This morning, I opened my local newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, to find a headline that offered a false dichotomy to airline travelers. It read:
"YOUR PICK: FULL BODY SCAN OR PROBING PAT-DOWN"
The story highlighted the controversy newly set off by John Tyner, who told a TSA screener not to "touch his junk" or he'd have the TSA guy arrested.
And a week before the "don't touch my junk" hero from San Diego, there was Megan McLain. Africana Online writes:
McClain, a radio host for the libertarian leaning show “Free Talk Left”, was one of the people that did not feel comfortable with the invasion of privacy. She told the TSA screeners that she was uncomfortable with the scanner. On a radio interview this week, she explains the humiliation that followed. TSA agents immediately began yelling “Opt out” when she voiced her discomfort. They brought her to an area where they were going to proceed with new pat down techniques. McClain was familiar with this technique and had some questions first. The technique is more invasive than physical molestation. TSA agents actually squeeze and twist breasts.
The agents were not very cooperative when McClain asked some questions. They handcuffed her to a chair and began yelling at her. She was not in a private area and other passengers had to walk around her. The TSA agents called in 12 police officers because McClain asked to speak to a supervisor. They lectured her for 30 minutes on terrorism while she remained cuffed to the chair. By this point, McClain was crying and shaking. She was unable to wipe her face and felt utterly humiliated. The agents and officers would not allow her to touch her possessions. They eventually ripped her airline ticket in half. Four different agents had her ID and were writing down information, presumably to do a back ground check on her. After about an hour of verbal abuse, the police officers escorted Ms. McClain to the ticketing counter where she had to find another way home since she had missed her flight. (Emphasis added.)
According to the grassroots organization We Won't Fly , incidents like this are being reported by airline agents every day now, as the holiday flying season approaches. And it is vitally important that we understand what is going on. These virtual strip-searches are both useless and unnecessary to airline security, and because of the attention "opt-out's" draw from other TSA agents and bystanders, they may be dangerous. So why is Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland (In)Security so determined to publicly invade the privacy of ordinary, law-abiding Americans at our airports by conducting Fourth Amendment prohibited searches that in any other context would be called molestation? Today in a news story about the growing outcry against these practices, Napolitano said:
"It's all about security. It's all about everybody recognizing their role."
Although the first part of the statement is patently untrue, the second part is telling. We've got to know our role, fellow peons, and give up our rights like good little do-be's, submitting to even the grossest invasion of our privacy for the sake of some higher purpose. And pay for the privilege to the tune of the cost of the airline ticket and our self-respect.
More telling is how those who dare to question the false choice given them are being treated. The TSA Gestapo tactics humiliate the few who have enough self-respect to question their authority, and in the manner of petty power mongers the world over, they do not allow the third choice, the one in which their intended victim is allowed to change her mind and not fly at all. Notice that Meg McClain was reduced to tears, powerless to even wipe her face, and unable to claim her personal possessions.
To submit to the virtual strip-search, or permit oneself to be sexually molested in public, or be reduced to utter humiliation as punishment for refusal, these are all actions that render a human being powerless over her own person and property, and thus are dehumanizing. The purpose of such activities on the part of government "authorities" is to instill fear of ever questioning, protesting, or even so much as stepping one toe across the increasingly narrow line of normal. The fear is meant to be felt by both the victim and the bystanders. During the Shoah, the Nazis and their collaborators raised such tactics to high art in order to control the populations of countries across an entire continent. Make no mistake, these tactics exist to do the same to freedom-loving Americans.
Bystanders. Note that I Ieft out the word "innocent." There are no innocent bystanders. A person standing by, knowing what is going on is far from "innocent." Although we are not perpetrators, we are made complicit by the act of witnessing the dehumanization of others. Our silence in the face of the dehumanization of the victim not only shames us, making us far more likely to remain silent in the presence of even more egregious crimes against our liberty in the future, but that very shame we feel dehumanizes us as well. It breaks the bonds of good will we ordinarily feel toward our fellow countrymen and women, destroying any real community and replaces it with conformity and obedience powered by fear.
This is why resistance is so vitally important.
There are two kinds of peaceful resistance available to us. There is passive resistance. In this case, refusal to fly is passive resistance. By choosing the third option--the one that the TSA, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and my local newspaper--and by choosing it before ever going to the airport, we are practicing passive resistance. Let the airlines* go bankrupt if need be, we say. We will not pay to be virtually strip-searched or groped by some Gestapo pervert.
