representative has voted to support civil liberties in the past and you are working to build a stronger relationship with him or her.

For more information on choosing and executing tactics, check out our toolkit for local civil rights campaigns, pages 11-20.

Step 1: Decide what type of action you would like to organize. Some examples include flyering, holding a rally, organizing a silent vigil, hosting a forum or teach-in, or performing a guerrilla theater action. Check out our toolkit for more ideas about creative tactics. Some factors to take into consideration when deciding on a tactic include:

  • How many people will we need to make this action successful? Is it possible to turn that many people out for this action?
  • How can we make this action creative and interesting enough for the media to want to cover it?
  • What action will deliver the strongest message to our representative? What action will deliver the strongest message to passers-by?

Step 2: Invite your friends, and their friends, and their friends. Figure out a target number of people to have at your action, and invite three or four times that amount. Create a facebook event, make personal phone calls to people you know might be interested, publicize at other local events and on bulletin boards in your community. Many local businesses are willing to put up signs in their windows as well. We can help by sending a blast email to supporters in your area if you let us know the time, date, and details of your event.

Step 3: Write a press release. Learn more about writing press releases and view an example in our Grassroots Toolkit on page 32.

Step 4: Make a specific request and proactively seek a direct response. Do not just say "we want Represenative X to support civil liberties." Instead, consider asking "Will Representative X suppor the Civil Liberties Act, HR 5936? See below for further talking points.

Step 5: After your event, let us how it went and send a follow – up email to any members of the press that were not able to attend.


Study suggested talking points to sharpen your advocacy

BORDC recommends that you ask your representatives to:

NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act)

  • Elevator Pitch: The military should not be allowed to indefinitely detain people within the US without trial.  The right to trial is among the most fundamental principles of our Constitution.
  • Don’t let them fool you: Congress' attempts to limit domestic military detention, such as Section 1021(e) of the 2012 NDAA, or the Gohmert Amendment to the 2013 NDAA approved by the House, do not meaningfully limit executive power.  Whether the executive branch has the power to detain individuals within the US, including US citizens, should not remain ambiguous (as it does under the 2012 NDAA), nor should it depend on habeas corpus, as it does under the Gohmert Amendment (which does not actually ensure freedom from arbitrary detention).
  • The solution: Meaninginful protections from potential indefinite domestic military detention without trial were proposed by Reps. Smith (D-WA) and Amash (R-MI) as an amendment to the NDAA, but they were rejected by the House in May 2012. Speararely, Re. Garamedi (D-CA) has intorduced the Civil Libterties Act (H.R. 5936) which is proceduraly independent of the NDAA reauthorization process.
  • A specific request: Would you be willing to co-sponsor amendments to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act modeled on the proposals by Representatives Smith (D-WA) and Amash (R-MI)?  Alternatively, would you be willing to co-sponsor the Civil Liberties Act, H.R. 5936?

JUSTICE (Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Countering Extremism) Act

  • Elevator Pitch: The JUSTICE Act would ensure that our government's “war on terror” also respects our Constitution.  The JUSTICE Act, was authored by the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act in 2001 (former Senator Russ Feingold, D-WI). The JUSTICE Act would fix many of the abuses, along with those of the 2008 FISA reforms that authorized the NSA's dragnet domestic syping program.
  • Bulk collection by NSA: The JUSTICE Act would also prohibit bulk collection of electronic communications by the NSA under the illegal wiretapping provisions authorized by the FISA Amendments of 2008.  However severe the threat of terrorism, it cannot possibly justify allowing our government to invade the privacy of every American's phone conversations and e-mail exchanges.
  • Material support: The JUSTICE Act would prohibit bulk collection of electronic communications by the NSA under the unconstintutional wiretapping provisions authorized by the FISA Amendments of 2008. No security threat can justify our government recording every American's phone conversations and e-mail exchanges. Such unprecedented monitring undermines not only privacy, but also democracy.
  • A specific request: Would you be willing to co-sponsor the JUSTICE Act? If not, would you be willing to vote for the bill on the floor of your chamber?

ERPA (End Racial Profiling Act)

  • Elevator Pitch: The impact of pervasive bias is apparent throughout our nation's criminal justice system, which incarcerates 1 in 4 of the world's prisoners. To restore its legitimacy, Congressmust implement a federal measure to ensure protection from ethnic and idealogical profiling by local, state, and federal law enforecement agents.
  • Background: Congress was expected to enact ERPA in 2001, until reaction to the 9/11 attacks squelched interest in addressing civil rights abuses. Since that time, profiling has emerged as an even broader problem impacting African-American communities, others targeted by anti-immigrant policies, and those targeted by the “war on terror.”
  • Public safety: Profiling undermines public safety by distracting police from investigating crimes, reducing incident reports from victims and witnesses, and reinforcing community distrust of police in general.
  • Transparency: Beneficiaries of ERPA include law enforecement agencies. The bill's central proviions aim to help reveal potential profiling, which can help support the public and community relations efforts of police departments that do not engage in profiling.
  • A specific request: would you be willing to co-sponsor ERPA?  If not, would you be willing to vote for the bill on the floor of your chamber?


Keep us in the loop

Whatever steps you take this August, please share word about your activities to help BORDC depict the scope and scale of grassroots efforts around the nation. You can complete a very helpful survey in under 5 minutes, and we'd be delighted to see videos or photos from your actions to consider publishing on the BORDC blog.

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