Democracy is Coming…to the U.S.A.
Photo Credit: savebradley Bradley Manning Support Network [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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“It’s coming from the feel that this ain’t exactly real, or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there. From the wars against disorder, from the sirens night and day, from the fires of the homeless, from the ashes of the gay: Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”—Leonard Cohen
A specter is haunting America—the specter of freedom. After 12 years of being surveilled, harassed and terrorized by our government and corporate overlords, the public seems increasingly fed up. The backlash ignited by the Justice Department’s crackdown on the press and by the politicization of the IRS is a turning point. The public pushback against creeping Big Brotherism is coming from all directions, from the left and right. This week as Bradley Manning—the heroic young whistleblower who has become the face of the new defiance—went on trial for alleged national security crimes that could result in a life sentence, thousands of people all over the world rallied in his defense. More than 20,000 people have contributed a total of $1.25 million to Manning’s legal battle.
There is a growing sense that this is a critical moment for American democracy. A national security state engorged by war-on-terror spending has encroached so deeply on our civil liberties that unless we fight back now, those cherished freedoms might be lost forever.
President Obama came into office on a cloud of lofty rhetoric about the free flow of information. “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” he declared on January 21, 2009, the day after being sworn in. “We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” Those words now have a hollow ring. Under Obama, the government has sharply escalated its prosecution of security leaks and has blocked more Freedom of Information requests than it did under George W. Bush.
Unfortunately, the big press watchdogs that the public counts on to expose government wrongdoing have been slow to bark. When Army PFC Manning approached the New York Times and Washington Post with his huge military cache documenting U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspapers were uninterested. It took the brave enterprise of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks team to turn Manning’s raw material into news gold. And yet, even after profiting from Assange’s risk-taking, the New York Times later blithely threw him to the sharks. Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, who partnered with Assange on distribution of the WikiLeak documents, has since made a habit of disparaging him in public. The new Alex Gibney documentary on WikiLeaks, “We Steal Secrets,” shows one of Keller’s editorial minions gleefully ridiculing Assange—who has been forced into a vagabond life to stay one step ahead of his government pursuers—for his poor hygiene and wardrobe.
But many journalists in the independent press feel a sense of solidarity with Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. That’s why I’m joining with a group of dedicated editors and reporters from my days at Salon and Mother Jones magazine to start a new investigative media project that we’re calling Open America.
Inspired by the courage of Manning, Open America will encourage other whistleblowers to reach out to us from behind the closed doors of power. We aim to “open-source” our democracy, revealing vital information that belongs to the public. Open America will publish its exposes in partnership with a wide variety of independent media platforms, including Salon and Alternet.
We understand that our country has legitimate national security concerns that must be respected. But in today’s political climate, far too much information is hidden from view—not because its disclosure would threaten public safety, but because it would expose high crimes and malfeasance.