CIVIC CENTER — On a day meant to celebrate freedom from an overreaching government, a group of activists gathered in Santa Monica not just to recognize their rights, but to protect them.
Santa Monica’s seventh annual Fourth of July Parade became the setting for a local Restore the Fourth protest, a movement that rose to oppose wide-ranging government surveillance of American citizens and support the whistleblowers that brought the programs to light.
Protests involving thousands of people sprang up across the country, mainly organized in online forums and through existing networks like Occupy, to use the historic day in which the nascent country declared its independence from England as a backdrop to assert the freedoms and protections promised by the Bill of Rights.
In Santa Monica, dozens of people in red, white and blue joined the parade to request that the federal government “restore” the Fourth Amendment, a piece of the Bill of Rights meant to protect Americans against unreasonable search and seizure that many feel has been violated by government programs established under the Patriot Act of 2007.
They hope to convince the government to reform section 215 of that law that politicians in support of the data-gathering say justifies the actions and makes them legal.
“The movement is to restore the Fourth Amendment and our rights to be secure in person, houses, papers and effects,” said Mark Lipman, organizer of the event who was draped in an American flag Thursday morning.
Those involved in Restore the Fourth also showed their support for whistleblowers, individuals that use their position inside government or private entities to reveal alleged wrongdoing.
The protesters gathered around a two-person bicycle set up to tow a small litter full of cut outs of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning’s faces that organizers handed to members of the crowd.
The two young men have become the focal point of the protests, Manning for releasing a huge trove of government documents to the whistleblower website Wikileaks that detail the United States’ involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and Snowden for exposing initiatives by the federal government to gather data from American cell phone companies revealing who people spoke to, for how long and where.
Manning is now on trial on 22 counts including espionage and “aiding the enemy” after years in custody, and the Reuters news service reports that Snowden is camped out in a Russian airport.
Snowden’s information, obtained while he was a government contractor, led to further revelations about different ways the government is collecting information on men and women at home and abroad, specifically the PRISM program, a massive surveillance machine meant to target foreign citizens that can also grab information about Americans.
That kind of activity is a threat to individual liberties, said Giovanni Grammatica, a Hawthorne resident. Thursday was the first time he had ever joined a protest, which he heard about on the social media site Facebook.
“The government should not be spying on American citizens without due process,” Grammatica said.
The circumstances around the surveillance and the government’s treatment of Manning and Snowden concern Santa Monica resident Miriam Greenberg, who joined Thursday’s event to connect with others and show her support.
“I feel there’s a danger in the country, with what’s happening now,” Greenberg said.
Despite the serious subject matter, people still used the protest as a chance to have some fun. Protesters dressed as agents from the National Security Agency loitered on the edges of the crowd, occasionally requesting identification from their compatriots, while Clownalyn Monroe and her young sidekick dressed in bright hues and complete clown makeup watched on.
“We’re down to support any good cause, and being American is the best cause of all,” Clownalyn said, although she was less inclined to chat specifics of the protest.
“I have vowed to never talk about anything too serious when I’m clowning, my dear,” Clownalyn told this reporter.
Although Santa Monica’s protest did not draw the huge crowds seen in other parts of the country, particularly Utah where the National Security Agency is building a huge data center to store the information that it picks up through its surveillance programs, protesters felt that it was a positive beginning.
“It’s not large, but things start that way,” Greenberg said.