Never say that ordinary, unknown citizens cannot achieve great things. They can, if they know how to use the internet!
The internet, this amazing tool which is available for all of us, reveals its power every day. Two examples:
Chloe Cornelius is a young woman who previously posted a few self-made music videos on youtube which got very little attention. However, these videos already proved that she has very good skills for example as far as singing and video editing are concerned. Now she combined her skills and created a new powerful video which has already received quite a lot of attention - the "hymn" for the OWS-movement: "I'll Occupy" (full title: "I'll Occupy" Recruitment Song: The 99 is Pissed and We Will Not Be Dismissed!).
Hopefully this excellent clip will be spread far and wide!
Then there is the huge story regarding a young teenager from Kansas which descended over the last few days like a thunderstorm on Kansas-Governor Sam Brownback.
The young woman, 18-year-old Emma Sullivan, committed a serious crime: She tweeted.
She had about 60 followers on twitter, when she sent out the following tweet:
Governor Brownback can now change his name to Governor Blowback.
"The Wichita Eagle" reported what followed next - America has the next "first Amendment" issue (they follow in quick succession these days):
On Tuesday, Sullivan was called to her principal’s office and told that the tweet had been flagged by someone on Brownback’s staff and reported to organizers of the Youth in Government program.
The principal “laid into me about how this was unacceptable and an embarrassment,” Sullivan said. “He said I had created this huge controversy and everyone was up in arms about it … and now he had to do damage control.
“I’m mainly shocked that they would even see that tweet and be concerned about me,” she said. “I just honestly feel they’re making a lot bigger deal out of it than it actually was.”
Sullivan said the principal ordered her to write letters of apology to Brownback, the school’s Youth in Government sponsor, the district’s social studies coordinator and others.
Karl Krawitz, the school principal, did not return calls or e-mails Wednesday. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said her office had forwarded a copy of Sullivan’s tweet to organizers of the school-sponsored event “so that they were aware what their students were saying in regards to the governor’s appearance.
“We monitor social media so we can see what Kansans are thinking and saying about the governor and his policies,” Jones-Sontag said.
“We just felt it was appropriate for the organizers to be aware … because of what was said in the tweet.”
Sullivan, 18, said she posted the comment because she doesn’t agree with Brownback’s policies, particularly recent cuts in state aid to schools. She is a registered Democrat.
“Some of my friends were joking about what they’d really like to say (to Brownback), so I just took out my phone” and tweeted, she said. “I guess it was kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing.”
She didn’t think much about it, Sullivan said, because her Twitter page – @emmakate988 – had only about 60 followers and was “pretty anonymous.”
Brownback’s office discovered the tweet via a Web search for his name, officials said.
Niomi Burget, Brownback’s scheduling secretary, e-mailed a screen shot of the tweet to the Youth in Government sponsor at Shawnee Mission East, writing: “I don’t know if this was someone with your group, but thought if it was, you might want it brought to your attention.”
The Shawnee Mission school district was not in session Wednesday. Leigh Anne Neal, spokeswoman for the district, said that district officials were not aware of the incident, but would look into it after the Thanksgiving break.
“In general,” she wrote, “students on school-sponsored field trips, in which they are representing the school, would be expected to conduct themselves in accordance with school district policies, including use of electronic devices. Students may express their personal beliefs, views, and opinions, as long as they do so appropriately and in accordance with school policies.”
So is the first amendment really just a privilege? Is free speech for a young student dependent on whether the statement in question is "appropriate" and "in accordance to school policies?"
Free speech is never without any limits, not in the USA nor anywhere else. Wikipedia gives a very good overview showing how the first amendment has been interpreted by courts in the past. However, if one takes a look at the mentioned court cases within the section "Speech critical of the government" it becomes perfectly clear that public or government authorities have no right whatsoever in restricting Emma Sullivan's freedom of speech, and that school policies certainly cannot rule with regard to the question whether a student is entitled to criticize her Governor or not. It is long established that the First Amendment also applies to local government.
A good case to look at is "Cohen vs California" which was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1971:
On April 26, 1968, Paul Robert Cohen, 19, was arrested for wearing a jacket bearing the words "Fuck the Draft" inside the Los Angeles Courthouse. Inside the court room he had the jacket folded over his arm, only after exiting the room he put the jacket on and was then arrested. He was convicted of violating section 415 of the California Penal Code, which prohibited "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person [by] offensive conduct,"and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
The conviction was upheld by the California Court of Appeal, which held that "offensive conduct" means "behavior which has a tendency to provoke others to acts of violence or to in turn disturb the peace."
"Offensive conduct" - I guess that this was also the reason why the Governor's staff complained to Emma Sullivan's school.
The California Court of Appeal got a slap in the face by the US Supreme Court:
The Court, by a vote of 5-4, per Justice John Marshall Harlan II, overturned the appellate court's ruling. First, Justice Harlan began by emphasizing that this case concerned "speech," and not "conduct," as was at issue in United States v. O'Brien. Harlan then stated that any attempt by California to abridge the content of Cohen's speech would no doubt unconstitutional except in a few instances, like, for example, if California was regulating the time, place, or manner of Cohen's speech independent from the content of the speech.
