Artist and author Robert Shetterly—best known for his work depicting and sharing the stories of truth telling luminaries from throughout US history—has today released the most recent work in his Americans Who Tell the Truth series with this portrait of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In an exclusive online 'unveiling' on Common Dreams, Shetterly says that he began painting the portrait almost immediately after seeing the first interview Snowden gave to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras more than five weeks ago.
Describing the 30-year-old Snowden as the "lemming that ran the other way," artist Shetterly—in an essay posted today—said it seemed that Snowden is "a tiny chunk of the vast, submerged NSA iceberg, a chunk that had chipped itself free and willed itself to drift in the opposite direction."
"I see Edward Snowden as someone who has chosen, at best, exile from the country he loves—with a serious risk of his assassination by agents of his government or life in prison (in solitary confinement)—to awaken us to the danger of our loss of democracy to a total-surveillance state"
- Daniel EllsbergShetterly chose Edward Snowden as part of his growing series focused on 'whistleblowers'—which includes, among others—Daniel Ellsberg, who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War; Pfc. Bradley Manning, currently on trial for his leaks of material related to US foreign policy and the execution of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who is serving a prison sentence for public discussion of the agency's torture program.
Daniel Ellsberg told Common Dreams today that he welcomes Snowden to the club of US whistleblowers painted by Shetterly. He said Snowden's case exemplifies the courage of those who use their unique position of access to act on behalf of the greater society. He did so, explains Ellsberg, knowing full well the costs to his individual liberty would be great, but acted anyway.
"I see Edward Snowden as someone who has chosen, at best, exile from the country he loves—with a serious risk of his assassination by agents of his government or life in prison (in solitary confinement)—to awaken us to the danger of our loss of democracy to a total-surveillance state," Ellsberg said.
"His extraordinary civil courage should inspire other Americans to take up his challenge to bring the National Security Agency (NSA)—now spying on all of us—under genuine oversight by Congress, courts and press and within the constraints of the Bill of Rights and the rule of law," Ellsberg said.
In an email exchange with Common Dreams, Shetterly explained that though our political and legal institutions are designed to protect individuals, the natural environment, and our democracy overall, those institutions can fail. And when they fail from the inside, the situation becomes dire.
When this happens, according to Shetterly, "the whistleblower is the only thing standing between accountability and failure."
"In effect, the courage of whistleblowers becomes the only working democratic institution," he explains. "What's so compelling is the courage, the insistence on integrity, the persistence against enormous government and corporate power to do the right thing for the common good."
"Snowden fits perfectly into the legacy of our whistleblowers except for one thing. He's seen that many recent whistleblowers have failed to galvanize public attention and concern by submitting to the "justice" system which serves to discredit and disappear them and the major media which ignores them."
- artist Robert ShetterlyArtistically the challenge is interesting," continued Shetterly, "Whistleblowers are immediately attacked, demeaned, marginalized by power. My effort is to show them not as fanatics but deeply humane people who are sacrificing for the rest of us. My effort is to both single them out for their courage but also show that they are part of a continuum and a community of social justice—that they cannot be marginalized and ostracized."
Asked about Snowden's current predicament—seeking political asylum while stranded, stripped of his US passport and languishing in a Moscow airport transit terminal—Shetterly responded:
"Snowden fits perfectly into the legacy of our whistleblowers except for one thing. He's seen that many recent whistleblowers have failed to galvanize public attention and concern by submitting to the "justice" system which serves to discredit and disappear them and the major media which ignores them. The irony is that by "retreating," I'd call it, to countries that we generally think of as not having much in the way of civil liberties, he has maintained his freedom of speech and dissent. And, therefore, can continue to keep this discussion vibrant. A great tactic of asymmetric conflict."
Visit Robert Shetterly's The Americans Who Tell the Truth Project's website, where posters of the Edward Snowden portrait, and many others, are now available.