Sunday, February 20, 2011

On speaking and being booed in a democracy

We have just finished at Third -- almost. As I type this, Jim's doing "A note to our readers." It was a long writing edition and a long day. I bring that up because someone's e-mailed the public account with a story about a veteran being disrespected. I do not know all the details, I don't pretend to. And were I not tired, I wouldn't rise to the bait of "I bet you're too scared to respond to this." Based on the details in the Daily Telegraph, which may or may not be accurate, I don't see the big deal.

The guy who e-mailed is all bent out of shape and, from his e-mail, I was expecting I was about to read about students at Columbia pelting the speaker with rotten fruit and storming the stage. That's not what happened. The university staged a debate on whether or not the US military should be allowed on campus? The veteran took the pro-side.

The campus is opposed to it and has been opposed to it. This is not a new development. Furthermore, veterans are not godlike. They are not to be worshiped unless you live in a junta. The United States is a democracy. I speak all the time, right after the election (2008) to antiwar audiences, I was booed for refusing to lie that the SOFA meant the war ended in 2011. I was booed, I was cursed. It wasn't the first time in my life and surely won't be the last time. Anyone who gets up to speak better be prepared for that. I have a right to speak, you have a right to boo me. You have a right to speak, I have a right to boo you. If the boos become a problem then something may be done. In most settings, including Columbia, booing after comments is not going to get the booer in trouble. An organized boo, a boo-in, if you will, might result in security doing something because a boo-in would prevent anyone from speaking.

But if you get before an audience -- and I have many, many times -- three's a chance you're going to get booed. If you don't want to be booed, don't put yourself out there.

The veteran took a highly unpopular stand. He was allowed to speak, people were allowed to register their objection.

From the Daily Mail story, that's what happened. The only other news report is from the New York Post (I don't know right wing blogs and don't know how to evaluate them so I'm not looking at them). Again, oh well.

The outrage, I do want to note, that is being churned is being churned by the Daily Mail and the New York Post. The veteran is not quoted boo-hooing that he got booed. He's been in combat, I don't think he's a cry baby. He's seen a lot worse than a negative reaction to his taking what (he must have known) was an unpopular position.

He obviously believes in his position or he wouldn't have taken it. Why did he face an angry crowd? Because he probably hopes that his remarks would lay the groundwork for them to reconsider. And it might. Or it might make it easier for the next person who speaks out in the same manner. The veteran doesn't seem stupid -- the press does -- I doubt he expected a standing ovation. I would guess his hopes were more along the lines of "I'll plant some seeds and maybe they'll sprout in a few weeks or months."

That's what we all do, regardless of the issue and our position, when we speak out on something that's unpopular. He had every right to speak and those that booed had every right to boo. That's what life is in America. Again, he doesn't seem scarred by it (he may be laughing about the whole thing) or surprised by it. There is no caste system in America. We are all equal. Your opinion is something you can share, but you're not able to pull rank on me and silence my dissent because you did this or that or whatever. That's not how free speech works.

As someone who has been booed, I know on the wrong day it can hit you really hard. As someone who has been booed (including on many wrong days), I hope that wasn't the case for the veteran or for anyone else. And, for the record, I agree with those who booed. If I were present, I probably wouldn't have booed (because I have got a splitting headache right now -- and if it was too loud, I might have glared and sh-ed a few booers just to get the event over with already). The university is supposed to be welcome to all and Columbia prides itself on that. Trans-persons are not covered in the changes that are being discussed for the US military (discussed, nothing's been implemented). Trans-persons are a part of Columbia's student body. Columbia has every right to deny the military access on the grounds that they discriminate. That's my opinion and I'm always aware that people may and often do disagree. And in America, that might tick me off or hurt my feelings but in a larger sense it makes me very happy because we do have freedom of speech.

This was actually the opening to "And the war drags on . . ." but there's too much in Iraq for this to stay the opening. Instead, we'll make it its own entry.

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