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Occupy The Truth: Whistleblowers Conference Rolls Into UC Berkeley

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Embracing your inner activist and becoming willing to take action and/or help generate positive change in some way isn't always a smooth ride. Let's face it, even those of us who are open-minded and eager to plant a big, fat juicy kiss on the mouth of life -- as often as we can -- ultimately come to realize that sometimes, we'll run into a little bad breath.

Alas, somebody has to speak up and, more importantly, pass a (fresh) breath mint.

That said, an upcoming three-day political huddle, dubbed "Occupy the Truth: Whistleblowers Conference," piqued my interest. Think of it as an advocate/activist/info-gathering fest, and more. It unravels Feb. 17-19 at UC Berkeley and it could prove to be downright enterprising.

For starters, it's being organized by the Fresh Juice Party (FJP), the "politically prejudiced" media group, which first began generating buzz last year around this time after several of its members interrupted an Obama Victory Fund breakfast at the posh St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco. Trailblazer and FJP co-founder Naomi Pitcairn forked over the funds to secure two tables at the event, and, early on during President Obama's talk to a room full of squeaky-clean uber admirers, she stood up and, along with several FJP members, crooned a song in protest to the treatment of Pvt. Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker of U.S. military docs that were posted on WikiLeaks.

(Curiously, this week, Manning was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by the The Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research.)

Afterward, Pitcairn was escorted out of the room, but FJP's actions became delicious fodder for the evening news and beyond. Eerily, looking back, it was somewhat of a precursor to the Occupy Wall Street movement that sprouted several months later, in September. But the incident stood was also a bold reminder that citizens can, indeed, speak up, and out, and hold the government accountable for its actions -- you know, what journalism and journalists used to do more consistently with unmitigated brawn before the Insta-Celebrity Age, Facebook and Twitter nuked our senses.

"It would be wonderful if the words and deeds of our elected officials were as sweet as fresh juice," notes the FJP site. "Information could flow as freely as the juices of a ripened orange. We think it should...

"While it's evidently impossible to expect our government to provide us with vital information pertinent to our liberties," the site goes on, "we have the power to squeeze out the truth. All it takes is a little cooperation and our creative juices. ACTIVISM IS FUN!"

To that end, FJP writes, records and performs music, designs visuals and create happenings -- "Occupy The Truth" is its latest offspring.

The conference is touted as being for anyone who really cares about truth and transparency. More specifically, that would be practitioners and academics in the information, communication, media, computer, and library realms to, say, members of NGOs working on civil society or governance issues. Those who are interested and/or involved in ethical, legal and regulatory aspects of information and communication are also on that list.

"We're hoping to make organic connections," Pitcairn says of what she and fellow FJP co-founders, Pratibha Gautam and Craig Casey, are delivering. "After the Obama event we felt really excited about the way we work together as a group. We wanted to try this conference because we're really interested in the truth."

Already on the list of attendees: Pentagon Papers Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake, Ex-CIA Analyst and Writer Ray McGovern, Actress and activist Alexandra Paul, Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans, Writer and Former Executive Director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force, Adam Sterling, Professor/filmmaker/activist Elizabeth Stephens, Ph.D., Occupy Oakland members and a slew of other notables and everyday citizens.

The event boasts an Open Space Technology vibe, best known for its initial lack of agenda -- it creates a breeding ground for the participants to generate the agenda themselves. Loose yet structured. Friday's mixer (6 p.m.) morphs into a panel discussion on Manning, followed by a performance by the enigmatic and politically effervescent, Rev. Billy. Sessions on Saturday and Sunday begin at 9 a.m. and run through 6 p.m.

"Open Space allows the creativity and flexibility within the format of a conference, and yet it's still structured," Gautam notes. "Naomi and I made a decision to go to some Open Space workshops beforehand because we didn't want to just pick something that we didn't know anything about."

Probing deeper though, why Occupy The Truth? And why now?

"I feel like ever since we were children we wished society could be so that you could speak out, but there always seemed to be something that was preventing you from speaking out clearly about the lack of liberty and democracy, even in the United States," Gautam adds. "I mean, you could talk to your friends about it, or at school, and everyone pretty much agrees but nobody really did anything.

"And then Bush came and went, and we all tried a little bit and it didn't work, and then Obama came and nothing seemed to really happen -- again," she goes on. "And then, all of a sudden, there is this tide was turning. The Occupy Movement is a real visible representation of that -- it's happening everywhere. We see what's happening with the banks, with the military -- that we're still at war, still at Guantanamo. Now, there's a sense that everybody is feeling like a revolutionary -- all across America."

"We also want to create a network for and strengthen support for other whistleblowers," Pitcairn says. "We're hoping that the conference will help people start something new; discuss the problems that they have and try to help each other."

Another element of the event is to use new political techniques to expose the truth rather than keep it suppressed.

But at the end of the day, there could be another blessing in disguise here: debunking some of the misconceptions about "activism," in general.

"Naomi, Pratibha and I -- we're not 'hard-core' activists; we're artists," says FJP co-founder Craig Casey. "We're out there collecting data and processing it. It's just clear, at this point in history, that there are so many issues out there that need attention. It's very inspiring what keeps us going."

"I never thought I was an activist," Pitcairn muses. "I guess I am now. I think an activist is someone who does more than just vote."


Learn more about "Occupy Truth" and Fresh Juice Party here. Take a peek at some of last year's coverage of FJP's Obama breakfast squeeze below: