What Does It Mean: Work Within the System To Bring About Change

What “They” Don’t Want You to Do: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I want to talk about something that keeps coming up in the news, commentaries, NGO petitions and campaigns, and even in many of the interviews I conduct with my co-host Peter B. Collins. I want to talk about it without having to be polite and biting my tongue. Because I end up doing that a lot - in an effort to present my guests and their views - and do so without being too hard, contradictory or disrespectful. Believe me, it is hard. Sometimes I end up with blisters all over my tongue by the end of an interview.

Last Sunday I went to a book reading session. The author’s relative had graciously invited me to attend, since the book somewhat involved the topic of government retaliation. I am not going to name the author or the book, but it was within the context of the McCarthy era witch-hunt inside government agencies. After the reading session the audience was given time to pose questions to the author. One person asked for his opinion on today’s whistleblowers such as Manning and Snowden, and how the author viewed them. This is how the author responded:

‘There are many parallels between the McCarthy Era and what we have been seeing in government actions since 9/11. And we have had many high-profile government whistleblowers who have faced severe retaliation. But I must say I do not agree with the way in which many of these whistleblowers have come forward. Their cause is good. But their method is all wrong. You cannot change the system by stepping outside of it. The right way to do it is remaining inside, working with the system, and trying to change it from within.’

Really? I kept trying to think of examples. I tried, and tried, and tried. I couldn’t come up with a single example of good and conscientious people remaining within the corrupt and criminal system, working with it, and making it change. Hmmmm. I tried to put his statement within the context of my own whistleblowing. Could I have stayed in the FBI and done things in there to expose, arrest and imprison high-level government criminals- my bosses’ bosses? Yeh, right. How about people like Manning or Russ Tice? Could they have stayed in there and talked their bosses and their bosses’ bosses into stopping war crimes or illegal domestic surveillance? Yeh, right. How about people like Thomas Drake? Could he have stopped corrupt contract cases within the NSA by working in there and gently talking his bosses into stopping those corrupt practices. Yeh, right.

Anyhow, I thought, and thought, and thought some more, and despite knowing over two hundred government whistleblowers and their cases, I couldn’t come up with a single case or a situation where the agent or the analyst or the administrator could have done anything to change or stop criminal, corrupt, fraudulent or wasteful practices. Not a single one. So WTF was this guy was talking about?

Well, he was talking about, generally speaking, the same thing many people in the media, within the NGOs, even among those known as activists, have been saying, doing and promoting: change, but change within the system, brought and presented to you, and implemented, by the system. Think about what happened with the laws put in place to govern the people’s right to know- The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was put together and brought to us by the system, implemented by the system. How effective has it been; really? Just check out hundreds if not thousands of analyses on what a BS FOIA has really been. Here is one from a recent editorial. And here is another. Do we have great sounding laws related to FOIA? You bet. Do we have wonderful notions like FOIA Review Boards? Yes, but of course. Does it really work? Of course not. But we are done with it. At least the activists, NGOs, some academics … Yeh, the same people who want - not whistleblowers, but those who remain inside, remain silent, and ignorantly believe that they have a chance to bring about change that way.

The same exact notion applies to what is taking place today in reaction to the latest NSA scandals. Most organized activism is channeled towards: Let’s have the system come up with some sort of law and system to have some sort of oversight. They are rallying behind Sensenbrenner and Leahy proposed bills. Some are defending the indefensible Dianne Feinstein proposed bill. They are talking about this classic notion of the executive branch appointing a few supposed independent review board members to oversee their unconstitutional and illegal surveillance. That’s right. You heard it right. They are going to continue the illegal-criminal practices, but they will pick a few men and women of their choice, and have them watch it. You know how some perverts like to watch others perform kinky sex. Well, there are people who get their kicks from overseeing government fu..ing the nation in the most criminal and repulsive ways.

