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Edward Snowden Says Occupy Wall Street Was “Last Time Civil Disobedience Brought About Change”

Screen shot of published interview on The Nation’s website

The Nation Magazine published an interview with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, and one of the parts that is most remarkable is his commentary on civil disobedience and the movement that was ignited in 2011 by Occupy Wall Street.

First off, there have been numerous interviews published with Snowden at this point. He appeared in a major television interview with Brian Williams for NBC Nightly News. He was interviewed by journalist and NSA historian James Bamford for a feature story that appeared in Wired Magazine. A documentary directed by Laura Poitras called Citizenfour has opened in select cities and will be opening in a few more cities next weekend. It apparently is so powerful that it has the capacity to change one’s view that Snowden is a traitor.

But this interview conducted by Nation editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen Cohen is different than those interviews in that it seeks to explore his views on politics, government and the role of citizens in society in a manner which complements what many already know about what he did.

“We are a representative democracy. But how did we get there? We got there through direct action. And that’s enshrined in our Constitution and in our values,” Snowden declares.

“We have the right of revolution. Revolution does not always have to be weapons and warfare; it’s also about revolutionary ideas. It’s about the principles that we hold to be representative of the kind of world we want to live in. A given order may at any given time fail to represent those values, even work against those values. I think that’s the dynamic we’re seeing today.”

Snowden adds, “We have these traditional political parties that are less and less responsive to the needs of ordinary people, so people are in search of their own values. If the government or the parties won’t address our needs, we will. It’s about direct action, even civil disobedience.”

Yet, Snowden argues the state can then come in and determine what is “legitimate civil disobedience” and require citizens to follow certain rules.

They put us in “free-speech zones”; they say you can only do it at this time, and in this way, and you can’t interrupt the functioning of the government. They limit the impact that civil disobedience can achieve. We have to remember that civil disobedience must be disobedience if it’s to be effective. If we simply follow the rules that a state imposes upon us when that state is acting contrary to the public interest, we’re not actually improving anything. We’re not changing anything. [emphasis added]

Either vanden Heuvel or Cohen asks him, “When was the last time civil disobedience brought about change?” He answers, “Occupy Wall Street.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."