Ten Years Later: Get FISA Right and the Future of Civil Liberties Activism
We advocate rejecting the politics of fear, revisit the flawed FISA Amendments law and Patriot Act, and safeguarding the people’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Please, Senator Obama, Say NO to Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right launched on June 26, 2008, with posts by Mardi on my.barackobama.com and Mike Stark on Open Left. The media hook of Obama supporters using his own social network to pressure him with an open letter got a lot of coverage, and by July 2, we were the biggest group on MyBO. On July 3, Obama responded to our open letter on MyBO — an event that’s often seen as a watershed for social network activism in the US.*
Alas, it wasn’t enough. Obama declined to support the filibuster by Senators Feingold and Dodd. On July 9 2008 Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act — giving the government virtually unrestricted access to collect Americans’ international communications, and granting retroactive immunity to telecoms that had cooperated in illegal Bush-era spying.
We kept organizing after the vote, running crowdfunded pro-civil liberties TV ads during the Republican National Convention that August and in DC in January 2009 for Obama’s inauguration. In early 2009 we allied with DREAM Activists and undocumented youth, the Stonewall 2.0 LGBTQ movement, and peace activists in the Ideas for Change competition. Since then, as newer groups like Restore the Fourth and Fight for the Future have taken the lead, we’ve come back to life from time to time — most recently, to let people know about Get FISA Right alum Shahid Buttar’s Congressional campaign.
Our tenth anniversary’s a good opportunity to check in, reflect on the past and what we can learn, and talk about what next.
So whether or not you were part of it back in the day, we’d love to hear about your memories of Get FISA Right — and ideas about the future of civil liberties activism.
Here’s a few thoughts to kick things off.
The view from 2018
As we predicted in 2008 (and even after the Snowden revelations highlighted the intelligence agencies’ abuse of their power), Congress has repeatedly expanded the scope of warrantless wiretapping — and failed to introduce any meaningful safeguards. With the Trump Administration becoming increasingly authoritarian, and Democratic leadership complicit, risks that seemed abstract or hypothetical to many people a decade ago are overwhelmingly real.
- As soon as he got elected, Obama’s “Digital” team shut down my.barackobama.com’s organizing abilities — a huge lost opportunity. In the decade since then, nothing’s emerged to replace it.
- Facebook has made their platform far less useful for activism than it used to be, while instead optimizing it to promote genocide and steal elections, and routinely suspends activists’ accounts (especially women of color)
- Twitter has helped the alt-right weaponize their tactics to the point where Amnesty International describes it as “toxic place for women”.
And so on. It’s almost like people with power are scared of what might happen when people organize online and are doing their best to stop it.
Still, as Restore the Fourth reminded everybody in 2013 — and hundreds of thousands of people around the country are once again showing this week at ICE facilities as part of the week of action — grassroots energy remains out there — and people continue to connect on social networks. And as grim as the overall situation is, there’s also been substantial progress in a lot of areas. For example:
- Groups like Black Lives Matter, the Water Protectors, and StopLAPDSpying — along with intersectionally-focused leadership in civil liberties coalitions and academia — are increasingly highlighting the relationship of government surveillance to the prison-industrial complex, immigration, racism, and environmental justice.
- Momentum has shifted against Facebook and Twitter, and new decentralized platforms like Mastodon may prove to be better environments for civil liberties activists
- Explicitly anti-oppressive new projects like Torn Apart / Separados and Douglass as well as new tools for activism like Signal, Loomio, SecureDrop, better.place, and Pursuance are still at a relatively early stage but point the way to new possibilities
Learning from the past — and looking forward
As Get FISA Right heads into its second decade, there’s still a big potential role for grassroots social network activism in the fight for civil liberties — and for justice. There’s a lot to learn from our experiences. What worked? What didn’t? How would we adapt things to today’s, and tomorrow’s environment?
So please share your perspectives — in replies here, on our Wordpress blog, on the Get FISA Right wiki, on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Mastodon, and Diaspora, or wherever else works. We’ll collect the responses and follow up with another post in a week or two. In the meantime, help us get the word out by sharing, liking, tweeting, emailing, and otherwise letting people know.
Thanks to everybody who’s been involved with and supported Get FISA Right and the fight for civil liberties over the last decade. Looking forward to the next ten years!
* The hundreds of the replies to Obama in the MyBO conversation are gone, but here’s the copy of his response on the Huffington Post. The Get FISA Right wiki has more of the context, including A brief history, Coverage, and This time, *we’re* writing the history.