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Undoing Illegitimate Power

Why Julian Assange is My Hero

by JENNIFER VAN BERGEN

I have high standards, apparently, because I can’t recall the last time I felt anyone was a hero.

Julian Assange understands power relationships and he made a decision to delegitimize illegitimate power — or said another way, to disabuse abusive power — and to ensure that they (those in power) are held accountable, simply by pulling back the shroud of secrecy behind which they hide.

As with vampires, the very light of day is enough to shrivel up power abusers, or at the very least, to make them run for some dark, dank cave.

It’s an odd fact that power abusers can only abuse whatever power they hold as long as their actions are hidden in the shadows. I don’t know why exactly this is true, but it is. Child molesters can only molest children if responsible adults don’t know it’s happening. Serial killers can only continue to kill if all the witnesses are dead. Every criminal, every power abuser, knows this innately. And the weird thing is that many times there ARE people who know what is happening but silently collude in the coverup, but in the shadows always it remains.

The exception to this rule of shadows is when a power abuser commits his wrongs so brazenly and publicly that people are wowed or silenced. Of course, even in this circumstance, power abusers often kill off witnesses – those who really see and understand what they are doing, or those whom they feel might do so, for some historical or circumstantial reasons.

And of course, let’s not forget the power of projection: when we see in others what we reject in ourselves. So bullies pick on the weak because the bullies can’t stand their own weaknesses. (This is where it becomes both shadows and mirrors.)

Again, these wrongdoings tend to happen in the shadows, in secret, or if in the light of day, in a situation where no witnesses or remedies are available … or revealed as projections (the Evil Twin Other).

Accountability. Oversight. Witnessing. I’m not sure how to share my own encounters with these things, but I think they are instructive.

Many years ago, when I first moved into NYC, I got frequently harassed and stalked. I learned that looking these guys in the eyes (or even looking at them peripherally) just fed their disorder; they would come on even harder. I learned that avoiding looking at them, looking away, or walking away had the same effect.

However, I eventually discovered a specific method that worked. If I looked at their chest and down to their groin, without ever making eye contact, and then looked away indifferently, maintaining a gaze away from them but that keeping them in the periphery, it WORKED. They backed off and left me alone.

Later on, I practiced this when other women were being ogled or harassed. I would put myself physically in a line between the woman and the ogler and stare at that point between them. The ogler would invariably become more and more uncomfortable and eventually would break away. It was as if my visual line created a physical barrier, as if my eyes seeing his actions without comment — witnessing — undid his nerve and broke his power hold over the other.

If, on the other hand, I met the eyes of the wrongdoer and showed disgust or any kind of negative judgment, I made myself a target for attack.

This illustrates another rule of engagement with power abusers: if you catch them red-handed, doing their bad deeds, and if you have the intention to judge them for their wrongs, they will increase their wrong-doing and come after you, if they can.

This is probably the reason why abuse so often is allowed to continue. Even if people are aware it is happening, they don’t want to make themselves targets. I can’t tell you how many times I broke the hold of an ogler while dozens of others sat or stood in proximity pretending nothing was happening.

Some superstitiousness: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Like it will go away if we pretend it doesn’t exist! How childish and primitive a belief that is in our "modern civilized" world!

But what Assange has done is not to blow the whistle on wrong-doing. He isn’t a vulnerable insider speaking out on the wrongs of his masters (like Bradley Manning, the man who is accused of leaking tens of thousands of pages of classified material to Wikileaks). What Assange has done — is doing — is to act as a witness, to be the seeing eyes from a safe distance. Assange understands the need to protect his independence from both the sources who supply material to Wikileaks and from the power abusers whose abuses the material reveals. He is the one whose eyes form a barrier between the abuser and his victim and consequently break the abuser’s hold and undo his power.

Assange’s critics fail to understand what Assange is doing. They mistakenly believe Assange is "just" an anarchist who wants to undermine and topple governments. That is incorrect; Assange wants to throw light on things that lurk in the shadows, so that democratic participation is actually possible. He is deeply pro-democratic.

Assange makes me cry. All the articles I’ve written, all the peace and justice rallies and conferences and meetings and debates in which I’ve participated, all the travel, the speeches I’ve given — two years ago, I walked away from these things and turned my eyes to addressing what I felt and still feel underlies it all — which is what "working at the archetypal level" work is about, which was set forth in my "Archetypes for Writers" book and is slowly developing into the work of a new organization, the Of COURSE, the United States government and its allies want to take him down! Of COURSE, THEY are the power abusers. Let us not get it wrong about Assange. He is working for us, the common people of the world, all of us. If we are afraid of that, it’s only because we are not used to having power over our lives.

JENNIFER VAN BERGEN, a journalist with a law degree, is the author of THE TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY: THE BUSH PLAN FOR AMERICA (Common Courage Press, 2004) and Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious (Michael Weise Productions, 2007). She can be reached at jennifer.vanbergen@gmail.com