I am writing this not to offer a defense of a politician, a speaker, a concept, a political position, a leader or anything but in defense of what has built our free society, free speech.
This Tuesday, I will be moderating the question-and-answer portion of the Mike Adams’ lecture during the 10th Annual Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture at the University of Montana. I do not share all of professor Adams' beliefs, but I am willing to put myself on the line to support his right to express them.
We live in a time where people on both sides of the political aisle are demonized for having a different point of view. Sometimes they are called racists, sometimes they are called communists; we develop actual hatred for people over political beliefs.
I, too, have been guilty of this. On occasion, I get so wrapped up in political disagreements that I forget the people I am debating are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. I forget that they share my same worries and concerns over the well-being our great nation. I forget that they lay awake at night worrying about the same problems I worry about.
It is far too easy to forget that most of the time we worry about the same problems. We are all concerned about the shrinking middle class, growing debt, potential wars, problems of the less fortunate and the homeless. I truly believe that in the majority of cases, most of the people who care enough and have the passion to speak their minds, are not bad people. However, we have been led to believe by polarizing media, social media and government officials that to be right, others have to not only be wrong, but be immoral.
I believe this discord tears at the fabric of American democracy and the freedoms and liberties afforded to us by this great society. In order to live in a free society, we have to be willing to risk being offended or being wrong and respect those brave enough to voice their opinions. If we continue to oppress the speech of others because we disagree with them, we will never achieve our true goal, which is to be united as mankind and enjoy the one life we have to live.
Some of my most memorable moments during my first campaign for city council were knocking on the doors of strangers and listening to their concerns and opinions. I spoke to hundreds of fellow citizens and didn’t always agree with what they had to say, but I listened to every one of their concerns.
Those concerns are what I carry with me today. When deliberating on votes, I am often reminded of conversations with people with whom I disagreed politically, but whose concerns I share. I have deliberated carefully, many times, based on those conversations, on whether or not I was voting the right way or looking at something with the right perspective. Many times, I wasn’t.
In order to grow and learn as a society, we must be willing to listen to one another. We must be brave enough to voice our views, knowing that in the United States of America we are afforded that right. No other country in the world has a First Amendment right to free speech, and we often take that for granted.
I am proud to be a moderator in the effort to protect a basic and essential American freedom. Professor Adams has a right to come and speak at the University of Montana, just as people who disagree with him have a right to peacefully protest.