A Picket Line for Civil Liberties: Activists Target Nancy Pelosi for Supporting the Surveillance State

A group of over seventy Sonoma, Marin, and other Bay Area citizens, activists, and community leaders recently took House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to task for supporting the National Security Agency (NSA) domestic spying programs exposed in early June by whistleblower Edward J. Snowden. The protesters staged a peaceful, boisterous picket outside a Democratic Party fundraiser in the upscale Marin community of Belvedere.

The fundraiser was a Democratic Central Campaign Committee affair at the home of former software industry executive and frequent Democratic Party contributor Steve Silberstein. For contributions of $2,000 to over $30,000, donors could enjoy the company of co-hosts Pelosi and 2nd District of California Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael).

The protest was dubbed a “Picket Line for Civil Liberties” by organizers, the Coalition for Grassroots Progress, who released a statement stating “It’s unacceptable to violate the requirements of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments for a free press, privacy and due process.”

The Coalition is a grassroots group organizing for progressive change, and an outgrowth of author and media critic Norman Solomon’s failed 2012 bid for the House of Representatives seat ultimately won by Huffman.

The wealthy enclave of Belvedere was previously represented in Congress by the recently-retired Lynn Woolsey, and before her, Barbara Boxer, now the junior Senator from the State of California. Both were wildly popular representatives, well-known for their strong, vocal support for civil liberties and the Bill of Rights against encroachment by executive branches from Reagan-Bush to Bush-Cheney.

To the dismay of many of those present, Huffman has been relatively quiet on the subject of the Obama Administration’s NSA surveillance programs, his primary public response thus far being a comment via Facebook that “it’s time for the pendulum to swing back in the direction of privacy and civil liberties.”

In San Jose this past June, Pelosi encountered a chorus of boos during a speech at the NetRoots Nation conference of progressive bloggers, advocates, and organizers when she emphasized that whistleblower Snowden “did violate the law.” She appeared unconcerned about the expansion of spying upon US citizens under the Obama Administration, summing up by stating “we have to have the balance between security and privacy.”

Sporting signs reading “Uncle Sam should not be Big Brother,” “Nancy Pelosi – Your absence from civics class is unexcused,” and “One nation under surveillance,” the crowd gathered early in the afternoon to welcome the fundraiser’s attendees and conduct a little ad hoc civic education for the people gathered there and wealthy passers-by on the Constitutional issues threatened by the NSA’s unauthorized spying – namely the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments.

Secretary of the Marin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Bob Harmon spoke to the crowd about the need to fight for our civil liberties regardless of who threatens them, and pointed to the Magna Carta as the wellspring from which our Founding Fathers drew many of the rights and liberties detailed in our Bill of Rights. Harmon pointed out that many of the rights first articulated in the Magna Carta are under greater threat than ever as we approach worldwide celebrations of that document’s 800th anniversary in 2015.

Julie Combs, newly-elected City Council member of the City of Santa Rosa, ventured south from Sonoma County to emphasize Founding Father John Adams’ authorship of the Fourth Amendment, reading aloud its unambiguous text:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Organizer Norman Solomon sought to remind the crowd that “there will be hundreds of thousands of dollars made and raised [by the Democratic Party] here this afternoon,” and that the party’s most powerful representative in the House, Nancy Pelosi, “is on record supporting the NSA surveillance.”

Pelosi was recently called the “fundraising phenom” of the Democratic Party in a National Journal headline for having raised $15 million of a $25 million goal for Democratic candidates.

Before leading the crowd on a march down the exclusive cul-de-sac where the fundraiser took place, Solomon decried the fact that Californians from San Francisco up the coast to the Oregon border are represented by people who either support the NSA surveillance programs or are complicit in it with their silence.

“Either way, this is unacceptable,” he stated.

Prior to the event, Joe Garofoli of the San Francisco Chronicle noted the unusual locale of the protest, this community of predominantly liberal wealth, asking the rhetorical question, who would have thought that “Belvedere would ever be the epicenter of peaceful dissent?”

Though largely stymied in their efforts to speak with guests attending the fundraiser, protesters were delighted to find at least one attendee was happy to see them. South Bay Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) expressed his thanks to the picketers, encouraging them to keep the pressure on – “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s important!”

In related news, former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, recently told an Atlanta audience that he was gravely concerned about the NSA’s domestic spying program, stating as a consequence that “America at the moment does not have a functioning democracy,” and consequently there was “no reason for him to be optimistic at this time.”