I had a very minor argument today after I’d announced that I would not be attending any anti-surveillance demonstrations planned for tomorrow. Since Occupy, I have pretty much sworn off traditional placards and chants protests, on the grounds that, in the absence of any real mass support, they become masochistic rituals of powerlessness and capitulation. If you want to feel marginal and disempowered, stand in the middle of Times Square with about one hundred other people with placards, watching tourists being amused by you, while the fake sunshine of gazillion watt advertising shines off their faces. This may not be the right way to feel — perhaps the powers find this stuff more dangerous than it looks on the surface — but it’s the way I do at these things and why I’m done with them for the time being.
In light of doing more thinking about this than usual today, I was delighted to discover this wonderful Soundcloud of students interrogating NSA recruiters at the University of Wisconsin. This, to me, is exactly the right kind of peaceful protest at this particular stage in opposition to surveillance and a perfect demonstration of leveraging the internet when numbers aren’t on your side. The full story is written up on The Huffington Post. In a nutshell, some really smart students relentlessly interrogated NSA representatives about what the NSA does and the ways in which the flacks have misrepresented that during the recruiting session. There is quite a lot to love here: the students doing the interrogating — I only know the name of one, Madiha Tahir — are marvelously well-informed, eloquent, relentless and calm and they make the government’s representatives look like lying fools. The result is educational, empowering, revealing and genuinely disruptive in all the ways public protest should be but too rarely is.
I am not inviting either/or-ing here. All forms of protest are better than nothing. But, to me, this is really how to do it now.