Joe Mosley, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, November 26, 2002
Eugene city councilors gave in to a stampede of constituents Monday night, surprising even themselves by voting unanimously at an impassioned meeting to make Eugene the 15th city in the United States and the first in Oregon to formally seek reform or repeal of the USA Patriot Act.
[USA PATRIOT Act: The legislation bears the Orwellian acronym title: "Uniting and Strengthening America Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001."]
More than 200 people packed the council chamber and dozens more spilled out of its doorways as opponents to the sweeping anti-terrorism act dominated an extended public comment session with testimony of lost liberties, ideals in peril and a heartfelt fear of unchecked government.
"My community was silenced; our voice is silent," said 20-year-old Alexander Gonzales, a Hispanic student at the University of Oregon and lifelong Eugene resident. "We're afraid. I really can't express through words the fear that goes on."
Others also told of feeling targeted by the USA PATRIOT Act - not because of their politics but due to national heritage, religious beliefs or skin color.
"I have not done anything; I am not a terrorist," said Nadia Sindi, a Muslim woman well-known in city and county circles as a land use activist. "I urge you to pass this resolution, for all of us."
And Muhammed Kahn, a doctor who is new to Eugene, said he not only loves his new city but embraces the U.S. Constitution - whose ideals he described as close to those espoused by the Quran, Islam's holy book.
"I just want to quote Benjamin Franklin, who said those who give up liberty for security deserve neither," Kahn said.
With the unexpected vote, Eugene joins 14 other cities - from Cambridge, Mass., to Berkeley, Calif. - that have adopted resolutions since last February stating opposition to the Patriot Act and urging its repeal. Elsewhere in Oregon, Benton County and the cities of Portland and Ashland have considered similar decrees but have taken no action.
Congress approved the 342-page USA PATRIOT Act last year to enable a crackdown on terrorism, but it has since been criticized by groups across the political spectrum as a threat to personal privacy and constitutional rights.
"We shouldn't stand by silently as those rights and freedoms are eroded," Councilor Bonny Bettman said, urging her colleagues to make a unified statement. "Our rights and freedoms really help distinguish us from our enemies."
Going into the meeting, at least half of the eight councilors were on record opposing a resolution - favoring instead a less-formal letter that could be signed by individual councilors, stating their personal views rather than an official city position.
But citizens on Monday told the council that's not enough.
"Writing a simple letter would be crawling, rather than standing," Dawn Balzano Peebles said. "I've heard the fear in people's voices. I've heard the shaking in their spirits. Ordinary citizens are now fearful of their own government."
One by one, those councilors opposed to a resolution joined the fold.
Gary Rayor, who drafted an alternate resolution and then a letter expressing general concerns with the USA PATRIOT Act, conceded that "there are some things wrong with (the act), and I think this resolution goes to ferreting them out."
Nancy Nathanson went back and forth, weighing impacts the federal act could have upon her constituents against her "primary duty to take care of municipal affairs," before lining up with the majority.
Scott Meisner's vote was perhaps the most surprising, after he announced he would oppose the resolution as a hollow symbol.
"This does not change the law," Meisner said before the vote, but after it was apparent a majority would support the measure. "Psychologically, I hope it reduces some people's fears. But I don't have a great deal of faith this will mean anything. I hope we don't stop with getting the city of Eugene to make a symbolic statement. I want effective action, not symbolic action."
The resolution was adapted from wording provided by the USA PATRIOT Act's primary local opponent, the Lane County Bill of Rights Defense Committee, part of a national organization opposed to the law.
It affirms the city's support of and commitment to the Oregon and U.S. constitutions; asks federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to report to the City Council and its human rights committee any actions taken under the Patriot Act; resolves that "to the greatest extent legally possible," no city resources will be used to carry out provisions of the federal act; and urges Oregon's congressional delegation to "actively work for the revocations of any unconstitutional sections" of the act.
"We are ordinary citizens who came together because we care deeply about the rights we used to have," said Hope Marston, the citizen group's coordinator, as she gave city officials petitions containing nearly 2,000 signatures of Eugene residents opposed to the act.
"These voters are asking you to protect them," she said.
Resolutions have varied among the cities that passed them, but most express a general concern about an erosion of fundamental rights and ask local police to report any federal request for enforcement under provisions of the Patriot Act.
Civil liberty concerns have arisen not only about the act but also several executive orders intended to streamline investigative pro-cedures.
The Patriot Act allows police to arrest and detain indefinitely any American suspected of terrorism, for instance, as well as detention of immigrants without disclosure of their names. It also allows "sneak and peek" searches of suspects' homes without subsequent notification of the searches, collection of personal information such as Web surfing habits and the forcing of librarians, booksellers and video shop proprietors to turn over patron records to federal investigators when asked.
Executive orders enacted independently by President Bush or Attorney General John Ashcroft in the past year include a new guideline allowing FBI agents to conduct surveillance of domestic political and religious groups, and a rule permitting the government to arrest and sequester people considered terrorist suspects.
Resolved Against The USA PATRIOT Act
Eugene is the 15th local government in the United States to pass a resolution opposing the USA PATRIOT Act.
2. Denver, Colorado
3. Amherst, Massachusetts
4. Leverett, Massachusetts
5. North Hampton, Massachusetts
6. Cambridge, Massachusetts
7. Carrboro, North Carolina.
8. Boulder, Colorado
9. Madison, Wisconsin
10. Berkeley, California
11. Alachua County, Florida
12. Takoma Park, Maryland
13. Santa Fe, New Mexico
14. Santa Cruz, California
15. Eugene, Oregon