CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
“I think it is time for you to move out of Cedar,” was one of the comments I received on a community Facebook page. I am one in a group of parents that pressured the Iron County School District in Cedar City, Utah to pull its students from participating in the politically motivated Western Freedom Festival.
Ironically, like the event organizers, I’m concerned about our children and the Constitution.
Using local tax dollars, the Western Freedom Festival is being organized by a number of radical Utah County Commissioners who have associated themselves with the Koch funded American Lands Council. Their stated goal is to “return” federal lands to states.
Event organizers wanted 800 kids from 5 school districts, dressed up in red, white and blue, to sing patriotic songs with former Playgirl model and Country Star Darryl Worley – while they took pictures.
Western Freedom Festival organizers approached the school districts in their areas and asked them to participate in the Hope of America contest and sing-along. These school districts had, up until now, been preparing their students for the event during school time, using school staff and facilities. Transportation to the event was to be included.
Southern Utah University’s music program was also involved, preparing school children while SUU’s college students studying music were beginning to prepare for their own participation. All was funded by public tax dollars.
The press release for the WFF says, “The western freedom festival is an attempt to educate the world about the negative impact progressive policies are having on the health, safety and welfare of citizens in the west.” Washington County Commissioner Leland Pollock is quoted, “One would never think our religious freedoms would be under attack, yet we all know what has happened to Christian values. This is not a one night celebration, this is our chance to stand on the national stage in front of the national news and make a difference.”
As a public lands activist trained in the arts and science of political science and public administration, I have been keenly interested in the WFF since it was announced.
I have seen the WFF as nothing but the Koch Brothers American Lands Council/American Legislative Exchange Council circle-jerk where participants want to rant about sovereignty, “states-rights,” and “heritage” instead of climate change, economic and social justice, and reproductive rights, in front of a national audience drawn by Presidential contenders to the Heart of Dixie.
I decided early I would do all I could to oppose it.
Belatedly, a consent form was sent home with kids to parents that included a waiver that granted the WFF to use our children’s image however event organizers wanted. Some parents objected to the issue of public tax dollars at all levels to promote an obvious political agenda. More were upset with the fact that event organizers were so nefarious in their use of our children.
I told my son, 10, about what I was about to do and why, professed lessons in the Constitution and his responsibility to participate in democracy, that these people want to take away our public lands. Our commons. An experiment on such a scale like nowhere on the planet. That, if I have anything to do with it, he and his sister will be able to feel the freedom of vast lands that they own with everyone else in the United States. You can count on it.
He asked if he could quit choir.
I sent a letter to the school board stating why I was objecting and that they should consider immediately convening a school board meeting to discuss the issue. They illustrated their concern by meeting two days later where they voted unanimously to disassociate itself from the event. A school spokesperson is quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune as saying, “It’s our policy not to be involved in events that have a political agenda.”
They deserve applause for being responsive to parents and the Constitution. Everything good about good government.
A school board member contacted me and told me the board felt it was misled by the event and too much airplay was given to organizer and Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller. I expressed the same and that a quote in the Tribune from a parent would have been nice.
Miller, who is pushing to use $20,000 of Iron County tax monies to support the event, said the WFF was “obviously not political” and derided parents and the school board as a “micro-small group” spreading “misinformation.” He continued, “They’re making such a big stink it’s not worth it. They can have their own way.”
@Westernfreedomfest has sent me over a dozen tweets since the story broke, telling me to “get a job and do something more constructive” and “thanks for driving up ticket sales!” They then proceeded to send twenty to conservative media, linking the Tribune article to the statement “It looks like Freedom, Patriotism, History, Heritage and Cultural values aren’t PC anymore either.”
I sent them a Youtube tweet of Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not be Televised.” And, I retweeted theirs to Sean Hannity, asking him to take his show live and on the road the week of October 23.
The best tweet sent to me contained an image with the Constitution as a watermark that said, “The only time you attempt to destroy the messenger is when you fear his message is true!” The irony was not lost on me.
I want to school the “states-rights” advocates a little bit about the Constitution.
Articles I, II and III of the Constitution are all about preventing the Tyranny of the Majority over the Rights of the Minority. This is particularly true for places like predominantly white, Mormon, conservative, southern Utah.
Madison in Federalist No. 10 speaks to these Articles, specifically to factions with interests contrary to the rights of others or the whole community. I can’t say it any better than he,
“A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence, it is that such democracies have been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
In the end, Madison concludes that the only way to control the terrible effects of the Tyranny of the Majority is that government must be organized in such a way to make it difficult to act quickly. It is why we have 2, 4, 6 and unlimited terms in, and multiple levels of, government.
Everyone, left and right, has some form of mild to major hatred of these tenets of our democracy. But, that is how it is.
John Boehner said as much in his stepping down from Speaker of the House of Representatives while lashing out at radicals like those organizing the WFF, “Our Founders didn’t want some sort of parliamentary system where if you got the majority, you got to do whatever you wanted. They wanted this long, slow process. And, so change comes slowly and obviously too slowly for some.”
Lastly and obviously, the event also violated Article I of the Amended Constitution – the Establishment Clause. It is unconstitutional for the government to promote a religious position, abridge free speech, the right to assemble, and infringe upon my right to petition for redress of grievances.
While these Commissioners speak for their County government, they are still beholden to people and other governing bodies for inappropriately promoting a religious and political positions. Belittling my right to free speech and assembly, and suggesting my right to petition my government is somehow inappropriate, is just unbecomingly unconstitutional.
And, so, some of you “constitutionalists” want me to get outta’ Dodge and marginalize parents for standing up for their children and all of our Constitutional rights?
You then want to bellyache about your inability to manipulate our schools and dress up our children up in red, white and blue for a sing-along with pictures while they listen to you give “big-government, anti-public lands, pro-Christian heritage” propaganda speeches during your “Freedom Fest” paid for with my tax money?
To those in the Western Freedom Festival and to the Koch Brothers: We are the obnoxious individuals with kids who believe in the Constitution. Thank you for also being obnoxious and for giving our children and nation this teaching moment.