March 11, 2010


Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 12:43 pm

I will be reading passages from my book and leading a discussion on “civil disobedience & criminal justice” at The Road Less Traveled Store in Santa Ana, CA. This store/workshop area is an environmentally & human conscious location dedicated to bringing alternatives to every aspect of life.

2204 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706
(714) 836-8727

February 18, 2010

Johns Hopkins Students Disrupt Yoo Speech

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 11:59 am

In Maryland, two Johns Hopkins University students disrupted a lecture Wednesday by former Bush administration attorney John Yoo. Yoo helped author the notorious Justice Department memos justifying waterboarding and other forms of torture. Before Yoo began his talk, students stood at the front of the lecture hall holding a banner reading “Try Yoo for Torture.” They refused to move, but agreed not to interrupt Yoo’s speech. Yoo then delivered the lecture with the students holding their banner throughout.

Protester: “We wanted to make it very clear that John Yoo is not accepted at Johns Hopkins University and that wherever he goes—not simply because of his views, but rather because of his material support for the administration of torture—that it is unacceptable, and we’re voicing that quite clearly.”

(Source:; 2/18/10)

February 17, 2010

On Campus, Is Heckling Free Speech? Or Just Rude

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 1:08 pm

By Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed

Every few minutes during a talk last week at the University of California at Irvine, the same thing happened. A student would get up, shout something critical of Israel, be applauded by some in the audience, and be led away by police.

The speaker —Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States— was repeatedly forced to stop his talk. He pleaded for the right to continue, and continued. University administrators lectured the students and asked them to let Oren speak. In the end, 11 students were arrested and they may also face charges of violating university rules. (Video of the event, distributed by a pro-Israel group, can be found here.)

Those who interrupted Oren, not surprisingly, are strong critics of Israel who believe that they must draw attention to the Palestinian cause. But an argument put forward by some national Muslim leaders in the last week has sent the discussion in a new direction. Those groups maintain that interrupting a campus speech — even repeatedly — should be seen as a protected form of speech.

“The students voiced political views to shame the representative of a foreign government embroiled in controversy for its outrageous violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Delivering this message in a loud and shocking manner expressed the gravity of the charges leveled against Israeli policies, and falls within the purview of protected speech,” said a letter released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. That statement followed one by Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which said: “These students had the courage and conscience to stand up against aggression, using peaceful means. We cannot allow our educational institutions to be used as a platform to threaten and discourage students who choose to practice their First Amendment right.”

Those statements are quite different from the view of Irvine officials. Michael Drake, the chancellor, had this to say after the interruptions: “This behavior is intolerable. Freedom of speech is among the most fundamental, and among the most cherished, of the bedrock values our nation is built upon. A great university depends on the free exchange of ideas. This is non-negotiable. Those who attempt to suppress the rights of others violate core principles that are the foundation of any learning community. We cannot and do not allow such behavior.”

All of this raises the question: Is interrupting a campus speaker ever a legitimate form of free expression?

Most higher education leaders welcome vocal protests outside a speaking venue and quiet protest (leaflets, for example) inside, but draw the line at interrupting speakers.

Last year, protesters disrupted a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the former Rep. Tom Tancredo, a leader of the movement to limit the government and other benefits of those who do not have the legal right to live in the USA. The incident prompted Holden Thorp, chancellor at Chapel Hill, to condemn the protest. He said at the time: “We expect protests about controversial subjects at Carolina. That’s part of our culture. But we also pride ourselves on being a place where all points of view can be expressed and heard. There’s a way to protest that respects free speech and allows people with opposing views to be heard. Here that’s often meant that groups protesting a speaker have displayed signs or banners, silently expressing their opinions while the speaker had his or her say. That didn’t happen last night.”

Many other experts on free speech and protest agree — and some are disappointed that national organizations are defending the right to shout repeatedly during a campus talk.

“That’s definitely not free speech,” Jarret S. Lovell, a professor of politics at California State University at Fullerton, said of the interruptions at Irvine and similar tactics elsewhere. Lovell is a scholar of protest and the author of Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience (New York University Press).

Not only does Lovell think the tactic is wrong in that it denies a hearing to whoever is being interrupted, but he thinks it fails to win over anyone. “When you only hear sound bites” from those interrupting, the students come off as intolerant, he said. “There are so many better ways to demonstrate.”

Lovell said that he believes students’ willingness to shout down someone they don’t like reflects the state of discourse in an era when people pick Fox News or NPR because they want to find information sources whose coverage they agree with. “People think there is no real reason for free speech when you can just change the channel. They believe that the marketplace of ideas means that if they don’t buy it, it doesn’t go in their shopping-cart.”

