Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.

Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Tubman Didn't Turn Themselves In, Why Should Edward Snowden?

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon

If there's one thing House tea party Republicans, liberal Senate Democrats, the White House and corrupt TV talking heads from Fox to MSNBC all agree on, it's that Edward Snowden is an ungrateful thief with an exaggerated sense of his own importance. The fact that Snowden is no heroic whistleblower, is proved they say, by his not going through legal channels, by his theft of government and proprietary secrets, by his wilfull violation of confidentiality oaths and federal laws, and most of all by Snowden's international flight, and his completely unreasonable refusal to turn himself in for possible life imprisonment and likely torture.

Federal cops and/or intelligence officials bringing secret requests under secret interpretations of law to harvest, store and data mine literally every phone call, every credit card transaction, every email, instant message, tweet, web search and digital brain fart of 310 million Americans to a secret court whose dockets and rulings are also secret, which doesn't matter much because the secret court never tells the government no ---- is either not a problem at all, or at worst something we should discuss and address through legal channels. The problem of course, is that if Snowden had not violated the law there would be insider confirmation of official crimes, and if he turned himself over to the tender mercies of the powerful criminals he exposed --- well that simply makes no sense.

A hundred sixty-some years ago Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass violated state and federal laws by stealing valuable property – their own persons – and fleeing north. While living quietly as a fugitive, Tubman armed herself and returned south again and again to steal an estimated 300 more pieces of human property. While also a fugitive Frederick Douglass became a public and highly illegal whistleblower. He lectured audiences on the evils of slavery, and eventually fled to Europe to avoid the long arm of the law. John Brown freed slaves in Missouri, led expeditions against pro-slavery death squads in Kansas and was a wanted fugitive for the remainder of his life.

The very idea of whistleblowers and dissidents needing to be “respectable” in the eyes of law and authority, and even turn themselves in is clearly nonsense. Back in the day, authorities cast aspersions on the characters of Brown and Douglass, and on any slave who rebelled, ran away or otherwise violated his legal obligation to serve. We should treat speculations on Snowden's motives, when they come from those being exposed, the same way we treat a slaveholder's opinion of Tubman, Douglass or Brown.

Every day that Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and John Brown walked the world as fugitives was a victory for real truth and freedom. Every day Edward Snowden remains free to speak and be heard is a hopeful day for all of us. He's no more obligated to turn himself in than the freedom fighters of sixteen decades ago.

For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at), or via this site's contact page.

Direct download: 20130626_bd_fugitives_from_justice.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:14pm EDT