Privacy advocates, libertarian spokespeople tell Congress “Stop Watching Us” at weekend rally

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Fletcher Karper.

Political celebrities and thousands of protesters gathered at the Capitol Building Saturday to rally against the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance and data collection.

The Stop Watching Us Rally was the culmination of a week of grassroots events around the city in the name of personal privacy and in protest to government spying. The movement was galvanized by the revelations of NSA phone-tapping and publicized leaks like those released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden this summer.

Tatiana Cirisano | Hatchet Photographer
Tatiana Cirisano | Hatchet Photographer

Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico and Libertarian presidential candidate, spoke in favor of repealing the Patriot Act and called the NSA scandal an “egregious government overreach.”

“My biggest fear is the complacency of the American people,” Johnson said, though he also remarked that the turnout exceeded his expectations.

Roars of appraisal rippled through the crowd after Johnson proclaimed his support for whistleblower Edward Snowden and demanded elimination rather than oversight of any domestic surveillance initiatives.

“Stand up America,” Johnson shouted. “We’re mad as hell.”

The march began at Union Station where the demonstrators gathered and were entertained by speakers from the world of whistleblowers and privacy rights activists, like former Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake.

David Barrows, a 68-year-old GW 1972 alumnus, said he wanted to “restore democracy” and compared the rally to anti-war protests he participated in as a student at GW.

The memories of students bludgeoned and tear gassed by police still occupied an important place in his conscience.

“GW was wild back then,” Barrows said. “Americans have got to stop sleeping and wake up, however painful it is. Wake up before it’s too late.”

Men and women dressed in psychedelic hemp and beads and heads full of dreads pulled a cart decorated in dozens of drums and bongos, whooping and hollering as they marched. Young children held signs near protestors donning suits and Guy Fawkes masks.

Michael Ben-Horin, president of GW College Libertarians, shared some of the marchers’ skepticism and said people need to put pressure on Congress by contacting them directly for the rally to cause real changes.

“I wish these rallies were more productive. I generally don’t think they accomplish a lot,” Ben-Horin said.

The organizers of Stop Watching Us took council with some representatives on Capitol Hill the Friday before the rally, and briefings in the House and Senate are scheduled to take place on Monday to discuss a petition put forth by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a major contributing organization to the rally.

EPIC also made an online petition to the Supreme Court to halt all monitoring of phone calls, which received 575,000 signatures. The petition will be presented to a divided Congress, indicating another potential benchmark in the fight for due process and privacy rights in America and abroad.

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