De profundis clamavi, or why we can talk till we’re blue in the face but until we put our money where our mouth is we won’t get rid of the TSA

by Lisa Simeone on August 24, 2012


One question comes up again and again: in the face of TSA abuse, what can we do? How can we resist? Especially given that our elected representatives ignore us, even though they’ve received plenty of compaints.

The question was posed most recently here at TSA News by a commenter called “Kitten.” In answering her, I said that there are many ways to resist, not just one, many ways to protest, not just one. And that I would write a post detailing those ways in the near future.

This is that post.

I’m going to list the various ways I can come up with to fight the TSA. This list isn’t exhaustive; how could it be? This struggle requires a multi-pronged approach. I’m sure other people can come up with other ways, which I invite them to leave in the comments. You could choose one method or a combination of methods. The important thing is that you resist, no matter how you choose to do it.

1. Economic boycott: stop flying. I believe this is the most important weapon in our arsenal. And I believe the country is nowhere near ready to do it en masse. But you have to start somewhere.

First of all, I repeat what I’ve said a hundred times: I know that not everyone can stop flying. Some people are forced to fly for work. Some people are forced to fly for medical procedures. Those people are between a rock and a hard place, and I sympathize with them. But they aren’t the majority. They are a significant population, but they aren’t the majority of people who fly. There are many millions of people who don’t have to fly but who choose to. If those people who can choose not to fly would do so, we’d bring the airlines to their knees. A few months max. Then things would change.

As I’ve written before, the airlines aren’t blameless. The airlines are complicit in the TSA’s abuse. If the airlines lost money, you can bet they’d scream bloody murder. That’s what they did with the liquids ban in 2006. The reason you bring on those little 3 oz. bottles today in a Magic See-Through Explosive-Proof Plastic Baggie has nothing to do with security; it has to do with economics.

When the liquids ban was introduced, all liquids were banned from all carry-ons (and for a while, in fact, all carry-ons were banned). Rather than risk losing their property, people started checking their bags. All of them. The airlines couldn’t handle it. They were drowning in luggage. Flights were being delayed. They were losing money. They went to Uncle Sam (and the UK) and said, we can’t take it; you gotta do something.

And so it was done. The 3-1-1 rule was implemented. It wasn’t a security decision; it was an economic decision. The airlines squawked, and got what they wanted.

Economic boycotts work. The civil rights movement wouldn’t have succeeded without them. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that. So did Gandhi. MLK wrote that economic boycotts, or, as he called them, “campaigns of economic withdrawal,” were “nonviolence at its peak of power.”

The Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott lasted over a year — 381 days. It was planned long before Rosa Parks made her famous refusal to sit at the back of the bus — and Parks wasn’t the first person to do this; such refusals had been going on for years. She was just the “perfect” person to do it, the catalyst the civil rights movement needed to kickstart the boycott, a woman sympathetic to both blacks and whites.

When people claim, “But by not flying, you’re just punishing yourself; you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face; you’re letting them win,” I always bring up the bus boycott. Were those people, who were poor, who were dependent on buses to get to work, who didn’t have other means of transportation, also “cutting off their nose to spite their face”? Were they punishing themselves? Were they letting “them” win?

What about the protesters who integrated whites-only lunch counters and got spat on and refused service? What about the thousands of people who marched and got beaten up and fire-hosed and jailed? Were they punishing themselves? Many of their fellows thought they were. Not all black people were willing to protest; many thought the front-of-the-bus sitters and the lunch-counter integrators and the bus boycotters should shut up and accept that “this is just the way things are” and “you ought to know better.”

Sound familiar?

Social change requires sacrifice. It requires action. It’s not a matter of mouthing the correct political pieties at cocktail parties and then going off and doing nothing.

I took the last flight of my life in September 2010, as I wrote about here. Though I love travel more than I can say, though I’ve always considered it an integral part of my life, I’ve given it up. Because this sacrifice on my part — which is nothing compared to the sacrifices other people have made for social justice — is not as big as the principle for which I’m doing it. The principle is more important than my personal desires.

And that principle is that we have a right against unreasonable search and seizure, that we are not criminals by virtue of setting foot in an airport, that the TSA is a criminal, out-of-control agency, that neither I nor anyone else should have to risk being bullied, harassed, abused, or assaulted to get on a plane, that I am not a pawn in my government’s fear-mongering, permanent War on Terror.

2. If you do still fly, opt out of the scanner. Refuse to comply. The scanners are, as we’ve written about dozens of times, untested. The backscatter scanners dose you with radiation, and they have never been tested, which is why the EU has banned them. Even the millimeter wave scanners, which don’t use radiation, haven’t been tested. Regardless, the scanners are an invasion of privacy. They are a billion-dollar boondoggle for the “security” industry. By acquiescing to the scanner and adopting a pose of surrender, you are saying, “It’s okay; I’ll do whatever is asked of me, whether that’s a virtual strip-search or just playing along with this little charade, which has been proven not even to work.”

If everyone opted out, every time, you’d bring security to a standstill. Okay, I know that will never happen. I get it. Not everyone is going to opt out. Fine. If only 50% of people opted out, hell, if only 20% opted out, you’d still bring everything to a standstill. You’d bollux up the works. This is the very definition of passive resistance, another proven tactic from the civil rights movement. And contrary to credulous media reports, National Opt-Out Day two years ago was not a bust.

3. Do not go gentle into that good grope (apologies to Dylan Thomas). Also as we’ve written umpteen times, just because you acquiesce to the scanner doesn’t mean you won’t also be singled out for a grope. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. If you are selected for a “pat-down,” make some noise. Describe what’s being done to you in correct anatomical detail, ask questions, recite the 4th Amendment, cry out in pain, whatever. And make sure you have witnesses — have it done in public, never allow them to take you alone to a private room, where obviously you risk being further abused. Don’t go quietly; she didn’t.

4. Be willing to walk away. She did. More than once. You can walk out of the airport. Again, I know most people aren’t going to do this. I’m pointing out that you can do this.

5. At other venues, meaning not the airport, refuse to be searched. You still have the right to do this. Use those 8 magic words: “No, I do not consent to be searched.” As you should know by now, the TSA isn’t only at the airport; it’s everywhere.

6. Continue to write to your Senators, Congressional reps, airlines, and local airports. Write letters-to-the-editor. Don’t let assumptions and false statements go unchallenged; comment at as many places in the blogosphere as you can. Education is a huge component of this struggle. Unless and until more people start to understand what’s going on and acknowledge it, nothing will change. We don’t need 100% of the population with us, just a significant portion. You’re never going to convince everyone anyway. There will always be those people who believe “Anything For Safety,” even if “anything” doesn’t make sense, has no evidence behind it, and even goes as far as cavity searches. Leave those people behind. They’re not worth your effort.

7. Whatever other methods you can come up with, the more creative the better, which I hope you’ll leave in the comments.

Yes, I know all of these things are potentially “inconvenient.” That’s the nature of the beast. Protest isn’t convenient. That’s the point.

Bottom line, you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is. And if you’re not, if you’re one of those people who blindly goes along to get along, then don’t be surprised if someday you wake up to find all your rights taken away. You’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

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