Advocacy Teams for Jan 28 to Feb 1, Bills & Committees: Join in, ya’ll!

From our Lobbying Director, Vicki Yeroian:
This is your second weekly update to our VA NOW General Assembly action! Thank you to those who got active last week on gun violence prevention!
Monday morning at 8am, myself and VA NOW VP of Legislative Affairs, Marj Signer, will be attending the Senate Courts of Justice Committee meeting in Senate Room B of the General Assembly Building to testify and monitor the votes on–
  • Support SB 520 Firearm transfers; penalties.
  • Support SB 510 Firearms; possession following conviction of certain crimes (domestic violence, sexual assault, assault and battery)
If you are in Richmond and would like to attend, please join us!! To remind you, we have asked all of our all star GA volunteers  to commit to the following:
  • Writing at least two emails to committees you are interested in following, one in Jan and one in Feb
  • To try to make it out to a committee meeting when legislation is being voted on OR (more realistically) send an email to your selected committees when you are alerted that bills are being voted on. You will be alerted via a weekly email from me!
  • To attend an advocacy day to gain more experience with the legislative process
To become a GA Advocacy Volunteer, please email me at Also, see our complete guide and updates to GA Advocacy with VA NOW at our VA NOW in Action page.
So, what’s up this week??  First, I have attached our VA NOW billsheets for this week. Every week they are updated, as some of the legislation we are monitoring dies or gets passed by indefinitely in committee. Remember, we are tracking bills related to the following topics–
  • Family Health
  • Community Safety
  • Social and Economic Equity
  • Civil and Human Rights
Second, we have linked an updated committee tracking document, which is how you can find out where legislation you are interested in currently is! Since we will only be sending out an email once a week, please be sure you  take a minute, two or three times a week, to check the docket of the committees your bills are in and see if you should send out an email or not. Links to all dockets are in the committee tracking document.
What we recommend taking action on this week:

We’re Going to Richmond, VA NOW Advocacy Efforts 2014

In light of recent Democratic and progressive victories in Virginia elections VA NOW is ramping up our advocacy work in a major way. [Congratulations again to the victorious candidates and their teams and volunteers and supporters and voters, you rock!]

Given the truth that all issues are, in more than one way, women’s issues, we address ourselves this year to legislation ranging from the issues you know us for to restoring civil rights to people released from prison and community safety and greater access to mental health services. But, that’s not all, and the list of our ambitions is extensive. Visit VA NOW in Action and Represent at our website for more information and weekly updates.

From our own ranks, we have formed Advocacy Teams, each dedicated to watching bills and writing two emails per week to the relevant legislators and Committees. If you would like to enhance our efforts with your voice, please contact Vicki Yeroian, Statewide Director of Lobbying, VA NOW at The materials and links you need to find inspiration for your emails, read our positions on issues, contact legislators and committees, track bills, and make it to our Lobby Days at the Capitol can all be found on the Represent and VA NOW in Action pages (linked above), and our Events Calendar.

We invite you to (join) in our efforts. On VA NOW in Action, you will also find guides to our advocacy strategy for the year and a our Lobbying 101 guide which gives concise advice about how to write emails to legislators and how to handle in-person lobbying. Our legislative and advocacy leaders, Vicki Yeroian and Marj Signer ( will be happy to help you get ready to help us and yourself. For more information, see also this post: What’s Up at the 2014 General Assembly.

Of course, we are still working with our ally organizations (see Alliance) to ratify the Equal Right Amendment (Ratify) and protect voting and other civil rights, support women in difficult social and personal situations. We’re just stretching our muscles to support and embrace a host of issues that affect all Virginians, and all Virginian women now that we have more favorable winds at our backs.

In Peace and Progress,
Dr. Simone Roberts
Web Editor VA NOW

Virginia NOW Wants You to Help Rein in the NSA

Simone Roberts and Paradise Kendra

Why should a women’s organization work on surveillance issues?

We believe that women and women’s organizations have several priority interests in Spy-pusrestricting NSA surveillance of US citizens. If the following concerns seem out-sized to you, please read the sources in the Background section below.

 1.       Intelligence gathered through the NSA’s methods could potentially be used by the FBI and local law enforcement to interfere with or prevent rallies, protests, and acts of civil disobedience organized by VA NOW and similar groups.  (First Amendment)

 2.       Women’s medical privacy, in deeply red states like Kansas for instance, could potentially be violated by anti-choice state administrations to learn the identities of women who have had/planned to have abortions. (Fourteenth Amendment)

3.      Stalking. NSA analysts have already been found to be staking past, present, and desired romantic partners. While the NSA has responded to most of these cases appropriately (click), the room for abuse is a real concern. You have to get caught to get punished.

