Today I saw the most disgusting act I've ever known an agent of the United States government to have perpetrated.
I watched a disabled Iraq veteran, an amputee from just below the elbow, forced to go through the backscatter x-ray imager twice, then pulled aside for a 20-minute interrogation, during which they hand inspected his carryons and forced him to remove his prosthesis and partly disassemble it - with his one good hand.
When he asked, "Are you looking for something in particular, or are you just curious about how my arm works?" his belongings were gathered by TSA agents and he was escorted to what I assume was an interrogation room, leaving his wife standing by shocked.
This was just a few weeks ago.
There was a time in this country, a little over two hundred years ago, when being subversive meant burning down the existing government, including its agents and their homes and businesses. It meant the organized and complete shunning of people loyal to the government until they moved to Europe or saw the light.
Not too long ago at all, being subversive was supporting labor unions or daring to bleed anything but the party line.
But, we can't exactly go about burning things down, advocating the violent overthrow of anything much, or resort to public humiliation and social stigma anymore - we've moved far beyond all of those things, which is most surely for the better. So what are you supposed to do if you're mad about something? Write to your Congressman, who knows you're not probably a member of a key voting bloc anyway? Abandon your job and other commitments to devote yourself to some sort of attempt to change the machine from within? Hold up signs in the street over the weekend?
Now, I think, the most truly subversive thing you can do as a citizen, at least that is likely to result in anything other than a criminal record and a lot of bad press for your cause, is to give your money to the ACLU, EPIC, the EFF, and, yes, the NRA. Lots of word soup. Most people have probably heard of the ACLU, even non-Americans. Most geeks have probably heard of the EFF, at least peripherally. Some people will know about EPIC, and everybody with a gun problem knows who the NRA is.
Let's talk about who these organizations are, and why what they're doing is so subversive. In a nutshell, they fight the government to keep it from overstepping its bounds, and to make it back off when it does.
The American Civil Liberties Union is probably the most preeminent and well-funded of the motley bunch, and to be fair, has the longest history of fighting on behalf of the American people. To put it simply, the ACLU's charter says that they fight for individual freedoms. Liberty, if you will. They do it in public, with advertising campaigns, court cases, and press releases, as well as in private, filing "friend of the court" briefs, helping with fundraisers for related causes, and assisting individuals with legal advice when they are able.
It's important to note that the ACLU has a national organization, as well as state and regional organizations that may differ in priorities, influence, and resources. For example, the national and most state ACLU organizations do not defend individual freedoms as listed by the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. However, some state and regional levels have, and do support such causes, particularly when they are tangled in with other issues such as Fourth Amendment infringements. ACLU organizations in the "border exclusion zone" are obviously going to prioritize Fourth Amendment issues over others. Pick a region, pick the most grievous offenses against liberty, and you have found somewhere the ACLU is probably concentrating, at least on some level.
The EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation, aims to extend the ACLU's philosophy into the world of high technology, particularly cyberspace. Not only an advocate of the Bill of Rights as applied to the electronic world, they also champion causes such as consumers' rights, privacy rights, encryption, and other topics that are also on the fringes of awareness, but the forefront of importance today.
EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is an even more tightly focused group similar in some respects to the EFF. From their website, "EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values."
EPIC has made headlines recently in their court cases against the Department of Homeland Security's blatant breaches of safety, privacy, the Freedom of Information Act, and most importantly - the Fourth Amendment. EPIC's court cases continue after blatantly illegal, nose-thumbing behavior from the DHS and TSA in regards to Freedom of Information Act requests related to both the full body scanners in major US airports, as well as the much less publicized mobile x-ray scanners fielded by the agency. Mobile x-ray scanners which they were told explicitly by the manufacturers were not safe for human use, but are nonetheless on the street today in undisclosed numbers being used on vehicles, pedestrians, and public transportation, among other undisclosed subjects.
As for the National Rifle Association, well, they fill a very important gap that the other groups so often disregard: The second amendment, often vilified, misrepresented, and excluded, it's 10% of the Bill of Rights, and 10% more than I'm comfortable throwing my hands up and declaring a lost cause.
In my own quiet, and not-so-quiet way, I am a subversive citizen because I give money to these groups on a regular basis. In the current state of modern American politicking, letter-writing by individuals can only go so far. Massive demonstrations only ever have enough energy to get a quick blurb on the six o'clock news, and that doesn't get us very far. Widescale labor grievances? Ask Minnesota how far it got them. Protests? Another website about your pet peeve? It'll all get you about the same place - That is to say, nowhere.
Whereas if we pool our money, even a bit at a time, with trustworthy organizations working to fight on our behalf, they can go far indeed. It's true that individuals are by and large completely outweighed by special interests, career politicians and bureaucrats, and megacorporations, but if we're all just a bit more subversive, and take a bit more action with our wallets instead of our blog comments and outraged media coverage, well - what's the worst that could happen?
Too many people use the changing times as an excuse to throw up their hands and call it off. Various shades of "Why bother doing anything about it? It won't change anything," wrapped in varying levels of pseudo-intellectualism or thin justification. Well, there is something you can do. Who knows, we might even get some of our rights back.
Who else are we going to count on? The Tea Party?