For 19 days, three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan become an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters. Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown, and it’s all free and open to the public. ArtPrize® is a radically open, independently organized international art competition with an unprecedented $200,000 top prize decided entirely by public vote. Every year, ArtPrize distributes $560,000 in total cash prizes—$360,000 awarded by public vote and $200,000 awarded by jury—making the competition the world’s largest ArtPrize.
It turns out, however, that the government shutdown has affected ArtPrize, too. (Grand Rapids is very conservative and very Republican, by the way…) The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a key partner of ArtPrize, and houses 25 ArtPrize installations this year, including four Top Ten entries. It is closed because of the shutdown. They’ve made special arrangements to allow the public to see those four art pieces by moving two from the lobby to a tent on the grounds, and providing security for the two sculptures already located on the grounds. We won’t be able to see the others on this last weekend of ArtPrize. (Thanks, GOP!)
Moving right along, I’m hoping to give everyone a springboard for discussion in my absence, so here are a few thoughts on privacy. Since the Edward Snowden revelations broke in June, we’ve all heard and read, “Why should I care? I have nothing to hide.” I’ve heard it from a friend, followed by the “keeping us safe” trope.
But even those who have “nothing” to hide — and every one of us has something we’d prefer to keep private — shouldn’t want the government snooping through our lives. Privacy doesn’t need any justification. We (and our ancestors) have worked hard to build a civilized society and one of its rewards is the ability to be our private selves. We should resist anyone who wants to take that away.
Public servants (and that means they serve the public, which is us) doing this watching are mostly honorable and honest. It is likely these people are convinced that they’re working to protect everyone’s safety. However, history shows that they often err on the side of intrusiveness and suspicion of anyone with opinions outside the mainstream. History further shows that governments sometimes go seriously off the rails, and that when this occurs, reasonable-sounding public safety measures are misused as instruments of oppression. In my opinion, we’re watching this happen right now, today. I can think of many examples, and I’m sure you can think of many more.
It is just fine to say that you don’t want to be watched, and that the default should be privacy. But if only the “controversial” communications are private, then a desire for privacy itself becomes suspicious. We shouldn’t need to justify a desire for privacy to anyone. We must fight back against those who want to commandeer the Internet and destroy our ability to encrypt our communications and take other measures to keep them private. We must use political pressure to make those charged with regulating the NSA, CIA, etc., at least as frightened of the wrath of “we the people” as they are of some nebulous enemy.