John Conlin / November 19, 2010

The Sound of Freedom

There has been much hubbub recently about the latest TSA screening methods: full-body scans or enhanced pat downs, sometimes both. Many Americans are questioning the appropriateness of having government bureaucrats either gaze at their private areas or grope them and their loved ones. Have we crossed the boundary of security into absurdity? Can we – should we – stand by passively while watching TSA employees grope three-year-old girls and ninety-year-old ladies? We have seen the slow creep of government intruding into far too many areas of our lives. Have we at last been burdened by the final straw of being asked to allow its agents to intrude into our boxers, briefs, and bras as well? Saying that the alternative to such pat downs is death at 30,000 feet is, quite simply, a non sequitur that we must reject.

Many have called for travelers to engage in a day of protest on November 24, 2010, the day before Thanksgiving. The plan is to have people refuse the full body scans at airport security and instead demand a pat down, thereby causing delays at security.

Although a call of action is in order, that plan is not the one to implement. Those who advocate creating delays would do well to read “Rules for Radicals,” a helpful primer by Saul Alinsky. Organizers should never design a protest whose actions hurt those they are trying to organize. Trying to convince travelers they should act in a way that will ensure air travel will be more painful than it already is is not likely to gain support or engender good will.

Alinsky emphasizes that developing effective tactics requires those taking action to do what they can with what they have. None of us has the power to fight the federal government directly, and few are willing to go to jail to make their point. But is the only choice then to roll over and accept whatever the government tells us what to do – even if its actions offend our sensibilities? I say no. I say fight back … with tactics that actually have a possibility of being effective.

We can look to Alinsky for guidance on that point and employ a Sound of Freedom protest. Phase one asks protestors simply to state the obvious. As people stand in the security line and witness mindless acts, they need merely to talk loudly to those in line with them about what they are witnessing. Does feeling up a 90 year-old great-grandmother really make sense? They should engage in a one-sided debate about whether a government employee really has the right to handle a traveler’s “junk.” They need to talk to their fellow travelers, not TSA employees. They should be like a tenacious virus, getting others to talk and spreading the message. They should not slow the security process, but, instead, keep the talking going through the entire process of security to call attention to its inappropriateness.

They should reflect on the observation of American patriot Samuel Adams: “It does not take a majority to prevail … but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”  Travelers must set those fires as they stand in line. But they must do so without direct confrontation, without arguing, without raising their voices. All they must do is simply talk to their fellow Americans. And they must ensure that the talk does not end. Following this course of action will propagate a never-ending murmur of protest at every security point … a murmur that will become a force of its own.

As Americans we have the right to talk to others. The TSA might not like what we have to say, but they are required to let us say it. And therein lies the power: As Alinsky advises, “use the power of the law by making the establishment obey its own rules.”

Phase 2, for more adventurous souls, is derived from a successful attack on the establishment he launched against the Rochester Symphony Orchestra. In “Rules for Radicals” Alinsky recounts with some glee his simple plan: One-hundred tickets to the symphony would be purchased and given to local oppressed blacks, who before the concert would be treated to a three hour dinner, consisting of nothing but baked beans – “then the people would go into the symphony hall – with obvious consequences.”

My call to action draws from Alinsky’s simple plan. Let travelers throw off the chains of normal public civility and employ Alinsky’s tactics. Let travelers let loose their own “Sound of Freedom” as they experience strangers touching them in ways that in any other situation would cause the gropers’ arrest. Let travelers employ a simple, natural act to reinforce their act of talking.

Rather than breaking the law, travelers can instead break wind. They cannot be stopped and will let the powers-that-be hear in no uncertain terms what they think of the insanity of these new security procedures. Anyone – conservatives, liberals, grandmothers, three-year-old children – has the ability to participate and literally make himself heard.

As we stand in line and talk to our fellow Americans, we must listen for these blasts of freedom, eschew manners, and cheer them on. And as each of us enters the Gauntlet of Groping we must in turn sound our own Freedom Trumpet and tip our caps to thank Arlinsky. Let’s see how long the federal government really wants to keep up this fight, at the cost of enduring this form of protest, before it decides to roll out security procedures that are premised on an actual modicum of intelligence.

John Conlin is a frequent traveler and President of Conlin Beverage Consulting, Inc.

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