A new film "The Informant" recently opened to less than rave reviews. The movie is loosely based on the true-life story of one individual who helped break the largest corporate corruption case (at that time) and involved the world wide price fixing of food. The movie is based on the story of ADM scientist Mark Whittacre and is an often amusing satire about a deluded thief who stole from his crooked company; and then cooperated with the authorities.
Whistleblowers have the courage to do the right thing for the public good; when doing so will cost them something. Tattle-tells lie silent when faced with the opportunity to protect the public interest; they only speak out after the fact and thus take no personal risk or do any public good. The personal losses suffered by true whistleblowers are often forgotten by the public whose interests they hope to serve. It is a thankless task which is why so many give up and just go on with their lives.
Recently, various individuals and groups have sounded the alarm of wrongdoing and corruption at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Most are advocates, some are activists and others are self-promoters; all have spoken truth to power. However, there have been so many so-called ACORN "whistleblowers" that it is hard to tell the differences between real whistleblowers and mere tattle-tells.
True whistleblowers pay a tremendous price for their courage, integrity and fortitude. The financial losses are often considerable but there are many personal losses as well, including loss of one's professional identity, loss of the respect of one's colleagues, loss of one's position in society, loss of personal friends and family, loss of a sense of self worth or value, to name just a few. The retaliation that targets the whistleblower is so clearly unfair. And often the corruption extends higher and further than the whistleblower ever initially imagined.
ACORN 8, led by Marcel Reid and Karen Inman, is a group of ACORN members, leaders and national board members who were expelled for demanding a forensic examination and independent audit of ACORN and its related entities. The ACORN 8 is now a membership organization with representatives in 15 states and the District of Columbia which engages in legislative advocacy, including federal and corporate whistleblower rights and judicial reform; participates in grassroots coalitions and continues to advocate on behalf of low and moderate income families and communities.
Truth To Power, led by Greg Hall, is a group of former ACORN workers and staff. Low level ACORN workers often become the scapegoats for corrupt senior management at ACORN. Greg Hall a former ACORN organizer supports the low income workers who get "thrown under the bus" whenever ACORN wrongdoing is exposed. Truth To Power seeks to unify and organize both current and former ACORN workers into a national service workers union.
Anita Moncrief is a former employee of Project Vote an ACORN affiliate who alleged illegal coordination between the Obama Presidential Campaign and ACORN. Moncrief was fired for cause after fraudulently applying for an ACORN credit card in her name, and then stealing $1,500 on the company credit card. A darling of the far right, Moncrief is often quoted due to her highly critical and highly provocative statements. Unfortunately, Moncrief (and her supporters) will say anything and do anything to harm ACORN - including making unsupported accusations and presenting fabricated evidence. Finally, Moncrief disparages both ACORN and ACORN whistleblowers with equal passion and vigor.
Ironically, the most effective blows were delivered, not by ACORN workers, members or staff; but instead by a pair of are aspiring journalists and filmmakers. Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe are conservative activists who exposed the lack of coverage on ACORN corruption by the traditional media dressed as "pimp and prostitute". The comical nature of the undercover video prompted the US House of Representatives and Senate to withhold funding, and for the IRS and Census to cut their ties to ACORN.
However, to really understand the truth about ACORN, you must first understand the difference between ACORN's membership and staff. ACORN staffers are low wage workers who are often depicted as incompetent or worse in the media. ACORN workers registered Mickey Mouse and Tony Romo to vote. ACORN workers offered to provide tax advice and assist a "pimp and prostitute" in establishing an underage brothel; much like Anita Moncrief who was a thief and an ACORN staffer. In contrast, there are over 400,000 low and moderate income families who pay regular dues and volunteer their time and service to improve their local neighborhoods and communities. The ACORN 8 are members and neighborhood leaders. The ACORN 8 were the first to identify the nebulous Citizen's Consulting Inc. (CCI) and attempted to "follow the money" at ACORN; the first to seek a forensic examination and independent audit of ACORN and its related organizations; the first to seek injunctions against ACORN, the Rathkes and CCI; the first to call for a national boycott of all charitable donations, federal funding and member dues; and the first to file civil rights and criminal RICO complaints against ACORN's corrupt senior management.
