(by Kit Bonson, prepared for Defending Dissent: A Public Forum“, held at Wheaton Regional Library on April 18, 2013)
The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) started because in the fall of 2010, 7 activists in Minneapolis and Chicago awoke one morning to find that their houses were being raided by the FBI. Boxes and boxes of their possessions were confiscated, including computers, papers, and family photos. Although they were never charged with any crime, they were called to testify in front of a Grand Jury.
In response, activists here in our area, as well as in cities around the country, came together to protest the use of the FBI and the Grand Jury process to harass and intimidate movement organizers. Basically, we wanted to stand in solidarity with activists who had not committed crimes or advocated anything other than nonviolent action. It was from these events that MCCRC was founded.
A total of 23 activists from around the country were eventually raided by the FBI and all were called to testify in front of Grand Jury hearings — which every one of them refused to do. Several months later, in the Spring of 2011, MCCRC hosted two of the Midwest activists, who provided a fascinating history, explaining why they had refused to participate and how we could continue to support them.
Around the same time, here in DC, we had our own civil liberties issue when the Metro system announced that they were going to start bag searches in the metro and on buses. We, and other civil libertarians in town, started leafleting Metro stops, to remind people of their rights and to condemn the bag searches as “security theater” that represented wasted resources and time, had no transparency and was not going to make us any safer. These issues have obviously reared their ugly heads again this week in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Boston, because Metro has said they are reinstituting the bag searches.
In the Fall of 2011, with the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we heard that Fred Grandy, a former member of Congress from Iowa, had held a forum in Montgomery County in which he claimed that the US was undergoing “creeping Sharia” — his fear that the Constitution was being undermined by Muslims who wanted Americans to function under Koranic law.
To show the absurdity of this assertion, we held a well-attended panel discussion in response, which featured:
- Jamie Raskin, our Maryland State Senator and a Constitutional exert
- Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee
- Sulayman Nyang, a Professor of African Studies at Howard University and
- Corey Saylor, the Legislative Director of CAIR.
…as well as remarks by event co-organizer and former State Delegate Saqib Ali.
We also took our concerns to the Maryland Conservative Action Network at their conference in Annapolis, where we leafleted outside a panel entitled “Is Sharia Law Coming to Maryland?” We concluded, of course, it was not.
That fall, we also stood up for the free assembly rights of youth by opposing proposed bills in front of the Montgomery County Council that would have imposed a curfew and created loitering laws. Happily, after our efforts, both of these measures were tabled.
Then, last year, during the first half of 2012, we focused hard on fighting against provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that could allowed indefinite detention of American citizens arrested on US soil, based only on being accused of an ill-defined “belligerent act”. We lobbied Congress, held a forum on what the NDAA would allow and then went one step further: after months of work, we got the Takoma Park City Council to pass a resolution condemning the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA!
This made us one of only a few locales that has stood up and won on this issue. This spring, we took the fight to the Maryland statehouse, where we supported the Maryland Liberty Prevention Act, which would have prohibited Maryland state officials from cooperating with the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA. Although this bill did not get out of committee this session, we will be working on it next year when it is reintroduced.
Over the years, MCCRC has reached out to communities that have been targeted for profiling by authorities, such as Arab/Muslim and Latin American immigrant organizations. We are pleased to be making friends and showing solidarity with these groups. Based on the concerns they expressed to us about surveillance, we and the ACLU held a meeting with Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett as well as County Police Chief Manger about numerous issues, including crowd control by the police using excessive reliance on weapons, criminalizing photography in a public place, and county participation in the federal “Secure Communities” program, which effectively makes local law enforcement officers into immigration agents, using biometric data.
This spring we have also partnered with Electric Maid, a Takoma Park political collective. We have been holding our meetings at their conveniently-located building across from the Takoma Metro stop, at 268 Carroll St NW, Washington, DC 20012. We’ve also been holding programs there on the third Tuesday of each month.
In February, we focused on the politics and ethics of torture by leafleting the film “Zero Dark Thirty” with factual information about the legality of enhanced interrogation. We then held a program where showed the film “Ending US-Sponsored Torture Forever”, with a panel discussion of faith leaders afterwards.
Last month in March, we showed the film “Better This World”, about young activists who were lured into a plot by an FBI informant and showed solidarity with each other in the face of long sentences in jail for specious charges.
We look forward to seeing you at future events at Electric Maid on the third Tuesday of each month — and involving you in our organizing!