Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's a new day in Tucson, pardner

Coinciding in the most fortuitous way with my announcement of Tucson, the Novel: Season Two, an aggrieved and fed up Tucson city council delivered big drama this week over the question of civil discourse.  Last Tuesday, within fifteen minutes of announcing new expectations around civility at Call to the Audience, Mayor Bob Walkup held an offender accountable and had him removed from the council chambers.

Like: escorted out, by police officers. Which, y'know, from a First Amendment perspective rankles me pretty bad. But from the good-riddance-asshole perspective, I'm thrilled.

KGUN 9 News did a good job summarizing the situation. This guy, Roy Warden, is one of Tucson's more famous podium jerks. He's been spewing bile at Call to the Audience for decades, and for decades hundreds of electeds and public servants have been made to sit quietly and allow his hateful rhetoric to poison their workplace. So hooray. The rules that have allowed this situation to continue and to escalate are now under review. Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for standing your ground.

And let the First Amendment conversation begin. Roy Warden has filed a lawsuit, of course, claiming the abuse of said rights. As vile as this man is, his rights must of course be protected. If anyone, after all, could be accused of irrelevant, repetitive and/or inappropriate speech--adjectives used one form or another at yesterday's council discussion--that would be me. I'm a fiction writer hijacking a space meant for the democratic process and using it as a stage for an oral serialization of her novel in progress. While I can (and certainly will) make all sorts of arguments for the political and social relevancy of this project, surely a whole bunch of others, including, let's say, lawyers, might disagree. So let me just go on record as saying that I'm very very invested in the protection of the Asshole Roy Warden's rights under the First Amendment.

So, dear readers: How do you like Season Two so far? I'm thrilled to begin the project's second year with an individual artist grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Under this grant, I'll be using the first twenty seconds of my three minutes at the podium each week to reflect on questions of civil discourse, literature, free speech, the arts, and whatever other crazy thing jumps into my head.

I have so much more to say, and will say it soon. In the meantime I'd love to hear what you're thinking. Comments here are moderated for civility, of course.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting developments. I'm looking into the specific context for the rule changes, but my initial opinion is that the language of the rules is definitely too broad. The only content that I could see banning is anything threatening, libelous, or slanderous. I don't understand how "repetitive" comments would fall outside the protection of free speech. I'm also not sure at what point criticism of a particular public official's actions could be called personal. Is it "personal" simply to mention a public representative's name and criticize his or her public actions taken while in office? I would think that being criticized is a hazard inherent to running for public office, as long as those criticisms do not libel, slander, or pose an imminent threat against the person criticized. It's important to remember that any rules written today--even if they are aimed at truly disruptive tendencies or members of the current audience--can be used in an entirely different context in the future. I hope the council will take the long view as they craft these rules.


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