When Barack Obama was in the middle of a primary fight, he gave a good talk about civil liberty in the United States of America:
You will have elected a president who has taught the Constitution and believes in the Constitution and will obey the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Obama campaign did more than just mouth platitudes: it mouthed specific promises. The Obama campaign, and Barack Obama himself, promised that he would oppose the FISA Amendements Act, legislation to legalize warrantless surveillance, search and seizure by the United States Government. But when the primaries were over, and Barack Obama stepped back from his promises. Barack Obama not only voted for the FISA Amendments Act, but pledged to use the new powers granted by the FISA Amendments Act as president.
What’s the FISA Amendments Act? In case you didn’t know, that’s our new law passed over the summer of 2008 that lets an American president spy without a warrant for periods of up to 67 days, then keep the information even if a judge later says the spying violated your rights. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says the President can’t do that to us… but the U.S. Constitution isn’t being respected much these days. While President-Elect Barack Obama delivers smooth, reassuring talk, he has walked away from liberty.
While the campaign was still on, a group of Barack Obama supporters endured the derision and support-the-team-speak of partisans and started up Get FISA Right, an effort dedicated at keeping opposition to the FISA Amendments Act alive during the deafening general election season. Now that the election is over and we’re moving toward the inauguration of a new president, Get FISA Right is putting together a tentative strategy document for the next year. I don’t agree with that document in all points, but I have strong respect for the organization’s determination to keep going, even while most Americans seem eager to drop talk of politics and instead place their passive hope in the notion that the new president will fix everything for us like some benevolent father figure or perhaps a rich uncle. I have an even greater respect for the transparent, inclusive way in which Get FISA Right is trying to bring people in as meaningful participants in the movement, and not just as mute supporters of some top-down agenda.
If you still care about the constitution and civil liberty in America, I encourage you to head over to Get FISA Right and find some way to get involved. Remember what Sam Adams said more than two centuries ago: “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.”