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Letter on the Resolution to Defend the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution

On December 20, 2003, at its regular Saturday meeting, People for Peace, Justice, and Healing decided to address the following letter to the seven members of the Tacoma City Council who voted in favor of the Resolution to Defend the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution:

Mayor Bill Baarsma, Deputy Mayor Bil Moss, and Councilmembers Bill Evans, Connie Ladenburg, Sharon McGavick, Doug Miller, and Rick Talbert
Tacoma City Council
747 Market Street, Suite 1200
Tacoma, WA 98402

December 20, 2003

Dear Mayor Baarsma, Deputy Mayor Moss, and Councilmembers Evans, Ladenburg, McGavick, Miller, and Talbert,

People for Peace, Justice, and Healing is an organization that has supported the work of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee - Tacoma since its inception a year ago. From the beginning, one of the aims of BORDC-Tacoma was to persuade the Tacoma City Council to pass a resolution expressing support of the Bill of Rights in the face of the dubious legislation of the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. It was therefore with great satisfaction that we greeted the passage by the City Council of the Resolution to Defend the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution on December 16, 2003.

As the name of our group may suggest, the members of People for Peace, Justice, and Healing know that in the United States of America, in the State of Washington, in Pierce County, and in the City of Tacoma, public officials who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States have not always done so. Here in Tacoma, the very name of our city was forever besmirched when what came to be known as "the Tacoma method" was used in November 1885 to expel several hundred Chinese peaceably living here. To quote from the account prepared by the Chinese Reconciliation Project: On the morning of Nov. 3, 1885, "several hundred men, led by the mayor and other city officials, evicted the Chinese from their homes, corralled them at 7th Street and Pacific Avenue, marched them to the railway station at Lakeview, and forced them aboard the morning train to Portland, Oregon. The next day two Chinese settlements were burned to the ground."

Given this history, we were dismayed when the Resolution to Defend the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution failed to pass the first time it appeared on the agenda of the City Council in August 2003. Given the rampant xenophobia that now affects national policy in the United States in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was most troubling that a number of Council members asserted that since they had already affirmed their devotion to the U.S. Constitution, the resolution was either altogether superfluous or a waste of time that could be spent on truly important matters, like street repairs. Some seemed to have the attitude that the Bill of Rights was a matter for those who specialize in such things, like federal officials or the U.S. Supreme Court. Our leading local newspaper, the News Tribune, opined in an editorial that the defense of the Bill of Rights was as remote from the business of the City Council as "the ice caps of Mars."

In our view, instead of expressing this asinine view, the News Tribune should have lived up to its name. Would you permit us an historical digression? In ancient Rome, tribunes (tribuni plebis) were those appointed to protect the interests of the plebeians -- that is, the people -- against violation or abuse by patricians -- that is, the ruling establishment. In the history of the Roman Republic, the tribunes gradually evolved into representatives of the people over against the state. But in the degradation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire, the office of the tribune was attacked. An effort to eliminate the tribunes was led by that precursor of empire, the military dictator Sulla. When the empire was established, it was the emperor who held the tribuneship. It became useful for the emperor to pretend that the role of defending the people had devolved upon him.

The founders of the American Republic were well aware of this history. So are many of our leaders today, who seem to have reached the subversive conclusion that the United States is approaching the end of the republican period of its history and embarking on its imperial phase. There are many signs of these developments. For example, upon taking office, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered an official historical review of the empires of the past to see what lessons the United States could glean from the historical record. The victor of Operation Iraqi Freedom, General Tommy Franks, stated in a recent interview that he doubted that the U.S. Constitution would survive an attack on American soil with weapons of mass destruction. We are sorry to say that a considerable portion of the American people seem to have renounced their heritage of constitutional freedom and have instead decided to embrace a thoroughly un-American and anti-constitutional sort of patriotism, naïvely summed up in an outburst from a public school teacher that was reported in today's New York Times : "I know I get defensive about this stuff, but with what we've been through and with my husband in the military, I have to trust President George W. Bush and I support him 100 percent." Attitudes like this can cause republics to be lost and empires to be built.

So there can be no doubt that the Constitution is in danger. In such times, the future of the Republic depends on those who are willing to speak out and defend it. The members of People for Peace, Justice, and Healing will be forever grateful that on December 15, 2003, you showed that you are among the number of public officials willing to do so. You give us hope for the future of the American experiment in democracy.

Sincerely yours,

Mark K. Jensen
Sharon Moore
Sheila Renton
Kyle Renton
Sallie Shawl
Vivi Bartron
Karen Haevener
Rob Gramenz

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Last updated: December 21, 2003