A Friend Departs — And the State of Free Speech

in freedom •  last month

A friend of mine recently moved from here in our little coastal town, approximately 200 miles south to the city of Portland, Oregon.

Erik and I arrived here in Port Townsend within a couple of months of each other some 13 years ago, from very different points of origin. We already knew each other from elsewhere, and it was one of those curious coincidences of life that we happened to settle in this same small town.

Even curiouser than that was the fact that Erik and Mrs. Denmarkguy had been friends in Southern California, long before that.

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Samples of Erik's hand written free speech boards... at one time, as many as 100 of them

"That Free Speech Guy"

Erik — better known by the moniker "Arhata Osho" — isn't just "any old dude."

For many years, he ran what was to become the world's largest interactive Free Speech display, on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, California. Although often provocative and incendiary, he was also one of the most peaceful people I have known.

After a period of illness, he chose to move here to be closer to his family, and to bring the Free Speech gig with him to our little town. After all, this was regarded as a very "alternative" and generally quite open-minded town. Or — at least — so it would seem.

Alas, that open-mindedness turned out to not be quite what it promised, at first glance.

The city government here soon enough decided that it really didn't like Erik's particular brand of Free Speech, and passed an ordinance that didn't exactly prevent free speech, but declared a limit on ANY "public display" to be no more than 4x6x6 feet high. Which clearly put the kibosh on Erik's gig, which had as much as 200 linear feet of thought-provoking statements and manifestos.

Although he argued his case in court (we sat in on some of his hearings), he made no progress... and what some locals came to call the "free speech ordinance" stood.

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Erik at the display, once it had been "cut down to size." Image via Digital Revolutions

A Sad Departure... and Changing Demographics

We're sad to see Erik leave for the metropolis of Portland... because he was a good friend of ours. His activities also added "color" to a town that seems to have grown increasingly "sterile" in its desires to keep itself "pretty," for the benefit of never offending the many tourists who come here.

But I'm also sad because a substantial part of his reason for leaving was precisely that — in spite of it's purported open-mindedness — our little town really turned out to only "be that" in the sense that you had to conform to a particular brand of what I would characterize as "aging militant granolahead hippie" free speech... or else you were unwelcome.

But it was not always so.

Erik was an "Equal opportunity offender" whose provocative claims could basically piss off the pope, regardless of whether you were left or right leaning, religious or atheist, Christian or Pastafarian. The point was to get people to stop and THINK.

In 2005, this place was far more "fertile ground" for his trade than it is today.

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Erik and Mrs. Denmarkguy, at his spot in front of City Hall, circa 2013

Changing Times?

It's amazing how quickly the pulse of a place can change.

In just the 13 years we have been here, the demographics of this town has changed considerably, and therein lies perhaps one of the root causes behind Erik's departure:

In 2005 when we arrived, the median age here was 47 (already much above the state average) and most of the population had lived here quite a long time.

Fast forward to 2018 — just thirteen years, remember! — and the median age has increased to 57 and most of the population are relatively recent arrivals (5 years here, or less). Moreover, the cost of housing has almost doubled while the median income has actually declined very slightly. Old-timers have moved away, only to be replaced with wealthy Californian retirees.

And, as part of that population shift, it also seems that (sadly!) a lot of minds have closed... or if not exactly closed, at least become more regimented, in terms of what they tolerate.

Maybe it's just a sign that change is ultimately inevitable, or maybe it's the sign of a changing world... I'm not sure which. The thing is (just in case you were jumping to conclusions), Erik actually wasn't a "hairy liberal," he was quite independent.

Then again, maybe that was the problem.

What do YOU think? What is the status and nature of Free Speech, these days? Either here in the USA, or where you live? Should there be laws governing free speech? Or is the idea of a "law" a direct violation of free speech? Leave a comment-- share your experiences-- be part of the conversation!

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Created at 181114 00:32 PDT

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Too bad about your small town. And free speech here in San Antonio is encouraged from what I see in downtown.

Btw, I think I'm most like Erik in that I am independent. I think sometimes the granola eating hippie can turn into the very thing they hated in the first place...a "conformist" to the group they so highly sought out ;)

He sounds like a cool dude. I don't recognize him...(when was he on Venice beach? - I was knocking around mid/late 90's?)

Erik was an "Equal opportunity offender" whose provocative claims could basically piss off the pope, regardless of whether you were left or right leaning, religious or atheist, Christian or Pastafarian.

....There's a reason why why I live away from people who can understand me!
lolol

The very phrase "free speech ordinance" struck me as ironic. Unless it begins something like "There shall be no abridgement of free speech within the confines of this township" -- it seems to almost mock the idea of free speech ... full stop.

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californicators..what can you say?

/ᐠ=ᆽ=ᐟ\