On Thursday evening, Rep. Chris Van Hollen made his first local appearance since his regrettable “Nay” vote against the Amash-Conyers defense appropriations amendment — a bill that would have stopped NSA warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act dead in its tracks.*
Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) activists and coalition partners were on hand to hold him accountable.
The event — held at the Silver Spring Civic Center — was a “Climate Change Town Hall” organized by the Montgomery County chapter of the Obama administration volunteer support group “Organizing For America” (OFA). MCCRC and Peace Action activists fanned out in front of the Civic Center to pass out flyers and collect petition signatures urging Van Hollen to make amends by co-sponsoring and voting for legislation to prohibit bulk collection of communications metadata, bar prospective surveillance, enable adversarial review of violations in a public court, and establish a committee to investigate the issues raised by the Edward Snowden/Guardian NSA revelations.
Congressman Van Hollen didn’t appear until late in the town hall. The event itself was by turns sobering, informative, and hopeful about the prospects for a meaningful Maryland “down payment” on slowing climate change. For his part, Congressman Van Hollen is to be commended for his advocacy of the “cap and dividend” policy proposal promoted by Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and others.
When the congressman appeared, though, he wasn’t just met by applause, but also by a silent demonstration: activists — and event-goers who agreed to join in — holding up “VAN HOLLEN WRONG ON NSA: Restore the 4th!” signs. (Both the halfsheet flyer and the “WRONG ON NSA” signs can be viewed and downloaded.)
The reverse side explained “Warrantless, dragnet electronic surveillance — it’s an environmental issue too”, quoting David Pomerantz of Greenpeace USA:
“A free, open Internet may be our last best hope to save the planet. […] The idea that the NSA is monitoring so many people’s communication is deeply unnerving; the idea that they could use the program to entrench governments’ political power is downright terrifying.”
At the close of the event, we had the opportunity to tell Representative Van Hollen how disappointed we were by his vote against the Amash-Conyers bill, and that he had helped waste the best opportunity in years to roll back our country’s growing surveillance state.
While he disagreed, Congressman Van Hollen did agree that it would be worthwhile to meet (again) about surveillance issues.
Thanks very much to our Peace Action Montgomery friends for their participation. This won’t be the last time we do this: we want to keep “bird dogging” Congressman Van Hollen about his Amash-Conyers vote — and to urge him to make amends by restoring the Fourth Amendment, by co-sponsoring and voting for far-reaching curbs on U.S. surveillance activity. Please join us in person — we’ll keep you posted here and/or by email — or by adding your name to our petition.
* EDIT, UPDATE: A second piece of legislation sponsored by Amash and Conyers, aka the LIBERT-E Act (HR2399), would similarly limit electronic surveillance purportedly authorized by sections of the PATRIOT Act.