Respecting the Right to Disagree
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
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
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,
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
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.