Restore the Fourth: Grassroots civil liberties activism is back and better than ever!

Restore the Fourth rally on the Federal Building, NY


It’s the Fourth of July, and we’re fighting for our civil liberties.

me, in 2008, to the Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right mailing list

Five years later, grassroots civil liberties activism on social networks is back and better then ever.  Back in 2008, we were organizing online, trying to stop the disastrous FISA Amendment Act, and Barack Obama had just responded to our open letter.  We lost that battle, but the fight goes on … and today it went to the next level at Restore the Fourth‘s rallies across the country:

New York

How cool is that?

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PATRIOT Act Update: After a successful call-in day, the focus shifts to Congress

Thousands of patriots fought their way through jammed White House phone lines on April 5 to call on President Obama to keep his campaign promises by vetoing any PATRIOT Act extension unless it includes substantial new protections. The timing was perfect, just a day after he launched his re-election campaign. Now, the focus shifts to the House and the Senate.

EFF logo“All day long, we received reports of phone lines being flooded with calls, so that people couldn’t even get through,” says EFF’s activism director Rainey Reitman, “In the coming weeks, we’ll look to harness this energy into future actions in the fight against overbroad government surveillance.”

The two-week Congressional recess from April 18-May 1 is a great opportunity for “in-district” meetings with Representatives. Several clauses of the PATRIOT Act will sunset unless Congress extends them by May 27. Most Democrats support reform, and more and more Republicans are coming out against overbroad legislation, so it’s a great opportunity — but on the other hand, there’s also the risk of a permanent extension. So now’s the time for action.

Executive Director Shahid Buttar of Bill of Rights Defense Committee explains, “With the Obama White House pushing a Bush administration policy, the next step is for Congress to check & balance documented executive abuses under the PATRIOT Act — and for We the People to press our congressional representatives to do their jobs.”

BORDC has some great suggestions about how to set up and prepare for a meeting — including “you don’t have to go it alone”, “outline your interests”, and “follow up”. They’ve also got a couple of optional preparation phone calls scheduled for next week. sign up on their web site if you’d like to be notified. ACLU’s Congressional testimony hearing has some great talking points, and so do Downsize DC, EFF, and BORDC.

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PATRIOT Act reform: phone the White House on April 5

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On April 5, 1792, President George Washington vetoed a bill — the first time in U.S. history that the presidential veto was exercised. On the anniversary of this day, we’re calling on Barack Obama to exercise his presidential powers to veto any PATRIOT Act renewal bill that does not include powerful reforms to safeguard civil liberties.

EFF’s action alert

As a candidate, Obama repeatedly promised to reform the PATRIOT Act. He also promised Get FISA Right, in his response to our open letter, that he’d ask for “recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.” With the battle in Congress over key clauses of the PATRIOT Act heating up again, now’s a great time to ask him to live up to his campaign promises.

The legislative situation is very fluid. Several clauses of the PATRIOT Act will sunset unless Congress extends them by May 27. It’s a great chance to introduce reforms; on the other hand, there’s also the risk of a permanent extension. More and more Republicans are coming out in against the extensions; grassroots Tea Partiers and Libertarians as well as Rand and Ron Paul are strong on civil liberties, and other Republican Congressmen like Jason Chaffetz have voiced their concerns about overbroad legislation as well.

Legislation in the House is likely to drop soon. In the Senate, Leahy’s S. 193 will be the basis for a floor debate, with amendments likely to be proposed by both sides. The Obama Administration supports S.193, but many privacy and civil liberties organizations support the JUSTICE Act’s much stronger protections, including better oversight of the use of national security letters (NSLs) as repeatedly recommended by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, more effective checks on “sneak and peek” searches , and roving wiretaps, and revising the “material support” standard to require that prosecutors prove that defendants knowingly intended their support to further violent extremism.

