An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Who controls our public space?

I'm probably going to vote for Kwiesi Mfume for Senate, but I've been kind of interested in Allan Lichtman and his campaign. There's been a lot of talk about who should be included in debates and while it is a tough question with no easy answer (if you include everyone who files than you'll have a debate that isn't substantive, but when you start to narrow the field it gets arbitrary), it gets tougher when a semi-public entity supported by taxes, in this case Maryland Public Television, is making the decision.

Lichtman's supporters put up a couple of videos of his recent arrest while trying to get into a debate between the two "leading" Senate candidates. Amidst all of the rhetoric, tension, and even action (between 1:20 and 2:20 is where things get energized and Lichtman gets arrested), the most interesting question isn't really explored.

The real question is, who controls the public space, both literally and figuratively? What happens when public television staff decide who gets to be on tv? And what happens when security staffers keep Lichtman or really anyone out of a particular publicly funded and controlled (i.e. by your tax dollars) space, namely the MPT studio? Lichtman asks under what authority they are trying to drive him out and then, under what authority they are arresting him. He asks what laws were violated, what right they have to arrest him. And it's a good question.

Who decides who can come on public property and what they can do there? And is it just the fact that they are government employees that the police can arrest someone? I don't think so. I'm not sure if we need to be as scared for our democracy as Lichtman suggests in a subsequent letter from jail, but this is something we need to grapple with. How far will some go with power if we don't question them?