Edward Snowden’s father came forward on Tuesday with an open-letter to his son in which he compared Edward to “Thomas Pain, the voice of the American Revolution [who] trumpeted that a patriot saves his country from his government.”
In respect to the recent whistleblowing leaks that propelled his son into the global spotlight, Lon Snowden wrote: “you are a modern day Paul Revere; summoning the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny and one-branch government.” This opinion stands in sharp contrast with that of U.S intelligence officials who call Snowden a traitor and claim that his leaks have harmed national security.
The irony falls flat on Obama and U.S intelligence officials – that they are charging with espionage the man who has called out the American government for spying on its own citizens. The fact is that America was founded and built on acts of civil disobedience, and the future of this country depends on actions like Snowden’s whisteblowing, like Tim deChristopher’s actions as Bidder 70 which saved 22,000 acres of Utah’s wilderness from destruction, and like Jeremy Scahill’s daring exposés of American military black-ops and private military contractors like Blackwater. These guys are not criminals… but the new patriots.
Successful movements depend on people smashing (sometimes literally) the status quo: questioning, disobeying, probing, subverting and withdrawing support from bunk policies and laws – even by breaking them. Social change only occurs when it has been won.
In fact, everything we enjoy today in America was won for us through acts of civil disobedience. Like Susan B. Anthony who was arrested in 1872 for illegally voting in the United States House of Representatives elections, as part of her protest against the disenfranchisement of women. The Civil Rights movement would have achieved nothing were it not for the remarkably brave and defiant actions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.
The Sit-ins of 1958 and 1960, the 1961 Freedom Rides, the 1963 Birmingham campaign, the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement and the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement were all effective forms of civil disobedience which were effective in promoting the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Open Housing Act of 1968. Yes, many were arrested, but the laws they opposed were declared unconstitutional because of Civil Disobedience.
“Civil Disobedience is Constitutional,” writes Harvey Wheeler, and it is as “old as our species”
War lords and priests have always differed over the holy and the profane – City of God and City of Man. Popular protests are chronicled in Homer and Rig-Veda, Bible and Scripture, Talmud and Koran. Establishments have been in constant fear of protesters: Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Father Daniel Berrigan, and Civil Disobedience – Vietnam; WTO. Civil Disobedience has never been easy or safe; but in America it is constitutional: Civil Disobedience is at the heart of both British and American constitutionalism. It is as hallowed as Magna Carta and as powerful as the deposition of President Richard Nixon.
Civil Disobedience means that we the people can nullify tyrannical governmental actions – in fact, we are the only check to unfettered power and institutional corruption. The Constitution requires that the freedom to do so must be protected. When the authorities tell us today that total surveillance, on top of the entire brute strength of the largest military-industrial complex in the world, is necessary to “serve” and “protect” the state, then the patriotism they claim to be protecting is the real treason.
As Ken Butigan writes in Waging Nonviolence:
the individual conscientious objector, the abstainer, and the resister – the one who, as Gandhi said, pits “one’s whole soul against the will of a tyrant.” Not only do the Edward Snowdens of the world help the rest of us see more clearly the realities we are up against – they shock us into realizing that part of our job description as human beings is our obligation to withdraw our passive or active consent from corrupt policies.
This July 4th, ask yourself: What is your patriotic breaking point?