The right to be left alone is synonymous with one’s privacy rights, is a right upheld in multiple court hearings and cases. It is enshrined implicitly in the bill of rights. It was once an expectation and value in American Culture and something our founding fathers fought a revolution over. As such many of our YAL members may have found themselves outraged by Edward Snowden exposing the NSA spying program, what the Patriot Act, and now the USA Freedom Act has done to our privacy rights. Many chapters may be excited about starting an activism event on this topic. One idea for activism that floats about around state and national conventions is a protest the NSA event. It has been executed at a few chapters nationwide. It’s a great event that usually garners quite a bit of attention at school campuses if executed well. It has been my experience that the best activism events, the ones that get the most signups and fosters the most conversations (having a memorable conversation and connection with someone is a great way to actually get people out to meetings) are ones that are interactive. Make your event bold, make it exciting, and get your members involved. (Members are more likely to come to more meetings the more involved they get with your chapter, helping with activism is a way to get their skin in the game and ensure their commitment to seeing the principles of liberty win).
The event is executed by having members dress in suit and sunglasses holding boom mics (Or long black paint holders easily obtained from a hardware store). They then go to a well populated area on campus and follow students with the mics in order to convey how privacy is valued in America and that the NSA is violating your privacy rights. Petitions may be signed as well as new YAL members signed up. This is the basis for the event, however, if you are a chapter president like me with concerns about not wanting your growing YAL chapter to be seen as creepy and as annoying and as invasive as the NSA, you may want to avoid executing the event in this manner. Some chapter will find that being antagonistic is a great way to gather support from fed up students at your college. I do not mean to discourage you. Chapter Presidents will know their campus, and their chapter best. If you are in the first group one can still have an interactive event that still conveys the same message. First you’ll need to go to a hardware store and purchase a large piece of plywood, a can of black chalk paint and a few paint rollers (one for each of your NSA agents). Next you will use the paint rollers to paint the plywood with the chalk paint, this knocks out two birds with one stone as you will now have a chalk board and your paint rollers will look more like boom mics. Still have your members dress as TSA agents carrying the boom mics and set up along a pathway so that students will walk by your YAL table and chalk board. Have some agents on one side of the pathway and some on the other holding the boom mics over the pathway so it gives the impression they are listening in. In this way students will understand that this is a demonstration/activism/club tabling event. It still conveys the message without the need to follow individual students around which may seem harassing to some. Ask students passing, “Do you know about the NSA spying on your phones?” Ask them if they know they have their pictures and their texts. The creepiest one I found that got people’s attention is that they and the FBI can remotely access your microphone and camera on your cell phone and record you at any time. When they seem shocked engage them in a discussion about what YAL believes and how were working to stop this. Get them to write on your chalkboard, what they want the NSA to hear (Stop infringing upon my privacy rights) or what they don’t want the NSA to see or hear, (Medical information, conversations with loved ones, nudes.). Make this a fun activity for them. That’s how the event becomes inclusive. Writing nudes will make people laugh, it’s relatable.
Beware that you will have naysayers. The most common arguments you will encounter is that security is more important and that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. Prepare for members to engage these people. Your goal is not necessarily to convince them they are wrong (you most likely won’t) but to pull them away from distracting other students from engaging in the event, and to convince those listening in that your argument has more merit. Eroding privacy rights is historically demonstrated and a dangerous slippery slope. There are accounts of NSA agents misusing this data. The NSA has not been able to stop a terrorist attack yet using this information. It’s a net negative! What if the information is hacked or leaked, this is every individual in the United States, lives on full display for criminals, think of the damage this could wreak upon our everyday lives! One may want to have a list of sources handy. Perhaps even writing these facts on the chalk board.
Overall make sure this event is educational and fun for your members, get them involved in the setup, and the students and potential future members. As an after event consider watching “Citizenfour” and discussing. I hope my experiences with the event can help your YAL chapter. Good Luck!