It’s fascinating to see how the same event is reported by different people. Take our August 2 public meeting. NoPornNorthampton invited members of the community to meet with us and give us feedback.
At the start of the meeting, we began videotaping. Our motivations were to keep a historical record and enable us to accurately review what was said. City council meetings are broadcast on TV, and we conceived of our meeting as a similar public forum. Personal safety was also a factor. We were aware that the owner of Capital Video, Kenneth Guarino, had a longstanding relationship with a capo in the Gambino family. While we thought it unlikely that Guarino would send people to disrupt our meeting, we weren’t completely sure. We thought documenting the meeting would enhance our security.
About 10 minutes into the two-hour meeting, one speaker indicated the camera made her uncomfortable. We asked if other people attending felt the same way. Some did. We turned the camera off. This was the one and only time we videotaped a public meeting organized by us.
In today’s article in The Republican, Fred Contrada writes, “At one of their public meetings, participants said NoPornNorthampton’s practice of filming the comment sessions made them feel uncomfortable.” Mr. Contrada implies that NoPornNorthampton makes a habit of filming people at its meetings, even when people indicate discomfort. This is simply not accurate.
In an earlier article about our August 2 meeting, entitled “Anti-porn effort criticized”, Mr. Contrada highlighted the parts of the meeting where “several members of the public complained that [NPN’s] rhetoric was ‘over the top’ and urged them to be more specific about their concerns… In particular, some people said that repeated references to men having sex with each other in their literature feeds into negative stereotypes about gay men.”
In an August 13 article about our meeting, Mr. Contrada elaborates on the camera incident and says, “The mood inside the ServiceNet offices on King Street was rather tense in general… The camera went off, but that didn’t clear the air. There seemed to be something about this NoPorn campaign that bumped up against the spirit of tolerance that a lot of people like about Northampton.”
Not all reporters characterized our August 2 meeting the same way. Kelsey Flynn wrote for Your Stories Northampton:
Cohen spoke very briefly about the proposed zoning law and then opened up the meeting to questions or comments. What followed was a two-hour discussion marked by concern regarding NoPornNorthampton’s language being possibly perceived as homophobic as well as the wording of the proposed zoning law being too broad so as to adversely affect Northampton’s other adult-themed stores Pride and Joy and Oh, My!On August 10, Daily Hampshire Gazette city editor Laurie Loisel referenced our meeting in a commentary:
The discussion was always respectful and even-toned. No voices were ever raised nor fingers pointed…
Those booths were the topic of the conversation for most of the evening. In several of Capitol Video’s stores are “pre-view booths” where patrons pay to get a preview of certain adult videos. The Northampton store would have twenty such booths. The majority of people in attendance spoke of their particular concern regarding these booths because of their alleged use for various sex acts…
I walked away from the meeting heartened. Not because there were definite answers to a very complicated issue of rights and legalities, but because I live in a community where people respect one another to first listen and then respond. I felt there were no “knee jerks” in that room. People definitely were disagreeing but all who spoke did so calmly and articulately. Considering how divisive this issue can be, it was clear the people present were committed to finding a middle ground.
Maybe we can’t all agree on what pornography is. And yes, there is the no-small-matter of free speech and free trade to consider. But people who live in a city have a stake in its economic well-being.
From an economic development standpoint, there are many valid questions to think about: will this business help revitalize an area with multiple empty storefronts? Will it hurt? Will it bring new jobs to the city? Will its patrons frequent other city establishments?
These are legitimate issues–and fair questions–for city residents and city planners to be asking.
We should not let the laudable desire to protect free speech stop us from asking them.
Today, the headlines on Mr. Contrada’s articles suggest that NoPornNorthampton has done something quite wrong in soliciting public support for our political cause: “State tells anti-porn group to stop soliciting money”, “Official: Pair crossed legal line”.
We did receive a letter today from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office that public charities should register with the Division of Public Charities before soliciting funds. Since we are not professional fundraisers, some of the niceties of political action are new to us, so we’ll just have to beg for the understanding of the public in this situation.
After receiving the letter, NPN’s legal counsel Jendi Reiter spoke with the assistant attorney general in the state’s Division of Public Charities. She assured us that we were not in legal trouble.
NPN was under the impression that because we are a political lobbying organization that does not seek tax-exempt status, the laws applying to charitable solicitation did not affect us. Under federal law, registering as a charity would have limited the types of political activism we could engage in.
However, Massachusetts law defines charities more broadly than the federal government, to include any nonprofit with an educational mission that benefits the public at large. The AG’s office made a judgment call that our stated mission to educate the community about the harms of pornography fell within their definition of a charity. This classification does not impose any restrictions on our lobbying activity, and we will comply.
The paperwork to obtain our fundraising certificate is on the way, and then we’ll be free to accept donations again [October 20: Certificate received, matter resolved]. Bottom line, it’s not a big deal. We are not engaged in any attempt to defraud the public or misuse donors’ money. We have no desire or expectation of making a profit from our campaign. We’re just hoping to share the load on some of our expenses, such as mailing over 29,000 letters to the region.
NPN’s funds and our personal funds are kept in separate accounts. We are happy to share NPN’s expense records and bank statements with donors and the media on request.
If Fred Contrada or The Republican have opinions about the porn shop issue, that’s their right. We would appreciate, however, that they be acknowledged in an upfront way and presented as opinions, and not be woven into news reporting in a way that misrepresents events.
Read Andrew Shelffo’s Your Stories Northampton post supporting Fred Contrada, and our reply. Some people’s support for the free exchange of information and the rights of journalists seems to be remarkably weak when the issue is opposing porn.