Citizen Action—Protecting Your Rights

In 1940, Members of the Armstrong, Botkin and Simmons families are prepared for action. Hunting is an important part of life in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia, but even more important is the belief the Second Amendment is meant to protect life, family, home, property and Liberty.

Adverse possession is known to most Americans. It involves actual, open and notorious use of another man’s property (rights) without his permission. If the property owner does not act to protect his rights, he will lose them.

Property (rights) other than land may be adversely possessed. Everywhere we look today, governments, special-interest groups and individuals are adversing against rights lawfully held by others. There is little difference between the man who builds a fence across a part of his neighbor’s land with the intent of taking it, and the elected official who votes for higher taxes to fund a pet, “public interest” pork project; or the “citizens group” lobbying for restrictive land use regulations, in the name of the “protecting the pubic”; or a city government using eminent domain to condemn a homeowner’s land for a “redevelopment project”; or a politician voting to restrict firearms ownership— all in the “public interest” of course. A closer look almost always reveals the “public interest” is not public at all but is, in fact, private special-interests using the force of government to adverse against someone else’s rights.

There is an old precept in law: “Those who will not assert their rights, have none.” If we don’t know and understand our rights, we can’t assert them or protect them. Rights mean nothing if we are unwilling to become informed and to act.

Action can be taken in many ways. When confronted by an openly hostile neighbor building a fence across your land, a simple solution might be to use a bulldozer to remove the unlawful fence. When confronted with hostile acts by government, such direct ‘solutions’ may not always be advisable or effective.

All too often, those who attempt to take our rights are resourceful, well-funded, and patient—and they may have the power of the ‘system’ on their side. However, there are effective ways to protect rights from being adversed by abusive, corrupt, stupid, ignorant and dishonest people; but protecting rights requires action by citizens with knowledge, motivation and “stick-to-itiveness,” willing to expose falsehoods and deceptions.

George Washington stated, “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light.” In 1786, Dr. Benjamin Rush concluded, “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.”

It should not be assumed all elected and appointed officials are arrogant, corrupt, or self-serving. There are honest public servants who are trying to do what is right, despite having to work within a ‘system’ that frustrates their best efforts. However, there are men and women in public office who are unprincipled, woefully ignorant, without common sense or intelligence, lazy or without backbone—or a combination thereof—and there are also those who are clever, dishonest and driven by greed and lust for power.

Ignorance is not a character flaw. Honest public servants seek to be informed as fully as possible about an issue. They desire to make the right decisions and should be approached as such unless proved otherwise.   

The Enemy

The real ‘enemy’ we face in the battle to protect our Rights and Liberties, and to restore principles of sound government, is our own individual ignorance and inaction. The old saw, “You can’t fight city hall,” is often an excuse made by those who are unwilling to try. No one said it’s easy, but it can be done and has been done with great success when citizens are willing to inform themselves and others, and to act.    

At the Local Level

Citizen action at the local level can make a crucial difference. Local officials are generally more accessible and more responsive than at the state or federal level. They can be approached personally, by letter or by telephone. Be courteous and make points in a clear and concise manner. Your time is valuable and so is theirs. Most people have limited attention spans, so it is wise to boil down your points to the essentials. Don’t be afraid to take notes, ask questions, ask for clarifications or ask for documentation. Some officials are adept at talking a great deal but saying nothing. There is nothing wrong with politely and firmly trying to pin them down. If they do not answer a question in a satisfactory manner, ask again. Let them know if you are not happy if they continue to evade the question. Always remember who the public servant is. If they seem to forget, remind them.

In the Commonwealth

To some degree, Virginia retains the tradition of the citizen-legislator. The majority of Virginia’s legislators and officials will make time to personally discuss issues, take phone calls or respond to written comments or questions from their constituents.

Phone numbers, addresses, and other vital information is available at The Virginia Government home page  where you can contact the Governor, purchase your hunting license, link to the members of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, or link to your city and county resources and web pages—and much more.

The Virginia Constitution table of contents page is the place to view the structure of Virginia government and the Rights of Virginia Citizens.

The Virginia Code index page is the internet source for statutory enactments in Virginia. These pages are not annotated. However, most libraries and every courthouse have the full set of Code Books, which are annotated with relevant court decisions commentary and other information pertaining to a particular statute. Many attorneys are willing to allow citizens to use Code Books and other resources, such as Michie’s Jurisprudence of Virginia and West Virginia, in their offices.

At the The Legislative Information System home page, bills can be tracked, plus resolutions, meetings and other vital legislative information is available from 1994 to present.

The home page for the Virginia General Assembly  provides similar information.

