Lesson of the Lawrence Recall: Don't Sign Your Name If You Can't Take the Pain

Friday, August 19, 2011

Many people in the City of Lawrence are unhappy and upset with the way their mayor, William Lantigua, is doing (or not doing) his job.

The anti-Lantigua sentiments are deep and widespread, such that organizers of a recent drive to recall Hizzoner in a special election had little difficulty gathering thousands of signatures on a recall petition, 5,483 signatures to be exact.

Of that number, 1,117 were ruled invalid by local election officials, leaving the petition with 4,366 good signatures -- far short of the 5,232 needed to bring about a recall election.

Mayor Lantigua was naturally overjoyed. A former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the city's first-ever Latino chief executive, he couldn't help gloating a bit. His antagonists were taunted for, among other things, not doing their homework.

The mayor and the people around him are good at hardball politics, and it wasn't long before a pro-Lantigua/anti-recall group, YoNoFirmo.com, posted on its web site the names and addresses of the 4,000-plus Lawrence residents whose petition signatures were deemed valid. (YoNoFirmo is Spanish for "I do not sign.")

Intimidation, recall forces immediately cried!

"We've been getting oodles of e-mails and calls from people saying they're concerned or afraid," Anthony DiFruscia, a lawyer for It's Your Right, the group leading the campaign to depose Lantigua, was quoted as saying in the Boston Globe on August 17.

DiFruscia also reportedly declared, "This just isn't the American way. This is not democracy as we understand it."

And Wayne Hayes, an It's Your Right organizer, said, "There's real fear from residents that people will start coming to their houses and trashing them or assaulting them. The fear in their voices is heartbreaking," according to the Globe.

It's never good to see people trembling in fear. And if any recall petition signers are ever directly threatened or harmed, they deserve our sympathy and support. Everyone should rally to their defense.

YoNoFirmo.com, nevertheless, should not be villified for publishing those names and addresses on the web.

That information is a public record; anyone is entitled to scrutinize it in any format.

With all due respect to Atty. DiFruscia, the methods of YoNoFirmo are emphatically "the American way." Democracy is best conducted out in the open, where everyone can see what everyone else is doing.

There may be some people who signed that petition not realizing their names and addresses would be made public, but it's hard to feel sorry for anyone in that category, no matter how old or weak they may be.

In our system, you don't deserve to be counted unless you're willing to stand up.

We have largely forgotten that citizen participation in a democracy is not risk-free, that it fundamentally requires some backbone. It is a truth our ancestors naturally understood and accepted.

Pauline Maier, for example, describes in her book, "American Scripture, Making the Declaration of Independence," how the Continental Congress in the Spring of 1776 asked the citizens of the 13 British colonies that became the United States of America if it should declare the American people and territories free and independent of what was then the world's most powerful empire.

She tells how the Massachusetts assembly, in May of that year, "asked the inhabitants of each town in the colony to debate, 'in full Meeting warned for that Purpose,' an extraordinary topic: if the honorable Continental Congress should decide that, for the safety of the United Colonies, it was necessary to declare them independent of Great Britain, would 'they the said Inhabitants...solemnly engage with their Lives and Fortunes to Support the Congress in the Measure"? (Bold facing added.)

The Assembly deliberately proposed the question to the people of Massachusetts in this "unusually personal way," Ms. Maier writes, "and chose its words carefully," because, "In British law, death and forfeiture of estate were the punishment for treason."

Thus warned that they could be executed and their properties seized if this experiment in freedom went badly, the men of Massachusetts (only male property owners could vote at that time) convened in scores of town meetings across the colony and voted in every recorded instance to endorse a declaration of independence.

If, 235 years ago, our forebears had succumbed to the very real fear of death, there would be no U.S.A. for us to enjoy today.

If they could risk their lives to claim and declare publicly their rights as a free people, how can we allow anything to inhibit us from acting on our political beliefs when our consciences are telling us to do so?

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