Escape to Ecuador

The colored crepe paper we hung up has tattered and fallen. The balloons we tied to the walls and ceiling have deflated or popped. Confetti remains in bags, unthrown. The welcome party we planned for the arrival of Julian Assange has had to be postponed indefinitely.  Graffiti on the city walls prophesying his advent have begun to chip and fade away.

We know Assange is safe and still active in his Ecuadorian Embassy sanctuary in London. But we can’t help feeling disappointed that he never actually landed here among us. It’s not simply that we wanted the spotlight of his celebrity to shine a bit on the rest of us. There is so much here that we wanted to show him.

The bracing air of the Andes would revive his spirits. The sight of snow-covered volcanic peaks bespeaks a primordial reality which dwarfs the foolish vanity and paranoia of the people and the governments who want him silenced and punished. Julian Assange and Wikileaks have spotlighted the new political reality.

Our primary struggle now is not the conflict of countries or religions or ideologies against one another, but the wars of governments against their own peoples. The governments of China, Russia and the United States have more in common with one another than they do with their own populations. Ours is a battle between state control and personal freedom.

The Turkish people know this. So do the Syrians and the Brazilians and the Egyptians. They have fewer illusions than Americans do because they can’t afford them. They have learned to trust their own eyes and ears rather than rely on the televised, pre-digested propaganda churned out by corporate U.S. media in service to the state.

Americans cling to their comforting delusions, that we are the greatest, freest country on earth, that the political landscape is painted blue and red, that liberals and conservatives are battling for dominance, and the extremes of tea-party libertarianism and radical leftist socialism should be reviled and feared.

All this is irrelevant and distracting, like the clash of Christianity versus Islam. Or the flood of professional sporting events and pornography that drowns our awareness with vivid images. Americans are bad at organizing, still suffering from the cult of rugged individualism. But when we do form trade unions or progressive political groups or student protests against wars or the depredations of Wall Street, the tentacles of government are quick to infiltrate, defame and destroy. Scars and gripes forever.

Edward Snowden is the latest insider who pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizardry of American Freedom as the diabolical machinations of a surveillance state. Is he a hero or a traitor? Where you stand depends on where you sit. For all those growing fat off the surveillance state, the toady media, the corporate Congress, the social networks and other minions of the ruling oligarchy, Snowden is a trouble-maker, messing with the dominance of their masters.

For the rest of us, trying to survive and live our lives as well as we can, Snowden is a freedom fighter, exposing the intrusion of the state apparatus into our private affairs.  That is why we have begun to re-hang the crepe paper here, inflate new balloons and prepare once again for a welcome party fit for a man of principle and courage.

Snowden would add luster and gravitas to our community. We can only hope he really comes. Then we have to find a way to spring Bradley Manning. Manning’s only crime was believing he could appeal to the conscience of the American people over and above the violent authoritarian regime masquerading as a democracy.

It would be great to have Assange, Manning and Snowden all here in Ecuador. They could all have faculty positions at the IIF (International Institute of Freedom). I think they’d have a lot of valuable lessons to teach. You know we’ll have a good time then.

James is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Documentaries (Praeger 2006), and Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty Department, (2015). He lives in Quito, Ecuador. Read other articles by James.