Second, Harlan also expressed the concern of the Court that section 415 was vague and did not put citizens on notice as to what behavior was unlawful. Indeed, the words "offensive conduct" alone cannot "be said sufficiently to inform the ordinary person that distinctions between certain locations are thereby created."
Third, the mere use of an untoward four-letter word did not place the speech into a category of speech that has traditionally been subject to greater regulations by the government, as in Roth v. United States, for example. Similarly, Harlan and the Court refused to categorize the speech at issue as a "fighting word" under Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, because no "individual actually or likely to be present could reasonably have regarded the words on appellant's jacket as a direct personal insult." Finally, the Court was unwilling to give credence to the idea that the government could suppress the type of speech at issue here in order to protect the public at large.
Having discarded what was not at issue in this case, Harland stated that the issue was "whether California can excise, as "offensive conduct," one particular scurrilous epithet from the public discourse, either upon the theory ... that its use is inherently likely to cause violent reaction or upon a more general assertion that the States, acting as guardians of public morality, may properly remove this offensive word from the public vocabulary."
The states could not. As to the first theory, the Court stated that it was not presented with any evidence suggesting that the speech was likely to cause an incitement to violence. As to the second theory, the Court stated that while it was a closer call, the rationale was not sufficient.
Specifically, Harlan, citing Justice Brandeis' opinion in Whitney v. California, emphasized that the First Amendment operates to protect the inviolability of the marketplace of ideas imagined by the Founding Fathers. Allowing California to suppress the speech at issue in this case would be destructive to that market place of ideas.
"To many, the immediate consequence of this freedom may often appear to be only verbal tumult, discord, and even offensive utterance," Justice Harlan wrote. "These are, however, within established limits, in truth necessary side effects of the broader enduring values which the process of open debate permits us to achieve. That the air may at times seem filled with verbal cacophony is, in this sense not a sign of weakness but of strength."
"[A]bsent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions," Harlan continued, "the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense." In his opinion Justice Harlan famously wrote "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric."
Thus, Harlan’s arguments can be constructed in three major points: First, states (California) cannot censor their citizens in order to make a “civil” society. Second, knowing where to draw the line between harmless heightened emotion and vulgarity can be difficult. Third, people bring passion to politics and vulgarity is simply a side effect of a free exchange of ideas—no matter how radical they may be.
The USA still has a number of freedoms that most people in the world can only dream about. However, these freedoms are now under attack virtually on a daily basis. Americans should speak up against these abuses of power which have become commonplace, and Emma Sullivan should definitely not apologize to the Governor or anyone else for her tweet. It's time for Americans to fight for their rights. The internet is a very effective tool for this fight, and we see the first attempts in the USA to restrict internet freedom as well. The battle to preserve the freedom of speech and other rights by the US Constitution is only beginning.
Fortunately, Emma Sullivan is rethinking whether she should write the apology - for which her school principal even gave her "talking points":
Brownback's office, which monitors social media for postings containing the governor's name, saw Sullivan's post and contacted the Youth in Government program. Soon, she was in the principal's office for an hourlong scolding and a demand she send Brownback an apology letter.
The principal, who later called the situation a "disciplinary issue" that was not a public matter, even suggested talking points for the letter she was supposed to write.
Many have urged the 18-year-old to not write the letter, suggesting instead that Brownback or his representatives need to apologize to Sullivan for reporting her to school officials.
Sullivan, who plans to study psychology next year at the University of Arkansas, said Friday she is "leaning toward" not writing the apology letter that's due to the principal by Monday.
"The part I'm most nervous about is going back to school and facing him," she said. "After learning more and kind of talking to people about it and seeing how much support I have, that definitely helps."
Emma Sullivan posted her email address on twitter:
Write to her and give her your support!
PLEASE RE-TWEET THIS STORY - Links to my tweets can be found in the sidebar at the right or in our Politicalgates twitter account.
"Think Progress" pointed to a US Supreme Court case that established that students have a freedom of speech at their schools unless it is "disruptive of school activities." The US Supreme Court decided in 1969:
As we have discussed, the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred. These petitioners merely went about their ordained rounds in school. Their deviation consisted only in wearing on their sleeve a band of black cloth, not more than two inches wide. They wore it to exhibit their disapproval of the Vietnam hostilities and their advocacy of a truce, to make their views known, and, by their example, to influence others to adopt them. They neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude in the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. In the circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny their form of expression.
We have the first TV-interview by Emma Sullivan - she states that she has not decided yet whether she will write a letter of apology to Governor Sam Brownback:
Great news! Emma won't apologize - just in, via New York Times:
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas teenager who wrote a disparaging tweet about Gov. Sam Brownback is rejecting her high school principal's demand that she apologize.
Emma Sullivan told The Associated Press on Sunday that she's not sorry and an apology letter wouldn't be sincere.