Gentle reader, assuming this is read: What follows is a matter of personal history. This is a letter to the editor and publisher of The Dahlonega Nugget, Terrie Ellerbie, from 2008. Not many months following this, I left Dahlonega finding it intolerant and intolerable — but, for me, that was nothing new. I’d found it as such, increasingly, since the early 1970s when I began to be aware of many things about that community; I moved away to go to university in the mid 1980s with no intention of returning — yet, as Townes Van Zandt once said, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”
So, HaShem saw fit to strand me, financially broke, jobless, homeless, sick back in my “hometown” — and I chose to get busy, sort of like an absurd Count of Monte Christo, and make my “prison” a place where I would learn what no university could teach, to prepare for a future I never really expected would arrive — a day when I could get in a car and drive away permanently to a different world, one which would listen to the little I had to share, read what I wrote, look at the art I made.
So, I learned. I dealt with many sorts of people, many situations from the soul-crushing to the enlightening, and, little by little, I improved. And I began to write freelance editorials on contemporary issues for the small local paper to share, to examine, to offer an alternative point of view; unpopular, to be certain, but one I thought needed to be heard from. Especially as torture, concentration camps, dehumanization, and loss of civil liberties and rights became the order of the day.
I also began teaching ethics and philosophy at the local university along with my regular day job at public mental health… and dealing with a very confusing, depressing, intense personal life.
I got myself well-hated because of the writing, to paraphrase a poet. But I also made friends, a couple permanent, maybe, most fair-weather who disappeared just as soon as I was banned — yes, banned — from being published in that paper because, ostensibly, of about twenty anonymous, unpublished complaints.
It didn’t shut me up but it did shut me down. And I fell into a deep depression for a long while — it left a wound. Sometimes, still, the wound seeps. But I learned a very important set of lessons: when you stand up openly to be counted, you will be counted; there is only one of you; don’t count on anyone else who, in private, supports you, to do anything except hide when the counter-attack comes on you from the hateful and intolerant; and never expect them to come back and even speak to you after you’ve been “disposed of” by a vocal majority or the powerful.
“So it goes,” as the man often said.
That is the life of anyone who becomes controversial or stands against injustice in a place where people believe the unjust to be their absolute right. You’re out there by yourself. If others show up or “have your back,” that is damned good fortune. And you never count on “good fortune” — bad fortune is what you prepare for as, really, it is far more likely. Fear keeps good people silent, it keeps them in hiding, it causes them to censor themselves. They are only rarely going to come out in any way when the danger of speaking up becomes greater, not lesser.
If you choose to speak up about anything that needs to be said, expect to find yourself bearing witness alone… except for the pack of wolves who come out to tear your reputation to shreds. And maybe your livelihood… and, once in a while, your life itself.
A cautionary tale, but not a dissuasive one. You are only what you choose to do and the inherent quality of what you choose to value and incarnate in this world through your actions. The end. I have no shame for that part of my life. It was worthwhile.
After being banned, I wrote, over two years, three letters to the editor — the short farewell, which was published; a protest against a letter writer who encouraged physical violence for those who were “liberal’ — they published a heavily edited version of that; and this letter in defence of free speech in the paper, the sole public platform in that community, even for an editorialist who was a hate-monger, who had attacked me in the pages of the paper. This one, of course, never saw the light of day. You’ll see why should one choose to read on.
So, without further comment.
RVI, 22 February 2017
“Uncharacteristically, I will keep my words to a minimum. This concerns your editorial comments of 27 February 2008 in “What you need to know about Moore & Martin.”
“I can sympathize with your frustrations, especially concerning the complaints about Mr. Martin’s column – but only to a point.
‘ “We do not “endorse” any columnist, period. We publish what people write, because this is the place for that to happen. [ . . .] This is a public forum, not a private country club. We will not apologize for giving people with differing backgrounds and views a place to express themselves in their own words.
“I will say this: If you do not like what Jason Martin had to say, I suggest you muster up the courage to speak up and speak out yourself and express your own views.” ‘
“You seemed to show more than a little exasperation with your readers who won’t sign their names to complaints about Mr. Martin and those who have gotten the idea that, if they complain enough about someone expressing opinions in your paper, you will remove that person and refuse to print their columns in the future.
“Where, oh where, pray tell, could they have gotten such an idea?
“When, I wonder, was such a precedent ever set for that sort of decision-making in your paper?
“Could it have been, perhaps, a bit over a year-and-a-half ago when you publicly refused to print any more of my columns because some locals could no longer bear to be exposed to my point of view – one wholly opposed to Mr. Martin’s?
“Where was this editorial statement when a determined fragment of your readership — in some cases anonymously, in some cases not — railed that poorly written trash such as I compose should never waste ink in your fine publication again? And all this mainly because I don’t sound or think like most people “from ’round these here parts.”
“As one of your more censorious letter writers used to say of me, “He isn’t one of us.” Which is true enough, but in 2006 that sentiment was enough for you to publicly refuse to accept any more columns from my hand.
“So now, the tables are turned. Your Mr. Martin has inspired a wave of people who don’t particularly want to read a column in which the writer so glibly excuses torture as “the final solution” for our nation’s terrorism problem, and don’t want to hear that “ideas and people that ain’t from ’round these here parts should leave on the road that brung ’em.”
“So they want you to ban him – which I think is a terrible idea. By all means, let the man speak; as you say, it’s not as if what “he said is not being repeated in conversations all over this county . . ..”
“But, then again, the same could have been said in defense of my own columns.
“In Dahlonega, the local paper is the only real public platform for speech. Therefore, it has an obligation to allow even the rude, ignorant, utterly parochial, and the crank to express an opinion.
“If it doesn’t allow that much, the paper may not print the words of anyone representing any controversial or unpopular position, even a reasonable one, whenever it becomes simply easier to silence those words.
“That’s not the sort of paper I want for my town. It wasn’t what I wanted in 2006; it isn’t what we need now.
“Richard Van Ingram”