The Virginia Senate lists each member of the Senate in alphabetical order, and likewise, the Virginia House of Delegates.

At the Federal Level

Mark Twain quipped, “There is no distinctly native American criminal class, save Congress.” Arrogance, corruption, cover-ups, immorality, amorality, laziness, stupidity, political deal making, dishonesty, conflict of interest and compromised principles also seem to be required qualifications at the top level of today’s federal power structure. Whether it is a judgeship or the head of an agency such as “Homeland Security,” selection of men and women to fill high posts is determined more by politics than by integrity and qualification. Daily media reports are filled with examples.

With the exception of a few handfuls of honorable men and women at the top, and the many dedicated but relatively powerless public servants filling middle and lower level positions, the federal government is run and controlled by a “gang.” H.L. Mencken described them as having “no special talent for the business of government …only a talent for getting and holding office.” U.S. supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter warned, “The real rulers in Washington are invisible and exercise power from behind the scene.”

Despite the distant and unreal world of Washington, D.C., and despite the insults inflicted upon the Rights of the average American by those who control that world, elected federal officials do keep their ‘fingers in the wind.’ They do take notice when enough voters make their opinions known.

Because members of the House of Representatives must stand for election every two years, the House is more directly linked and more responsive to those they represent than the Senate. For example, Gun Owners of America recently reported, “You guys made the difference, as your postcards and phone calls continually applied the heat to Representatives in the Congress. Because of you, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was able to say ‘we don’t have the votes to pass’ the semi-auto ban. They didn’t have the votes because you were holding your Congressmen’s feet to the fire. Thousands upon thousands of letters, e-mails, postcards and phone calls” ensured the sunset of the semi-auto ban in September, 2004.

Citizen action can be effective at the federal level. Listed below are several tools to guide and help you.

The Library of Congress brought the THOMAS World Wide Web system online in January 1995. From the Thomas home page, just about every function of federal, state and local government can be accessed. Bills can be tracked from 1989 to present. The Constitution and other founding Documents, the Congressional Record, committee reports, historical documents, appropriations, treaties, the U.S. Code, agency information and much more is at your fingertips.

At the Executive Office of the President, Americans can keep up with important issues such as: “What’s up with the President’s Scottish Terrier, Barney?” You can also write, phone or email the President about less important issues.

The US House of Representatives home page and Write Your Representative will assist you by identifying your Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, provides contact information and tracks House actions.

Use the US Senate homepage and Senate Contact Information to contact your Senators and to follow the Senate’s “deliberations.”

Phoning is Simple, Quick and Painless—and Toll Free. Get in the Habit!

Telephone calls to Senators and Congressmen are very easy and effective ways to communicate. Because of the “anthrax scare”, letters sent by mail may not be received in time to make your voice heard on a particular issue, especially if a vote is imminent. It may take weeks for a letter to get through ‘security.’ If you do need to communicate by mail, and want the letter to get there quickly, we suggest sending letters to the regional or home office of the Senator or Congressman instead of the Washington, D.C. office. For instance: Senator George Allen, 2214 Rock Hill Road, Suite 100, Herndon, Virginia 20170.

In addition to the phone numbers for Senators or Congressmen found on the above websites, you can phone the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 (not Toll Free). An operator will answer. Just ask to be connected to the office of Senator Joe Smith or Congressman Bill Doe.

There are also several Toll Free phone numbers connecting to the Capitol Switchboard. These numbers are maintained by various organizations and lobbying groups. Some of them may be inoperative at different times, but give them a try: 800-361-5222; 877-762-8762; 800-839-5276; 800-648-3516; 888-909-8697; 888-818-6641. The Switchboard is always loaded with calls. If you get a busy signal, just redial immediately. Chances are the call will go through.

When you reach Senator Joe Smith’s office, an aide will answer and will take your message or connect you to a legislative assistant if you need specific information or have specific questions. If you are voicing an opinion on an upcoming vote, chances are your position, for or against, will simply be tabulated. The aide may ask for your name and address. You may request a reply from the Senator, and will likely get a meaningless form letter sometime later, but there are still a few Members of Congress who personally write and sign replies to their constituents.

Congressman Dr. Ron Paul of Texas has one of the best websites for learning about current national issues from a Constitutionalist’s perspective. His Weekly Column, Texas Straight Talk addresses a wide range of topics from 1996 to present. Dr. Paul also has a Toll Free phone number where you can listen to his weekly commentary. Dial 888-322-1414. The message is available 24/7 and changes every Monday.

Those who adverse against your Rights and Freedoms do not sleep.

Unless you act, you will lose them. The choice is yours.

“A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.” — Bertrand de Juvenal