Mid-Missouri Peace Coalition holds rally against government surveillance

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 | 9:52 p.m. CDT
Demonstrators gathered downtown to support whistleblowers, such as Bradley Manning, at the Mid-Missouri Peace Coalition Rally for Freedom.

COLUMBIA — Protestors gathered Wednesday night to rally against the government, hoping to generate awareness about government surveillance, stop American wars and build support for whistle-blowers. 

Passing cars honked in support as people held up signs reading "Help end the war," "Honk if you agree," "Justice for whistle-blowers," among others. Flags waved with symbols of peace and anarchy.

The protest, which began as a march from Providence Road and Broadway and ended at the Boone County Courthouse, was organized by the Mid-Missouri Peace Coalition. Once at the courthouse, the crowd listened to speakers and held an open soapbox for anyone else wishing to voice their opinions.

The rally was one of many weekly peace vigils that have been going on since 2001, said Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks in Columbia. Haim said they usually attract about six to eight people at the protests.

Wednesday's gathering saw a larger crowd than usual; around 25 people made the trek to the courthouse. The primary focus of the rally was to support government whistle-blowers, such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, who have released large amounts of classified government information. Manning is currently on trial for charges under the espionage act, and Snowden is seeking political asylum while the U.S. government attempts to extradite him back to the country.

At the rally, Mike Diel held a sign that read "End the secret surveillance war on humanity. Free all the whistle-blowers."

"If they are telling American people what they need to know, then they are heroes," Diel said. "They are only traitors if they release military information like where our troops are stationed."

As the rally proceeded to the courthouse, some passersby voiced their opinions of the protestors. One man shouted from his car, "Go home!" and a pedestrian shouted his support. 

The rally featured speakers who discussed topics such as patriotism, human rights and the role of whistle-blowers.

Carolyn Matthews, of Columbia, said the rally is about patriotism as a U.S. citizen, but it is also about human rights, which is a global issue. 

Steve Weinberg, one of the four featured speakers at the event is a professor emeritus of journalism at MU and a former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc.

"Whistle-blowers are important because of the information they put out there. The whistle-blowers did what they were supposed to do," Weinberg said.

He defined a patriot as "someone who cares deeply about his country. When they have information about the country that will make it a better place, they reveal it regardless of the personal cost."

All the attendees think Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden displayed patriotism when they publicized classified information.

"Snowden is a courageous human being essential to society and democracy," Jeff Stack, a rally organizer, said.

Cisse Spragins, chair of the Missouri Libertarian Party, traveled from Kansas City to speak at the rally. She thinks the fight is for liberty, which is doing what one wants without harming anyone but taking responsibility for one's actions. 

The human rights discussion centered around the line between privacy and intrusion. Dan Viets, a local attorney, said transparency is important to help people understand what their government is doing on their behalf.

"If we don't know where the line is drawn, we can't do anything about it," he said. "The citizens draw the line, not the government."

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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