I wrote a post Friday which caused quite a stir in my home IAFF local, 2068. On the Local’s Facebook page it generated copious comments and was eventually removed by a local union official. (The post can be found to the right, here, in a box entitled, “Recent Posts.”)
The reason for the removal had nothing to do with the message, indeed the message was ignored. It had to do with words in the title. Those words were from a soldier’s quote in Stars and Stripes. They were considered offensive, inflammatory, unprofessional and “National Enquirer like” by at least one local member. (Someone citing a newspaper as a reason to censor is especially ironic.)
I was informed by Joel Kobersteen, the union official who removed the piece, that if one person found something offensive, it would be removed. To add an element of farce, he then proceeded to post the Stars and Stripes link in which the cataclysmic words were spoken.
It would probably be fair to characterize my post as being anti-sexual harassment and pro-woman in the sense that it detailed how women in the military are treated, especially in a training environment. It compared the similarity of the fire service drill environment with that of the military.
A recurrent theme in the Facebook comment thread was the applicability of the post to the fire department. I pointed out that firefighters and paramedics love to “support the troops” and to be publicly patriotic. Don’t we care that female troops face an atmosphere of constant sexual assault and harassment? Or does that fall outside the firefighter patriotism rubric?
Those three words (I feel a little like George Carlin here, though not nearly as funny) were not used to characterize an individual but were cited as an example of what women put up with. They were part of a discussion, not an attack. Nevertheless, some apparently felt attacked or somehow diminished by reading three words.
The free speech and First Amendment issues are clear enough and hardly need to be repeated here. What is really at stake is whether or not the 2068 Facebook page, unarguably our common and central choice of communication, will be rendered effectively impotent as the result of intellectual and emotional fragility borne from a lack of critical thinking and maturity.
The Facebook page should serve as an unfettered platform for the free exchange of ideas as long as they do not recklessly attack others. Indeed, the entire Labor Movement is based on the fundamental ideal that workers have inalienable rights, chief among them the freedom of expression. We could hardly now quibble with management taking away that right since we decided to do it to ourselves, first.
Yesterday I wrote a post on the Holocaust that apparently passed the censor’s red pen, at least for now. It contained the inflammatory word “Nazi”, had photos of corpses and discussed an event that even today some find offensive, choosing to believe that it did not occur. We call them “Holocaust Deniers.” What if a Holocaust Denier, operating apparently within their right to be offended, notified Joel Kobersteen? Would he be compelled to take down the post? If not, why not?
In our society even enshrined rights are ephemeral unless they are constantly renewed. The road to renewal is seeing the value of unfettered and robust debate and defending it short of a vicious personal attack on an individual. Many of the things I read I don’t like and may even find offensive. I try to read anyway in the hope of learning a thing or two. I would never think of calling for their removal.
In a censored world it is the tyrant and the bully who win. Der Furher proves the point nicely.