IMAGE: jason landis
"We've been at it for three months now," says Christopher Frankonis, a member of the Portland Bill of Rights Committee. The eight-member group was founded
as part of a national grassroots movement to galvanize resistance to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which expands government power to monitor religious and political institutions, loosens search and seizure restrictions, and allows the
government to jail Americans indefinitely without trial.
Though the local ordinances are largely symbolic, supporters hope they will prompt congressional delegates to reconsider the breadth of the anti-terrorism legislation.
Portland seemed like a prime prospect. Both U.S. Reps Earl Blumenauer and David Wu, whose districts include most of the city, voted against the act, and just a year ago the city made national headlines when it declined to cooperate with FBI interviews of Middle Eastern men who were not suspected of any crimes.
During peace rallies this fall, Frankonis' group collected 1,000 signatures in support of an anti-Patriot Act resolution, which were presented to city Commissioner Erik Sten's chief of staff, Bob Durston.
Durston said the resolution, which calls for local agencies to refrain from racial and religious profiling and surveillance, is a long shot. His boss is interested in the issue, he says, but it doesn't look like a battle he can win: "I don't know if there's three votes on [the city] council for it," Durston says.
Durston also noted that the resolution is fairly broad and that debate on an anti-war measure--which a coalition of groups is supporting--might take precedence if military action is taken against Iraq. Such resolutions have passed in 23 U.S. cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Detroit.
That could put civil libertarians and anti-war activists--groups typically in alliance--inadvertently at odds with each other in Portland.
Frankonis isn't sure why Portland has been comparatively slow to join the campaign, though he suspects the rabble-rousing crowd interrupting Joint Terrorism Task Force hearings probably hasn't helped sell the cause. He fears the fight to contain the Patriot Act may simply devolve into a war of attrition. "The longer this drags on," he says wearily, "the harder it will be to keep at it."