That bit of street theater was part of the July 3 kickoff for the Pittsburgh Bill of Rights Defense Campaign. Despite its flippant opening act, the campaign has serious goals. First, says member Jennifer Kenney, it wants to educate the public regarding the USA PATRIOT Act, which expands the government's rights to obtain records, conduct searches and wiretap if it deems such actions necessary to combat loosely defined "terrorism." The first step in that effort will be a July 17 town meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the University of Pittsburgh's David Lawrence Hall.
Second, the campaign wants Pittsburgh City Council to pass a resolution that would bar the city's police department from helping the feds enforce immigration laws, conducting surveillance of political activity or doing racial profiling.
And third, it wants to join with like-minded groups in other cities to push for a repeal of the PATRIOT Act, and the defeat of the long-anticipated PATRIOT II legislation. A draft of PATRIOT II includes more surveillance powers and gives the government the right to strip people of their U.S. citizenship and then hold them indefinitely without charge. The legislation "has gone under the radar," says Barb Feige, director of the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It will come back."
Playing Bush was local activist Michael Droham. Uncle Sam wouldn't fess up to any other name. "That [fake] Uncle Sam that for years has been going around the world saying, 'We want you for the U.S. Army!' -- ask him his name," he said. "I get nervous when I see him hanging from a tree on fire in some other country."