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The State of Civil Liberties

Anthony Romero
Well, when you run public service advertisements, you are at the whim and fancy of the network producers. The first two were designed specifically with the hope that they would run them on television. They’re non-controversial enough, they’re non-confrontational enough. They really speak to a broader message that perhaps the TV producers would be willing to show. It has the voice of Danny Glover. He’s the actor who’s the narrator on the first two. The third one is much more controversial. And we hear from some of the TV producers and the TV executives that in fact they do not like to use the public service advertisements for public affairs programming. So it is very unlikely that those will run. It might run in some of the cable and some of the free access programs. I’d love your ideas and thoughts if you have ideas for how we might be able to show them. They are many more hours of footage and of tapes that we have. There are at least four or five videotapes of individuals who were also interviewed while in detention and we’d love to find a way to be able to use them as well. We’ve been discussing it with some of the major news outlets and might be in fact that they use it in some of their new stories. So…we’ll see.

What troubles me is your isolation. I don’t hear these message from the legal profession, from the law schools, from civic society generally, from the media, from the major newspapers. Well with the possible exception of Bill Morris who’s turning himself into a very welcome radical. So the question is why is this happening and what can we do and say to make this a much broader discussion and raise the visibility of these questions?

Anthony Romero
Yeah I think that’s exactly the right question. It’s good to finally see you after all these email exchanges over the last several months. The difficulty we had of course initially was…even as we were engaging members of congress and the media, they had enormous pressure that they placed on themselves for not appearing un-American or un-patriotic. We would often engage members of the senate staff and ask them to raise these concerns in the hearings, even however abbreviated they might have been, and they told us we cannot raise these concerns right now. If we do so, we’ll be seen as being against the president, against the war, or appearing un-American, or un-patriotic. And so you had this very much of a chilling effect on individuals who are not willing to speak up. On the two lawsuits that we filed in Michigan and New Jersey, I think it is notable, I’m sure to many of you in this room, that many of the national media outlets did not join that litigation. It was not from lack of trying, I can assure you…that many of the national media outlets told us that they’d like to do a little more reporting and a little less advocacy in this work. You had many of the media producers, often under the same pressure, that were unwilling to cover stories or to cover articles that would make them seem as un-American or un-patriotic. And then of course you have to park this at the door step of one of the greatest bullies in the government…and by that I mean the Attorney General John Ashcroft. That when he deigned to give Congress one hour of his time, his precious time, as Congress was debating on of the most sweeping pieces of legislation that fundamentally rewrote immigration, searches and seizures, privacy, surveillance…that he only had one hour for the elected representatives of the people. And that in that one hour of his time that he had the audacity to make the statement which I reference, “That anyone who conjured up the phantoms of liberty would give ammunition to our enemies, pause to our allies, and diminish our national resolve.” Those are his exact words, earlier paraphrased, those are his exact works. And the fact that he used that Senate Judiciary Committee hearing as a way to browbeat the senators and the media and the public, to essentially say, “You’re with me or your against me.” And the fact that no one had the audacity, I looked that next day in all the newspapers, and by God, I did not find the articles I expected to see. And so it has been one of our enormous frustrations. Now one thing that I will tell you which will I think give you a sense of optimism. The fact that last year we saw the largest growth in ACLU membership in our 82-year history. In the last two months of the year we saw over 75,000 members join the ACLU. It is an unprecedented growth for us. When you consider the fact that members only join after you invite them to join and that we have an entire direct mail machine that was essentially shut down in the month of September, and that once you shut the machine down you have to work very hard to ratchet it back up, we were not asking people to join the ACLU probably till mid-October, and that in the small period of time we saw a record spike in our membership. That for me indicated there were many more individuals across this country who agreed with us rather than who agreed perhaps with the Attorney General. I’d love your other thoughts and questions.