Interrogation of NSA Recruiters By Students Is Perfect Internet Age Protest

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.

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10 Responses to Interrogation of NSA Recruiters By Students Is Perfect Internet Age Protest

  1. Pingback: The NSA Comes Recruiting | Michael Volkmanns Blog

  2. Melvin Le Mat says:

    I’m someone who’s a new to the radical side of the left (a year or so). I’m also pretty young. Occupy was that shift. (Now with some distance and other perspectives I’m challenging occupy as well) But I’ve been curious about this question of rally as a tactic. Given I haven’t been too politically active before I had the misconception before that rallies were like the only bold way to express real dissent (naive I now know). As occupy waned, I’d developed a sense of guilt if I didn’t attend a rally like way on the west side or out in Queens or something. So I’d muster up energy to go but when I got there it just seemed like exactly what you described…more dispiriting. Especially those ones in Times Square which you completely nailed in you description. Do you think these marches are a way of getting the people of The Nation set to feel like they’ve “done something” and can now go home and pat themselves on the back? I feel like a lot of times it’s like ‘we walked around, we waved our signs in front of cops, let’s all go home now’ . I don’t want to generalize all people who go to rallies but that’s a kind of feeling I get. It’d be interesting to hear you elaborate on the signs and chant march/rally as a tactic. I feel like the American left doesn’t have the numbers for the rallies. When we have the mobilized population like Egypt then we rally …..Anyways my main question is ‘What forms of expressing dissent (in addition to what the UW students did) do you think are superior to rallies in general?’ (Especially at this stage with a lack of numbers)

  3. Tarzie says:

    ‘What forms of expressing dissent (in addition to what the UW students did) do you think are superior to rallies in general?’ (Especially at this stage with a lack of numbers)”

    That’s a hard question which may be best answered by going into more detail about what I liked about the Wisconsin action:

    1. The students confronted actual people, instead of ‘the NSA’ in the abstract.
    2. They chose a target for which security would be low by design
    3. They engaged the NSA reps in a lengthy discussion which produced a far more educational and revealing result than say, a mic check would have.
    4. They made a high quality recording and deftly leveraged social networks and contacts for propagation.
    5. Use of audio as opposed to cameras may have made the students seem less provocative in a way that was conducive to having a normal conversation.

    There is a quality of low-level infiltration and whistleblowing to this that I like a great deal. Indeed, I think you could do worse than regard whistleblowers as standard-bearers and role models of dissent at this point in history.

    I can’t give general principles about protest because I don’t have the background to know for sure what’s effective. I don’t rule out rallies altogether. A number of relatively small rallies convened as a national event — like the July 4th NSA actions — can have some impact if appropriately covered by the media. People see them and start thinking and talking. Movement self-consciousness is really important, so seeing that other like-minded people are mobilizing is a good thing even, I suppose, when overall numbers aren’t terribly impressive.

    Where protest is concerned, I think it’s important for you to know what you want to achieve and apply yourself accordingly. I think if going to rallies is disempowering for you, you should not feel any obligation to participate in them. As with so much else, lefts like to make ‘shoulds’ out of these things. The argument they produce for going to rallies is ‘If you’re worried about small turnout, why aren’t you going?’ But the thing is you can tell in advance what kind of traction a particular action has and whether or not it’s worth your time and shoe leather.

    There are also many forms of dissidence that are less about petitioning the king and more about defending yourself against him or choosing alternatives. Where the NSA is concerned, taking steps to remove yourself from surveillance and assisting others in doing likewise is easily as worthy as painting a sign and walking around under the watchful eye of state thugs.

  4. Melvin Le Mat says:

    Wow thanks for the long thought-out response. Not to sound like the ever-fascinated Chrissy Hayes but there’s a lot to digest here! I’ll write back with a few quick follow ups soon after I’ve thought about this.

  5. Melvin Le Mat says:

    All your points about the action make a lot of sens. I also liked the fact that it was a number of students challenging these recruiters. By having three well-informed people challenging these recruiters there was more a sense of real solidarity for their values. Just listening to it, you get the sense that there are even more pist off students in the crowd who support the people talking.

    This as opposed to Madea Benjamin seems like a much better way to go about challenging the state to me. Although interrupting Obama’s speech (other than “you lie!”) for the first time over his war crimes (unsure if there are any other instances) was good, she wasn’t able to fully elaborate and was easily discarded by the establishment media. Some people want to go for the top dogs by blowing whistles and such. But being realistic and asking how low on the totem pole of power do I go (where security prob. less tight) to challenge these people so that I, an average person, can essentially make them look like the foolish ones, the indoctrinated pawns that they portrayed Benjamin as essentially. (Though I am aware of her cliche comments afterwards too which were lame). I don’t know if that makes sense but it’s something I was thinking about because I guess many get so frustrated with these morally bankrupt policies and have visions of going straight to the top and totally getting under the King’s skin. “That’ll show him!” kind of mentality.

    Yeah I don’t think that I’ll feel too much guilt not going to rallies. I’ll still go if I get the sense it’s gonna be huge. I’m keeping my mind open and reevaluating. It’s amazing how much my perspective has changed in a few months after being away, just looking around and picking up dialogue at the Trayvon Martin rally.

    What kind of steps and tools do you recommend to remove oneself and others from surveillance? Tor? DuckDuckGo? Any good books to point me towards to would be appreciated.

  6. thedoctorisindahouse says:

    Look at the EFF website, they have some links and papers. But if surveillance is as deep as it goes, you are not removing yourself from surveillance, only making it harder for them to decipher what they’re catching.

  7. An idea from Camus:
    “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

  8. Zap says:

    If you people think “OWS” is “radical Left”…then you don’t know what “radical” means.

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