WASHINGTON, October 27, 2013 — On Saturday, activists from all over the country gathered in Washington for a march and rally at the Capitol. They represented more than 100 groups on both the political right and left, united in defense of privacy rights and against National Security Agency spying.
Thousands of protesters turned out for the march, then listened to speakers in front of the Capitol reflecting pool. The organizers ― stopwatching.us ― had a cool professional logo, printed signs and banners, and a lineup of speakers and entertainment that filled several hours.
Their striking hand-in-eye logo was everywhere. It conveys a strong sense of menace, at least partially because it combines the symbols of both the evil wizard Saruman and the Dark Lord Sauron from The Lord of the Rings in a single design.
Tea Partiers marched with former Occupy Wall Street activists who chanted “this is what democracy looks like” and other familiar slogans of the new left. But when it came to applause, the greatest enthusiasm seemed aimed at the more conservative and libertarian groups and speakers, even though younger activists seemed to be the majority of the crowd.
The objective of the event, as explained by Rianey Reitman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was to demand “a congressional investigation so we can shed light on exactly what the National Security Agency is doing,” and “reform of federal surveillance law, specifically Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the state secrets privilege.”
The speakers included representatives of groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreedomWorks, Fight for the Future, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Political figures included former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, and Republican Congressman Justin Amash.
Musical interludes were provided by politically charged musical groups YACHT and Black Alley. The Fight for the Future Foundation also presented Amash with a 575,000 signature petition asking for a congressional investigation of the NSA and reform of Patriot Act.
There were coordinated events in a number of other cities, including Austin, Chicago and Los Angeles. Some of the organizers were also involved in previous demonstrations in major European cities addressing the same issue ― the fight for privacy rights against the growing culture of mass surveillance, most recently exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The rally opened with reading a statement from exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden:
“This is about the unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we all must work together to remind government to stop them. It’s about our right to know, to associate freely, and to live in an open society … Holding to this principle, we declare that mass surveillance has no place in this country.”
Signs supporting Snowden and demanding his exoneration as a hero were common in the crowd at the rally.
Amid demands for justice, impassioned speeches against Big Brother, and calls for the restoration of the Bill of Rights, the theme which stood out was concern about even greater infringements on our privacy and communications security in the future. There seemed to be a shared dystopian vision of a future where citizens have sacrificed all their most basic rights for the illusion of security.
Former Governor Gary Johnson struck a pessimistic note, saying that “the greatest fear I have is that nothing will change. There is a general apathy because ‘It’s not about me.’”
Representative Amash saw the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act as the next threat, saying “the NSA wants us to pass CISPA. The way CISPA is written, the NSA believes it will legalize what they are currently doing illegally. Now, of course we know that’s nonsense. The Constitution makes what they are doing illegal. You can’t pass a statute to undo the Constitution. What they are trying to do with CISPA is make sure that companies can give their customer information or employee information to the government with no consequences … and on top of that, CISPA outlaws the ability of companies to guarantee privacy to their customers and employees.”
Previous versions of CISPA have been the target of strong public opposition. The 2011 version was defeated in the Senate, which has also refused to consider a new version which passed the House in 2012.
Amash also presented a congressional plan for fighting the growth of the security state. Surprisingly, he gave a big plug to Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of the original USA PATRIOT Act, which began many of the rights infringements addressed in this rally. Amash credited Sensenbrenner with realizing his past mistake and authoring the new USA FREEDOM Act, which Amash strongly supports. It would reverse many of the expansions of government surveillance power which originated in the Patriot Act and restore Constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.
Having drawn a passionate and diverse crowd to what appears to have been one of the largest and most effective public protests in Washington in some time, the organizers promised to continue their efforts, gather more members to their coalition, and put even greater public pressure on Congress in coming months.
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