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Remembering Why WikiLeaks Matters

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“The question of whether we want a real 'net is really the question of whether we want a real democracy.”

That's what Douglas Rushkoff said on Saturday at the Personal Democracy Forum's conference on WikiLeaks. Real democracy comes with messy things we sometimes don't like—and one of those things is getting a boatload of attention.

What seems to be becoming most provocative of all are distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on companies who've taken reprisals against Wikileaks. Dutch police just arrested a 16-year-old boy for taking part in pro-WikiLeaks cyber attacks against MasterCard and Visa. Tech writer and activist Deanna Zandt wrote of the PDF forum that there too, DDoS absorbed most of the crowd's attention. People might be afraid of giving a stamp of approval to DDoS as a political tool because it would make it okay for their political enemies to use it against them, Zandt suggests.

But while we debate freedom on the Internet and the possibility for fighting back on the Web, we often move away from the bigger point: the destabilization we should be concerned about is the destabilizing effect of US policy around the world, as revealed by the leaked cables. Covert wars in Yemen, Pakistan, the Middle East. Pro-corporate intervention to scuttle climate talks. . . it's not just MasterCard and Visa cutting off WikiLeaks' access to donations, it's the government and corporate intervention, unsupervised, into the freedoms and rights of people around the world.

It can be sexy to talk about digital direct action, but as Deanna wrote, tech activists and political activists, especially in the US, bring a tremendous amount of privilege to the table. We have the ability and freedom to take risks for the benefit of those who don't have those freedoms. While we're thinking about digital action, let's not forget the reason the WikiLeaks information is important in the first place: those people who aren't in the room to speak for themselves.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on