Posted by: nmontague | November 19, 2010

TSA procedures and non-violence

I’ve been reading alot this week about the TSA procedures at the airports this holiday season. Many people are upset about the new body scan technology that sees through your clothing to take pictures of people that as clearly inappropriate. The government has said that these pictures won’t be saved. But seriously, do you really trust the government?

There is an opt out option. Though if what I hear about that is true, it’s not much better. From what I’ve heard, First they announce loudly that you are opting out. I am sure passengers enjoy being embarassed before they board an airplane. Next, they do a full body pat down that one customer recently made famous by recording and telling them that he’s pressing charges if “you touch my junk.” Needless to say that people are uncomfortable being searched in ways that would be considered sexual assault if done by anyone but the government.

Now the TSA workers themselves aren’t the problem. They are just following the procedures and trying to do their jobs as they are told. But is this seriously the way we want to live? In order to fly anywhere we have to either get photographed naked or sexually molested? What bueauracrat thought this was a good idea?

I know we all need and want to be safe. But do we really want it at the point where we have no 4th amendment rights anymore? Do we want it to a point where the government can humiliate (and worse) innocent people simply in an effort to “Keep us safe”? And is there any evidence that we really are safer because of this? If some terrorist does manage to slip through and bomb a plane, what will the next procedures be? At what point do we draw a line?

I find myself extremely grateful that I am not traveling this holiday season. I am not comfortable being photographed by a machine that can see through my clothes. Nor am I comfortable having some strange person handle my “junk” so to speak.

However, I do have to say some of the reactions I’ve seen so far have been interesting. A woman called a local radio program and mentioned having everyone who lacks inhibition to stage a protest by stripping down naked before they go through the security. Of course, then they would be arrested and need to deal with the Federal Courts. However, it got me thinking.

Gandhi’s ideas of Satyagraha (Truth struggle) and ahisma (non-violence) would be a very effective way to fight this if people in mass were willing to go to prison and suffer to end this. Basically the idea is that in an oppressive society the only place a righteous man can be righteous is being in prison. The theory is that the just cannot submit to unjust laws.

When I was reading about it, I could never think of something I could see that would be a true cause to go to prison for. I mean at what point does a government become so oppressive that the just need to go to prison in an effort to fight it? I am not sure there have been many in American society since the non-violent protests MLK led in the South against Segregation. I’ve never seen anything that crosses the line in my mind, at least not until these scanners.

I am still not sure what I think about civil disobedience. I dont like the idea of breaking the law. Even for protest reasons. But if non-violence will work anywhere. It would work for this. The TSA workers aren’t responsible. They probably feel as uncomfortable as anyone else. Violence would not be a solution. However, I fear that it could be an outcome if more reasonable measures aren’t taken.

As an intellectual endevour, I’ve just been thinking about how one would go about a non-violent protest.

First, of course would be to request the government to cease and desist. Give them a chance to rectify the problem without Satyagraha. State your case at any level you can through the normal process. Go to your representatives.

Second, if no relief is given, I would think there would be two prongs to the Satyagraha:

A) Have individuals willing to suffer through arrest and take a stand non-violently and placing them strategically at airports across the country.

B) Encouraging workers to protest by refusing to work until the matter is resolved.

Of course, for it to be a true satyagraha, the government needs to be informed of the intent to break the law as a matter of civil disobedience. It needs to be well published beforehand. Because the intent here is not to break the law, but make a point. That the law is unjust and people are willing to suffer to win the hearts of the rest of their countrymen to change it.

Satyagraha is always a last resort. And the people who participate in it have to be people who are trained to do it. They have to be willing to suffer without doing any violence in return. The idea isn’t to prove the point in an effort to make ourselves look better, but to win the hearts of the people to your cause.

I hope this never comes to the point where satyagraha is needed. But I can certainly see how it could be useful in the coming days.



  1. “Of course, then they would be arrested and need to deal with the Federal Courts. However, it got me thinking.”

    Presuming this was done peacefully and compliantly, why would one have to deal with Federal Courts in this case? AFAIK, there is no federal statute against public nudity.

    Also, if anyone can opt out then this isn’t really a civil disobedience issue. If everyone exercised their right to refuse to be body-scanned then the scanners would become an expensive embarrassment.

    This post reminded me of this relevant video:

    • Federal Courts because of where the protests would occur and less what they did to protest.

      Even so State Courts are still applicable and there is still a cost.

      And let’s be reasonable. alot of people have to fly around for their jobs. they can’t really opt out of this.

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