Update, November 21: thanks all for the great feedback! Please check out the (much shorter) revised draft.
Below you will find our proposed Open Letter to President Obama. We will continue editing and discussing as needed, and as always, we welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comments:
Dear President Obama,
In July 2008, in response to our previous Open Letter, you promised “to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”
Within your response, you also elaborated on your intent as President to run “a White House that takes the Constitution seriously, conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.”
Despite our differing opinions on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), your statement that “no tool has been more important in focusing peoples’ attention on the abuses of executive power” than the “sustained engagement of American citizens” was an inspiring call to us. We remain heartened by your “promise to listen” to our concerns and to “take them seriously.” This is an invitation that we hope citizens at large have taken very seriously. Indeed, we undoubtedly do, and again, we applaud your offer of collaboration.
Over 23,000 strong, we are the largest issue-oriented grass-roots group on your campaign website, www.OrganizingForAmerica.com. We once again ask you to follow through on your campaign pledges of an open and responsive government by shining light on the Patriot Act in particular, and on our country’s civil liberties in general. Our coalition is an ideologically and demographically diverse group who believes in your clarion call to change, and we want to see it enacted. We stand ready to help and wish to share our ideas to further your stated goal of rolling back the abuses of the Bush administration — implemented in a post-9/11 panic.
We ask you again to reaffirm the right to privacy in our country. However, we need you to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, through obfuscating these issues behind a veil of secrecy.
Your Attorney General has flatly stated that whereas “a conversation that can be had about do [Patriot Act provisions] need to be modified in some way to be more sensitive to civil liberties concerns”, yet this conversation has been held behind closed doors. Furthermore, we continue to hear of your representatives insisting on a package of amendments to strip privacy and civil liberties protections that you had purportedly favored in the past. We hope you will not continue to allow members of your administration to work to minimize these reforms and to further degrade our liberty. Even more broadly, we hope you do not further dilute the principles of open government and of the personal responsibility of a citizen to act through attempts to sweep the Patriot Act reauthorization, and its impact on our rights, under the rug. In particular, we are concerned about the ‘Lone Wolf’ provision and of Section 215, although we applaud your Attorney General’s decision to make the requested information available to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Americans of all stripes have grown wary of giving up liberty for temporary security, as we know such a notion is antithetical to the nature of our country. We recognize the need to ensure the safety of our free nation, which is why we feel so strongly about rolling back the abuses to our freedoms. As has been attributed to Ben Franklin, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”
This is why we implore you to give us the tools to work together so we can collectively amplify the voices of the people and ensure that the true nature of American patriotism is recognized! As both you and your attorney general speak to these matters, we will capture the video, load it to YouTube, and spread your words far and wide through twitter and any other innovative delivery mechanisms at our disposal. Each of us has our own network of like-minded citizens. Each of us is a community organizer chomping at the bit to exhibit that citizenship is something you do!
Despite our disagreements last July, many of us were among your strongest supporters and we all celebrated when you were elected. Your call for us to believe in our own ability to bring about real change in Washington has affected us to the core. It is why we maintain such profound hope that you will reverse course and not let your administration be tarred by continuing the constitutional abuses from your predecessor.
The Organizing for America caption still reads, “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.” We assure you that we believe in our capacity to bring this change. We hope that you will reaffirm our trust in you, and your commitment to civil liberties, by reasserting open and public discourse as a founding principle of democracy.