“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead
What does it take to bring a group of activists together to drive a thousand miles just to take pictures and video of a federal building? The arrest of one of our friends and fellow civil rights auditor, David Warden of News Now Houston.
You’ll remember, Warden was arrested last month in El Paso Texas while shooting video in front of the Federal Justice Center building there. More about that story here. Warden was cited and released after being charged with disturbing the peace.
His arraignment was set for April 17 – so myself, and several other activists made plans to travel with Warden to offer our support and perform our own civil rights audit in the same location where Warden was arrested.
A civil rights audit, for those who are not familiar with the term, is as simple as an auditor (a person with a camera) standing on public property peacefully engaging in constitutionally protected activity to access whether or not local authorities will respect our rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and our rights to privacy.
It doesn’t seem like such a long time ago that I watched my first audit video. It was an Honor Your Oath First Amendment Audit and Jeff Gray was being arrested by Lawtey Florida Police for holding a sign that warned drivers to slow down. That was five years ago, the early days of civil rights auditing, when only a handful of people around the country were brave enough to stand on a public right of way or sidewalk and document public officials in the course of their public duty.
Fast forward to the present and you will find that the movement has grown to include dozens of auditors from around the country standing on sidewalks in front of military bases, courthouses, FBI buildings and the like, reminding public servants that the people are watching them and that we have every right to do so.
We drove into El Paso the evening before Warden’s arraignment and planned our audit over dinner at a local Chili’s that night. The next morning, while Warden attended his court hearing, five auditors traveled to the Justice Center, in my silver Prius, and began our audit.
We were probably a little too excited when we arrived at the building because we very foolishly parked directly across the street in a quiet little parking lot for a small strip of offices. It seemed perfect at the time, but it made it very difficult to get out of the area without anyone seeing our license plate number.
We piled out of the car and fanned out around the building. Two auditors walked across the street and three of us stayed behind to back them up. It wasn’t long before an El Paso Police unit showed up to find out what we were up to and who we were. We managed to keep our identities private but not because they didn’t try everything they could think of to identify us.
We all had a good time eventually losing the four police cars that were following us for more than an hour, all within a quarter of a mile from the building we were auditing. We were eventually rescued by Warden, who met us after his court appearance and helped us covertly return to my car and the hotel.
Below is a preview video of the audit we performed.