The True Story of Sunsara Taylor and the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago
From Sue B., Volunteer Tour Coordinator for Sunsara Taylor in Chicago
Since the cancellation of Sunsara Taylor's long-scheduled talk at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago [EHSC] and the subsequent brutal arrest of her videographer on November 1st at the EHSC, there has been an avalanche of lies and distortions spread by members of the EHSC. While there are simply too many lies to refute them all, in this letter I will take apart the core elements of the mythology surrounding these events that has been constructed by the EHSC.
I believe that part of the reason EHSC is persisting in deliberately misrepresenting what happened and spinning a story that fortifies an untruthful account is because they don’t want to confront the reality of how ugly this whole thing has been, how much it goes against their own principles.
The unethical behavior of the EHSC began with the motivation of some on its program committee to cancel Sunsara's talk based on crude anti-communism and disagreement with its content. In order to obscure these scandalous motivations, Sunsara's words were taken out of context so as to invert their meaning and cause confusion. When many respected voices began to disapprove of the EHSC's dis-invitation of Ms. Taylor, the EHSC shifted their rationale for this to a discussion of “process” and their “right to choose” who their speakers will be. When Sunsara continued to insist that the record be set straight on the real basis and motives of this cancellation, as well as the broader chill in society that it fits in with, the EHSC began to go after and slander her character. They whipped up a whole atmosphere of fear, justified only by the hysteria and the rumors that they themselves had created. Then they called in the police and set in motion events that would lead to the brutalization of a volunteer videographer and a situation where he is facing serious charges.
Are they really willing to put a man away in jail to justify this and cover their mistake? Just how disposable is a person's life, their freedom, and their reputation to these “ethical” people?
One of the EHSC's core arguments is that they have the democratic right to decide who their speakers will be. But Sunsara has repeatedly stated, “I have never challenged their bureaucratic 'right to decide' – I have challenged the wrongfulness of their decision and the dishonest and unethical way in which it was made. Even if they have the formal right to dis-invite me, that does not make their decision to do so morally or ethically right, any more than the fact that California voters have the legal right to ban gay marriage made their decision to do so morally or ethically defensible.”
What are the “dishonest and unethical way[s] in which” the decision to dis-invite her was reached?
As documented previously by me [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/10/open-letter-from-chicago-tour.html] and in a separate letter by Sunsara today [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/11/sunsara-taylor-on-ethical-humanist.html], those who initiated the process that led to her cancellation were driven by anti-communism and a belief that Sunsara's condemnation of globalization was “non-sense.” Additionally, Sunsara's words were wrenched out of context and strung together in such a way as to imply that she opposes the rights of women and of immigrants. It was in the context of these lies and this anti-communism that a vote was very aggressively rushed through to finalize Sunsara's dis-invitation before there could be any official back and forth with her and before any thorough discussion could take place.
This unprecedented vote took place through an admittedly ad-hoc process, over the internet and phone, and without any formal record of the deliberations. It was only then, after the dis-invitation had been formalized, that individuals from the EHSC began to construct a procedural rationalization for this cancellation.
One of the EHSC's insistences that this has been about “process,” is their claim that the invitation to Sunsara had only been “provisional” and that their request to her for a talk description was because the Board was still deliberating over whether to approve her. In a letter issued on November 5th and signed by their president and several members of their board, they claim: “In July, at one of the committee member’s request, Sunsara Taylor was provisionally invited to speak on the topic of 'Morality Without Gods' on November 1. The formal invitation was withheld until the committee was provided a written description of her talk.”
The only problem is, there was nothing “provisional” about the invitation. Sunsara's November 1st talk on “Morality Without Gods” was confirmed in July. It was then listed in the EHSC's October calendar that went out in September.
After Sunsara submitted her talk description, she received the following note from the the co-chair of the program committee: “Thanks, Sunsara, for your reply. I appreciate your decision to speak on the original topic of morality without gods, though, of course, you might still touch on the topic of human nature, however you feel it is relevant. From your description of your talk, I will write a brief item in our November newsletter. It should stir up a lot of interest. It's an aspect of humanist and secular thought that is not commonly heard.”
In this same letter signed by the EHSC president and board members, the claim is made: “From October 19 onward Ms. Taylor and her people demanded she be given the November 1 platform. Attempt after attempt was made to find a solution that, although not ideal for either side, was palatable for both. The society bent over backwards to appease Ms. Taylor. She was given an October 31 workshop that was well attended and a member of the society offered her home for Ms. Taylor’s self proclaimed 'speech in exile' on November 1. Notice of the 'exile' speech was even made through the Society’s list serve.”