In a paper Delivered to the National Conference of Whistleblowers Australia, K. R. Sawyer describes whistleblowing ".."As a test of values, whistleblowing becomes a test of a culture. As many have recognized, only through cultural change will the attitudes to whistleblowers change."
The First Test of whistleblowing (self-identity) is related to moral and ethical values. Values are supremely important to whistleblowers. It is by the whistleblower's values that they are able to identify themselves to themselves, and also to others. It is these values that give them their inner strength and resolve. Without these values they have nothing to stand for, and they would cease to be whistleblowers. Relinquishment of these values is not an option considered by the whistleblower, although many around them may urge them to do so. Thus, the whistleblower stays steadfast in face of this pressure much to consternation of family, friends, co-workers and others.
The Second Test of whistleblowing (fortitude) is when pressure is exerted on the whistleblower to change his story, to cease his advocacy, to become silent. But not only is the whistleblower tested, so also is everyone with whom they have come in contact. Even bystanders become the silent accomplices to the whistleblowers trauma and often a source of secondary wounding and trauma. Those who sit silently and watch and do not intervene are the propagators of the problem, they allow the cancer of corruption to flourish and prosper. These silent witnesses act as a backdrop for the efforts of the criminals and wrongdoers to target the whistleblower for brutal retaliation.
The Third Test of whistleblowing is that imposed by the justice system, a test where pragmatic technicalities of the law dominate truth. In the slow grinding pathway through the legal system the whistleblower, who is a natural conformist puts his faith in the rule of law. The whistleblower finds out that his very values are of little consequence. The justice system with all its complexity invariably allows pragmatic legitimacy to dominate moral legitimacy; which is why the ACORN 8 engages in judicial reform advocacy.
The Fourth Test of whistleblowing (failed belief system) is the test of inversion. All whistleblowers are very familiar with this. It is the betrayal of the whistleblower's own belief in a fair and equitable system. Everything is so unfair. There is no place to obtain justice. The personal losses are so great and there is no eventual success that makes the loss more bearable. For the whistleblower, this betrayal of all they believe in becomes a moral wounding of the soul, a deep personal loss of confidence in the very system of government. Many a whistleblower who believed in the justice system, has come forward relying on the protection of the law only to find that the system is slanted so strongly against them that there is no possibility to win a moral victory.
The Final Test of whistleblowing (valuation) is the test of self-worth. This is something that must be an internally held value rather than one based on what others think of you. So what is the true worth of a person? The social and economic worth of the whistleblower is so devalued by the system of retaliation and social ostracism that they appear to be empty shells of their former selves. Their detractors quickly seize on their diminished status to gloat and brag and exalt the victorious wrongdoer over them. Those who were friends of the whistleblower eventually have their own values tested, as do family members, co-workers and even bystanders. The whistleblower's friends and family exit the supportive network, as they can no longer sustain their relationships through the trauma. The witnesses to the retaliation often beg the whistleblower to sacrifice their internal value system for some level of acceptance by the authorities. So loyalty becomes subservient to the social pressures of retaliation. This reality forces on the whistleblower an acknowledgment that their self-worth has to be self derived.
In an insightful article by K. R. Sawyer "The Test Called Whistleblowing" the author writes, the true value of a whistleblower is their long-term value to society not their short term value as individuals. Just as those who have shaped history have often not been revered and rewarded in their own lifetime so it is for the whistleblower. The contributions of whistleblowers occur in many dimensions and surely they are contributors to the evolution of our society. Think of Lincoln, Mozart, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Jesus, Mother Theresa and many others. The value to history is not measured in the balance sheet today but with benefit of hindsight. The true value of persons with integrity is inestimable.
A whistleblower is a person of conscience who challenges wrongdoing, often at great risk to one's career, reputation and family. Successful whistleblowers eventually become advocates and activists. The ACORN 8 has survived all these tests. Anita Moncrief is more like the troubled Whittacre in the "Informant", rather than a true whistleblower. In the end, the "Informant" is about a wacky, dishonest witness to his own crimes and those of others, it is not about a real whistleblower.