For so long, we have been pushed out from democracy. Our elected officials and political parties, both Republicans and Democrats, have been undermining the will of ordinary people. Monopoly media, bought by corporate money has turned against public interests, distorting information and manipulating public perception.
For too long, American people have been kept in the dark. We have been made to live in an insulated “reality” of the American dream and engage in mindless consumption. We didn’t know what our government is doing overseas under the pretext of fighting terrorism or humanitarian intervention. We didn’t know about these illegal wars in the Middle East and the tortures at Guantanamo. We didn’t know what intelligence agencies are doing in the name of national security here at home or abroad.
But now, we know. Julian Assange in his work with WikiLeaks courageously came forward to fulfill the role of the free press. Through the method of transparency, WikiLeaks challenged government secrecy. The whistleblowing site gave American people information that those in power worked so hard to conceal.
Through WikiLeaks’ release of the collateral murder video and the publication of documents concerning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we came to know the military rule of engagement was broken and how we became complicit in killing innocent civilians, including journalists. With their publication of files on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, we know innocent men are detained and prisoners are exploited in interrogation.
In 2013, revelations of Edward Snowden sent a shock wave to the world. WikiLeaks, not only helped the NSA whistleblower attain asylum, but also alerted us the extent to which the NSA conducts its mass surveillance at a global scale, even targeting political leaders of its ally countries for US geopolitical interests. WikiLeaks publication of Vault 7, the largest publication of confidential documents that belong to CIA revealed the agency’s excessive power, with its hacking tools to spy on people through smartphones and TVs.
As a consequence of shining a light on government war crimes and corruption, WikiLeaks has become a target of political retaliation. The Obama administration’s persecution led Julian Assange to seek political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012. For the last 6 years, Assange has been unlawfully held by the UK government without charge, being denied access to medical treatment, fresh air, sunlight and adequate space to exercise. Now, the Trump administration carries on this Obama’s war on truth-tellers, trying to extradite this Western journalist to the US.
What does this assault on press freedom reveal? It is a battle concerning who controls a narrative of history. For too long, we have been told to shut up. We were made irrelevant in our own history. We became an observer who is not participating in the unfolding story.
Monopoly media functions as a gatekeeper of power that censors information to protect elites who seek to control the narratives of history. We are shut out from democracy. We become an object, being tossed around and made to passively carry out scripts handed down to us.
But this is no more. The days of the government oppression, their silencing and bullying of ordinary people are now over. WikiLeaks, through engaging in scientific journalism, awakened creative forces inside history. By giving the public full achieves of authentic documents, the organization provided means for us to directly connect with events and find our own place in history.
This all started with a person with a tremendous conscience. Former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning demonstrated extraordinary courage to defend the public’s right to know. Manning, through releasing vital information that belongs to the public, invited ordinary people, like you and me to claim our own power and actively participate in changing the trajectory of history.
For this brave act of conscience, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. She served seven years until President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017. Now, she is back to jail for refusing to answer questions at a secret grand jury, targeting WikiLeaks and Assange. She is to remain confined until she testifies or until the grand jury concludes its work.
Throughout history, we have seen individuals, who refused to accept the oppressive narratives imposed on them and instead acted for self-determination. At the beginning of the American republic, 13 colonies fought to declare independence from King George who imposed unfair taxation without representation. The proponents of the Bill of Rights opposed the ratification of the 1787 Constitution and fought to restrict governmental power in order to safeguard individual liberties.
From the women’s suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, history has awakened. In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, by refusing to give up her seat, defied unjust laws that perpetuate a story of racism in violation of ideals in the Declaration of Independence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X carried on this spark in history to liberate Black people. In their act of civil disobedience, they all became a subject who determines their own destiny.
In 1964, in the Bay Area, we have seen a new momentum of this awakening of history. Mario Savio, a young student of the University of California at Berkeley, inspired by the courage of black people fighting for their freedom, exercised speech that had consequences. Young people’s rebellion against bureaucracy and the university’s crackdown on students who were participating in the civil rights struggle gave birth to the free speech movement.
Now, over 50 years later, WikiLeaks began pushing boundaries of free speech, making it possible for a young whistleblower to carry on the American tradition of civil disobedience. Both Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, with their courage, tenacity, and integrity, reminded us all of our own significance as authors of history.
We are agents for change in the history that we all belong to. We write and define the course of its story with our heart’s imagining. Our story is based on truth in the founding document of this country that said, “all men are created equal.” Our narrative ensures Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness for all people. Our value is transparency for the powerful and privacy for the individual. We create a democracy, where We the People are in charge of making decisions that affect every aspect of our society.
This is a society governed by a rule of law that protects the rights of the vulnerable and guarantees that no person, whether it is a president or a billionaire can act above laws. This is a story that honors the conscience of ordinary people and rewards journalists who protect their source and publish information in the public interest.
We condemn the US government’s prosecution of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and the Justice Department’s attempt to force the alleged source to testify against the journalist for publishing government’s wrongdoing. These draconian actions of the state pose a great threat to our democracy, free press, and our fundamental human rights.
Our efforts to free Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange must become a movement. Our solidarity to defend the whistleblower and WikiLeaks is our non-violent civil disobedience against those in power who seek to control us behind a façade of democracy. This is our civil rights movement. This is the free speech movement of our time. We must use our right to free speech to speak out, associate with one another to mobilize and end this secret grand jury and this prosecution of free press.
Free Chelsea Manning. Free Julian Assange.
Authors Note: This is a transcript of a speech I delivered in San Francisco for a rally to defend freedom of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange on March 18. The event was organized by Bay Area Free Julian Assange Action Committee and endorsed by United Public Workers For Action.