Daniel Ellsberg: ‘Pentagon Papers’ Whistleblower, Pro-Democracy Hero (1931-2023)

Daniel Ellsberg, who former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called “The Most Dangerous Man in America” for revealing the secret history and nuclear threats of the U.S. war in Vietnam, left the living on Friday morning, June 16, due to inoperable pancreatic cancer. In a world where irony often triumphs over justice — at least in the short term — the truth-telling Pentagon analyst-turned-anti-war activist Ellsberg passed away at age 93 while his (unconvicted) war criminal opposite Kissinger lives on, at age 100, to continue advising fascist authoritarian leaders, among others, across the world. 

For a comparison of the polar lives of the moral Ellsberg and the amoral Kissinger, I recommend a screening of the deeply moving 2009 documentary “The Most Dangerous Man in America” (more below) and reading Christopher Hitchens’ book “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.” Hitchens’ examines Kissinger’s alleged war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, Argentina, and East Timor — coup, advisory, and military-directed activities that caused the direct and indirect deaths of 3-5 million human beings.  

Probing for an understanding of the ‘extreme danger’ Ellsberg represented for the Nixon White House in 1971, OpEd News editor Rob Kalls’ interview with Ellsberg (see “The Bottom-Up Revolution,” pp. 179-81) reveals the general institutional threat that whistleblowers pose for state and corporate secrecy and power, and the particular alarm Nixon and Kissinger felt with Ellsberg, about covert threats of military escalation, leading to possible nuclear war, leaking into the public sphere through release of the Pentagon documents. 

Still, Ellsberg continues, “Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait till more bombs have fallen and thousands and thousands have died, as I did, before you tell the truth with documents to the press and…Congress…which is likely to get you identified and means you will not just lose your clearance and your access and your career, but you might be prosecuted. You might go to prison…(but again) you might save hundreds and thousands of lives.”   

As for the impact of Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers heroism, he has directly inspired numerous insider truth-tellers, including the second-most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Snowden’s sensational expose of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programs, shared from the sanctuary of a Hong Kong hotel room in 2013, is captured in another compelling film, Laura Poitras’ “CitizenFour,” and in interviewer Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.” 

In Snowden’s own words, “While I was weighing up whether to come forward or not — and this was an agonizing process because it was certainly life-changing — I watched that documentary (‘The Most Dangerous Man in America’). Dan’s example, hearing the arguments from someone who has lived through this; it helps to prepare someone to make that jump themselves.” 

Whistleblowers like Ellsberg and Snowden — not to mention Chelsea Manning, Bill Binney, Thomas Drake, Wendell Potter, Colleen Rowley, Jeffrey Wigand — and whistleblower facilitators like Julian Assange and Neil Sheehan, are critical to democracy restoration, especially in a country like ours that is now leaning hard into fascism (see https://americanfascists.us/the-three-cornerstones-of-american-fascism). But so too are all of us, Ellsberg told “The Nation” magazine’s John Nichols and a room full of academics and organizers at a 2009 premier screening of “The Most Dangerous Man in America.” We all have a role to play; every action connects us to each other which then links us back to the whole.

So, when I actively considered the risks of union-organizing our faculty colleagues at University of the Arts in Philadelphia five years ago, as the then-president targeted our liberal arts school for “reorganization” (i.e., dissolution), ignored our formal and repeated protests, and targeted free-thinking adjunct faculty for prompt dismissal, the upside of possibilities — via unionization — far outweighed the downside of risks, as processed through the “Ellsberg filter” of societal and community risks and rewards. 

So, long story short, we won the union vote 255-2, but I lost my job as full-time associate professor (after 32 years in the classroom) before the union officially came into existence. For the three year run-up, when my identity was discovered and the admin targeted me in more ways than I care to recount (let’s just say I was “radioactive” to all but a handful of my colleagues), I stayed focused on the vision of a better future for the school, students, faculty, and staff. 

Two years removed from higher education, I have only gratitude that Dan Ellsberg helped me to see the big picture all along, from when I met him at an undergrad lecture at Cal-Berkeley, to hearing his wise guidance during a draft counseling workshop, to marching and organizing together for peace in the U.S. and Europe, to discussing his and our journey at the “Most Dangerous Man” film showing in 2009. I never saw Dan again, but I carry his wisdom forward, in my head and heart.

Rest in radical peace and power, dear friend. We will carry on with the good works you inspired.

