Thirteen months ago, I would never have dreamed that we’d be where we are today.
Back then, I was working professionally on surveillance reform; but there really were not many of us. The Fourth Amendment was hardly headline news. We had support from maybe 20% of Congress, but almost none from a deferential judiciary, a hostile executive branch, and an indifferent tech industry. Litigation against warrantless surveillance looked like it was at best on life support.
What Snowden did thirteen months ago shook, and is still shaking the world. The truths coming out about the NSA’s activities have reconfigured diplomatic relations, affected the profits of the world’s largest companies, and reshaped the Internet itself.
It has also had an effect on the Fourth Amendment. We have seen worldwide protests against mass surveillance. We have seen serious and continuing efforts to address surveillance reform in Congress – and also some less serious ones. The Supreme Court has swung strongly toward digital privacy, ruling unanimously in the Riley case this month that police have to get a warrant to search your cellphone. So has the House, which recently passed a prohibition on NSA backdoors by a thumping majority. Relative to thirteen months ago, the future for the Fourth Amendment looks bright.
Even with the deep corruption embedded in our politics, restoring the Fourth Amendment, piece by piece, remains a feasible goal. The surveillance state, while very powerful, can be beaten. And I am proud to say that Restore The Fourth has been a strong force in that battle.
Happy Fourth of July, everyone.
Alex Marthews, National Chair
This is the first in a series of interviews with local organizers conducted by Teri Walley. To be featured in a future edition, please email email@example.com.
“When I heard the things that Edward Snowden revealed, it took what we’ve all suspected for years was going on in a quasi-conspiracy sort of way and made it fact,” said Odin Maxwell, an organizer in the small town of Bellingham, Washington. “The potential for abuse is massive.” Maxwell, a lawyer, decided to get involved.
For 1984 Day, he and a software programmer pulled together an encryption education program at a local market‒specifically, a presentation on the erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights and how to safeguard yourself against illegal government surveillance.
The Bellingham pair advertised through Reddit, Twitter, Craigslist, and the Bellingham Linux Users’ Group. Odin approached a regular peace protest group about attending and spreading the word of the program. They also sent emails to groups such as the local Libertarian and Green parties. Though only 13 people came to the first program, Odin is continuing his work. He’s planning another encryption education program for September 22 and increasing his advertising this time with printed posters and by approaching the local newspaper.
A second tack for Odin is to involve the Bellingham City Council. Odin plans to ask the city council to pass a nonbinding resolution against mass espionage. “The voice of a city may be louder than the individual citizen,” Odin said, “and if more and more cities pass these resolutions, the voices will echo even louder.”
A third tack has been the direct protest approach. Odin and two others waved protest banners along thehighway during rush hour. “It doesn’t take a lot of people to make an impact. Roughly 3,000 people saw our signs and gave a very positive response,” he said. Odin laughed, “and in an hour and a half, only one person gave us the finger!”
Like Odin, Samantha Mahool first became involved after hearing about NSA surveillance. “My initial Restore the 4th action was before Restore the 4th became a movement,” she said.
Through Reddit, she became involved in Austin’s successful July 4 rally, when about 300 people gathered at the Texas state capital, then marched through the streets of Austin, passing by both the federal courthouse and Austin City Hall. The rally brought in citizens of every political stripe from Tea Partiers to diehard liberals to at least one anarchist. “This is a civil rights issue, not a political issue,” Samantha said, “and therefore should be important to everyone.”
The key was in strong advertising. Press releases — sharpened by journalist friends — were sent to newspapers and radio and television stations, including the college outlets. Fliers were posted in coffee houses and bookstores. Bookstore owners were also given special handouts to place on checkout counters for customers to take, advertising the rally and educating them about the Fourth Amendment and surveillance.
Samantha also tracked down a list of active clubs for the University of Texas and St. Edwards University and their presidents and sent personal email invitations to each club, which brought in rallygoers.
