Restore the 4th, Raleigh: My First Protest

Restore the 4th is a nation-wide, non-partisan movement which organized protests across the country for July 4th, 2013.  The issue at hand is the federal governments’ domestic spying programs which are in violation of the fourth amendment.  Each American citizen has a constitutional right to privacy.  PRISM and the NSA’s collection of electronic communication records without probable cause is illegal.

I discovered Restore the 4th through Twitter and connected with the Raleigh event through facebook.  I decided it seemed like a great idea to celebrate Independence Day by participating in the great American tradition of dissent.  So I set off alone to my very first protest.  It’s a 45 minute drive from my front door to the state capitol building in Raleigh, North Carolina.  That’s enough of a distance to venture into the region of self-doubt, of wondering who do I think I am going all alone to a protest with a bunch of people I don’t know?  What if this turns out badly? What if I get arrested or something? Because I am so not prepared for that.

As I approached the capitol building, I wasn’t quite sure where to go until I rounded a corner and saw a group of people holding signs.  That must be it, I thought.  People of all ages were clustered at the foot of a tall building, a building with the words “Law and Justice” inscribed toward the top of its imposing façade.  I sidled up to the edge of the group, working my way toward the street corner which seemed to be the center of activity.  There were two or three cops across the street, watching us.

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Protestors lined up along the block, holding signs.  There were some patriotic proceedings involving music and tents gearing up across the street on the capitol grounds.  Behind us, down Fayetteville, a festival was setting up.  It was just before 11am, so at first there wasn’t much foot traffic.

We did get a good response from many cars driving by, honking and waving and giving us thumbs up.  Even one police car honked at us encouragingly, which caused the police officers watching us from across the road to start laughing.

I started chatting with a couple of high school students, bonding with them over radical politics, feminism, and also the mind-blowingly awesome fact that they are in a band (I believe the name is “Corporate Herpes” if I heard correctly and I will absolutely let you all know when I get to attend one of their shows).  When some of the earlier protesters left, we picked up the signs they left behind (I’d thought about making a sign but I hadn’t been able to think of anything clever and I’d been bedridden with a migraine most of the day before).

Appropriately, we were standing outside "The Justice Building"

Appropriately, we were standing outside “The Justice Building”

I got the really fancy sign that actually quotes the Constitution.

I got the really fancy sign that quotes the Constitution.

Around noon, a young man wearing a T-shirt that said “No government ever gave me freedom” stood up and addressed the gathered protestors.  He beautifully summarized the appropriateness of protesting for our freedom on the Fourth of July, reminding us that the Founding Fathers themselves had cited an overreaching, tyrannical government as their reason for declaring independence.  And he was right, of course.  There was something so intrinsically American about protesting across from a patriotic festival.

Some of the patriotic proceedings at the capitol building

Some of the patriotic proceedings at the capitol building

Oh and in a weird Southern moment, this man in full Confederate garb came over to talk to us.

Oh and in a weird Southern moment, this man in full Confederate garb came over to talk to us.

The atmosphere was extremely good and pretty low-key the entire day, a very positive energy from everyone and a lot of positive feedback from people walking past.  As the festival kicked off behind us and foot traffic sharply increased, we broke off by segments of four or five and walked all the way down the road and back, sticking to the sidewalks since we hadn’t been able to procure a permit.  We walked past people eating at outdoor cafes, past craft booths, past musicians, past food trucks, past little clusters of police officers.

Once we’d walked the length of the festival and back, we reassembled at the street corner we’d begun at, and hung out for a little while.

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One man, who had joined us toward the end of the protest, started stridently making very extreme, partisan statements until another man reminded him that we needed to stay on message and our message is not partisan.  The shouty partisan man was just much more vocal and belligerent than anyone else in the group, and we could tell that when he was shouting people passing by were giving us more negative vibes, so several members of the group engaged with him whenever he became too negatively vocal (I didn’t speak to him at all as I’m still pretty bad at having confrontational conversations).

Although we got mainly positive feedback from people walking or driving by, very few people actually engaged us in conversation.  Toward the end, a German man started talking to a few of us and he asked some really good questions.  He was interested in knowing how the American public in general feels about the NSA’s domestic spying, and whether Americans were drawing inspiration from popular uprisings in Turkey, Egypt, and Brazil (I told him many Americans really weren’t but that I personally find those uprisings very inspiring).  Also, he told us that the German people want to grant asylum to Snowden but their government can’t because of agreements with the U.S.  Dang international diplomacy, always messing things up for whistleblowers.

I headed home around two, feeling very pleased with my first protest experience.  Altogether, today’s Restore the 4th protest in Raleigh was a very positive experience.  We exposed our message to a lot of people in a non-violent, non-partisan manner, and I definitely look forward to future events with this movement.

Here are a few more pictures from about the middle of the day:

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