Commentary: Free Speech Lost Out on Sunday

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Gandhi-8

When the Vanguard spoke with Amar Shergill, one of the organizers of the protest of the Gandhi statue, he said, among other things, “We need to bring truth to Davis.  Davis is a progressive town.  They’re willing to listen.  They just haven’t heard this story.  So today is an opportunity to make sure that people in Davis hear the truth that their council turned a blind eye to… and by educating people here, we can make sure that a Hollywood myth is not propagated anymore.”

The truth is that Davis is willing to listen, and through both the meeting on August 31 and now the protests I have come to respect that, while Gandhi may be a hero and icon for some, he represents an oppressor for others.

I am not saying that I agree with the protestors here, but if you look at what happened in India, especially in 1984, you can understand where they might be coming from.

Still I’m troubled by the protests themselves – not that they were there, but that if Mr. Shergill wanted Davis to listen to what they had to say, they were not willing to reciprocate.  They did not listen to what Davis had to say and, most importantly, they didn’t let Davis listen to what the organizers of the main event had to say.

Let me be as clear as possible – I believe in free speech.  Those words are not just lip service here because the Vanguard was predicated on not only the negative right to free speech in the sense of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…”  No, we go further, carving out a public space dedicated to the right to free speech.

We may have some rules on decorum, but when it comes to content, we allow all views to be expressed in the comment section and we have published submitted articles that are diametrically opposed to the views of the Vanguard and its editor.  That is positive free speech.

Mr. Shergill told the Vanguard prior to the event that he was impressed with the city of Davis to have allowed the protesters to stand next to the main event and get their message across.  But, while Davis upheld its commitment to free speech, the protesters took advantage of the city’s going out of its way to accommodate the protest, and they ultimately abused their privilege.

Senator Lois Wolk invoked the spirit of the First Amendment, as she told the protestors, “I have listened to you, you have the right to be here, but I also have the right to speak.”

But they did not allow her the right to speak.  This troubles me.

In my view, the protesters, in asserting their right to free speech, forgot that they had an obligation to allow the other speakers to be heard by the audience.  One reason why the Vanguard article does not quote the Indian Consulate General is that the protesters drowned out his voice – the combination of his soft tone, his accent, and the protesters made it impossible to pick up what he said on my recorder.

This troubles me.  The protesters wanted to be heard.  They had the absolute right to free speech.  They had the right to assemble on the grounds.  They had the right to hold their signs.  In my view, what they did not have the right to do was grab a bullhorn and shout down the speakers – and too often that is what they did.

They wanted us to hear them, but they would often not let the crowd and audience hear the other speakers.

There was a lot of finger pointing over the issue of the protesters being allowed to use the bullhorns.  There was a lot of finger pointing over the issue of allowing the protesters to have such close proximity to the main stage.

The Davis Police Department did a good job of keeping the interaction non-violent, but they were limited in number, wishing to avoid accruing overtime.  Some believe that the city would have been justified calling in the California Highway Patrol.  The CHP is well versed on crowd control and protests, as they often have to keep the peace at protests in front of the State Capitol building.

In the end, rather than pushing this to the city, Davis PD, or the organizers, this was on the protesters.  The protesters could have made their same point with their presence, and by politely listening to the speakers, as they did by shouting on their bullhorns.

I am troubled by the lack of judgment on the part of protesters, as well.  At one point there were school children who had developed songs and poetry to celebrate the life and struggle of Gandhi.  The conduct of the protesters left something to be desired.

First of all, some of the chants that they did were not acceptable for a family atmosphere.  I get it, they think and have some evidence to suggest that Gandhi had sexual indiscretions toward children and family members.  I even get them having that on the signs, but why chant this stuff in front of a bunch of school-age children?  Who thought that was acceptable or a  good idea?

One of the organizers pleaded with the protesters that the children were innocent in this.  The protesters later responded that the children were being used.

There is a time and place to have these disagreements, but discretion would have been the better part of valor here.

People were legitimately upset over their right to speak being infringed upon.  The protesters, in my view, would have been just as effective – in fact, more effective, because they would have been beyond reproach – had they been there and not chanting during people’s speeches.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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61 thoughts on “Commentary: Free Speech Lost Out on Sunday”

  1. Barack Palin

    Any means necessary for the protesters freedom fighters.  Right?  Or are our local liberals only disgusted about this because it’s an issue that most of them supported?

    1. South of Davis

      BP wrote:

      > are our local liberals only disgusted about this because

      > it’s an issue that most of them supported?

