December 2009 Newsletter

16 December 2009

Dear friends and supporters,

As 2009 draws to a close, we can survey CCDBR’s civil liberties record as well as that of the Obama administration, now in power for almost a year.

Education

We are proud to announce that our “Acting Free” program has doubled in size and will be funded for another year by the Bill of Rights Foundation (BORF). We are embarking on the third year of this educational project in conjunction with Pegasus Theater and Senn High School, where teacher Diane Piette has enlisted two (instead of the previous one) of her social science classes to write performance pieces dealing with issues related to the Bill of Rights. This will bring a total of 50-60 students – high school sophomores – into this unique program. In the spring of 2010 they will perform their work on the stage of Pegasus Theater. Coaching them on civil liberties issues is our advisory board member Christina Abraham, who has just been admitted to the bar (after DePaul law school) and continues as civil rights director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Pegasus also provides a drama coach.

The 1st Amendment

We continue to take a leading role in the Coalition to End Boeing Torture Flights, which gives us an opening to attack the broader issues of torture from the local (e.g., Burge) to international levels. During one of the Coalition’s demonstrations at Boeing Headquarters this past year, a large contingent of security guards was called out with at least two German shepherds to “keep us off their property,” which they claim includes all the walkways in front of their building at river and street levels between Randolph and Washington streets. This is but a small example of the challenges which we face in making the City of Chicago live up the requirements of the First Amendment.

The suit against the City of Chicago, which our treasurer, Don Goldhamer, joined in filing after being arrested in Grant Park (while serving as a legal observer of a peaceful distribution of literature) during the 2006 “Taste of Chicago,”is moving forward. The issue of the improper arrest has been settled (in his favor) and the more important challenge to the constitutionality of one section of the City’s “disorderly conduct” ordinance won in the federal district court and has been appealed to the appellate court by the City. In the meantime, the Chicago police are enjoined from enforcing that section (“d”) of the ordinance. We persevere in working to enforce free assembly and protest rights in public spaces and to stop the abuse of such “disorderly conduct” laws.

The National Scene

You may recall that we sent you a list of our priorities for the new Obama administration shortly after the election, while hopes were high that the Bush era mockery of the Constitution would be quickly remedied. Sadly, at most of our board meetings we have had to address disappointments and threats to rights which reveal more continuity than change on such issues as government secrecy, extra-ordinary rendition, due process of “terror” detainees, prosecution of those who orchestrated and carried out torture, etc. We have identified as particularly threatening, President Obama’s push for indefinite preventive detention, which by definition vitiates habeas corpus and due process.

We call to your attention the most recent newsletter of the Defending Dissent Foundation (formerly NCARL, and still our sister organization). It brings us current information about much national legislation and activities.

Surveillance

In June 2009 we addressed the enormous threat of the emerging “surveillance state” in a forumwhich we presented at Northwestern Law School. Three speakers came from Washington, D.C. to participate: Mike German of ACLU, former FBI special agent; Shahid Bhuttar, director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee; and Sue Udry of the Defending Dissent Foundation.   Our Chicago participants were CCDBR board member Tim Black, Pat Hill (Black People Against Police Torture), Kevin Vodak (CAIR attorney), Robert Doyle (American Library Association) and Senn High School student/Acting Free participant Brittany Taylor. From downstate Illinois we received a report on the fight against fingerprinting schoolchildren led by Joy Robinson-Van Gilder. Attendees got a picture of massive government and private snooping and interference through the use of new technology and old practices of intimidation and “Red Squad’ style abuses.

We are planning to follow up on the surveillance/secrecy issue by conducting workshops on how to use freedom of information legislation (both federal and state) and by pressing for City Council hearings and action to assure that video surveillance is properly limited and monitored.

CCDBR’s future

Our board is in the process of reappraising our goals and prospects for the future. Any suggestions or support you can offer will be much appreciated.

We remain grateful to all those of you who have helped fund our work in 2009.

Our resources to continue and revive our work are severely strained, and we appeal to your continued generous support. (As always, contributions made out to BORF are tax deductible.

Sincerely,
Bob Clarke
for the CCDBR Board