The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Concord Festival of Authors—Free Speech in Peril

What has changed, in the last few years, is that the advice to at least act in a positive way has taken on a harsher edge. The penalty for nonconformity is going up, from the possibility of job loss and failure to social shunning and complete isolation.
     —Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided Bright-sided:  How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America


[Rob MitchellN.B.: Interestingly, the only person to express sincere interest in my protest regarding the Festival's autocratic selection process, viewpoint bias, exclusionism, and complete absence of democratic fairness was a foreigner from Holland. Even high and mighty Democrat Party Chairman Howard Dean didn't give a goddamn. See below.]
 At two in the afternoon, Wednesday October 21st (2009), I stood in front of the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts building flyers in hand. Already people were arriving. “I don’t understand the sign,” said an elderly woman walking up the steps. “Democracy Needs More Than Safe Writing” was the sign by my feet. “Well, it means that here at this Festival only writers who don’t question the system are invited,” I replied. “Well, I agree with that,” she said to my surprise. “Everyone who knows anything has to know that.” She didn’t take a flyer. Then a number of incurious citizens whisked past me, up the steps and into the building. “Concord Festival of Authors prohibits Concord dissident authors from participating,” I said to another bunch. It seemed like a more or less old crowd. Even the young ones somehow looked old. “Concord Festival of Authors won’t invite dissident authors from Concord!” I repeated. “I’m a Concord author and I’m not permitted to participate. If Thoreau were alive today, he wouldn’t be invited either.” A couple of broads chuckled. “Oh, I think they would invite him,” one of them said. “Only if he were famous,” I said. They didn’t want flyers and entered the building.
 Howard Dean soon arrived chatting with another man. They walked from the parking lot towards me and the entrance. I was surprised he wasn’t surrounded by cops or toadies. So, I walked towards them as they walked towards me. “I’m a Concord author and I’m not permitted to participate in this Festival,” I said to Dean, who just chuckled. “Democracy is not well in this town. Here, take a flyer.” But Dean wouldn’t stop and wouldn’t take a flyer. “No democracy, no free speech here at the Concord Festival,” I said as he walked by me. “Why don’t you tell them that!” “Well, I don’t think they’d be happy if I mentioned that,” he said chuckling like an imbecile. Pissed me off just the same. Well, that made it all worthwhile. It was surprising to see him in real life and totally apathetic to my protest. I wondered why the hell Mitchell, the organizer, had invited the Democrat partyline to open the festival. Was it the Democrat Party Concord Festival of Authors? I guess so.
 Then a guy walked up to me to look at the sign and flyers and coughed without covering. “Schwein flu!” I said, walking off to the side. He didn’t seem to understand, said something, ah, with an accent. “What language?” I asked. “Dutch,” he said. We talked. He was quite fluent in English, really interested in what I was doing, and said he was Stephan Tychon, Chief Officer of Change for the World Stability Council. Well, that was a nice title. He ran a website,, which was primarily concerned with Exxon corruption, and was visiting the US for three months. Then he asked if he could buy a copy of The AD. Two copies stood next to the sign. He reached into his pocket, but I refused the money and just gave him a copy. He wanted me to sign it, so I did.
 “Rob Mitchell’s a good guy,” said a chubby woman with red marks on her face (wart removal? skin cancer?) walking out of the building and towards me. “Yeah, well, he doesn’t believe in democracy,” I responded. “You’re not going to beat me up now, are you?” “Rob Mitchell’s a good guy,” she repeated. “You just have to send him your books then he’ll invite you.” “Invite me?" I said. "He won’t invite me. He won’t even respond to my emails. Why would he respond to my books?” “Rob Mitchell’s really a good guy,” she repeated. “Yeah, I know you already said that,” I replied. “You must have a connection.” “I’m his sister,” she answered. “Ah, well that explains it,” I said. “He’s really a nice person,” she repeated yet again. “All you have to do is send him your books.” “Why waste the postage?” I said. “He's invited Houlihan, who doesn't like me, and Fred Marchant, who doesn't like me either. And the Chamber of Commerce doesn't like me either, and he wants to please it. And the Cultural Council doesn't like me." "If you send him your books, then he’ll invite you,” she said yet again. “All you have to do is be civil.” “Ah, that’s your code word for censorship!” I said. “Civility! What’s your name?” “Martha Mitchell,” she said, standing next to me. But I was more interested talking with the Dutchman. She was the proverbial brick wall. All I could get out of her was Rob Mitchell’s a nice guy. She finally left and went back inside.
 “They’re all dead,” said the Dutch guy. He was damn right there. “Do you have an organization?” he asked. “Well, no, I do the protests alone and really for myself and expect little if anything from the attending citizenry.” “They’re all dead,” he repeated. No shit. “It’s more fascist in Holland,” he said. “Well, that’s hard for me to believe,” I said.
 A lone policeman was directing traffic and didn’t bother me at all. That was positive. “Concord Festival of Authors disdains different points of view, disdains democracy!” I repeated. “They don’t even understand what free choice means,” said an elderly lady, stopping to gasp for air. “What do you mean?” I asked. “The health care insurance,” she snapped. “Oh, well, this is a writers festival,” I said. “Well, I’m coming here to hear Howard Dean,” she said. “I don’t care about writers!”
 Celebrity uber alles. “Concord Festival of Authors hates democracy!” I said to a pod of approaching females. “Oh, I didn’t realize that,” said one of them without taking a flyer. Well, others arrived and did at least take flyers… about 26 of them. “Welcome to Concord where democracy is not flourishing!” I said. “Concord Festival of Authors won’t invite Concord dissident writers. I’m a writer from Concord and not invited.” “Maybe he thinks your writing’s not that good,” said a guy. “He’s never seen my writing,” I said. “Well, maybe it’s not that good,” he repeated. “Well, how the hell would he know?” I said. “Besides, do you really think all the people he’s invited are great writers? Give me a break!” He walked into the building.
 Finally, the Dutch guy decides to attend the lecture. He’d asked me if I wanted to come with him, but I declined. Did I really want to hear Howard Dean spout the partyline for the 1,000th time? A somewhat attractive middle-aged female walked by. No interest at all in my protest and didn’t want to take a flyer… just wanted to see Howard Dean. I checked the time and took off at 2:40, walking across the lot and street and into the library, where I left the remaining four flyers. Too early for the red, which definitely entered my mind.
 October 22, 2009
 Well, your sister found a few minutes to come out to see what I was up to… but not you. She didn't say much, just Rob Mitchell is a nice guy over and over like an indoctrinee. Is she the product of some university? Are you perhaps a cowardly sort… or just another high and mighty sort? Interestingly, I spoke to Howard Dean when he arrived (oh, he didn’t stop, wouldn’t stop), told him about the autocratic nature of YOUR festival… and he didn’t give a goddamn. What an asshole, I thought. He wouldn’t even take a flyer. Then I thought: why did you invite the Democrat partyline to open a book festival? Christ, does anyone else in this town question and challenge anything with its regard and apart from the partylines? Interestingly, the only person to really stop and talk and stay and discuss ideas with me was a man from Holland. Not one American cared to do the same. Well, say hi to the Chamber of Commerce for me. I suspect you must be a card carrying member?
 G. Tod
 [No response from Rob Mitchell.]