Imagine this … (DRAFT!)

DRAFT !!!!   Revised version published on I Will Opt Out as What Just Happened?
For more discussion of Opt Out Day and what’s next, please see
We Won’t Fly, Fly With Dignity, I Will Opt Out, and FlyerTalk

Imagine that in some foreign country, the government decided to spend a few billion dollars to install “Rapescan” machines to irradiate travelers and produce detailed nude pictures.  In order to keep the homeland safe, they also announced that 2% of travelers would now be tagged as “anomalies” and have their breasts and genitals groped by government employees.

A few scientists raised concerns about the safety of the machines, which the government hadn’t thoroughly tested before deploying. Experts pointed out that the machines didn’t actually work. Domestic violence and rape survivors, constitutional lawyers, privacy advocates, and many others voiced criticisms. But the country’s biggest news organizations mostly ignored these objections and instead backed the government, downplayed possible health risks, ignored the links between the government officials behind the policy and the company making Rapescanners.

A few people — and then a few more — felt things had gone too far. They organized a protest for the the day before a festival weekend. Soon frequent flyers, moms, dads, pilots, flight attendants, domestic violence and rape survivors, civil liberties groups, travelers, ordinary citizens and even a few politicians … from all across the country … collectively stood up said wtf.

But government spokesmen hung tough, telling citizens that “resistance puts everybody at risk” and “complaining can cause chaos.”  They announced that people who didn’t want to go through the Rapescans would be groped and if you refused you faced fines and imprisonment.

The mainstream media — newspaper, TV, radio — echoed the government message with editorial titles like “Shut up and stop complaining” and “It’s the only way.”  The country’s newspaper of record ran a “debate” but didn’t include any women.  The government’s blog and social media team were lauded for how deftly they handed the situation by only printing polls they liked — not the ones showing public opinion quickly shifting against Rapescanning and groping.

As the day of the protest got closer, people began openly questioning whether any of this would make flying safer.  The government bowed to pressure and exempted pilots, and, a few days later flight attendants, from the new screening methods.  Airline CEOs met with the government to tell them how concerned they were that travelers might opt out.

When one of the highest ranking women in the government was asked if she’d want to be groped she said “No way.” Anonymous government employees talked to bloggers about how folks on the front lines thought policy was stupid and hated it.  These front-line employees were being exposed to daily radiation doses hundreds of times what an individual passenger would be exposed to — but they weren’t allowed to wear dosimeters to measure the radiation.  Bloggers started discussing the Stanford prison experiment.

The day of the protest dawned.  By 8:30 a.m., newspapers were running stories about how it had flopped flopped. At the end of the day, the government’s blog made a triumphant post linking out to all the coverage of its side of the issue. Prominent media analysts joined in and talked about how the whole backlash was overblown and hysterical and thank god the grownups had arrived to keep us safe.

Meanwhile, at the airports, travelers and witnesses reported a different story.

Travelers weren’t getting groped.

Machines were turned off in many airports.  When they were on, it was often easy for people to avoid them if they wanted.

Hotline reports of problems went from thousands daily to, wait for it, almost zero.

Demonstrators and observers appeared at a dozen airports and many travelers were supportive. So were local law enforcement officials.

Many citizens showed their feelings by choosing other modes of transportation. Some airports were reported to be unusually empty. The train station in the country’s biggest city was jammed, and a lot of the travelers said that the security hassles involved in traveling by air is why they took to the trains. Buses and highways were packed.

The protest was a huge success … but the media hadn’t reported it.

Then the festival began, and as usual most of the country celebrated by spending time with their families and friends, eating a lot of tasty food and shopping like crazy. It had been a tough month and a tough year, so the nation as a whole decided to relax and take it easy for a few days.

A few days later the media and the rest of the country woke up from their collective tryptophan haze and took another look at what had happened …

To be continued

Thanks to Kathy, Eddie, Shasta, Deborah,  Greg, Ed, Marc, Lillie, Kristen, Karen, and Mike for feedback on earlier versions of this post