Nationwide vigil draws a small crowd to protest Bush policies

250 similar events held across the country by liberal activist group

Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Paul Nelson believes every voice makes a difference when standing up for beliefs.

"I think a lot of people today think, 'Well, geez, my vote doesn't matter, my voice doesn't matter,' so they just don't bother," said the Haines resident, who came to Juneau to organize Wednesday's "Constitution Vigil" in Marine Park. The event protested domestic spying.

"What they're forgetting is the idea of the mosquito in your bedroom when you're trying to go to sleep," Nelson said. "That voice does make a difference and you're not going to go to sleep until you take care of that mosquito. Your voice counts."

Wednesday's vigil was one of some 250 similar events held across the country by the liberal activist group MoveOn.org to bring attention to the National Security Agency's and Bush administration's domestic wiretapping program. About two-dozen people attended the vigil - not as many as some had hoped during planning.

"I'm glad the people showed up that did," Nelson said.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the Bush administration created the domestic wiretapping program, which until recently remained secret. A debate has since emerged over the legality of the program, with some fearing it violates the civil liberties of U.S. citizens because it allows the government to eavesdrop without warrants.

Others, including Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, think the program is an important step in defending the homeland in a time of war.

"Clearly the president has the authority to engage in all activities to protect Americans and American interests," Ruedrich said.

One issue of the debate is how the government should acquire warrants, or not acquire warrants, to monitor electronic communications from abroad to the United States.

Ruedrich said some of the calls from potential enemies happen too quickly to get a warrant from the special court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

"This group has mischaracterized the monitoring because it was done with digital equipment looking at calls that are generated outside of the United States to inside the United States," he said. "So it wasn't between Americans conducting regular activities. So I don't see this as a concern."

Amy Paige, a member of Juneau People for Peace and Justice, said the low turnout at the vigil doesn't mean people aren't bothered by the government's actions.

"We don't feel like we're alone," she said. "We know there's huge numbers of people all across the country that are doing the same thing today and are speaking out and there is a move for impeachment."

Paige said she thinks the monitoring goes beyond what the Bush administration is claiming.

"I think most anti-war activists figure they're being monitored as it is," she said.

Logan Dameron, 72, said the idea of being on a government list because of dissension is always in the back of protesters' minds. He said the domestic wiretapping program and the policies of the Bush administration require citizens to be vigilant.

"It concerns me very much," he said. "He's trying to set up an imperial presidency with no checks or balances and he's clearly the worst president in my lifetime."

Ruedrich said the whole wiretapping issue is "grossly mischaracterized" by its critics.

"There are no American-to-American conversations being monitored, as is being inferred," he said.

Nelson said the Bush administration is slowly eroding American liberties.

"We cannot tolerate the loss of our civil rights," he said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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