Advance Look at 2004’s Big Bookselling Story: Amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act


Spring 2004 (Vol V, No. 1) Table of Contents

IOBA Standard readers are getting a good look at what should be the big bookselling story of 2004, with a chance to play an important part in this campaign that will help our businesses, our customers, and America as a whole.

This February, retail and online booksellers, coordinated by the ABA, ALA, and PEN, and other concerned groups and organizations, launched a nationwide and on-line petition, backed by large-scale phone and email campaigns. The goal is to generate 1 millions signatures in support the over 150 US Senators and House Members who sponsor important bi-partisan bills to amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act. This on-line petition, phone and email campaign is being reinforced by a nationwide petition campaign at ABA-member bookstores (open to all stores).

Chronology:

February 17th: ABA, ALA, and PEN jointly announce the “Campaign for Reader Privacy”. (See: http://www.readerprivacy.com/?mod[type]=press and scroll down to Press Release.) READERPRIVACY.COM goes live. This site is a simple one-stop resource supporting this campaign for booksellers, bookstore customers and concerned citizens (no commercial use will be made of information collected). ABFFE.COM also has extensive info.

Emails and calling scripts (see below) go out to booksellers. This is a carefully scripted plan to make sure that Congress hears not just random noise, but that an entire industry is demanding action. This is where you can help, by making sure that Congress hears this is an important business issue. This will take less than 10 minutes of your time.

You will be surprised at how receptive your elected representatives are on this issue when you are calling as a business owner (no matter how small).

Late February: The ABA booksellers and organizations petition campaign rolls out in stores and online. This campaign is open to all and still going on; please participate! You can sign the on-line version at http://www.readerprivacy.com, download a printable version to circulate to your customers and friends, or both! If you would like to add your business name as a supporter of legislation amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act, please go to: http://www.readerprivacy.com/?mod[type]=book_community to sign on.

Late Spring: We will begin to present the petitions to members of Congress this spring during meetings in their home districts and in Washington.

Our goal: To restore the protections for customer privacy-something that will help our country and that we can take pride in for the rest of our lives.

If you don’t make an effort, don’t complain.

What is Section 215?

Section 215 “gives the FBI virtually unlimited access to… bookstore and library records” (please see the ABFFE.com home page for more info and links), and has caused tremendous concern among booksellers and bookstore customers, authors, publishers, distributors, librarians and library patrons, as well as many other groups.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act is an issue that has united American retail and online booksellers, large and small, as never before. It has only been recently that efforts by ABFFE (The American Bookseller’s Foundation for Free Expression) have revealed how united we are as an industry in being concerned about Section 215, and thus it is only now that we can collectively realize how much power we have to drive change.

An Industry United

Most, if not all, American retail and online booksellers are concerned about Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The firms and associations supporting the two main bi-partisan bills in Congress represent roughly 90% of retail book sales in the US, big market shares of publishers and distributors, as well as the entire library field. (See:http://www.readerprivacy.com/?mod[type]=learn_more.) Changing this law will repeal the troubling aspects of Section 215 that concern booksellers and our customers.

What does that mean? It means collectively we have the power. It means that if we use this power properly, Congress will hear us. Our customers and staff will no longer be worried by Section 215, and we can get back to serving our customers, growing our businesses, and creating jobs. The uniformity of opinion in our industry regarding Section 215 means that we can address Congress with a clear and simple message: “This law is bad for business and we want it changed now“.

Section 215 – Bipartisan Mistake

The USA Patriot Act was hurriedly crafted and passed after the tragedy of 9/11, a time when Congress clearly felt that the consequences of inaction outweighed the dangers of a bad law. The Patriot Act passed with near-unanimous, bipartisan support, meaning that almost every member of Congress voted in its favor. (Russell Feingold of Wisconsin was the only “no” vote in the Senate. There were 66 opponents in the House.) Most Senators and Representatives will honestly tell you that they did not have a chance to read the bill before voting for it.

In an effort to shore up the increasingly shaky support for the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft recently revealed that the Department of Justice has never used Section 215. We should accept him at his word, and conclude that, if Section 215 was not needed in the two years after 9/11, during our Nation’s greatest crisis since Pearl Harbor, then it is clear that the laws that already give the government the power to seek bookstore and library records while protecting against potential abuses of customer privacy are entirely adequate to the task of pursuing terrorists. What this proves is that Section 215 has not made a single American family safer, yet it has upset our customers and cost our industry revenue and our country jobs.

