What I said at the rally for Julian Assange, 1 July 2012, outside the State Library of Victoria
Thank you all for coming here today.
Being a founding member of Wikileaks, though not involved for many years now, I want to say something about the background and history of Wikileaks and where we are today.
Some of you here today may be coming to a rally for the first time. Some of you, maybe for longer; some involved for a long time.
Much activism starts afresh. But it always comes in a context, it always has a history, even if we are unaware of it. And Wikileaks’ struggle for a more just, transparent and free world comes in a context of history. It lies squarely in a long tradition of peoples’ struggles to understand their world, to come to terms with their world as it is, to participate meaningfully in their own lives, to control their own lives and create a better world. As Milan Kundera said, “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
How much have we forgotten?
We are standing right now in front of the State Library of Victoria — a wonderful institution. I was in there this morning. I recommend going in and picking up a book sometime! — well, not now, after the rally…
Today is a Sunday. And the library is open. But the very fact that the library is open today is not a given. That was a struggle. That was fought over. People went to jail for that. The trial of the anti-Sabbatarians — see if you can find that in a history book. It is buried, but it is known, and it is true.
The anti-Sabbatarians were fighting for the people’s right to knowledge, to have access to information about the world. Anyone working a full-time job can understand why libraries should be open Sunday. But it was not. Adherence to the holy day prevented people from reading and learning. And so the anti-Sabbatarians fought for their right to library access on a Sunday. At the trials of the anti-Sabbatarians they were denounced for all sorts of crimes — atheism! socialism! anarchism! My goodness. All sorts of ideas that one might come across if one reads a book!
But in the end they won, and as a result this glorious library is open today. It contains its own history, which we can learn.
Julian Assange has spent a lot of time in this library. And there is a direct historical line from those struggles — people’s struggles for reason, for science, for knowledge — to the struggles of Wikileaks today. In founding Wikileaks, we understood that people have to become aware of important facts about their world: “not just to interpret the world; the point is to change it”. And we have progressed from wanting to open the library on a Sunday, to wanting to open governments and corporations from time to time.
But the world today is so interconnected and swift-moving that struggles for information and knowledge are necessarily on a global scale. The stakes are far higher. Julian faces much worse than anti-Sabbatarians did. The need for popular support is greater than ever.
In a democracy, the people have a right to know what powerful institutions are up to. And when abuse of secrecy becomes too great, justice demands that information be liberated. For this, we need whistleblowers, journalists and intellectuals. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, electric light the most efficient policeman.” But mainstream journalism has not done a good job in an age of increasing secrecy, crumbling revenues, and Rupert Murdoch. And Gina Rinehart! Academia too often wallows in obscurities, science too often absorbed in the service of power, and writers too often far from the truths that are stranger than fiction. And so it has fallen to heroic whistleblowers like Bradley Manning — if he did what he is accused of — to liberate information; and to groups like Wikileaks to fill the gaps — the intelligence agency of the people, and the publisher of last resort.
For that, for audacious, courageous actions shining sunlight into the darkest places, Wikileaks, and Julian Assange, deserve our support. But we should not be here just for passive support, we should also learn and actively work together ourselves.
In 2007, as Julian, I and others laid the foundations for Wikileaks, Julian wrote the following, expressing some of our hopes and motivations:
“Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice.
If we have brains or courage, then we are blessed and called on not to frit these qualities away, standing agape at the ideas of others, winning pissing contests, improving the efficiencies of the neocorporate state, or immersing ourselves in obscuranta, but rather to prove the vigor of our talents against the strongest opponents of love we can find.
If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whose hearts and heads we may be proud of. Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.”
As Julian wrote, who we are, what we see, all our social conditions, are a product of their own history. We are products of our history. Wikileaks has opened up that history. And when we can see that, when we can see how things came to be, we can ask what is really necessary and what we would like to change. We can then make our own history. Most of our social institutions are historically young. They can be remade, and perhaps they should be.
But Julian’s adventure has taken him, at this moment, to a critical juncture. Much rests upon the actions of the governments of Australia and Ecuador, and that in turn rests upon the political pressure that people can bring to bear on them.
So let us support Wikileaks, let us support Julian and his crucially important journalistic work. Let us demand the Australian government behave like any government should and protect its own citizens. Let us urge Rafael Correa and the people of Ecuador to make their own daring adventure, to take a position for justice, to take courage and stand firm – for hell hath no fury like a great power scorned. And let the people of Australia affirm their solidarity with the people of Ecuador in the cause of justice, freedom and transparency. Let us assure them that their courage will be contagious.
And to all of us: let us create our own daring exploits. Let us win over the opponents of love. In Australia there is no shortage of opponents of love. There is no love in extending the methods of 19th century colonialism against the indigenous peoples of the Northern Territory and rightful owners of this country. There is no love in turning away boats full of refugees in breach of the solemn duty of non-refoulement in international law. There is no love in the bombing of Afghanistan. There is no love in carbon emissions producing a 4-degree warmer world. There is no love in consumer capitalism. And of course there is no love in abandoning Julian Assange with specious talk of empty “consular assistance”.
There are many opponents of love. There is much to do. So let us express our support of Julian Assange, and let us follow his advice, and let each of us start our own story which begins with our own actions and ends in a world we can bequeath without shame to our children and their children after them.