How do I organize a picket line at the airport?
November 10, 2010 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me organize a "picket line" at a local airport about the new TSA security policies.

The specific cause is to show disapproval of the new invasive pat-downs and back-scatter X-ray machines. I think that the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) would be good since there is media attention on airport delays already and people off-work could participate. I am hoping the picket line itself can show public outrage without causing travel delays. Important goals for me are safety, positive attention, and getting a sizable crowd. I am thinking about contacting people who have spoke out in the news (pilots, upset travellers) to attend the event. I have previously heard of flight attendants picketing at the airport. What permits do I need? How can I get more people to attend the event?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd make it clear that you're picketing to protest the TSA policies or changes and not creating a picket line that you don't expect people who are in solidarity with you to not cross. Picketing can mean different thigns to different people and to maximize support you'll want to make it clear that

- you're not trying to delay anyone
- you have specific concerns that you'd like addressed or remedied
- you'll be happy to give people literature if they want to learn more about this topic.

And, in that direction, if you don't already know you should give people handouts with the URL for the ACLUs online complaint form for people who have been abused or harassed by TSA. Find a nice URL shortener that you like and make a small handout which on the one side tells people what their rights are regarding searches and on the other side has the URL where people can lodge complaints.

Be aware that the airport is private property and you are unlikely to be able to maintain a protest there for any length of time so you might want to focus on more effective ways of getting your message out [putting fliers in all airport bathrooms, other literature locations] in the event that you are not able to accompany your fliers.
posted by jessamyn at 12:13 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I travel more in one week than most people do in a year (at least two flights; four or six isn't uncommon). I *hate* the new TSA security procedures, and can't stand using the backscatter devices.

Know what I hate more? Assholes who do things at airports that make it harder or more annoying than it already is.

What do you think is going to happen? The TSA officers are going to stop doing their jobs? They don't have any say in this. That travellers are going to look upon you with fondness, or join your ranks? What they want is to get from the door of the airport to the seat on their plane with as few, if any, disruptions or complications as possible.

Christ. Just write a letter or something.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:21 PM on November 10, 2010 [15 favorites]

I suspect any protest type of action you take on airport property will earn you a very quick escort off property, or to jail from an army of TSA and other police types. So I'm thinking you are going to have to go at it from a much more sneaky approach. Anything that attracts attention at the airport will just get you harassed or arrested quickly.

BTW, my wife had to go through the back-scatter machine, submit to a pat down, and be swabbed for explosives on Monday because she is a type I diabetic with a pump. TSA claimed it's now SOP for all pump wearers. So I'm not unsympathetic to your cause, I just think in the current environment you aren't going to be able to accomplish much at the airport.
posted by COD at 12:23 PM on November 10, 2010

Please get your facts straight: the scanners are THz (terahertz) scanners that can do absolutely nothing to hurt you if they don't collapse while you're in them.
posted by gijsvs at 12:33 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Picketing an airport on Black Friday will give you an object-lesson in exactly how much leeway TSA has in handling inconveniences at airports.

But if you want to draw attention to it then go to the website for any media outlet local to the airport in question and try to disseminate word for it via social media.

Afterwards, though, you might try using those same venues for a letter-writing campaign to one's senator or what-have-you asking that something be done about the new procedures.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:34 PM on November 10, 2010

Before we derail on the safety of backscatter x-ray techonology, I thought the OP was referring to the "safety" of making a protest.

I don't think picketing the airport is a very good idea, though. A massive flier-posting or letter-writing campaign seems much more likely to reach people. I'm not sure leaving anything lying around inside the airport proper is a good idea either; it seems like a recipe for getting investigated. Petitions, leaflets, and booklets distributed someplace that's not the airport but may have a high concentration of people who fly (say, for the holidays) might be best.

On preview: FAMOUS MONSTER's idea about initiating a letter-writing campaign via social media is a good one.
posted by Maximian at 12:42 PM on November 10, 2010

I would talk to a lawyer in your jurisdiction beforehand - I think it would be money well spent. Seriously. I'm not trying to dissuade you as much as point you to a resource that can help you consider everything you need to consider and also be briefed and available if you need some help during or after.