Using Our Muscle

Americans are increasingly concerned about intrusions into their privacy. As a result of this feeling, Congress enacted the “Do Not Call List” which garnered support from over 54 million households in a matter of weeks. As booksellers, we sell a single product category, which means our businesses are extremely vulnerable to changes in consumer behavior. There is evidence that consumers are becoming nervous about making purchases where material is controversial in nature or would be an embarrassment. Any law, such as Section 215, that associates our sole product line with negativity or risk in the mind of the consumer is a threat that must be dealt with.

To my knowledge, there is not a single company in our industry that supports Section 215. A law opposed by our entire industry, which concerns our customers, and has never even been used, is a law without a constituency. A few hundred or thousand phone calls from businesses like ours could make the difference.

Although ABFFE and other Civil Rights and Free Speech groups are currently challenging Section 215 and other aspects of the Patriot Act in court, as businesses we have the ability to get Congress to repeal the part that troubles us, and get results fast.

Get Off the Fence

In my memory of this industry, this sort of unity is rare and unique. I realize that for independent retail and online booksellers continually buffeted by change and brutal competition the very thought that we do in fact have power is an alien concept, but I can assure you that this is in fact the case. So often in our business careers our companies and this nation as a whole are adversely affected by bad laws or circumstances that we feel powerless to change. Section 215 of the Patriot Act is a bad law that we can change.

If you have not considered this issue, or are a fence sitter, I suggest you ask a few random customers the following:

Are you aware that the Federal Government has the right to make us tell them what you read?

If you believed the government would learn what you were buying, are you more likely, less likely or as likely, to buy books in the following subjects:

firearms & Second Amendment rights

religion (if you want to be specific pick any one you want)

depression, anxiety and personal medical issues

addiction & recovery

abortion, pro-choice & pro-life issues

sexuality

And last: As credit card transactions can be traced, ask do you believe your privacy is “better protected” if you pay cash?

The answers will get you off the fence. They will also lead you to understand that there are other, powerful constituencies and special interest groups (all of whom poll extensively), who will shortly realize that Section 215 is impeding their ability to get their message across to future members. And, in the case of the credit card companies, how will they feel about customers shift to cash in bookstore purchases?

Do You Want to Vent – or Win?

For some companies and individuals in our field, opposition to Section 215 is strictly a matter of principle and a patriotic commitment to the freedoms and Constitutional rights bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers, and sustained by the blood and toil of our forefathers. For others, opposition is strictly based upon business principles and their customers’ increasing discomfort. I believe that most of our colleagues oppose Section 215 on both counts.

It is important to remember that the Patriot Act is not a Republican law, it is a bi-partisan law. Just as Democrats were full partners in creating and passing the Patriot Act, Republicans are playing a leading role in changing Section 215 (and Independents as well, Congressman Bernie Sanders, I, VT is author of the leading bill in the House). Just as with Democrats and liberals, Republicans and the Republican Party are not monolithic, and if we approach this as a bad bi-partisan law – not a bad Republican law – Republican Senators and Representatives will in many cases be receptive.

Just prior to 9/11, we at Arundel Books had our own fight over our customer records with Attorney General Ashcroft, the Justice Department, and the FBI. Yes… we won, with help from ABFFE and other groups across the political spectrum. While I realize that Mr. Ashcroft is a divisive and controversial figure, he alone did not pass Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Democratic and Republican Senators and Representatives did. I personally am opposed to Section 215 regardless of which party is in power, no matter who fills the office of Attorney General.

If we individually and collectively confuse Mr. Ashcroft or the Bush Administration with the problem that Section 215 represents, we will make our ultimate victory more difficult.

So, when I tell you that you can vent, or win, what do I mean? Section 215 presents us with a business problem that needs a businesslike solution. Hundreds if not thousands of business owners like you and I need to pick up the phone and spend a few minutes making calls. If we are businesslike, it will be easier to pick up support. If too many of us use this opportunity to attack Mr. Ashcroft, President Bush, or the Republican Party as a whole, there is a good chance that Republican Senators and Representatives whose votes we needwill circle the wagons to defend Section 215 – which is at the end of the day a law that they oppose in principle and would otherwise happily repeal. We would also lose the support and votes of many Democrats (and possibly Independents) who are interested in results and not posturing. The Senate bill, S-1709 (the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act), which we should support, was in fact written and sponsored by a Republican, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho.

If you want to vent, call a talk show, your Mom, or your therapist. If you want to win, take this seriously and treat it like an appointment with your banker. If we take this approach and leave the partisan political rhetoric aside, we will win, our customers will be happy, and America will be better off for our efforts. Our industry is so united that there will be no cost or retaliation and you will feel like you made a difference and achieved something important.

GETTING IT DONE

What to Do?

First of all let me assure you, you are in fact going to enjoy this. It is not like going to the dentist, these people actually want to hear from you and stay in office by being responsive to business owners like us. It is companies like ours that create jobs, pay taxes and make this country work.

