In the movie Gandhi, there is a scene where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his followers decide to break the salt monopoly. India being a tropical country, salt is critical for food preservation and for daily life (to replace the body salts lost through sweating), and the British government and their flunkies raked in huge profits by controlling the production and sale of salt throughout the country. Literally no one else was allowed to evaporate water and collect the residue, and one of the first major acts of civil disobedience in the campaign for Indian independence was the 1930 salt march to the sea.
One day, the Mahatma leads a line of men to non-violently take over a salt plant. They line up in ranks, some eight or ten abreast, and the first row steps up to the gate to ask for salt. The guards, on orders from their British masters, club down the men. The women step forward to carry away the bleeding men to be bandaged, and the next row steps forward. They are beaten, carried off, bandaged. The next row. The next row. As the men are bandaged, they take their places again at the back of the line, and when their turn comes again, they once more step forward, not to fight, but to simply stand there with their eyes open, letting the guards crack open their skulls for the hideous crime of asking for salt, an interminable line of stubborn men who know they are right and who are willing to put their lives on the line to prove it. In the film, a reporter called Walker (the real life Webb Miller) reports the day with the words, “Whatever moral ascendancy the West once held was lost here today. India is free, for she has taken all that steel and cruelty can give and she has neither cringed nor retreated.”
I wept when I first saw the movie. I weep every time I see it, and I am weeping as I write this, just thinking of that courage. I’ve always wondered if, when the time comes, I will be able to muster that inner strength to stand up like that, to face down tyranny with such grace and calm determination, to neither cringe nor retreat. I hope so.
But in the meantime, there are men and women stepping forward every day. Some risk their lives, others their reputations and their livelihoods. They all do it because they know what is right.
One of those is Mark Klein, a former AT&T engineer who blew the whistle on the secret monitoring system the NSA built within AT&T’s internet switching center. He is now righteously furious at Congress’s recent overthrowing of the FISA Act which required that security agencies get permission for wiretapping. Yep, now, thanks to your Congressmen and Senators, the feds can listen to your private communications without asking anyone, and the telecoms who enable them are protected from lawsuits, using the logic that “if the President says its okay, it’s legal.”
Shades of Richard Nixon. No, shades of Big Brother. You can read more about it in this article from Wired.com and in this one, from BoingBoing. But best of all, read Klein’s own words, including his original memo about the spying program, necessary reading for anyone who lives in America.
And here’s a little tidbit that may reveal something about AT&T’s attitude about the whole thing. Ms. Suspicious? You bet I am, but not about online billing, hon.
So here’s to Mark Klein and brave souls like him. When I spot one, I’m going to mention him or her here. They are important. They are heroes, every one.
Who are your heroes?
Photo of Mark Klein by hughelectronic (via Flickr), used under Creative Commons license 2.0 (Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike)