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Dorothy Day and FOIA

How can I connect Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement with the Freedom of Information Act? Because Dorothy Day had an FBI file! While her 581 page file is not available on the FBI FOIA Electronic Reading Room site, you are welcome to review the documents at the FBI’s physical FOIA reading room at:

935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC; hours, 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. You are required to make appointments 48 hours in advance of arriving; please call 202-324-8057 to make your appointment.

If you’d rather not make the trip to DC, try reading the Catholic Worker article A Look Back at the Bureau by Robert Ellsberg in the March/April 2006 issue, which reviews the file of the Catholic Worker and Dorothy Day’s file from the time the Catholic Worker first attracted Bureau attention in 1948 through its activities in the Vietnam War.

This decades-long investigation of a completely nonviolent organization came to light because Ellsberg and Day used FOIA back in the late 1970s. This serves as an example of how government openness can be used to try and press for greater accountability.

I say try because some Catholic Worker houses are still under investigation. It makes the final part of the article ring true today even though it was originally written in 1979:

Our own file simply contributes a small part to a portrait of the Bureau already available: an organization caught in the web of its own delusions, no longer capable of distinguishing personal criticism from treason; a secret police force, answerable to no one, monitoring the beliefs and associations of American citizens, rating them by some private standard as to “dangerousness,” making secret threats on the basis of people’s “unconscious” motivations, attempting to inhibit people from free thinking and free speaking. To use a Bureau term, it was dangerous. It was also foolish.

At least we still have FOIA to continue to highlight these kinds of abuses.

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