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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Dying For Freedom

Some of my best friends have been hanging out in Waterville, ME, on account of our 20th college reunion.  Alas, at kinda the last minute we were unable to attend, and I've been thinking about all the goings on up there as well as our lives as young pups on Mayflower Hill so long ago.

Our freshman year, Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) came to Colby to receive the Lovejoy Award.  It was the only time I'd ever attended one of the recipient's speeches--I clearly had nothing better to do that evening (ahem).  It was 1987, when Reagan was still president, the Berlin Wall was still standing, and Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned by South Africa's Apartheid regime.

An interesting thing the good Senator (and candidate for president) said in his address:

Freedom of the press is not only threatened by government. It is also threatened today by greater and greater concentration of ownership. I do not know the answer for this. But with more and more newspapers operated with the bottom financial line as the main aim rather than the public good, the service rendered by a press that is in danger of being less free, less responsive, and more subservient is a cause of concern.

Yeah, as Bill Moyers observed 16 years later:

I keep coming back to the subject of media conglomeration because it can take the oxygen out of democracy. The founders of this country believed a free and rambunctious press was essential to the protection of our freedoms. They couldn't envision the rise of giant megamedia conglomerates whose interests converge with state power to produce a conspiracy against the people. I think they would be aghast at how this union of media and government has produced the very kind of imperial power against which they rebelled.

I think our press is pretty rambunctious, but not in the sense Moyers meant.  A truly free, independent and adversarial press that democracy requires is best exemplified by the namesake of Senator Simon's award:

[Elijah Parish Lovejoy] had a deeply religious upbringing, as his father was a Congregational minister and his mother a devout Christian. He attended Waterville College (now Colby College) in his home state of Maine. Afterward, he traveled west, where he settled in St. LouisMissouri in 1827. He worked as an editor of an anti-Jacksonian newspaper, the St. Louis Observer and ran a school. Five years later, he returned East to the Princeton Theological Seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian preacher. Returning to St. Louis, he set up a church and worked again as editor of the Observer. His editorials were critical of slavery and other denominations.

In May 1836, after opponents destroyed his printing press for the third time, Lovejoy left St. Louis and moved across the river to Alton in the free state of Illinois. In 1837 he started the Alton Observer, also an abolitionist paper. On November 7, 1837, a pro-slavery mob attacked the warehouse where Lovejoy had landed his fourth printing press. Lovejoy and his supporters exchanged gunfire with them, and when he tried to prevent the mob from burning down the warehouse, they shot him. He died on the spot and was soon hailed as a martyr by abolitionists across the country.

Now that Memorial Day is behind us, I'd like to put in a plug for another holiday (or two) without sounding like I'm disrespecting those who have died in our wars.  We hear all the time about how people serving in the military are defending our freedoms, but they are certainly not the only people who do so, let alone die doing so.  

Elijah Lovejoy died for freedom of the press and freedom from slavery, and of course there are others who have paid the ultimate price while fighting nonviolently for liberty and justice.  Dr King, for one.  But he gets his own holiday, which in a way is a disservice to everybody else who worked for civil rights because it fosters the Great Man myth and makes it seem like there are no Armies of Righteousness struggling and sacrificing for the rest of us.

What about James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner?  Do they not deserve to be memorialized along with countless others who died in the defense of freedom?

We've got two days set aside just for military personnel: Memorial Day (for those who died) and Veterans Day (for those who served and survived).  We surely could use two days for other brave people who put it all on the line without grabbing a rifle.  Hell, I'll settle for just one--call it Peace and Justice Day maybe, or Liberty Day, or whatever--so we could honor Lovejoy, King, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner along with DouglassRankin and Chavez, and the countless anonymous folks, neighbors and family members who have fought the good fight.


June 4, 2011 | Permalink


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"It was 1987, when Reagan was still president, the Berlin Wall was still standing, and Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned by South Africa's Apartheid regime"
Man, you are OLD! ;-) Just pulling your chain dear boy. Good post.

Posted by: mnkid | Jun 5, 2011 9:08:20 AM

AMEN on a Peace and Justice Day!

Posted by: mnkid | Jun 5, 2011 9:09:10 AM

Yes, great idea.

Posted by: Karin | Jun 5, 2011 9:20:50 AM

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