Whistleblowers: Heroes of Our Time

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It takes courage to tell the truth. Especially when the truth pertains to the reality around you. Sometimes when we lose the ignorance, we also lose the bliss. On the other hand, our insights can be so uncomfortable that we choose to ignore them.

Psychologists call this denial. Denial is one of the most powerful defense mechanisms known to humans. While denial can protect us from pain and disappointment, it can also blind us to problems that are vital to address.

Let’s say the quality of water from your tap is unhealthy to drink. You go on with your day, telling yourself that access to clean water isn’t a human right worth fighting for. You simply switch to drinking bottled water.

Your work consists of moving paper, or symbols on screens, or filling orders. It’s relatively meaningless, and by two o’clock, each day you look forward to going home at five. Rather than confront the situation, you create a fantasy that work doesn’t really matter, it’s your ‘free time’ that matters.

Working can require over 2,000 hours of our precious lives each year. Should be really live in denial? Denial is a short cut that squanders a hell of a lot of time.

Having the inner strength to overcome denial is precious. The people who speak up and advocate for change represent sanity. These warriors are poets, journalists, writers and storytellers, and exemplary individuals who don’t back down when their human and ethical sensibilities are violated.

Whistleblowers are heroes. They give us the bravery to stand behind their cause. They reach us with their words or actions that tether our minds to ‘what’s right’. They stand up for what they believe in even when everyone else is sitting down.

They aim to help us develop the courage to change our reality and ourselves. These trailblazers have been known to sacrifice their lives to improve our lot.

The Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy was torturing prisoners around 1777. Esek Hopkins, the violent commander, would have been off the hook if two seamen didn’t risk their lives in the fight for justice.

The first act of the Continental Congress was to dismiss Hopkins. Hopkins filed suit against the seamen and later lost in court.  The first law adopted to protect Whistleblowers, like our brave seamen, against retaliation was enacted in 1863. It lies at the core of legal ethics.

Yet, so many of our corporate and political leaders suffer from social and legal amnesia.

A key person at Health and Human Services, Rick Bright, was pushed out of his office because as he fought for equality in protesting contracts abuse and “cronyism”.

In Bright’s whistleblower complaint, it was stated that questionable contracts had gone to “companies with political connections to the administration”.  These leery contracts had gone to a drug company tied to a friend of Jared Kushner’s, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

The 89-page complaint filed with the protectors of whistleblowers in the Office of Special Counsel said Dr. Bright “encountered opposition” from department superiors.

These superiors included Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex M. Azar II — when Bright pushed as early as January for the necessary resources to develop drugs and vaccines to counter the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

Edward Snowden leaked top-tier, classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013 when he was a CIA employee.

If Snowden hadn’t released this information, maybe surveillance programs run by the US National Security Agency would still be tapping into our private lives, monitoring our daily activities and communications.

Edward demonstrated, unequivocally, that President Obama was running the largest spy ring in American history.  His actions cost him his comfortable life and income as he fled to Russia.

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, came into the limelight when he published a series of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning revealing the US Army’s role in killing innocent civilians throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

Government officials, including Hillary Clinton, have hounded Mr. Assange, naming him a traitor despite his instrumental role in the leaps to decency.

Today, he’s imprisoned in Belmarsh, England and often held in solitary confinement as the English government psychologically tortures him.

The government was recently caught secretly taping Assange’s private conversations with his lawyer; no doubt, setting conditions for a ‘fair trial’.

Tim Bray, the vice president of Amazon recently announced his resignation from the company. According to Bray, firing warehouse workers for questioning the company’s COVID-19 practices was immoral. Furthermore, “there is a vein of toxicity running through the company and I choose neither to serve nor drink the poison. Remaining at Amazon would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised,” he said. “So, I resigned”.

Anita Hill spoke out about being sexually harassed by the Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, and in result was slandered by the establishment. As was Christine Blasey Ford who charged Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed for Supreme Court Justice.

Alayne Fleischmann, JP Morgan Chase, blew the whistle when she discovered in 2006 that the bank was knowingly purchasing loans that people couldn’t pay back. Chase made investment products out of these loans—mortgage backed securities— and resold them.  Ms. Fleischmann went to federal prosecutors and JPMorgan Chase wound up paying a $9 billion fine, the largest of any settlement in the financial crisis.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was discharging poisonous wastewater (hexavalent chromium) into what we drink. This caused a spike cancer rates in rural counties and also bruised our environment until Erin Brockovich blew the whistle. In 1996, PG&E settled a suit for $333 million.

Karen Silkwood, a chemical technician and labor union activist, preceded Ms. Brokovitch by twenty years. Silkwood was a technician at a plutonium plant operated by Kerr-McGee Corporation. After complaining stridently to the Atomic Energy Commission about unsafe conditions at the plant Karen had found that she was contaminated with radioactivity herself.

In 1974, at just 28 years old, Silkwood was run off the road causing her fatality in a car accident. Karen was on her way to meet with a union representative and reporter for The New York Times to expose her employer’s indecency.

With her, Karen had a folder, full of documents, that proved Kerr-McGee’s indecency. No folder was found in the wreckage of her car, and her case remains unsolved.

Yes, there is corruption. But we don’t have to stand idling by.

Afterall, if you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Here’s what Whistleblowers can teach us:

  • Trust your perceptions & speak out. No one is born a Whistleblower.  Individuals create their courage through experience, beliefs and actions. Most have been reluctant warriors in a compromised situation. They reached a point where they couldn’t deny the reality of what they were seeing and were compelled to speak out; what starts as a concern snowballs into a cause.
  • Do it Right. Most individuals follow protocol, at first. Listening to the ‘authorities’ in charge, keeping their heads down. Almost all Whistleblowers start with an internal leap of courage, advocating for change in their workplace or government. These soldiers of justice are dissuaded repeatedly from telling the truth, stalled out, avoided, and rejected.
  • Follow your commitment. Each truth-teller has become more committed as time evolved. They discovered that it took 100 percent of their waking hours to prevail. They grasped that the forces of resistance are powerful, and they faced discouragement every step of the way. There were no prizes in telling the truth of their experience.
  • Trust others. Few whistleblowers are, in the end, loners. They find like-minded people to help validate their perceptions, and obtainsocial support. Even those who appear to have acted on their own, most likely, allies helped them accomplish their ends.
  • Be certain in your actions. All whistleblowers, in spite of consequence, would choose to do the just thingagain. They offer us hope by demonstrating the significance of courage, ethics, and believing that others will help us overcome denial.
  • Reach out to others with your story. Saying no to injustice is contagious. It elevates us to what is most human in our being, the capacity to care about and watch out for each other. 
  • Celebrate your courage in speaking out. You’re in good company.

#Become A Whistleblower

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