As one who identifies himself as critical of Israel’s policies and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, Lovell said that the Irvine hecklers should realize what will happen next. “It’s only a matter of time until Norman Finkelstein speaks at UCI and Jewish groups shout him down,” Lovell said of the controversial scholar viewed by many Jews as anti-Israel.

Wayne Firestone, national president of Hillel, takes a similar view. He said that the interruptions of Israel’s ambassador of course mattered to many Jewish students. But Firestone noted that the ambassador was invited by the law school and political science department, and he said that the issues involved would matter regardless of the topic of the talk or the views of the speaker.

He said that the idea that interruptions of a speaker are part of free speech is “a candidate for the worst idea of the year.” He added that “if a precedent is set on this issue” that it’s OK to shout during a campus talk, “then any group that opposes any speaker can literally stop discussion and debate from taking place” by interrupting repeatedly during a talk. Firestone said that there should be many opinions on campus, and that all views should be expressed, but that to do so, you need “a notion of respect and fair play” that allows people to give their talks.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education blog featured similar views: “Failing to punish offenders appropriately is likely to threaten the free speech of future speakers by effectively condoning a ‘heckler’s veto’ through disruptive actions. That would make a mockery of the First Amendment.”

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defended his group’s defense of the interruptions at Irvine. He said that it was unfair to say that the students who interrupted were trying to shut down the talk because they voluntarily left the room after each interruption, and let the talk start again (until the next outburst at least) and eventually let it finish. “Let’s put it in perspective. The speaker had an hour to speak, and they each had less than a minute.”

Ayloush noted that he is frequently interrupted when he gives lectures, and that it goes with the territory. “We firmly believe that both the representative of the foreign government had the full right to speak and the students being addressed have the right to express their speech, too,” he said.

Asked why it might not be better to organize protests with a rally outside or leaflets or signs that don’t interrupt a talk, Ayloush said such approaches might well be better, but that this was beside the point and that he wouldn’t exclude the heckling strategy used at Irvine. “These are all tactics and different methods of expressing their free speech, and everyone might have their favorite,” he said. “The First Amendment was never intended to be exclusively polite and courteous.”

Yet another perspective holds that some, modest interruption (less than what took place at Irvine) may be seen as an expression of free speech that doesn’t limit the right of a speaker to be heard.

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, said he holds that view, although he said this was not a question on which AAUP has a policy. And he said that he believes that “most faculty members regard interruption as unacceptable.”

Nelson said he is a fan of the speech/protest policy of the University of Michigan. That policy says: “Within the confines of a hall or physical facility, or in the vicinity of the place in which a member of the university community, invited speaker, or invited artist is addressing an assembled audience, protesters must not interfere unduly with communication between a speaker or artist and members of the audience. This prohibition against undue interference does not include suppression of the usual range of human reactions commonly displayed by an audience during heated discussions of controversial topics. Nor does this prohibition include various expressions of protest, including heckling and the display of signs (without sticks or poles), so long as such activities are consistent with the continuation of a speech or performance and the communication of its content to the audience.”

Along these lines, Nelson said that some brief demonstration against a speaker doesn’t strike him as an assault on free speech “so long as the speaker is allowed to continue.” He added that “an interruption that signals extreme objection to a speaker’s views is part of the acceptable intellectual life of a campus, but you have to let the speech go on,” and he said that he did not believe that repeated interruptions were appropriate in that they would disrupt a talk. “Free speech doesn’t mean you are able to trample a campus event.”

While defending such a tactic as potentially consistent with ideals of free expression, Nelson added that he personally always favored other approaches. Nelson was at a speech by John Sexton, the president of New York University, after that institution ended recognition of its graduate student union and fought off a strike by supporters of the union. Nelson said he walked to the front of the auditorium, turned his back on Sexton and stood silently through the talk. While the speech was not about graduate unions, Nelson said he wanted to show “my rejection of everything he stood for.” But he said he wouldn’t have interrupted.

Nelson said that one of the most moving and effective protests he ever attended was as an undergraduate at Antioch College in the early 1960s. George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, was the speaker. No one shouted at him, although the students considered him hateful.

“The audience was totally silent and then, during the question period, no one would ask him a question and he began cursing at the audience, but no one would speak,” Nelson said. “To me it was incredibly moving because of the solidarity of the audience, and of the possibility of a certain kind of silent witness,” he said. Nelson said he wished more protests today used such an approach in which opposition is totally clear but no one tries to stop the talk.