      I think BP has lived in Davis long enough to know that:

      Free Speech = Liberal Speech

      Hate Speech = Conservative Speech

        1. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > None of which has any relevance to this article or the points made here.

          You wrote “This troubles me” when the protesters made it hard for a liberal politician to speak.  Have you ever wrote “this troubles me” after hearing that liberal protesters were making it hard for a conservative politician to speak?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I only speak for myself, I don’t think it’s good and it bothers me when it happens. If you want to know why I made it a point here – I happened to be at this event and observed it.

        2. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > Both sides are liberals.

          When did the Sikh faith change its teaching on abortion, drug use, gay marriage and interfaith marriage to match that of liberal US politicians?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I think you need to look at who was at this event. Amar Shergill is a big backer of Mariko Yamada, for example.

    2. Gorki

      “When did the Sikh faith change its teaching on abortion, drug use, gay marriage and interfaith marriage to match that of liberal US politicians….”

      No Need to change. The Sikh faith condemns any prejudice; period. Please check out the teachings of the Sikh scriptures; they are more ‘liberal’ than any current liberal politician in the US 🙂

  2. PhillipColeman

    I probably am not the first person to say this. Should that be the case, somebody please insert that little copyright icon after the below quote:

    “I’m a firm believer in Free Speech, as long as its me doing all the talking.”

  3. Tia Will

    I think BP has lived in Davis long enough to know that:

    Free Speech = Liberal Speech

    Hate Speech = Conservative Speech”

    And what I think is that BP, SOD and I have lived in Davis long enough to realize that those who argue against our public officials speaking out on issues other than what any one group decides are issues essential to the city are essentially arguing for a form of public censorship.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > those who argue against our public officials speaking out on

      > issues other than what any one group decides are issues essential

      > to the city are essentially arguing for a form of public censorship.

      I often say that “nothing offends me” and since that is the case I am “pro choice on everything” and feel that “the government should not censor anything”.

      With that said when I am a patient “paying” a MD to perform a prostate exam I don’t want to hear about a pipeline that runs near an Indian reservation 1,500 miles away when I am paying them to do a  job just like when I am a taxpayer “paying” a city council to run the city I don’t want then talking about a pipeline that runs near an Indian reservation 1,500 miles away when they are together getting paid to do a job.  Once the MD finishes the exam or the city council gavels the meeting to a close I am fine if they all head out to street corners to tell everyone walking by about the pipeline they don’t like.

      If I hired Tia and “paid” her to make a video about how soda is bad for kids but she just talked about a pipeline in another state I would not be mad because I don’t support free speech (since I support her right to spend the rest of her life doing nothing but speaking out against pipelines near Indian reservations) I would be mad since I am “paying” her to do one thing and she is not doing it…

      1. Tia Will

        SOD

        With that said when I am a patient “paying” a MD to perform a prostate exam I don’t want to hear about a pipeline that runs near an Indian reservation 1,500 miles away when I am paying them to do a  job just like when I am a taxpayer “paying” a city council to run the city I don’t want then talking about a pipeline that runs near an Indian reservation 1,500 miles away when they are together getting paid to do a job.  Once the MD finishes the exam or the city council gavels the meeting to a close I am fine if they all head out to street corners to tell everyone walking by about the pipeline they don’t like.”

        Well you may certainly feel that way, however, many of my patients ask me my opinion on issues that are not directly related to the  specific test that we are doing that day. If they do ask me my opinion on another matter, should I just ignore them, or tell them that’s not my job….or, if I am knowledgeable on the issue, and they have actively sought my opinion, should I give it ?

        You consistently act as though the city council members are bringing up these issues on their own just because they feel like it. What you never seem to consider is that some members of our community care very much about these issues that you do not think are relevant. They bring these issues before the city council members and ask for some kind of action. Should the city council members just ignore these members of our community because their interests are different from yours ?

         

        1. Mark West

          “Should the city council members just ignore these members of our community because their interests are different from yours ?”

          The CC members should have the fortitude to tell people that an issue is not in the CC’s area of influence or responsibility and should be addressed in another venue. The CC does not have to discuss an issue just because someone requests it, and should not spend time on issues that are not relevant to their role of overseeing the operations of the City. Individually the CC members are free to spend their time as they wish, but when it comes to their collective responsibility of running the City, they should focus on the job at hand.

      2. South of Davis

        Tia wrote:

        > They bring these issues before the city council members and ask

        > for some kind of action. Should the city council members just ignore

        > these members of our community because their interests are

        > different from yours ?

