Twenty years ago, George W. Bush signed the PATRIOT Act into law.
And twenty years ago, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee was born.
The law ripped the Fourth Amendment to shreds by expanding government surveillance powers, impaled the First Amendment by expanding the definition of terrorism, and annihilated accountability by hiding enhanced government powers behind a cloak of secrecy.
But it also ignited a grassroots movement led by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (our predecessor organization). Almost immediately, a small group of concerned citizens in western Massachusetts rang the alarm on the dangers of a post-9/11 US government more focused on war and surveillance in the name of protecting America than the rights of the very Americans those policies would infringe upon.
The idea for a community-based “Bill of Rights Defense Committee” was born at a Women’s Congress for Peace gathering in Northampton, Massachusetts. Within a month, the newly formed Bill of Rights Defense Committee held a community forum and petition drive that culminated with passage of a municipal resolution on May 2, 2002 establishing Northampton as a “civil liberties safe zone.” The idea caught fire and BORDC helped over 400 towns, cities, and even a few states pass similar resolutions over the next few years.
This is the story of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, as told through the eyes of those concerned citizens who stood up in the midst of a national drumbeat for war and compromised civil liberties.