2017 Buy Nothing Day essay

After 20 years of organizing it has been really nice not to be involved in the organizing of the 21st Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange. Pam and Lauren Testoni and doing a fine job which makes it much easier to be gone. But I have in no way given up my public policy practice, so I thought it would still be nice to write my annual Buy Nothing Day essay, a practice I am likely to continue as my active management of the day recedes into the past.

It is hard to know where to begin. Do i begin with the massive loss of insect populations over the last 40 years as recently discovered in Europe? And how that is reflected in bat distribution in Providence’s North Burial Ground? Or how about that the US economy has become one of the most unequal in the world, and is rapidly becoming more unequal? Or how about how all of the economic development schemes in Rhode Island are designed to create economic development for the 10%, while making health care and housing unaffordable for the rest of us? I have devoted more than a few pixels this year to the toxic narcissist and lying blowhard now residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but I do not want to make you sick so I will keep the orange haired monster out of this.

I went to a convention in Houston in 2016 and spent time hanging out around the bayou, so I have written about the flooding of the bayous with the 3rd 100 year flood in 3 years. One essay about Houston was too depressing to include more here. Or we could discuss the refugee crisis flooding the world as a result of the wars the United States government and military have inflamed throughout Africa and Asia that keep blowing up in our faces. And that are made worse by climate change undermining food security and harvests throughout the world. How about the epidemic of police violence in our communities? Maybe I should write about how the entire game of the business climate is a hoax invented by the Koch Brothers, and how pathetic it is that people who know the Koch’s lie about the climate and fund climate deniers around the world, have a hard time believing that they lie about the business climate and try to prevent us from knowing that a state’s business climate has nothing to do with economic growth rates. I can send you the report if you wish. And I could tell you why the whole Idea of building a fracked gas power plant in Burrillville is going to enrich the few, while harming all of us and the climate. Gina Wall St is a real piece of work as she demonstrated again last week in the convention center. So telling that she did not take questions.

But better to write about the marvelous coming together in Rhode island on November 24 in which people all over Rhode Island will find a way to make sure warm clothing that could serve someone in the community gets into the hands of those who need a way to be warmer this winter while creating space in closets that have enough or more than enough in them.

Thank you Pam, Thank you Lauren for continuing this tradition and event while I restore amphibian habitat, make nature videos, remind the RI legislature of their lousy record on the economy and the ecology, write about President Toxic Dump, start to pull together the RI Nature Video Festival for next February, and raise hell, afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted as we travel through this strange new world and feel the quaking beneath our feet and the temperatures rising.



Free Speech

Greg Gerritt   October 14, 2017

Recently there has been much discussion about the nature of free speech and what it actually means. Here is my interpretation.

Free speech means that the government and the powerful may not suppress or block political statements by anyone. The powerful and the government can not suppress reporting on the news or comments on the issues of the day. No one should be arrested for peaceful protest, government officials shall not arrest people trying to deliver a message. Public spaces shall be freely available for the public to take a stand on the issues.

Free speech only constrains the government and those supporting it. It does not constrain anyone else. Recently there have been outcries because football players used the playing of a song about war to protest police brutality. You may or may not approve, but their actions are completely within the range of PROTECTED free speech activities. You can not arrest someone for refusing to stand for a poem put to the tune of a drinking song. ( A side note, maybe underscoring my understanding of the situation is that a few years ago I visited Fort McHenry and I have seen fully how US government uses the song as propaganda for war).

If President Toxic Dump wants to really put pressure on football players who are sick and tired of Jim Crow and police brutality maybe the best thing is to stop the Pentagon from advertising on football games and stop the military from providing color guards and fly overs. That would be putting his money where his mouth is. And maybe he could use the excuse that it no longer makes sense for the American government to spend tax dollars supporting an industry that is designed to give its participants long term neurological damage often leading to an early death.

Another side of the free speech debate is phenomena of audiences not letting members of the ruling class speak by making lots of noise. First a question. Have you ever seen a musician booed off the stage? I have. The musician in question was probably a fine musician, a well known professional. But when he paused for a breath for the first time after 45 minutes, everyone booed. He had nothing to offer the audience worth having. So we booed. And he left;.

How is that different from booing a police commissioner here to talk about how he racially profiles and locks up kids? You mean to tell me the audience is not allowed to boo? The audience is not allowed to yell when the speaker tells lies? The audience is not allowed to tell the speaker in no uncertain terms that what he is saying is offensive , degrading, disgusting and that the school gave him a microphone was a travesty of justice? The people have a right to free speech, the government does not. The people can never abridge free speech. It is actually impossible. Only the government can do that. Can i arrest the speaker? Can I stop the publication of his book? Can i prevent him from talking to audiences that want to hear what he has to say? If I can not do that, if I can not stop him from delivering his message to all who want to hear it, I am not guilty of being against free speech. But when I boo I practice free speech. And the confusion between what the public does a and what the government does has been ignored in this discussion and totally skews the discussion away from what free speech really is, including what kinds of speech must be protected by the government, or at least not suppressed by the government, and what to call it when an audience works to make sure the speaker understands how disgusting their message is.

There is another facet of this issue that gets conflated with the first two issues. That is when a college or a community decide that allowing an event to go forward will likely lead to violence. No one wants violence over words, though the powerful have been using violence to repress the poor forever (at least 10,000 years). When the oppressed decide that they will stand up when the oppressors come to town occasionally colleges and communities cancel events or deny permits. I am sort of agnostic on this one. Practical steps to prevent a violent outbreak are a good thing. Telling someone they can not speak is offensive. It is going to be a tough call to decide if the event should go forward. I can live with the fact that this is a judgement call that I may disagree with occassionally.