Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Congratulations

Congratulations to the town of Woodstock and to the Woodstock Town Board for unanimously passing the Woodstock Free Speech Resolution. This Resolution is the first of its kind in New York State, and perhaps in the nation, to stand up to a direct attack on our First Amendment Right of Free Speech and its attendant Right to Boycott. Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 157 of June 5 clearly tries to limit those First Amendment Rights by imposing economic retribution on those entities that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli policies and its treatment of Palestinians. In addition, in a way reminiscent of the McCarthy era blacklist of suspected communists, this Executive Order creates a public list of all entities supporting BDS and only allows for those names to be removed from the list by those entities publicly renouncing BDS. 
Woodstock Free Speech introduced the Resolution to the Town Board on July 19 and then undertook an education campaign that consisted of three community events, appearances on local television and radio stations, online and paper petitions, tabling at the weekly Farmers’ Market, and entering into an extensive dialogue with the Town Board, which voted to pass the Resolution on September 19. In so doing, the Board stated that it makes no declaration in support of or in opposition to the BDS campaign and, in fact, acknowledges deep Board divisions on the matter.  
The Town Board, much to its credit, was open to exploring this issue and asked numerous probing questions, many of which were answered by a First Amendment Rights attorney. This was decided solely on the question of First Amendment Rights and the Board’s desire to protect its citizens against any and all abridgements of their civil liberties. 
So, congratulations to all of us who call Woodstock our home. Someday, Woodstock may be as well known for standing up for free speech as it is for the music festival that never happened here.

Nic Abramson

Friday, September 2, 2016

Woodstock Free Speech Resolution

 Woodstock Free Speech 

Thanks all of you who have signed our Woodstock Free Speech Resolution (woodstockfreespeech.org), which we put before the Woodstock Town Board in July. We based this Resolution on our First Amendment right of freedom of speech and opinion as set forth by the United States and New York State Constitutions and on the Supreme Court’s determination that advocacy of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions is a protected form of political speech. 

Civil rights proponents such as the New York American Civil Liberties Union; the Center for Constitutional Rights; Palestine Legal; and Abraham Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have each taken a principled stance against Governor Cuomo’s June 5 Executive Order 157. This Order directs NYS agencies to divest public funds from entities that support boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) against Israel (for its inhumane policies and for its mistreatment of the Palestinian people). Taking this one step further, Cuomo’s Order directs the Commissioner of the Office of General Services to publish an online list of companies/entities that engage in BDS and also of companies/entities that advocate for others to engage —“a definition that could encompass even institutions that have merely spoken out in support of boycotting Israel.”

Thankfully, in the United States and in New York State, our Constitutions protect our right of free speech and our right of political free speech as well as our right to boycott and divest and our right to urge others to do the same. 

Moreover, Alan Sussman, a former Constitutional lawyer and a well-respected Woodstock resident, recently wrote a letter to the Woodstock Town Board in support of the Woodstock Free Speech Resolution: “Thus EO 157 penalizes the legal advocacy of an activity which itself (boycott, divestment) is perfectly legal.” Sussman continued … “The additional and more serious effect is that people will be reluctant, and groups and corporations even more reluctant, to speak their mind for fear of incurring a state-imposed penalty.”

Each of us has an obligation to protect our precious freedoms. Thanks to all who embody integrity and are willing to stand on the right side of democracy and history.

Helaine Meisler