Free Speech Project
Support FARPS to ensure an individual’s right to expression even when the majority may strongly disagree with the message.
Mission Statement: The overarching mission of the Free Speech Project is to answer two important questions: (1) will the people of a given community suppress or advocate for an individual’s right to expression even when the majority may strongly disagree with the message and (2) are minority voices still protected by our 1st Amendment rights?
Category: Patriotic Art
Test Population: Residents of Santa Cruz County, CA
Organization Name: First Amendment Rights Preservation Society (FARPS)
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
Organization Description: Free speech, known in America as our 1st Amendment right, is constantly under attack. This election year has seen a dramatic ramp up of censorship in the mainstream media, as well as at what is commonly known as “big tech,” corporations like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Google, Apple, Netflix and others. Our newly-formed, non-profit organization, First Amendment Rights Preservation Society (FARPS), is characterized as:
• National coalition
• Conservative / Moderate
FARPS came into existence as a response and counter-balance to the biased political censorship of conservative and moderate voices on social media and other “big tech” platforms. It deploys various activist tools: physical protest, online protest, test case (probes) challenges, media exposure, legal challenges and others. It is organized into local chapters, one per US city, with an assigned activist representing the chapter. Oftentimes, the scope of activism extends beyond big tech, and into free speech suppression at the local level: government, educational institutions, corporations, and citizenry.
Project Phases: the project is divided into two phases. The first phase is a “litmus test” to determine whether the spirit of free speech not only exists in the hearts and minds of the citizens of a given community (Santa Cruz, CA), but if the city government legally respects a citizen’s rights to express it. Phase One is comprised of the following components: (a) survey community, (b) submit permit application, and (c) city approval of the permit. Completing Phase One is a pre-condition for entering Phase Two: fundraising, mural prep work, and mural construction.
Funding Request: Phase One - self-funded (permit fees - $525); Phase Two - $8000
Funded Components: Permit fees, paint, paint supplies, safety markers, filming crew, liability insurance (year 1)
Projected Milestone Dates: given that we do not face delays in the granting of our permit, we can forecast milestone dates as follows:
Phase One: Start: Oct-3-2020 / Completion (Dec-31-2020)
Phase Two: Start: Jan-1-2021 / Est. Completion (Mar-1-2021) [depending on permit approval period]
Project Purpose: We all find ourselves in the minority opinion at least once in our lives. Only then do we prize the critical value of free speech. Those who value the principle of free speech understand and tolerate ideas that they may harshly reject at a personal level. The evolution of our core values is constantly changing, depending on the times in which we live. How we assign “meaning” or “context” to a given act, phrase or symbol is always subject to manipulation by others—people who want us to think a certain way—like them. Influencers are everywhere: sports figures, rap musicians, politicians, religious leaders, billionaires, marketing executives, news anchors, political pundits, and, yes, your friends and significant others. They each contribute to helping us form judgements and assign meaning and context to actions and objects. In a healthy society, each of us compare the words and actions from a diverse pool of influencers, then draw conclusions and make choices in a free-thinking way. The danger is when, often by our own choices, and often through the demagogues who we so admire, we are told that the ideas of others are hateful and dangerous. We take a step back out of fear and instinct, then naturally, seek out the herd to protects us—those who think the way we do. We draw the battle lines, but, more importantly, we assign negative meaning and context to whatever outsiders say or do thereafter. We avoid them influencing the herd by trying to silence our newfound enemies. It becomes us versus them. We lock ourselves down in our own traps. We believe that hate is everywhere and, as a self-assigned member of the moral police, you hunt it down and try to destroy it. You become intolerant to anything outside your own belief system—outside your own echo chamber. You are no longer a human being. You’ve lost all independent thinking. You are simply a programmed mound of flesh, told what to do and when to do it by the leaders of the herd. They have made you that way—your puppet masters. The Facebook group, “Project Nightfall” (4.7M followers), may have summed it up best in this short video clip: https://www.facebook.com/ProjectNightfall/videos/343496750402642/?vh=e&extid=0
The purpose of the Free Speech Project is to qualify the degree of tolerance that the people of a community have chosen for themselves, and how far they are willing to go to protect the herd. Are we still free to make our own choices, or have our “choices” already been programmed for us? How flexible are we to have our minds changed? Are we willing to listen to others who hold views different than our own? Do we still seek out diverse opinions before we form our own judgments or do we always seek out the comfort of our own flocks for reaffirmation and conformance?
