As rare as they are, acts of heroism can fundamentally change the course of a nation’s history. Whether it was a handful of colonial dissenters being massacred in Massachusetts, or a group of African American college students deciding to sit down at an all-white diner in North Carolina. However, there are events in history that can lead a nation down a dark, secretive path, and the most recent event that comes to memory was September 11, 2001. The attacks of September 11th not only started a United States led endless war in the Middle East, but with little dissent from members of Congress, it also erected one of the largest surveillance states our world has ever seen. It spurred windfalls for military contractors, granted millions of Americans with jobs to spy on their fellow citizens, built fusion centers to monitor and crush dissent and built monolithic data mining centers that can collect enough information for the whole entire world’s population hundreds of years over. Last week, with the heroic act of releasing vital documents, Edward Snowden gave us a glimpse into our security state, granting us one of those rare opportunities to fundamentally change the course of American history. No matter what your political ideologies are, there will be no room for peaceful protest with an all seeing, all spying security state.
The Venn diagram between leftist activists (progressives, anarchists, socialists and so on) and the conservative and libertarian right would be an extremely polarizing figure with very little overlap. On the far left, you have groups advocating for spending on government programs, universal health care, jobs spending, a healthy public education system, a representative workforce, more gun control and so on. On the far right the norms are exactly the opposite. They want a smaller government, more market freedoms, less spending on education, less gun control and the list rolls on. However, there some unifying issues where the circles on the diagram overlap. This overlap would include legalizing gay marriage, legalizing marijuana and other drugs, and, one of the most important issues, the opposition to the security state the United States erected after September 11th.
Within activist circles, the opposition of the security state is closely reaching its boiling point. In April 2013, Tom Dispatch reported that....
in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the United States government has spent over $791 billion on ‘Homeland Security,’ and when compared to how money the government spent on the New Deal (inflation adjusted), our government spent close to $300 billion more on the erection of our security state.
Then in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings, Michael Isikoff reported that the Boston Police Department and the FBI, after the agency was warned about the Tsarnaev brothers, used their local fusion center to gather social media information on peaceful Occupy Boston protesters. And finally this past week, lawyer, activist and journalist Glenn Greenwald began publishing a series of NSA documents that demonstrates the expansiveness of our national security apparatus.
The leaked NSA documents that Greenwald published included a FISA court order that forced Verizon to hand over metadata phone records, the release of ‘PRISM”, a top-secret online data mining program, which has garnered controversy in the blogosphere, and the release of “Boundless Informant,” a top secret program that maps out how much data the NSA collects over a given time period.
Even though Glenn Greenwald revealed on the Sunday morning talk shows and on his Twitter account that he is not finished releasing NSA documents, activists in Philadelphia and Boston are already planning demonstrations against these latest revelations. This Philadelphia direct action was thrown together by Stop ’84 organizer Dustin Slaughter who decided to plan a last minute demonstration at the Philadelphia FBI headquarters on Sunday June 9th, and the Boston demonstration by #MassOps is planned for Friday June 14th at Dewey Square.
After yesterday’s demonstration, I had the chance to reach out to Dustin Slaughter, via email, to talk about the demonstration and the work he has been doing in Philadelphia covering the local expansion of the security state.
With yesterday’s demonstration planned on a whim, the crowd drew 15 people, who met at the 1st Amendment monument outside of Philadelphia’s Constitution Center. Even though the crowd was small in numbers, it brought out a diverse group of people which included members from Occupy Philadelphia to conservative libertarians. The protesters then marched with the Bradley Manning Pride activists and then proceeded to protest at the Philadelphia FBI headquarters. When asked if there will be more demonstrations in the Philadelphia area, he believes that “[t]he Snowden leaks present not only an opportunity, but an obligation, to call the state out on oppressive surveillance.”
[SK] How many people were at the rally? And for being thrown together on the last minute what was the energy like?
[DS] We had 15 or so attend and the energy was decent
Will there be more demonstrations around these leaks?
The Snowden leaks present not only an opportunity, but an obligation, to call the state out on oppressive surveillance. In the past, surveillance has been talked about as an issue that only really effects activists and their work. But this past week’s stunning revelations reveal that this threat is much broader than originally thought, although some certainly remember the 2006 warrantless wiretapping scandal – which quietly went away. The American public – and indeed the world – has learned that not only the government, but massive private contractors have access to incredibly sensitive data, from credit cards to phone records. This is dangerous and abhorrent. I personally don’t believe that we’ll have a repeat of 2006 this time, however. This is too big.
So will there be more demonstrations around these leaks? I know that people in Philadelphia believe there should be. We all have an obligation, as I said before, to use this information to call out the surveillance infrastructure locally and to peacefully organize through outreach, educating the public, and of course direct actions. I hope other cities begin to do the same, because we must honor the risks Snowden took to get this information to the people.
How do they coincide with the fusion centers?
Fusion centers are just one facet of this monstrous surveillance infrastructure, and they’re quite odious. These spy centers are an enormous waste of taxpayer money which often produce intelligence of very questionable value. During a time of austerity where the least among us are feeling the cuts the most, there is nothing prudent or logical about these centers: in Philadelphia for instance, there is a new fusion center, called the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, which the city itself helped fund $10 million out of the $20 million it cost to get the project operational. That’s outrageous. And the icing on this moldy cake is that it is operated, in part, by CACI International, a private contractor implicated in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq. Naturally, they spent an enormous amount of resources to absolve themselves of any responsibility. But I think that gives a decent picture of the forces we’re dealing with in this struggle.
How diverse was the rally? Were there a bunch of leftist, libertarians and so on?
Incredibly diverse: Occupiers, libertarians, the whole gamut so to speak
Can this issue motivate the bases from both ends of the ideological spectrum?
I strongly believe that the issue of state surveillance, the infrastructure and activities, are huge motivators for politically-active people. One of the biggest challenges that I see, however, is helping the public at large to open their eyes a little wider and see that this unceasing machine has been right under our noses for awhile, and will only grow larger, reckless and more dangerous if we don’t do something about it.
Learn more about Stop84 here