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Photograph by Michael Amsler
Finding Peace: Elaine Lucia's outrage at the Patriot Act prompted her to push for a Petaluma resolution.
Petalumans gather strength to move against the Patriot Act
By Joy Lanzendorfer
Elaine Lucia woke up one morning with an epiphany. Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the Petaluma jazz singer and marketing professional has been outraged. The Bush administration's actions in the past year shake her sense of decency and morality to its very core.
One of the things that disturbed Lucia the most was the U.S. Patriot Act, a provision that was rushed through Congress right after 9-11, and which many say limits civil liberties and expands the power of the government. Lucia felt helpless in her anger until she read about resolutions being passed in cities nationwide that stood up against the Patriot Act.
"I woke up and said, 'I've got to do that. I've got to get a resolution passed in Petaluma,'" she says. "It just dawned on me that I could do something. People can respond to what's happening on a grassroots level."
Lucia and cofounder Louise Leff formed the Petaluma Civil Rights Defense Group last November. The group soon introduced a resolution to the Petaluma City Council, which will vote on the issue on Feb. 10. The resolution opposes the U.S. Patriot Act and asks city agencies to protect civil liberties.
Petaluma is not the only city looking at adopting a resolution. The Sebastopol City Council passed a similar resolution on Dec. 3, and groups are pushing resolutions in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Napa.
At this point, 27 cities and counties nationwide have passed resolutions. This covers 14 states and 4.2 million people. Another 85 communities are currently considering resolutions, including conservative areas such as Houston, Indianapolis, and Cleveland.
So many communities feel the need to protect themselves against the U.S. Patriot Act, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, in part because it was passed by the U.S. Congress a mere 45 days after 9-11 with little debate or scrutiny by the press. Some members of Congress now admit they didn't even read the legislation when they voted on it.
The Patriot Act creates a new crime of "domestic terrorism," which critics say is so vague that peaceful dissenters or people with tentative connections to suspected terrorists could be prosecuted. It was partially responsible for the deportation of 1,200 immigrants after 9-11.
"The Patriot Act is intrusive legislation," says Sanjeev Bery, an advocate for the ACLU of Northern California. "Through it, the government is showing it has no respect for our basic civil liberties."
If passed, Petaluma's resolution would be a symbolic statement against the Patriot Act, saying that Petaluma residents don't want their local legislators to do anything that might circumvent the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, even if the federal government requires it.
Though some have called these resolutions empty gestures, they do provide protection for local citizens, believes Bery.
"After 9-11 the FBI asked police in cities nationwide to round up 8,000 Muslims for interviews, a clear case of religious profiling and something that both San Francisco and Oakland declined to do," he says. "These resolutions are on-the-book statements of how local citizens want their authorities to respond when these situations come up."
The resolutions can also be used as evidence should a repeal of the U.S. Patriot Act come into Congress.
The Petaluma Civil Rights Defense Group says it is seeing over 30 requests a day to be added to its e-mail list.
"The Patriot Act encompasses everybody, even right-wing Republicans," says Lucia. "We've encountered very little opposition. People are frustrated and isolated like I was. Or else they aren't aware of what's happening and are shocked to hear how their rights have been affected by this legislation."
To promote its cause, the group has invited Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers to the press during the Nixon administration, to speak about the resolution. He will be speaking at Copperfield's Books (140 Kentucky St., Petaluma) on Friday, Jan. 31, at 7pm. The group will also be speaking at the Petalumans Against War peace march on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 11:30am in Walnut Park.
Citizens are welcome to speak about the pending resolution at the Petaluma City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, at 7pm at City Hall, 11 English St., Petaluma. For more information, contact Elaine Lucia at PetalumaCRDG@attbi.com.
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From the January 30-February 5, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.