Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Being a bit political – this is the land of the free right?

Posted by shannonclark on September 21, 2007

Okay I have to get this off my chest. I am not normally overly political on my blog, I am deeply passionate about politics – but as a centrist, independent, neither of the major US parties really represent me so my options often have been the lesser of two evils (and on national campaigns the first few times I voted I went with a third party).

But I am also proud to be a US citizen, even today.

The news of late has been full of stories about how the President of Iran who will be in the US visiting the UN is not going to be “allowed” to visit Ground Zero. Full of stories and outraged folks saying that he should be prevented from visiting there, that he should not be allowed there etc.

I can see the logic (if barely) to the extent that he might have asked to go down into the pit, onto the actual worksite of Ground Zero (i.e. not to the public spaces and viewing/memorial spaces around it) but isn’t the US supposed to be a free country? Aren’t we supposed to be a land where our citizens, and our visitors and guests here, are allowed to go where they want on public spaces, to have free speech in those spaces, and have a right of free assembly etc?

I think the reaction is a worrying sign, a sign that we as a country (and our politicians) are increasingly scared of actual freedom, actual liberty, actual discourse and engagement with those with whom we disagree.

I am Jewish by ethnicity if not by active religious practice, I find the President of Iran’s comments in the past and support of Holocust deniers to be reprehensive. But, and this is a very big but, I think we are ill served by not engaging with him, by not letting him see our country while he is here, not bear personal witness to the site of Ground Zero.

In many other areas of politics and economics (which is more the frequent topic of my blog) I see a similar trend, an avoidance of those who might disagree with us, a refusal to allow for freedom of movement, an increasingly restrictiveness across many sectors. Here in the US it is now incredibly difficult for many non-US citizens to visit the US, whether as tourists, students, or workers (legally). Visa take more and more time to get and are seemingly revoked at a whim.

As a conference organizer I have to give a lot of consideration to issues of visas if I were to invite non-US citizens to speak at my conference. I also have to think a lot about what might happen if non-US citizens have problems getting into the country to attend my event. It is clear to me that this is having a major impact on people’s decisions about studying in the US and about their choices of where to work and what events to attend. In turn the fewer and fewer non-US citizens who are engaged at US events, teaching and attending at US universities, and working (or investing) in US companies the less engaged with the rest of the world we as a country will be.

In the next few months as we seek funding for my current company we will be grappling with some of these issues of engagement with the world. Our company will be providing advertising to publishers of online applications – in turn on average today most of these publishers see 60% or more of their traffic and users from outside of the US. To work with them and there users in turn we will need to be actively engaged outside of the borders of the US.

It will be a challenge – and one which is ill-served by the current political trends here in the US. By political here I am not solely talking about our public officials and politicians, I mean the tenor of the public discourse, the easy assumption that a visitor on our shores can and should be denied access to public spaces – that we should shy away from engaging with and discourse with those with whom we disagree – that not talking, not engaging, actively avoiding is apparently a wise strategy by current popular opinion.

Okay, got that off my chest.

3 Responses to “Being a bit political – this is the land of the free right?”

  1. jonolan said

    Many people in the US just don’t want the leader of an enemy nation to use our dead for his PR stunt. I’m one of them. I’m also one of the people supporting the government in actions to make it harder for foreigners to come to the US; I don’t want them here, especially the workers since I believe those jobs should be for Americans.

  2. Well we will have to agree to disagree on both points.

    I do not feel that we should be a country where we restrict anyone from public spaces – whether or not they “want to use them for a PR stunt”. We should be a land where our rights extend to our visitors and our citizens alike – the presumption should be that public spaces are just that, public, and that the same rules apply to all. I’m very cautious and worried about any abridgment of the right of free speech and assembly.

    Those “foreigners” not all that long ago were my grandparents (and most likely yours). More critically we are in many other parts of the world (the EU dramatically) watching borders and restrictions fall.

    To succeed in the global economy we need to be actively a part of that economy. Students who study here, whether or not they stay and work, help foster connections between the US and the world. Similarly “foreign” workers connect us here in the US in a very personal way with the rest of the planet. As an employer I want the most diverse pool of people to draw upon as I am hiring – not as many argue because I want people to work for the least money – far from it – rather I want to be able to hire the best, smartest, most talented people anywhere. It should not matter if the woman (or man) I hire to run my data centers, to write code, to lead a technical or sales team is a US citizen or not. Ideally I should be able to recruit and hire anywhere.

    Of course I will also try to hire people who are where the work is (to the extent that in today’s virtual world geographic location matter) and as a startup the initial team (and even as we grow) will need to be very close with each other – and physical location matters.

    But race, gender, country of origin, or citizenship should not (but alas it does – the extra costs and lack of visas for many non-US citizens makes it hard for any company, let alone a startup, to hire them – here in the US at least.)

    So one result is companies setting up offices overseas.

    Personally and as a economist I would rather companies could set up those offices here in the US, where those employees would spend money locally, local taxes would be paid, spouses would work, live and pay taxes as well, children would attend local schools, etc.

    But that’s me.

  3. Shannon, I agree with you! Thank you for speaking up on this important subject. Hi from Chicago! I am here until October 22, then three weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, then back for four weeks in Chicago. Maybe I will come out to California. I’m glad that you are blogging. Andrius

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