Where Does “Restore the Fourth” Go From Here?


Restore the Fourth was born on Reddit in early June, shortly after revelations about the depth and breadth of the NSA’s surveillance programs became international news. Less than a month later, a subreddit dedicated to the movement counts more than 20,000 subscribers, and can take credit for coordinating a nationwide protest of the government’s surveillance program on July 4.

Restore the Fourth‘s Independence Day demonstration was hailed in advance as “the biggest Internet protest in history” but, in the end, only modest crowds turned up in cities around the country.

In New York, about 300 demonstrators showed up to march from Union Square to Federal Hall. A debate over the success of New York’s protest ensued on Reddit, where some wondered if the media conspired not to cover the rally and where the demonstration was called both “a great idea executed terribly” and “an epic flop.”

Could the Fourth of July protests have gone better? Sure, Douglas MacArthur, a political science major at the University of Toronto and Restore the Fourth’s spokesperson, tells the Voice.

“I think we could have had better internal organization on a national level,” MacArthur added. “I was pleased with attendance–we had tens of thousands of people attending, which is a lot more than a lot of protests get.”

And the movement is just getting started.

For one thing, Restore the Fourth was never intended to be a single protest. The demonstrations on Independence Day were executed with one goal in mind: to “establish a base of support moving forward,” MacArthur says, “which is really the hurdle we needed to pass to keep it a big enough thing to go long term and to get people’s attention and bring attention to this issue.”

This issue, MacArthur says, can be summed up in single sentence: “end unconstitutional surveillance efforts.”

It’s easy getting folks worked up enough to go out and protest–whether they are protesting income inequality or unfair taxes–the problem Restore the Fourth is facing now is the same problem movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party encountered before them: how to turn outrage into real action.

For Restore the Fourth, the answer is not to take cues from either of those movements. “We believe both of those groups could have done a much better job of being nonpartisan,” MacArthur says.

Already, he says, the organization had been criticized for being aligned with both Occupy and the Tea Party. It’s not, MacArthur says, adding, “We’re not going to turn down their support where it has developed organically, especially at the local level, and we’re not going to push anyone out because they come from a more specific political group.”

Restore the Fourth’s goal may ultimately be to become something closer to a nonprofit, like the ACLU or the Electronic Frontier Foundation–both of which have already offered the organization their support.

The next step, which has been discussed on the group’s Reddit page, will be to pick a single day (likely this Friday) to flood Congress with phone calls about concerns about unlawful surveillance.

“We’re going to try to get thousands and thousands and thousands of people to call Congress, and then people who noticed us on the fourth will know that we’re not going away,” MacArthur says.

There is also talk of another protest, based in a single city (likely Washington, D.C.) later in the summer.

Lastly, MacArthur says, “Political lobbying and legal action are things we’re looking into–that would be more of a long term thing because we have to get the funding and the infrastructure in place before we can do that.”

The group is off to a good start. “We’ve raised about $6,500 so far. We’re hoping to get $10,000 to launch our new organization.” Some of that money will go toward costs already incurred, like the telephone line and P.O. Box, server and bandwidth fees for the website (presently being donated by another organization).

Most of the money though, MacArthur says, will go toward the legals fees to incorporate as a nonprofit–a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4)–in order to keep the cause going long-term.

“This isn’t over. This has only begun. This wasn’t just a protest–I want that to be made as clear as possible.”