The day after Thanksgiving might not be the day you want - people traveling who are actually at the airport might not be receptive to anything they think will delay their journey (and most of them are not seasoned travelers). And media attention is great, but unless the story gets some legs then you are risking it never being seen by a large segment of people who are not consuming much media that weekend because they are eating/shopping/arguing.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:46 PM on November 10, 2010

National Opt Out Day is encouraging people to opt out of the scanner. But it's the day before Thanksgiving.

I think another good thing to do would be to print out cards/fliers containing the address/phone# of your members of Congress and ask all passengers to call/write with their opinion while they are waiting for their plane.
posted by CathyG at 1:00 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would speak to a lawyer. You may be arrested and prosecuted. You may need a permit. Such a permit might not be obtainable. Be smart.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:00 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Absolutely speak to a lawyer. Airports may or may not be considered private property; if they are private property, you are not entitled to congregate there. Further, there may be existing law that prevents public congregations at airports for security reasons. Expect to have a very, very, very bad day both from the TSA (who don't make the policy) and from travelers (Black Friday is amateur-hour to the extreme in the airports, so expect everyone already to be grumpy as hell).
posted by proj at 1:10 PM on November 10, 2010

Bad idea to do it at an airport. You should picket outside your regional TSA administration office building.
posted by fifilaru at 1:17 PM on November 10, 2010

I do not recommend a "picket line" where you and a bunch of others impede access to the airport, but since you mention that you're not interested in causing travel delays this probably isn't what you had in mind. If you intend to simply stand there with signage illustrating your objections to TSA policies, won't attempt to get into people's faces, and allow for travelers to pass you by without a glance, it would go a long way to delivering your message.

Even though the airport might be private property, I think you could still accomplish your goals by standing at the public street fronting the entrance (pending a look at your local laws). Maybe the corner of the nearest intersection(s) opposite the facility, depending on the size of your group and how many routes access the airport property. People driving past or commuting via bus will still see your message, and maybe it'd give them something to think about, but it wouldn't slow them down or delay them from proceeding. I don't see why you can't garner media attention this way even though you're not in front of the terminal doors.

Depending on your region and the number of people you expect to show up, you might have to look into permits for group usage of a public place, or basically something that allows you to form a group of more than n people in one location. Definitely have a lawyer who can help you secure the right permits and help defend your rights if it should come to that.
posted by CancerMan at 1:18 PM on November 10, 2010

In his Salon columns Patrick Smith (aka the Pilot) keeps wondering why travelers don't protest invasive&arrogant TSA abuses. Always makes me shake my head -- protest how, exactly? I'm certainly glad the anonymous OP wants to try, but I don't see what any protest would get you except (at the minimum) a quick escort off airport property.

Christ. Just write a letter or something.

Yeah, right -- who to? As if said letter will get you anything, except maybe a form response.
posted by Rash at 1:23 PM on November 10, 2010

When it comes to handouts, for anything but the specific URL jessamyn mentioned (which is gold), suggest search terms. I hate to get all "Google Ron Paul," but a zillion hits on Google for tsa backscatter store images william bordley will be more credible than any single website.

Similarly, "Search Google for tsa backscatter brijot transmit images" is both handy and really gets the point across.

Why did I pick on William Bordley? Because he's not some yahoo, he's the associate general counsel with the Marshals Service. That'll come out in any search your recipients do using those keywords. I like backscatter tsa lied, too, because it gets across the point that 1) First the TSA swore up and down that the machines were not capable of storing the machines, 2) then we find out that, yeah, they can, and have been, and that 3) those images can be transmitted by the Gen 2 machines.