The advertising worked well; the local NPR station posted photos on its website, and the rally was mentioned in the Austin Chronicle, a local alternative newspaper. “We stopped traffic, and tons of people were talking about it,” Samantha reported.
At the rally, the Austin chapter announced its next event: a crypto party set for two weeks later. Of the 67 attendees, half were “techies” and the other half were beginners, ready to learn to protect themselves.
“Our rule is always try to advertise the next event at the event you’re having right now,” Samantha said. “The people at the rally were already interested, so they are the very people most likely to be the ones to come to your next event.” The Austin chapter has two more events on tap already ‒ another encryption party on September 18 and attending the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply on September 19. The group plans to hand out buttons and pamphlets before and after the movie with the intention of spreading the word and getting more people involved.
Samantha feels that one key to keeping the movement alive in Austin is to have a consistent meeting time and place. “It seems to make it easier if people know that every Saturday, at the same time and same place, people are going to be there. And that consistency,” she said, “brings new people and more people all the time.”
Tips from Bellingham:
- It doesn’t take a lot of people to make a big impact. More than 3,000 people in rush hour traffic got the Restore the 4th message delivered by 3 people holding 2- by 4-foot banners.
- Approach your city council about passing a nonbinding resolution against mass espionage. The more city councils involved, the more weight for the average citizen.
- Odin organized an encryption information presentation at a local market, passing along tips on how citizens can protect themselves and reinforcing the message of Restore the 4th.
Tips from Austin:
- Have a regular time and place to meet. Consistency works.
- To advertise Austin’s July 4 rally, Samantha found lists of active clubs at the University of Texas
- and other nearby colleges and sent the club presidents personal email invitations.
- Always advertise the next event during the one going on right now. The people at the rally today are already involved, so they’re the people most likely to come to your encryption party in two weeks.
- Along with press releases, the Austin chapter sent ready-made scripts to the local radio stations to make it easier for announcers — and more likely the release would be used.
- Personal outreach is important. Organizers engaged bookstore owners in conversations about the movement when posting fliers and handouts. The owners themselves participated in the rally as much as the customers.
On July 4th, tens of thousands of you came out to protest unconstitutional surveillance methods. There are many more protests and other actions upcoming (a bit more on that below), but as we’ve said many times, the next step is to let those in Washington who noticed us know this isn’t over.
The way to do that is for all of us, including those who have already, to call our representatives and senators Friday to tell them it isn’t over, and to make sure each of our friends do the same. One number you can use is 1-STOP-323-NSA (1-786-732-3672) – make sure you have your zip code ready. Those of us on Facebook can join the event page and make sure those on our friends list take notice of it.
You may be thinking: Why make a day-specific campaign out of calling Congress when it’s been recommended all along? Concentrating calls from as many people as possible in one day will draw more attention from Congress and others than if those calls were more spread out. Additionally, it: will serve as a reminder to those who haven’t called Congress yet; makes it easier to spread the message on social media and other venues; and will help keep attention on Restore the Fourth and on the issue of unconstitutional surveillance while we prepare for future protests and other action.
Tips for Friday
- Call using call.stopwatching.us which will help you connect to the right office and provide talking points, and look up your local representative’s position on unconstituional surveillance beforehand. Or consider using this script.
- Read up on the issues (e.g. in our FAQ and Press Releases and other sites’ guides) beforehand so you know what to say, and so that you can address friends that question you on why they should participate.
- Considering sending a letter and email as well. There are some templates on our Resources Pages which you can use if necessary, and can edit at your own discretion.
- On Friday afternoon ask your friends if they remembered to call. Many people will be willing to do it but will need a last-minute reminder.
And this isn’t all that’s being worked on.
