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Speakers’ Corner

John W. Pinkerton


When I was an undergraduate at LSU, there was a box near the student center that anyone who had something to say could jump upon and say whatever they wished.  One day, a young fellow jumped on the box and proclaimed, “It shouldn't be nickel beer and free love; it should be free beer and nickel love.”  At that moment I realized that I might want to take a closer look at a number of my beliefs.

The box I referred to offered the same opportunity that the famous Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park in London offers.  I understand that other parks in London and other British cities have been set up in recent years with their own Speakers' Corners.

The tradition of Speakers' Corner goes back at least to 1855 when while debating the Sunday Trading Bill, which forbade buying and selling on Sundays, a riot broke out.  Not a promising start, but the tradition of Speakers' Corner continues to this day.

One version of history holds that the Speakers' Box  tradition goes back to the time when condemned men were allowed to speak before being hanged from a nearby gallows.  Through the years everyone from Karl Marx to George Orwell have frequented the Speakers' Box.

The beauty of the Box is that anyone can jump up and give a speech on whatever is on his or her mind.  Unlike the conch shell in Golding's  Lord of the Flies, the audience is not restricted in their responses which might range from civil questions and comments to derisive raspberries.

Freedom of speech and the right of assembly is a tradition in England and has inspired other nations including ours  to have their own similar traditions.  Unlike England, we included it in our constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Most of us Americans take this right for granted.  However, in recent days, some seem to want to restrict what folks can say in public.  Wrong!  Hell, burning the American flag is acceptable---though regrettable---based on freedom of speech.

Damn it!  I lost the main point I was about to make.  Oh, yeah.

Does the Speakers' Corner sound like anything with which you're familiar?

Yeap, you're right---Facebook---anyone can jump up on the box and say whatever is on his or her mind and you might be booed or hissed at by folks who are your “friends.”  Of course, if you don't care for your “friends'” booing and hissing, you can unfriend them.  Personally, I love having “friends” who don't agree with me and aren't hesitant to let me know.  It's also nice to get the occasional “Amen” from someone in response to my posts.  Also having the naysayers as “friends” allows me to know what the jackasses are thinking.