A Common Citizen’s Plea for Justice, Equity, and Freedom of Expression in Massachusetts
[This essay was sent to Massachusetts Cultural Council, Concord Cultural Council, Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Massachusetts Attorney General, Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Concord Poetry Center, University of Massachusetts, Lesley University, Salem State College, and Others (see below for email addresses)]
As a citizen of our purported “democracy,” I write to inform of various grievances, mostly occurring in the State of Massachusetts over the past 15 years. This initiative was sparked by one of those grievances with regards the taxpayer-funded Massachusetts Poetry Festival, sponsored by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, which simply refuses to respond to my queries as to how The American Dissident, a 501 c3 nonprofit journal of literature, democracy, and dissidence, might become a “Poetry Partner” and be listed on its webpage next to, amongst others, Cave Canem, Bagel Bards, Wild Apples, Concord Poetry Center, and Citizen’s Bank, which by the way is my bank. Its Director of the Massachusetts Poetry Outreach Project, Chloe Garcia-Roberts, will not respond. My list of grievances include the following and mostly pertain to the State of Massachusetts:
1. The ACLU of Massachusetts refused to help me and the state press refused to report on my tenure battle at Fitchburg State College in 1996, where corruption included highly whimsical faculty evaluations, nepotism, and my eviction mid-semester from my office w/o due process. Unlike Florida and other states, no Freedom of Information legislation exists in Massachusetts. The transcripts of my arbitration hearing are thus kept secret. Why do journalists and others accept this sad status quo of lack of transparency? For actual documents, including a rather humorous page I managed to grab from the arbitration transcript, consult http://www.theamericandissident.org/FitchburgStateCollege.htm.
2. The state police arrested and incarcerated me in a Concord jail cell in 1999 for protesting the absence of free speech at Walden Pond State Reservation. The refusal of the local and state media to report on the incident was deplorable. Moreover, the state park continues to refuse to permit me to stock flyers critical of it and other state matters at its kiosks, despite the following:
“Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization (1939), it has been settled in the law that public parks—since they are held in trust for the public and have traditionally been used for assembly, communication, and public discussion—are ‘traditional’ public forums. […] Once a place has been designated a public forum, the government’s power to limit speech there is extremely narrow. Viewpoint discrimination is never permissible. Content discrimination (discrimination based on the subject matter of the speech, whatever the point of view taken on it) is acceptable only if the government can show the following:
1) There is a compelling state interest for the exclusion.
2) The regulation making the exclusion is narrowly drawn to achieve that state interest
3) The regulation leaves open ample alternative channels for the communication.
Speech has been broadly defined as an expression that includes, but is not limited to, what you wear, read, say, paint, perform, believe, protest, or even silently resist. ‘Speech activities’ include leafleting, picketing, symbolic acts, wearing armbands, demonstrations, speeches, forums, concerts, motion pictures, stage performances, remaining silent, and so on." (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)
For details and documents regarding my arrest and incarceration, consult http://www.theamericandissident.org/WaldenPondStateReservation.htm.
3. The publicly-funded Concord Poetry Center ostracized me as a local dissident poet. Director Joan Houlihan sums up its twisted mentality: “The idea of your teaching a workshop or delivering a lecture on the art of literary protest or poetry protest, or simply protest (Concord is where it all started!) occurred to me even before you mentioned it, so, yes, it’s something I will consider as we progress (this is only our first event). However, I must say I don’t favor having you teach at the center if you protest the reading.” Evidently, I chose to protest and was thus never offered a workshop to teach. For details on my protests at the CPC, consult http://www.theamericandissident.org/ConcordPoetryCenter.htm.
4. The publicly-funded Academy of American Poets censored (i.e., removed) my comments and banned me from participating in its online forums in 2006. The AAP is connected with the publicly-funded Massachusetts Poetry Festival and sponsors National Poetry Month, which is propagated in the nation’s public schools and colleges. For details, censored comments, and AAP chancellor remarks, see http://www.theamericandissident.org/AcademyAmericanPoets.htm.
5. The Massachusetts Cultural Council refuses to accord public-grant monies to The American Dissident because the journal has an annual budget inferior to the Council’s arbitrarily imposed $10,000 annual budget minimum for grant applicants. It thus funds journals like Agni, which is connected to Boston University, which has an endowment of over one-billion dollars. For my attempts to breach the proverbial brick wall, consult my correspondence with Council apparatchiks, including Council coordinator <strong>Charles Coe</strong>, who is also a founding director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, at http://www.theamericandissident.org/CharlesCoe.htm.
6. The Concord Cultural Council adopted a regulation in 2009 prohibiting funding to any project it arbitrarily deemed to be of a “political nature. This regulation was clearly adopted to prevent The American Dissident from receiving public funding. Indeed and in futility, I’ve been applying as a publisher and poet in Concord for such funding over the past decade. The Concord Cultural Council, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and state <strong>Attorney General Martha Coakley</strong> refused to address my grievance with this regard. For details, see http://www.theamericandissident.org/CCC.htm.
7. Director Karen Wulf of PEN New England (“defending freedom of expression”) refuses to respond to any of my grievances regarding impediments to my freedom of expression in New England. It is likely that Joan Houlihan (see above) and PEN director Karen Wulf, both comfortably installed at Lesley University, are friends. It is likely that Charles Coe is also a friend.