Note on Restore the Fourth’s Future Activities
Our last blog post laid out some of the projects the national and local organizers are discussing, including the one described above, so let’s look at the others. While we put “political lobbying” and “legal action” as projects on our radar – and it’s conceivable we’ll find that to be a worthwhile project at some point – these aren’t things Restore the Fourth will be working on in the coming months. We aren’t prepared or funded for that level of action and it’s best left to organizations like the ACLU and EFF. What we need to put on the agenda are the kind of low-cost, grassroots efforts to fight unconstitutional surveillance that we’re best at, like those from the 4th. Here’s two that are most likely going to happen:
- Another set of local protests on August 4th, a few of which are already being planned by local organizers, using the 4th of the month as the go-to date for protests. August 4th’s can also be a send off for…
- A campaign to get Restore the Fourth participants and other critics of unconstitutional surveillance out to town hall meetings during Congress’s summer recess. From August 5th to September 6th, members of Congress will be back home listening to constituents with the media present, and if we want to make it really clear this isn’t over, we need to make unconstitutional surveillance the center of that discussion and the main thing on lawmakers’ mind when they go back to D.C.
We hope you’ll participate in both and that you’ll remember to call Congress on Friday to tell them unconstitutional surveillance is unacceptable and that this isn’t over!
On July 4th 2013, tens of thousands of you from over 50 cities across the United States came out to protest unconstitutional surveillance. What began as online discussions between anonymous strangers over the Internet became in less than a month a coordinated nationwide movement that turned the heads of the American people and their government alike.
But while a great number of people have called these protests a success, they are correct only if we use these protests as a launching pad for further action. Unconstitutional surveillance methods like the NSA’s PRISM are still operating after the protests, as we knew they would be. We took a successful first step towards ending them, but now we must take the next one, which starts with studying the results of our work on the 4th so that we can capitalize on its successes and learn from its shortcomings.
We were pleased to find that approximately 20 000 protesters participated nationally and many cities (e.g. Boston, D.C., New York, San Francisco) reached close to 1000 – NYC, for instace, estimated 930-960. City-to-city, turnout varied from great to moderate to small. And it all made for some great photography.
The numbers might have and should have been larger, but any cynicism about the results would be misplaced. Most attempted protest movements fail to ever get tens of thousands of people, and most protest movements don’t start out as large as they eventually become. And so we will make this one larger, and staging our first set of protests on Thursday helped us do that.
Saying “Mission Accomplished” and moving onto other things would be silly and naive, because PRISM and other unconstitutional surveillance programs still exist. What we accomplished was bringing a significant amount of extra attention to this scandal and to our cause, and put together a great amount of experience, resources, and contacts for future work so that we can bring even more attention to unconstitutional surveillance and eventually end it. Even the smallest protests brought local media attention to this issue.
Your protests this week brought major local, national, and international media attention to our movement and, more importantly, to the issue of the Fourth Amendment and the unconstitutional surveillance that violates it.
According to analytics ordered for us by reddit GM Erik Martin, Restore the Fourth was referenced eight times Thurdsay on major national TV and radio stations (Bloomberg Radio, The Call, CNBC World, CNN, CNN International, and Fox News; and NPR twice) and 259 times on local TV and radio stations.
The print and online publications that ran one or more articles on us inlude BBC, The Boston Globe, CBC, CBS, Cnet, CNN, Fox News, The Gazette, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, International Business Times, LA Times, Mashable, Politico, Reuters, Time, The Times of India, RT, SF Gate, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News, and Wikinews.
Other advocacy organizations that supported us with assistance or promotion or both include EFF, Fight for the Future, Internet Defense League, various Occupy Wall Street organizations (like these folks), PANDA, and stopwatching.us. (Surely I forgot some, so please email me to add you if I did). Politicians and celebrities that spoke out in suport include Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, Thomas Drake, and John Cusack. Support came from the left as well as the right as well as from every other direction and that is exactly what we wanted. Even the NSA itself found it suitable to take some notice and gave some support… for our first amendment rights. It’s a start?
