Constitution Day 2011: Freedom not Fear

In the aftermath of my events on Sept. 11, 2011, I feel violated, humiliated and sure that I was taken from the plane simply because of my appearance. Though I never left my seat, spoke to anyone on the flight or tinkered with any “suspicious” device, I was forced into a situation where I was stripped of my freedom and liberty that so many of my fellow Americans purport are the foundations of this country and should be protected at any cost….

This country has operated for the last 10 years through fear. We’ve been a country at war and going bankrupt for much of this time. What is the next step?

— Shoshana Hebshi, Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit, Tales from the Heartland

The F-16 fighters that had shadowed the plane before it landed in Detroit and the SWAT team that dragged Shoshanna and her two Indian seatmates from their seats was responding to the crew’s report that … somebody had been spending too long in the bathroom. On the same day, F-16s also scrambled for another flight where … three people made repeated trips to the bathroom. WTF?

Following a catastrophic national event, such as 9/11 in the United States, conditions are anything but ordinary. The people are traumatized, they long for someone to make them feel secure, and an ancient paranoia switch is once again waiting to snap on. Under these conditions, fear mongers thrive. Their characteristics are so hand in glove with the trauma reaction of the population that their identifying behaviors are scarcely “seen” at all. In short, after we have been thoroughly traumatized, we cannot see the devil.

— Martha Stout, The Paranoia Switch

The fear brokers continue to rule in DC, with the TSA ratcheting up the oppression and Obama breaking his campaign promises and pushing through a PATRIOT Act extension without any additional protections. Economic fears are in overdrive as well, with so many people living close to the edge, scared of their job disappearing, or working ridiculous hours just to almost make ends meet. It’s depressing even to write about it.

But fear only works so long. Jane Jacobs used to tell a story about community organizing and trying to collect signatures in Manhattan at the height of Mcarthyism in the 50s. Day afer day, everybody was scared to sign — and who could blame them? And then one day … people started signing.

Starting late last year enough people in Tunisia got to the point where they were so done with living in fear that they put their lives on the line day after day until things changed. Which kicked off Arab Spring kicked off, with people in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Syria also risking torture and death. Now there are huge demonstrations in Spain, Greece, and Israel. At some point, people collectively say “enough is enough”.

This Saturday, September 17th, concerned European citizens with the Freedom not Fear movement have decided to take their protest to the capital of the European Union, Brussels. Their slogan: Stop the surveillance mania

— Katitza Rodriguez, Freedom Not Fear: Ending A Decade Long Legacy of International Privacy Erosion, EFF’s Deep Links

Back in 2009, I was on a panel at CFP where Ralf Bendrath talked about the first years of Freedom not Fear. I coveredGet FISA Right and Join the Impact, Gaurav Mishra discussed Vote Report India, and moderator Nancy Scola led us in a debate about whether social networks were more likely to be a tool for liberation — or for repression. I was optimistic, and it seems to me that events since then have largely justified that optimism.

Of course it’s the people who make the difference, and social network sites are only one of many tools they use. But as tools go, they’re mighty powerful — especially combined with the kind of local and national organizing Shahid Buttar of Bill of Rights Defense Committee describes in Restoring the Fourth Amendment: How We the People can Win Over Washington.

So while the fear brokers still seem in control in DC, I think we’re in the middle of a shift. At the height of February’s unexpected resistance, the PATRIOT Act was the hottest topic on blogs and Twitter. Even the Wall Street Journal is against e-Verify, the latest incarnation of a National ID Card. And the TSA’s continued overreach and incompetence is sparking more and more anger across the political spectrum.

By the time Constitution Day 2012 rolls around, I expect we’ll see a lot more people choosing freedom over fear here in the US as well.

Why not start today?

Happy Constitution Day!