Project Objectives: The overarching objectives of the Free Speech Project are to answer two important questions: (1) will the people of the community suppress or advocate for an individual’s right to expression even when the majority may strongly disagree (based on a small sampling of the community) with the message and (2) are minority voices still protected by our 1st Amendment rights, particularly in Santa Cruz, where we measure whether those rights are alive (diversity of viewpoints) or dead (speech reserved for a select few)? The first question will be answered through our Phase One survey; the second by whether or not the City Council grants the project a permit. Whether the mural eventually sees life on the streets or lies forever dormant in a filing cabinet, in the end, that’s far from the essential point. Although many may see the mural only as a vile display of everything evil in the world, we see it as a patriotic message and an olive branch to help us break the cycle that make us miserable every day, despising those who have perspectives that are foreign to the values that we cherish. While one person may see evil, another person may see pride. That’s a problem. How can that be? Are we that different from one another? Are we being manipulated in any way? We may never know unless we are willing to walk away from the safety of the herd.
Types of Speech Permitted by the City of Santa Cruz Today: some of the photos this project has taken of recent expressions of free speech that is tolerated by Santa Cruz residents, and protected (as it should be) by the City Council, depict the extent of permissible speech from one side of the political spectrum. This project wishes to project its own statement of an alternative perspective, to gauge whether its message will have equal access to the various public speech platforms offered by the community, and to encourage the entire community to take the first step toward bringing the two sides together (see Mural Vision).
Mural Description: In June-2020, a local Santa Cruz group obtained a City of Santa Cruz encroachment permit to paint a permanent Black Lives Matter slogan onto the street adjacent to the Santa Cruz Public Library. By granting this permit, the City of Santa Cruz, perhaps unknowingly, has established a public speech venue in this vicinity that must now support the expression of other voices. In the same spirit as the Black Lives Matter mural project founders, FARPS has very recently contacted the City Council of Santa Cruz requesting preliminary instructions for applying for a Regular Encroachment Permit for a street mural with the permanently painted letters God Bless America, which must be approved by the Council. The underlying message behind this mural is this: no matter what skin color one has, we all share the common bond of being Americans (country before color; unity against separation). The decision to accept or deny the permit request could have far-reaching consequences to our freedoms if one side is denied an equitable platform for speech—and the determination of this rests on the shoulders of the Santa Cruz City Council. Whether or not one agrees with either the Black Lives Matter mural or the God Bless America mural is not the relevant point here. It is a question of whether the Santa Cruz culture, which sprung from the flower power and free speech movements of the 1960’s, is still as tolerant today toward platforming views contrary to the majority. In a grander, more eloquent sense, this exercise in discovery shall be rightly bundled together as the “Free Speech Project.”
Mural Vision: Santa Cruz, which all of Santa Cruz County turns to for moral leadership, has a rare opportunity to designate this square block as the first of its kind in the nation. In no other city in any of the 50 states does one find a monument to black lives next to the patriotic shout-out that many Americans still hold dear. The country is divided. Let’s do our part to unite her by “walking away from our respective herds” to become independent thinkers again, focusing our energies onto shared solutions to the problems that we face together. We must reject division and separation. We must reject herd mentality. In the end, we each must commit to the protection of the rights of both murals to have a place in our community—the essence of a tolerant and independent-thinking culture. We might disagree with one another on our individual beliefs, but we can show the nation that we stand hand-in-hand when defending one another’s right to express them. By supporting and endorsing this mural project, you have chosen tolerance over intolerance.
