About 225 weeks ago I wrote my first column for the Bangor Daily News — with leap years and all, I’ve lost exact count. Molly Ivins used to occupy this Wednesday space and it was an indescribable honor to write 700 words every week that might humbly stand in the shadow of the work that she had done.
It’s hard to believe Molly has been dead for more than four years, but it’s easy enough to imagine what she’d think of what’s happening in the world today. For those of us who feel the way she did about politics, it has sure been difficult losing someone who put our opinions into words.
There’s a sort of mental gymnastics that writing a weekly column requires. And I’ve learned a great deal from the experience.
It’s also a gift to have the ability to articulate the cause of folks who don’t have a vehicle to defend themselves in the media. Maybe that’s the most fun of all.
I’m not gay and I’m not an undocumented worker, neither am I shy or afraid to speak my mind. I’m not one of this nation’s uneducated or impoverished and, while I’ve lived without health insurance, I have it now. These truths made it that much more important to push back against the political forces that would blame these subsets of society for the problems that plague our nation.
Having run twice for governor of Maine and once for vice president of the United States, there isn’t a person in this country who reveres political discourse and free speech more than I. I’m not afraid of folks who disagree with me and I welcome their response to my work. The public defense of our ideals — regardless of what those ideals may be — was one of the driving forces that made our nation’s founders demand independence. Ben Franklin explained, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.”
I love our veterans. They are the men and women who surrender their futures to whatever fate our politicians determine. And, when our politicians squander that sacrifice — whether it’s the sacrifice of being separated from their families, suffering personal injury or death or killing a fellow human being — the people must exercise that free speech and stop those politicians.
Don’t get me wrong, newspaper columnist and commentators of every stripe aren’t exercising a freedom, they are doing a job. In a capitalist society like ours, the folks in the papers or on broadcast are there to sell the venue in which they appear. My column is no more an exercise in free speech than Rush Limbaugh’s radio show is. But we use those for-profit pulpits to encourage our readers or listeners to start agitating on behalf of our beliefs; the beliefs we hope to share with the majority of Americans. We also hope our commentary changes minds in the event that our politics aren’t the same.
If Rush and I want to exercise our First Amendment rights, we can get a poster board, make a sign and stand on a street corner just like the average guy or gal must. And that right to stand on the side of the road expressing ourselves is what is protected in the Constitution.
This column hasn’t just taught me these lessons; it has expanded my reach. My columns have been reprinted all around the globe by dozens if not hundreds of online news organizations and networks that either share my beliefs or wish to hold them up as an example of what they rally to stop.
Having begun my media career as a broadcaster, this column has helped hone my writing skills and consequently I have become a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
I’ve submitted columns from far-flung locations including South America and the Middle East, allowing me a new perspective on issues I’ve written about from home.
Today I’m moving away from this venue with gratitude to those who have both agreed and disagreed with my opinions. Your contemplation of the weighty issues that face our country is the only hope a free society has.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.