Forum call for defense of civil liberties

BOSTON – As the Democratic National Convention opened, over 450 delegates, activists and political and public officials held a July 26 forum here on civil liberties and the impact of the USA Patriot Act.

The forum featured Dennis Kucinich, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, among others, and included people who had attended the Boston Social Forum the weekend prior. It was held at the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul of the Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese.

Zogby noted that despite legislation like the Patriot Act, there is hope in the United States that – contrary to what happened during the Second World War when the U.S. government put thousands of Japanese into internment camps with little protest – popular resistance to such measures will prevail. After Sept. 11, Zogby said, over 30 groups united to fight discrimination against Arabs and Muslims, and over 300 cities have passed resolutions against the Patriot Act.

Talking about what needs to be done today, Zogby said the most important task is to defeat George W. Bush: “Some people say the worse the better, others say always move to make things a little better. That’s my choice. This election is not about Nader and Bush. It is about Kerry and Bush. We can’t take four more years.”

Jackson also called on people to unite to defeat Bush. Saying, “We’re in the same boat now,” he noted that in Florida the votes of Jews and African Americans were stolen.

Dennis Kucinich told the participants how the Patriot Act was “brought to the floor [of the House] in the dark of the night.” He said most members didn’t know what they were voting for.

Kucinich received a standing ovation when he declared, “There shall be no limitations to freedom of speech,” and blasted the “random searches on public transit” in Boston during the Democratic convention and the “concentration-camp-style area” that was set aside for demonstrations.

The Metropolitan Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), run by the state, searched the handbags, backpacks and briefcases of riders. Anyone who refused to allow a search was told to leave. Anyone who refused to leave was subject to immediate arrest and charged with trespassing.

The National Lawyers Guild and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed suit in federal court seeking to stop the MBTA from searching passengers, saying that it is an intrusion of privacy and violates constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches. After an emergency hearing, U.S. District Judge George O’Toole let the MBTA’s search policy stand.

A previous suit sought to permit demonstrators to protest outside the penned-up “designated demonstration zone.” Federal Judge Douglas Woodcock called it “a grim, mean, and oppressive space” and “an offense to the spirit of the First Amendment,” but permitted it anyway.

Marty Martínez, a gay Latino, called on the participants in the forum to support “each other’s struggles” and remembered how the referendum to get rid of bilingual education in Massachusetts passed because it didn’t have enough support from other segments of the community. A poll conducted by the Boston-based Gaston Institute found that 94 percent of Latino voters favored bilingual education. Nevertheless, it failed to get majority support. Martínez also called upon the Spanish-speaking communities to support gay issues.

The author can be reached at j.a.cruz @ comcast.net. Joelle Fishman contributed to this story.