Last week, ALA Press Officer Jazzy Wright marched in the Stop Watching Us privacy rally, which many say was the largest protest to date against NSA monitoring.
Author Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.” That was the feeling I carried with me on October 26, 2013, when I joined thousands of activists in Washington, D.C., for the Stop Watching Us civil liberties protest. Held on the 12th anniversary of the signing of the PATRIOT Act, the protest aimed to put an end to mass, suspicion-less surveillance. As we marched uphill to the U.S. Capitol, I couldn’t help but notice the magnitude of the group walking and chanting along with me. This was one of the largest protests I’d ever participated in! What was also striking was the diversity among the protestors–activists young and old, black and white called on the government to curtail unconstitutional government surveillance.
When we arrived at the Capitol Front Lawn, it also became clear that political affiliations were irrelevant–this rally was about protecting democracy. Conservative, liberal, independent and libertarian activists crossed party lines (in Washington of all places) to denounce the actions of the National Security Agency and reclaim their rights to privacy. Civil liberties champion Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was one of the first speakers to address the crowd, calling for more transparency and accountability from the U.S. government. Over the next hour, the crowd heard from writer Naomi Wolf, libertarian Gary Johnson and whistleblower Thomas Drake.
Later, Government Accountability Project Director Jesselyn Radack read a letter from whistleblower Edward Snowden to the audience. In the letter, Snowden thanked the protestors for their work to uphold the constitution. “This isn’t about red or blue party lines, and it definitely isn’t about terrorism,” Snowden said.
As the day continued, many speakers discussed plans to continue the fight to end unlawful government spying. Much of the conversation steered to the USA FREEDOM Act, a proposed bill that would reform the USA PATRIOT Act Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by placing restrictions on bulk phone and internet government surveillance.
The bicameral bill–which was written by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who ironically also wrote the PATRIOT Act– has already gathered a high level of bipartisan support. Since the bill was introduced on Tuesday, many of the bill’s cosponsors were the same legislators who voted “no” on the Amash Amendment this summer. This is a great time for change, indeed.
I am hopeful that our calls for action will lead to surveillance reform. As I write this, the American Library Association is encouraging ALA members, library supporters and privacy advocates to tell their U.S. representatives and senators to cosponsor the Freedom Act. Take the small action to call or email your representative today because our democracy depends on your efforts.