I talk with a passerby (photo by permission)
about the random bag searches. He said he was
undecided about them, but leaned more to
supporting them. (Photo by L. MacAulay)
On Wednesday evening, more than a dozen activists — myself among them — converged on the Union Station Metro exit to petition against the random bag searches announced by WMATA. Among our number were Pat Elder, Lacy MacAuley, Joan Stallard, Sue Udry, Ann Wilcox, and Martine Zee.
We distributed updated versions of the flyers used a couple of years ago (see prior post), and gathered petition signatures by hand to add to the over 500 online petition names we’ve gathered. Both the flyers and petition forms we used are available for download from MCCRC.
WMATA/Metro regulations (Section 100.10) stipulate that “free speech activities” like ours must be above ground, not past the turnstiles, and at least 15 feet from escalators, farecard vending machines, etc. — i.e., not obstructing pedestrian traffic flow. Leafleting is permitted on WMATA property, but sales of, say, buttons are not, nor are tables, large signs, or attaching signs to WMATA property. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these brief regulations, so you don’t pick a quarrel you didn’t intend to.
The bitter cold meant most passersby were unwilling to linger for long; for my part, I got thirteen signatures. In my experience, the best way to get a signature is to have some fairly short, concise “spiel” about why I’m there, hold out a flyer, and then — if it’s taken — hold the clipboard so the person can read the petition, while describing it to him or her. My “spiel” was “Metro bag searches – we’re against em — here’s why” while holding out a flyer. It’s almost like fishing — most tries yield nothing, but every so often you succeed in slowing someone down enough to give the matter some thought, agree with you, and add his or her name to your list.
Occasionally, you’ll get someone who wants to argue with you about things. That’s OK; that’s one reason you’re out there: to find out why some people don’t agree with you, and to learn what, if anything, seems to work. A former policeman seemed to nod when I suggested we can have an empire or we can preserve our freedoms, but not both — a bit removed from the matter of bag searches, but not too much.
But you’ll also want to find a way to end those discussions and get on with “finding out who your friends are,” as Lincoln once put it.
In this case, we won’t be getting our friends out to vote — the rest of Lincoln’s aphorism — but hopefully succeeding in encouraging them to write, email, and show up at the meetings of WMATA’s Board of Directors and Riders Advisory Council. As our flyer indicates, there will be a special Riders Advisory Council meeting about the random bag search policy on January 3d — the first Monday of the new year — at 6:30pm in the WMATA building at 600 5th Street, NW (near the Judiciary Square Metro). We hope you’ll join us there.