The Land Of the Free

A group of North Carolina activists committed to justice and democracy have been regularly meeting outside of the Raleigh, NC office of Sen. Tillis. Each week, they highlight a different theme or issue. They invited to me to speak on December 18, 2018, which was their 100th consecutive gathering and the theme was a “free press”.  

The Land of the Free is what we call America.

Our freedom, our liberty depends upon three fundamental elements: a free press; free speech; and free and fair elections.  Remove any one of the three, and America will no longer be the “land of the free”.  

These dedicated activists are celebrating their 100th consecutive week of exercising their right of free speech by honoring the free press.  We honor freedom of the press because journalists are essential to this “great experiment” with political freedom that we call America.  

Recently, we have seen excellent reporting from North Carolina journalists on what looks like vote theft in NC’s 9th congressional district.  A person of interest in this investigation is McCrae Dowless, who I first saw in 2016 when he was part of the flurry of false voter challenges filed across North Carolina by outgoing Gov. McCrory

NC lawmakers used these complaints that they had filed themselves as a springboard for spinning tales of “villainous voters” to justify a “need” for new voter-restriction laws. All of those claims of voter-fraud, including the one McCrea Dowless helped them file, were dismissed.

Because journalists can and often do expose this kind of hypocrisy, they face great risks. This week our own home town newspaper, the News & Observer, was targeted by a bomb threat. We are glad they are safe.  

America’s founders knew that democracy depended upon a free press.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The only security of all is in a free press.”

At the same time, Benjamin Franklin warned a that a free press must be checked by a vigilant and jealous public. As part of that duty, we the people of North Carolina ask that journalists covering election issues in North Carolina speak plainly about racism.

The apparent election fraud in NC09 affected Native Americans and African Americans at a much higher rate than white voters. Yesterday, we learned that Russia targeted African American voters in attempts to suppress the vote in the 2016 election. Racism is a threat to our national security.

Today, the NC Senate is scheduled to vote to override the Governor’s veto of the “Photo ID to vote” law. This law will impact African American voters at a higher rate than white voters.  

At this time of year, as we approach the winter solstice – the longest, darkest night of the year – many cultures and many religions have celebrations that include a theme of light. A free press shines a light into the dark, and exposes hypocrisy.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant.  

The soundbites and talking points of those who would exploit racial fears and prejudice for their own political gain, are like the gas emitted by yeast to leaven bread – it has no substance, it is just puffing.

This time of year, I am reminded of the faith of my youth and stories of an immigrant, a political radical who warned people to beware of the gaseous propaganda emitted by some powerful politicians.

He said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be shouted from the housetops.” (Luke 12:3)

A free press is that light that shines on what people have wanted to keep in the dark. And we the people  – it is our job to shout from the rooftops for all to hear.

To journalists we say, keep shining your light! To our elected leaders, we remind you that the press is so vital to democracy that it is the only profession listed in the US Constitution – you have a DUTY to condemn threats against journalists. 

Meanwhile, we the people will keep on shouting.

12.18.2018. L. Aylett Colston. Comments from “Tuesdays with Tillis” honoring a Free Press.