Tangerine Bolen, MPH-HMP is founder and director of RevolutionTruth, a global community and organization dedicated to defending WikiLeaks, whistleblowers, and legitimate democracies.
Truth be told, I didn’t like Julian Assange at first. Like many Americans, I was news-weary and overburdened in my own life and I didn’t have the time or energy to really notice Wikileaks and Assange. Despite their significance, Wikileaks’ whistleblowing and secret-leaking antics went largely unnoticed by me until I was stirred one day to read about the release of some 250,000 US diplomatic cables to several large news organizations. Thus I dipped my toe into the Wikileaks waters, quite oblivious then of where that tide might lead. Within minutes, I found myself piping mad. As I read about the release of what was being described as “an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining” and “brutally candid views of foreign leaders” (Shane, Scott and Lehren, Andrew W. “Leaked Cables Offer Raw Look at U.S. Diplomacy.” New York Times 28 November 2010, New York ed. : A1.) an image of my beleaguered President came to mind.
Democrats had just taken a severe beating in our midterm elections when many Americans, who, likely tired of ALL politics and politicians, came out to vote with a vengeance. My country needed to express its understandable anger and dissatisfaction. We had been fighting two unaffordable and devastating wars, faced innumerable disasters here and abroad, experienced job loss we hadn’t seen in the U.S. since the Great Depression, and heard that over one million families were being evicted from their homes - some of them just before Christmas- and it was, and still is, overwhelming. That the recession that we had been plunged into may have been caused in large part by the unchecked recklessness and greed of our financial and banking institutions only added to peoples’ anger.
Add to this milieu a President who began his presidency on a wave of public hope and need, and a public too easily swayed, in its weary state, by expert political spin and the corporatized bias of a mainstream media that is failing to do its job. Against this backdrop, the political capital that my President would lose due to these cables, in a toxic climate that was set long before he took office, was just too much. Obama didn’t deserve another blow. And where was this Assange guy, anyway, during the last eight years while wars were being started based on highly questionable, even manipulated information? Moreover, I reckoned, sarcastic remarks and backroom criticism, lobbed at people with whom you are trying to negotiate, is fairly common social behavior, and does not, in and of itself, necessarily equate with “truth”. I was skeptical. So how did I go from publicly lobbing not very nice names at Mr. Assange to working more than 18 hours a day to direct a global citizen, people-powered, co-produced video campaign to defend this man and set the record straight on Wikileaks? The answer is to be found both in my own initial reaction, and in the US government’s ongoing, heavy-handed attempts to muzzle Wikileaks. My response to Mr. Assange is a rather perfect example of a symptom of a larger problem we all share in the U.S. I didn’t have enough information. Meanwhile, I was bombarded by “news” and exhausted by information overload. Finally, the information I had easily at hand - the mainstream US media - was sanitized and lacking in genuine critical analysis at best, and a corporatized, special-interest spin on news at worst.
What I didn’t have was the whole truth; in fact, the whole truth is what I was being systematically denied. I made a snap judgment on a man and an organization based on what I was being fed. I fell for a trap that many of us are in – that of forming opinions, and making decisions, based on limited (and sometimes wildly) inaccurate information. We have ample evidence at this stage that this kind of decision-making, based on high emotion and manipulated or inaccurate information can be far more dangerous, and far more damaging to national security, than anything WikiLeaks has done.This is not only a trap; it is a threat to our own democracy and, given our recent foreign policy decisions, to others as well.
Despite its rampant and perpetual failure to provide objective analysis, mainstream media profoundly shapes U.S. public opinion. Americans seem increasingly prone to forming our opinions based on sound bites or on biased and uncritical news; even my most liberal of friends seemed to generally accept the message that has been repeatedly hammered into our brains. From day one, U.S. mainstream news stories on Wikileaks and Assange have either quietly or stridently evoked a shadowy organization and a dangerous, unlikable man. The White House claimed the cables were “stolen” (Shane, Scott and Lehren, Andrew W. “Leaked Cables Offer Raw Look at U.S. Diplomacy.” New York Times 28 November 2010, New York ed. : A1) (setting the stage for a case of espionage), Senator Bob Mitchell called Assange a “high-tech terrorist” who had done “enormous damage to our country” (“Meet the Press McConnell-Assange is a ‘high-tech terrorist’” Online posting. Youtube, 5 December 2010. Web. 6 February 2011.) and numerous public figures have called for Assange’s execution or outright assassination. Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a man with decades of military experience, expressed little concern about the release of the cables and described political pundits’ reactions as “significantly overwrought” (Whitlock, Craig. “Gates: Warnings of WikiLeaks Fallout Overblown.” Washington Post 30 November 2010. Web. 6 February 2011.) Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Bill O’Reilly and others have all expressed wild-eyed bloodlust for this man.
