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Respecting the Right to Disagree

By Kim Knox

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.

— Thomas Paine

And don't regard yourself as a guardian of freedom unless you respect and preserve the rights of people you disagree with to free, public, unhampered expression.

— Gerard K. O'Neill

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

— Benjamin Franklin

Last week, the majority of active members in the San Francisco Green Party voted to disenfranchise several of their members. The targets of the vote were declared to no longer be active members and were stripped their right to vote on matters in front of the SF Green Party (including endorsements).

In the past, the SF Green Party has stated that a party member who has attended at least two working-group meetings in the previous six months was an active member.

Last week, the SF Green Party decided to decertify one committee since it claimed that it didn't provide minutes or sign-in sheets. But that committee had provided a list of active members. The SF Green Party also disenfranchised participants on another committee by calling a meeting on Valentine's Day. Those who didn't show up for that one meeting were left off the list of the active membership list (even if they had attended meetings over the past year).

The people who were disenfranchised from voting at SF Green Party meetings were active in the Frontlines newspaper.

While I don't agree with the members who are connected to Frontlines, I don't think that we should forget the Green Party's ten key values, which include grassroots democracy (the official Green Party literature says, "We need to develop participatory systems that encourage us to control the decisions that affect our lives"), social justice ("We need to create a system that promotes equality and dignity for all"), and decentralization ("We need to devolve power and responsibility from larger and more distant institutions down to individuals and communities, with the eventual goal of a decentralized, democratic society").

Frontlines has printed scathing remarks about SF Green Party members who voted against its stances or ran against its candidate for District 9. In my opinion, the text of the paper’s endorsement of Ross Mirkarimi also contained several caustic remarks.

But the values of the Green Party need to be reflected in our actions with all Greens, including the ones whom we disagree with. Our lives have been changed because people listened instead of marginalizing their opponents.

Ernest Miranda was an ex-con when he was arrested as a suspect in a rape case. When the police picked him up, they didn't tell them that they were bringing him to be part of a line-up. His case, "Miranda vs. Arizona," established that all who are arrested are told their rights under law in order to avoid self-incrimination. The "Miranda Rights" are what police officers recite to you at the time of your arrest: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to be speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense."

A gambler named Clarence Gideon had a lot to do with that last provision. Gideon was brought into court on several occasions. At age 51, he knew enough about criminal law to understand that he was outmatched against a professional prosecutor without a lawyer of his own. Throughout his trial, he claimed his innocence and requested an attorney. When he wasn't provided with a lawyer and was convicted of burglary, he spent his time in prison researching and appealing his case. His persistence finally landed his case in front of Earl Warren and the U.S. Supreme Court. It was "Gideon versus Wainwright" that established that if you cannot afford an attorney, you can have a public defender appointed to your case.

The Green Party or any other party must be large enough to include people with differing opinions, people with differing issues, and people whom others will not agree with. When we take away the rights of one group of people, we begin to take the rights away of all of us.