New Orleans If you had asked me 47 years ago when I was living and working in Arkansas as the founder and chief organizer of ACORN, if I would ever have written a sentence that included the words, “Alan Leveritt is Right,” I would have agreed, because then Alan touted himself as a libertarian of sorts and was, well, right, as in leaning in that direction. Certainly, not in the ACORN direction then, or at least, rightly or wrongly, so it seemed to me at the time. But, if you had ever asked me if I would ever have written a sentence that included the words, “Alan Leveritt is Right and His Position Deserves Support,” I would have said balderdash, no freaking way!
Time marches on. Maybe people change. Maybe they don’t, but if they are at all awake above the shoulders, they learn to keep questioning snap judgements on flimsy information, especially if any of them tended to be a bit of a hot head and Manichean in their off the cuff opinions. Over the years, especially since I’ve been spending more time in Arkansas again over the last 7 or 8 of them, I’ve come to appreciate the place the Arkansas Times has come to play in Little Rock and central Arkansas. They’ve come around to our original position on the Wilbur Mills Expressway. Ernie Dumas, Doug Smith, and Max Brantley, long admired journalists for the Arkansas Gazette in my time, found havens there with Leveritt after Walter Hussman gutted the paper as the Arkansas Democrat took it over. The Arkansas Times regularly ranks KABF, where I act as station manager, and I meant act, as either best or one of the top three radio stations in the state. We have a partnership now with the weekly where we feature their weekly roundup on KABF.
So, why is Alan so right now that he deservers our support, whether he needs it or not? In an op ed in the New York Times, he tells a story about a principled fight the paper has been waging with the State of Arkansas over First and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights in a lawsuit where they are represented by the ACLU and now on review at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2018, they were asked to sign a pledge that they were not boycotting Israel. Such pledges have cropped up in many states where Israel has been involved in a grassroots campaign to offset the impact of the BDS or Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign over their continued occupation of Palestinian lands. As Alan writes,
…I was surprised when in 2018 I received an ultimatum from the University of Arkansas’s Pulaski Technical College, a longtime advertiser: To continue receiving its ad dollars, we would have to certify in writing that our company was not engaged in a boycott of Israel. It was puzzling. Our paper focuses on the virtues of Sims Bar-B-Que down on Broadway — why would we be required to sign a pledge regarding a country in the Middle East?
Despite depending on state advertising to support the paper, Alan did the right thing, resisted the bullying, and refused to sign the pledge. From that point forward, it’s been on, and drug through the courts, sometimes, shockingly, with rulings against them, which were overturned by an Eighth Circuit panel, but are now under view by the whole Eighth Circuit.
Alan says this fight, and the critical issues involved, have gotten little attention, and certainly, I can testify that it was the first time I had heard about it. Partly this may be because the daily paper, now called the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, bellied up and signed the pledge as did the local business paper. Leveritt says it best, “Let’s be clear, states are trading their citizens’ First Amendment rights for what looks like unconditional support for a foreign government.”
He’s right and he – and his fight – deserves our support. Now I’ve said it, and I mean it, and I’m not sure exactly how you show it, but now we both know, and we need to figure it out.