Have little cards printed up, business card style, with jessamyn's URL and the appropriate Google searches, with, "Don't believe me? Find out for yourself." Maybe a nice red title at the top, "PORNOSCANS SAVE NUDE SILHOUETTES OF YOU — opt for preflight fondling, instead." Leave them in bathrooms, at kiosks, and beside napkin holders at restaurants within the airport.
posted by adipocere at 1:25 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Different airports have different owners so it is hard to give a blanket rule that applies everywhere. Our airport is publicly owned. Just send a letter to the management with your proposal. It will either get shot down or not. The other options are to hold it on public roads that are on the main approach to the airport. In most cases you will not need special permits for that and the impact will be the same.
posted by JJ86 at 1:27 PM on November 10, 2010

Just to add in a bit more here -- I'm not sure how some here (including the OP) think that a picket line will be able to stand out of the way and not cause delays. We should all know from driving on the interstate that a group of people doing something out of the ordinary around other people usually cause rubbernecking; combine that with the fact that you will almost certainly be attracting police attention (even if they are just standing by to make sure you're not breaking the law) and you have a recipe for things slowing down as little kids and infrequent travelers try to figure out what's going on with the big group of people holding signs.
posted by proj at 1:28 PM on November 10, 2010

Actually, the TSA has an active, smart and engaged presence in social media, most prominently in the TSA blog. They regularly respond to comments, including on this most recent thread about backscatter scans, and you could lodge a formal complaint by using their comment form or simply talking to them on Twitter. They also have a pretty comprehensive list of other ways to contact them.

Picketing (or whatever else you would do) at the airport would inconvenience the people who already agree with you, while antagonizing the people who have to enforce these policies that they didn't create. Is your goal to get attention, or to be effective? Because the reality is (and I say this as someone who travels a *lot* and has to deal with special security shit all the time) there isn't a great deal of "public outrage" that you could demonstrate. There's only a very broad level of minor irritation and a smaller group of really frustrated people. Very few are outraged, and when they are outraged at the airport, it's as likely to be caused by airline-generated issues (delays, reschedulings, etc.) or things that are their fault (people who have no idea what to do at security) as it is by the TSA's policy.
posted by anildash at 1:32 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Picketing on an approach road would be the best way to be visible and not shut down by security immediately.
posted by smackfu at 2:16 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Memail me.
posted by whoaali at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2010

adipocere: "... a zillion hits on Google for tsa backscatter store images william bordley will be more credible than any single website.

Similarly, "Search Google for tsa backscatter brijot transmit images" is both handy and really gets the point across.

Unfortunately, you now have top ranking at Google for those search terms.
posted by brokkr at 6:35 AM on November 11, 2010

sorry, I need to backtrack about the THz stuff. I confused the rotating things with the wall-type thing.
My bad.
posted by gijsvs at 11:56 AM on November 12, 2010

Picketing on an approach road would be the best way to be visible and not shut down by security immediately.

That's my plan. If I follow through, I'll be holding a sign at the Coleman Ave. entrance to the San Jose airport on the 24th.

There are two other entrances to SJC (also on my map), but they are on airport property. Those roads extend east of the Guadalupe Parkway, but traffic exiting from Guadalupe to the airport wouldn't see a protestor at Skyport Dr. & Technology Dr. Google Maps shows an aiport border slightly west of the Guadalupe, but I'm using the most liberal interpretation of San Jose's definition of boundaries.

The San Jose airport is city-owned, but the municipal code says
25.17.250 Prohibited act.

"Prohibited Act" means any of the following:

C. Tampering, interfering with, compromising, modifying, attempting to circumvent or cause a person to tamper or interfere with, compromise, modify, or attempt to circumvent any security system, measure or procedure implemented at the airport;
Can an opt-out sign "cause a person to [...] attempt to circumvent any security [...] procedure"? The code also calls for emergency services reimbursement so I intend to indentify myself if asked. California doesn't issue new drivers' licenses for an address change (there's a space on the back to write the new one), so I'll have a water bill with my name and correct address with me.

At that point, I think it's pretty plainly a first amendment issue. There should be no more "distraction" or than a corner guy waving a Quiznos sign.
posted by morganw at 8:22 AM on November 15, 2010

Oh, and for getting people to attend, an announcement on your local indymedia, the "events" section of your local independent weekly and maybe meetup? Here's a meetup for a protest at Kennedy airport.
posted by morganw at 11:50 AM on November 15, 2010

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