[design option #2 only] At the intersection where the Black Lives Matter and the God Bless America murals converge, the birth of a new free speech movement will emerge—PEOPLE’S PARK 2.0, the new epicenter of a revived free speech movement that has since perished in Berkeley, California, due to its suppression of discordant voices through the use of violence, harassment and intimidation. The city of Berkeley can no longer rightly claim the mantel of the free speech movement for its active suppression of moderate and conservative voices. PEOPLE’S PARK 1.0 (Berkeley) is officially dead, and has been for some time. Berkeley may own the title for the origins of the free speech movement, but the city and the university have been reckless in managing her preservation. Berkeley and free speech are no longer synonymous. As a UC Berkeley student in the late 1970’s, I witnessed, first-hand, these same tactics during campus speaking events. In my opinion, UC Berkeley’s free speech stint was short-lived, and terminated after the Vietnam War, if not before. It became mired in political biases, which pose threats to the free exchange of ideas that can and should be debated. This is why, at the intersection of Center Street and Church Street, where the two murals meet, we would anoint this location as the “free speech epicenter,” painted inside a circle of unity—our People’s Park 2.0, and to formally and belatedly transfer the cherished responsibility of free speech preservation from Berkeley to Santa Cruz.
Artist Rendition: an aerial view of the project in downtown Santa Cruz displays the murals. The Black Lives Matter mural was completed on Sep-12-2020. The God Bless America mural, including the Free Speech Epicenter, is pending permit submission to and approval from the Santa Cruz City Council.
Mural Design Options: We are supportive of two design choices and will defer to the City Council, as the people’s voice, to choose the design that best fits the community’s respect for tolerance and free speech.
Caveats: As design option #2’s overall message is based on the integration of the individual murals into a single, collective whole, our organization believes that we would be hijacking the Black Lives Matter message by incorporating it into our broader, free speech message. Therefore, we shall withdraw design option #2 from consideration if we do not receive the tacit approval of the Black Lives Matter mural organizers during the permit review process. On the other hand, we have no such limitations with design option #1, as it is a stand-alone mural that borrows nothing from the Black Lives Matter mural.
#1: “God Bless America” mural
#2: “God Bless America” mural plus “Free Speech Epicenter” (People’s Park 2.0)
Origins of “God Bless America”: Irving Berlin wrote the song, “God Bless America,” in 1918, in the midst of World War I, while serving in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, but he decided that it did not fit in a revue called Yip Yip Yaphank, so he set it aside. In 1938, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Irving Berlin, who was Jewish and had arrived in the U.S. from Russia at the age of five, felt it was time to revive it as a "peace song", and it was introduced on an Armistice Day broadcast in 1938, sung by Kate Smith on her radio show. Anti-Semitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan protested against the song due to its authorship by a Jewish immigrant. The song was used early in the Civil Rights Movement as well as at labor rallies. Berlin gave the royalties of the song to The God Bless America Fund for redistribution to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in New York City.
Phase One – Take the Survey: The survey is taken anonymously. We purposely chose the month of October, 2020, on the eve of one of the most divisive elections in decades, to do a litmus test on the thickness of the ideological wall that separates the two sides. The data will be published to local news organizations, social media and alt-media news sites wishing to discuss it. Even though the mural project is local to the city of Santa Cruz, the survey can be taken by any US resident, 18 and older, and will be sorted by city and county. The survey in no way verifies age or voter registration, but relies solely on the taker’s respect for data integrity. We encourage anyone living outside of Santa Cruz County to take the survey by imagining the same scenario happening in his or her own city: an existing Black Lives Matter street mural somewhere in town, with a potentially divisive, God Bless America street mural waiting in the wings for approval. Yet, for the purposes of constructing a physical mural in Santa Cruz, we will be more focused on the results from Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County, and provide an extended analysis as such. We will then compare the Santa Cruz results with the “rest of country” (baseline) to evaluate the degree of separation of local versus national temperaments. The data generated by the survey will have no impacts to the Phase Two implementation plan of the mural—both being purely independent projects.