        I don’t want the city council to “ignore members of our community” I just want them to focus on issues “in” our community at “city council meetings” (and other city meetings). I don’t care what the council members or anyone else does in their free time.

        If a patient told you she wanted Kaiser to take “some kind of action” to stop a pipeline 1,500 miles away would you spend hours in the next Kaiser “doctors council meeting” debating what “action” Kaiser should take?

    2. hpierce

      I have no problem with CC members ‘speaking out’… what I object to is them putting their fingers in my mouth, and ‘speaking out’ on behalf of the community, rather than themselves, as individuals…

  4. Tia Will

    One of the organizers pleaded with the protesters that the children were innocent in this.  The protesters later responded that the children were being used.”

    Whether or not the children were being “used” is no cause for their abuse by the protestors. I cannot see how teaching through example the contempt for civility and lack of respect for the view points of others is in any way beneficial for children. I have no problem with expressions of disagreement. I have a very large problem with lack of respect for the truly held beliefs of another, regardless of which side of an issue one may be on.

    1. hpierce

      So, if I had a ‘truly held belief’ that the Holocaust did not happen (which view, if I held it, would be total BS), you  would respect that?  Would you speak out if I tried to erect a statue in Community Park to honor Hitler, the SS, etc.?

      And no, Ghandi and Hitler were ~ (but not exactly) 180 degrees apart, so am not comparing them, but still, what are your limits to respecting “truly held beliefs”?  Do you respect the view that a person, a child, exists at the moment of conception?

      Reality check on your respect for the “truly held beliefs” of others.

      1. Tia Will

        hpierce

        My reality is as stated.

        If you had a “truly held belief” that the Holocaust did not happen, or that Hitler was a “strong leader”, I would respect your right to hold those beliefs even though I would speak out against them frequently and in public. There is a difference in respecting a belief, and respecting your right to hold and espouse your belief. And I believe that I can demonstrate the truth of this statement to you. I find the positions of the Westboro Baptist Church to be equally odious to those of the Holocaust deniers, and yet, I have repeatedly stated in various threads here that I defend their right to make their claims. My freedom of speech is no more valuable than is their’s….if I attack their right to speak, I have de facto attacked my own.

  5. hpierce

    When folk are denied the right to share opposing views “at the podium”, they seek their voice any which way they can… they may even make the “crowd” their podium.

    That is true regardless of conservative/liberal… look at ‘hecklers’ at any of the ‘rallies’ of the major two presidential candidates… maybe the RSVP for the statue ‘event’ should have clearly stated, “if you are not prepared to deify/celebrate Ghandi, you are not welcome to attend”.

    1. Biddlin

      Maybe the CC should have had the sense to politely reject the idea of putting this statue in a public space. Once having accepted it, however, it seems most impertinent to allow the ceremony to be dominated by such controversy.

      1. hpierce

        Agree in the main (particularly the ‘dominating’ part… that was just wrong)… yet, a polite rejection, without invective, would probably have been the better measure of decorum, discernment, and judgment….

    2. hpierce

      BTW, agree ~ 95% with what David actually wrote… voices need to be heard… but in most cases, the standard of “time, place, and manner (or manners)” is a good compass point.

  6. Misanthrop

    Good piece David but the city needs to do a post incident debriefing and think about how this could have been handled better.

    As for those who are trying to make hay by politicizing this as liberal versus conservative speech I want to say that when people disrupted a Presidential candidate’s rally in Chicago to the point that it was cancelled I felt the protestors went too far. The problem with politicizing the infringement of someone’s free speech rights is that it cuts both ways. We must stand up for everyone’s right to free speech or everyone loses.

  7. ryankelly

    By staging a Westboro Church style protest, they lose.   They came, they disrupted, they shouted down speakers, they held up their obnoxious signs, yet the ceremony still went on.  I researched their cause and, yes, Ghandi was not a hero to the Sikhs. But he was to many others and was a role model for non-violent action to create change.  For that alone, he deserves recognition.  These people can rant and be obnoxious, and forget that their own history is full of violence and assassinations in the name of their cause, which we find that out too when we research.  Maybe they are new at this and just made a mistake in emmulating the style of protest that they saw on TV, but they could not have done a better job in turning people away from supporting them.

    1. hpierce

      Do not disagree with your sentiments, but could the same thing have been done by a resolution, w/o the statue thing?  Again, name one statue, recognizing an individual in any City Park… oh, now there is one.  Precisely one.

