"If you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested."
John Tyner's line lacks the elegance of "Give me liberty, or give me death" - but it doesn't lack the weight. We've got to pick it up and run with it, now, while the momentum is ours.
The California software engineer's challenge to an airport Transportation Security Administration agent, who wanted to prod Tyner's genitals before he got on a plane, could - if we act now -- become a long-overdue shout heard round the world. It's a rare moment when we call all speak, confidently and assertively, as one people with one voice.
"The Terrorists Have Won," announces the top headline on today's conservative Drudge Report, over a photo of a TSA agent groping a nun.
"Are TSA Screenings Too Much?" wonders liberal MSNBC's website.
No ambiguity, for once. Nearly all Americans - Tea-partiers and radical feminists and investment bankers and Raging Grannies and soccer moms and church groups - can get behind this one. How often is that going to happen? The daily violation at our airports has finally hit the "national conversation" in a big way - and so has the discussion of what the TSA's attitude toward passengers really means, and really is.
"It's all about everybody recognizing their role," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explains, helpfully, referring to the full-body scans and pat-downs.
Could it get any plainer? Do you need it spelled out? Sure, she ostensibly meant the ordinary citizen's "role" in cooperating to Keep Our Skies Safe.
But the harder truth slipped out with the puerile platitude, and now it's there in a pile on the floor. We all see it, and smell it. She really means it's all about learning and remembering our place in a world where anyone in a uniform Always Knows What's Best. Oh and so does your Boss, by the way - you know, the person the folks in uniform ultimately work for. As do Napolitano, and Barack Obama, and Congress, and the Supreme Court, and the military, and CNN and Fox News. They're working for rich people who want you to have a lower opinion of yourself so you'll do more work for less money. They want you to believe that sacrifice is noble, that they're making you poorer for our own eventual good, and that resistance is futile.
Last weekend, John Tyner happened to have his brain tuned to what the TSA agent's words really meant, saw them translated in the ugly subtitles of reality: "Your body - your balls, which we're about to cup -- belong to us. Oh, and if you argue about that, we can step into that little room there, and you can bend over, and then something else of yours will belong to us, too."
Because as we all know, sexual predation is about personal power. If that predation is institutionalized, as it is now in our airports, it's about social power, political power, and - most importantly - economic power.
The original motive for these extreme measures was security, but any opportunity for such a fundamental form of control is eventually seized by those who stand to make a buck, and by outright perverts - often in an alliance.
That is the case now, and now that we have this window of truth, we have to point it out to all those we know - your redneck brother-in-law, your vegan neighbor girl, your Tea-party aunt, your college professor uncle. We need to demand dignity in travel and freedom of movement in our own country without a disgraceful trade-off. We need to write to our local newspapers and elected officials, and to talk about this at work and in church, at the drum circle or the hunting camp, around the dinner table and at school _ spread the word now.
"You should never have to explain to your children, 'Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee,'" say the organizers of National Opt Out Day - Nov. 24, 2010 - when they're urging all U.S. air travelers to refuse to be body-scanned. Check them out here http://www.optoutday.com/.
Right now, while we're all paying attention, we have to say no, loudly, on this one. Because this is what we're being told: "We own your lives. We own your bodies. We own your private parts. They are ours to look at, and to touch - not even sexually, not even lasciviously - but clinically, institutionally, as part of work - like the hand of a farmer, say, on the udder of a cow, or that of a butcher on the neck of a pig."