Free speech and the 1st Amendment were on the tongues of a number of outraged progressives (are there any other kind?) speaking during public comments at this Tuesday’s council meeting.
Sometimes, they were referencing a proposal to change the format for public comments and the apparently egregious request that members of the audience be polite and respectful to their fellow human beings. Others took umbrage at criticism of Councilman Jose F. Moreno for provoking arrest by the Anaheim police for participating in a union stunt to shut down the Katella/Harbor intersection as thousands of NAMM Show attendees clogged the streets and sidewalks.
Here is local progressive activist Wes Jones – a regular speaker at council meetings – assailing a proposed change in the structure of public comments as an assault on free speech. He went so far as to threaten litigation:
The agenda item to which Jones referred would allot 90 minutes to the public comments period at the beginning of the council meeting, and give first dibs to those speaking to items on that night’s agenda. Those wishing to speak on topics not on the agenda could do so after the council had taken action on the agenda. But anyone who desires to speak, would be able to do so.
What would strike reasonable people as a modest change strikes Jones as an infringement on the 1st Amendment to merits litigation.
Furthermore, juxtapose Jones’ rhetoric with his actions – when the No on Measure L campaign held a press conference last year, Jones and other Measure L supporters deliberately disrupted the event to prevent their fellow citizens from expressing their views.
Later, Shakeel Syed, the executive director of OCCORD, similarly threatened legal action – but against something no one was proposing. OCCORD is a left-wing political advocacy group that functions as the community organizing arm of militant UNITE-HERE Local 11.
A number of people have criticized Moreno’s high-profile participation in UNITE-HERE’s decision to illegally shut down the intersection of Katella Avenue and Harbor Boulevard last Thursday – a media stunt aimed making the union look strong when they accepted an offer from the Sheraton Park Hotel. Since Moreno is an Anaheim councilmember, the criticism is legitimate: he chose to deliberately violate a city law and help disrupt the city’s convention business.
However, to Syed’s thinking, such criticism goes much deeper and is much more sinister:
First, no one has suggested restricting anyone’s legal right to protest or picket on public sidewalks or otherwise engage in peaceable, lawful assembly. It’s strange that Syed would conflate a legal picket line with illegally shutting down a busy intersection and disrupting people’s lives – which he euphemistically calls “civic engagement in the streets.” Most people would call it breaking the law.
Syed’s paean to free speech is even stranger given his own record of interfering with the free speech rights of those with whom he disagrees. Last spring, a business coalition held a press conference in front of City Hall to announce their opposition to UNITE-HERE’s planned initiative to boost the minimum wage of certain Resort hotels to $18 per hour. Syed showed up with a group of union and OCCORD members and physically forced their way into the press conference, waving their signs and literally shouting over press conference participants as they attempt to speak. Syed was the loudest and most obnoxious – and his goal was to physically prevent political opponents from expressing views with which he disagreed.
That is the anti-thesis of free speech. The behavior of Syed and his cohort was thuggish. And the reality of his track record makes his crocodile tears for free speech unsympathetic.
The behavior of the Syeds and Joneses and other progressive gadflies who’ve come to dominate the council chamber belies their rhetoric when it comes to free speech. They want to be able to say or do anything they want, but not only exhibit little interest in affording that liberty to those with whom they disagree – but heckle and shout-down them down.