Allow me to illustrate what I am talking about with perhaps a better example of what it means to have a criminal and corrupt system in place, and then work within that criminal system for some changes that are approved by and acceptable to the same criminal system:

Let’s say we have a slavery system-just like what we had before. And let’s say we work with the system, meaning, we keep the slavery system and propose certain laws and regulations to improve some standards of living on the plantations. We say, okay, we are not talking about overthrowing the system, or getting rid of it. No, sir. We want to work within the system and make it better; not fight the system itself. That’s all. NO one should disagree with the nobility and sensibility and rationality of what we are proposing. Isn’t it better to have better living quarters for the slaves, better food for them, and have a day off every week, than what we currently have? That’s right, it is. We are not like those radicals who step out of the system and crazily want to take on the entire system, abolish it. What a bunch of radical crazies!! They should know better than that. Sensible people don’t swim against the current. Sane people don’t talk about taking on the entire system and getting rid of it.

That’s pretty much it. That is what organized activism under the umbrella of the establishment-approved organizations wants us to do. They don’t want us to take on a diseased, criminal and corrupt system such as NSA or CIA, and say let’s get rid of the criminal system itself. No. That would be radical and insane. Instead they want to channel us and control the current opposition. They want to divert our attention from the system and have it concentrated on some stupid little law here and there, and a handful of system-chosen advocates to place our trust in, and then go away, all content, and say, we made some changes … within the system.

So please, next time you read some glossy and bold line dictated by the system on how we are supposed to bring about change, within the system, think about what it is they don’t want us to do or even think about doing: Seeing the forest for the trees. Taking on the system itself. Working for real change.

# # # #

Sibel Edmonds is the Publisher & Editor of Boiling Frogs Post and the author of the Memoir Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story. She is the recipient of the 2006 PEN Newman's Own First Amendment Award for her “commitment to preserving the free flow of information in the United States in a time of growing international isolation and increasing government secrecy” Ms. Edmonds has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University.

This site depends exclusively on readers’ support. Please help us continue by SUBSCRIBING, and by ordering our EXCLUSIVE BFP DVDs.

FB Like

Share This

This site depends….

This site depends exclusively on readers’ support. Please help us continue by SUBSCRIBING and/or DONATING.


  1. @HAL 9000

    “Once again, you have missed the point entirely, or have chosen to ignore it. Either way no point in continuing.”

    You didn’t actually have a point to miss… or the point that you thought you were making just didn’t make any sense, because you have misunderstood the concept of cyclical consumption. It absolutely is an immensely destructive (negative) routine, as is evidenced by the sea of landfills that have been piling up on Earth to store the never-ending stream of useless plastic waste that is produced as a direct result of cyclical consumption.
    As I’m sure you must be aware of the fact that plastic and styrofoam never breakdown and so each landfill remains as permanent festering eyesore taking-up valuable real-estate on earth.

  2. Charity Watch breaks down the Mises Institute revenues some more:


    Looks like about half is from Contributions, Gifts & Grants $2,390,501. That’s either a lot of individuals or some big money from somewhere. I haven’t found out yet, but, if anybody knows, I’m interested. Thanks.

  3. Sorry, Charity Navigator.

  4. We need an “edit” feature on these comment forms so that we don’t have to make a double-post every time that we need to revise a response. Just saying.

  5. Seeing the Forest for the Trees…

    Aslong Manning are in jail
    That will be our shame
    in the world of
    the West.


  6. Michael Mendonca says:

    They obviously haven’t read Classified Woman or they would know that the ‘all for one and one for all ‘ attitude persists stopping all serious inquiry. Not to mention these unconstitutional practices are supported by the people you are suppose to confide in. At this point it’s about informing the American people and forcing a debate.

