On October 26, 2001, George W. Bush signed the PATRIOT Act into law. The law ripped the Fourth Amendment to shreds by expanding government surveillance powers, impaled the First Amendment by expanding the definition of terrorism, and annihilated accountability by hiding enhanced government powers behind a cloak of secrecy.
But there is a silver lining: the PATRIOT Act led to the creation of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
A few weeks after the law passed, the idea for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee was born at a Women’s Congress for Peace gathering in Northampton, Massachusetts. Within a month, participants from the gathering formed a community-based “Bill of Rights Defense Committee” that, in turn, held a community forum and petition drive. Their work culminated with passage of a city council resolution establishing Northampton as a “civil liberties safe zone.”
The idea caught fire, and under the leadership of our first Executive Director, Nancy Talanian, over 400 towns, cities, and even a few states passed similar resolutions over the next few years. Since then, BORDC has grown into a nationwide movement using the successful organizing model developed in Northampton.
Since those early days, the work of BORDC has necessarily expanded beyond calling for repeal of the PATRIOT Act, as the NSA, FBI, CIA, DEA, DHS, and DOJ have perverted other laws, and even the English language, to vastly expand their authorities beyond anything the founding fathers could have imagined.
The first BORDC resolution was unanimously passed by the Northampton City Council on May 2, 2002. It required that:
“Local law enforcement continue to preserve residents’ freedom of speech, religion, assembly and privacy; rights to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures even if requested or authorized to infringe upon these rights by federal law enforcement acting under new powers granted by the USA Patriot Act or orders of the Executive Branch.”
Furthermore, “Federal and state law enforcement officials acting within the City” are asked to “work in accordance with the policies of the Northampton Police Department . . . by not engaging in or permitting detentions without charges or [using] racial profiling in law enforcement.”
Also, “the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Massachusetts State police [are to] report to the Northampton Human Rights Commission regularly and publicly the extent to and manner in which they have acted under the USA Patriot Act, new Executive Orders, or COINTELPRO-type regulations.” This includes “disclosing the names of the detainees held in western Massachusetts or any Northampton residents detained elsewhere.”
In addition, “Our United States Congressmen and Senators [are requested] to monitor the implementation of the [USA Patriot] Act and [Executive] Orders cited herein and actively work for the repeal of the parts of that Act and those Orders that violate fundamental rights and liberties as stated in the Constitutions of the Commonwealth and the United States.”
The Village Voice (and many other outlets) covered the expansion of BORDC during those early years:
Resistance Rising, 11/26/2002
The New American Freedom Fighters, 12/3/2002
100th Civil Liberties Safe Zone!, 6/3/2003
J.Edgar Hoover, Back at the ‘New’ FBI, 12/9/2003
The Diminishing of John Ashcroft, 2/10/2004
Cloud Over the Constitution, 10/07/2004
Joining the War Over the Constitution, 10/22/2008