“There is a tremendous sense of dignity in silent witness,” he said.

October 29, 2009


Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 12:47 pm

Jarret Lovell will making the following stops during his upcoming trip to the New York/New Jersey/Philly area. Let’s think of it as a mini book tour!

Tuesday, November 3rd @ 7PM – Free
Bluestockings Bookstore
New York City

Friday November 6
Wooden Shoe Books & Records

With a deep look of why folks break the law to promote political advancement, Jarret S. Lovell’s book Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience offers an engaged history of the criminalization of dissent with first-person accounts from activists. From animal rights to anti-abortion, and from tax resistance to anti-poverty, please join Lovell for an engaged discussion across the far flung movements that, in common, rely on good old fashion law breaking.

October 28, 2009

Staying Gigabytes Ahead: Activism & Social Networking

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 5:32 pm

Earlier this month, Wired magazine (October 19, 2009) reported that the CIA has been investing in Visible Technologies – a software firm that tracks social media sites and networks such as Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and even Amazon. According to Wired, customers of Visible Technologies receive “real-time feeds of what’s being said on these sites, based on a series of keywords.” This sounds innocuous enough, especially when the technology is used by Microsoft (as it presently is) to monitor customer comments about its new Windows 7 package. But let’s face it: If the CIA is investing in this technology, there must be a catch. And there is.

Other uses of Visible Technologies’ software – although completely legal – are more likely to raise an eyebrow and provide insight into the CIA’s motivation. One client of Visible includes Hormel which processes SPAM (not the electronic kind) and other meat products. When targeted by animal rights groups for their practices, Hormel used Visible to help monitor the campaigns of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA.) Certainly, anything posted or said on open source networks is public information. Since there’s not much that can be done, activists would be wise to never tip their strategic hat too much on these open source sites. Clearly, the corporate world is watching and reading.

What makes the corporate tracking of the grassroots and activist communities so disturbing is that our government is investing tax dollars into Visible Technologies which suggests that the CIA has both a financial and a tactical interest in the success of this spy software. Simply put, one can expect the government to use this technology to monitor the conversations of activists. Already, we have seen the arrest of an activist after his “Tweets” (messages posted to Twitter) were monitored by law enforcement. In late September, Elliot Madison was arrested during the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh for allegedly using a radio scanner to track police movements and then post information to protesters using the social networking site Twitter. (Apparently, the government can monitor activists, but activists are not allowed to monitor the government.)

How are we to make sense of all of this concern over media communication? It’s simple, really. Political power has always rested among those with the ability to master the art of communication while controlling the flow of information. In the pre-literate, oral societies of early Greece, citizens having political power were those proficient in the verbal communication of poetry. As argued by historical Eric Havelock, poetry was not merely expressive but a political necessity since the devices of meter and parallelism allowed leaders to easily recall the history of Greek politics. In early scribal societies, those who were literate were treated as royal. The medieval Catholic Church was able to maintain its authority due to the limited number of people who could read the scripture and offer alternative interpretations. Today, powerful figures seek to control the flow of information on social network media to maintain their privileged positions.

The interrelationship of media technology and political power suggests that whoever controls information maintains the upper hand in any political struggle. The good news is that today, new forms of media are inherently threatening to the status quo because they alter the patterns of social and political communication. Their introduction into society necessarily creates a cultural or generational “lag” during which time those holding authority are only beginning to learn the technologies of the younger generation and recognizing their potential for subversive use. Video cameras had been used by citizen groups for quite some time capturing instances of police excessive force before cops themselves finally bridged the generational gap and use video footage to their advantage via such television programs as COPS, via mounted cameras in squad cars, and even by videotaping protesters at rallies. During the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, activists from an array of social groups used cell phones to coordinate minute-to-minute decision-making, strategizing and even civil disobedience. Today, law enforcement and government “intelligence” agencies are finally catching up with activists in their attempt to use social networking sites for their own advantage.

The lesson, then, is clear. For activism to maintain its element of surprise and effectiveness, it needs not only to stay abreast of new and emerging social communication technologies. It also needs to play a role in their creation. The rapidity with which new technologies are invented and disseminated to the general public means that they have a short subversive shelf-life. Activists wishing to avoid the watchful eye of government must remain gigabytes ahead of social networking technology.

September 14, 2009

Sadly, violence cuts both ways…

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 1:36 pm

In Michigan, police have arrested a thirty-three-year-old man named Harlan Drake on murder charges for allegedly killing two men Friday, including a longtime anti-abortion activist. The activist, James Pouillon, was shot to death while staging a protest in front of the Owosso High School. President Obama and several pro-choice groups condemned the killing. This shooting comes just months after Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed while attending church near his home in Wichita, Kansas.

