My Turn: Diversity is an opportunity for talking about values

Posted: Monday, July 25, 2005

Freedom of speech, but only what I want to see or hear? What kind of democratic principle is that?

Public, particularly parental, complaints about the presence of political and gay participation and messages in Juneau's Fourth of July Parade are quite an irony. What with freedom of speech being the theme of this Independence Day event.

What are these folks afraid of? If their child should see or hear something that the parents disapprove of, it is an opportunity to have a discussion of differences, to express their family's values, to contribute to their child's education. In terms and to the extent appropriate to their age and understanding, of course. This applies to all sorts of things besides parade floats: speeches, displays, TV programs and TV commercials, products, fashions, tattoos, the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, sex education, spiritual beliefs, library exhibits, and so on.

This brings to mind an experience I promoted for my own family, years ago. It was in 1972, when demagogue and racist George Wallace, governor of Alabama, ran for president. My husband and I and our three school-aged children lived in Marin County, in the San Francisco Bay area. Because our community was a predominately white, upper-middle-class suburb, Bob and I constantly sought ways to have our children exposed to the diversities of life. George Wallace had scheduled a huge political rally at San Francisco's Cow Palace and the media were buzzing.

I am a lifelong liberal and I was seriously offended by George Wallace's candidacy and what I perceived as a fascist message. I decided I wanted my kids to hear what he had to say and to experience the response of his supporters, first hand, rather than on the nightly news. (I did not expect that we would be exposing them to any safety hazard.) My husband was in agreement and we made this a family expedition.

Cars converged across bridges and from all over the Bay area, and this huge arena was packed with an enthusiastic, noisy crowd. Signs, bouncing balloons, shouts and whistling were all around us. We took it all in, including Wallace's harangue. The rhetoric was disturbing. And we talked about it on the way home and for days afterward when it was reported on TV and the radio. It was a great first-hand civics lesson.

Censorship should not be the answer to dissent. There is too much stifling of dissent today, in our state, in our nation and in our media. It is totally antithetical to the ideals of the Constitution of the United States of America. A legal opinion letter from the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union addressed the issue last year, following the dispute about who and what would be acceptable in Juneau's parade.

I was relieved and proud of the Juneau Fourth of July Committee for reversing its proposed censorship policy. This year's theme, freedom of speech, was an inspiring follow-up, with the chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast as grand marshal of the parade. And the creativity of Juneau citizens was definitely something to celebrate.

• Dixie Hood is a therapist and Juneau resident.

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