Monday, February 18, 2008

Celebrating Preznit's Day

While I went to high school in Fall River, I learned about civility. Well, the Fall River kind.
One thing about civility was that if you are civil, you're "putting on airs." Nothing offends a former mill town's settlers more than a bunch of that etiquette stuff. You will be punished, called all manner of names, abused physically, and ostracized. According to Fall River custom, a true blue collar worker NEVER knows which fork to use. It's often a surprise that there is a fork. And whoever has set the table with more than one -- regardless of whether they put the fork on the right or left -- is "putting on airs."
Fall Riverites live for Judgment Day. The day when God comes and checks if you still have the ashes on your forehead and haven't seen any so-called art. Manners are not mandatory on Judgment Day. The Blessed Virgin Mary and a couple of lesser-known saints handle all the manners stuff, so you can concentrate on getting a good seat to watch everyone else get thrown into the burning ever-boiling pit of maggots. And it serves them right. Putting on airs.
This of course, gives Fall Riverites special rights. Rights that are in the Constitution but nobody else can see them. Certain Amendments to the United States Constitution have singular, Fall River-only addenda. Like the First Amendment; for many years (since 1791 in most cases) the First Amendment has read:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(I'm a big fan of the "peaceably assemble" part, which means that our Constitution guarantees us and reminds us of a measure of civility in discourse so that we can assemble or discourse peacefully. Which is why talk radio is actually Unconstitutional.) But Fall River, where complex amending of amendments is the way cheap pols keep their jobs, has a special addendum which reads: "Never mind that. Freedom of speech means you can say any damn thing you want. You got rights! Expecially when you wanna say something stupid."
And so, this Presidents' Day, as we celebrate Benjamin Franklin, the only President of The United States who was never President of The United States, we tip our hat to (metaphorically, of course because we wouldn't want to be accused of putting on airs) Fall River's greatest Constitutional scholar, Daniel "Danny" Robillard.
Now I am absolutely certain that there are members of the Fall River disabled community who see Danny as a tireless advocate, and not as a self-involved whiner who generally portrays himself not as a champion, but as a victim of those who won't listen to him. You are a cruel and thoughtless person, bad, bad member of the non-disabled non-Danny community!
From a smoke-free restaurant controversy in 2000:

Daniel Robillard, a city resident, supported those arguments. "Let the free market decide," he said. "Let the public decide if they want to eat smoke-free or not." Robillard said fried foods are also a health risk. Does that mean that fast-food chains specializing in that line of food should be closed? Of course not, he answered. "We don't need more regulations," he said. "We need more freedom." (January 20 2000, Fall River Herald News, Sean Flynn reporting, found on this Cigar Distributor site.)

So you see his brave concern for the other guy. Or at least concern for himself as he is an "other guy" to somebody. Danny is a freedom guy. He wants us to be free. Ayn Rand free. If you turned on the radio, you could hear him barking about socialist agendas in community groups, the freedom-hating character of political correctness, or the evil communist machinations of Democrats who deviously plot to subvert our his freedoms.

I'll be corrected, but I am pretty sure his story goes something like: He raised such a stink about not being able to get into the City Council chambers that the City made the chambers handicapped-accessible and he was regarded as a hero. What other public places could he raise a stink about? Before he could write too many letters to the Editor or call the talk shows, former Mayor Ed Lambert gave him a seat (!) on something euphemistically and awkwardly called The Fall River Commission on Disability. The Coimmission on Disability "advises and assists city officials in ensuring compliance with federal and state disability laws, such as identifying and removing architectural barriers around the city. The commission is specifically interested in barriers along public ways — sidewalks and streets — and in public buildings." The perfect place for a hypercritical bellyacher hero to the disabled community.

Until, exercising the legitimate Fall River post-election right to rub the other guys face in it ("the Sore Winner Privilege"), Danny's integrity and swagger got the better of him during the "nyeahnyeah" phone call. Identifying himself as calling from the Commish on Dis, he slipped into an excoriating, red-baiting diatribe obviously meant to insult and provoke the State Representative who had lost the run for Mayor. He didn't actually talk to the Rep, but he was brave enough to leave a message.

Robillard argues, however, that his dismissal over the message is a violation of his right to free speech.“This is bigger than a seat on the commission. It’s a freedom of speech issue,” Robillard said.He contends that regardless of his self-identification as a commission member on the message, he is entitled to voice his opinion. Robillard said examples of such actions include his running a print advertisement in a local paper endorsing Correia for mayor that included him noting his position on the commission. Robillard added that when appointed to the commission by former Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr., he first made sure the position would not force him to stop his practice of civic involvement, including making comments at public meetings, calling talk radio shows or running for political office.Robillard admits the mocking message left for Sullivan was deprecating in nature, including a critique of his mayoral campaign and state representative term.“Was the message critical? Absolutely. Was it harsh? Absolutely. Was if insulting? Absolutely. I intended it to be that way,” Robillard said. “But the mayor is making a big deal out of me introducing myself as a member of the commission.”Despite the admittedly harsh comments, Robillard maintains he did nothing wrong.“In no way did I violate the oath of office,” Robillard said. “I made the call from the privacy of my own home to criticize a public official. This is an infringement of my rights as a citizen.”(from Herald News February 15, 2008)

The other thing Fall River taught me about civility is that if you are uncivil -- and you have every right to be -- as long as you say that you know you're being an asshole, all will be forgiven. Because you have every right to be.
And you can still claim that your rights are being violated if anyone else complains.
It's a win-win.

3 comments:

karie said...

I particularly like the line of thought that leads to "talk radio is unconstitutional." Can we turn it off now? Because it is also annoying.

bitterandrew said...

It's not just the South Coast, it's the whole darn country.

See also the "tale of a tree" I posted a couple weeks back.

ThirdMate said...

The "poor wife" part?