Rep. Sanders Vows to Continue Fight to Amend Patriot Act

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On Monday, July 12, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a press conference at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont, to announce that he would continue his efforts to get Congress to pass an amendment of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act to protect the privacy of bookstore and library patrons' records. Congressmen Sanders, addressing a crowd of approximately 50 reporters, librarians, and booksellers, said, "I have no doubt that we are going to win this fight, and when we do it, we're going to strike a tremendous blow for the U.S. Constitution, for democracy, and the rights of the American people to feel free. We've created a strong coalition of booksellers, librarians, and others, and this is a coalition that's going to win."

Left to right: Trina Magi, past president of the Vermont Library Association; Elaine Sopchak of The Book Rack in Essex Junction, Vermont; Linda Ramsdell; and Rep. Bernie Sanders.

The announcement was made in the wake of last week's tie vote on of the Freedom to Read Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) Appropriations Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The tie vote, which by House rules is a loss, came only after House leadership resorted to unusual tactics in keeping the vote open an additional 20 minutes beyond the normal 15 minutes to get a dozen or so members of Congress to switch their votes.

During the press conference, Congressman Sanders thanked booksellers and librarians and expressed his pride in their efforts on the Campaign for Reader Privacy (, which to date has collected almost 150,000 signatures. Sanders urged booksellers and librarians to continue gathering signatures and said that the grassroots campaign was an important part of raising awareness of the provisions in Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

ABA Board members Linda Ramsdell of Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont, and Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California, attended the conference and presented Sanders with a framed petition signed by every member of the current ABA Board. In her comments at the presentation, Ramsdell expressed her belief that, although the amendment didn't pass, the 210 - 210 vote was in itself a victory, given the dramatic change in support for the Patriot Act since it was initially passed.

Ramsdell, who spoke with BTW after the news conference said, "It was exciting for me that [Sanders] acknowledged the importance of all that booksellers and librarians are doing together for the Campaign for Reader Privacy. People should keep collecting signatures on petitions and send them in [to ABA]."

"ABA is urging booksellers who have been collecting signatures in this crucial effort, to continue to do so. And for those booksellers who have yet to join, this is the perfect opportunity to do so now," said ABA COO Oren Teicher.

A major battle is expected in Congress in 2005 over the reauthorization of provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year. In addition to H.R. 1157, several bills that amend the Patriot Act will be considered, including the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (S. 1709), which is currently sponsored by 20 senators, including Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. (For more on the bills in Congress seeking to amend the Patriot Act, click here.)

For additional petition pads, or to join the Campaign for Reader Privacy, booksellers should contact ABA's Information Department at (800) 637-0037, ext. 1292 or 1293, or for a downloadable PDF of the petition, click here.

ABA is encouraging booksellers to contact Rep. Sanders [[email protected]; fax (202) 225-6790] to thank him for his exemplary leadership in focusing national attention on this issue. In addition, the association has created template letters that booksellers can adapt to thank or to express disappointment in their representative's vote on the Freedom to Read Amendment. (For more about the letters, click here.) --Karen Schechner