Security, Secrecy and the Democratic Demands of an Informed Public

The American experiment is premised on the idea that an informed public is central to self-governance and a functioning democracy. But today that fundamental idea is being challenged, at times by the very people – journalists and the media – who should be its staunchest defenders.

In a new post, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen traces how the debate over Snowden and the National Security Agency has sparked what amounts to a de facto effort to “repeal the concept of an informed public.” This is a critical point, and I want to draw a few more threads into the debate.

“My sole motive,” Edward Snowden told the Guardian in his first public interview, “is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” Rosen describes Snowden as “the return of the repressed.” He writes: “By going AWOL and leaking documents that show what the NSA is up to, he forced Congress to ask itself: did we really consent to that? With his disclosures the principle of an informed public roared back to life.”

However, since that moment, there has been a profound effort by politicians and even some journalists to close down that debate. This opposition has taken many forms. Journalists and politicians have attacked Glenn Greenwald and tried to undercut the legitimacy of the Guardian. They have tried to write off NSA programs as balanced and well within the law. And most of all they have used fear and the threat of possible terror attacks to argue that any real debate about the details of America’s surveillance programs is simply a “discussion the public cannot afford to have.Continue reading

Media Making as Participatory Democracy: Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street

“If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said,
then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.” 
- The Port Huron Statement, 1962

 We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.”
- Occupy Wall Street, 2012

Fifty years ago, the authors of the Port Huron Statement wrote that “Every generation inherits from the past a set of problems – personal and social – and a dominant set of insights and perspectives by which the problems are to be understood and, hopefully, managed.” 

Today, the generation that sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement has likewise inherited a distinctive set of problems and generated its own new insights and approaches to them. One of the most important characteristics of the Occupy movement is the expanding universe of media makers – citizen journalists, livestreamers, artists and others – who see their work as overtly political and a central part of the movement itself. 

New tools and technologies are empowering more and more people to commit acts of journalism – many for the first time – as their preferred mode of engaging with the movement. For many, grassroots media is not just a means to forward the goals of Occupy Wall Street. Creating media and telling a new story about our society is also an ends in and of itself. Media making is increasingly a political act as important as the occupations themselves. Continue reading