  7. Sibel’s observation of government corruption challenges Xicha’s point of view that reforms keep changes moving and possibly prevent apathy, which may be further complicated by Hal 9000’s analysis (for example) of the controlling influences on reform and make questionable whether mariotrevi’s ideal of ‘good governance’ is possible in a State recognized as suffering deep rooted problems. Yet a lot of local government is fine so I think I’m talking central government here. The conundrum, like the revolving doors, of State-Corporate-Public-Private power in a legislative-regulatory-legal sense makes murky restrictions realizing real reform. That said I agree with Xicha that it is fallacious to exist without government under any name or decree because history proves he, she and I are a ‘we’. So what do we do?
    Considering Sibel’s frustration I have decided to phrase my contribution to this debate in prose – a rhyme for Sibel called ‘alternative model’. Yet I warn that I continue the problem without solution – as BO says our reality is limited by perception pollution – as the Corporate Dictatorship destroys the constitution – Sibel’s dilemma of corruption remains without solution – my teacher Sibel, a favorite read – your site promotes knowledge that I need to read – Like Ron said, “We don’t want a warrior like you to lose your edge” – so here I am a student’s pledge – I’m stepping out on the ledge – because you said, “come up with an alternative model. Well, I’m all ears” – so I take on your challenge despite my fears – this is one of the first steps – exploring concepts – first beware free and liberty – in an alternative model, these we won’t see – promises of freedom have to go – euphemistic optimism we won’t follow – that is part of the double speak of control – from an alternative model these words we throw – we don’t pretend, we don’t bestow – we don’t encourage illusions to grow – docility and baby speak – cultural violence at its peak – an Edward Bernays advertising tweak – we need knew concepts in our syllabus – So while we wait for the peacemaker’s return – an intermission summary one thing I’ve learned –
    – in agreement with joej777 – centralized government is the first thing to go – to achieve relief we must say no – things binding loyalty to corruption we reject – only with a fresh slate can we newly project – concepts like freedom, let’s take another look – an idea like liberty is the preamble to the book – we have to confront the trap of the gift – or fall for the trick and accept the myth – belief in ideal is all about feel – so let’s not start with a premise that’s not real – reject out of hand ideals that command – tapping emotional attitudes isn’t our plan – we only want laws defined in fact – with concrete examples consecrating the pact – stating examples, figures and facts – fictitious idealism is the gap – bridge it with knowledge, don’t look back – confront the conceptual schism trap – and frankly speaking I’ve had enough ism – State’s schooling hypnotism – mass media journalism – like the new enemy terrorism – and the old, communism – mention in good faith our militarism – and don’t call this empire colonialism – treat ism words with skepticism – here we start, divergent thought – destroy the mindset State taught – the conceptual ism must be forgotten – an alternative model removes what is rotten way – stage one idyllic reality check – now we’re ready to take the next step.
    Next the metaphor of ‘grow’ must go
    no economic growth – no growing budget debt
    no growing interest rates – no growth over which to fret
    metaphors of life trick us to believe – in fictions used to deceive
    our alternative model sets in stone – rules and regulations we leave alone
    we’re struggling sites in which powers deploy – concepts controlling thought we must destroy
    preventing-perception subjects to avoid – are those that make divergent thinking nul en void
    symbolic violence in language used every day – realized in instruction to allow people to betray – other people in the most terrible way – deeply unkind criminal discourse – used aiding practitioners to divorce – moral responsibility – consecrated in university – disciplines training govern-mentality – ready to work compartmentalize – what you do, do you even realize? – sworn to secrecy in employment contracts – careers based on security clearances acts – one crime at a time disconnect – subjected to a State mind set – public or private you got a student debt – need this job my work I protect – here’s a way to win the game externalize social pain – legalize austerity as corporate gain. An alternative model must use language simple and plain – so as not to allow this deep corruption again. No careers from achieving higher levels of secrecy-clearance-credentials – deny the skill to lie as a government-employment-potential.
    community participation is the lock and key – life long learning’s our responsibility
    no violence is the stone for our alternative model to build
    participation in health and education as guild
    this is where local power is born
    an alternative model is more than a norm
    it’s a new moral standard in how we perform
    Sibel an alternative model I can’t finish its way to late
    yet this is the start of a conceptual template


  8. Hi hermaph,

    I bet tonywicher gave you some kind bud, didn’t he?

    Thanks for the rhyming,
    though Sibel’s and my
    observation of government
    corruption might fly
    in the same new canoe
    down the the road with new tires
    and ice cream doesn’t have bones
    sure inspires…

  9. @Xicha your hard a peg to place
    is the washing line stretching …
    thanks for your constant and
    consistent contribution to
    comments always interesting
    you make play

  10. Yes, Andrew. Hal 9000 did an excellent job in demonstrating the holes in Richardson’s argument.

  11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADMZ1QH0d-w
    Binn there and
    just thaT…

    18 May Riots of Copenhagen 1993.

  12. And What We ALL..

Speak Your Mind