      Perhaps we need a statue for Columbus… or Sutter… or Jerome Davis… or Benedict Arnold (we have a street named for him)… or FDR… or Lincoln… or Jefferson…

    2. Frankly

      These people can rant and be obnoxious, and forget that their own history is full of violence and assassinations in the name of their cause

      A good ubiquitous point.  “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

      Perhaps we need a statue for Columbus… or Sutter… or Jerome Davis… or Benedict Arnold (we have a street named for him)… or FDR… or Lincoln… or Jefferson…

      My point too.  And it gets back to the previous point… and that all heroes are created equal, but some heroes are more equal than others.   And the lore of liberalism when we look to our own country we only have FDR.  But these days even FDR has lost his left-thinking hero shine.  Must go global because then we can bypass our own American white guilt and feel like we are more evolved and sophisticated.

      1. hpierce

        Nearly all our “heroes” have feet of clay… all of the ones I mentioned in this thread, had “issues”… look at your money (coins and bills)… see who is depicted… look at commemorative stamps… can find lots of things to honor for each, and in a heartbeat, could find a bunch of things to say they should not be so honored…

        It is written, “make no graven images”… the wisdom of that is becoming apparent…

    1. hpierce

      Yeah, Yoda was just looking for a “lei”… very human…

      Will make a prediction… either the statue will be gone, in 10 years, or there will be many other controversies about additional statues proposed to be erected in the same period of time.

      Was “channelled” by Nostradamus (we should consider a statue to him) earlier this morning…

  8. hpierce

    Speaking of statues/memorials… unlike New England, we have no WWI cannons/howitzers in our parks, roundabouts, etc.

    Yet more Davis guys died in WWI than all of the other wars put together (source:  memorial @ Davis Cemetery)… where is our statue for honoring them? (and US involement was less than 2 years)

    In part, they were defending the right of ‘free speech’…

    Will be interesting to see if I have anonymous free speech…

    1. hpierce

      BTW… the Davis Cemetery District is a separate government entity than the City… the District allows honors to be held, particularly on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, for those who have protected us, and the rights we hold dear.

      Passivism is a good ideal… sometimes you have to fight for that.

    2. Misanthrop

      Its on a memorial plaque in front of the Veterans Center with all the names of the WWI casualties from Davis who lost their lives in that terrible war.

        1. hpierce

          OK, Don, buildings = statues? Good… we don’t need a statue to honor Chavez, Holmes, Korematsu, Barovetto, Harper, Montgomery, Willet, Emerson, or Da Vinci…  or anyone a street is named for in Davis…your point not taken… what statue exists in a public park that honors a particular individual… as of Sunday, I still count one…

          Perhaps, instead of a statue we should rename Fifth Street, between L and Pole Line, Ghandi Drive, per your apparent ”logic’…

    3. PhillipColeman

      In front of the Veteran’s Memorial Center, a City building, I believe there’s still a large granite tablet near the front entrance. Etched on it are all the Davis residents who died in combat and includes the particular war that cost them their lives.

  9. ryankelly

    Another example of a protest over a controversial issue that could have been better emulated is the Scouting For All event.  The Scouting group came, talked, educated, persuaded and I think their cause gained many more supporters – especially within the local BSA membership.  The City Council supported it (except for Harrington) and a plaque is hanging in Community Chambers.  Change was slow, but the National discriminatory policy regarding gay membership and leadership was eventually changed.

      1. ryankelly

        I know.   I believe the Eagle Scout returned his award in protest over the policy.  Confusing why the father wouldn’t support the effort to change the discriminatory policy….  but that’s not the point I’m making here.  The Scouting for All event carried forward despite opposition in the community over appropriateness of the local government getting involved in non-civic issues.  It was a well-run, peaceful event that changed views.  The Sikh protesters could have done better to emulate this type of protest instead of that of a hate group.

         

    1. hpierce

      Actually, my sources indicate that the local BSA didn’t gain a bunch of more supporters on the policy issue from ‘National’… the support was already there (has been for many years, BTW, even if not overt to the larger community).

      ~45 years ago, I was a participant in BSA, and when when a ‘scout’ expressed homo-phobic views [against his half-brother, no less], he was ‘shut down’ by fellow Scouts… and the adults backed that play when they found out… later…

      BSA’s problems started, in my opinion, when the *** [initials] church started taking over the leadership roles @ the National level… right after they were excoriated by National for not allowing black kids to attain leadership roles in the Troops they sponsored… the opportunity was there… there were pedophillic, non-homosexual adults who did some bad things… in the 70’s there was little distinction between male adult-boy pedophillia, and homosexuality.  40+ years later, we know that being heterosexual or LGBT has nothing much to do with pedophillia… prior to the mid 70’s, the expectation was that Scouts were not sexually active, and therefore, “orientation” had no concerns…

      I suspect there were several ‘gay’ Scoutmasters/leaders when I was in Scouts 40+ years ago… still in ‘the closet’, but didn’t matter as they were moral, honest, and caring folk… and not pedophiles.

