America, driven by the monotheistic goal of Manifest Destiny, expanded its territory with brutality. It swallowed what is edible, assimilating immigrants one by one to its conception of what is civil, while spitting out those that it considered impalatable, relegating them into three-fifths of a person or exterminating them from the earth altogether as savages.
This maddened head centricity was manifested in the structure of a new government. Sheldon Wolin, author of Democracy Inc noted how the framers of the Constitution created a so-called managed democracy, a system that favored elite rule and that “the American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy” (2008, p. 228).
The intellectual elites regarded the democratic majority rule as an irrational force and they feared the tyranny of popular majorities. While the faculty of reason positioned itself as a supreme force, a potential to account its autocratic power was found inside America.
Expressed in the preamble of the Constitution “We the People” was faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. This was an intention to shift from the model of government that acts as authority of their lives to one that places power in the hands of ordinary people. In this government established under the rule of the people, the source of legitimacy was not derived from a god or king, but was meant to come from people themselves.
This arrangement of governance was not granted from above. It was first demanded by those who opposed the ratification of the 1787 Constitution that lacked the guarantee of individual liberties. The proponents of the Bill of Rights articulated essential parts of the sovereign power of We the People as a freedom of expression; freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. By building upon First Amendment rights, further efforts emerged from below. From abolitionists’ defiance and the women’s suffrage movement to civil rights and free speech movements, people’s determination for individual autonomy persisted.
Assault on this power of ordinary people intensified with the rise of corporate power in the ‘60s. Manifest Destiny is now carried out with Nike’s slogan of “just do it”. With limited liability and having no human beings in charge, the abstraction of the head inside transnational corporations took flight from the communal ground, plundering their way into the globe, without ever having to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Giant corporations became a sponsor for this managed democracy, gaining control over media to manipulate public perception, keeping American voters in hostage with the lesser of the two evils charade politics.
In the political winter of the post 9/11 war on terror, as fear and apathy spread around the globe, a new civic force surfaced online. The waves of whistleblowers began shedding light on the collaborative secrecy of elites that deceive and manipulate the public behind a façade of democracy.
WikiLeaks, with its motto of “privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful”, opened a floodgate of a free flow of information. This world’s first global Fourth Estate embodies the philosophy of cypherpunks – a loosely tied group of online privacy advocates who saw the potential of cryptography to shift the balance of power between individuals and the state. With the idea that cryptography is the “ultimate form of non-violent direct action” (2012, p. 5), WikiLeaks founder and editor in chief Julian Assange built the system of scientific journalism that would give everyday people around the world tools to combat military might and confront the madness of fallen reason that censors free speech.
The invention of the anonymous drop box was truly revolutionary. It enabled anyone to send information securely without a trace of his or her identity. Through the robust decentralized infrastructure built around this game changing technology, WikiLeaks was able to provide unprecedented source protection in the history of journalism. Here, the organization that derived its source of inspiration in American founding ideas, freed the First Amendment that had been captured through a corporate monopoly and co-optation of the media, making it available to people all around the world.
It is through WikiLeaks’ adamant commitment to the principle of free press that former US Army intelligence analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning was able to exercise uncompromising free speech and engage in the American tradition of civil disobedience. Manning, whom the late attorney and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner described as the “conscience of our nation”, let the American public see the US imperialism in action in the Middle East.
In her request for a presidential pardon, Manning stated her commitment to the ideal of America, saying how she was willing to pay the price if it would make this country be “truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.”Through her non-violent cryptographic direct action, she helped America find its conscience.
One individual’s act of courage brought another. Inspired by Manning, Edward Snowden came forward to inform people about the NSA’s mass surveillance. In one of the addresses he made, Snowden also described his act as a public service and connected it with Dr King’s non-violent civil disobedience. Through his whistleblowing, the former NSA contractor defended individual privacy as fundamental civil rights for all people and tried to preserve the world where people can share creativity, love and friendship freely without every conversation and interaction being monitored and recorded.
From WikiLeaks disruptions to Snowden revelations, courageous act of truth-tellers renewed the faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. Both Manning and Snowden believed in the public’s right to know and held a view that when people are informed, they can make changes and determine their own destiny.
Faith is different than mere belief. It is not about one blindly trusting or passively accepting something. Faith is an active will that requires one to choose out of themselves to believe in something. When established media and trusted institutions failed, Manning chose to put her trust in the journalistic organization that was little known at that time.When the government’s internal mechanisms of accountability were broken, combined with the betrayal of Obama’s campaign promises and his war on whistleblowers, Snowden turned to American journalists whom he could trust by his own judgment of the integrity of their work. They placed faith not in political leaders or authority but in fellow men and women.
It is to this faith in the ability for the wise and knowledgeable public to govern themselves that fearless journalism responded. WikiLeaks, the publisher of last resort kept its promise to the source by publishing full archives with maximum political impact and bringing information back to the historical record. By doing so, it has become an enemy of the most powerful government in the world, being subjected to legal and extra-legal pressure. Through honoring Snowden’s wishes, journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman broke the story of NSA surveillance and led the Guardian’s independent journalism, making the established media fulfill its duty. In the aftermath of Snowden’s disclosures, when this young whistleblower was stranded in Hong Kong, WikiLeaks demonstrated its extraordinary source protection with journalist Sarah Harrison risking her own liberty to help Snowden attain asylum.
With this faith given by peers, citizens around the world who have been distrusted by their own governments and made powerless began to claim their own power. By recognizing that someone believed in them and sacrificed their lives so that they can be free, they were able to believe in their own ability to protect those they love and preserve rights that they cherish. The will to respond to this faith in one another made it possible for ordinary people to carry out extraordinary acts.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘America’s Descent Into Despotism’.