Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Happy hour, DC conference, news roundup

Whew! Life has been busy at the Madison Area Office!

We're gearing up for summer fun with our volunteer interns. Our core team of seven students will spend June and July researching facts and trends in youth civil liberties. By the end of summer we hope to have a dynamic Know Your Rights workshop to teach young people about how the Bill of Rights applies to them. We also will have additions to our Freedom FAQ factsheet series. Check out our Youth and Civil Liberties website for the complete list of available materials for download. Stay tuned to the Cap City Liberty blog for future reflections from the volunteer interns themselves.

Read on for a recap of some civil liberties news from the past week or so. Also check out these events that are coming up.

Happy Hour: Thursday, June 5th 6:00 p.m.
Genna's 105 W. Main, upstairs
Join the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office as we recognize our volunteers and have a fun send off for those going to the national membership conference in Washington D.C. The event is free with a cash bar. Door prizes too!

Speaker: Saturday, June 7th 11:45 a.m.
Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St.
"A Fair and Impartial Judiciary" Awards Luncheon with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Madison. Luncheon is part of the League of Women Voters of WI annual meeting but has luncheon-only registration ($25) at

Film: Sunday, June 8th 7:00 p.m.
Escape Java Joint, 916 Williamson St.
The United States Versus. Sami Al-Arian: A Case of Domestic U.S. Anti-Muslim and Anti-Palestinian Persecution
In February 2003, university professor Sami al-Arian - a leading Muslim and pro-Palestinian civil rights activist in the U.S. - was arrested in Tampa, Florida and charged with providing material support to a terror organization. For two-and-a-half years he was held in solitary confinement, denied basic privileges and given limited access to his attorneys. While the Bush administration called this a landmark case in its campaign against international terrorism, Sami Al-Arian claimed he was targeted in an attempt to silence his political views. The film raises questions on whether it is possible for a man like Sami Al-Arian to receive a fair trial in the United States given the current hostile environment against Muslims and the strong U.S. support of Israel. It presents our democracy in a new light in a post-9/11 culture of fear, where "security measures" trump free speech and punishment is meted out in the name of protection.

Event includes a guest commentary by Mel Underbakke who has been touring the U.S. on behalf of the Al-Arian defense campaign. She will screen the 2007 film "USA vs Al-Arian" and give an update on the case. ”USA vs AL-ARIAN” is an intimate family portrayal of an American-Muslim family's struggle to fight terrorism charges leveled by the US government. It follows Sami Al-Arian’s wife Nahla and their five children throughout his six month-long trial. This is a nightmare come to life as a man is prosecuted for his beliefs rather than his actions.

Admission is free - donations will be accepted to cover room costs and for the Al-Arian defense campaign. Co-sponsored by the Peregrine Forum, the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and the ACLU of Wisconsin-Madison Area Office.

For more information call the Peregrine Forum at 442-8399 or email, and/or go to the website

News round up:
We knew this already, but it looks like the saying "every time Bush speaks, another ACLU membership card is printed" is about right. Life after the Patriot Act is bad for America, and Americans are waking up to the need to come to the defense of civil liberties. Check out this Detroit News article on the ACLU's national spike in membership.

This Daily Kos blogger thinks his membership to the ACLU is important enough to donate his stimulus check to the organization. Check out his video blog and find out how you can be a supporter too.

Madison, WI gets some attention from the LA Times, but not for our bike paths. Read on for the story on how the economic profilling and crackdowns on the homeless has changed "liberal" Madison.

A Dane County Circuit Court Judge upholds the anti-gay marriage amendment and says the two-part question was OK. Anyone who went door-to-door to organize against the amendment can testify that the two-question question was confusing to voters. Even people who said that they opposed "marriage" said things like "the second one is OK," referring to the second line as if it was an option at the polls.

On a semi-related note, a decision to restrict the partisan political affiliation of judges running for election stands. Now if we can just get their highly partisan campaign funders to agree with the decision's spirit.

Check out what the ACLU of Texas said about the introduction of potential legislation in their state to require Photo ID at the polls. "The state of Texas is wasting its time on this," said Sonia Santana, who focuses on election issues for the Texas ACLU. "As it is, we've already got a pathetically low turnout. Why put up another barrier when it's just a nonexistent problem? It's fear, hype, and racism." We would experience similar problems in Wisconsin if a Photo ID law were passed. Read the Truthout article for the description of the challenges Photo IDs pose in the wake of the unfortunate Supreme Court decision in the Indiana Photo ID case.

A Q&A section in the Wisconsin State Journal had a blurb on Real ID and another on banned books. Nice to see solid civil liberties issues in the paper.

Private police? Here's a bizzare story about a private security company in De Forest that takes playing cop a little too seriously and issued parking tickets to legally parked cars. This is an excellent example of why security companies are licensed and regulated and how private companies masquerading as government staff is a scam.

There's an update on "The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007." Some of the plans for profiling Muslims and Arabs (and activist groups for that matter) were abandoned due to strong public pressure, but the legislation lives on in the form of HR 1955. If you need a mnemonic device to help you remember the bill number, just think of one of the hot years for the "House Un-American Activities Committee."

Speaking of the internet, laptop users have a resource through the Electronic Frontier Foundation on how to protect themselves from warrantless searches of electronic devices at the border. Not a criminal and have nothing to hide? All the more reason to protect your privacy from abuse of power. Those family photos and digital bank statements are yours alone.

And federal lawmakers are still debating on net neutrality and antitrust law.