However, it is not the inanities of these irresponsible public speakers that moved me to defense of Wikileaks and Assange. I don’t entirely agree with the organization, and if I ever met him, I’d likely want to gently take Assange to task over a few things. Rather, it is the shocking approach the U.S. government has taken to this issue that provoked me to action in a field characterized by genuine conflicts and tensions. More importantly, it is the dire need we have in this country, and in our world, for a course correction on democracy, on access to accurate information (“truth”) and on ongoing public and private threats to our liberty. Our sovereignty is at stake when there is no real check on those who are bent on increasing the divide between the rulers and the ruled, between the common person and the elites of the world. It is not just governments that, by nature, tend to curtail freedoms. Unchecked corporatization is allowing for the metaphorical cannibalization of citizens. While power is being aggregated into fewer and fewer hands, we, common people, are becoming slaves to entities beyond our control. And some of these entities seem quite content to take more and more from the common person, while giving too little back in return. This is neither sustainable, nor does it facilitate peaceful democracies.
Wikileaks and Assange are only a threat to those who would deny citizens access to truthful information because, denied that right, it’s impossible to make informed political decisions. An informed citizenry is crucial to democracy. This, combined with corporatized, sanitized media and relentless political spin has a great effect on public opinion. And in turn, public opinion can be cynically misused by the powerful to fuel policy-making that is detrimental to our freedoms.
Attempting to make a case of espionage against Julian Assange poses a dire threat to a free press and, subsequently, to freedom of speech. It also has the pre-emptive effect of silencing much-needed whistleblowers everywhere. The thought of what our country, and our world, would be like without whistleblowers is chilling.
Democracy is a two-way street. It is not the government funneling news it wants us to hear to our media. It is not our media bowing to its corporate ownership pressure and abrogating its responsibility to accurate and truthful reporting. It is certainly not public figures in the U.S. calling for the assassination of man who has been charged with no crime.
THAT is why these pundits, most of whom clearly spend little time truthfully examining their own motives, are so quick to distort and derail the motives of an imperfect man and an imperfect but game-changing organization. Wikileaks is not a terrorist organization, any more than Julian Assange is an Al Qaida operative, as Palin so ridiculously hinted. No, Wikileaks is a threat to the powers that be. It is a dangerous player, not because it has threatened U.S. national security, but because it has the power to expose unethical behavior, rampant corruption, lies and criminality on the part of governments and multinational corporations. It is sad, but it is no wonder that people who are apologists for corporations, ever ready to allow them more power and sway in our country than that possessed by our own citizens, people who still obstinately and naively believe that U.S. hegemony is going to stabilize the world, are calling for this man’s head. Julian Assange has exposed the crumbling mirage of U.S. dominance. Americans are scared; that fear, however, has been largely manufactured by those who would profit from it. These corporate entities (and their corporatized allies) have made Assange a nice, convenient target for those who refuse to face the difficult and painful truth of what we have done and where we stand. We need to see that he is the wrong target, that he is not what is keeping us from seeing the best in ourselves; rather, the blame for that falls upon those who keep us from shining a light into our own darkness. While every democratic government has need of secrecy, since 9/11, secrecy has been increasingly abused. Americans are being denied truths we need. Meanwhile, dramatic and dynamic forces are at play on the world’s stage. Tunisians (Dickinson, Elizabeth. “First WikiLeaks Revolution?”. Foreign Policy, 13 January 2011. Web. 6 February 2011.) unexpectedly surged forward to challenge their corrupt leaders and millions of Egyptians (Ross, Tim; Moore, Matthew; Swinford, Steven. “Egypt Protests America’s Secret Backing for Rebel Leaders Behind Uprising.” Telegraph, 28 January 2011. Web. 6 February 2011.) united in one solid force to follow suit. This peace-loving body came together to overturn decades of oppression under a brutal regime. Why is this suddenly happening? While there are many answers to that question, there is one rather simple one. People want and need liberty. They want decency. They want to participate, hopefully intelligently, in their own governance. They want legitimate, democratic governments.
And people around the world have needed something like Wikileaks for a very long time.
As one participant in our video project shared,
“I feel like I was born in the worst generation ever…But then I see people like Julian, like you, like millions out there, and that there are a million reasons to fight for what is right and good.”
Well, I will say to you, Indira, a young woman living with the consequences of narco-trafficking wars in Mexico – have faith! We will fight. We will do so peacefully and courageously, and we will do so too by learning how to BE the change we need to see. We will fight for what is right and good, and for the truths that we need, to make a better world.
President James A. Garfield (1881) once said “The truth will set you free but first it will make you feel miserable”. I think people are complex enough to feel great sorrow for where we’ve been and great joy and hope for where we are capable of going, IF we do the right thing.
America, and the rest of the world, needs a truth revolution. Wikileaks is on our side, facing down the powers that be and not backing down. People around the world are coming together to ensure that this man, and this organization, with a little tweaking here and there, can do their job, and do it well.
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