“Is it a surprise to anybody in this room that if you don’t have any money, you won’t get any justice? The only way you’re going to get justice is to turn around and empower yourselves to become lawmakers so you can change the system. and there’s no thought to changing the system today! it’s politics, as usual…”
That was just one true statement of many by Mike Gravel during a presidential debate. In this debate, you hear him making connections to racism and mass incarceration, deteriorating health care systems, the myth of the “War on Drugs,” poor education–and he uses numbers and raw facts to back it up. In a way, it’s funny that we have this presidential candidate who was so blunt and spoke the way we wished our first black president would speak. And there he is, Obama, remaining silent or always beating around the bush when addressing unjust truths of our country. On the other end, it’s sad that we were too def to hear Gravel’s views and acknowledge him as being a worthy presidential candidate.
Mike Gravel was a U.S. Senator when the Pentagon Papers–a large document exposing the false pretenses of U.S. wars and the contradictions of four U.S. presidential administrations–were given to him by Daniel Ellsberg. The Pentagon Papers would be presented in front of Congress, as well as being published on the front page of The New York Times and exposed to the nation.
H.R. Haldeman describes the impact of the Pentagon Papers to then-president Richard Nixon, saying, “to the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing…. It shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the president can be wrong.”
Ellsberg would be tried but charges would eventually be dropped.
Fast forward to 2010, with Bradley Manning leaking classified military information to WikiLeaks about the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was charged with 22 offenses, pleaded guilty, and currently faces up to 20 years imprisonment.
And today, Edward Snowden faces a similar fate with the leaking of information on the U.S. and U.K.’s mass-surveillance programs–a clear abuse of power from governments. Since June 14th, 2013, after public knowledge of the leaked documents and an interview with The Guardian, Snowden faces charges of espionage and theft of government property.
I remember in the 10th grade opening up a copy of Fahrenheit 451, and in the front pages read a quote by Ben Franklin saying, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” And that’s exactly what I did. I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, I enlightened myself on a country whose history was filled with a down-up struggle that rooted itself in the premise of always questioning those who are in power. I began accepting that leaders are never always right and, sometimes, they do bad things on purpose; and that it is our job to speak truth to power.
There is a reason why people like Snowden, Manning, and Ellsberg are crucified when attempting to put those who are in power in check; there is a reason why Howard Zinn, after being dead for two years, is having opposition and people attempting to remove his work from universities. The reason is that all of these people spoke truth and broke down all of our prior conceptions of what we believed to be true and right. These brave heroes attempted to wake the masses’ consciousness and threatened the position and integrity of those who are were, as well as still are, in power.
Through instances like Snowden, Manning, and Ellsberg, we see a government that doesn’t want to acknowledge an inconvenient truth–a truth that exposes our leaders can be wrong, as well irresponsible and abusive when given too much power. But it also exposes how we, as contributors to democracy, play a role and allow this all to continue to happen. It was us who, as Mike Gravel shouted the truth on national television, did not elect him to office. Instead, we elected a man who beats around the bush, who somehow denies the role of racism in a country that unjustly incarcerates millions of African-Americans, and whose words and deeds constantly contradict one another.
It is us who remain uniformed of the Pentagon Papers, Snowden, Manning, and Aaron Swartz. And when we are aware, we don’t play an integral part in spreading the word. More often than not, we hear about these instances, and then dismiss them. It’s important to realize that not only those who are in power don’t want to face the truth, but we–the ordinary people–don’t want to believe it, as well.
We accept that any information we give to companies and websites will be sent to third parties and used in whatever ways they see useful. We know the system is unjust, that those who are in power are corrupt, and we watch as selfless individuals risk everything in the name of democracy and morality, but we still remain complicit because we don’t speak out on the level we should.
Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Brazil are all rising up because they refuse to accept the current reality. Yet America remains complicit towards a growing injustice. Even as awareness continues to expand, we just continue to remain immobile.
Every time I hear Snowden being mentioned, I become upset, because it’s common knowledge he did the right thing, yet people still accept his fate and remain silent when the lines of good and bad are unambiguously drawn.