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Edward Snowden Had a Breaking Point, Where He Decided to Risk It All to Fix This Country -- What's Yours?

Change starts with action, and each of us has a way to contribute.

When Edward Snowden reached his breaking point, the world saw the truth about the vast extent of spying by the NSA on Americans and people around the world. In an act of conscience, Snowden released secret information, saying “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Snowden sparked protest, lawsuits, criticism of the administration and US intelligence.  His action shows the power that comes when someone inside the system break ranks and tells the truth. Successful movements depend on people breaking ranks: questioning, demurring, disobeying, defecting and withdrawing support. As Ken Butigan writes in Waging Nonviolence, the impact can start a metamorphosis for all of us:

“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 — in this case, the institutionalization of unfettered, massive data collection on and profiling of the population — they can shock us into realizing that part of our job description as human beings is our obligation to withdraw our passive or active consent from such policies.”

What is your breaking point? This is the question we must all ask ourselves, especially those who have not yet taken action. As whistleblower Sibel Edmonds wrote this week, the inaction and apathy of people is our greatest enemy: “Apathy is a must ingredient for any police state, authoritarian regime, dictatorship, for abuses of power, for corruption, national atrocities, genocide. . . .”

This week, we read the sad story of Brandon Bryant, the 27 year old who served as a drone operator from 2006 to 2011 at bases in Nevada, New Mexico and Iraq and who helped to kill 1,626 people. He now suffers from PTSD. Bryant told NBC News “I don’t feel like I can really interact with that average, everyday person. I get too frustrated, because A, they don’t realize what’s going on over there. And B, they don’t care.”

Imagine how better off he would be if he had taken action years ago and told the truth about drone killings then.  We hope he will continue to speak out about his experience. He will find that many people do care and may inspire other drone killers to stop what they are doing and help spur an end to US militarism.

One or a few people can make a tremendous difference. Sam Smith, the editor of Progressive Review, reminds us of the unpredictable power of action, recalling: “there was the time in early 1960 when four black college students sat down at a white-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in 15 cities in five southern states and within two months they had spread to 54 cities in nine states. By April the leaders of these protests had come together, heard a moving sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Four students did something and America changed. Even they, however, couldn’t know what the result would be.”

Just as we are seeing in Turkey, it is often the response to an act of conscience that betrays the regime, shows the regime for what it is, and in a reversal, all of the power of the state boomerangs against itself. Prime Minister Erdogan issued threats followed by extreme police violence, but the result has been more people joining the protests.  Yesterday, thousands of lawyers joined the protests and Erdogan issued another threat. And when Erdogan called for parents of children who are protesters to take them home, their mothers formed a human barricade to protect them from the police instead.

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