Time magazine readers chose Julian Assange as Person of the Year. Hands down. But Time's editors preferred to go with the safer choice: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The loser in this contest is Time. Hands down.
Just think about it. Facebook has been around for years now. It's a fabulous social networking tool, but there is nothing it accomplished in 2010 that wasn't accomplished in 2009. In the swirling pace of the tech world, Facebook is old news.
In contrast, WikiLeaks has, in the course of just a few months, turned the world of U.S. policy and foreign relations upside down -- or better yet, inside out. In recognizing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as Person of the Year runner up, Time writer Barton Gellman acknowledged that:
WikiLeaks became a revolutionary force, wresting secrets into the public domain on a scale without precedent. Assange and company wrought deep disruptions in the marketplace of state power, much as tech-savvy insurgents before them had disrupted markets in music, film and publishing. The currency of information, scattered to the four corners of the globe, is roiling not only U.S. foreign relations but also the alliances and internal politics of other nations.
Gellman went on to make the grandiose claim that, "WikiLeaks has established itself, too, as a competitor to news media and intelligence agencies."
Time editors might have felt U.S. government pressure to jump over the obvious person of the year, Julian Assange. But we, the people, must thank Assange for giving us troves of secret information that can help us understand the inner workings of our government. We see our soldiers shooting down innocent Iraqis with no accountability; we see our Afghan "ally" squirreling $52 million in cash out of the country; we see our diplomats being told to spy on UN staff; we see our ambassador in Honduras acknowledging an illegal coup that our government ends up supporting; we see the Obama administration browbeating countries to water down a climate accord. The revelations go on and on. For this, WikiLeaks and Assange are rightfully the "People's Choice."
But let us not forget that the source of most of these documents is suspected to be Private Bradley Manning, who is sitting in a prison in Quantico, VA, in solitary confinement. Manning has not yet been tried or convicted of any crime, but he's been incarcerated for over 5 months. While Julian Assange is in the whirlwind of the public eye, let's remember the person who really put his career and his freedom on the line. If you want to send thanks and some holiday cheer to Bradley Manning, go here.
Tomorrow we'll be at a Judiciary hearing on WikiLeaks to show our support, and later in the day we'll take thousands of petitions to the Justice Department asking that they go after the real criminals -- the war criminals -- and not Julian Assange. Make sure your name is on the petition, click to sign here.
Medea Benjamin is co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace.