Even those who don’t like the OWS movement or are ambivalent about it might find the free speech issues associated with OWS interesting. Over turning 64 years of legal precedent the SCOTUS ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission further broke down the access ordinary individual Americans have to free speech. This tension between those who have the power or money or position of influence versus those without has been part of U.S. history almost from the start. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson had their famous feud play in in editorials in newspapers – Jefferson having free access and Hamilton running his own paper. The pedestrians read and discussed these arguments, but could not participate on the same laying field as either of those members of what was then America’s elite (in reality both men had debt and money issues most of their lives). Anyway, with OWS as the kicking off point, a good essay on free speech and America’s power structure – Occupy’s Mic Check: A Tactic to Disrupt Power, Not Free Speech
But Grasgreen and Rove both miss the point. Occupiers are trying to demonstrate—through the very performance of this act—that “free speech” is not evenly distributed. The point is that only the 1% ever find themselves at the podium. The 99% are left to fill the seats in the audience, and, if they are lucky, they may have the chance to do as Rove commands and line up behind the mic for a few brief seconds in the spotlight. This is, of course, because the opportunity to speak and to be heard is inextricable from issues of wealth and power. The few who hold these assets in abundance have more purchasing power in the attention economy. K Street is nothing if not an industrialized machine for converting money and power into speech that will be heard. Sure, we all may have “free speech,” but as George Orwell quipped in Animal Farm “some animals are more equal than others.”
The problem with the current discourse surrounding “free speech,” as it pertains to the Occupy movement, is that it has been cast in a radically conservative tone—it is backward looking, towards the white, male, and aristocratic thinkers of the Enlightenment who did not have to worry about power because they already had it. The tendency is to assume that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we all somehow have equal access to the public sphere. Sociology has long been antagonistic to this concept of free speech, instead, viewing speech (an the knowledge embedded within it) as intimately tied to power.
[ ]…In short, Mills is saying we are a society comprised of institutions (most importantly, military, political, and financial institutions) and our positions within these institutions determine the levels of power and influence we have. These institutions perpetuate historical inequalities, transmitting unequal power relations across generations. Mills goes on to connect link power and freedom, saying, “[m]oney provides power and power provides freedom.” Mills highlights the mistake of talking about freedom in binary “free or unfree” terms. Freedom of speech, like all freedom, has many dimensions and gradations. When we say “free speech” we really mean “free political speech.” For political speech to be meaningful, it requires attention, which is a finite resource—and, a resource that has been marketized. Attention goes to the highest bidder—the person with most economic, social, cultural, or symbolic capital to trade (as Pierre Boudieu would say). More recent theorists have termed these conditions “the attention economy.” This economy is an ever-shifting field where those already in power seek to consolidate their position by establishing exclusionary practices (i.e., a habitus) that distinguish them from others and continue to draw attention their way. Those who control institutions get to write the rules and the rules will always ensure that they are heard at the expense of others.
Michel Foucault made a similar argument from a historical perspective. In his (post-)structuralist interpretation of history, various chronological epochs—discursive regimes as he sometimes called them—are define by the relationship between power and the articulation of certain situated knowledges. Foucault obseved that certain ideas, speakers, and media had more traction than others at any given point in history. For example, the pronouncement of the priest may hold sway in one era, but be almost insignificant compared to the written records of the clinic in another era. When we speak, we are always implicitly invoking our institutional position. As I write this piece, I am ever-conscious of the fact professors will read it as the work of a grad student. In some countries, it is even customary to ask the age of a speaker before listening to his/her argument. We might also consider observations in intersectional works like Black Feminist Thought, where Patricia Hill Collins demonstrates that being black and being women makes one’s voice less likely be heard, regardless of content. Only those at the very top have the luxury of (naïvely) assuming their speech is interpreted on its own intrinsic merits.
Maybe blogs, Youtube and social networking is making a difference with some Americans. My personal experience is that most people are still getting filtered news. In an average of a half hour a day through corporate owned media. A big leap, but let’s assume most of the media does not have a Right of center agenda. They still unconsciously filter reports based on a corporate management which has set up their culture of reporting. May he rest in peace and all, but Tim Russert was pretty much the typical beltway insider. Matt Lauer used to have Russert all the time asking him for his perspective on current events and always gave his “friend” a big thinks for joining them that morning. I never heard anything from Tim or Matt that was not prepackaged, precooked conventional pablum for the masses.
There is such a thing as abuse of free speech. Yelling fire in a crowded theater is not protected. Someone who is sure the world is going to end and we all have to repent cannot set up a podium in your front yard to get out what they feel is an urgent message. Individuals cannot stop cars on the freeway and shout their message at drivers who are forced to stop. Some of the complaints against OWS and those who have not been part of the power structure throughout history – slaves, suffrage movements, unions have had arguments used against them along the lines of speech going too far, so far that it interferes with the rights of others or free trade. Conflating the quest for justice with being trouble makers is the powers that be greatest and most often used tools.
I am a capitalist. Conservatives claim to be capitalists. They are not. They are plutocrats and their soft minded minions – Right-wing Welfare Queen Mitt Romney relied on corporate welfare. How Bain Capital leveraged government assistance to boost profits.
Cheezburger’s Ben Huh: If GoDaddy Supports SOPA, We’re Taking Our 1000+ Domains Elsewhere. From what I understand GoDaddy says so far their business has not been affected.