The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

We Can't Go On Together With (out) Seditious Minds

editor's note: Many thanks to Highlander for his help with the title for this post. I was coming up completely high and dry, and he offered up this gem (which I completely loved). I owe you a big, wet one, Sweetie. Remind me, later.

Though I keep trying to imagine a world where everyone is always happy, always cheerful, where no one is ever disgruntled or even bemused, I find I can't. And even if I could, I don't know that I'd want to live there. There's only so much "Stepford" that anyone can take.

One of the things I value most in this world, is the free-flow of information, and at least part of that information is opinion. Personally (and I don't feel I'm unusual in this regard), I take the opportunity to filter that information, with my own life-experiences, and determine how I feel about any given thing. That doesn't mean that I am prone to taking just any old opinion and running with it. In fact, that rarely happens. But, maybe that's the problem. Maybe there are simpletons everywhere (don't get me wrong, I've met more than a few of them) and just suggesting any irrational thing to one of them causes them to run amok. And maybe that's why things are happening the way they are.

Opinions are the basis of free speech. Hardly a newsflash, I grant you. And, as the hate-mongering of the KKK is a prime example, sometimes those opinions clash with my personal values. I live in a country (at least I still thought I did) that is supposed to respect my individual values, up to the point where they affect another person.

I suppose free speech might work easier for us all if those opinions just stayed in our heads, or in our personal journals, but that really defeats the purpose. I also happen to think it's a slap in the face to all the free-thinkers that came before us, but I'm crazy like that.

The fact is, that we, as a people, are destined to disagree with each other. And every faction is determined to try to persuade the opposition to adopt their ideals. Some do it more vociferously than others. But, generally, we've agreed that it's worth the effort.

We value that. We value the opportunity to express ourselves and to share those expressions with others. That is why I have such a difficult time understanding Sedition Laws. Aren't they pretty much in direct conflict with the Bill of Rights?

I mean Americans have been a pretty mouthy bunch from day one, haven't we? Can you imagine the Boston Tea Party with a bunch of folks standing around not talking trash about the leadership of the country? Doesn't work nearly as well. Or the eloquent, impassioned speeches of Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine, toned down, so as not to offend. We are a people who have built a country based on our ability to speak out against even perceived injustices.

So, sedition is a confusing proposition to me. It seems almost nervy to try to figure out where that line is, and then to draw it, and finally to attempt to enforce it.

On Americans.

I ran across a news story (two actually) that made me think a little about this stuff. The first one was a story about the Governor of Montana pardoning 78 people convicted of sedition during WWI. I found it fascinating that the offenses outlined in the Montana Sedition Project were little more than overheard bar conversations in many cases. How could people have actually been convicted and jailed (for, in most cases 1-2 years) for saying things as benign as that Liberty bonds were no good and that the government wouldn't back them up.

Now, really, if you were listening to some stranger, or even a friend, and he said that to you, would you start rounding up a militia to overthrow the government? Just because he said it? That's just insanity. I'd chalk it up to too many beers and maybe file it away in the back of my mind, at best. It's not like any of those Montana "revolutionaries" were great orators or were overly persuasive with their mind-control powers. It's just that they had the audacity to say something, in a public place, against the government. At all.

But, I read that news story and I suppose part of me was pleased that the convictions were (finally) overturned, and while I was shocked that it had happened in the first place, I looked at it more as a historical anomaly. We saw the eggregious error of our ways and set it right. Never gonna happen again. We're much wiser now.

I was wrong. (Not that it's anywhere CLOSE to the first time.)

Maybe dangerously wrong.

In fact, I may be answering a knock at my door any minute now.

Because, the second news story I saw was about a VA Nurse investigated for sedition. Not a VA nurse in Montana during WWI. A VA nurse in Albuquerque, who wrote a letter to the editor, on her own time, this past February.

Her computer was seized and she feared losing her job. I cannot imagine it. Thankfully, she was recently cleared. It's still shocking to me that the possibility even presented itself. That it could for any of us. At any time. Random citizens turning each other into the authoritarian thought patrol. This is fiction, isn't it?

That our government, this government, not some long ago, far away government, is so frightened of public opinion, that it would seek to suppress our opinions, our free speech, rather than to explore the consequences of the inadequacies and deliberate deception that they choose to dole out to the masses on a regular basis.

It feels so much like an overbearing teacher, threatening us all to shut up and sit down, that it's hard to believe that these are our elected officials. And it smacks so much of "we'll do whatever we have to, to shut this mother down.", it makes me violently ill.

Luckily, we still have the power to do something about that.

And soon.


Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

From what I still remember about my education in journalism, free speech and sedition laws were designed to protect the press.

I'm not sure when in our history it became the armor beneath which so many people can hide.

I'm a firm believer in free speech. Absolutely, totally. But with it comes responsibility. And I'm a firmer believer in standing up like a mensch and taking the consequences of whatever it is you choose to say or from whom you choose to impune.

Or the consequences of whomever it is you "think" you have the power to silence.

5/07/2006 10:48 AM  

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