2012-07-23 A Short Chat With Christine Assange

WikiLeaks supporters around the globe are informed, talented, and wonderfully passionate people. But supporting WikiLeaks day after day, week after week, month after month, can be an emotional roller coaster. We all have our highs and lows, and surely nobody knows that better than Julian Assange's mum Christine.

So I decided to take up Christine's publicly tweeted offer for an interview, and have a chat about things from a supporter's point of view. Of course Christine's thoughts and opinions are not official WikiLeaks statements. But I hope everyone who aspires to support WikiLeaks can draw some inspiration from our discussion...


ME: What have you been up to since you got back from London? I've noticed lots of interviews!

CA: Going on Twitter has worked really well. It's great to be able to put out notices and communicate with people outside the mainstream media. But even some of the mainstream media have picked up on my tweets - I did a couple of BBC interviews, and one in Spain, and one in Russia Today.

ME: It's great that you are getting out to different audiences, not just the WikiLeaks supporters who are already "locked in".

CA: Well, that's the idea, but I do still love to be in contact with WikiLeaks supporters because we are all fighting this fight together. Hopefully I give them some energy, info and ideas, and they certainly give me some!

You're right, trying to get into the mainstream news is important, and I've done interviews with some women's magazines, for example. But I also did one with the Hackers News, and I'm about to do one with Anonymous [AnonPlusRadio]. Now those are obviously in the same area, but slightly different, because they are not just WikiLeaks supporters. So it's worth branching out, because issues like Free Press and Democracy do affect everybody.

ME: Julian's move to the Ecuadorian embassy has changed the dynamics a bit. Do you have any sort of gut feeling for where things are likely to go from here?

CA: No, not really. I know where I would LIKE things to be! But it's really up to the President now. It's his call.

He's already been good enough to take Julian into safe sanctuary, and we all thank him for that. It was a brave move - Ecuador is only a small country - but he is a President who stands up to the US, he threw their military base out, but he does have to take into account the ramifications and he's seeking advice from other countries at the moment.

ME: I speak Spanish so I've been following the Ecuadorian newspapers a bit. One of the big issues is that Correa has been putting pressure on these rich families that own the media over there, and he's been copping criticism from groups like Reporters Without Borders for doing that. So the Ecuadorian media criticism is muted, but they are saying for example that Ecuador might lose US economic support because of Assange.

CA: Sounds like The Australian, doesn't it? Or the Herald Sun!

ME: If you can imagine a country with seven Rupert Murdochs, perhaps that's what he's facing. I don't know.

CA: That's exactly what he's facing. I've gone into it and what's happened is exactly what's happening in our country: the media are acting for corporate and foreign interests. Correa has taken a very strong stance for independence, and the media are trying to white-ant that stance.

And unfortunately some people appear to have a fixed mantra in their head about what is right and wrong, and are not willing to be flexible and make it situation-specific. You have to actually investigate those stories before making a decision.

ME: It's going to be interesting to follow what happens there, because perhaps the outcome will have consequences for groups like Reporters Without Borders, when they start to see the other side of things. This could be another unintended consequence of what Julian's been doing.

CA: Well, it's amazing isn't it? What WikiLeaks started has been a catalyst for so many things. Because it's exposed the core of the structure, so it's not just one aspect that's going to be affected by it - it's many aspects.

ME: People are being forced to choose a side, aren't they? It's a bit like John Howard's old "wedge politics".

CA: I think that's true, and it's really interesting to see who chooses which side. Some people are not fully informed, so they are choosing a side without real information. But if they ARE fully informed, and they choose the side that would suppress the free press and uphold the current abuse of power throughout the world, then they are revealing a lot about themselves. And I think it's really interesting to see which newspapers and journalists and politicians are standing up for WikiLeaks, and which are standing up for the big corporations.

ME: It's certainly been interesting here in Australia. Did you see Tony Abbott in the USA the other day, saying "most Australians don't think of the US as a foreign country"?

CA: Well what can you expect from a man who stood up at the dinner when Obama came over, with a shake in his voice, and mistily said "You are the President.. of the world!" It was a race to the bottom, between Gillard and Abbott, to see who could grovel the most.

ME: It's all very revealing, with Carr and Roxon as well. At least it shows us where we are, and what we are up against.

CA: If you look at it historically, I try to take heart from the fact that this is a major, historical shift in humanity. This is like the Industrial Revolution. That's the size of the technological shift, because of the Internet, and as a result there comes a shift for Democracy, either for better or worse.

