Sorry if this seems out of context

The following was written in response to a debate between myself and PAgent over on the Portland Metroblog, about the anti-fur protesters and Schumacher Furs, and the recent developments that seem to have Schumacher Furs moving out of their downtown location – news at 11:00.

I’ve also jumped into the discussion at Loaded Orygun, and at The Mercury’s Blogtown… though not so much over at Jack Bog’s place, since he appears to see any dissent from his angry-old-man routine to be “hate speech” invoking bannination. Heh.

Here’s my response to PAgent:

Thanks for the debate. I appreciate it very much and am glad for the opportunity.

That being said… This boils down to two points, as I see it. First, you seem unaware of what the publicly stated aims of the protesters are, which means you’re arguing what you believe their motives are, rather than going by what they’ve said. And you seem intent on enforcing some code of how and where protests should be conducted – “public debate is what happens in newspapers, or in city council meetings”. Luckily, free speech is more broadly protected than that.

To the first point, I’m including some links at the end of this comment. There are plenty more; this has been a widely reported topic in the local media. I’m sure I’ve missed some, but I’d like to draw your attention to the first link. One of the protesters, Matt Rossell, had an editorial published in the Portland Tribune back in March – have you read it? In it, and in other articles in the local media, he specifically said that the goal of his group is education; education about how the furs are obtained and from where (China, from what I understand).

He specifically denies that they are trying to “shut down” Schumacher Furs: “With protests originally scheduled to last only through Christmas, In Defense of Animals’ objective always has been to educate people about the inherent cruelty of the fur industry, not to put Schumacher out of business.
The strategy is simple: Portlanders are compassionate, and most will make humane consumer choices when given accurate information.”

One thing I’ve learned in my reading that I will admit I didn’t know before is that there have been arrests during the protests, and that there have been some vandalism. That being the case, it seems that the protesters spokesperson acknowledges that the aim is peaceful, and that those who have broken the law have had to face the consequences of their actions. That sounds about right to me, and stands in contrast to Gregg Schumacher’s claim of death threats against him. If there were credible death threats, then I imagine that law enforcement has been involved. I haven’t seen any reports of that.

And the claims of death threats against the business, which appear baseless, stand in contrast to the actual death threats the Schumachers’ posted in their windows. How we deal with those who disagree with us is a reflection of who we are. In my view, it was not a mature response, and was actually dismissive of the protesters. It was not on the same level as the signs and protests I’ve seen deployed and documented in videos.

And, yes, I do consider this a public debate. In what way is it not? In fact, Rossell has said that there were steps that the Schumachers could take that would satisfy the protesters and end the demonstrations. I haven’t seen what Rossell thinks those steps would be, but I’d guess that it would be some form of acknowledgment of where and how the furs are harvested – assuming that they were seeking education and not shutting down the business. I admit that this is speculation on my part, and I think I’ll try to track down Rossell and put the question to him myself. I’ll happily report what information I can get.

Sadly, I don’t have to look very hard for bigotry, but you’re right, it’s everywhere. I’m sure I show evidence of it myself, which is why I’m grateful for friends (and others) who can call me on it when I show it. I welcome that kind of criticism. It doesn’t appear the Schumachers share my openness to criticism.

To your last argument: even if I accept your unfounded premise that the aim of the protests was to “shut down” the Schumachers, and even if I also accept your premise that the Schumachers business may be harmed by moving to the ‘burbs (if the downtown is as scary for their customers as they claim, the counter-argument could be made that the lower rents, better parking, and proximity to their customer base could actually HELP their business, not hurt it), there’s still this fear underlying what you say. Is it so scary to have someone disagree with you? Even if they disagree on a weekly basis, loudly and as often as possible?

It doesn’t matter if I agree with the speech of others. If their speech is hateful, I want everyone to hear it, because I think that rational people can recognize hateful speech when they see it. I don’t fear the vocal minority. I want to protect it.

An example of my personal hero is Richard Dreyfuss, the actor. During the filming of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, when it was being filmed in Mobile, Alabama, there was a group of Klansmen that wanted to march in a parade. There were many who opposed the Klansmen marching; they wanted to silence them. Mr. Dreyfuss actually demonstrated in favor of letting them march, on the same basis that I myself said: all speech is protected, and (pardon this analogy, I can’t help it) give your opponents enough rope to hang themselves. If their underlying nature is bigoted, they will show that side of themselves sooner or later.

I may have the details wrong on that story; I read it long ago, and the underlying premise stuck with me. It may be a myth that I use to support my beliefs, but even if the actual story is different I think the value I got from it is a good one.

I would support the peaceful protest of any topic in the public sphere, even if I do not, myself, support their view. If someone was trying to “shut down” a business that I supported, if I wanted to take part, I would encourage communication between the two parties, and do my part to make sure both sides understand their responsibilities in engaging the public. I applauded Randy Leonard in trying to mediate in this case, and I think the evidence is clear that it was the business owners who were beyond help, not the protesters.

Abortion clinics, fur stores, gay/lesbian bookstores, whatever – none of them have a right to exist, free from criticism, regardless of whether I believe in their rightness or wrongness. Someone’s always going to disagree with you. The best response is to engage them and learn from them. And if they appear to have all the power and you don’t, then you might have to take the debate outside of city councils or newspaper editorial pages, places that seem stacked in favor of the ones with money and power. Especially if you’re young and idealistic and don’t have a lot of cash on hand.

Links mentioned above:

Matt Rossell’s editorial in the Portland Tribune

The website of the Portland anti-fur protesters