We also have interests in this problem as citizens:

  • current NSA practices NSA continue the erosion of individual/civil liberties begun with the PATRIOT Act

  • dangers of human fallibility in the misinterpretation or abuse of collected data

  • possible observation of or interference with legitimate community and political grassroots organizations in the US

Mostly what we’re worried about is:  Mistakes. It’s a lot of data  (nearly all of it) and you might not even know that you’re four degrees of separation from someone who’s one or two degrees of separation from a person of interest, suspect, or criminal —  but that’s close enough for a mistake to happen because the computers watching us are searching for patterns of connection and relation in addition to red-flag words and phrases.

And, lastly, this is just bad for a republic. Total surveillance and democracy cannot exist together. Both James Madison and Thomas Payne could agree on that.

What’s the difference  between the NSA tracking me and an internet company or advertiser?

Simply put, Google can’t hold you in indefinite detention as a material witness. Reebok can’t accidently arrest you as an unlawful combatant.

That may sound hyperbolic or stark, but think back to all the perfectly innocent citizens who found themselves on the No Fly List by mistake, or worse who were actually detained, and then could not get the mistake corrected. Sometimes, even with the best intentions, security agencies overdo it.

When the NSA makes a mistake — maybe by misunderstanding a conversation you had last year on the phone and don’t remember — the consequences can at the least destroy your reputation. “I’m worried about Jason. He’s so unhappy with the situation, and I think he’s reaching for comforts that are dangerous.” “Well, converting to Islam is not a sign that you’re unhappy or unreasonable.”

The fact is that metadata describes you, your whole life, and your state of mind in shocking detail (click).

          Here’s what we’re asking you to do.

1. Promote campaigns by these two organizations through your social media. These two organizations, in addition to the ACLU, are working to end NSA data dragnets and to bring intelligence efforts back into reasonable and constitutional boundaries:

Demand Progress is a petition campaign site largely interested in internet/activism issues (copyright, surveillance, harassment of whistleblowers, grassroots work).  Here is a sample petition for their anti-NSA campaign (click).

Fight for the Future is a similar organization, duplicating many of the campaigns of Demand Progress, but puts visitors in direct contact with their federal representatives.

2. Do the same thing for the ACLU’s efforts. Their petition is here (click). Details of their suit against the NSA are in this WaPo article.  Their work on this issues is outstanding.

3. Write a letter. Seriously. Petitions are nice and all, but petitions and form emails don’t get nearly the attention that personally written letters and phone calls do. It’s the effort factor. Each phone call and letter is often extrapolated by politicians and their staff to represent many hundreds or a thousand people who agree with you.

You might write your federal representatives to say that you want them to vote for one or both of these bills:

Rep. Rush Holt (D NJ): HR 2818 Surveillance State Repeal Act: Would repeal the PATRIOT Act and prevent the NSA from installing “backdoors” to most internet encryption, thus allowing private citizens to actually protect the data they want to protect, like their bank transactions (click).

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D VT): S 1599 USA Freedom Act: There is no summary of this bill at present, but basically it would end generalized eavesdropping on cell phone communications and the internet dragnet. It would force more careful FISA review.

Contact for VA House Reps                Contact for VA Senators

You might write to your state representatives to ask them to draft legislation for the state that restricts surveillance along the lines of the federal bills, or modeled on legislation being considered in Wisconsin and California, and to a lesser degree in Texas.

Contact for VA State Legislators

In your letter you could ask for the following, in your own words:

  • Demand a clear and limited definition of “national security,” a term that presently means just about anything at all.

  • Limit both foreign and domestic surveillance to legitimate terrorist tracking and triangulation, not surveillance of entire populations or governments.

  • Limit use of encryption backdoors.

  • Limit legal use so that no data collected by NSA can be used in non-terror related criminal or civil cases against US citizens, or as leverage in other actions.

  • Impose immediate loss of security clearance and prosecution of any government official who uses collected data against other citizens for personal, financial, or political gain or influence.

  • Forbid any use of NSA tracking methods to restrict political organizing, action or civil disobedience.

  • Protect whistleblowers from  intimidation and over-prosecution.

  • Include an exoneration clause that assures well-publicized public apologies to citizens if the program targets them and investigations/detentions/arrests follow a mistaken identification of a “potential terrorist.”

