Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July, 2011

OMNI JULY 4, 2011 NEWSLETTER #1, Compiled by Dick Bennett for a Culture of Peace

Dick on Free Speech and Malls
Interdependence Day

By Dick Bennett

"Private Property or Freedom?"
      Big box stores and shopping malls have just received a critique from the new dystopian children’s film “WALL-E.”  It opens with the Earth buried under the trash of boundless megamall consumption that finally reduced people to conforming adult infants, who have abandoned Earth for pleasure cruising in space. 
     We can glimpse that apocalyptic, mall-induced, human shrinkage today in many ways, including its reduction of our freedom of speech. Prospects of human mental progression instead of regression looked better in 1938.
      In 1938, the United States Supreme Court unanimously struck down an ordinance authorizing the arrest in Griffin, GA, of a member of the  Jehovah's Witnesses for distributing handbills without a license.  A year later the Court struck down an ordinance in Jersey City that required
speakers to obtain a permit from city authorities.    And in 1941 the Court affirmed the right of peaceful picketing as an expression of First Amendment Rights.   Ordinances prohibiting free expression, the Court ruled, because they can be made the instrument of arbitrary suppression of free
expression of views, are unconstitutional and invalid.
      These victories for free speech were victories especially for working people (the rich can hire a hall), for they guaranteed the right of all citizens to express their views freely on public sidewalks and in parks throughout the land.
     But defenders of freedom had not anticipated the restrictive consequences of shopping malls on free communication.   In the towns of our country the people shopped by public streets and sidewalks.  That's where the people were; that's where communication  to the greatest number of people was possible.  But then shopping malls arrived.  We didn’t know what had hit us.  Suddenly they had replaced thousands of miles of shopping by public sidewalk.  Now, not only inside a mall, but in the parking outside, you could be expelled and even arrested for leafletting or picketing. The constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression was replaced by private property, real estate, shopping malls!
     Whereas formerly private property had been the foundation of freedom-the yeoman farmer, the small businessman--, suddenly private property shopping malls had become a bastion against freedom all across the land.  By itself this now deeply entrenched reduction of freedom
might not be so threatening.  But recent years have witnessed increasing secrecy, censorship, surveillance, harrassment, arbitrary detention, and heavier methods of police state control as illustrated by rejection of Geneva Conventions, the "Patriot" Act, and the Military Commissions Act. 

     If we are in danger of being humanly diminished by corporate and government totalitarianism, how might we resist?  Without giving away the ending, “WALL-E” offers robots and “Hello, Dolly!”  And how might we today begin? 

     First, we can turn to the Constitution of the State of Arkansas.  Although the
Nixon Court
modified the strong free speech laws of 1937-41, many state constitutions offer an affirmative declaration of the individual's right to free speech. For example, in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robbins, the USSCt says the 5th amendment takings clause does not trump California’s free speech right.   It has not been litigated in Arkansas, but our free speech clause is almost identical to California's.

     Second, we have a treaty, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed and ratified, declares:  "everyone  has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

     This 4th of July, 2011, let us begin a non-conformity campaign against the usurpation of freedom by shopping malls by talking up the original commitment to freedom in the 1937-41 Supreme Court rulings and these state and treaty rights.  Exercise walkers exercise their physical freedom there.  Infinitely more important is the exercise of adult thought and speech. Those walkways should still be places of communication even though indoors.  And let us boycott the private malls until, like the city sidewalks, their walking spaces guarantee public fora.  

Gerson, Michael.  “WALL-E’s Message of Humanity.”  The Morning News (July 13, 2008) 2F.


In a world where global interdependence is not simply an aspiration of idealists, but a brute fact of the forces that bind us together— global warming, financial capital, AIDS, telecommunications, crime, migration, and terrorism—many people still think in narrow, insular terms.

Reality is global, but consciousness too often remains local — constrained by town and nation.
In the year 2000, a small group of scholars, civic and political leaders, and artists from a dozen nations met to design a program that might help raise consciousness around the realities and possibilities of interdependence. Their efforts were given impetus by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the group agreed to create a project that would :

> Make September 12, the day following the memorial of 9/11, an international celebration of interdependence “Interdependence Day”

> Draw up a “Declaration of Interdependence”, making clear that both liberty and security required cooperation among peoples and nations and could no longer be secured by sovereign nations working unilaterally;

> Develop a Civic Interdependence Curriculum that would make interdependence a central concept in Civics and Social Studies programs in middle and high schools in as many schools around the world as possible.