And because it's such a huge shift, there's going to be a lot of opposition. And these things don't happen overnight. It's of earthquake proportions for the power structure that's currently running the show, and they are going to be grabbing on for grim death and trying to suppress everyone who's wanting to go with the flow of the technology.

ME: Yes, you can imagine Bradley Manning, even if he's sentenced to a life in jail, might yet end up celebrated as a national hero.

CA: Well, he might end up as a politician! Look at Nelson Mandela!

ME: Yes, he was branded a terrorist.

CA: Exactly. So I think maybe we are in for a long haul.

ME: How do you cope with that? It must be very emotionally exhausting. What's your advice for supporters?

CA: It's quite draining, fighting the negativity that is coming out from the other side. But if you are feeling drained, just stop. Take a break. I do it. I just stop, take a few days off, or just take an afternoon off and go and do something that I like.

It's important that you get some physical exercise and still enjoy your hobbies and all the rest of it, because if you can do that then you will be able to stay in for the long haul. And it's a war we're involved in, a war for our freedom and a war for the Internet - that's where it's centred - and this is not going to be over any time soon.

When we win a battle, we all cheer and feel good. When we lose a battle, we know it's just one battle in the longer war.

We shouldn't get too down-hearted when one of the things that we do doesn't work. OK, so that one didn't work, but look at all these ones that HAVE worked! We learn, and we get up, and we start again. But do pass the baton when you are getting tired - you are human. We're not machines.

ME: Right.

CA: Of course these are critical moments for Julian and Bradley right now, but we mustn't get burned out either. We need to conserve our energies and think smartly.

I am not speaking as an expert, just as an ordinary human being, but personally, I have to conserve my own energy and decide where I am going to speak and how much energy I am going to give to this or to that.

At this stage, thinking strategically like that is important. Is a demonstration the best way to go right now? Would it be better to have a benefit concert? Or should we vary things and set up some tables for a stall? Or go and talk to your local club? You know, something that isn't of an order of magnitude to organise.

ME: Yeah, one of the inspiring things about Julian and the WikiLeaks team in London is how they keep coming up with new ideas that nobody expected. They always use a lot of imagination and get the public's attention.

CA: Yes, and we can do similar things. You could have for example a Balloon Day, where everyone buys a balloon and writes "FREE JULIAN!" on it. Simple things.

It's important, to help people be a part of this, to understand what else they have going on in their lives. They have got their kids, work, and so on. So are there things that we could be doing which are simple and fun, but still make the point?

It doesn't have to be nation-wide. One person, a couple, or a small group can decide to do something, all on their own, and others can copy them if it works.

For example, one couple I met is going around Rotary clubs in their region. It's important to get the facts out to the public, and you can do that via groups of ordinary people.

Look at universities, for example, which have lots of young people at an age where they are questioning authority, and enthusiastic about new ideas. Or unions, because many of the issues WikiLeaks cover involve exploitation, so if you can organise a meeting or approach your union rep, maybe that's a way to get people interested.

And many immigrants have voiced their concerns to me. Many of them fled totalitarian regimes, and they are some of the most aware and concerned people about this shift towards losing our freedom and civil liberties. So if you are a member of a migrant group, or if you have friends in a particular community, maybe you can share some information from WikiLeaks cables.

ME: We've had WikiLeaks rallies growing in Australia and around the world for a while. Do you think they are having a real impact? Do you think people should keep doing that, or is it time for a change of direction?

CA: I think rallies are good! They are probably most effective when they are at a critical moment, because that's when the media is focussed on it, and also when people are getting angry and wanting to do something physical.

Rallies work on a number of levels. The media of course can report on them, and because this whole situation with Julian is so dragged out, it's important to keep punctuating this within the news cycle.

Of course there's a lot of effort that goes into organising a big rally, and people might look at the turnout and then wonder if this is going to have a real impact. But what they need to remember is that it's not just the people who turn up, it's all the passers-by that see them, and the people in buildings that see them, and the media that report on it (including social media) so it can go all over the world.

When you're having a rally, it's worth remembering that you are staging a media event as much as anything, and that has ramifications around the globe. It shows that people still care, that it's a growing movement. And the more people that go, the more others will be encouraged to join, especially if they see it as something they can identify with.

ME: You obviously have a unique perspective, because Julian is your son. You have to be more cautious than others about what you do and say in public. Do you sometimes get frustrated with other supporters, who come at things from a different angle?

