ROC'S GREATEST HITS - Smashing S-1521: Grass-Roots Movement Drowns Federal Censorship Bills!

by: Randy Lee Payton


In 1991 R.O.C.'s John Woods and I attended a ROCK & ROLL CONFIDENTIAL called conference in Chicago with our friends Susan an Gary Gahagan, anti-censorship activists from Pennsylvania. Susan and Gary had been working primarily against attempts to ban erotic material in their home area but, like R.O.C. were insistent that only when the various pro-free speech "factions" began working together at the local as well national level --the anti-PMRC rock and rap fans with citizens fighting the Big Lies of the anti-sex squads with civil libertarians fighting the school book burners, etc.--would we begin making any significant, lasting stride (In this Vein, Susan and Gary would later in fact become Pennsylvania reps of Parents for Rock & Rap, in addition to their work with the Western PA Citizens Against Censorship.)

A buzz was on at the conference about new legislation being proposed in Washington titled S.983, or "Pornography Victims Compensation Act." The bill would have held artists, writers, publishers, libraries and musicians, responsible for sex crimes when a "causal" relationship is determined to exist between the crime and materials made or provided by any of the above (The forever dubious "The Devil Made Me Do It" defense, legislated into federal law!) There wasn't much info on the subject at the time but it sounded scary as hell from the blurb on the bill published in BILLBOARD. On the final night's session of the conference, Susan, Gary, John and I called for unleashing every resource the fledgling "movement" could muster to derail S.983. On the car ride back to Ohio the four of us strategized the steps needed to initiate a grass-roots, anti-S.983 campaign in the weeks to follow. Upon returning home, we shot off letters to every group in the R.O.C. database calling for endorsements / participants in a National Grass-Roots Coalition to Stop the Federal Censorship Laws. TO THEIR CREDIT, activists throughout the U.S. responded with a high level of ESPRIT DE CORPS!

Photographer-artist Juse Pinto and his wife Maria's Avant Garde Society had been involved with fighting freedom of artistic expression in San Francisco and instinctively saw the threat posed by S. 983, as did Bobby Lilly and Californians Against Censorship Together (CAL-ACT) which was to take an especially leading role in struggling against the bill. Central Floridians Against Censorship weighed in enthusiastically. Brenda Leow Tatelbaum, legendary feminist fighter for sexual freedom and editor/publisher of EIDOS threw the support of her important national paper behind the Coalition, Bill "the Bear" Margold of Fans of X-rated Entertainment (FOXE) rang us up with advice and support. Brothers and sisters-in-arms we met at the Chicago conference, Danny Alexander and Kat Coker from the Kansas City Coalition Against Censorship and Mary Morello and PLAYBOY's Bill Paige of Chicagoans Against Censorship Today confirmed their groups' opposition to the bill. From the Rock barricades came solidarity statements from Jello Biafra and S.F,'s No More Censorship Defense Fund, Mary Morello's Parents for Rock and Rap, Dave Marsh and Lee Ballinger's ROCK & ROLL CONFIDENTIAL, RRC's "Right-to-Rock Network" and the Free Music Coalition of Philadelphia. We were excited to get a call from HUMANIST Magazine columnist Barbara Dority, pledging support from the Northwest Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force AND Washington State Coalition Against Censorship. Jim Tremlett and Scott Pfeiffer of Friendly Anti-Censorship Task Force for Students (FACTS) at Ohio University called to volunteer their group's support. Alternative newspaper publishers Mike Caddell (ALTERNATIVE INDEX, KS) and Ben Markeson (SPECTATOR. Orlando, FL) threw their support to the Coalition as participants as well as through extensive coverage in their excellent, popular publications. (The San Francisco "utopian" paper ROCKhead and the rock paper WESTERN FRONT NEWS (L.A.) also ran early Coalition dispatches.) The ACLU's Barry Lynn (now executive director People United for Separation of Church and State) was a great help with advice on how we might kick off said grass-roots, anti-S-983 struggle, as was long-time pro-porn activist Doug Kaplan, who (besides probably setting the record for writing his own "as-a-taxpayer" letters to representatives registering his disgust at the bill) was to provide the Coalition valued advice and even his home address to use as our "Washington D.C. office" in news releases.

The Coalition's first action was a mass mailing of press releases to all the major wire services, TV networks, newspapers, etc. Of these, only National Public Radio was moved to at least cover the initial hearings. Barry Lynn suggested, however, that it may have been our original Coalition mailings, and subsequent dispatches over the next year, which alerted/signaled the media about the S. 983, although they wouldn't get around to covering (and even as in many cases EDITORIALIZING AGAINST) the bill for many months later. At times throughout '91 passage of the bill seemed a REAL POSSIBILITY. (The elections were approaching, if YOU were a politician would YOU want to vote against something called a "Pornography Victims" bill, EVEN if you knew it was a total, nowhere sham?) The pressure by-then-renamed) S. 1521 was officially Dead-On-Arrival. Chris Finan and Ann Castro of the Media Coalition (representing numerous professional organizations) --a group which worked particularly CRUCIAL FRONTLINES in the struggle against the bill (fielding witnesses at the Bill's hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee)--credited the demise of the fool bill in large part to grass-roots opposition throughout the country. The shooting-down of S. 1521 was the result of grass-roots anti-censorship activism at it's finest!

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