 STEPHEN NATHANSON.  Patriotism, Morality, and Peace.  Roman and Littlefield, 1993.   Is patriotism a worthy ideal, one that we ought to promote and support? Or is it a dangerous and destructive notion that leads to war and hostility? "Patriotism, Morality, and Peace" provides the first sustained philosophical treatment of these questions, distinguishes different forms of patriotism, and shows why some forms are indeed dangerous, while others can be valuable and constructive.   Nathanson has written several books on patrioties.
--Pfaff, William.  The Irony of Manifest Destiny: the Tragedy of American Foreign Policy.  Walker, 2010.   Rev. The Catholic Worker (March-April 2011).   “In this magisterial essay, William Pfaff dissects the illusions which the ideology of Manifest Destiny has given rise to.  The most notable is the doctrine of American Exceptionalism.”   Also see his Fear, Anger, and Failure: A Chronicle of the Bush Administrations’s War Against Terror from the Attacks of 9/11 to Defeat in Baghdad.  Rev. CW (Aug.-Sept. 2004).  
--Woehrle, Lynne, et al.  Contesting Patriotism: Culture, Power, and Strategy in the Peace Movement.   Roman & Littlefield, 2009.  Rev. Fellowship (Spring 2010).  A deep grounding of the peace movement is its effort to reclaim the attribution of “patriotic” for criticism of the nation-state when it wages war.  The book traces the many ways “in which major groups in the peace movement have advanced this cause in their publications over the past 20 years.”



Hogeye Bill said...

Private Property or Freedom a False Dichotomy

Dick is concerned about freedom of speech in shopping malls. He opines that a private shopping mall violates freedom of speech if it prohibits picketing or demonstrations on it indoor sidewalks. This is a misunderstanding of what freedom of speech is, and its relation to private property.

Here’s a consistency test: If the Omni Center prevents pro-war demonstrators and military recruiters from occupying the Omni house lawn and parking lot, does that violate freedom of speech? Of course not. The same holds for others’ private property. Freedom of speech not only covers what you say and promote, but also what you don’t wish to say and promote. Perhaps Dick is letting his dislike for corporations and commercialism adulterate the principle of free speech. If Omni has a right to forbid what it considers obnoxious speech on its property, so do shopping mall owners.

In actuality, the concept of free speech is incoherent without private property. Free speech does not mean that one may take over a radio station, or preach in someone else’s living room or lecture hall. It means that one should not be forcibly prevented from contracting for radio time or for a lecture hall and speaking there. Note that freedom of speech without property rights is a sham. It meant nothing, for example - despite pretty formal decrees - in the Soviet Union where copy machines, printing presses, and even paper were rationed by government. If lecture halls are not private property, but instead are controlled by government, freedom of speech is wholly hypothetical.

Similarly, all individual rights depend on private property. Thus “private property or freedom” is not only a false dichotomy, but a fallacy of the floating abstraction. The concept of individual rights depends on the concept of private property to make sense.

Notice that the first three Supreme Court cases cited by Dick all recognize the dependence of rights on private property. None of the three are relevant to shopping malls or private property. The final case he cites, Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robbins, is a terrible decision which violates the freedom of speech of private property owners. Its logic dictates that either 1) Omni can be forced to allow pro-war demonstrators on its property, or 2) that a legal caste system stripping some people (but not others) of their right of free speech is legitimate. How does that famous quote go? “First they came for the shopping mall owners’ rights, but I didn’t care, because they were scumbag profiteers...”

As a peace group, presumably against the initiation of violence or the threat of it, Omni should oppose using police power (read violence-power) to force people to support ideas and speech they don’t agree with. On the other hand boycotting the offending shopping malls, Dick’s other suggestion, is perfectly peaceful and legitimate. I’ve done my part: The last two times I went to a mall were for “First Night” new year’s eve events. Otherwise I don’t shop in such places.

aubunique said...

Bill, while your argument has merit, the problem is that owning a square mile and preventing other human beings from crossing it is over the top. Owning a square on which one lives or even some reasonable amount of farm land and hunting land is reasonable. But personal property rights should not extend to huge corporations and huge parcels of land, water, air, etc. Every family owning enough land, access to clean water and air is what should be protected.

Mark Prime said...

"Reality is global, but consciousness too often remains local — constrained by town and nation."

Nicely worded my friend.

Dick's Wars and Warming KPSQ Radio Editorials (#1-48)

Dick's Wars and Warming KPSQ Radio Editorials (#1-48)