What do Congressman Justin Amash, the libertarian-leaning Republican from Michigan, and former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who mounted unapologetically progressive campaigns for the Democratic presidential nod, have in common?
They both think that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution ought to be respected.
And they both know that’s not the case when personal communications are routinely monitored by the National Security Agency and when the Obama White House and the Congress fail to provide meaningful oversight of an ever-expanding surveillance state.
So Amash, who last summer worked with Congressman John Conyers, D-Michigan, to organize a House fight to defund the NSA’s bulk collection of data, and Kucinich, who in 2001 was one of the handful of House members who joined Senator Russ Feingold in opposing the Patriot Act, stood together Saturday with thousands of Americans who gathered in Washington for a groundbreaking “Rally Against Mass Surveillance.”
The boisterous rally, which took place on the twelfth anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, was backed by a remarkable left-right coalition that drew together organizations ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Tea Party–aligned Freedom Works, from the very progressive folks associated with the Demand Progress project to the very conservative Young Americans for Liberty, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Amash told the crowd in Washington: “This isn't a partisan issue. This is for Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, conservatives and liberals, everyone in between."
The coalition is “calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”
Those who rallied Saturday, and those who will continue speaking out in the weeks and months to come, want Congress to immediately and publicly:
1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;
2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;
3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.
That’s a tall order, but a necessary one—as anyone who has followed the revelations from whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden well understands. Snowden said in a statement supporting Saturday's rally:
In the last four months, we’ve learned a lot about our government.
We’ve learned that the U.S. intelligence community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance. Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong.
Now it’s time for the government to learn from us.
The rally outside the Capitol was important because of the size and scope of the coalition, and also because of the energy it has brought to Washington at a time when surveillance issues are in the news—but are not being adequately debated by the Obama administration or Congress.
The demand for congressional engagement extends beyond the rally. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced “Stop Watching Us: The Video,” featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal. John Cusack, Phil Donahue, Oliver Stone and Daniel Ellsberg, among others.
In the video, Congressman Conyers, who for five decades has battled in Congress for civil rights and civil liberties, says, “A free society should not have secret laws.”
He’s right. But the secrecy won’t be addressed without a mass movement.
Saturday’s rally represented a “next step” in building that movement: “to remind our elected officials that they work for us, not the NSA.”
John Nichols is a co-founder, with Robert W. McChesney, of Free Press. Their new book, Dollarocracy, details the growth of data mining as a political tool.
Greg Mitchell probes NSA claims that surveillance has thwarted terrorist attacks.