MICHAEL MOORE, NORMAN SOLOMON TO BE HONORED BY A.C.L.U.
by Dan Pasley
American Reporter Correspondent
Rolling Hills, Calif.
SAN PEDRO, Calif. -- Academy Award-winning director and producer Michael Moore and American Reporter Correspondent Norman Solomon are among seven public figures who will be honored on Friday, May 9, at the ACLU's First Annual Upton Sinclair Freedom of Expression Awards in the Los Angeles harbor community of San Pedro. The awards honor personal achievements in categories including Journalism, Political Courage, Personal Activism, Media Activism and Muckraking (Moore's category).
Speakers, presenters and honorees who will attend include Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn; the Hon. Sheila Kuehl; the Hon. Alan Lowenthal; journalist, author and media activist Norman Solomon; Pacifica radio host and author David Barsamian; ACLU of Southern California executive director Ramona Ripston; Oscar-winning filmmaker Haskell Wexler; professor and Sinclair historian Lauren Coodley; union and San Pedro community historian Art Almeida; publisher, James Preston Allen; KPFK Morning Show host Sonali Kohlhatkar; American Reporter editor Joe Shea; and attorney Stephen F. Rohde, constitutional law expert and death penalty reform advocate.
Hon. Barbara Lee, the U.S. Congresswoman from Oakland, may send a proxy to receive her Uppie. She will deliver her acceptance speech by video if she can't make it home from Washington. George Carlin's schedule does not allow him to come, but he is sending one of his "bits" on video (not the "seven dirty words you can't say on television" bit). That piece of material joined Carlin and the ACLU together in a losing effort before the United States Supreme Court.
Of the invited honorees, only Michael Moore remains to RSVP. If you see him, tell him to come get his "Uppie" award or to advise the sponsors exactly what they should do with it.
The reception and book signing will start at 6:00 p.m. and the awards program at 7:00. The event will be held at the Port of Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club, on the actual spot of Liberty Hill - the site of Upton Sinclair's historic arrest in 1923. That is why it is still being called a celebration, in spite of how dismal things look for the Bill of Rights, today.
The 80th Anniversary of Liberty Hill commemorates a night in May, exactly four score years ago, when the "Uppity" author and out-of-the-closet socialist, Mr. Upton Beal Sinclair, challenged the LAPD to a showdown at Liberty Hill. This constituted a fundamental change in the nature of protest and dissent. Sinclair manipulated public opinion through the use of media and personal celebrity. He did it very effectively. The incident turned out to be a great symbolic impetus for the labor movement, and brought about the birth of the ACLU of Southern California.
Those were repressive times and open dissent required enormous courage. The notorious "Red Squad" of the Los Angeles police chief of that era had become little more than paid goons for the industrialists, aggressively enforcing "criminal syndicalism" laws, which had been enacted during World War I to stifle anti-war dissent. These laws forbade any public gathering the arresting officer deemed suspicious, and many of them were held over after the war, mainly in the ports, mines and rail yards to pre-empt union organizing.
But Sinclair and his very shrewd wife, Mary Craig Kimbrough Sinclair, planned the event meticulously. They arranged for Sinclair to meet the striking longshoremen on a piece of private property, near the corner of what is now 5th and Beacon. They made sure that the press knew of Sinclair's intentions. They also knew the police chief's tendency to react irrationally when under pressure. And with 90 ships waiting in the harbor, there was plenty of pressure.
Sinclair and a number of the longshoremen were summarily arrested for reading the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. They were detained incommunicado from 18 hours to four days (depending upon which sources you nread). Sinclair evidently experienced some genuine fear at first. He may have been expecting a more civil "celebrity" arrest, which he had experienced several times in New York while picketing the Rockefellers during the Ludlow strikes. He barely escaped transfer to a jail where he woukld have been certain to suffer beatings with phone books and rubber hoses.
Public outrage eventually carried the day and the police chief lost his job. Even though the Marine Transport Workers 510 (IWW) also lost the strike, a great moral victory was won for the labor movement. The first amendment came into public consciousness and the concept of legal dissent was established at a certain level.
Who knows what the tolerance for legal dissent will be tomorrow? It may remain in a state of some flux until the more draconian provisions of the U.S.A Patriot Act (and its proposed successor, part 2) are tested by the prosecutors and jurists in the courts. Only then can we determine the long term depth of damage of the Bushcroft encroachment into civil government.
The threat of invoking the Taft-Hartley Act last summer almost seems like a playful challenge compared to what a "Code Red" Homeland Security alert could mean to San Pedro, if we were in a "state of war" (when habeas corpus and Miranda go out the window, along with attorney-client privilege.)
The media is floating trial balloons that suggest we should expect to be in a "state of war", however undeclared, as our full-time foreign policy. Identifying and prosecuting "un-American" terrorists, even if it means stripping them of all their Constitutional rights could become the full-time domestic policy.
The Uppie Awards will continue nonetheless. Why? Because some of the most incisive and prescient thinkers of our era will come to San Pedro for this occasion. They will return to the scene of a crime against the Constitution to hold an open discourse on the rights and responsibilities of private dissent. Perhaps just as the last illusions of democratic process are being stripped bare. Solutions will be sought, with or without Michael Moore. The sponsors remain resolved to plug on.
The 80th Anniversary of Liberty Hill celebration is being sponsored by the South Bay Chapter of the ACLU of Southern California. Tickets are $30 with buffet(reservations recommended). For the awards program only, the charge is $5. A limited number of Patriots Circle tickets remain available at $50, including the buffet.
Sustaining co-sponsors include the ILWU Local 13 and Pensioners, The Harry Bridges Institute, Paul Allen Smith, The Chapter Council of the ACLU of Southern California.
Contributing co-sponsors are The Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, Councilwoman Janice Hahn, Fifteenth District, PACE Local 8-675, Port of Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club, San Pedro Alternative Media Council, Random Lengths News, The American Reporter, The Living Newspaper Theatre Company.
Endorsing Sponsors are The Campaign for Long-Term Care, SEIU 434b, U.S.C Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed, Environmental Priorities Network, The Harry Bridges Institute, ILWU Local 13, ILWU Southern California Pensioners Group, Random Lengths News, The South Bay Peace Coalition, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, and the San Pedro Bay Historical Society. Dan Pasley is Chairman of the Upton Sinclair Freedom of Expression Awards, and a member of the ACLU. His remarks do not reflect any official position of the ACLU of Southern California.