Funny thing happened the other day.  A Facebook friend blocked me because I suggested that we all have to consider the consequences of what we say.  I guess I found out the consequences of saying that!

But, seriously, freedom of speech is no laughing matter.  And, in fact, it is probably one of the things I am most proud of about this country—that we can challenge our government without fear of losing life or limb.

I grew up in a time and place in which it was not uncommon to have neighbors or fellow church members from Central America—refugees whose family members had “disappeared” because they spoke out against their country’s dictators.  I also remember childhood stories about other countries from which my friends had fled or where our church’s missionaries served—countries where neighbors might report their neighbors for challenging their government or for speaking freely about their religion. 

I prefer not to dilute the idea of freedom of speech. 

My point in the above-referenced Facebook conversation was that there’s a difference between violations of freedom and speech and facing consequences for what we say.  And we all have to be ready to (wo)man up to what we say.  I shared that throughout my career I’ve had to weigh how much to say. I have often worked as an advocate, pronouncing challenges to the system that might keep me from ever having certain types of cushy corporate jobs or might make me the enemy of a particular political administration.  It affects my career options.  But I make those decisions intentionally based on my values and what I understand my life calling to be.  And I don’t cry about the consequences.

Of course, this debate was prompted by the whole Duck Dynasty thing.

Now, I don’t have cable. And I’m not a big reality show fan.  So I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty.  And I didn’t read the entire article which caused the furor nor have I seen more than just snippets of interviews or commentaries about it on the air.  But I am convinced that anyone who has a TV show and derives their income based on the public’s loyalty or public opinion has got to know that what they say may have an impact on their livelihood.  A family member might be kicked off the show.  A sports celebrity might lose an endorsement.  A politician might lose an election.  There are consequences to what we say.

But the government did not come and censor Duck Dynasty for what was said nor confiscate their property.  No one was thrown in jail or forced into exile.  No one “disappeared.”

If we’re going to complain about infringement upon our freedom of speech, let’s complain about things like this:

Back in the early-mid 2000s when I was running a non-profit housing advocacy organization, we participated in a coalition that developed a “report card” evaluating the mayor’s performance on a number of issues.  Our committee focused on the state of affordable housing in Chicago.  We held a press conference to annouce the D+ grade we gave the mayor. 

Lucky for me, I was unable to play a leading role in the press conference.  I told my colleagues I would arrive late because of a previous commitment, so I couldn’t speak to the media.  I actually got there so late that I missed it altogether.  The crowd was dispersing when I arrived.

The next day, our coalition’s action got prominent coverage in the local newspaper, with a big picture accompanying the article.  My colleagues who had spoken in the press conference were featured in the photo. 

And the very next day, every single person who appeared in the picture in the paper had City building inspectors show up at their personal home looking for possible building code violations.  I would have been less surprised if the inspectors showed up at the non-profits that dared to criticize the mayor.  But harassing the individuals at their private residences?  I was shocked and dismayed.  Well, maybe not shocked.  I do live in Chicago.  But I certainly was dismayed.

Then there was that Chic-Fil-A thing last year.

I happen to know the Chicago city councilman who stirred things up by saying that he would oppose the location of a new Chic-Fil-A in his district because of the chain’s anti-homosexual stance.  The ward in which this became an issue is right next door to my long-time neighborhood.  So this hit quite close to home for me.

In this case, I side with Chic-Fil-A.

I need to go meet with this alderman one of these days soon to get some advice.  So I’m taking a chance here by even mentioning it.  (Yes, there can be consequences to what we say.)  But, I’m going to count on there being room for healthy debate about positions as part of an on-going effort to always be moving our democracy toward a better place.

You see, I’m convinced that freedom of speech means that the government can’t deny a company the right to do business just because of their political or religious or any other kinds of opinions or statements.  I would, however, come down really hard on Chic-Fil-A if they were found to be illegally discriminating against homosexuals in their employment practices or otherwise. That’s illegal.  But speaking out against homosexuality or gay marriage is not.  It just might lose you a bunch of business.  Or gain you some.

As for me, there are a number of business I personally boycott because of the stances their owners take in loud, public ways.  That’s an appropriate response.  I don’t shop at Walmart.  I don’t consume Oberweiss products.  I don’t eat at Jimmy John’s.  If you can’t imagine why, I’ll let you do the research—or keep reading my blog over the coming weeks and months.  Oh, and, actually, I think I’ve only twice ever eaten at Chic-Fil-A.

As for the subject of freedom of speech sometimes being funny, I did think there was a lot that was laughable about the whole Duck Dynasty thing.  Not the least of which is the fact that some of the same people (or types of people) who were so upset that Phil Robertson may face monetary consequences for what he said were more than happy to financially punish the Dixie Chicks when they publicly aired their negative opinions about President George Bush.