Harry Belafonte: Social Justice Warrior, Artist Extraordinaire, Friend

I remember well meeting Harry Belafonte, along with Coretta Scott King, at a peace rally in Bonn, West Germany, in the “hot autumn” of ’81 — October 10, 1981, to be precise. A truly remarkable human being, dedicated social justice warrior, musician, singer, actor, and friend to all, Harry inspired anyone who came in contact with him. When he took my outstretched hand and welcomed me as a “fellow American” and “peace and justice warrior,” I knew I had made a friend for life. Though he has moved onto another place, after 96 years of life among the living, Harry Belafonte will live on in my heart and mind.  

So, what made 1981 a “hot autumn”? It was the fact that Reagan administration cabinet and sub-cabinet members openly said they were “preparing to fight and win” a “limited nuclear war” in central Europe. The popular pushback was incredible to experience firsthand. Some 300,000 folks showed up that day in Bonn, and millions more across Europe poured into the streets in the following days and weeks — including another rally I attended in Rome, where 500,000+ turned out. To this day, I truly believe that peace activists across Europe and around the world, in 1981, preempted what easily could have turned into a nuclear nightmare. 

Thank you Harry, for your everlasting radical hospitality, radical hope, and radical love!

IPCC Study: From Dire Warning to Radical Hope

Thanks to Mark Hertsgaard who translated the just-released (20 March 2023) scientific language-laden UN “last warning” on climate change danger here: https://coveringclimatenow.org/climate-beat-story/translating-the-ipcc-report-into-plain-english 1. Countries must now do “everything, everywhere, all at once” to limit heat-trapping emissions; 2. If we “act now” we have the solutions “to secure a livable, sustainable future for all”; 3. People are starving because of climate change, especially in poor countries throughout the Global South; 4. Global temperatures will stop rising if we slash heat-trapping emissions, starting now; 5. Global North countries and institutions must finally meet their legal obligation to provide $100 billion-plus in annual climate aid; 6. Ways must be found to remove CO2 from the atmosphere;

To which I reply: intentional and radical hospitality, hope, love and vision will prevail on the bedrock of people-to-people, progressive-populist, mass-movement, outside-inside, bottom-up, direct action, civil-disobedience, power-politics. 

We, the 99.9%, have the power over the fascist billionaire class who fund and fuel destruction, distraction and division — through state-corporatism, white nationalism, and religious nationalism. 

The good news is that we’re winning. We just don’t see it yet: the tiny ripples of justice connecting and rising; the arrogant autocrats and pompous plutocrats falling on their swords. “The revolution will not be televised, the revolution will not be televised.” (Gil Scott Heron)

Justice for all means justice for ALL.

Radical Hope in ’23: from Miracle 2022 to Magical 2023

Justice for All blog launch, 2023:

Reflecting on the “miracle” year that was and projecting the “magical” year to come, I am most struck by the radical hospitality, hope, and love of the Cuban people we encountered in the first ten days of December 2022. Part of a Witness for Peace education tour across much of northern Cuba, comprised of 18 truth seekers from Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New York, the trip broadened my conception of spiritual, personal, and historical connections – and the limitless possibilities that can spring forth from intimate encounters and exchanges within, across, and between cultures.

With more to say on the Cuban experience itself in future writings and presentations, my main takeaway from the ten-day tour is the remarkable resourcefulness and resilience of a neighboring island population with whom the United States government has been at war – economically, militarily, and psychologically – since 1960, the year after the Cuban Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the U.S.-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista (1952-1959). Setting aside the ongoing propaganda battle, still firmly planted in the Cold War Era that technically ended in 1991 (!), I know we can learn so much from Cubans’ compassion, hopefulness, and endurance. For me, saying and acting on “radical hospitality, hope, and love” is not enough; it needs to be both an organic, personal commitment and process, as well as an aspirational goal to wrap around the universal transformational justice goals that unite us in common vision, mission, and strategy.

So, I choose to call 2022 a “miracle” year not only because of what Cubans can teach us, but also for what we accomplished at OnePayerStates.org and JusticeforAll.global (including our breakthrough 05/20-21 Denver OPS hybrid convention, and 08/27 and 11/19 Intergenerational Justice Summits), and the Pennsylvania Midterm Miracle that likely spared the Keystone State (aka, birthplace of our Republic, Declaration, and Constitution) from plummeting into American-style Fascism 2.0 (see https://americanfascists.us), similar to Texas and Florida. Through a mostly grassroots, non-partisan, education and voter turnout campaign, our team of door knockers, phone bankers, and texters swept to victory up and down the ballot. That’s the most prosperous election I’ve been a part of in five decades. In addition, the electoral education and GOTV work I did with Andrea Miller and her team at Center for Common Ground, focused on rural BIPOC communities in nine Southern states, helped produce several more miracle outcomes.

Last, I hereby crown 2023 a “magical” year, as we continue to translate our electoral successes into policy gold: health, healthcare, economic, racial, gender, climate, housing, legal, electoral, and educational justice for all.