Odd bedfellows fall in line
NORTHAMPTON, MASS., AND WASHINGTON
Residents of Kenai, Alaska, usually worry more about the number of king salmon in the river than what the nearest FBI agents are up to 80 miles away in Anchorage.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Yet this summer, the Kenai City Council in this small fishing town voted to limit cooperation between their 15-member police force and federal agents who may be seeking information about individual citizens.
The source of their concern: the USA Patriot Act, which expanded government antiterrorism tools and has become a punching bag for anger about law- enforcement powers post-9/11.
A grass-roots movement has pushed through similar resolutions in 200 communities in 34 states in the two years since Congress passed the act. The cause has been embraced in some surprising corners of the country by an unlikely left-right alliance of peace and pro-gun activists alike.
"In a broad sense, the concerns of the right and left are similar," says Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington. "They fear whoever is holding power will abuse their political opponents."
For 1960s-era activists, the Patriot Act's provisions expanding government surveillance and detention powers bring back memories of times when the FBI spied on civil rights leaders and infiltrated antiwar groups. Younger activists feel impelled to protest even as they have done against foreign causes such as apartheid in South Africa or Burma's military dictatorship.
So it's perhaps not surprising that the first resolutions were passed in the spring of 2002 by peace movement veterans in liberal college towns such as Ann Arbor, Mich., or Northampton, Mass.
"It's a threat to the democratic process," says Nancy Talanian, a Northampton activist who founded the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to help other activists get resolutions passed. "These changes are not necessarily protecting us from terrorism."
But this year, the Patriot Act has started attracting more attention from people on the right. Gun owners and antiabortion demonstrators, for example, have expressed fears they may be targeted by a future Democratic administration as domestic terrorists.
"We don't want a nameless, faceless bureaucracy exercising this kind of authority," Rep. Butch Otter (R) of Idaho told the Monitor.
In some parts of the country, left-leaning activists reached out to sympathetic local conservatives after failing to muster support on their own. That was the case in Boise, Idaho, where Green Party activist Gwen Sanchirico formed a coalition called the Boise Patriots along with National Rifle Association members, antiabortion activists, and environmentalists.
"We agreed that we would leave our political baggage at the door, and we would only come together to defend the Bill of Rights and our Constitution," Ms. Sanchirico says. Boise passed their resolution on Sept. 30.
Elsewhere, conservatives acted without any prodding, as in Oklahoma City, where a group of Christian home-schoolers and their parents testified on behalf of a resolution later rejected by the city council.
In Kenai, the resolution movement benefited from strong support from elected officials such as Rep. Don Young (R), who called the Patriot Act "one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed." The Alaska Legislature also passed a statewide resolution, one of only three states, including Vermont and Hawaii, to do so.
Kenai Mayor John Williams says the independent spirit of Alaskans, as well as a significant number of hunters and gun-rights activists in town, helped catapult the movement. "Alaskan people by and large are very independent. They want their land, they want to be able to hunt," he says.