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The Hawk's Nest

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Exercising your rights is not the same as being right

The crowd gathered for the Grand Finale of the Festival at Sandpoint. It was a warm August night and there was a garden-party atmosphere at Memorial Field. Hundreds mingled on the grass to taste wine and visit with friends as they sat on lawn chairs and blankets. Everyone seemed to be looking forward to hearing a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a piece so popular and recognizable that it is referred to by many as simply “The Ninth.” People seemed to already feel the joy that they would get from Friedrich von Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy, used in the choral works of the symphony.

During the evening festivities a memorial for volunteer Barbara Veranium, who had long taken charge of cleaning up the field each night after the concerts were over and who had passed this last year, was planned. A gentleman introduced as a friend and traveling companion of hers was introduced to accept the honor for Barbara. I was there working in the Information Booth as he gave his acceptance speech. I wasn’t listening closely, but I did hear as his voice rose and he shouted “Anybody but Bush!” (for president). At that comment there was both boos and applause, and I immediately felt sad for what he had said, knowing how divisive a statement like that, at this time, is.

For those who care, I will interject here that I am no fan of President Bush and I will not vote for him. There is also a good argument to made for this gentleman’s freedom of speech rights. However, there are times when exercising one’s rights isn’t the same as being right. In this situation, this gentleman had committed a gross indiscretion.

There are times when we go to performances expecting to hear a political agenda, because the artist is known for expressing such opinions, or the venue is designed to encourage that. We attend anyway, either to support that agenda, or to experience the show in spite of it. I feel it is safe to say no one goes to hear the Ninth expecting it to be a political platform.

The tone across Memorial Field changed that night, even before the echoes of the boos and cheers bounced off of the mountains and returned to those of us standing aghast at what we’d heard. The garden party feel was gone.

It didn’t take much longer for some people to get to the Information Booth, along with other places, with their complaints. Loud, angry complaints, filled with vulgarities. There were some we watched carefully, expecting violence to erupt at any minute. Fortunately, none did, that we saw. To respond to a statement with such fierce animosity is just as wrong as the statement being responded to.

One person stated he had no choice but to shout with obscenities. The truth is he was choosing to react that way, just as the gentleman speaking in honor of Barbara had chosen to toss out his own remarks.

I was struck by the fear visible in so many people; fear so strong that one person felt it necessary to disrupt this event about joy with an inappropriate comment; fear that drove inappropriate actions by people offended by the comment.

Happily, although there was fear, there was also courage and strength exhibited that night. That was exemplified by the people who came to us, their dignity intact, and politely voiced their disapproval - people from both sides of the argument.

It was also exemplified by the Festival itself, who took advantage of the intermission to reassure the audience that the Festival does not endorse ANY political opinion, then had the strength to leave it at that. Under pressure from a divided and angry crowd, they ignored the temptation to denounce the person and the message, focusing only on what they were responsible for - their own message - and staying politically neutral, as they should.

These were the true patriots in the crowd. They showed respect for another opinion, but spoke against the way it had been presented, not against what had been presented.

It will be a shame if, in the future, organizations will not be able to honor those who have served them for fear of someone using the moment in an unsuitable manner.

Have we forgotten that dialogue, with respect, is the cornerstone of peace? Not only do we need to respect other opinions, but we must also show respect in how we present our own feelings. Remember, to present a controversial view in the wrong way can do more harm than good. Also, when a view is presented at an ill-advised moment, let us remember to keep our dignity about us, and let it go. To let our fears get control of us amounts to sinking to the same level of the original action.

It is not patriotic to call for partisan politics in an apolitical gathering— it is an indiscretion. It is not patriotic to react to an indiscretion with vulgarities— it is just vulgar.

The symphony did play and most of the participants sitting on lawn chairs and blankets absorbed the joy that flowed out of the music and the warm August evening. The stars came out in the sky and reflected off the lake and the stars came out on the stage and reflected off the audience. Once again Art triumphed over Politics— at least for a few minutes that night.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

Politics, Festival at Sandpoint, Spokane Symphony, Beethoven

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