Protest I

Fighting for your right to civil liberties
By CAROLINE PERRY  |  June 27, 2007

SILENT SUFFERING: Was it the lack of supporters or civil liberties that hurt Tuesday’s ACLU rally?

On Tuesday, 40 gagged demonstrators, clad in orange prisoner-style jumpsuits, made their way from the center of Boston to the JFK Federal Building. Several hundred miles away, in Washington, DC, a similar scene was unfolding, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called for protestors to “storm” Capitol Hill in honor of the national Day of Action. Their mission: to protest the erosion of civil liberties this country has witnessed since it dove headfirst into the world-wide fight against terrorism.

In what the ACLU is calling its largest mobilization effort since its inception 87 years ago, it joined with Amnesty International USA, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture to bus supporters to our nation’s capital, and to host smaller corresponding protests around the country for those unable to make the trip. Black mouth gags and execution hoods were optional attire, but a telling representation of the protestors’ goals: to influence policy makers to close the military prison in Guantànamo Bay, to end this administration’s policies of torture and rendition, to “fix” the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and to restore habeas corpus.

“We’re hoping it will jumpstart some action at the congressional level,” says Nancy Murray, director of education at the ACLU’s Massachusetts chapter, who, along with other ACLU members, led protestors on the march around Government Center. “Not nearly enough has been done,” she says of the Democratic-led Congress. “Some bills have been filed, but there hasn’t been enough outrage.”

Of particular interest to the ACLU is the passage of the Restoring the Constitution Act (S. 576), sponsored by senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), for which it hopes to win the complete support of the Massachusetts delegation. But that may be easier said than done. Also in the pipeline is the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican senator Arlen Spector — so far, only 22 Democratic senators have expressed their support.

“We vote for you. We pay your salaries, and you will listen to us,” said Laura Rotolo, a lawyer for the ACLU of Massachusetts, in her clarion call to Bay State legislators during Tuesday’s demonstration.

That’s not to say you’re off the hook if your check isn’t funded by tax payers, though. In fact, the turnout on Tuesday was troublingly low — bad news for a movement seeking to make the public more personally involved. Take Nathanael Player, 26, a law student at Northeastern University who carried a mirror-like silver sign with prisoner bars drawn on it to the rally. “The point,” he says, “is to look at [the mirror], and see your reflection, and contemplate how our rights are taken away and realize it’s a fine line between where we are now and where we could be.”

Lowell resident Leslie Baskin, 61, who brought a jumpsuit instead, had a more visceral take. “It’s a stain on the soul of our country,” she says, “and I think we’ll remember it 50 years from now.” A sign was affixed to her prison garb. SPEAK OUT! it said. THEY HAVE THESE IN YOUR SIZE, TOO.

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