Monday, September 27, 2010

The Right to Offend: Shut Up! The Case of the Vancouver City Council

This photo was taken at a town hall meeting in April, not the council meeting in question.
It was used by the Columbian to illustrate a story about the September incident.

Vancouver City Council member Jeanne Harris has presented workshops on stress management and mediation to public officials. Two weeks ago, she demonstrated the antithesis of the behaviors she recommends. During a city council meeting, she repeatedly berated a citizen who was addressing the council, demanding that Mayor Tim Leavitt "gavel down" the man. She continued to attempt to shut down his public comment and later, when fellow Council member Jeanne Stewart remonstrated her, she snapped "Shut up."

But don't take my word for it. Check out the video clip for yourself:

Mayor Tim Leavitt went on the Victoria Taft radio show (AM 860/KPAM) to discuss the issue. You can hear the clip at

The Columbian called for a reprimand of Harris' behavior. But their editorial noted that Harris' underlying concern was correct:

Leavitt said the council will decide next week about any action against Harris, but the correct decision is clear. Harris’ belligerence warrants a reprimand, at minimum, by her fellow councilors. Then the mayor and the council should make more clear the policies for council meetings. City Attorney Ted Gathe says the meetings are not public forums. Citizens comments must address current city issues, should be limited to three minutes and must not be political ax grindings.

You can

The story also was covered at

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Right to Offend: City of Vancouver Special Events Ordinance: A Study of Right to Assemble

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from

In June 2010, Vancouver City Council confronted a dilemma: how to manage large crowds of people while upholding the right to assemble.

It's one thing when you're dealing with a group of music lovers, seated quietly, as in the photo above at Esther Short Park. It's another thing entirely when there's a
protest rally and matters get out of hand, as it did at the WTO Rally in Seattle in 1999.

Here's a look at the local issue and the players:

Vancouver council opts against rules for free speech gatherings


■ Previously: The ­Vancouver City Council has been debating whether “expressive activities” — political rallies or other First Amendment-protected speech, for example — in groups of larger than 100 should require a permit and insurance. Monday was the fourth time the group has debated the topic as part of a special events ordinance.

■ What’s new: The council voted 4-3 Monday night against requiring permits, instead instructing staff to create recommendations for notifying the city and for insurance.

■ What’s next: New language will be drafted by the city’s staff and attorneys; the revamped ordinance and recommendations will go before the council again.

The best rule for political and other First Amendment protected speech in Vancouver is to have no rules at all, a narrow margin of the city council decided Monday night.

The seemingly unsexy topic of crafting a comprehensive special events ordinance in time for the city’s concert, fireworks and festival season has sparked a feisty debate over free speech between council members and concerned citizens — particularly members of the Tea Party movement.

You can read the rest of the piece at

Then there is an article about the final decision at

What do you think? We'll hear from Mayor Tim Leavitt, City Attorney Ted Gathe and Special Events Manager Cara Cantonwine today.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Right to Offend: Michael Moore's take on Patriot Act

Michael Moore has long been a critic of the government. Many criticize him for his moviemaking techniques which take bits and pieces of things to make his points. They argue that his films such as Fahrenheit 911 employ excerpts out of context and don't really contribute to a thoughtful analysis of issues.

Nevertheless, he has his fans. He represents viewpoints shared by many in the US about a variety of topics. In this clip, he looks at the US Patriot Act which followed as a response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

Think about how this contrasts with the presentation of the Alien and Sedition Acts issue in the film John Adams.

Rt to Offend: Herblock on Nixon

Let's take a field trip to a great site about the power of the political cartoonist as exemplified by Herbert Block. We're off to Washington, DC to the Library of Congress' Swann Gallery!

The Right to Offend: Nixon's Take

President Richard Nixon was not an enthusiastic supporter of free speech, particularly when it came to speech by those who sought to undermine his objectives. In this clip from June 29, 1971
on the White House Telephone system, he talks with legal adviser Charles Colson about the leaked secret government documents about the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers. They discuss the leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, and Nixon hopes that Ellsberg can be tied in with subversives. The president complains about "intellectual types who have no loyalty" and who weren't elected who think they are the ones to determine what's best for the country.

Nixon refers to Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers in his Speech to Former POWs, May 24, 1973

From Oct. 26, 1973 Press Conference, six days after the Saturday Night Massacre. The Saturday Night Massacre was the term given by political commentators to President Richard Nixon's executive dismissal of independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus on October 20, 1973 during the Watergate scandal.

Free Speech: McCarthyism

Reporter/newscaster Edward R. Murrow warns of the dangers of McCarthyism on his show "See it Now" on March 9, 1954:

The same comments were used by actor David Strathairn (pronounced struh-THAIRN) when he depicted Murrow in the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck.

Free Speech: John Adams' Changing Viewpoints

As an American Revolutionary leader, when speaking as Delegate from Massachusetts, John Adams declared that "Liberty will reign!"

As President, Adams endorsed the Alien and Sedition Acts to maintain order.

The Right to Offend: Name this Woman

Look in comments for a link to the answer.