sights & sounds

June 7, 2010

freedom of association

Dear Rand Paul,

You sorely embarrassed yourself in the debate on the Civil Rights Act with Rachel Maddow a few weeks ago. You could have waxed lengthy on grassroots solutions to racist policies that don’t rely on state authority, but you didn’t – instead, you just hemmed and hawed about your (false) commitment to freedom of association and ‘the Constitution’; and as a result, many people accused you of being a racist. Although Maddow never accused you of racism herself, perhaps you deserve such accusations – you can’t invoke ‘freedom of association’ and then violate Americans’ freedom to associate with people born in Mexico1; you can’t claim to have a love affair with the Constitution and then proclaim your rejection of the 14th amendment2.

But not to worry! You have a chance to redeem yourself.

Last week at Portland’s Red & Black Cafe, the co-owner asked a police officer to leave the premises, peacefully exercising his property rights3. Given your previous support for business-owners’ and landlords’ right to decide whom to associate with, I assume you’ll be in full support of the Red & Black Cafe, and of all the undersigned here:

To:  Rand Paul for Senate Campaign

Whereas, Rand Paul, in his capacity as a Republican Party candidate for the United States Senate from Kentucky, has stated his support for the concept of freedom of association for businesses;

Whereas, the Red and Black Cafe in Portland, Oregon – an anarchist coffeehouse and vegan cafe – have expressed their desire to disassociate their business from police officers by asking a police officer to leave and not return;

Whereas, the Red and Black Cafe’s desire to exercise their freedom of association has become a controversial act not only in Portland but nationwide;

Therefore, we, the undersigned, call on Rand Paul to make a public statement in support of the Red and Black Cafe’s freedom of association.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

I appreciate your professed commitment to ‘freedom of association’; and I’m gleefully anticipating your support.

Signed,

Disgruntled Ex-voter

But hey, who am I kidding? It’s the habit of Tea Partiers to shallowly co-opt anti-statist rhetoric when it suits them (e.g. on guns, on the welfare state), and conveniently chuck it when it doesn’t (e.g. on immigration, on foreign policy). So, one really shouldn’t be surprised to see self-described ‘freedom’ activists coming down against anarchists who truly do oppose the state and its violent enforcers.

1. If you say a business-owner has the right to refuse to hire certain people, you can’t go on to argue that he doesn’t have the right to hire certain people. Similarly, if I have the right not to sell my home to bigoted assholes, I also have the right to sell my home to someone born in Mexico. To claim anything else is absurd.

I don’t think the position that private businesses may discriminate is inherently racist.  ..but when that position lies in clear opposition with another position on a similarly racially-charged issue (immigration, in this case); and when someone is seemingly unable to talk about any grassroots solutions to discrimination, it makes the person look like a slimy political opportunist and/or a possibly racist tool.

Furthermore, the division between ‘public’ and ‘private’ is much more complex than ‘Is this supported by tax dollars or not?’  – the distribution of property rights in the Jim Crow south (and elsewhere) largely sprang from systematic government oppression in the first place; public and private spheres often collude to produce adverse conditions; and some entities (corporations, for instance) depend so heavily on government intervention in the economy that calling them ‘private’ would be a sick joke.

..but bringing any of this up would require a thorough picking-apart of state power, which no politician wants to do.

2. I actually don’t care anything about the Constitution – a dusty old document drawn-up by a bunch of patriarchal, slave-owning codgers is of no consequence to me; and I reject the validity of the ‘social contract‘ altogether. It’s still fun to watch people who claim to care about the Constitution get tangled up in their own inconsistencies, though.

3. The word ‘property’ is problematic in this instance, as Red & Black is operated by communist anarchists; but the cafe is still the sole possession of the co-owners/workers.

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