On Monday, May 24, at a ceremony at Chelsea Piers in New York City, two women who helped organize a grassroots campaign to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act will be among those honored with the Playboy Foundation's 2004 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. Trina Magi, past president of the Vermont Library Association (VLA), and Linda Ramsdell, owner of the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont, will receive the First Amendment Award in the field of Education. "I'm excited and honored that we're recognized," said Ramsdell. "I'm happy to be sharing the evening with the other award winners
and honored to be in their company."
Beginning in 2002, Ramsdell and Magi helped to rally booksellers and librarians to fight Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act -- which amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to give the FBI vastly expanded authority to search business records, including the records of bookstores and libraries.
Ultimately, in response to a letter sent by Magi and Ramsdell on behalf of Vermont librarians and booksellers, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), legislation that would remove the threat to readers' privacy.
By the end of 2003, Sanders' bill had 144 co-sponsors, including 16 Republicans. In addition, other bills were introduced into the Senate that would amend Section 215, as well as other provisions of the Patriot Act.
Overall, Magi and Ramsdell have been tireless in the efforts to have Section 215 amended, taking time out to travel to press conferences, citizen forums, and trade shows. Ramsdell is a member of the Working Group on 215, a committee that is coordinating the activities of booksellers, librarians, publishers, and writers. She has been a bookseller since 1988.
"It is wonderful that Linda Ramsdell and Trina Magi are getting the recognition they deserve," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "They played a critical role in launching the Congressional effort to amend the Patriot Act and restore the safeguards for customer privacy."
The other winners of the Hefner First Amendment Awards are:
- Bill Maher, host, HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, in the field of Arts and Entertainment;
- Molly Ivins, syndicated columnist, for Lifetime Achievement;
- Ronald K.L. Collins and David Michael Skover, authors of The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon (Sourcebooks Mediafusion, 2002), in the field of Book Publishing;
- David D. Cole, author of Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism (New Press, 2003), also in the field of Book Publishing;
- Stephen Aftergood, senior research analyst, federation of American Scientists and director, Project on Government Secrecy, in the field of Government;
- Nate Blakeslee, contributing writer, The Texas Observer, in the field of Law; and
- Talia Buford, editor-in-chief, Hampton Script, Hampton University, in the field of Print Journalism.