*And to those who say that the fault does not lie with the airlines, well they take our money and allow our rights to be violated without so much as a whimper. And remember the nickel-and-diming for each additional check-through bag? The long waits without a bathroom on the tarmac? Being packed into planes like sardines and fed peanuts on cross-continental flights? Airlines have not been good to their customers for a very long time. With few exceptions, they haven't earned our money and the goodwill it represents.
The passive resistance shown by a large number of people, like those who are calling the airlines and their trade organizations to communicate their displeasure and refusal to fly, can go a long way. The fact that such passive resistance as that voiced in blogs and on chat rooms and discussion lists is showing up on the front pages of newspapers, and has caused Congress to convene a hearing shows how successful it can be. And more importantly, passive resistance also protects one against the shame and loss of self-respect that goes with the meek bystander syndrome.
Even more effective in this regard is active resistance. I decided not to fly last year, and I drove to Continental Congress. but if I ever have reason to be in an airport, and I saw another human being being dehumanized like Meg McClain was, I have decided that come hell or high-water, I would conquer my fears and begin to chant "This is wrong! This is wrong!" I would do so, not hysterically, but as politely and firmly as I could manage, over and over. I would not expect to stop the petty tyrants of the TSA, but I would let them know that at least one witness knows the truth of what they are doing. I expect that in true Alice's Restaurant* fashion, others would join me. There might be consequences. But as the living heir of men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and braved hanging to bring themselves and their posterity liberty, I ought to be able to take it. And keeping my humanity, my menschlicheit, in a place where there are no human beings is very important to my own self-respect.
*"If one person walks in and sits down and sings 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', they'll think he's crazy, and they won't take him. If two people walk in together, sit down and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', they'll think they're queer and they won't take either one. But if three people--can you imagine, three people?--if three people walk in, sit down and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', why then it will be a movement! And that's what I'm starting. The Alice's Restaurant Massacre Movement. And all you have have to do to join is wait for it to come around on the guee-tar and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.' In harmony." -- Arlo Guthrie, Alice's Restaurant Massacre.
There are other forms of active resistance. If you are going to be near an airport that has the Porno-Scans on the day before Thanksgiving, be sure to make up a sign and join the protests that are scheduled to occur. And if you are traveling, you can always join in on National Opt Out day, in which you opt out of the scan and elect to suffer the indignity of a molestation pat-down. Remember, during the French Revolution the workers threw their sabots (wooden shoes) into the gears and ground them to a halt before they could grind down the workers. And thus we get the word sabotage. Except opting out in great numbers will not destroy property, but it will slow down the terribly dehumanizing system enough to make a point. And if everybody is being molested together, with bystanders chanting "This is wrong!", as a witness, why then it becomes Civil Disobedience. Thoreau would be proud that some of his spiritual descendants still live and breath under the friendly skies.
Finally a note to those cynics who say: "National opt-out day, protests, and refusing to fly. These will not change anything. It will not make (the ubiquitous) them change the policies. They mean to establish tyranny over us and they will do it."
Well, maybe it will not make them change. There is precious little we can do to change the ubiquitous 'they'. But it will change us. It will change us from shame-faced and culpable little mice, scurrying about with shoulders hunched, afraid of the petty tyrants of the TSA, into proud practitioners of Civil Disobedience. Sure our actions could have consequences. They might not let us fly, or they might call out the riot police and arrest us all. If they do that, then link arms and go downtown singing. I Won't Back Down is a good one.
Read The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Our ancestors were made of sterner stuff than we, no doubt. But if they could brave British Regulars at the North Bridge, and the winter at Valley Forge, then we can certainly brave the temporary inconvenience of missing a flight, or donning the plastic handcuffs for the TV cameras and the video cams of strategically placed bystanders. If it gets on camera, TSA CANNOT win. It will go viral within minutes on You Tube.
And for those of you who would protest, but you just cannot bear the idea that you might never fly again, Sam Adams had words for you. They're not kind, but they are to the point:
the tranquility of servitude
better than the animating contest of freedom,
go home from us in peace.
We ask not your counsels or your arms.
Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
May your chains set lightly upon you,
and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."
--Sam Adams, Speech at the Philadelphia Statehouse,
Second Continental Congress, August 1, 1776.
There is a time for prudence, but that time is not when your countrymen and women are being dehumanized before your very eyes. Those who first dehumanize another will dehumanize you, and when you are no longer human beings in their eyes, then your very life is at stake.