Thursday, July 24, 2008

What do we value in Longmeadow?

At its last meeting I delivered a letter and spoke to the Select Board about the incident involving the confiscation of political signs from the Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee booth at this year's "Long Meddowe Days" event. The details of that incident were spelled out in a previous LongmeadowBuzz post.

A recent New York Times Editorial also sounds a similar alarm. Amazingly, as I was reading this editorial, I opened a fortune cookie. The fortune read; "Think of the danger while things are going smoothly."

The text of my letter follows:

Dear Chairman Santaniello:

I would like to alert the Select Board to the fact that concerned citizens will be coming forward in the next few days to request a full investigation of the incident of May 17, 2008 involving the confiscation of political signs on the green during Long Meddowe Days. I am supportive of that effort. A community-wide discussion of this incident, initiated and facilitated by the Select Board would provide valuable information and education to town residents.

The Select Board should review the relevant town by-laws to determine if political speech is receiving adequate protection. In particular, by-law 6-314, which was used to justify the suppression of political speech on May 17, 2008, needs to be clarified. In all likelihood, a new by-law that explicitly prevents political speech suppression should be considered. In addition, the Select Board should fully investigate the nature of the relationship between the town and the Long Meddowe Days Committee (and/or its parent organization, the Historical Society) and make the details of that relationship known to the whole community.

While no one believes that the Long Meddowe Days committee knowingly contributed to the suppression of constitutionally protected speech, the fact that they did so unintentionally is still a serious problem meriting a coordinated community response.

The regulation of political speech on a town green is a very significant issue and should not be made light of, or swept under the rug. Directly at issue is the question of when and how constitutionally protected speech can be regulated in a public space. The fact that this incident occurred on the town green, a space created explicitly for political speech, reveals how important it is to clarify the town’s policies and to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Please give this issue very serious and very public attention.

While this issue will not impact your property taxes or water and sewer bills, it is nonetheless a matter of great importance to our lives as individual Americans and as members of this community. The suppression of political speech on the Green over the Memorial Day weekend could be the plot of a Twilight Zone episode. Please don't under estimate the implications of this incident. At a bare minimum, it makes very clear the need for Longmeadow residents to come together as a community and reflect on the proper place of politics at community events. The confiscated signs were not controversial; they were candidate lawn signs meant to attract fair goers to the booth to chat with the people volunteering their time to run for public office.

Memorial Day is a day to remember the selfless public service of American military men and women who lost their lives standing up for our democratic institutions. Sincerely believing that it is okay, nay appropriate, to honor this sacrifice on one part of the Green, while dishonoring it on another, is no trivial matter.

Every citizen of Longmeadow ought to be eager to see and hear this matter explained and resolved. We need to at least take as much interest in this principled matter as we do in those matters related to our economic interests. If the trappings of free and fair democratic elections are prohibited on the Longmeadow Green over Memorial Day weekend, while at the same time on the same Green our town's official ceremony to honor America's fallen warriors is conducted amidst dozens of commercial signs and billboards, then I don't think it's a stretch to say that our priorities and principles could use some community-wide attention.

I hope everyone in Longmeadow will join this very important conversation.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

It seems particulary ironic to me that the Historical Society chose to feature & dislpay a replica of the William Henry Harrison Campaign Ball at this year's Long Meddowe Days. The 8 foot canvas covered ball was used to promote a political candidate in what the Hisorical Society's own web page calls, "America's first media campaign." This giant sphere, covered in political speech, was displayed only yards away from the booth where Longmeadow's own candiates for S.C. had their signs confiscated. The Long Meddowe Days committe wants to have it both ways. On the one hand they practically make political speech the THEME of the event, and on the other they claim such speech inappropriate.