Saturday, February 12, 2011

Talking to Ourselves

Last week I sent a letter to the editor to the Charleston Post and Courier, in response to their editorial regarding the ad I made for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, addressing Senator Lindsey Graham's comment that he would look at increasing the Social Security retirement age.

Then I thought, suppose they don't publish it?  After all, it is critical of the thoughts of one of their editors.  I copied it into a blog posting, but that wasn't enough.

So I have been thinking about freedom of speech, and our ability to actually speak out.  The ad by PCCC certainly upset people like the editor who responded (which editor was it anyway?), and he had the means to respond.  Whether his response made sense was irrelevant; he had the podium.  He also has the attention of the many people who read the Post and Courier editorial page, more I think, than read the news.

We do, today, have more options than we did a decade ago.  I can make a You Tube video.  That is probably the most universal and immediate way to be heard by people who don't know you, who are interested in the topic, who will hear you whether or not they agree (and then possibly respond with a thoughtful idea or maybe something obscene).  And where else can an individual go to respond to an attack, or argue an unfair proposal by an organization bigger than they are?

For the most part, on issues, we end up talking to ourselves.  I don't watch FOX, my coworkers don't watch MSNBC.  We meet on Facebook with like-minded friends.  We read bloggers whose interests are like our own.  There is no place to go to debate amongst ourselves, to argue all points and feel we have listened and have been heard.

And suppose we want to let people know we are going to get together?  I am thinking specifically about how long it took me to connect with fellow Democrats in my neighborhood.  Do we place notices in the Post and Courier?  Or the City Paper?  We need a website these days for certain.

Where in our neighborhood can we post notices?  The library has a policy which is adhered to based pretty much on the motivation of the individual branch manager, which does not allow religious, business or political notices to be displayed.

Yet the library is now displaying brochures regarding religious support for communities, because our governor believes it is cost effective to use churches instead of tax dollars.  And we smile on businesses who throw us a few dollars to help support the Summer Reading Program or a less formal relationship by letting them post on a library community bulletin board.

What the library doesn't do is allow groups to post notices of meetings.  Let me clarify, if you are in a knitting group, it's okay to post.  But if you are in a group meeting to talk about politics, whether it be a formal meeting of a democratic or republican group, or just meeting to talk about, say, how to lobby for peace in Afghanistan or increasing library funding, you can't advertise it on the library's community bulletin board.   I think that's interesting.

People read that thing.  They look to see what's for sale, and what's going on in their community.  And yet there are meetings going on in their community, of varying levels of importance, that cannot be advertised, pretty much because they might be controversial.

A number of years ago, one of the branches allowed a giant poster to be displayed advertising a meeting at a church, at which a national republican figure was speaking.  I made some quiet noise until some good people complained and it was taken down.  It was blatantly political, and the community bulletin board at the library was not the place for it.

But notices of meetings?  It seems strange that a small notice of the monthly meeting of the local Democrats/Republicans/Tea Party/Progressives with a time and place can't be posted at what is really the most logical place to communicate:  the local library.  The big guys, the newspapers and television stations in a community will never be a mouthpiece for any but their own political views, even if they try hard to print or run opposing views.  And we are a culture that does not gather in the street to inform or debate the issues of the day.  So that pretty much leaves us, individuals or partisan groups, talking to ourselves.

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