Last Wednesday, the House voted on an amendment proposed by Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, that would have effectively ended the warrantless collection of phone metadata the NSA claims is allowed under the PATRIOT Act. The amendment lost by a narrow 12 vote margin, 205-217, and blurred party lines. This may seem like a defeat, but 205 is a much larger number than anyone was expecting. 134 Republicans voted ‘no’ and 94 voted ‘yes’. The Democrats had a slightly stronger showing, with only 83 voting ‘no’ and 111 voting yes. This is in sharp contrast to past votes relating to unconstitutional surveillance, like the 2011 vote to extend the PATRIOT Act, which passed 250-153 and which only 31 Republicans voted against.
We got there thanks to all of you, who volunteered your time to clog your Representatives’ phone lines just before the vote and went online to make sure others did as well. Because of our work, restoring the Fourth Amendment is at the forefront of the national conversation. With a new poll showing that 56 percent of Americans think the government has overstepped its bounds in collecting personal data, and intense pressure on Washington from citizens of all political persuasions to rein in its surveillance programs, it may only be a matter of time until Congress successfully votes to put a halt on the NSA’s surveillance activities.
Now what can we do? We can keep up the pressure on the government. We can make sure this issue doesn’t fall out of the public view. Many movements succeed in bringing a lot of attention to their cause, but only those that maintain it are ultimately successful. If your representative voted for the Amash Amendment, call and give them your thanks. If not, call to say you took note of their decision to vote in favor of unconstitutional surveillance, and hope they won’t make the same mistake next time – if they’re still in office to make it. Keep spreading the word about unconstitutional surveillance and those voting for it on Facebook, Twitter, and reddit.
But while calls and social media activism help, they fall far short of meeting with your Congressman face-to-face. Starting on August 5th, our representatives will return to their home districts for a full month. This is our chance to lobby them directly. They spend all year listening to corporate lobbyists and intelligence heads; now, they get to hear from us. This August, we take the fight to their doorsteps. 217 representatives are now on record as being just fine with unconstitutional surveillance. We’ll tell them why that’s just wrong.
Organizing a meeting is simple. If you’re as bold as Restore the Fourth New York, you can just walk in and demand one. But formally organizing one is easy too: all you really need is a phone, a computer, and a bit of persistence. Attending a meeting is even easier. We only need to convince seven reps to tip the scale and consider it a victory, but if we convince many more, we can consider it a resounding success. Free Press has put together a tool that simplifies the process of organizing and recruiting for meetings. Join a meeting near you or schedule your own. Either way, take advantage of this rare slice of time to meet with your elected representatives and explain why this issue matters.
Just as face-to-face meetings with representatives are more effective than letters and phone calls, on-the-ground promotion is the most effective way to get more people to join, and media outlets to follow the issue. And that’s what we need to do on 1984 Day on August 4th. When we protest unconstitutional surveillance, we must make sure the citizens that hear us also take advantage of this opportunity. Congress’ summer recess starts the day after, and we must use 1984 Day to make sure all defenders of the Fourth Amendment know and take advantage of it.