Space and Time Separate Opt Out Film Week, but Anti-TSA Activists Protest On

Today marks the start of Opt Out & Film Film Week, a weeklong protest aimed at convincing passengers to refuse the use of the TSA’s advanced imaging technology in our nation’s airports (opting out) and when they receive an enhanced pat-down to film the procedure. Aside from potentially overwhelming TSA checkpoints with a mass of individuals opting out across the nation, the project is aimed at raising awareness about the TSA by creating a video archive of the TSA’s hands on contact with our bodies. The hope seems to be that with  a mass of videos there will be evidence of misconduct by the TSA and increased public awareness of what these activists view as a dangerous power grab by the state.

The organizers of Opt Out & Film Week have also created fliers that can be handed out at airports for those who are unable to fly this week. The hope is that if you cannot travel you can still engage in a PR campaign in hopes of convincing people to joining the protest on their way into the airport.

In my own research I have distinguished between resistance-performances and the resistance-performative. Resistance-performances, I contend, are the automatic reactive postures taken to the State  that do little to advance resistive politics. State’s anticipate the expression of resistance and even rely on the extremes of such logics to help moderate State positions. In essence, resistance-performances can legitimate the TSA by making anti-TSA critics appear as enclaves of people branding the TSA and Nazis. In such a discursive environment building resistive politics with mainstream appeal can be difficult.

The resistance-performative, however, is based on the notion of kinesis–that certain rituals have the potential to dramatically alter current social relations. Our performatives materially engage in a breaking and remaking of society leaving customs  and practices wholly changed from what they were before. Clearly, Opt Out & Film week is engaged in a week long campaign to alter the flows of power in airport security checkpoints. The last Opt Out Week, in November 2010, was a  failure. Evidence of this failure is little change in TSA practices two years later. Assuming that Opt Out & FIlm Week will necessarily be successful would be a mistake but that does not mean the protest cannot be a success. There are a few factors, however, working against the this protest.

1) Space- Most successful protests rely on mass mobilization. Even online mobilization recognizes the power of crowds. However, the business of airports and the function of security is about metering entrance to spaces and creating senses of inclusion and exclusion. Airports are almost impossible to mass in, and the design of Opt Out & Film mobilizes the power of the crowd in their digital archives after the fact. I am curious if a sense of solidarity and momentum will be achieved by assembling often isolated acts of opting out (that may be filmed)  after the fact. After all, even if the thousands who indicate they are joining the protests do engage, their flights are divided by time and space across the nations airports and border crossings.

2- Time- The sense of isolation that occurs with space also occurs because of time. Even if activists are located in the same city, they may fly at different times on the same day or different days this week. While a week long protest is needed with the enormity of the air national infrastructure it could threaten the efficacy of the protest.

3-Class-While there are an array of reasons to be concerned about the increased surveillance of bodies by the State, and resistance to normalized acts of watching is even healthy, the embedded issues of classism in anti-TSA communities persists. I wrote about class and Opt Out & Film Week in a previous post and got a very fast response from Ashley Jessica who is the main organizer behind this protest. Her argument was that class is not a relevant factor because anyone can participate by showing up to airports and handing out fliers.

As I responded at that time, class would only be irrelevant if you live near an airport, have leisure time away from work to protest, transportation to and from the airport, and freedom from a host of other social obligations that would allow you to go and protest. One of the things I am aware of as a critical scholar is that factors like class ( race and gender as well) are never irrelevant, especially when it comes to conversations about State surveillance. A leaked recording of a stop made under New York’s “Stop and Frisk” program underscores that under racist regimes, for example, there may be more pressing issues than TSA surveillance.

While all of these would qualify as critiques of Opt Out & Film Week, my hope is that Ashley Jessica and other supports do not take them negatively. Critique is integral to social discourse. Also, none of them are meant to suggest that the protest is unable to be effective. Over the next few days it is certainly an exciting time for anti-TSA activists as they engage in the resistance-performative in airports across the nation’s air infrastructure.

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Filed under Grad School, news and Culture, Research, TSA

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