Here’s a letter I just sent to my local newspaper:
Letter to the Editor:
As an organizer of the protest of former President Bush at Monticello last July, I was sorry to miss Sunday’s panel on free speech and rudeness at PVCC but appreciated your Monday report. I also appreciated the panelists’ comments you reported to the effect that TV pundits and producers encourage rudeness. If many people’s views were not shut out of major communications outlets, they’d probably be less likely to force them in by shouting.
I was sorry to see, at least in your report of Sunday’s panel, no indication that the panelists distinguished any types or shades of rudeness, as opposed to lumping it all together. Here are three types worth thinking about:
1) Inciting hatred and violence. This could include demonization, encouraging assaults, staging mock executions, racism or other bigotry, or promoting wars on the basis of lies.
2) Enforced democratic representation. When doctors supporting non-profit single-payer healthcare, as have a majority of Americans in polls, were shut out of congressional hearings, they stood up and spoke briefly in a Senate hearing this year and went to jail facing serious charges.
3) Incomplete citizen’s arrest. When an elected official openly spies without warrants, imprisons without charge, tortures, wages wars of aggression, or commits other serious crimes, his right to a public podium arguably disappears along with his right to liberty. And a citizen’s duty to make an arrest, rendered impossible by police protection, arguably includes the duty to loudly demand an arrest even if impolitely.
Are all of these types of speech, when disrupting the speech of others, essentially identical and equally impermissible?
And if so, is the right to speak without interruption available to all, or only to those in power?
On July 21, 2007, the Daily Progress was good enough to publish a frontpage story on a peace rally I helped organize. But when a relatively small group of war promoters with powerful megaphones disrupted the event, you did not raise the question of rudeness. You reported on dueling rallies as though everyone had the right to shout as loudly as they were able.