      1. ryankelly

        So you agree that the local protest by Scouting for All could have been emulated by the Sikh group protesting the installation of the Ghandi statue?

        1. hpierce

          A “passive/aggressive” question… so, no response here as to the gist…  when you start out with “so you agree”, with the inentt of changing what I said, then you lose me as to a thoughtful or factual discussion… I’m funny that way…

  10. MikeNDavis

    Thanks for the thoughtful coverage David. There are some inherently messy things in this process, and that is the nature of protected free speech. The speech that needs protection is not the speech that most agree with. I am glad that the city did not try to suppress the speech of the protesters, but I, like you, am disappointed that the protesters were unable to reciprocate. It became pretty obvious from the city council meeting I attended (for a while) that their views on Ghandi were hardened and hardly nuanced. It appears that this was more of a mission to convince others that Ghandi was evil, rather than hold a conversation, not unlike much of current public “discourse”. For the record I feel that any suppression of conservative or progressive voices on campuses or other public settings is reprehensible and misguided.

    1. Davis Progressive

      appreciate this comment.  i think the view that gandhi was evil is difficult to sustain.  that he was a product of his times, is not in dispute.  that he was overly rigid in non-violence at times caused him other problems.  sexual indiscretions?  hard to know.

      more importantly, the sikh community has legitimate grievances against the indian government and this is in most ways a proxy fight.

      1. Justice4All

        To say “he was a product of his time” is to decouple his mistakes from the Gandhi legend. I use those words because historical figures have artificial narratives constructed by historians that are often inaccurate. It is important for reasonable people to see any historical figure in depth. That includes acknowledging the indiscretions of said person. Any analysis of FDR would be woefully incomplete without mentioning the Japanese internment camps. Same with Reagan and Iran Contra, the founding fathers and their great slavery hypocrisy, and yes, Gandhi and his historical warts.

  11. Alan Miller

    The CHP is well versed on crowd control and protests, as they often have to keep the peace at protests in front of the State Capitol building.

    They sure did a sh***y job of it a few months ago at the white supremacists rally.

      1. Alan Miller

        Alan… curious  as to why you dd not

        I never answer as to why I didn’t do something, only why I did do something, as there is no reason for not.

  12. Tia Will

    Mark

    The CC members should have the fortitude to tell people that an issue is not in the CC’s area of influence or responsibility and should be addressed in another venue.”

    I agree completely with this sentence. And I feel that it is the prerogative of the CC members to decide for themselves which matters fall within the CC’s “area of influence” and which do not. This is one of the rights and responsibilities that are assumed by the council members when elected. The rest of us do not get to impose our will about what is and is not within the purview of the CC since we have not put ourselves forward, nor been chosen for this responsibility.

    In controversial issues, I believe that it often requires more “fortitude” to address the issue than it does to punt. You and I both have the right to hold different opinions on what are appropriate issues, but I feel that we will often disagree. Thus we need to defer to those who have accepted this responsibility.

  13. Justice4All

    First of all, some of the chants that they did were not acceptable for a family atmosphere.  I get it, they think and have some evidence to suggest that Gandhi had sexual indiscretions toward children and family members.  I even get them having that on the signs, but why chant this stuff in front of a bunch of school-age children?  Who thought that was acceptable or a  good idea?

    I think its important to recognize just how the protesters feel about Gandhi and his historical legacy. If some group wanted to erect a statue of FDR in a very public place and the API community was to object, due to the internment camps, would Davis really follow through and put up the statue? What if some group wanted to erect a statue of Columbus and Native Americans were to object? Would that statue be erected? What about Thomas Jefferson? Would the city Davis really erect a statue of Jefferson given his history of owning and raping his slaves? I think not.

    Maybe the chants and hostility of the protesters was too much for some people. I get that. But what is the greater injustice? The Muslim and Sikh communities have a right to be outraged over this statue, and the process in which it was erected. Should they write letters to the editor and quietly ask for the statue to be removed on ethical grounds?

    Power NEVER concedes anything without struggle. Sometimes that struggle makes people uncomfortable, or forces parents to have awkward conversations with their children. Sure, the protesters could have been more polite about it, but I think that was the point. They didnt feel like their voices were being heard, hence the need to force people to listen. Maybe I ought to just write an official response! 🙂

     

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