On Thursday the No Fear Coalition and the National Whistleblowers Center with Occupy Washington D.C. and others held a demonstration outside the Environmental Protection Agency, which is spending more time protecting the polluting habits of big corporations than those suffering from respiratory diseases because the United States is the world's biggest polluter.
President Barack Obama who has made, "No, We Can't" the hallmark of his presidency, pressured the E.P.A. to discard new legislation that would have stopped mercury from leaching into the air from polluters and created job-creating anti-pollution controls for vehicles. The E.P.A., which appears to believe that the only environment it must protect is that in boardrooms, was only too willing to comply.
But the most shameful case in the nation at present is that involving Penn State and shocking claims of child sexual abuse by assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.
Read the Grand Jury indictment here
, but be warned it is sickening and heartbreaking -- and then wonder at those students who protested the firing of coach Joe Paterno -- he appears to have known of the abuse charges for at least a decade, and like others who knew, he did nothing. Precisely who do we protect in our society, vulnerable children or football jocks? What did the riots at Penn State say about the values we hold in this society?
And then there was the conviction of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs for the murder of three Afghan civilians "for sport." The 26-year-old acknowledged cutting fingers off corpses to keep as war trophies, he also played with a victim's corpse and moved the mouth like a puppet.
After the first killing then-Spc. Adam Winfield, told his parents and said more killings were planned, and that he feared for his life if he did not participate. Winfield's father's call to a sergeant at Lewis-McChord relaying the warning went unheeded.
And that is what often happens with whistleblowers, when first you raise the alarm you may be ignored. A school advised a mother who complained about Coach Sandusky, to "go back and think about this for a few days, this is a good man." Pedophiles often appear to be good men, that is their cover, but for any to ignore complaints about harm against children is criminal.
In my own experience, I found that doing the right thing is incredibly hard. Everyone claims to be a good person; we all say we will do the right thing, but I found that when I blew the whistle backs turned, people averted their gaze: allowing a wrong and protecting a job becomes more important than doing the right thing.
This week marching the three blocks from Washington's Freedom Plaza to the EPA headquarters I felt encouraged by the good people who take time off work to do the unpopular thing: to say something's wrong with our society, it needs to change.
Interviewed by a correspondent for Federal Radio, I said: "Whenever there is a choice between supporting a U.S. multi-national or U.S. corporation and supporting people, the agency, the EPA across the street, always sides with corporations."
I'd hoped that Jon Grand would join our march; he was all set too until a close family member fell ill. Like many whistleblowers, Jon Grand is an unlikely hero, we didn't know each other very well when we both worked at the EPA and when I started blowing the whistle, but he had seen an injustice, he did the right thing, he spoke out, and as his reward, he lost his job and went to jail for four months.
"When members of EPA's Office of International Activities used racial slurs and epithets in my presence, as a senior manager I was required to report acts of discrimination and bigotry," Grand wrote in a statement about abusive conduct toward me at the EPA. "The result was that I was called to testify at Marsha's trial. But what I didn't realize was how angrily the agency would retaliate. My first clue came on a visit I made to EPA headquarters shortly after the verdict was returned in Marsha's favor. As I walked down the halls of the International Activities offices, doors were closed as I approached. The Amish call it shunning, and it is reserved for those placed outside the community."
There have been improvements, the Dodd-Frank Bill that gives whistleblowers monetary rewards to be paid by the Securities and Exchange Commission if the claims turn out to be accurate was passed -- but is again under threat.
On November 3, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed a bill to protect airport baggage screeners and give employees in the intelligence community legal ways to expose waste, fraud and abuse but we need to create a culture within society that recognizes that whistleblowers are the most potent allies democracy has. Without them autocracy and corruption rule.