What does it mean to be an American citizen? What are our responsibilities -- to each other, to our communities, to our nation and to the world?
I'm sure the first thing that comes to mind is voting, which is often touted as the single most important act we can do to fulfill our duty as Americans. It is true, many have died for the right to vote and even in 2013 there is a perverse, organized and powerful effort to keep people from doing so.
However, given the role money plays not only in our politics, but in our governance, it's hard not to be cynical that voting doesn't change the fundamental power structures within Washington. (There's a reason I'm a registered Independent.)
Since 9/11 we have largely trusted the government to keep us "safe" with actions in plain sight, including invading Iraq and airport body scanners. But mostly we have trusted the government with actions we don't know about, actions that exist in the shadowy no-man's-land of "Top Secret" and "National Security." We have been largely content with this arrangement as long as we are kept safe from the "bad guys."
But at what cost to us, to the people targeted and to our shared humanity? Who exactly determines who the bad guys are? And is there such a thing as a "clean" war, as President Obama claims?
These are some of the questions I left the movie theater asking myself after seeing Dirty Wars, the incredible documentary by Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley. Dirty Wars is a detective story that unfolds in countries we know in name only, places we hear about but will likely never visit, and from the people who populate these faraway lands from which we are so disconnected. In the movie we discover what our government is doing covertly, without our knowledge, while glimpsing the impact on those affected... and on our future.
I urge you to go see Dirty Wars because what it reveals provides context and has increased resonance and importance as we begin to grasp the meaning and scope of the NSA revelations. At this point, perhaps even more crucial than voting, we, as Americans, need to cut through the distractions of the surface politics that bombard us on a daily basis to learn what our government is doing in our name, in secret, at home and abroad.
This is our fundamental responsibility, and despite the Obama administration's response to the leaks, it is our right.
On a personal note, I would like to thank Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley for going into the darkness... of dangerous places, grief, horror and the atrocities humans commit against each other in the name of peace, righteousness and security. They did this at great risk to their lives without any assurances that anyone would even see this movie, much less care. They did it in what I can only imagine was a deep commitment to truth, accountability, and, most importantly, our shared humanity.