By taking a strong stand for civil liberties, Obama could help shape the upcoming Congressional debate.
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What’s the best technology base for an activism Q&A website?

two question marksAn activism group I know is thinking about setting up a Q&A (question-and-answer) site.  What technology base should they use?

Here’s the functionality wishlist:

  1. users can ask and answer questions, vote on others’ answers, and leave comments
  2. multilingual and accessible
  3. a pleasant and attractive user experience
  4. good moderation tools
  5. easy to attach tags (or categories) to questions and to browse all the questions in a category
  6. people can sign in with their existing Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, etc. IDs
  7. questions, answers, and comments are easy to tweet and look good when posted on Facebook etc.
  8. there’s a way to include Twitter, Facebook, etc. responses as answers or comments
  9. users can have profiles if they want but don’t have to spend any time setting them up
  10. the overall look-and-feel can be customized (to match the activism campaign’s overall branding)
  11. there are a few options for themes for questions, answers, profiles, and categories
  12. it’s possible to integrate discussion forum and chat software [to help people as they’re learning to use the system, and to talk about ‘lessons learned’ as we’re using it]
  13. secure
  14. privacy-friendly (meaning a robust privacy policy if it’s hosted elsewhere)

In general, open-source software with a fairly  unrestrictive license (BSD-style) is preferable; if the GPL’ed or commercial tools for the job are better, that’s fine too.

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Demand JUSTICE, not the PATRIOT Act!

It’s time to go on the offensive! Here’s the action alert Bill of Rights Defense Committee just sent out. Please help by using POPVOX to support the reintroduction of the JUSTICE Act, and getting the word out widely in email, via Facebook, and on Twitter. The House is expected to vote again early next week so now is a critical time to make some noise!

– jon


Ten years after passing the USA PATRIOT Act, Congress is again debating this enormous expansion of government power. With three provisions set to expire at the end of this month, and Tuesday’s revolt in the House against fast-track reauthorization, there has never been a better time to insist that Congress restore constitutional rights.

Take action now. Demand that your congressional representatives support meaningful reforms through the JUSTICE Act.

A law so extensive that many members of Congress admitted to having never read it, the USA PATRIOT Act has been in place for too long—and there has been too little debate on its dramatic expansion of executive power—to allow a reauthorization without debate.
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Patriot house alert breaks heads: found art from Twitter

Images from Twazzup’s Patriot Act page as the House prepares to vote again on the Patriot Act extension.  The refrigerator magnets on the top are the most common words and hashtags.

patriot house alert breaks headspatriot act live

You can weigh in on the head-breaking yourself via POPVOX, Demand Progress, ACLU, EFF, Downsize DC or the phone. Julian Sanchez’ Now what? and the ACLU’s letter describe why you should ask your Representative to oppose HR514, the sneak attempt to extend the Patriot Act without a debate.

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Patriot Act renewal: Time to make some noise. Fortunately, there’s an app for that!

Update, February 11: The House will be voting on HR 514 again soon.  Keep making noise!  Shahid Buttar’s Demand JUSTICE for the PATRIOT Act has the latest.

Key provisions of the Patriot Act will sunset unless Congress renews them by the end of February. The Obama Administration is working with its allies in Congress to extend Bush Administration policies including National Security Letters , “sneak-and-peak”, and warrantless wiretapping.  On February 8, the House unexpectedly stood up and defeated HR 514, which would reauthorize the odious clauses until December.  It’s back for another vote, though.  With there are three bills in the Senate, and Congress is on recess the last week of the month, it’s not a pretty picture.

Time to make some noise.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that!

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An open letter to President Obama on the Patriot Act (DRAFT)

Draft! Work in progress!  Feedback welcome!

The open letter will be published Monday evening, and this will be one of many posts announcing it.

Final version intended for Pam’s House Blend

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Social network activism and the future of civil liberties

Also posted on The Seminal and Pam’s House Blend

The most recent skirmish on the Patriot Act reauthorization battle ended badly for civil liberties.   Despite passionate speeches all around in the Senate Judiciary Committee public hearings and classified briefings, in the end, only Senators Feingold, Durbin, and Specter stood up for the Constitution. As Marcy Wheeler says, we got rolled.

At the same time, though, the social network activism I discussed in Can Skittles fix the Patriot Act? and on the Get FISA Right blog highlights the opportunity to broaden and recharge the civil liberties community.

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Care2, OFA and other social network sites:

  • provide a way to engage with Millennials and other diverse groups of people who care a lot about the Patriot Act — but are not currently involved with civil liberties activism.
  • make it easy for people to let their politicians know their feelings — and recruit their friends in the process.
  • allow civil liberties organizations to get beyond the media blackout and provide accurate information to everybody.
  • complement in-person local campaigns like People’s Campaign for the Constitution’s local ordinances and good ol’ fashioned letters-to-the-editor

It’s a powerful narrative.  Social network sites epitomize the wave of the future, Obama’s strength in 2008, and youth.  They’re overwhelmingly in favor of civil liberties.  And civil liberties supporters are getting organized there.  As we continue to make progress, every political consultant and politician thinking about a primary or general election challenge in 2010 or 2012 will be paying attention.

Social network activism for civil liberties has made great progress so far.  Some simple steps from organizations and bloggers can take things to the next level.  Before getting to the suggestions, though, I’d like to discuss the diversity aspects in a little more detail.
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Social network activism and the Patriot Act (DRAFT)

DRAFT Work in progress! Feedback welcome!

Final version intended for The Seminal and Pam’s House Blend

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Feingold preparing to act on FISA (a Get FISA Right scoop)!

In a comment on What does it mean to “get FISA right”?, Ben Masel wrote:

I caught up with Senator Feingold last Sunday, at his Birthday Party/Re-election fundraiser.

He’s going to give the Administration “a few more weeks” to come up with a bill to roll back the FISA amendments, introduce his own bill if they don’t.

One more reason why Get FISA Right ♡ Senator Feingold!

— me, on the Get FISA Right blog

First of all, I haven’t seen this reported elsewhere, so it may well be a scoop for Get FISA Right.  Digg it!Please retweet!**  And please help Get FISA Right get the word out about this news on Facebook!

What do we think should be in the legislation?  Good question!  See Jim Burrows’ What does it mean to “get FISA right”? for some initial opinions — and please share your perspectives!

And from an activism perspective, now’s the time to be thinking about how we can help. There are already some initial ideas on the Get FISA Right blog … feedback and other suggestions welcome!

jon

* if you’re not familiar with digg,  we’ve got a handy intro on the Get FISA Right wiki!

** new to Twitter?  check out Deanna Zandt’s Why Twitter, anyways? and A non-fanatical beginner’s guide to Twitter and the other great resources on the #p2 (“progressives 2.0”) Twitter page.

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Get FISA Right to meet with Sen. Feingold! (maybe) Help wanted.

One of our topics Saturday’s conference call (notes here) was how to make contact with our allies in congress.  Jean from Green Bay mentioned that she and a couple of other people were going to go to one of Senator Russ Feingold’s upcoming Listening Meeting in Wisconsin.

The first opportunity is this Saturday on Valentine’s day (February 14) at a Listening Meeting in Chilton, events in Madison and potentially Milwaukee on March 1, a cable advertising opportunity in Green Bay on March 4, and more.  To keep track of it all, we’re going to use a wiki page as the planning hub for this.

Here’s the current versions of our goals for the project:

  • get a better understanding of the situation in Congress and Senator Feingold’s strategy
  • get Sen Feingold to make a video on “what it means to get FISA right”
  • introduce ourselves to Senator Feingold and get a working relationship in place
  • pilot techniques that we can use as part of a 50-state strategy
  • get blog and media attention, at least at the local and state level, and hopefully nationally as well

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