My Poynter.org adventure: Can Edward Snowden prove his point by coming back to America?
As news broke this weekend that three different countries have offered asylum to Edward Snowden, I wondered if his case might not be better served by coming back to America.
I wrote a piece for the Poynter Institute’s website last week noting that Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked details of their spying program to two newspapers, has kicked off a fierce debate over how to define journalists and journalism.
He also has ignited debate over what should happen to him, now that he’s violated several laws in revealing classified details about how the NSA spies on government citizens and foreign dignitaries. Some outlets, including The Guardian newspaper in Britain, call him a classic whistle-blower, revealing important abuses in spying programs and gaps in oversight which should, perhaps, earn him a reprieve from punishment.
But there’s a school of thought that suggests, if he really wants to push for change, Snowden might want to leave the transit area of the Moscow airport where he is reportedly now living and come back to America, fighting his charges publically and ferociously.
Years ago, I interviewed Ybor City native and civil rights activist Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta about the tactics of the movement. Dr. Lafayette was a protégé of Dr. King’s and a Freedom Rider – among a hardy, interracial group of young people who rode buses into the south, refusing to obey the segregated terminals and seating arrangements. Evntually, they pushed officials to enforce federal laws against segregating bues that they routinely ignored in the South.
But when the Freedom Riders were arrested for such civil disobedience, they submitted to the arrests and fought the charges in court. Dr. Lafayette explained that was an important element of the civil rights struggle; submitting to an unjust law in order to show how unjust it is, giving attorneys a chance to see it overturned.
This may help explain why public opinion on Snowden is mixed in America. Perhaps, to drive home how unjust the government’s spying programs are, he needs to come back the U.S. and prove it in a court of law.
Of course, there's great risk in such an action. But that's what some revolutions require.
Click here to read the whole column on Poynter.org, which also speaks on how Journalism is transforming from a craft to an act. Look below for my TEDx talk, delivered at Poynter, on the same topic.