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Eighth Grade All Over 

by Pamela Skog

It's 10:45 on a Friday night. I am doing the final walk-through of the book department and my last task before heading home is the "turn-around." I must go up and down each aisle to "turn around" specific books whose fronts have been covered by various offended customers. They turn books over and upside down and hide them behind other books or in the wrong aisle. No, these are not racy pictures; instead, during a very heated election year, customers are trying to censor many of the political titles that have swarmed our literary retail establishment.

I have worked here for three years, and I have never seen anything like this. Last month, sneaky patrons found time to conceal any conspicuous Michael Moore covers in an attempt to obscure his face. Several times a day displays of the anti-Kerry book Unfit for Command must be neatened and re-shelved. People are so incensed by this book that they continually come into our business to mask the books' presence on displays; demand that we, as employees remove it; and occasionally leave our store vowing never to spend money here again. I am bracing myself for the expected outrage over Kitty Kelley's anti-Bush expose that comes out this week.

These tantrums are not reserved for the bookstores, nor does it apply to any one political affiliation. This unreasonable partisanship encompasses all parties, race, gender and age. Their raging mentality destroys political signs displayed in people's yards. Bumper stickers are ripped off of cars. Individuals wearing political buttons or shirts are flipped off and cursed when noticed. Many of us have witnessed such behavior first-hand.

Didn't these partisans graduate from eighth grade?

When I was in eighth grade, our class learned how to write a paper developing a thesis. Each student chose a controversial topic and was expected to take a stance on one side or the other. Euthanasia, capital punishment and legalized marijuana were just a few of the options. Never resisting a good challenge, I chose abortion. I was taught that before taking a position, one should research both (or all) sides of the issue. I learned that you should not be for something until you know exactly what you are against. I researched all the pros and cons and was then required to defend my stance through factual and thoughtful counterpoints. I had to acknowledge viewpoints that differed from my own. Essentially, I learned how to develop an informed opinion. At the age of 12.

Thank you, Mrs. Bannerman.

Can you imagine what kind of paper I would have produced if I used the same manner of thinking as the book-turners and sign destroyers? A pro-choice standpoint would have consisted of: "Abortion is good. If you disagree, you hate women." The pro-life position would have gone something like: "Abortion is evil. If you disagree, you hate babies." I am pretty sure I would have received a failing grade.

So I give a failing grade to all of those who tout the virtues of free speech - unless they disagree with it. I flunk those who spend precious time getting angry at the mere hint of dissent rather than taking that time to listen. I fail the juvenile attempts at censorship in our bookstore.

I understand that Americans are divided, passionate and angry. But if your position is thoughtful and informed, you should be able to stomach a Michael Moore cover, an Ann Coulter picture or even a "Bushisms" (come on, they're funny) calendar. You cannot muffle the voices of others and then expect yours to be heard. If your convictions are thoughtful and reasonable, an opposing viewpoint should only strengthen those convictions. Don't be afraid of opposition. Be informed. Make Mrs. Bannerman proud.

Pamela Skog lives in Spokane

Publication date: 09/16/04

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