The TSA Tussle

“The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” (James Madison)

The TSA Tussle’s not a new Hip Hop song (though there have been a few poking the airwaves!), or a remake of the recent hilarious SNL skit. It’s actually a Band Aid that we’ve slapped on the deep wound of our national psyche to make us feel better, safer, more secure, more something.

Right before the holiday season, we learned of less than comfortable pat downs that some claimed bordered on sexual molestation. And new radiation scanners that might mean we end up glowing in the dark.

My first reaction to this news: Huh? “What’s up, TSA?” And then a really sinking feeling that they’ve completely missed the mark, so to speak.  No longer will I make jokes to traveling folk in security lines to the tune of: “before you know it, we’ll have to dress in scrubs to go thru security.  No body parts left behind! (LOL!).” Though my comments sometimes helped break the monotony of the being-in-the-long-line-with-glaring-TSA-officials traveling experience, it seems not too far from the truth anymore.

Either way, I had a rather intense reaction to this news of more rules, but not for the reasons you’d think (sure, its possible that our 4th Amendment rights are being violated, and it now seems the American Public is guilty before being proven innocent — Miranda rights? and who wants their little kid fondled in the name of National Security?)

After some reflection (and reading way too many blogs), I shoveled out my sinking feeling.  What I unearthed was shock that folks (and the government?) actually think more rules will help us BE safer. What we really have is a colossal, dis-coordinated, complex system with inconsistent rules and lots of holes both in the system itself…and our borders too.  And unless we build walls around ourselves and our borders, it will be impossible to keep all the “bad” people out.

We live in a very porous, open society – with all of the risks and rewards that come with that. Each day our lives are fraught with danger, but we still plow on, unconscious of most of them. So the Orwellian approach to more oversight with layers upon layers of rules is only a Band Aid solution to much deeper issues.  Maybe what we need is a shift in strategy and frame through which we see and behave in the world.

So I ended up with more questions than answers:

  • What can we do to provide input that would help make security screening less invasive but more seamless overall? How can it be better coordinated with local authorities, the State Department, etc?   (my OD training)
  • What have we learned what’s worked from other countries that do this well and how could those best practices be implemented (in a consistent, strategic way that doesn’t assume guilty before proven innocent)?

But those questions really didn’t get to the root of my discomfort.  What it came down to was:

  • On a broader/deeper scale, what can we do to demand change to our foreign policy that will more thoughtfully address the conditions that create people who want to hurt us?  (I don’t believe people are born evil, otherwise I wouldn’t work in a prison).
  • What can we do to protect our selves (and each other?)  What can we do to become more connected so we want to help each other in crisis situations (as I recall, people came together in amazing solidarity in 9/11?)
  • Would more connectedness mean less risk?
  • How do we build trust instead of fear?
  • How do we better learn to live in the present, knowing that we don’t really have any control over the future (since it hasn’t happened yet?)

Then it occurred to me that people who become terrorists are much like our inner city kids who become gang members (and end up in prison)…disconnected, disassociated from their own communities, so they seek out (or are recruited) to other forms of “community” as a replacement. “Gangs” and “Terrorists” are identities of the dispossessed. What happens when you strip that identity away?

So the uber question for me that emerged from the TSA Tussle is:  how do we bridge the divides that surround us?


Other ruminations…

Fritjof Capra – The Roots of Terrorism

About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. Most recently, as Founder & Executive Director of the Insight Garden Program, I built a $1+ million nonprofit that works across sectors to provide experiential, transformative gardening and landscaping training in prisons, participant re-entry programs, and advocacy for systems change at the intersections of environmental, criminal, and social justice. To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
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