Bill of Rights Campaigns

  • Essay 1 response for PS 1010, Wayne State, Fall 2012.
  • Example of teaching mechanism: compare your essay to mine.
  • Niche audience: culture, network, rational choice researchers.

ARTICLE: Vasi and Strang (2009), Civil Liberty in America: The Diffusion of Municipal Bill of Rights Resolutions after the Passage of the USA Patriot Act. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 114, No. 6, pp. 1716-1764.

In this study of local reactions to the Patriot Act, the authors provide evidence regarding which social associations most contributed to the organization and campaign to pass local laws in order to protect citizens from the Patriot Act—to stop the opportunity for the government to arbitrarily interfere with a citizen’s constitutional rights.

The initial Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) was formed by Nancy Talanian in November, 2001—an individual response. Her hometown of Northampton adopted the BOR resolution on May 2, 2002. By August, 2005, 396 municipal, county and state resolutions had successfully passed covering over 80 million citizens. The campaign was activated through a “decentralized structure” and acted as an “informational clearinghouse rather than a command and control center” (1753). Indeed, the municipal resolutions provided the idea for other municipalities to copy, yet the municipalities were free to craft a resolution specific to the municipality’s constituency. The mode was to “promote heterogeneity by permitting groups within each city to mobilize autonomously and in their own way” (1753). Moreover, local participatory associations showcased a variance of coalitions in order to achieve the same goal.

The Bill of Rights resolutions locally protected the people from their national government. By 2007, more than one quarter of the U.S. populace resided in a “municipal civil liberties safe zone[s]” (Vasi and Strang, 2009, 1746). Of political saliency, the BOR campaign thwarts elite theory and democracy’s paradox (i.e. elites make democracy work because uninformed voters cannot create stable democracy—least of all participatory democracy); because, it is a clear and present form of local agency and purposeful mobilization in response to the methods of arbitrary interference codified into law. Specifically, the evidence shows that social capital to protect people from the USA Patriot Act was not present in liberal groups. Indeed, the community associations best suited to join the BOR campaign were those with a mission to “protect collective goals” (1748).

The local Bill of Rights resolutions (henceforth BOR) were a response to “civil liberties” concerns, which, specific to the U.S. Patriot Act, include: executive orders, instructions for local officials to not comply with Patriot Act provisions in coercion with the Bill of Rights, and a mandate for the national government to inform local governments regarding Patriot Act use within the municipality (Vasi and Strang, 2009, 1717). The organizers arose from local associations the social movement community; not mainstream parties or traditional civic culture (1719). According to BORDC.org (2012), 8 state legislatures and 406 county and local governments passed “Resolutions and Ordinances Critical of the USA Patriot Act” from January 2002 – December 4, 2007. To be sure, 8 ordinances actually instructed city officials to refuse to comply with aspects of the Patriot Act deemed unconstitutional (1753).

Vasi and Strang, (2009), statistically locate the top three sponsors of Bill of Rights resolutions in Dallas, New York, and Columbia. They were: (1) Peace, Social and Justice associations, (2) Women, Gay and Lesbian Associations, (3) Racial and Human Rights associations; respectively.[i] At the far end of the spectrum, and statistically the least likely to promote the resolutions were: (1) Right Parties, (2) Labor, and (3) Business; respectfully. Prima facie, the most active associations represent the language of republicanism and the least likely associations to engage in Bill of Rights resolutions in municipal governments speak the language of liberalism.

Vasi and Strang (2009) conclude, “The likely trajectory of the internal and external war on terror remains in doubt, but the BOR campaign is surely a politically significant component of the response to the response to 9/11” (1756).


[i] This was followed by the language of biblical thought: Religious.

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2 thoughts on “Bill of Rights Campaigns

  1. Pingback: Positivism for Millennium 3 « Political Pipeline

  2. Pingback: Epigram: Surfing Political Pipeline [part I] « Political Pipeline

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