None of this is true.
In actuality, the Saturday workshop was set up last summer at the same time as the Nov. 1st talk, by a different Society committee, on a different topic, “The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of Humanity.”
Then, when Sunsara wrote to the EHSC to set the record straight about the many lies members of the EHSC had spread about her, the EHSC responded not by addressing the substance of her letter, but by raising the specter of canceling the Saturday workshop as well. On Sunday, Oct. 25, Matt Cole announced to his congregation that Sunsara’s Saturday workshop was “under negotiation” (as opposed to “scheduled”) – to an audible gasp in the audience. An emergency special board meeting was hastily called for the next night (against the EHSC’s internal rules as set forth in by-laws). The reason the Saturday workshop went forward is not because the EHSC was trying to make amends for canceling Sunday's program, but because enough board members and others wanted to see this workshop go forward.
Further, the “talk in exile” only happened because an individual stepped forward to provide a space at her home. This individual was so disgusted by the way in which Sunsara was dis-invited that she has formally resigned from the EHSC. For the EHSC to suggest that they arranged this location so as to accommodate Sunsara is the height of dishonesty as well as cynicism.
By the time we get to November 1st, the EHSC has whipped up into a make-believe world of “threats” and “fears” entirely of their own making. They write, “Taylor would not commit to not disrupting the Sunday program. We had no idea what a Sunsara Taylor inspired protest would entail so the decision was made to err on the side of member safety.”
The idea that fear and police repression are justified because someone who has never given any indication that they would carry out disruptive acts has not promised not to commit such acts is absurd and outrageous. Since when is it acceptable for people to be assumed guilty and repressed unless they jump through hoops constructed by the very people who have spread rumors and whipped up an air of fear about them?
Sunsara made clear on Saturday, October 31st that, “I will be attending the Sunday gathering, tomorrow, right here at the EHSC prepared to give my talk and giving the EHSC the chance, up until the last minute, to do the right thing. If they refuse, I will be giving my talk in exile and asking others to join me at the house of one of the members of the EHSC nearby.”
There were no "safety reasons" to move Sunday school off site. There was not “Sunsara Taylor inspired protest” to fear. There was no legitimate reason for police to be called in advance of Sunday morning's program.
For a basic account of what happened around Sunsara and her videographer, please refer to the statement from a lawyer who was there. (link)
I was there and I can attest that Sunsara was never asked to leave the premises, never asked to stop speaking and that Sunsara (contrary to the claims of the EHSC) did not disrupt the Sunday program. Sunsara concluded her brief statement and left to give her talk off-site BEFORE the Sunday replacement program had even begun.
It was during this brief statement that a plain clothes officer and a uniformed officer, without warning or justification, grabbed the videographer by each arm and pulled him out of the room. I, like most people present, thought the police were coming for Sunsara. Instead they went for the one documenting her statement, at the direction of the EHSC's president.
Given how many lies and how much unfounded fear had been whipped up around Sunsara, it made perfect sense that she would want someone to get a record of exactly what she did and did not say and do.
If Sunsara were truly creating a dangerous disturbance, why did no one tell her to stop, arrest her, or insist on getting her actions on tape? Why, instead, did the EHSC president insist that the one person documenting what transpired be arrested and detained?
The videographer was not told to leave, did not resist arrest, did NOT assault a police officer. He faces 3 serious charges of criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and battery on a police officer. But it was he who ended up in the hospital being treated for injuries to his head, eyes, and wrists. The police sergeant himself had called an ambulance to the jail out of concern for his injuries.
The complaint of criminal trespass is brought by Matt Cole. A police officer was overheard asking him, “Are you sure you want to press charges?” If there had been no charges pressed by Matt, there would be no charges at all. It is very typical in cases that involve police brutality that charges of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer are piled on to guard against being sued for the brutality.
People are looking at this whole sick situation and think there must be some more reasonable explanation, it is just too bizarre -- and, too frightening. But this is the unvarnished truth. Best to look at it. This is the logic that gets unleashed when censorship leads to lies to justify it; where anti-communist fear and distancing generate more fear and hysteria. People get vilified and driven off committees. Others get scared and shut up, or lose heart and patience for the arduous struggle to guard the truth and stand on principle against this. One man has been brutalized and charges have been pressed against him with serious potential consequences.
Unfortunately, this situation is not over.
We all have choices about what we will do now -- and responsibility.
Please contact EHSC and the Skokie police to demand these charges be dropped.
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