Edward Snowden is the man who last week told his bosses at Booz Allen Hamilton he had to take a vacation to treat his epilepsy, and instead flew to Hong Kong to meet with civil rights activist Glenn Greenwald.
In a hotel room, Snowden gave Greenwald top-secret classified documents outlining how the National Security Administration mines and stores e-data on all Americans online.
Snowden didn’t even tell his girlfriend of three years what he was doing, He is dead to her now, as it is unlikely he will ever freely step foot in American soil again. As a worker at Booz Allen, his conscience would not let him help build the architecture of oppression.
Upon understanding this edifice of electronic control and surveillance will only grow during the next generations, Snowden said “you realize you might be willing to accept any risk and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that’s applied.”
Of course, the New York Times cut off the quote, ending at “what the outcome is”, changing Snowden from a conscientious objector to a potential thrill-seeking radical. But we expect the shoot the messenger mentality.
One wonders if the modern media would have said Crispus Attucks was asking for it. On a cold, March evening in 1770, Crispus Attucks, a man who either was freed from or fled from slavery, was standing in the Boston Common with a stick or a club. He apparently joined in taunting of some British soldiers.
Within moments, Attucks was dead of a bullet to the chest, a martyr for liberty in what would soon be known as the Boston Massacre. Of course, a later criminal inquiry cleared the British soldiers of all wrongdoing.
Attucks’ death was one of many sparks on the inexorable path to the Revolutionary War. While the first shots weren’t fired until later, Paul Revere’s woodcut of the Boston Massacre captured the popular imagination of colonials.
In hindsight, ten years from now, will we see Snowden’s revelations of massive spying on Americans as part of a march towards revolution here? Will we see Snowden’s whistleblowing on activities the Obama administration has alternately denied and also sworn as legal and allowed by Congress and courts as part of an inexorable march to a second American revolution?
We can’t trust Congress or the courts always. Remember that these same institutions rubber stamped slavery, segregation, and any number of other reprehensible moral outrages. And continue to do so today with things like austerity budgeting.
Those moments which spark revolutions often surprise, and are unpredictable. Who could have predicted that a fruit vendor setting himself on fire in Tunis, Tunisia would spark the Arab Spring that toppled American client dictators in Tunisia and Egypt?
Who would’ve imagined the Syrian Army’s massacre of four teenagers writing anti-government graffiti in Dara, south of Damascus, would ignite the Syrian Civil War?
(If you’re wondering why the rebels there haven’t been successful, consider that while the United States maintains more than 700 military bases globally, the former Soviet Union, i.e. Russia, maintains one: a naval base on the Mediterranean in Latakia, Syria.)
In Turkey right now, a motley band of soccer fans, leftists and environmentalists has shut down parts of Istanbul over plans to turn Turkey’s main park into a shopping mall.
The hard right government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan skipped the planning process entirely to confiscate this park. Istanbul is densely populated, with 1.5 percent of its land as green space. Istanbul has the same population as New York City, which has more than 12 percent of its land dedicated to parks.
Again, no one would have supposed that a normal corrupt development deal would lead to police barricades, tear gas, riots and dead protestors. But it did. We never know what the tipping point will be.
Occupy Wall Street was a mass movement attempting to alter the status quo. The Obama administration appears to have coordinated a massive, violent national crackdown on this leftist movement for income equality.
Will we eventually look at the data point of Occupy Wall Street as we now see the revolt against King George III’s Stamp Act?
I’m not optimistic about the ability of Americans to change the inertia of their own government. As much as I want to believe in the power of non-violent protest on a mass scale, I am not sure of their effectiveness against the power of the federal government.
Non-violent rebellion remains vulnerable to infiltration and the use of agents provocateur by the government. Additionally, non-violent sit-ins and marches are routinely ignored.
For example, the North Carolina NAACP – apparently a much stronger organization than its Connecticut counterpart – for the past six weeks has organized a sit-in at the state capitol called Moral Mondays.
More than 150 people were arrested this past week protesting the austerity budget cutting law making by North Carolina’s GOP government. Google “Moral Mondays”: the only hits are from NPR and the Guardian, the same newspaper that Edward Snowden went to, because national media in the United States is, as a former CIA head said, owned by the CIA.
The Republicans in North Carolina laugh at the arrests now. People like myself who have long believed in non-violence will quote Gandhi, first they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. I don’t see it as that simple.
Now, when they fight you, it is with quasi-military forces the likes of which saw engage in the direct repression against Occupy Wall Street. That the public at large shrugged this off demonstrates the government knows what it can do to maintain power.
I do not see violent rebellion as a viable avenue to change, because the current American power structure will say violent rebellion justifies the use of dramatic force, like we saw at Waco or Ruby Ridge.
Nor am I fully convinced that change can come through the ballot box. I work as hard as I can at reforming the electoral system, because I see it as our last best hope.
At the same time, I keep wondering when the great upheaval will come to the United States. This income inequality, combined with the war on terror’s restrictions of civil liberties, makes the United States an undemocratic nation. How long will we allow it to persist?
What will be the sparks that send us back on a course to a just, peaceful, equitable and verdant society? Is Edward Snowden Crispus Attucks?