While hundreds ice skated just across the Boston Common, around eighty people converged on the Common bandstand in the freezing cold on Saturday, February 2, to declare their opposition to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) searches on the MBTA.
The “TSA out of the MBTA” protest emerged rather organically, starting from a single angry Facebook post about an individual TSA search, growing into a Facebook event with over two hundred “attendees,” and culminating with an afternoon march and rally, which featured groups converging on Park Street from across the city. The convergence marches were, as organizer Tamarleigh Grenfell put it, “like the fingers of a hand,” coming together downtown from each subway line—red, orange, and green— to form a fist.
The demonstration brought together people from distinctly different political stripes, from civil libertarians to socialists, Occupiers to Ron Paul supporters, to Guy Fawkes mask-wearing supporters of the hacktivist group Anonymous.
The event was characterized by a great deal of patriotic language of “American revolution,” represented most prominently by a large American flag, and by frequent references to the spirit of 1776. Several speakers called for people to “Defend the Fourth,” meaning both the U.S.’ “Independence Day” and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects against unlawful search and seizure. Activists in Guy Fawkes masks distributed leaflets inviting people to join in nationwide “#OpJuly4th” demonstrations to help “restore the ideas of freedom that this nation was founded on.” Occupy activists traversed the crowd, handing out bright pink/orange National Lawyers Guild buttons that declared “I Do Not Consent to a Search.”
Activists claim the TSA and advocates of expanded police searches are “stretching the meaning of the term ‘reasonable’” in “reasonable suspicion.”
Protest organizer Tamarleigh Grenfell opened the event by asserting what she called the most precious right of all, the “right to be left alone.” Developing the “1776” theme, Grenfell compared the TSA searches (and other programs such as New York’s “Stop and Frisk”), to the kinds of invasions of privacy that colonial Bostonians endured at the hand of British “red coats,” abuses that helped to incite the American Revolution. She argued that police only have the right to search someone if they have an actual reason for suspecting that particular person of having committed a specific crime. The “hunch” or impulse of a police officer does not qualify as a proper reason, she pointed out, encouraging attendees to refuse such unjustified searches. She drove home how the TSA and advocates of expanded police searches are “stretching the meaning of the term ‘reasonable’” in “reasonable suspicion.”
Organizer Garret Kirkland framed the protest in terms of the need to defend the “right to privacy” against widespread government attack. Citing documented US government practices such as spying on activists, “reading your email,” and tapping phones, Garret pointed out the slippery slope of civil liberties violation. If police are allowed to search bags, he asserted, soon they may be asking to frisk people for no reason, in the expectation that if people “have nothing to hide” they won’t object. Both Kirkland and Grenfell referenced Boston’s history as a beacon in the fight against government tyranny.
Other speakers linked the current expansion of U.S. police powers to American military and imperial aggression abroad, pointing out how the very militarized ‘security’ state supposed to “protect us from terrorism” is in fact responsible for many of the crimes—such as the killing and torture of innocent civilians—that fuel anti-Americanism and extremism in the first place. Tim Larkin, of Socialist Alternative, drove home the irony of the government spending more on MBTA police to invade the privacy of riders even as they are cutting back T services, squeezing worker retirement funds, and raising fares.
Activist Frank Capone gave a rousing speech in which he emphasized that political change does not require hundreds, let alone thousands of activists. As he put it, “all we need is an irate minority” to pressure politicians, overturn existing laws, and get the TSA out of the MBTA. Capone invoked the precedent of the decriminalization (and legalization) of marijuana, where despite being told it was “impossible,” a militant minority were able to force through impressive and rapid change. Capone pointed rally attendees to the “Defend the Fourth” website, which is devoted to advocacy on behalf of civil liberties, rooted in ideas traced back to the Declaration of Independence. He implored people to “show up” and actually apply pressure on the government, emphasizing that with the proper will, the “impossible” could be rendered “possible.”
(Photos: Dan Schneider)