Discussing the Constitution, or its amendments, may seem like something you had to do in high school. If you live in northwest Minnesota, however, you’ve had a chance to watch the importance of the first amendment to the Constitution; Freedom of Speech. It is anything but boring and brings this amendment to its full and breathing self.
The council for the city of Thief River Falls, Minnesota has been turbulent the last decade. Not the kind of turbulence that is a product of democracy in action but the sort of dark undertow that comes from council meetings which are really only theatrical plays written by select members during quiet conversations held previously in undisclosed locations. This turbulence has been played out publicly on cable channel 13.
An entity called “TRF Compiler” has created Youtube videos using video of these meetings and factual text which often contradict what members of the Thief River Falls city council have said publicly. “TRF compiler” also uses music and sound effects to point out bullying and immaturity on certain members of the council. Never does this media resource mock democracy or the city council as an institution; it mocks the silliness of some of its members.
Recently, city councilman Don Sollum, suggested in council chambers that they no longer broadcast their meetings because of “TRF Compiler.” He suggested that the videos mocked democracy. This is a bit of amateurish double-talk as democracy depends on free, open and transparent government even to include criticism by voters. To close the blinds to council meetings is to add yet another blanket of secrecy to a bed which already includes unusual partners making unsavory policy-such as the “gag order” on city employees and the “no surprises” rule at council meetings.
In the 1950’s, Senator Joseph Mccarthy was creating lists of citizens of the United States who he had branded as “communists.” These lists were unsubstantiated and “McCarthyism” has become known as a dark blot on our history. Television anchorman Edward R Murrow used video of public meetings and speeches of McCarthy and then would report the truth which always ran contrary to McCarthy’s paranoid ramblings. I would submit the “TRF Compiler” is doing the very same thing. The compiler uses actual video of councilmen and then overlays the truth over this video background. People who watch these videos can then decide for themselves. The people did decide for themselves on Election Day and with the passage of time, history will judge these Compiler Youtube videos as one element that removed the “good ole boys” from Thief River Falls city government.
The first amendment is a strong tool given to us by the people who began this country. It makes me feel ashamed when some of our established media outlets fail to use this tool as intended. During this period of mistrust in city government, outside media outlets have focused on Don Solllum getting a “free lesson on free speech” which I feel is dead on. Meanwhile, one of our local newspaper offered a much softer version of the story, the message got lost and no one heard the truth. I am reminded of when we were experiencing the worst problems with the previous city administrator. I’d hoped the newspaper would tackle this story but instead they chose to write of how this administrator was part of the “red hat society.” That’s some real hard news, earthshaking stuff. The local newspaper is not supposed to be a glossy “chamber of commerce” tour guide; it is supposed to be the truth. Telling the truth will never get you a vote to be on the cheerleader squad but it will make people respect you. The first amendment is there for a lot more than the right to shake your pom-poms.
I am exercising my freedom to speak when I write this column. You voice your opinion when you vote. Elected representatives show their true colors every time they open their mouths. The first amendment gives us this right. We must always protect it, even if we don’t always like it.