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Small Wonders: Off topic and out of order

January 13, 2012

The Internet offers so many things: convenient shopping, social media, up-to-the-minute news, entertainment — both silly and salacious.

But it has also become an increasingly useful tool in the preservation and expansion of democracy. Look no further than the recent Facebook-fueled uprisings that toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. And closer to home, the city council chambers of Pensacola, Florida, a city half the size of Burbank and a quarter that of Glendale. Thanks to the Internet and viral videos, the seeds of unchecked government control are being prevented from taking root there.

If you haven't seen it yet, go to YouTube and find the video of Father Nathan Monk addressing the Pensacola City Council. Originally, he was there to speak against the mayor’s proposed city ordinance banning camping on city property (i.e. sleeping overnight in the park), bathing in public restrooms and prohibiting the seeking of handouts and donations in city streets.

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Many, like Father Monk, saw it as a blatant discriminatory crackdown on the homeless.

But after council President Sam Hall unceremoniously dismissed several speakers from the chambers for speaking to this topic, Monk took his allotted time before the council to talk about every American’s right to free speech before our elected officials — a position which Hall felt was “off topic” and therefore out of order.

With angry bangs of his gavel, he ordered Monk to leave and had him surrounded by several sheriff's deputies. Monk’s non-violent and respectful refusal to leave the lectern during his allotted time is what has caused this video to spread.

No doubt there are those who use their time at the pulpit to angrily espouse their opinions, to hurl insults and share nonsensical manifestoes. Many cross the line in council meetings all across America. The people in the chamber on the Pensacola video bear a striking resemblance to the folks you might see week after week attending our local council meetings.

And that's why I bring light to this story from the Florida panhandle.

If you watch Father Monk, or any of the speakers, you won’t see violence or undue venom. You won’t see crazed conspiracy theorists or even Jimmy Stewart ala “Mr. Smith.” You will see intelligent, passionate, concerned citizens speaking their minds in their own unique, rational voices.

And for that they would be silenced.

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