Censorship In The Green Mountains
By Rosemarie Jackowski
“When Fascism came, it was not brought by uniformed troops.
It was not imposed at the point of a gun.
Fascism came because citizens were too distracted to pay attention.
Voters were too misinformed to cast intelligent ballots.
And the mass of people failed to recognize the inherent danger in the censoring of speech and the banning of books.” RMJ
In Vermont there is a Movement toward Secession. Most citizens are unaware of this because news reports that oppose the status quo are censored. Newspapers have an ethical obligation to report news, but the obligation is not a legal one. The First Amendment does not apply to privately owned publications. Newspapers have the right to print, or not to print, anything they want. Self-imposed censorship is still censorship, and it chills the public debate.
How ironic it is that citizens look toward secession, which may or may not ever be achieved, while those in power have already successfully seceded from the Union . How did this happen? Those in power have successfully rendered the First Amendment irrelevant in Vermont – that is secession from the Constitution… secession of the worse kind.
First Amendment rights are further supported by the Fourteenth Amendment which compels States to uphold these rights. So why is that not happening? Where is the ACLU? Where is the Bar Association?
Why has the Vermont Attorney General not weighed in on this? The office of VT AG has a history of ‘protecting’ the government against the citizen. New York investigative journalist Josh Frank exposed the real politics of Vermont in his article, Dean’s Corruption in the Green Mountain State .
There are many examples of how government ignores Constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens. Google ‘DENNIS STEELE ARRESTED’ to see photos of a gubernatorial candidate being arrested. His crime – he wanted to participate in a pre-election forum. There is a long fascinating history of arrests of non- democratic/non-republican candidates. When Candidate Steele was in Bennington , he was not allowed to participate in the debate. The debate was held in a public tax supported building. Public officials game the system to get around the law.
Think about who benefits from censorship of political speech – the Democratic and Republican Parties. To change that a real Statesman will be needed – not a partisan political figure – needed is someone who can put the rights of the people above the pressure from a political party. A grassroots movement by the people could do this. The problem is that because censorship is so widespread, many citizens are unaware that they have lost their First Amendment protection. People don’t know what they don’t know.
Though it would be redundant, as a last resort, we need a brave legislator to offer a bill something like this: Henceforth, in no public building, park, land, or any other facility which receives public funds shall any candidate be prohibited from participating in any peaceful political activity. Party affiliation – or lack of any Party affiliation – should not be used to discriminate against any candidate in any public space. This right of all citizens and voters to have access to information should not be infringed upon by towns, municipalities, cities, schools, libraries, or any other publically funded group or organization. Freedom of political speech must be held as a sacred right – never to be threatened by anyone – and to be honored by all. Public open spaces should be open to all citizens, at all times. The penalty for violation should be a $10,000 fine for the first offense. Increased for subsequent offences.
The rule should be – if you accept public money, you accept the prohibition against discrimination. The right to free assembly, and free disassembly, would not be infringed upon. Anyone could still practice discrimination in their own home or any other private space. Newspapers could continue to publish or not publish anything they want.
Below is an AP report from The Times Argus:
“…SOUTH ROYALTON (AP) — A third-party candidate for U.S. Senate was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after being ejected from a debate.
Peter Diamondstone, of Brattleboro, the Liberty Union party candidate for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, participated in Tuesday’s debate at the Vermont Law School along with U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Richard Tarrant, the Republican candidate for the seat.
He accused the United States of committing war crimes in Iraq .
“We are the terrorists, and the world needs to be armed against us,” said Diamondstone…”.
Diamondstone’s passionate and heartfelt message should have been allowed to be heard. It should have been debated openly. Diamondstone was ahead of his time. Now many across the globe, agree with his statement. Candidate Diamondstone’s arrest took place at the Vermont Law School . That is the ultimate irony. When the ‘law’ does not uphold the rule of law, how should citizens react? When the ‘law’ becomes the ‘outlaw’… a conundrum.
Will the First Amendment ever be restored in Vermont ? I’m not holding my breath. Vermont has become the land of book-banning and censorship. Recently, in Bennington, a disabled vet was assaulted by a public official. The vet had made a statement in support of the First Amendment at a Select Board meeting. This angered the official. The assault was accidentally recorded on a live microphone and video tape. When any citizen is silenced, when any book is banned – every one should react. Censorship is the ultimate form of bullying. It is a declaration by those in power saying – we are above the law.
The Vermont culture was described by Shirley Jackson decades ago. Jackson’s book, The Lottery, remains relevant today. Some interpret her work as a classic description of society’s hostility toward those who do not conform. It was written while the author lived in North Bennington. Scholars still debate exactly what aspect of the culture inspired the author. Today, would libraries ban this valuable literary work?
Currently, how many school libraries across the country have copies of Howard Zinn’s History of the United States ? Is this book banned in some classrooms?
The citizens must accept some responsibility for the degrading of their rights – but in defense of citizens – how can they be held accountable if they don’t know what they don’t know. When a book is banned, or when free speech is silenced, no one knows about it – unless there is a local newspaper that adheres to a standard of journalistic ethics. Too often, the newspaper is part of the problem.
When a school or library banns books – who would know? No one. Libraries do not post lists of books they have banned. Once in awhile knowledge about book banning leaks out. Even then, what can a citizen do? Most citizens have learned that fighting the system in a State ruled by cronyism – in a country where money rules – is a long difficult battle. Realizing that chances of success are often less than zero can be discouraging. It is during those moments, I remember an old quote – something that Peter Diamondstone once said: “We do not protest to change others. We protest so that others do not change us.”
Now is a time in history when silence is the greatest of all crimes.
Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist and peace activist. She is author of BANNED IN VERMONT. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.