Today, a dozen of us from Equal Justice Alliance, FARM, League of Humane Voters, and Compassion Over Killing spent five hours visiting Congressional offices and urging them to vote against AETA, which had been scheduled over the weekend for a sudden vote at 6:30 pm. We were carrying supporting statements from the National Lawyers Guild, the New York City Bar Association, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. At each office, we were told that the mail and calls were running overwhelmingly in our favor.
Around 3pm, one of the legislative aides said that the bill was just being debated on the House floor. He gave me a pass, and I rushed to the Capitol across the street. I was astonished to see only about six House members present. House Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner spoke in favor of AETA, quoting Jerry Vlasak's and other's past extreme statements. Dennis Kucinich joined in abhorring violence, but noted that the bill infringed on civil liberties of people conducting civil disobedience or undercover investigations. Sensenbrenner invoked lack of opposition from the ACLU. Then the chair called for a voice vote, and Kucinich cast the only no vote. It was all over in 15 minutes.
After the vote, I rode the elevator with Sensenbrenner and chief AETA sponsor Petri. I told them I was there to lobby against their bill. Sensenbrenner replied "don't blame me; I was just managing the bill for this guy," pointing to Petri, who smiled sheepishly. The whole thing was absolutely surreal.
We played the game by their rules, we generated an overwhelming outpouring of opposition to the bill on short notice, and they kicked us in the face through underhanded maneuvers. Then they wonder why people lose faith in the system and take the law into their own hands. Today, Congress brought shame on itself by turning animal activists into "terrorists."
...here's what it said about Kucinich:
Only Representative Dennis Kucinich spoke up against this dangerous legislation. "This bill was written to have a chilling effect," he said, "on a specific type of protest."
He also said that, "We have to be very careful of painting everyone with broad brush of terrorism." And, in an interesting spin on the debate, Kucinich said lawmakers would be better off addressing animal issues and demonstrating their compassion.
(3) to provide exclusive criminal penalties or civil remedies with respect to the conduct prohibited by this action, or to preempt State or local laws that may provide such penalties or remedies.
Kucinich noted that that's precisely what the bill does. It provides exclusive penalties based on the beliefs of those who are accused.
Kucinich got in a little back and forth with James Sensenbrenner about the bill, with Sensenbrenner repeatedly citing a provision of the bill that "exempts" First Amendment activity. (Thank you to Senenbrenner and our patriotic members of Congress for reminding us that their is still a First Amendment. However, saying "this is Constitutional!" doesn't make it so. If anything, it's an admission that the bill has serious flaws.) At one point, Sensenbrenner read off a list of quotes from animal activists that he said exemplified the targets of the legislation. It was the same tired old list of quotes from the mid-90s and from a fairly recent Congressional hearing. Kucinich promptly noted that the quotes were exactly that: "Constitutionally- protected speech." It's misleading, he said, to say the bill exempts First Amendment activity, then use First Amendment activity as an example of why the bill is needed.