But, hey, that’s a discussion for another day.


Chicago Froze Over

January 7, 2014

I started my blog this time last year with a post called “Hell Froze Over.” The premise was that I—a self-described political junkie—had moved out of the Humboldt Park/Logan Square neighborhood where I had long been active politically and had taken a sabbatical from politics. No one could believe it. Hell had frozen over.

My plan was to reflect in writing all year long about what I had learned/was learning through it all.

A year later, I haven’t kept up with my blog. But my personal break from politics has largely continued until lately. Meanwhile, Chicago, Illinois, and national politics go on as usual.

In the midst of below zero high temps, the current hot topic is whether—in the aftermath of back-to-back snowstorms followed by record-breaking cold—the just-back-from-vacation mayor has ensured adequate City response to streets that still need to be plowed. And whether and how much the power of the Chicago Teachers Union caused the Chicago Public Schools officials to flip-flop on their initial decision to keep schools open during this deep freeze.

Others who made an about-face on similar decisions these days include my friends in Humboldt Park who put on the annual Three Kings Day Winter Festival and Parade. Yesterday was to be the 20th anniversary of the event. But after first modifying the parade plans to make it more of a caravan, the hosts eventually relented altogether and decided it was safer for everyone to just stay home.

So that left me with too little to do.

You see, my family has made it tradition to attend the annual parade on Division Street, fondly known as Paseo Boricua. We meet up at Café Colao for coffee and hot chocolate and wait for the parade to make its way down the street. And then we usually gather at my home to cut the traditional Rosca de Reyes and open presents.

But the winter weather messed up all of our plans. My dad’s health doesn’t let him go out in this cold, even if he wanted to. My mom and I were tempted to go hang out at that favorite coffee house and watch the parade/caravan despite the cold—hard core Chicagoans and Dia de los Reyes celebrants that we are. But then that was canceled. (Good thing, ‘cause my Puerto Rico-raised hubby thought we were nuts to even consider it.) To top it off, my brother and nephew were scheduled to come back from a trip to Florida just in time for our family gathering, but their flight was cancelled and rescheduled for two days later (lucky them.)

So, as I sat in my living room yesterday, hunkered-down for the second day in a row like much of Chicago to avoid the snow and -40 wind chills, I had more time on my hands than originally planned.

What is a girl to do? (Why, write a blog post, of course.)

You see, I’m not good at being unscheduled for too long. At relaxing. And reflecting. I like to keep busy. It is my normal mode.

That’s a big part of what has been reinforced for me during my sabbatical and since. You see, it doesn’t take me being involved in politics for me to get very busy. Over-busy.

Which is why I discontinued writing the blog last spring. But a number of people have brought it up recently, saying they missed my pithy posts. One person asked whether I stopped writing about swearing off politics because I was no longer swearing off politics. That’s not it, actually. I’ve continued to keep my head pretty low when it comes to politics, at least until the last couple of months.

I just got overwhelmed with other things and knew I had to fight to maintain some balance. The blog was one thing I knew I could let go as I picked up more and more responsibility at work. I’ve been trying not to fill every moment with obligations so I could have some free time for other things. Family time. Friend time. But I have mostly lost the battle. My professional life took over.

The weight of my work got so heavy that I had to quit. Well, that’s a major over-simplification of why I pursued a new job opportunity. But I do remember thinking that I seem to have to make a major change to stop the momentum from continuing to build.

Why can’t I just get a hold of the pace and intensity?  I guess it’s fine that my normal mode is go-go-go.  I’m just wired that way.  But why does the pendulum often swing too far in that direction?  How can I keep it closer to resting at equilibrium? Cutting back on things I don’t absolutely have to do—like writing my blog—was part of my pursuit of discipline.  The discipline required for my life to at least approximate equilibrium.

As I start a new year, I’m starting a new job.  And hitting the refresh button on the struggle to keep things in balance.  In this midst of the polar vortex, today I took on a new challenge as Statewide Housing Coordinator for Long-Term Care Reform in the Illinois Governor’s Office.

That being the case, I don’t think I can promise to stay out of politics going forward. Though my professional role is not related to the campaign, my new boss is up for re-election this year. Besides, I went to political fundraiser for a candidate for state representative before the holidays. And I have a few more campaign donations for local races that I plan to make.  I can’t imagine there won’t be any politics in my near future.

But I do intend to pick up where I left off the blog last spring—trying to maintain some balance while reflecting out loud about my experiences with and opinions about politics. I was poised to speak into some of the hot political topics our society seems obsessed with.

Maybe that will heat things up around here.

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