Page 30


Harrington, continued from page 13 cover and later asking for participants’ names. This is a classic case of what the Supreme Court calls “chilling” the exercise of First Amendment rights. SURVEILLANCE OF PHONE RECORDS This past May, USA Today revealed the federal government was secretly acquiring customers’ phone records from AT&T Inc. and other phone companies. President Bush eventually admitted this program had begun prior to September 11, as did his program of clandestine, warrantless wiretapping of Americans. One of Texas’ premier First Amendment lawyers, Jim George, is representing two lawyers \(including Austin Chronicle, and its editor in a federal class action, alleging that not only was AT&T violating our individual rights, but also was intruding on the special confidentiality each of our professions holds. In each case, the government gained access to people with whom we communicate in confidence. SNEAK AND PEAK AT UT PROFESSOR’S RESIDENCE? It’s virtually impossible to know whether someone has been subject to a warrantless “sneak and peak” search, because under the Patriot Act the government has no obligation to reveal its activity until it deems it appropriate. And it is a federal crime if someone, such as a landthat government agents had engaged in such activity. An outspoken professor at UT and critic of American policy toward the believes she may have been a victim of this activity. Just enough items were moved around her living roomitems out of reach and not of interest to a thiefto make the point someone had been there. Was it the government? No one will ever know, which is exactly the problem. If it was agents, they made their point … intimidation. Even if it wasn’t the government, its secret activities raise exactly this kind of suspicion and lack of verification and transpar ency that is fundamentally at odds with a democracy. Unfortunately, these tactics are not new. In the early to mid-1980s, the FBI used similar operations against the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador to spy on people opposing U.S. Central American policy, including many individuals and groups here in Texas. Even though the FBI invoked the terrorism mantra, its massive, five-year investigation produced not a shred of evidence of wrongdoing by CISPES or affiliated people. Subsequent congressional hearings led the attorney general in 1989 to impose the “General Crimes/Domestic Security/Terrorism Guidelines for FBI Investigations” that restricted covert surveillance and searches. However, in May 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft, again invoking “terrorism,” severely weakened those guidelines and allowed the FBI to collect information on Americans’ First Amendment activities without any criminal predicate. We have gone full circle into another de-constitutionali7ed zone. THE ROUND ROCK 92 There are also examples of the repressive mood in the country, a mood created in part by the administration’s bully pulpit of fear. One is the arrest of some 200 Round Rock high school students for participating in the pro-immigrant demonstrations that swept the country last spring. The city charged the students with violating the daytime curfew. Even though the ordinance has a specific exemption for First Amendment activities, the city persisted in the mass arrests. Nearly half the students took a probationary plea, but 92 stood firm and demanded trials. The city has since dismissed more than half of those charges, but continues to move forward on the others. This hardly engenders in our future leaders respect for the constitutional law; rather it shows them how arbitrary power can trample the Bill of Rights. “NO MORE BUSH-IT” Then there is Chris Kelly, who was carrying an anti-Bush cardboard placard Hernandez, the fight to control the means of one’s own cultural production and to change popular misconceptions through the media is as significant and political as any other struggle. Like the integration of the grand jury and the creation of a more equitable electoral system in Dallas, he says, the Vistas festival is a means of “leveling the playing field” and putting control in the hands of the Latino community. Attendance at the first Vistas festival in 1999 checked in at just under 500, possibly because of its somewhat vague offerings \(the lineup included such Latino classics as Rob Reiner’s Stand By Last year, more than 2,000 people showed up over the five-day festival. This year Vistas is featuring an openingnight film by award-winning Spanish director Joaquin Oristrell; a filmmaking workshop with Argentine director and actress Teresa Costantini; and a Raul Julia retrospective. Organizers expect more than 5,000 people. When Hernandez talks about Vistas, it’s obvious that numbers aren’t his main concern. As the festival grows in size and reputation, and as more corporate sponsors get involved \(American Airlines parent AMR Corp. and Jack Daniel Distillery are two of the most to his colleagues that the festival’s independence is the most important thing: more important than movie stars, than good press, than money. He limits sponsor donations to $2,500. “I’ll tell you what happens when you let sponsors give you $50,000 or $100,000,” he says. “They’re gonna call you up and say, ‘You know, we don’t think you oughta be showing Tie Me up, Tie me Down. We don’t think you should be showing El Crimen del Padre Amaro; [which are] controversial films. “But we won’t let that happen,” he adds. “We’re an independent film festival. We don’t answer to anybody. We don’t owe anybody.” Josh Rosenblatt is an Austin-based freelance journalist who frequently writes about the arts. For more information about the Vistas Film Festival, see www.vistasfilmfestival org. 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 8, 2006