For the past lord-knows-how-many years the Alibi has printed an annual Freedom Issue for the Fourth of July. It's a time to celebrate the accomplishments and, more often than not, bemoan the setbacks regarding our personal liberties. We can rejoice in the passage of gay marriage laws in some states while gnashing our teeth at bans in others, hail Obama's proclamation to close Guantanamo while sweating ever-increasing media consolidation and the more frequent jailing of journalists.
But this year it occurred to us that the format might be a little stale. After all, the Alibi gets to spout off all year. And so this time, in honor of one of our most valued freedoms, we decided to turn the microphone over to you. The invitation was to write about anything, as long as it was 300 words or less, and you wrote about everything. Here's a taste of the cream that rose to the top. Thanks to all who submitted—the surly, the wacky, the idealistic ... it's people like you who ensure freedom of speech never goes out of style.
On May 31, Wichita, Kan. physician Dr. George Tiller was murdered at his Lutheran church service while handing out programs. He performed late-term abortions. His office was bombed in 1986 and picketed by protesters—he was shot in both arms in 1993. Tiller was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was shot in the head; perhaps he was killed at church because his office and home were heavily secured. The accused killer is Scott Roeder: anti-abortionist, anti-government activist, white supremacist. Roeder allegedly vandalized a Kansas City, Kan. abortion clinic both one week and one day before the shooting.
Columnist Ellen Goodman argued that equating abortion with murder and calling Tiller a “baby killer,” in the words of television personality Bill O’Reilly, create a climate of violence. She quoted President Barack Obama: “How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”
Four days after the Tiller murder, to celebrate July 4 and the constitutional right to bear arms, a Louisville, Ky. pastor invited people to bring their guns to church. And why not? With 90 guns for every 100 citizens, the U.S. is said to be the most heavily armed society in the world, owning 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms. In 1980 to 2006, U.S. firearm death rates averaged 32,300 annually, more than twice that of the next highest country among industrialized nations. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld an individual right to own a gun for personal use in one’s home.
To preserve freedom of speech in a gun-toting democratic nation, we must voluntarily limit political expression to words, not violence—and, as Goodman noted, not words that may provoke violence.
I am a lesbian who is asking, Where are my rights? Where is my right to exist without persecution because of my sexual orientation? I live in a schizophrenic democracy, a confused “free” country. My America provides freedom with a caveat; that is freedom to align with the norm, freedom to maintain the status quo and the freedom to not rock the proverbal rich, white, Christian, heterosexual boat.
I want to know when we will wake up as a collective nation and say enough is enough. When will we realize that the only things holding us back from forming the more perfect union so desired by our Constitution are the arbitrary battle lines we obsessively draw against one another in a desperate attempt to keep us and our families safe and protected, but that in reality leave us isolated, anonymous, ignorant, weak and lonely? It is these differences, the ones that have been demonized by certain groups claiming they will tear us apart, that in reality need to act as the thread to weave us back together.
Our religious, racial, ethnic, economic and, yes, sexual differences are the results of being citizens of a heterogeneous nation. A heterogeneous nation innately births differences that need not be denied but recognized, celebrated. For it was these differences that begat a variety of lifestyles, therefore a variety of lives lived and therefore a variety of life experiences; and it is from this pool of valuable experiences that we must learn to draw from to form our perfect nation, not drain in fear of dissimilarity. Homosexuality may be different from the heterosexuality we are inundated with. However, while we can hold whatever opinion we choose, we cannot also legislate that opinion. We must promote legislation that respects the lives, liberties and rights for all.
“My Country Sucks”
I remember 9/11. I was working when the radio announcer started going on about some planes and our day got a lot more exciting. I remember they handed out little flags for us to wear, as if that would change things; only myself and a Native American co-worker refused. Perhaps we were supposed to wave our flags at our enemies and they'd run away and hide, like our president did after the attack. Several things went through my mind. It was true these people attacked a civilian target, but my own country has done worse things, napalming villages in Vietnam, supporting Khmer Rouge, hell, supporting any scumbag who'd kiss our ass. The true tragedy of 9/11 is my country would do the same to them in a blink of an eye and sleep like a baby afterwards, with only a few idiots like myself to point out the wrongness of our actions.
