Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

BILL OF RIGHTS Defense Committee - Working with communities to uphold the Bill of RightsWe the People
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Take Back Essential Rights With Local Action!

BORDC conference calls on Military Commissions & Warrantless Wiretapping

October 5 & 10, 2006

Guantánamo attorneys Michael Ratner and Sabin Willett participated in BORDC conference calls following the passage of the Military Commissions Act, giving us insights on its potential effects across the nation.

Listen to streaming audio from Sabin Willett's talk.

Michael Ratner's talk was not recorded, but please click here for transcript-like notes.

Thanks to our 39 grassroots participants who offered local action suggestions on warrantless wiretapping and the Military Commissions Act. Click on a topic or scroll below to view some immediate organizing tools for reclaiming the message in your community!

Military Commissions
Warrantless Wiretapping
Basic strategies and ideas for grassroots organizing


Make it a "Bill of Rights" holiday! View some specific ideas and suggestions for Veteran's Day, and learn more below about working with existing holidays!

Left: The Benton County BORDC (Corvallis, OR) took an ironing board to use as their table with a “Constitution Day 2006” poster attached. They made signs, “Be Vigilant” and “The US Constitution,” and Jeanne Raymond put a “Dissent is Patriotic” button on her hat. They used the opportunity of a peace vigil to draw attention to NSA warrantless wiretapping, while also providing cell phones for locals to make phone calls to their Congressional representatives.


Showing the Human Cost of Habeas Corpus

Grassroots volunteers in South Carolina are contacting prominent members of the community who are legal residents – not citizens – and asking them to speak out publicly about how this new law threatens them merely because they are not citizens. There are millions foreign-born legal permanent residents living in the United States.

  • University faculty, law professors, religious figures, business owners, well-known actors, doctors, nurses, restaurateurs, or other prominent community members might be asked to sign a statement or put their names in a signature advertisement in the newspaper.
  • Some possible ideas for the statement are: “We are not your enemies,” or “Every person deserves the right to be freed if they’re innocent,” or “They could lock me up without court review.”
  • This is a way of putting a local face on the loss of habeas corpus rights. It can make people think twice about potential effects on beloved residents in your community.
  • Donations can be collected from each person who wants to sign the advertisement in support of legal residents, and the money used to buy a ¼ page, ½ page or even full page advertisement. Often groups that try this method of running a local advertisement find that they take in more money than the ad costs, which gives you a leg up for future activities.

Take a Famous Day, and Make it a Bill of Rights Day

Piggybacking on an annual day or week that’s already well known in your community can be an effective way to bring attention to Bill of Rights issues. Three examples emerged from our conference calls.

1. Freedom Week in Texas

  • The Wichita Falls BORDC teamed up with local schools and local media to take leadership on "Freedom Week," mandated by the Texas Legislature as a week (Nov 6-11) when schools must educate students about U.S. freedoms.
  • The schools provide the students, and the newspaper provides the prizes for a competition for the best public service announcement, letter to the editor, and opinion editorial.
  • Those student-written works will be published in the newspaper and aired on local television/radio.
  • The Wichita Falls BORDC will select the judges for the competition.
  • This is an idea that can be duplicated in every community – whether you have a Freedom Week or not!

2. Veteran's Day

  • Grassroots volunteers are putting out the call for all Californians to rally at the Capitol on Veteran’s Day. Groups can also gather in their own communities in a series of networked rallies to emphasize implicit threats to U.S. soldiers from the Military Commissions Act. Denying Geneva Conventions and sanctioning torture increase the risks to our soldiers should they be captured by enemy forces.
  • Ally with Veterans for Peace and Veterans Against Torture groups in your community.
  • Event Flier: http://fearchar.net/cal-mca-fliers/

3. Bush Signs the Military Commissions Act

  • President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law October 17.
  • Code Pink, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture engaged in DC-based actions.
  • Locally, the Northampton, MA group held an all-day vigil, and other groups around the country marked the infamous signing day with orange Guantánamo garb or black hoods.

4. Bush Signing the Military Commissions Act -- Day Kicks Off a Series of Guantánamo Events in Columbia, SC

  • October 17 – 19: Showing of the film The Road to Guantánamo including discussion with the actors and director at the Nickelodeon Theatre.
  • October 21: Constitutional Coffee Hour at Modjeska Simkins House.
  • October 25: Staged reading of Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom at the University of South Carolina's Drayton Theatre
  • It’s an opportunity for the public to learn more about the notorious interrogation camp and how Congress, lead by SC Senator Lindsay Graham betrayed American troops and American values by caving in to President Bush on the Military Commissions Act.