According to Google Trends, by late June news and search traffic for “Fourth Amendment” had declined to less than 20% of what it had been when the NSA/PRISM scandal first broke, but shot up to more than 80% on the 4th, most likely largely because of our protests.
What all this means is that we succeded, at least temporarily, in preventing the media cycle and the attention of the American people from moving away from the Fourth Amendment and the violations of it that were revealed a month ago. This is a critical first step, because the country’s citizens can’t take action to stop a scandal they’ve forgotten about, and we have established our movement with a cultural presence and larger base of support that we can build off of. We’ve made real progress, and that’s something all of our participants should be really excited about, and proud of. But now we have to capitalize on that progress.
What comes next?
Restore the Fourth is a grassroots movement, and how we move forward is largely to be determined by what the various independent local organizers that conducted these protests want to do. So long as their work remains non-partisan, non-violent, and focused on ending unconstitutional surveillance, we will make it our job to provide them with the promotion and resources they need. Some are already beginning to plan their next event. Here are some of the interesting ideas for future projects that have been brought up by ourselves, local organizers, or the community:
– Planning, coordinating, and promoting future nationwide protests like those on July 4th.
– Planning, coordinating, and promoting a massive one-city protest in Washington D.C.
– Phone call, petitioning, and letter-writing campaigns directed towards both Congress and state governments.
– Exploring more local spheres of influence such as town hall meetings.
– Political lobbying in defense of the 4th Amendment.
– Legal action in defense of the 4th Amendment.
And here is some of what the Restore the Fourth national organization is spending the weekend doing:
– Working on bringing local organizers the level of direct involvement they should have had with the national organization a long time ago, and communicating with them about what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we should do next.
– Preparing additional information about who we are and how we function, for the benefit of both the public and our local organizers; much of this will be put on the website in stages in the coming days.
– Following up on all the talented people that offered to help us over the last week whom we didn’t have time to give the attention they deserved.
– Keeping up contact with with social media communities in order to receive additional ideas and feedback on how to move forward.
– Preparing a press release to be issued Monday morning.
– Researching how we can become – and raising funds to become – a permanent, ongoing organization dedicated to defending the 4th amendment and America from unconstitutional surveillance.
Becoming such an organization is going to require at least a modest level of funding, which we’re more than half way finished raising. So if you want to see such an organization be formed, please check out the indiegogo and consider helping out. I think the campaign lays out a pretty good case that we will use the funding effectively. Tell us what you think.
More information on the projects to be pursued throughout the summer will be made available over the upcoming week as we conference with local organizers. If you’re interested in volunteering either locally or nationally or both, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the relevant info and we will set you up.
Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to our efforts so far. Please keep in touch and keep involved, because this isn’t over.
Today the American people, the media, and even the NSA itself were made aware of our cause to end unconstitutional surveillance programs like the National Security Agency’s PRISM. Now we must capitalize on that by moving on to Step 2, which is to let them know the next thing they need to be made aware of: This isn’t over.
We know the indiegogo and the website need more details (e.g. our names, duh!), so feel free to bookmark it and hold off your decision on whether to contribute until Saturday when it will have way more concrete information and signs of trustworthiness. If you’d like to take a leap of
faith, though, go for it. We’ll love you (even more).
Now the exhausted-but-still-working national Restore the Fourth team moves onto keeping up with our continued press contact, compiling and releasing photos/videos/information from the protests, talking to local organizers about how to move forward, and working with them on defining and promoting our future vision. So please keep in touch, because there is much more to come.
“Official” post-4th press release soon, Monday at the latest.
Thank you so much and keep up the good work everybody,
– Anna, Douglas and the rest of the Restore the Fourth National Organization
P.S. We are very sorry to those who have been in touch with us whose concerns we haven’t been able to address yet, or whose proposals we haven’t followed through on yet, especially our very very hardworking local organizers. Seriously, you all are the best. We truly care about the things that are being brought to our attention but we need a few more days to catch up on everything that isn’t severely urgent.