Standing Room Only in Paris and Interesting Question about Free Speech

ACORN ACORN International Community Organizing Organizing

Paris     What do I know?  The young organizer was worried that the room we had for screening the documentary on ACORN called “The Organizer” in Paris was too small.  More than 40 people had said they were coming on Facebook.  I assured her we would be lucky to break 20 or 25, especially since the movie was virtually all in English except for some short pieces in Spanish in Honduras, Kannada in Bengaluru, and French in Cameroon, and Facebook “likes” have no meaning any more.  Wow, was I wrong!

I knew something was happening when we already had 8 to 10 people 15 minutes before showtime.  When the movie began we had close to 40 and others trickled in during the first 30 minutes.  And, despite the close, warm room and tightly packed with people sitting on tables and standing along the edges, and the breaks for translation every 10 or 15 minutes, the crowd stayed until the bitter end.  Subtitles, S’il vous plaît !!!

At the end of the movie I was able to give the usual thanks to our affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne and our partner ReAct, but the questions were very interesting in some cases, even for me as increasingly a veteran with a number of these screenings under my belt.  I was asked the usual questions of course.  Was Bernie Sanders making a difference and was there hope there?  What were our plans internationally?  Could we organize all over France, to which I answered, you’ve seen the documentary, so you know we believe we have to be truly national to build national power.  How do we organize, to which I was able to answer:  read Nuts & Bolts, and they were able to rejoin, how soon will it be translated into French – when I answered perhaps in a year, there were actually howls of protest.  I love organizing in France!

Where once in New York I was asked what was the chance of ending capitalism, in Paris I got a question from what of the movie organizers, about where ACORN stood on creating the revolution.  Both questions would stump the stars!

One of the most interesting questions I got was about, Fox News, Glenn Beck and Megan Kelley.  In the United States, several asked, aren’t there penalties and recourse for the kind of vicious, public media attack ACORN had experienced in 2009 and 2010?  Usually, when ACORN raises the principle of free speech, it is to defend our right to speak as others are trying to prevent our leaders and members from speaking.  This time I was answering that we have free speech and public discourse, even at the top of our lungs, in the United States so the only recourse is speaking back when attached, even if unable to access the same kinds of major megaphones Fox and others have.

There was head shaking and looks of disbelief.  Several said it would have been different in France, setting me back on my heels as I continued to argue that we had to be able to take a punch and keep fighting.

Walking to the Metro later that night, I found myself continuing to mull over the question, but still convinced that less free speech would hurt organizing and our organizations more than some fig leaf shot at damages in some court after blows have already been landed.  Hearing Trump argue for more protection against “fake news,” even as he mass produces it, finds me surprised at how European he must be without realizing it as he shouts, “America First!”