I met you summer 1991 at Jemez Hot Springs ... Dark, handsome, bisexual, 23 years old, from Mexico— I had sex more times with you than with any other man in my life. I was in love with you! You told me you wanted to marry a woman and leave this life behind, but still you came back many times ... If someday you reject drugs completely, If someday you have no more shame about romance with me, no more fear about being seen with me, then maybe ... But for now, adiós, mi amigo ... I learned much ... Gracias ... All my friends are my teachers.
Ah yes, freedom. I am blessed by a worthwhileprofession—martial arts—true life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Plus, I have the excellence of various sports and entertainment personalities to woo my recreative attentions. Tiger Woods rules.
Yet I find my freedom assaulted by nattering nabobs of negativity, claiming “Mother Earth” / Children / Poor / Country will be utterly destroyed by human contamination. They want, nay, demand my time, effort and money for “urgent, dire agendas.”
Globalarmists want to eliminate oil, cars, light bulbs and cow farts to prevent climate change and polar ice destruction. (Thus, saving the oceans, ozone layer and Antarctic cockroaches.) Not.
Environazis are oblivious. They want billion$ wasted preventing pollution that is supposedly causing both global warming and the next ice age simultaneously. Crap. Their computerized theories can’t even predict next week’s weather correctly. Shut the hell up and stay away from my air conditioner.
Nutrischmadvocates want everyone eating only rice, tofu and beans. Don’t most centenarians eat meat? Whatever. Unless you are at least 100 years old, shut the hell up about nutrition and stay away from my dinner table.
Bureaucraps restrict what we can say and regulate kids’ education—but are sooo smart they get offended thinking “niggardly” is a racist term. Get a dictionary.
Government piss ants want control of health care and corporations—but can’t handle a savings program (Social Security) or the mail without running up billion$ in debt. Trillion$ paying “monetized bailouts” and “stimulus incentives enabling the poor” is simply massive socialized counterfeiting. Double crap. Stay the hell outta my wallet.
Good grief. Can’t we all just get along in this great country? Sure. Let me live in liberty and happiness—namby-pamby, money-sucking leeches stay outta my life.
“Fall of the Wall”
Each day now brings some new revelation from lands from which we had come to expect only heartbreak and desolation: now the tyrants who by bloody wars overthrew the raging fuhrers and czars are themselves being overthrown and not by armies, not by tanks, but by simple souls who, gazing at the stars, gave thanks, quietly decided for days and for decades to go on yearning and now, voting daily with their feet and with their voices, are making choices—to go on learning.
Thus in the land of my mother's fathers and in the land of my father's brothers there are now unarmed legions who are speaking, saying simply, We want to be like the others, to have a chance to grow, to know, to stand, to dance. And to think that this whole immense movement all grew from some simple silent thought like, Something there is that does not love a wall, something that can't be sold or told or caught or bought. And not just in Berlin is something freeing but everywhere. As we are seeing.
As the credibility of our press crumbles, there is no longer a vehicle for freedom of speech. Municipalities have long needed their journalists to play the role of watchdog, whether politicians and government wanted their acts to be brought under scrutiny or not.
Who contributed to the fall of the newspaper empires? Was it the recent economic reversals? Maybe it was the birth and popularity of the Internet? That is what newspaper publishers are saying. These leaders point their fingers and say, “We are not to blame!”
There has not been leadership in journalism for a long time. Forget the fourth estate, and the fifth. Publishers no longer climb up the editorial side of the business. They rule over newsrooms making editorial decisions without the ability to do so. The editors have no real power, and newsrooms are shrinking as advertising departments grow.
Forget the power of the press. Forget the supposed nobility of the fourth estate, the mainstream press. Freedom of speech depends on the integrity of the press, which sadly is no more. They are vehicles for ads so that the bottom line can be met.
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson railed against the decline of the “accepted” press his whole life. However, even he sold out to the mainstream press.
“If I'd written the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people—including me—would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.” —Rolling Stone, Feb. 15, 1973.
How long will patriotism be saluted where there is no absolute truth, no freedom of speech and a press that is not doing its job?
In Michel Foucault’s writings on the rise of the modern prison system in Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (1975), he speaks on the decline of public violence, a theme relevant to free speech in America today. He asserts that public acts of violence toward criminals—stoning, flogging and much worse—have given way to the more surreptitious elements of the modern penal system. Today, criminals are not put on display during punishment; they are hidden away in prisons, far from the public eye.
