August 1, 2005
The informed and active involvement of citizens in government at all levels has long been a goal of the League of Women Voters. The League has also been highly attentive to issues of civil rights and civil liberties throughout its history. As a result, the League of Women Voters Education Fund, the citizen education and research arm of the League, initiated a multi-faceted approach to enhancing both public and policymaker understanding of the issues involved in the complex interaction of civil liberties and homeland security.In 2005, with generous funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Education Fund launched a project entitled Local Voices: Citizen Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities. The project has three main components.One component involved facilitating ten public deliberations in communities across the country in June 2005. The League asked the Study Circles Resource Center (SCRC), a national organization that works to advance deliberative democracy, to be a partner in this project. In collaboration with the League, SCRC developed a discussion guide, provided advice to local Leagues as they prepared for the public deliberations, and trained local discussion facilitators at the ten sites. The hosts were the Leagues in: Baltimore, Maryland; Black Hawk-Bremer counties, Iowa; Brookhaven, New York; Columbia, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Lexington, Kentucky; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; North Pinellas County, Florida; and Seattle, Washington. Each site hosted between 50 and 100 community members for four to six hours of conversation. Insights from these forums were collected in two forms: observations recorded by trained note takers in break-out discussions (approximately six to ten participants in each) at every site and a post-deliberation individual participant survey. Questionnaires, developed by Lake Snell Perry Mermin/Decision Research (LSPM/DR), were completed by more than 650 participants. The results areiincluded in the report. (See Appendix A for more information.)The other two components of the project involved qualitative and quantitative public opinion research to explore attitudes and values toward homeland security and civil liberties. The League hired LSPM/DR to conduct six focus groups in three cities: Bakersfield, California; Dallas, Texas; and Richmond, Virginia. In addition, LSPM/DR conducted an analysis of national polling data that provide reflections of Americans' opinions toward homeland security and civil liberties.The findings from all components of the Local Voices project are chronicled in this report. Neither this report nor the ultimate Congressional action on the USA PATRIOT Act by any means signals the end of the issue or the need for conversation on this important topic.The issues -- and the decisions -- involved in the intersection between civil liberties and homeland security will continue to evolve and manifest themselves in various ways. The consequences of the decisions this country makes will have lasting effects on every American, in their lives and communities, and on the nation as a whole.This report presents a number of findings and insights gleaned from the range of public input obtained during the Local Voices project. These findings are identified and then described at length in the following pages. Some are focused on specific topics within the current debate, and some are more general and far-ranging.At the conclusion of this report, the League presents a series of recommendations. These relate to the ways government at all levels, as well as community institutions, the media, and the public itself, can work to strengthen public understanding, public involvement and public confidence in the conversations, decisions and trade-offs that have been and will continue to be made about homeland security and civil liberties.