There’s a movement afoot (http://www.optoutday.com/) to protest the TSA’s deployment of its new see-through-clothing scanners by having everyone “opt out” of the scanning process on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the heaviest travel days of the year.
While I sympathize with the ostensible motivation behind the idea (millions of innocent airline plassengers are being massively inconvenienced and having their rights trampled by the TSA for not much of an increase, if any, in our overall flight safety — from a certain point of view, having so many people suffer through this procedure means the terrorists have won!), I can’t agree with the plan.
For one thing, you’re not likely to find a lot of support for the idea of asking people to protest by delaying their own travel, particularly on a day that’s difficult enough and already prone to delays, and even more especially when their primary concern at that moment will be simply getting home for the holidays. So the protest itself will be weaker than it deserves to be because relatively few will join in, compared to the underlying number of people who would be far more willing to participate in the protest if it were called for a more favorable date.
For another, you’re asking people to protest by disrupting other people’s travel, people who may not think the TSA is infringing on their rights. At first blush, it seems the same as when protesters march in the streets and block some traffic. But within the airline system, it’s different: Delays at one airport not only cascade throughout the entire system, they multiply from early hours to later ones until the whole nation is gridlocked. That’s not going to win the protest a lot of friends. In fact, it could even backfire and cause millions of passengers to dislike the protesters and feel a surprising sympathy for the TSA and its employees, who may well come up looking like the victims here, rather than what they actually are: the perpetrators of massive rights violations on millions of law-abiding, patriotic men, women, and children.
Overall, opting out of scanners on November 24th is just not a smart way to get what we all want, which is an end to “Security Theater” at airports and a redirection of the TSA’s massive budget toward more sensible approaches and methods that will actually make us safer. (You doubt that it’s Security Theater? Then please explain the point of subjecting every passenger to the TSA’s public humiliations while millions of tons of cargo flying on the very same planes gets no screenings at all?)
Here’s a better idea: On November 24th, everyone traveling by air (and interested others) who feels the TSA is overstepping its bounds and not doing the best possible job of keeping America safe should protest by:
a) Wearing a simple, paper sign saying: “Protest the TSA: Opt Out Of Intrusive Screenings On December 10, 2010”, and/or
b) leafletting the passengers around you by handing out the same words on small pieces of paper.
This kind of protest does several things:
1) It calls attention to the same problem, on the same day, as the poorly conceived “Opt Out Day” planned for November 24th
2) It creates no travel delays during a busy holiday crush and engenders no sympathy for the TSA
3) It gives people who are of a mind to protest a couple of weeks to get ready to participate
4) It causes disruptions to TSA procedures and resulting delays to airline flights on a normal flying day, a day that practically every flyer can hear about and prepare for in advance, a day when relatively few flyers are focused primarily on getting home for the holidays.
Are you ready to protest the TSA? Which of these protests are you more likely to join?
(If you’ve got an even better plan, let’s hear about it, in the comments below.)