Freedom of speech, specifically in acts of protest, has suffered in a similar fashion. Gone are the days when the threat of violence lurked just under the surface of a public march or rally. With the exception of perhaps one event, the WTO riots in Seattle a decade ago, the spectacle of violent free speech has nearly disappeared. Protesters are rarely abused through force, instead castrated through pages of bureaucratic paperwork, carefully set marching routes and meticulous observation by police. Protest has become a ritual; one that invokes the image of liberty but does very little to fight for it.
In the act of protest, it is immediately provocative and frightening to see violence between police and protesters. Yet, it is ultimately a greater danger to witness the act of protest without violence. As Foucault would remind us: Physical violence is merely a corporeal punishment; whereas restrictions imposed upon supposedly free speech and protest dwell in the much more sinister realm of an “economy of suspended rights.”
While violence is indeed shocking, it is also a testament to the strength of a society. It is when the body has become so complacent that it will march quietly rather than endure the scars of protest that our liberty has been compromised, our rights suspended.
“New Schools for a New Earth”
I have been a teacher for the last 10 years, working in the Albuquerque Public Schools and in a charter school for a year. I am also a parent of two children, ages 9 and 13. My experience has led me to the conclusion that our education system is not only antiquated and irrelevant but also torturous for children and unhealthy for adults.
This is an exaggeration, only because most children are pretty resilient and most adults are so jaded that they don’t know the difference. At least the children can still find fun in what is essentially a prison. Schools measure and drill on such a narrow band of intelligence when the world is expanding exponentially before our eyes and opening up potential for so many skills, talents and gifts, from the mundane to the unthought-of.
Our standards are prescribed from a previous century; our expectations miserably low for every child. Part of the problem is that we expect the same from everybody. What is that about? Each person is so unique, so inspired by their own inner passion. The movie Happy Feet is about someone who’s a little different. But aren’t we all listening to our own drummer in one way or another?
All talents can be nurtured if we realize that people having fun is the wellspring of industry, science, art—every human endeavor. My son is a perfect example of this. He has Down syndrome, labeled mentally retarded. But he has a gift for happiness in the moment and pure love. His talent has little place in today’s schools.
My prescription: more fun in the schools, more trust in kids’ inner worth, passionate interests and natural ability to contribute—each in their own way—to a new Earth.
Freedom of Speech is dead in 2009, but it died a long Time ago.
Sorry you didn’t get the memo!
That Freedom of Speech envisioned by our Founding Fathers has long disintegrated, usurped by those with the biggest bullhorn, paid for by those with the deepest pockets.
Don’t feel too bad; government of the People, by the People, for the People has been dead a long Time, too. Replaced by government of the Exxons, by the Microsofts, for the Citigroups.
Sorry you didn’t see it in the news!
Every news outlet in the country had the Freedom to tell you, but did not have the Corporate or Political OK from its Masters.
Nor Patriotism, or Balls!
Republicans, Democrats, Wall Street and the Fortune 500 figured that the United States people would not stand for their country being dominated by the biggest, richest and most powerful of businesses, banks, individuals and institutions. Even though the Founders had warned of this very possibility.
So they had to have a silent coup, with full compliance of the nation’s mass media. James Madison called it “an enslaved press” and thought it detrimental to Liberty.
A word that used to mean something in this country, as in Give me Liberty or Give me Death!
Where is to be found an opposing view other than Left or Right on our news and cable channels?
How is Free Speech alive and well when only two points of view dominate the national discussion?
How is Free Speech alive today while major media gets concentrated in fewer hands every year?
Free Speech is dead while Paid Speech is alive, thriving and tearing your nation apart at the seams.
What are you going to do about it, my fellow Americans?
Maybe you’ll watch a ball game or “American Idol,” or you’re too busy tending to Family and Fortune, maybe you think everything is hunky-dory!
Maybe you feel powerless and overwhelmed and can’t understand how to make a difference and therefore do nothing.
Free Speech is worthless without action.
Washington, Franklin and Jefferson understood this when they got beyond radical talk and fought the Revolutionary War.
These, too, are the times that try men’s souls, America!
And in tribute to our Framers this Fourth of July, I say let U.S. occupy the New York Stock Exchange and the Capitol Building until we get our Country back.
Let ’em know there’s a new sheriff in town, We the People, and we want our sovereignty back!
And remember, Free Speech is worthless without action!