The extremely harsh sentencing of Manning brought to mind many ironies and had us looking at other ironies around us this week. Some are maddening, some are sad and some are useful tools for activists, but they all have the effect of pushing our work forward.
Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning) exposed many crimes taking place in the two illegal wars, the Guantanamo prison camp and U.S. foreign policy, some going to the highest levels of government including former Secretary of State Clinton. Manning was sentenced to 35 years, which her lawyer says is longer than sentences his clients have received for murder and child molestation. Have any of the people who committed the crimes that Manning exposed been prosecuted? Or, even investigated?
What does it say about a country that has tortured, killed civilians, spied on diplomats and spied on its own people when it is the whistleblowers who get prosecuted while those whose crimes are exposed do not even get investigated? While President Obama shows he wants to deter people who blow the whistle in their effort to improve the country, but does nothing to deter people who have dragged the country into illegality.
Another irony that struck us, that we have not seen commented on elsewhere, was that Manning was sentenced in the same week that the CIA finally admitted it organized a coup d’etat in Iran 60 years ago against the democratically-chosen prime minister. The coup was achieved by painting the well-educated Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq as senile, incompetent and untrustworthy, getting the U.S. media to repeat the lies, creating protests against Mosaddeq in Iran and fomenting insurrection in the Iranian military.
The CIA saw this as a tremendous success and went on to duplicate the tactic around the world. But, in fact, this was one of the great blunders of U.S. history. How different would the Middle East be today if Iranian democracy had been allowed to succeed? The brutal Shah of Iran, a U.S. puppet, would not have come to power, other despots might have fallen to democracy and there would have been no Iranian Revolution in 1979. Democracy might have spread in the region rather than Muslim extremism.
The lesson from this is that transparency is needed to prevent reckless decisions. Would the CIA have conducted this mistaken coup if it knew the American and Iranian people would be told? And, isn’t transparency what Manning was seeking to accomplish? How many lives – U.S., Iraqi, Afghan – were lost in two illegal wars conducted in ways that violated international law? Secrets caused deaths while transparency would have saved lives.
Yet, secrecy continues to reign despite its failures, and the Iranian coup is but one example of many. There has been aggressive secrecy around the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a giant agreement that is a major power grab by big business interests working with the Obama administration. Leaks have given us some information, enough to begin to generate the kind of opposition we need to stop the TPP.
This week in Minnesota, hundreds of fair trade, labor, environmental and community activists marched through Minneapolis demanding transparency and fair trade. But instead, this week President Obama took another step in the wrong direction, asking Congress for “Fast Track” authority. Fast Track will prevent Congress from holding hearings and serving as a check and balance to the president and will undermine Congress’ constitutional responsibility to negotiate trade with foreign nations. Occupy Wall Street is making stopping the TPP and global corporate trade agreements a focus of their anniversary on September 17 and is calling for international solidarity. Your community can participate! Get involved at www.FlushTheTPP.org. We can expose and stop the TPP.
One of the strange ironies of the upcoming week is the events around the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. The event has been turned into a Democratic Party pep rally with people like Representatives Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi invited to speak. The irony is, as Cornell West says, “Brother Martin would not be invited to the very march in his name, because he would talk about drones. He’d talk about Wall Street criminality. He would talk about working class being pushed to the margins as profits went up for corporate executives in their compensation.”
As Ajamu Baraka writes: “Obama is the living negation of everything, from his domestic to foreign policy, that Dr. King and the movement stood for in 1963.” The president will be speaking on the anniversary of the event despite being at odds with what Dr. King worked for. Baraka adds, the rally “reduces the range of acceptable discourse related to the plight of African Americans to reforms within the existing order.” An alternative to the pep rally will be held Friday night beginning at 8 PM at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC and ending at the MLK memorial.
Dr. King, who was a victim of government surveillance, certainly would be on the opposite side of President Obama when it came to the NSA spying. This week we learned there are no real checks on NSA spying. The secret surveillance court has been repeatedly misled, Congress has been kept uninformed and the NSA has violated the law thousands of times, 2,746 times in just the last 12 months. Google told us we cannot expect privacy when we use gmail. And, we saw the abuse of power when reporter Glenn Greenwald’s partner was held for nine hours under a UK terrorism law. His equipment was seized and he suffered abusive interrogation. Also, the Guardian disclosed that British intelligence destroyed its hard drives in an attempt to stop publication of Snowden leaks.
