Freedom of Speech is an Oxymoron

For those of you who haven't already heard, I won an auction on eBay last week. That particular auction was a benefit for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund initiated by noted comics creator, Jim Lee. Jim generously offered his time (and travel expenses) to any comics retailer in America for a one-day autographing session at their store, in exchange for a cash contribution to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. At the recent DC retailer's meeting in Burbank, California I heard much discussion of this auction ("Did you hear that Jim Lee is up to $4,700.00 on eBay!?!"), with everyone being very pleased that Jim's contribution was making so much difference for the CBLDF. What I did not hear, however, was anyone saying that they were going to bid higher.

This revelation got me to thinking, as I suddenly realized that my original belief that this eBay auction would end well above $10,000.00 might be wrong. This bothered me more than a little, as I was well aware from my discussions with director Charles Brownstein that the CBLDF was relying on it's fundraising efforts during the next two months to cover accumulated past legal expenses, and to pay for a critical appeal to a case that was lost in Texas. This was an instance where the outcome of the auction meant a great deal to the future functional viability of the CBLDF.

Why do I care so fervently in the future of the CBLDF? Let me start by pointing out that I was born in Germany, in 1955, to a mother who spent the her first five years in school being taught by Nazi Party-selected teachers. My mother repeatedly warned me as a child, even after we immigrated to America, to never speak out, or let my opinions be known, because I never knew when the government might be listening. She had seen first-hand the horrors of oppression, as the Nazi administration in her elementary school actively encouraged the children to report any discussions that their parents might be having at home that were critical of the government, or the war effort. As a result of these interrogations, some very young children in my mother's classes inadvertently had their parents arrested by the Gestapo. Those traumatic experiences placed a permanent fear of speaking out in my mother's mind.

Like most young people, I chose to abandon my mother's teachings during my teens. During my years at the University of Colorado, I became quite politically active, first advancing very conservative right-wing causes, and then later swinging over to the radical left. In the end, I realized that both sides were populated by people who really were far more interested in advancing their own personal agendas than having any real commitment to positive social change. As a result of those negative experiences, I decided to stop participating in any further organized political efforts, and instead dedicated the rest of my life to initiating positive changes on my own. The one constant that I noted in all my efforts, however, was the critical necessity for free speech. No matter which side of the political spectrum I occupied on any given day, I found that I could usually gain some measure of enlightenment by simply listening to those on the other side of the aisle.

I also learned during my politically active years that my mother's fears were well-founded, even in America. Once, while participating in a peaceful anti-war demonstration in the streets of Boulder, a man with a movie camera was pointed out to me. He was supposedly recording the demonstration for the local police, with copies of his film to made available to the FBI. I started watching for similar individuals at other demonstrations I attended, and a clear pattern quickly emerged. My mother was right, the government really was watching! In more recent years, records pried loose under the Freedom of Information act have clearly shown a pattern of the government spying on many of us for seemingly innocuous activities.

More specific to the world of comics, over the past ten years there as been a steady number of criminal cases brought against individual comics creators and retailers by over-zealous local prosecutors seeking to eliminate certain types of comics they don't like. These cases have usually been ruinous to the individuals being persecuted, as they not only face jail time and fines, but also must shoulder the burden of enormous legal fees. The critical aspect to these cases of which I think everyone should be aware is that they are remarkably random. Most of these cases were brought about on only the flimsiest pretext, and often involve comics that most of us would consider reasonably mainstream. The message in this terrible pattern is that being arrested for creating, or selling, a comic with unpopular content is a risk that all of us in the professional comics community take on every single day. Quite literally, any of us could be arrested by our government, and charged with crimes that might lead to incarceration and a destruction of our businesses and personal reputations, with absolutely no warning.

When it comes down to it, Freedom of Speech is an oxymoron. There is absolutely nothing free about it. If we want to keep our right to speak, write, and draw whatever we wish we have to struggle each and every day. I'm not sure what it is in the flawed personalities of so many people that makes them wish to butt into the lives of those who don't agree with their particular world view, and to punish them harshly for their differing opinions, but it is a clear and present danger to all of us. That is why I feel really good about sending a check to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund today for $6.700.00. The long knives might not be out for me at this particular moment, but I know they're coming, eventually. The forces of oppression are growing in strength in this paranoid post 9/11 age, and the implications are far more wide-reaching than just "Homeland Security." Once those vicious dogs have been loosed, they will run wild until they are once again brought into a check by our legal system. That is the greatest strength of America. We can see dark periods of repression, such as 1946-1956, when everyone lives in fear, but eventually the powers of our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, are restored. But only because the brave few choose to fight. In the coming dark days the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund will be our only bulwark against the tides of oppression. I fervently hope you will join me in supporting the CBLDF. Only by sticking together do we have any hope for the future.

For those of you attending Mid-Ohio-Con, I will be the auctioneer for a CBLDF benefit auction at the show. The auction will be held on Sunday, December 1st, at 3 PM. Contributions of items to be auctioned will be gladly accepted right up until the time the auction starts. If you can't attend, and would like to mail in some items to be auctioned, please contact Charles Brownstein at CBLDF Staff.

I'll return to the topic of utilizing the Internet to market comics next week...

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221



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