Public Forums

1. Law Professors, Law Deans and Retired Military

BORDC has compiled a list of law professors, law deans and retired military leaders who have signed letters opposing the extreme measures in the Military Commissions Act, hoping that these legal and military experts might be willing to speak at local public forums near where they live. We will make any contact information we have available to those groups in the vicinity. But if no one who has signed these letters lives in your area, here are other ways to find a speaker:

  • Is there a law school in your area? Ask professors to speak out. Ask law students who might want to conduct a debate in public.
  • Law schools often have a chapter of the American Constitution Society and members willing to speak or host a debate.
  • Ask a local lawyer from the National Lawyers Guild in your area.
  • Don’t pin the whole public forum on one speaker – ask a veteran, a history teacher, or the parent of a soldier to speak.
  • Show a video to a small group of people – BORDC’s web site has links to video resources you can load on your computer and play for a small group.

2. Your City Council Meetings

If your City Council meetings are televised weekly, you have an automatic public forum for a group to use the public comment period to educate your community about the importance of getting involved to stop Congress’s weak facilitation of war crimes by the Administration. Speak out at your City Council meeting about the need to stop Congress from legalizing warrantless wiretapping!

Basic Grassroots Strategies

1. Letters to the Editor

Several letters featured on NPR recently may provide inspiration.

  • Yoo Defends Detainee Measures as Rules of War” (Click on “Letters on Yoo Interview,” or scroll down the page for a lot of letters. Some excerpts:
    • “We cannot keep these people detained for years in prison without charging and trying them. Would John Yoo accept being incarcerated for years without knowing why?” Andi Hubbard
    • “To deny rights to any group of people, even if they are non-citizens accused of horrible crimes, is to damage the beliefs upon which the United States was founded.” David Lund, Staatsburg, N.Y.
  • Check out the BORDC Letter to the Editor workshop, with tools and tips.

2. Election Campaign Events

  • Voter Information Guide: http://www.bordc.org/involved/concerned/candidates.php
  • Attend campaign rallies and local debates. Use our suggested questions to create your own debate.
  • If your Congressional representative has a town hall meeting, attend it. Write a letter on the issues. Make a copy of the letter and give it to every person at the town hall meeting, as Durham, North Carolina activists have done.

3. Resolution Efforts

4. Call Your Neighbors

  • Activists in Rochester, NY have used their telephones to organize, sometimes calling up to 30 people in one evening. Others have been going door-to-door, meeting neighbors and talking to them about these infringements on our liberties. It’s some of the most basic work we can do – just talking one-on-one. It may sound small, but small is what grassroots is all about!
  • Strengthening alliances with local and national organizations. Check with groups that provided support for your local resolution. Make a presentation at their meetings. Use meet-ups and Move-On contacts for house parties and to make other local contacts.

5. Give Them a Phone, and They’ll Call

  • Grassroots organizers from Oregon and New Jersey hooked up on the BORDC conference call, sharing strategies for convincing community members to call their members of Congress: offer passersby the use of your cell phone at local vigils, booths at the town fair, and at rallies. If you put a phone in someone’s hand, tell them about the bills that threaten our freedoms, and give them their Congressperson’s phone number, you’ve also given them no excuse not to make that important call!

6. Taking It To The Streets And The Air

  • Carrboro and Durham volunteers have been organizing with “NC Stop Torture Now” against extraordinary renditions at the Johnston County and Kinston airports in North Carolina where the CIA front company “Aero Contractors Ltd” is based. This company has been identified in the national media as flying detainees for the CIA to countries where interrogation routinely involves torture and abuse. They have also been setting up booths at fairs and other regional events to distribute flyers, sign people up and get the word out.
  • Brattleboro, VT organizers staged two protests against the Military Commissions Act in downtown Brattleboro recently. They took it to the airwaves by making a guest appearance on the local Air America radio station’s morning talk show (WKVT – 1490).

Grassroots Resources

Relevant Articles:

Warrantless Wiretapping: Stop these Bills!

  • See BORDC’s Legislation Page for more specifics on bills.
  • Just before Congress left town, the House passed Representative Heather Wilson’s bill HR 5825 by a vote of 232 to 191. Its companion bill in the Senate is Mitch McConnell’s S 3931, originally drafted by Senator Arlen Specter.
  • The Center for Democracy and Technology has a helpful comparison of these two bills.
  • The Specter bill (S 2453) and the DeWine bill (S 2455) also loom large. So, we have plenty of work to do to create a climate in which our communities show our elected representatives that there is zero tolerance for this kind of Congressional pandering to a White House that keeps racking up criminal acts.