8. Professor Fred Marchant, director of Suffolk University’s Poetry Center, refuses to respond to my requests that it consider, for the sake of students, including The American Dissident. Marchant is a friend of Houlihan. For a cartoon depicting the rampant cliquishness of the poetry milieu in Massachusetts, see http://www.theamericandissident.org/SuffolkUniversityPoetryCenter.html.
9. The Watertown Free Public Library issued me a no-trespass order without due process for my attempting to interest its reference librarian, Ardis Francoeur, in subscribing to The American Dissident. Again, State Attorney General Coakley and the press refused to respond regarding my grievance.
10. Word censorship is now automatically effected by The Boston Globe on its website. Globe journalists favor that censorship. I was censored by them. For a cartoon I drew regarding that indifference, featuring Jeff Jacoby and Editor David Beard, see http://www.nationalfreepress.org/cartoonists-mainmenu-250/g-tod-slone-mainmenu-406.
11. Some 200 Massachusetts college English professors were contacted regarding my attempts to interest them in radically altering the academic culture of sycophancy, turning a blind eye, careerism, PC, prevarication, and apathy to censorship. Only four responded. Professor Ruth Jennison wrote: "Please remove me from your list." Professor William Nelles briefly argued: “you loser.” Professor J T Skerrett, Jr. was a little more voluble: “Do you really think that insulting and reviling the faculty is the way to persuade us to read your publication?” As for Professor Jack Conway, read his lengthy diatribe (with student support) here: http://wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com/2008/11/unspoken-mantra-of-u-mass-english.html. Yes, how dare anyone think, let alone state, that all is not rosy in academe in Massachusetts. University of Massachusetts poet-professor, leftist luminary Martin Espada refuses to respond to any of the criticism I’ve sent his way. After all, silence, not democracy’s cornerstone, vigorous debate, is always the most effective response for those in power positions, no matter how little.
12. As testimony to the ambient ideological requisites for teaching in Massachusetts, cite North Shore Community College, to which I’d applied unsuccessfully for a job as an English instructor: “Appreciation of multiculturalism required.” Well, I brought that to the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which then wrote the college, resulting in the college’s removal of that unconstitutional requisite. Sadly, however, the concept still remains firmly implanted in the brains of the administrators and faculty who enacted it.
As a footnote, the response of Paul Lappin, director of the Parker Lecture Series (University of Massachusetts at Lowell), to my query is quite interesting and revealing in its refreshing honesty. I’d asked whether or not the PLS was closed to dissident voices as lecturers and only open to those who would please the comfy bourgeois mindset. Lappin responded: “comfy bourgeois” [only].
Finally, my staging of various solo protests critical of state-sponsored poets and poetry events at the Concord Poetry Center, Concord Free Public Library, Robert Creeley Prize in Acton, and elsewhere confirm the indifference of poets, teachers and professors to questions of free speech and vigorous debate. My numerous critical letters to the editor of student newspapers at colleges employing me over the years confirm professorial indifference to matters of corruption, free speech, and vigorous debate For examples of these letters, consult http://www.theamericandissident.org/ElmiraCollege.htm and http://www.theamericandissident.org/GramblingStateUniversity.htm. Unfortunately, during my five years at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts, the student newspaper refused to publish anything I submitted of a critical nature. It is truly appalling to observe how little so many well-educated persons really care about censorship and democracy.
Will any of the individuals and organizations contacted stand up to help me open Massachusetts to equality of opportunity and freedom of expression, including and especially regarding dissident points of view? How did it ever get so bad, where literature operates like politics and anything but truth and courage becomes manifest? Money? Is that how? Democracy is in peril in Massachusetts. It is in peril when persons in publicly-funded positions remain unresponsive to citizen grievances, preferring instead to ostracize such citizens.
It is my experience that NONE of the individuals and organizations contacted will respond and stand up apart from the literary herd where the feed is quite plentiful. We’re talking here not about the myth of the proverbial starving poet, but rather about the fattened academic poet. It is astonishing how very bourgeois literature has become today. Take a look at the Lesley University Creative Writing faculty page, where most of the instructors simply link to their publishers. You’d be hard-pressed to find personal email addresses for the instructors, who proudly equate themselves with their published books… and sadly not much else. In America, it’s all about gaining a recognizable name a la Simic, Pinsky, Gluck, or whomever. And once you’ve reached that stage of intellectual sellout, then you’re all set monetarily and with invitations and prizes galore. It is sickening that our students are not being taught to question and challenge that troubling status quo. Can this sad sell, sell, sell of names be stopped? Probably not. It’s become an integral part of America. Our students are being taught to blindly admire the famous and strive to become one of them. Buck that trend and expect severe ostracizing.
What can you, the individuals and organizations contacted, do as citizens? Well, for starters, you could write the freedom-disdaining organizations mentioned in this missive and tell them that you’ve been made aware that some of they censor, treat with inequity, break the law, scorn vigorous debate, do not tolerate criticism, demand ideological adherence, etc., and that you do not favor those things. In fact, you could also request to have your organization removed from the Massachusetts Poetry Festival “Poetry Partner” list. Pipedream? But of course!
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