This past October, I was one of many Thoughtworkers who attended the Rally Against Mass Surveillance in Washington, DC. The rally was organized by Stop Watching Us, a consortium of many civil rights advocacy groups and other organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, and the ACLU. It was planned to coincide with the 13th anniversary of the passage into law of the Patriot Act.
I started contributing to Thoughtworks' information privacy efforts soon after I came back from Thoughtworks University this fall. I was appalled when I learned about Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA's spying activities - dragnets for phone calls and text messages, backdoors to Gmail and other communication services, spying on citizens - and I wanted to get involved as soon as I could. I was excited to hear that so many people at Thoughtworks cared about the issue, and I immediately joined a team of Thoughtworkers busy helping the rally’s organizers raise awareness of the rally and the issue in general. We spent several hours each week calling attendees, and during this drive Ajay Jakate (another Thoughtworker) had the privilege of talking to Lon Snowden - Edward Snowden’s father - who had registered to attend the rally with his wife.
The weather was perfect for the rally - sunny and in the mid-50s. I arrived at Union Station at noon and joined the hundreds of people assembled outside. A Stop Watching Us volunteer immediately handed me a ten-foot high sign emblazoned with the group's logo. I was amazed at the variety of people that had gathered for the rally - all parts of the political spectrum seemed to be represented. After a short welcome and introduction from the organizers of the rally, we began marching toward the Capitol building.
The march was the best part of the day. It's about a mile and a half from Union Station to the Capitol; we probably covered it in about 45 minutes, walking slowly behind banners with slogans such as "Defend our Constitutional Rights" and "Stop Mass Surveillance." Still holding my sign, I quickly made my way to the front, where there was a continual shouting of slogans accompanied by a drum troupe. At the Capitol, several politicians and activists, including Dennis Kucinich, Gary Johnson, and Naomi Wolf, gave speeches. Congressman Justin Amash, who had recently proposed an amendment to the Patriot Act that would end the NSA's blanket surveillance of Americans' phone calls, was particularly impressive, exhorting the crowd to stay vigilant and defend their constitutional rights to information privacy. At the end of the rally, a representative from Stop Watching Us handed Congressman Amash a box containing a petition to Congress with more than five hundred thousand signatures.
To be honest, it was difficult not to feel slightly disappointed with the outcome of the rally the next day. I felt that the hand-off of the 500,000 signatures to Congressman Amash, though symbolic, could be futile as such petitions are easily ignored. However, the rally did receive coverage on many political talk shows the next day, and many international news outlets, such as RT and The Guardian, covered the story. I would have liked to have seen more coverage of the rally (and, of course, the issue in general) in mainstream print outlets. This is one of today’s most important political issues, and it should be covered more extensively.
Still, it was great to see so many people as concerned as I am about the issue, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to go. The rally attracted a great deal of attention to the NSA’s activities, and I hope it inspires others to take action.
A broad coalition of activist groups, companies, and online platforms will hold a worldwide day of activism in opposition to the NSA's mass spying regime on February 11, 2014. Learn more here: https://thedaywefightback.org/