As so often happens in history, the result of these events is a growing wave of anger at the snooping. The irony is that this is resulting in people beginning to work on ways to block government Internet spying, whether creating an alternative Internet or creating a surveillance free Internet. And, it is resulting in those with information, making duplicates in the information cloud to ensure that the information will someday be shared. Thus government action is leading to people working to undermine and unite against the government.
The same type of reaction – a counter-reaction – is happening with workers. From teachers to low-wage workers, the abuses of employers, whether government or private, is resulting in worker anger. Chicago teacher organizers are sharing their skills with people in other cities who are also being harmed by privatization of their schools. Low-wage workers are planning major escalations in their battle for fair wages, including a major strike on August 29.
Irony can also be a powerful tool when used by activists in their actions. We love this action against the Keystone XL pipeline. Farmers, ranchers, clean energy and climate activists came together in Nebraska to construct a wind turbine and solar-powered barn immediately in the path of the proposed pipeline. They created a dilemma; if President Obama approves Keystone XL, he’ll then have to tear down clean and locally-produced energy to make way for dirty energy from foreign tar sands.
And, in Boulder, CO activists have been working for nearly a decade to get their utility to switch from coal to green energy. The company, Xcel Energy, refused so they have been working to create a municipal utility instead. They’ve won three votes by city residents, but XCel keeps fighting them. The failure of a private corporation to be responsive to what their customers, the people of Boulder, want is resulting in the company being turned into a public utility. (By the way, the Boulder activists will help other cities do this.)
And, there is a sad ironic situation in the Southwest which has been suffering from drought. Farmers don’t have enough water to grow their crops, so out of desperation they are selling their water, including from the underground aquifers, to hydro-fracking companies. This not only adds to their drought problems and shrinks the aquifer but also creates risk of water, air and land pollution. One town in Texas has run out of water and 30 are at risk. This is a lose, lose, lose irony. People should have resisted rather than sell-out to the dirty energy corporations.
Here’s an irony we enjoyed. There was a lot of attention to Indiana’s former Governor Mitch Daniels’ efforts to remove Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” from schools. The result has been a big increase in requests for the book. One Indiana library increased its numbers of copies of the book from 1 to 19 and they are all checked out with a waiting list. That is one example of many showing a surge of interest in Zinn’s “People’s History” thanks to Daniels’ censorship effort. Imagine if our nation actually learned its history rather than living in myths.
And in Russia, laws that make it illegal to discuss homosexuality in front of children are resulting in some of the most visible Russians demonstrating support for homosexuality. Two Russian gold medalist runners showed their opposition by kissing on the gold medal stand after they received their awards. Another dedicated his medal to his gay friends back home and another painted her nails rainbow colors. Many times in history sports have opened the door to transformation (remember, Jackie Robinson and the raised Black Power fists at the Olympics). And it looks like once again, the irony of a clampdown is going to be the reverse of its intent.
Sometimes irony shows itself after a movement begins to have success. For 22 years Seattle has hosted the Hempfest. Hundreds of thousands attend the multi-day gathering celebrating marijuana. In the past, the police would go undercover and make arrests of people smoking in the crowd. This year, now that Washington has voted for legalization, the police decided to pass out Doritos with friendly messages to hempfesters; and the police spoke form the main stage. The police are now truly protecting and serving the people.
Let’s finish our summary this week, where we began with Bradley, now Chelsea, Manning. Manning is submitting a request for a pardon which includes a patriotic statement explaining why she leaked the documents. Manning’s acts are put into historical context:
“Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy — the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps — to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light. As the late Howard Zinn once said, ‘There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.’”
Manning knows that she may not be granted a pardon and is prepared to pay the price of a 35 year sentence, writing: “I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.” Manning told her tearful lawyers not to worry saying, “This is just a stage in my life. I am moving forward. I will recover from this.”
Manning’s actions were obviously moral and patriotic, but will President Barack Obama do the moral and just thing and pardon Manning? History will pardon Manning, and when it does, what will that do to the reputation of Obama? There is another potential irony of history, the law breaker, convicted felon will be the moral actor in this drama, while the president, a constitutional lawyer, so far, has not.