Signs were soggy and activists were soaked, but the Internet brought people out to Union Square despite the bad weather to show support for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It wasn’t the large showing the organizers were hoping for—roughly 30 people were gathered under one of the gazebos near the subway train—but the press presence was thick, and many got their opinions and voices heard by members of the media eager for stories about what Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg called the most important leak in American history.
The rally for Snowden—the source of a leak to the Washington Post about the PRISM program, which let the government monitor users of nine large media companies—was organized in just 12 hours. We interviewed protesters there about what brought them out, what they hope to see change because of the leaks, and their fears about the fate of their hero.
Mano Cris, 38; two children, 4 and 6: Best-case scenario is that people go and get off the couch. Everybody in my house didn’t want to get off the couch because it’s raining but I found a babysitter and I had no notice, I saw this was happening an hour and a half ago. You can get off the couch. Everybody’s at least got to come out into the streets and everybody’s got to have a real debate about it. You know what I was doing in my twenties? Getting drunk. I can’t even imagine having the courage or the opportunity so supporting him is the least we can do. Turn off the TV for one hour, and just show up to find out.
People coming by are fascinated. They’re like, “Who’s Edward?” “What’s Snowden?” You’re competing with the biggest monster that exists, and not that the news media is corrupt but that there’s so much to watch. You can’t compete with that. There was more of an outcry about Game of Thrones and if you’d seen one percent of that outcry for anything that’s going on here, that’d make a different. Maybe petition HBO to put a 10- minute segment about this at the end of Game of Thrones.
This man was living in Hawaii, he was making 200,000 dollars a year plus benefits. He mentioned he had a girlfriend and a family who loved him who all worked in that same industry so it’s not like he was the Black Sheep and decided to walk out and make a point to his family, and we can’t come out in New York City? Come on. It’s embarrassing.
We need a lot more imagination. The best line in Spaceballs is when Rick Moranis is fighting Lone Star, “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.” Good isn’t dumb but it believes because it’s good that’s enough and it’s not enough.
Jesse Dunlap, 27: From this, I want people to know what’s going on. A lot of my friends when I told them I was going here they were like, “Who’s Edward?” They didn’t know. At least people should be aware of this. It’s not okay that the government has so much power to spy on you and it spans both political parties. It’s not about political parties. It’s so important to come out in the rain so by being here, I just want people to see what a huge deal it really is.
Clara: This is the inevitable result of what happened on 9/11 and the War on Terror, and the security state we’ve built up. It’s a misallocation of resources. We’re spending an enormous amount of money on just monitoring citizens and guarding against some kind of threat that may or may not be out there. I’m incredibly moved by what Edward Snowden has done. He’s really putting his life on the line. If I did not come out and stand in the rain, I would not be able to face myself tonight.
After the Vietnam War protests when I was in college, I had children and went underground and tried to live a regular life. But I was here on 9-11 so I really started doing a lot of reading and I realized what the government has done. When you look at how long it takes Congress to do anything and the speed with which they whipped out the Patriot Act, it’s just incredible. Things have gone downhill from there.
When I protest I like to find an affinity group... so we just met.
Karen: This is the white hair affinity group!
Clara: We’re too old to care what happens to us now. Just go for broke.
Karen: It’s now or never. When you see someone like Snowden who has his whole life ahead of him taking that step...Congress should give Edward Snowden the Congressional Medal of Honor. I hope next week there will be a larger group in Union Square and then exponentially larger than that the next week and larger still, with every step the government takes against him until it becomes clear to the government that the people of America are on his side. ... From now on, if I don’t say a prayer for Edward Snowden and thank him, everyday of my life for standing up against a tsunami... I am beyond worried about him. I wrote to the president and said you will be held accountable if any harm should befall him.
When I was protesting in the 60s, the big concern was apathy and now we’re still apathetic. We can’t pay attention to the important things in life. We have to work. We need our bread and our circuses. We need to know what Paris Hilton is doing, what Amanda Bynes is doing, what Jay-Z says about it. Usually we think one person can’t do anything about it, but [Snowden] did and that’s why he needs our support.
Ben Dornberg, 24: It’s going to be a long process. Edward Snowden should not be taken to a military prison and locked up. He should not be disappeared. I don’t think he should be prosecuted. What he did is in the public interest. It’s in keeping with the Constitution. He should remain free. I think everyone here hopes that in the future, the American public will make the decisions about what level of civil liberties we’re willing to give up instead of having it made in secret without our consent. I’m sure this will be the smallest meeting we have, because it’s in the middle of the work day. I’m on extended lunch break. I heard about it through Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook as is fitting.
Chuck: I’d like to see truth and I’d like to see real journalism. The people need to take a stand and say, ‘You need to pardon truth-tellers, like Bradley Manning and many others who’ve been put away, Julian Assange.’ Those who are in office saying we’re fighting for freedom and justice to stop the terrorists, uh uh, we don’t need the hope, we don’t need the fear and we don’t need you playing the game of the D’s and the R’s against each other while the media makes billions. What we need is the people. Not corporations controlling government, but the people. We have to stand up. We need to agitate and educate, a non-violent movement. I protested the Vietnam War years ago. I’ve worked with groups like Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, Occupy... It’s a vengeful thing to say but I’d love to see a lot of people in government right now start sweating.
Debra Sweet, director of WorldCantWait.net: This is not only the biggest national security leak in U.S. history, but this is the biggest revelation, this fairly young man who is fairly articulate was in the national security state and has now come out and said, “This is not only wrong but I’m willing to risk my life and my future to get people talking about it” and he said, “I want them to know who I am, I want them to know this is authentic and this is really what the NSA is doing. These programs calling PRISM and Bountiful Informant are real. The NSA is gathering up millions of bytes of data every millisecond on everyone indiscriminately and who knows how it’s going to be used. Literally everyone in this country is affected by this. You have a password on your email? You have a lock on your door? This is not meaningful anymore. Somebody could use this information to set you up, to create a story about you. We are out here to today demanding the government not touch Edward Snowden. No torture. No extradition. No secret prisons. Don’t touch him.
All photos by Gaby Dunn