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Weissman writes: "Just as Ellsberg and the other signers strengthen Snowden’s efforts, the rest of us can massively strengthen theirs. It is time to go viral."

Edward Snowden. (illustration: Jason Seiler/TIME Magazine)
Edward Snowden. (illustration: Jason Seiler/TIME Magazine)

Courage Is Contagious: Let Us All Break the Law

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

16 December 13


ast week, The Guardian ran an open letter from Daniel Ellsberg, who helped write and then leaked the Pentagon Papers, along with other whistleblowers and activists. RSN republished it under the headline, "Noted Whistleblowers Speak Up for Edward Snowden." But those who signed the letter went far beyond endorsing Snowden, the former NSA contractor who "not only blew the whistle on the litany of government abuses, but made sure to supply an avalanche of supporting documents to a few trustworthy journalists." Ellsberg and his courageous comrades consciously committed a daring act of civil disobedience that could help Snowden bring down the surveillance state.

Their defiance was classic, calling on civil servants "hidden away in offices of various government departments, intelligence agencies, police forces and armed forces" to break the law in the same way that Snowden did. "You can be part of the solution," they wrote. "Provide trustworthy journalists - either from the old media (like this newspaper) or from new media (such as Wikileaks) with documents that prove what illegal, immoral, wasteful activities are going on where you work."

In short, the open letter invites others to break their contracts, their oaths, and the law, an invitation that could all too easily bring prosecution under the infamous "Espionage Act of 1917." Dan Ellsberg knows the law first hand. The government used it to prosecute him for the Pentagon Papers. Chelsea Manning knows it as one of the laws the government threw at him. Ed Snowden faces prosecution under it, as have seven other whistleblowers since 2009, and the law stands ready for use against journalists like Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Significantly, the law has been a historic target for successful civil disobedience, notably by the Vietnam generation that encouraged fellow students to burn their draft cards and evade the draft. In the autumn of 1965, we even leafleted early contingents of combat troops, urging them to question the war. I love that leaflet, which we called "Attention All Military Personnel." I fondly remember meeting with the late Jerry Rubin, the still inspiring Robert Scheer, and a handful of others in a crowded attic room in Berkeley to plan it. Through at least one Berkeley police informer, the authorities knew exactly what we were doing, but evidently decided that prosecuting us would only spread our message.

It would be better, of course, if Congress repealed the blunderbuss Espionage Act, along with the Sedition Act of 1918. But the present Congress will never do that. Nor, in all probability, will the Supreme Court. And now, under a Constitutional law professor whom many of us helped elect president, the Espionage Act has increasingly become a mainstay of the surveillance state. The Ellsberg letter directly challenges both the law and the surveillance, as well as other "illegal, immoral, wasteful activities" that conscientious civil servants know too well.

This is only the beginning. Just as Ellsberg and the other signers strengthen Snowden's efforts, the rest of us can massively strengthen theirs. It is time to go viral. Republish their letter in local papers with a long list of people who join them in their civil disobedience. Turn the letter into a leaflet to pass out publicly at government offices and at the gateways to intelligence agencies, police stations, and military posts. Pass it out to members of Congress as well. Let Obama and his Justice Department know that Snowden, Ellsberg, and the others have the numbers to make any prosecution self-defeating.

"Truth is coming," says the letter. "It can't be stopped." And we now have it in our hands "to be on the right side of history and accelerate the process."

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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