It’s a rare day when Eugene Volokh totally misses the point of something (it’s not a rare day when I disagree with him, but that’s different). But in endorsing Kent Scheidegger on National Opt-Out Day, I think we’ve got one.
the idea of scheduling a gum-up-the-works protest for the day before Thanksgiving is beyond despicable. National Opt-Out Day is a call for large numbers of people to opt out of the scanners and elect the longer manual search, all on the same day. It is a cruel and heartless act of vandalism that will seriously hurt other passengers, not the people at whom it is supposedly directed….
This is wrong on almost every front. First, there is absolutely nothing “despicable” about urging people to exercise their legal right to opt-out of being x-rayed. This isn’t even a case where people are being asked to engage in Gandhi/King style non-violent protest and, say, peacefully block a road waiting to be arrested, although if the cause were just I’d be more likely to call it “courageous” rather than “despicable”. Repeat, there is nothing wrong with exercising your legal right to choose one intrusive form of suspicionless government search over a possibly dangerous form of suspicionless government irradiation. Do you trust the TSA people at your airport to properly calibrate the backscatter x-ray machines or the so-called millimeter wave machines? I don’t: Even hospitals get the x-ray dosages wrong with alarming frequency, and I’m betting hospital machines are more closely monitored for health risks than the TSA‘s high-volume machines are.
No, this is a basic Alinsky-style tactic in which people are urged to do that which they are allowed to do, en mass, in order to demonstrate their distaste regarding what they are forced to do (choose between being irradiated or being searched over-intrusively) or not allowed to do (travel freely). There is little point in such protest at six in the morning on a light travel day — the tree may fall in the forest, but no one will notice. The whole point of the exercise is to create pressure for change while acting entirely within the law. Pressure for change is increased if bystanders are co-opted into complaining about the resultant delays or even persuaded to join in the protest.
My general view is that when my fellow citizens are motivated to participate in the political process by any form of organizing around legal action — even stuff I disagree with — this is a good thing for the system. (The hardest case is when the motivation is lies. But then the real problem is the lies and the liars, not the well-intentioned protesters.) Most of the time I feel the same way about non-violent protest too, even if it consists of civil disobedience. Where I draw the line is violence and threats of violence. Of course, if I disagree with protesters, I reserve the right to attempt to point out the error of their ways, but that goes to substance, not tactics.
Reading complaints about the upcoming protest one is left with the strong suspicion that the “despicable” aspect of this protest from the point of view of those who prefer their fellow citizens just shut up and take it is that it is a protest, or rather that it is a protest that just might work. Meanwhile, as the protesters were considerate enough to warn of their plans, plan to be at the airport early.
PS. I’m traveling on Wednesday, so I and my family will be among those inconvenienced at MIA. I’ll be among those opting out if not run through a metal detector, although I would have done so regardless of the existence of the opt-out movement because I’ve had more than a couple of lifetime’s supply of x-rays this year. (See TSA Glow or Grope Policy.)