Friday, March 20, 2015

The Right to Annoy and Propagandize

     I once asserted strongly — indeed, threatened to participate in a lawsuit to ensure — the right to annoy people.

      The context was the George McGovern vs. Richard Nixon 1972 campaign for US President in the 8th Congressional District of Ohio, running into the rule at Miami University, in Oxford, OH, forbidding solicitation in their residence halls, including political canvassing.

     I worked for the McGovern campaign, and the one thing we agreed with the Nixon campaign on was that we both had the right to send our people into the dorms registering students to vote and then getting out the vote we might get for our candidate.

     It was the principle of the thing (that right to annoy) more than anything else since neither campaign intended to actually do any campaigning in the dorms.

     The State-wide Republicans knew that they didn't have to put much effort into the 8th CD; that district is currently represented by the Hon. John Boehner, and, believe me, he was best of the reps we had in the thirty-five years I taught at Miami: discernible brain activity and no indictable offenses. And the local Republican campaign bought, I think, the propaganda on the radicalism of college students and didn't want them thar student pinko punks voting period, wherever they lived. In the 1972 McGovern campaign, there were enough veterans of The Movement ca. 1968-70 to know that most US teens are mostly conservative politically, and the ones living in the dorms at Miami U at Oxford were likely to be congenitally Republican and, if they voted at all, were likely to vote "at home" — their parents' address — and not at their campus address in the 8th CD.

     Older students living off campus: those folks we wanted to turn out to vote, not the teenage, super-straight, WASC-ish dormies. (As a Roman Catholic priest and colleague of mine explained, a "WASC" is a White Catholic — of Irish or Polish extraction at Miami U, not Italian or Hispanic — so well assimilated that s/he's culturally WASP, and, as at many state colleges, this was our plurality demographic.)

     There was, though, that principle: whether or not we actually did it, both campaigns and the party apparati behind us asserted the Constitutional right to go into the residence halls and annoy the residents. We had the right to try to get the apathetic wankers to register and vote — and maybe even study the issues a bit before voting and listen to our arguments on why they should vote for our candidate. For their part, the dormies, like everyone else, had the right to tell us to go away.

     Nowadays, I'd insist that all mass-mailers pay First Class rates with the US Postal Service, including political campaigns, and I recommend outlawing "robo-calls" and calls made with multiple-dialing devices. But I'd still defend the right for political campaigns to send canvassers into dorms, and into gated communities and shopping malls. Citizens have the right to tell you to go to Hell, but the Republic has the right to inflict some politics upon its citizens. In that sense, and that sense only, there is a right to annoy.

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