It’s kind of a lot to take in, but give it a day or so. Think about how you really feel about Homeland Security and the NSA collecting the record of every electronic thing you do: phone call, email, on-line purchase, Netflix rental, bank transaction, charitable donation, Facebook post, listserv discussion, browsing through Pinterest, your conversations with your Muslim and Middle Eastern friends.

You may want to write a letter broad enough to cover everything, or focused on some key concerns that matter more to you. But write. And, if you want to, send a copy of your letter to  (subject line: My NSA Letter). We’ll collect and post them on our Facebook page to encourage more action.


How dedicated is our security state to gathering every byte of information about all citizens, seemingly everywhere in the world (France, Germany, and Brazil got the most media attention)?

The NSA describes its data collection center as 1.5 million square feet, and will consume 65 megawatts of electricity costing $1 million per month. It’s in Nevada, and the water needed to keep all those servers cool will be about 1.7 million gallons (6500 tons) of water per day — in Nevada (click) and (click). It is meant to store everything, possibly forever. The word “Exabyte” was coined for a memory capacity equal to 100,000 times the total holdings of the Library of Congress. How  much is that?  It’s this much:

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 155.3 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 35 million books and other print materials, 3.4 million recordings, 13.6 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music and 68 million manuscripts. (click)

Multiplied by 100,000. The facility  is also having some significant technical problems with electrical overloads and failures (and the gods only know what effect that could have on the data accuracy) (click).  The room for error here  goes beyond  mistakes in human interpretation or logarithm design, but includes the random electrical  arc scrambling some data. And given the stakes here, those are unacceptable errors.

Rumors that the report published by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies will “roll back” the security state’s powers are hopeful, but false. The recommendations are far more conservative than most civil liberties organizations would like, as summarized in this op-ed by Michael Morell, one of the report’s authors (click).

Who’s resisting besides Edward Snowden and Anonymous?

VA NOW would be joining a trend. Several large tech companies (AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter,  and LinkedIn) are insisting on five points of reform for current surveillance laws (click). Though these companies are direct competitors, they have come together to demand these reforms so that the internet, essential to the success of all, becomes a trustworthy space once again.

Lawmakers in some states and in the federal government are trying many avenues to restrict surveillance powers to something that will catch bad actors and let the rest of us enjoy our rights and liberties. Terrorists are criminals, they behave like any kind of criminal, and standard forensic procedures can catch them.

Some leading intellectuals and writers are letting their voices be heard. Five hundred writers, from many nations, have signed a public letter demanding a “digital bill of rights” be established in the UN. (click)

Your letter would not place you on the fringe, but right in the stream of national and Spy-pusinternational efforts to reign in the NSA. Have you seen the logo for the new spy satellite going into orbit? (click)  No, we did not make that up. You thought we made that up, didn’t you? Nope.

From Wired Magazine: “The legislation has support from Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, and from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and National Rifle Association. But the USA FREEDOM Act’s passage into law remains uncertain.

“It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and one of the bill’s chief sponsors. Today’s proposal is a radical revamp of the Patriot Act, legislation passed in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. In 2006, lawmakers amended the act to allow the bulk collection program under the disguise of Section 215 of the Patriot Act — which allows the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize broad warrants for most any type of “tangible” records, including those held by banks, doctors and phone companies”. (click)

From NYT: “We pay them to spy,” Mr. Holt said. “But if in the process they degrade the security of the encryption we all use, it’s a net national disservice.”

Mr. Holt, whose Surveillance State Repeal Act would eliminate much of the escalation in the government’s spying powers undertaken after the 2001 terrorist attacks, was responding to news reports about N.S.A. documents showing that the agency has spent billions of dollars over the last decade in an effort to defeat or bypass encryption. The reports, by The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian, were posted online on Thursday.” (click)

From Reason Magazine: “The USA FREEDOM Act, which aims to rein in the National Security Agency (NSA), has a growing coalition of bipartisan support that includes Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).

The full title—“Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online-Monitoring Act”—is a mouthful. But it aims to do exactly what it says. If passed, the bill could end bulk meta-data collection, require the attorney general to make certain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court decisions public, and allow Internet and telephone companies to disclose some information about FISA court orders they receive. Additionally, it would create a position within the FISA court of a “special advocate” to act “zealous and effective…in defense of civil liberties.” (click)

Freedom and justice for all,
Dr. Simone Roberts
Web Editor / Historian
Virginia NOW


Women’s History Lecture Series at the Workhouse

Workhouse Arts Center
9601 Ox Road
Lorton, Virginia 22079

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