CA: Um, not frustrated so much, but more just being aware of the way that the media relate to it. For example, a negative person in the media can focus on just one person from a protest, and then use that person to paint a negative picture of the whole protest.

It helps to have a wide cross-section of different-looking people, if you can. I'm not putting down anyone for the way they look, OK? Of course we are all individuals! But if you are going to do something for the media, then you want it to have maximum impact. So it's good to think the way the media thinks, and think the way the enemy thinks about your cause, and think of how the general public are going to view it.

It's all about being media-savvy, isn't it? Like it or not, we all get judged by the way we look and the way we behave.

We also need to be careful about mixing up the messages. For example, some critics want to smear WikiLeaks as a fringe movement, so if someone at a rally has a sign supporting some cause other than Julian or WikiLeaks, then they might just focus on that. Of course we want people from all different groups to come and support WikiLeaks, but if they can just leave those other issues at home, for the purposes of a more effective rally, then that's appreciated.

But I'm hugely appreciative of all the effort that so many great people have put into these rallies. I am not an experienced person at rallies myself, so I really appreciate other people who have more experience at these things!

ME: I guess we need to pitch a big tent, and everybody's got a part to play.

CA: That's right.

ME: I saw one good thing at the recent Sydney rally, where they were selling badges from @SomersetBean to collect donations. In WikiLeaks' current financial situation, it's great to see people not just protesting, but also raising money.

CA: Yes, raising money and handing out flyers as well, so that there's something people can take home, maybe with the facts about Julian and WikiLeaks on one side, and on the other side how they can help, and contacts.

At the forums in Canberra and Newcastle they had a book, where people could put their names down if they wanted to join the local group. I thought that was a really good idea. The forums were a good way to inform people about the facts. Because if people don't know what's going on, they are not going to get out and demonstrate.

ME: I'm just thinking that with WikiLeaks now getting very low on funds, maybe supporters who are not so keen on demonstrations could focus on fundraising instead?

CA: Yes, I saw a charity with a little table outside the local supermarket the other day. I'm not sure how that would go, but it only requires one or two people to do it. You could get a table at a market stall, for example, where you are out fundraising, but also handing out literature. So then when a demonstration comes along, then people are already tuned in to the issues.

ME: I like that idea! We all have our own skills and interests, but we all need a change sometimes.

Do you have a final message for supporters, Christine?

CA: It's just amazing the way that you all keep going. I had to keep going because I was the mum. But the commitment and passion that so many supporters are showing, not just to get justice for Julian, but also freedom and democracy in their countries, and for their people, is really inspiring. And they just keep coming back, and back, and back.

And that certainly makes a difference for me, and for Julian, and we both thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

ME: Well, I can't speak for everybody, but from myself, you and Julian and everyone else that I have met through WikiLeaks have been inspiring to me.

CA: And that's the most positive part of this thing. If I was asked would I repeat it all again, I'd say no, I don't want my son out there. As a mother, that's what I would say. But as a citizen, what WikiLeaks has done has been a good thing for everyone, and I have also met some really amazing people, and I have learned so much from those people, whether meeting them in person or reading their ideas, but also on my Twitter stream.

Everybody knows I am not a computer person, but since getting on Twitter I've been learning so much. So thank you so much to all the people who post things - I don't know if that's the right term - but put stuff on my Twitter stream. I do get locked out a lot, sometimes it's days before I can do anything, but it's all up there when I get back in. They keep educating me, and I get the majority of my news online these days.

It's also been a pleasant surprise for me to discover so many US supporters who understand that WikiLeaks is not anti-American. Julian is an admirer of the US Constitution and there are many wonderful, intelligent people doing great work over there.

ME: We live in interesting times, don't we? I have often wished I'd lived to experience the 1960's and all those changes. But this is equally momentous.

CA: I've seen both. This is a very similar situation, but we've now got technology involved as well.

ME: Hopefully the long-term consequences are a bit more permanent this time.

CA: It gets back to being realistic. There's always going to be greedy, psychopathic types around. You are not going to stop that. The world is never going to be perfect. But by us being vigilant, we can hold back the tide a bit. That's all people have ever been able to do, control the excesses of it.

And it gets back to the old saying, "Evil flourishes when good men do nothing." We've got a responsibility to leave this world in the best shape we can, for our kids.

ME: Christine Assange, thank you so much for your time.

CA: Thank you, and thanks again to everyone who is supporting Julian and WikiLeaks.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer