Make no mistake about it: John Ashcroft is the most radical politician in the Bush administration. This is the man who declared that America has "no king but Jesus." This is the man who anoints himself with cooking oil (in the manner of King David, he says) each time he is sworn into public office. This is the man who, reportedly, thinks calico cats are of the devil. Which makes him weird.
It's the USA PATRIOT Act and its follow-up, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, that qualifies Ashcroft as a true radical. PATRIOT, of course, is the legislation Ashcroft ramrodded through Congress weeks after Sept. 11. It expands the federal government's authority to search your records and your property, listen to your phone calls, monitor your e-mail and declare you a terrorist if it doesn't like what it finds. PATRIOT II, as it has been dubbed, takes the breaches even further.
Ashcroft is utterly contemptuous of the Bill of Rights, particularly the First and Fourth Amendments. He is actively trying to integrate conservative Christianity and government, silence speech he doesn't agree with and strip citizens of their right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. He is a dangerous man.
To date, more than 100 cities, counties and states have registered their disagreement with the PATRIOT Act by declaring that they will not lend local support to the feds' campaign against civil rights. And the groundswell has caught Ashcroft's attention. In August he went on a stump tour, once again raising the terrorism bogeyman to convince Americans to sit down and behave.
Now it's Orlando's turn. On Oct. 27, the American Freedom Coalition (www.americanfreedomcoalition.org) will present a petition to the City Commission asking Orlando to officially refuse to play along. It's a symbolic measure -- city officials aren't the ones listening to your phone calls and rifling through your house when you're not home -- but we could, as a community, tell our police not to enforce the new, stricter immigration laws and direct our librarians to put up signs notifying patrons that the feds may be checking out their reading habits, for example. Mayor Buddy Dyer and city commissioners should back the petition to the hilt. They have nothing to lose.
But this is Orlando, so baby steps are required. Glenn Anderson understands this. He's been meeting with city officials to try and get the anti-PATRIOT petition before the commission for a vote. The response has been timid. "It's a political reality," Anderson says. "Anyone who is even mildly progressive in this community will get lambasted for it."
None of your city leaders are going to step up before they feel some support for the issue. So now is the time to voice your opinion. Let them know that if Orlando is grown up enough to take a stand in defense of gay rights, it is grown up enough to stand in defense of the civil rights of all its citizens.