Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Identities

Towns, like individuals, live in the sea of history and have identities that are defined over time. Towns, like individuals, are complex entities that function on many levels: physical, emotional, political, environmental, moral, spiritual, intellectual, to name just a few.

In fact, towns and individuals are not separate entities; rather they interact, intersect, and co-create as people come to identify with where they live, shape it, and are, in turn, shaped by their towns. Why do we feel we belong in some places and not in others? What are the attributes of towns and of ourselves that make us proud when we identify as inhabitants of a particular place?

When our family moved to Woodstock in the 1980s, we moved to a town defined by the 1969 Woodstock Concert and its symbol of a dove perched on a guitar. We were drawn to Woodstock from New York City by sentiments of peace and love, acceptance of diversity, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Also, historically, Woodstock had been known as the Colony of the Arts. We were happy to say that those identities suited us well, and we were proud to say we were from Woodstock.

Today, we feel that those essential characteristics are not so apt, that they are mostly relics from the past and that we, as Woodstockers, need to invest ourselves in new or different identities of which we can be proud. One of those possible new identities is that of an engaged and well-informed citizenry, who are actively engaged in protecting their basic freedoms, as guaranteed by our Constitution.

When attempts are made to limit those freedoms, as Governor Cuomo did when he issued his June 5 Executive Order #157, it is up to us and our town to speak up and let our voices be heard. Let’s make Woodstock into a town where free speech is sacrosanct. Let’s make Woodstock into a town known for its love of free expression and its willingness to stand up against any and all government encroachments of our constitutional rights. This is an identity that we can be proud of and one that speaks of the very best in us.

Identities can’t be assumed as easily as putting on a new hat or coat; they aren’t mere masks, but are outward expressions of our beliefs. They must be earned over time by constant nourishment and reaffirmation. You can be part of fueling this new identity by getting involved with the Woodstock Free Speech movement. Please attend a meeting of the Woodstock Town Board (76 Comeau Drive), on Tuesday, July 19, when Jay Wenk will introduce a Free Speech Resolution. You can read the resolution and sign our petition at http://www.woodstockfreespeech.org/.

Nic Abramson
Helaine Meisler
Shady, NY

Friday, July 8, 2016

Then they came for me

Why Free Speech Now?

Normally I think about free speech about as often as I think about the air I breathe. It's in the background; I take it for granted. And it's only then, when I'm in the smog of Los Angeles or hiking at an altitude where the air is thinner do I become aware of the lack of oxygen. Sometimes, it is only when you are deprived of something that you remember how vital that thing is, that you once took for granted, to your well being...and sometimes to your very existence. And so it is with free speech.

My political sympathies generally align with the powerless, the less fortunate and oppressed members of human society, whose voices are less heard and less often represented. I am a supporter of justice for the Palestinian People, and I participate in their call for a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign against Israel. So, I was personally affected when Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that put limitations on the constitutionally protected right to boycott Israel. All of a sudden, I was faced with the fact that there wasn't as much oxygen in the atmosphere, that my right to non-violently express my opinions was being limited by my government, whose own Bill of Rights protects my right to freely express those opinions.

And then, as I thought about this, and realized that it's not just BDS that's at stake, but my freedom to exercise my First Amendment rights, did I remember the 1946 statement of Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran pastor:

          First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
          Because I was not a Socialist
          Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
          Because I was not a Trade Unionists
          Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
          Because I was not a Jew

          Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
In this dangerous time, when our rights are under attack, when minorities are imperiled, when we live in constant fear and that fear is unnecessarily flamed by our "leaders," now is the time, this present moment, for citizens to speak up – to defend our rights and the rights of others. The Woodstock Free Speech (WFS) Campaign is a movement that encourages each of us to stand up against unconstitutional attacks on our First Amendment Right of Free Speech.


Please sign a petition at http://woodstockfreespeech.org/ 
and join in asking the Woodstock Town Board to adopt a Resolution that affirms our First Amendment Rights.


Nic Abramson