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Surveillance has chilling effect on us

Redandblack.com | February 27, 2007
Dale Hackler

I sooner expected to see the Jolly Green Giant tromping through North campus while playing croquet with a tree as a mallet and students as balls than to see an anti-war rally on campus Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Organized peace freaks at the University? I couldn't believe my eyes. I had a camera, so I began taking pictures. I needed to convince myself later I was not hallucinating.

It was a strange event. People stood around Tate Plaza holding anti-war signs while waiting for marching orders. A woman yelled about war crimes, and I heard the name Hitler in her rant.

Near the anti-war stand was a National Guard stand advertising paint-ball. A large military man wearing a beret stood by.

I was photographing the scene when a girl approached me and asked if I took her picture. The look in her eyes said panic. I told her I didn't know, but if she wasn't holding a goofy sign, probably not.

She asked if I had her somewhere in the background and wanted to look through my pictures.

"You don't want to be associated with this kind of crowd?" I jokingly asked her.

"Well, you never know," she said.

I assured her if my pictures were to be used, it would only be in a photojournalism class. She left. Shortly after, I found myself being photographed. I quickly raised my camera and took pictures of the photographer. He stopped and we looked at each other in a mutual agreement to leave one another alone.

Suddenly, I realized I had the same fear as the girl - I didn't want to be associated with this crowd. I've read news stories of police forces involved in public surveillance. According to a document released in October 2006 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Pentagon is involved in surveillance of anti-war rallies and groups "including Quakers and student groups."

Who wants their name in some anti-terrorism file drawer?

I mentioned this in a conversation with a girl who was walking through Tate Plaza during the rally. I then took her picture, and it's a good one. She looks very nervous.

Indeed, the prevalence of surveillance technology today and the active, or even rumored, surveillance of anti-war or other politically inspired rallies increases the probability that few people want to be associated, even accidentally, with a group of slogan-chanting freaks openly denouncing actions of the federal government.

There were only about 40 people involved in last Wednesday's rally, on a campus of more than 30,000. It was a lame group of sign wavers and mumblers - a sad sight to see. There probably are many more people on campus who are strongly against America's current and prospective wars and might join in a public expression of disapproval.

I wonder, what role does surveillance play in keeping people from such events? It could be significant, and no matter where you stand politically, this is not good.

All of us should want more peace freaks. Trust me - they make the world much more interesting.



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