Friday, September 09, 2011

How Do You Define "Open Forum?"

As is my custom, I write pieces on other blogs and then use my own blog to give a "behind-the-scenes" look at what else was going on while I was writing the piece or at the event. Is that wrong? I don't think so. Everything doesn't fit everywhere. There is a time, a place and a blog for everything...and this was precisely the loud debate that was raging while I was trying to take in
Thought-Provoking Art at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

Security staff gathered in the hallway outside the main exhibit room at the museum argued over what kind of comments should be made to supervisors and whether or not open forums were the right place for these comments. The very notion that an argument about who can and should say what and when they should say it would be going on as I viewed the art of a very expressive artist was just too tantalizing to ignore. However, as it wore on, I grew tired of it. Their loud discussion interfered with my enjoyment of the art. I'm all about free speech, freedom of expression and whatnot, but sometimes employees of a place should choose to make their expression quieter or table it for another time. (Though I know this is hard to do when one is all fired up.)

Upon entering, I heard "You're asking me to censor myself. I am not going to be responsible for someone carrying a story on."

"What I'm saying is there is a time and place for everything."

It seemed that there were several issues: the idea that people can overhear things and how responsible you are for what they my mishear and how to make comments to a supervisor.

The first speaker threw down the gauntlet and asked, "How do you define open forum?"

One man was up against several colleagues and he was not backing down. "All fights are to the death. That's my attitude."

"Every fight is not a battle. You have to pick and choose you battles," one of his opponents replied.

"The world needed MLK and Booker T. They both got things done...but who got the most done--the fighter."

For my part, I wanted to tell them to be quiet, and in the 20 minutes or so I spent there, voices were raised and the circular discussion seemed to have no exit point. The desk-gladiator did care that the lions were circling; he was gonna keep swinging until the very end. I don't demand absolute silence, but they were too loud and if museums consider their patrons to be customers, then customers don't need to be exposed to inside politics in that fashion. But this happens everywhere--at stores, restaurants, wherever you go staff argues publicly about the inner workings of a place and you get to hear all about it.

I had arrived tired and wanted the transcendental experience of art to revive me a little. I left just as tired. It was my choice to leave without addressing them directly. Though I left loudly, rolling my eyes and sighing audibly with annoyance in their direction, I guess by the desk-gladiator's rules, I lost the fight. But every fight is not a battle and as always, I left with a story.

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