There is simply no logic to violence as a means of voicing dissent. It does little but to silence rational debate. Further, those who adopt this strategy as their own are quickly ignored or discredited by those they seek to convert. Sadly, it is a lesson many of us have yet to learn.

Dissent… On the Radio!

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 1:10 pm

Crimes of Dissent was featured on Pacifica Radio’s 4 O’Clock Hour with host Gustavo Arellano of Ask a Mexican! fame. (The interview appears approx. 20 min. into the program.)

To listen to the program online, click here.

To download an mp3 of the program, click here.

September 8, 2009

Today’s Protest is Brought to You By…

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 4:57 pm

Verizon Wireless. That’s right, and Bridgestone Offroad, not to mention several dozen other businesses and corporations from the oil and construction industries to mining and trucking services. Of course, with live musical performances by the likes of Hank Williams, Jr. and Ted Nugent, dissent today isn’t what it used to be. Like a Nascar driver, today’s conservative dissenter is sponsored by any number of multinational corporations.

I’m writing, of course, about the Friends of America rally held this past Labor Day weekend in Holden, West Virginia. The purpose of the rally? Hard to tell from the Friends’ website which marketed the event more like a concert and karoke contest than a political event or rally. (But maybe that’s the point.) There was, however, one link to sign a petition against the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill which among other things calls for a 17% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Other than that – and an announcement that Fox News’ own Sean Hannity would be making an appearance – any hint of politics is absent from the holiday event. But should there ever be any question about how the public feels about Waxman-Markey, event organizers can always claim that 75 thousand ‘activists’ gave up their labor day weekend to ‘rally’ against the Bill which has passed the House and is now headed for the Senate.

Welcome to dissent, conservative style. With the inauguration of President Obama still visibile in our historical rearview mirror, the news media are filled with headlines about grassroots activists speaking out against this-or-that policy initiated under the Democratically controlled Washington. In April 2009, the Associated Press (4/15/09) ran a story about “tens of thousands of protesters” appearing at so-called tea tax parties across the country in opposition to Obama’s stimulus package. On tax day, Fox News reported that the tea parties, “are part of a larger grassroots movement against government spending.” And conservative blogger and Fox News analyst Michelle Malkin described the parties as “massive.” But while the AP piece acknowledged that some of the tea parties were organized by Freedomworks (an advocacy group led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is now a lobbyist), neither Fox News nor Malkin mentioned that Fox News itself was promoting (if not organizing) the events, then covering them live, gaining credit for the news scoop.

To be sure, the Left has had its share of musical performers at anti-war demonstrations, Hollywood celebrities at animal rights galas, and community radio personalities broadcast live at environmental rallies. We have all heard the Right denounce the Sean Penn’s, the Susan Sarandons and the Joan Baez’s of the progressive movement. But when has a telecommuications giant, a tire manufacturer or – gasp – big oil ever lent a hand to support liberal causes? Simply put: they haven’t.

There is something disingenuous about corporate-sponsored events being touted as “grassroots” or even indicative of public opinion. There is something outright dishonest about news outlets sponsoring political rallies, then reporting them as news. Sadly, the line distinguishing news from advertising is now blurred almost beyond recognition. Good thing I’ve got this Dell Computer to help me voice my dissent. Dell offers a large selection of configurable and upgradable desktop PCs and laptop PCs to suit your needs from a new PC user with basic internet surfing and email needs to a hardcore gamer that demands the latest technology. Check them out online.

September 1, 2009

Anti-Mining Activists End Week-Long Tree-Sit in WV

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 4:56 pm

In West Virginia, two anti-mining activists were arrested Monday after they ended a week-long tree-sit. The action forced Massey Energy to temporarily halt work at a mountaintop removal site. Nick Stocks and Laura Steepleton have both been charged with trespass, obstruction and littering. Their bail has been set at $25,000 each. In related news, a pair of environmental groups have asked the US Supreme Court to review a controversial federal court ruling that will allow for more mountaintop removal coal mining. The petition was filed by Earthjustice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.

(source: Democracy Now, August 31, 2009)

12 Climate Activists Glue Hands to Bank HQ

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 4:55 pm

In London, twelve activists glued their hands to the floor of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters today to protest the bank’s investment in fossil fuel projects. The activists are taking part in the week-long Climate Camp that has been holding a series of demonstrations across London this week.

(Source: Democracy Now, August 31, 2009)

Next Page »