If this takes more than 10 minutes, you are a slow dialer.

Get your phone numbers and bill numbers ready, and get your script ready (see below for examples). This will get you to the right person, help you get your point across, respect that person’s time, and leave them time to speak to you. Your ‘script’ should fit on an index card, and you should do one each for the House and the Senate. Feel free to write your own, I have provided a generic model if it helps. Just remember, venting and winning are two different things. Let’s win!

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Congress has Two Houses & Two Bills

Just as there are two houses of Congress, there are two somewhat different bills.

The bill in the US Senate is S-1709 (the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act), written and sponsored by a Republican, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho.

Your Senators:

Find your senators’ names and contact info. Go to the following website (you can also check the Government section of your white pages phone book):

http://www.senate.gov Use the pull-down menu to select your state (if you operate or own homes in more than one state, go for broke – call them all).

Write down or print out both of your Senator’s names and phone #’s. Unless you are allergic to long distance, it is best if you call their Washington offices (starts with area code 202).

Have your script ready. Call both of your Senators.

Sample Senate script:

2 Senators, 2 Calls: —————————

How it works:

[ring… Senator Blank’s office]

FIRST – GET THE RIGHT PERSON (hint – it is NOT the Senator but a staff member):

You Ask: Who can I speak with regarding the Senator’s position on S-1709? [If they need more info S-1709 is the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act – bi-partisan, sponsored by Larry Craig and Dick Durbin]

[answer will include name and number – write them down; if the person is unavailable you will get voice mail – in which case you say your name and number, and that you are a business owner and constituent calling for info on the Senator’s position on S-1709]

When you get through, here is a sample script:

Hello [name], thank you for taking my call.

I am calling to inquire about the Senator’s position on S-1709 [If they need more info S-1709 is the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act – bi-partisan, sponsored by Larry Craig and Dick Durbin].

I am a business owner and a constituent (if you share the Senator’s party affiliation say so). Section 215 of the Patriot Act is causing my customers concern and giving me and my business headaches. Mr. Ashcroft himself has plainly said it has not been used, and I would like the Senator to join in support of S-1709 – a bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Larry Craig and Dick Durbin, that will restore the safeguards for customer privacy without undermining the ability of the government to pursue terrorists. Are you aware that virtually every company in our industry opposes Section 215 and supports S-1709 – from the malls to Main Street – amounting to over 90% of gross retail book industry market share?

Where does the Senator stand on this?

If the Senator is supporting the bill – express your thanks and restate the importance of this issue to you.

If the Senator is not yet on board, it helps to leave your name and number and ask for a follow-up call, and ask: How can I help the Senator to understand the importance of this bill to our industry, our customers, and the Senator’s constituents?

Repeat this phone call to your state’s second Senator. Great job!

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Calls #3 & 4 – Your US Representatives (unless you live in the same zip code as you work – if you own multiple houses of businesses call all Representatives in your areas)

Go to the following website

http://www.house.gov
Enter the zip codes that apply for your home and work, and write down names and phone numbers.

———–

[ring… Representative Blank’s office]

FIRST – GET THE RIGHT PERSON (hint – it is NOT the Representative but a staff member):

You Ask: Who can I speak with regarding the Representative’s position on HR-1157? [If they need more info it is Bernie Sanders’ Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) which has over 140 co-sponsors so there is a good chance they are on board]

[Answer will include name and number – write them down; if the person is unavailable you will get voice mail – in which case you say your name and number, and that you are a business owner and constituent calling for info on the Representative’s position on H.R. 1157]

When you get through, here is a sample script:

Hello [name], thank you for taking my call.

I am calling to inquire about the Representative’s position on H.R. 1157 [If they need more info it is Bernie Sanders’ Freedom to Read Protection Act with over 140 co-sponsors].

I am a business owner and a constituent (if you share party affiliation say so). Section 215 of the Patriot Act is causing my customers concern and giving me and my business headaches. Mr. Ashcroft himself has plainly said it has not been used, and I would like the Representative to join in support of H.R. 1157 – a bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Bernie Sanders, that will restore the safeguards for customer privacy without undermining the ability of the government to pursue terrorists. Are you aware that virtually every company in our industry opposes Section 215 and supports H.R. 1157 – from the malls to Main Street? – amounting to over 90% of gross retail market share?

Where does the representative stand on this?

If he/she is supporting the bill – express your thanks and restate the importance of this issue to you.

If he/she is not yet on board it helps to leave your name and number and ask for a follow-up call, and ask: How can I help you folks to understand the importance of this bill to our industry, our customers, and your constituents?

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Phillip Bevis
Arundel Books
(206) 624-4442

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