We Must Move Beyond the 'Patriot' vs. 'Traitor' Debate Around Edward Snowden

A photo illustration shows a part of a TV screen with the TV network NBC News logo taken in Washington,DC on May 28, 2014, du
A photo illustration shows a part of a TV screen with the TV network NBC News logo taken in Washington,DC on May 28, 2014, during their exclusive interview by Brian williams with Edward Snowden. Fugitive self-proclaimed spy Edward Snowden said Wednesday he wants to return home, as he defended his massive leak of US intelligence secrets, saying abuses of constitutional rights left him no choice. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

One thing I got from the Edward Snowden interview that was shown on NBC last night is that we best refocus our energy on engaging one another above and beyond our fancy electronic devices. While these are helpful tools and can allow us to reach large numbers of people all at once, it's important not to isolate ourselves behind keyboards. It's important not to put our self-worth and sense of well-being in algorithms we don't understand or control. In short, we should all take time out to check in with folks, make sure we're on the same page with our neighbors and keep our communication skills sharp. A lot of things are lost in text messaging and Facebook posts.

It's interesting to see how some have foolishly engaged in a debate about why Snowden has not "come home to face the music." What does that mean? he should come home and go to jail? Are we romanticizing and putting nobility on being locked up? Really?

About a month ago, I spoke with former political prisoner Dhoruba Bin-Wahad on Hard Knock Radio about this assertion, the legacy of domestic spying and opposing the government for oppressing its citizens. For those who are unaware, Dhoruba spent almost 20 years behind bars and was a member of the New York Panther 21 which included Afeni Shakur, the mother of 2Pac. During our interview Dhoruba meticulously laid out all the ways in which the government stacked the deck against him and others Panthers members fighting injustice in the '60s and '70s. He noted that many Panthers and for that matter freedom fighters from all over the world, from South Africa to Chile went into exile. Do we want folks like Asaata Shakur to come home and "face the music"? Are we satisfied that those who did face the music have been tortured and have been in jail for 30 and 40 years, much of it in solitary confinement? Are we satisfied with the treatment of folks like the late Geronimo Jigga Pratt, Herman Wallace and Marilyn Buck or those recently released like Lynn Stewart? Are we satisfied with the treatment of those who are currently locked up who 'faced the music' from Chelsea Manning (Bradley) to Mumia to Leonard Peltier to Mutulu Shakur?

As Dhoruba noted, today in 2014 with the passage of the Patriot Act and other laws designed to "fight terror," one who "faces the music" might not have access to a lawyer, could be held indefinitely and may have damn near all their evidence excluded from the proceedings under the guise its "classified." As we saw last night, Snowden laid out similar points. Hence one should kill the noise about "facing the music" from a system that has not been about fairness and justice for most people for a very long time.

We should not get caught up in meaningless debates about whether or not Snowden is a traitor or patriot. First, there is no definitive definition for either word. They are very subjective where at the end of the day there is no "right" or "wrong." Our discussion should be about whether or not what he revealed was true and are we comfortable with that? Are we comfortable with giving up our privacy, having severe restrictions placed upon us in courts of law or law enforcement gathering up all our data and not providing us with any sort of blueprint as to how its being used? Are we comfortable with what Snowden revealed about what is being done with our cell phones and how they are virtual microphones and cameras that can be turned on to record and eavesdrop without us knowing? That should be our discussion.

We should be asking ourselves, Who in the public sector and who in the private sector is a part of this data collecting and domestic spying? Are we comfortable with powerful corporations and officials having so much access? As Snowden noted, even if you are "not doing anything illegal," the way the data is gathered and interpreted can set off alarm bells and have you under scrutiny.

What should be raising eyebrows is how these encroachments may play out if you politically oppose those in power. Our history, via Cointel-Pro under the FBI's J Edgar Hoover in which the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the Student Movements, Chicano Movements, Puerto Rican Independent Movements and Anti-War Movements were undermined, compromised and dismantled by those who opposed the political direction organizers and people involved were taking, should be harsh reminders. Back in the hey day of these movements, what was done was under the guise of protecting America from "Communism." Suppressing groups was done in the name of fighting the "Cold War." Today its under the guise of protecting us from terrorism which has not fully been defined above one or two named villains, Al-Qaeda being one of them.

We should note what Snowden was talking about with respect to whistleblowers. and how under President Obama, more have been prosecuted and punished than all president in the past combined. Last year there was a conference of Black whistleblowers in Washington DC who talked about the extreme challenges they face and how many have had to stay silent or risk freedom. We've had senators like Dianne Feinstein who wanted to go extra hard on media and strip away shield protections as a way to curtail whistleblowers.

With respect to Secretary of State John Kerry and his claims about Snowden being a coward and how he should "man up" and do the right thing, let us not forget that when Kerry did as a senator. During his tenure, he made no "un-cowardly" moves to impeach President Bush or any one in his cabinet after it was revealed they misled us into war and in doing so violated all sorts of international law. What was his excuse for not "manning up" there?

We should not forget that Kerry, who is calling for folks to "do the right thing," sat silently in 2000 when members of the Congressional Black Caucus appeared on the Senate floor, damn near begging senators to step forth and use their power to get a recount for Florida in the presidential elections. Where was Kerry on that issue and at that moment? We should never forget.

With all that being said, understanding the nature of corporate media, one should ask hard questions and raise an eyebrow or two about how and why such revealing information being put forth by Snowden was allowed on prime-time TV, when so much other information is often ignored. Is there something else going on or is this an attempt to redirect the conversation and eventually marginalize what Snowden is speaking about. The "patriot" vs. "traitor" debate may be one way to take us down this road. In the mean time, pay attention to how you use your phones and computers and where you put them. Go outside, get some sun and fresh air, talk with your neighbors, and stay woke.

Visit Davey D's website hiphopandpolitics.com.