Mar 15, 2010

Protecting Freedom

I am creating a new category on the Magnum Arts blog dedicated to cultural and artistic freedom.

Although my classes are free from political discussion, it remains important, no, it is imperative, that we defend our rights to free expression. There are plenty of people who would deny us our freedoms as artists, who would censor and silence us, all because they do not like what we have to say, or because our art may make people feel "uncomfortable". If you do not know about these attempts to silence artists, you will not be able to stand up for your rights. And the rights you have, you have because people fight for them. Do not take them for granted.

Sooner or later, you will create something that you will have to justify or defend to someone else because it makes them feel uncomfortable or offended. If they demand that you remove or destroy your art, then they are infringing on your rights.

It is important to understand that as part of a society, we are going to be surrounded by people from all kinds of different backgrounds, with all kinds of different views. Feeling uncomfortable from time to time is inevitable. A person does not - I repeat does not - have a protected right to be free from discomfort at all times, yet increasingly, people behave as if they do, and expect others to modify their behavior to address their discomfort. If we allowed this to happen where would we end up?

We would end up in a society that is utterly bland and drab, where all non-common points of view and art are censored and devoid of humanity, where people dress, act and talk exactly the same and live in fear that something they do or say will be perceived as uncomfortable. Is that the society we really want to live in?
(image credit: THX1138, a film by George Lucas, LINK)

For this first example of this new category, I present a situation that occurred in my old hometown of Burlington, Vermont. A photographer was interrogated by the police at work and banned from several stores, just for taking pictures of people in public. In public. This individual was not in any of the stores, nor on private property, yet he was treated by the police as someone who had committed a crime. This is a constitutionally and legally protected activity, yet the police are enforcing a restraining order against this photographer for doing what he has every right in the world to do. Established law has already declared that a person has no expectation of privacy when out in public. If a person is in a public area, that person can be legally photographed whether he or she likes it or not.

Stay Informed, Protect Your Rights

  • The link to this story is HERE and the second part is HERE.
  • The link to the pictures (which are very good, by the way) is HERE.
  • To find out more about how much photography is under assault, click HERE.
  • To learn more about the history of the poem below, click HERE.
  • Consider making a contribution to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who fight to protect freedom of speech in our country, which is under increasing attack. Their mission is to make all voices, both popular and unpopular, heard. Visit their website by clicking on their logo below:
Click the logo above to visit the ACLU home page. Contribute, help make a difference

UPDATE: In a subsequent follow-up, the amateur photographer shares his photos, tells his side of the story and says he cannot afford to fight this battle, not with a wife and children. Censorship scores another victory, we all lose some freedom, and a creative voice is silenced.

A sad ending.

One of my favorite poems seems to capture this situation, by Pastor Martin Niemoller, originally written about the German citizens' lack of protest about increasing Nazi abuses, but just as relevant today as it was then:

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

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