I’m Thomas Nephew, from Takoma Park, MD and I’m here on behalf of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition.
I’m here to speak against the growing trend to use public agencies and institutions to stigmatize, penalize, and sometimes criminalize nonviolent, political free speech, free association, and free disassociation that doesn’t suit the powerful.
We saw one such effort in Maryland a couple of years ago; we’re concerned that new legislation may attempt for pension funds what was narrowly averted for universities.
While I personally agree with many of my friends here about boycotting Israeli-based companies, organizations, and institutions because of the Israeli occupation and illegal Israeli settlements, I want to emphasize the wider significance of efforts to officially stigmatize or penalize boycotts.
The point is simply that once Maryland is in the business of ruling thumbs up or down on one kind of political boycott or divestment campaign, it opens the floodgates for trying the same with others. Environmental, immigration, LGBTQ and labor movements (to name a few) have all turned to boycotts and divestment as nonviolent means of making their points — and making America, and the world, a better place. Unless you prevent it, efforts to stigmatize or penalize BDS will serve as an instruction manual for well-heeled or well-connected lobbyists to do the same again and again with other peaceful exercises of free speech.
As we saw once with the South Africa divestment campaign, one of the points of free speech is the ability to nonviolently — and victoriously! — challenge the status quo and challenge an outdated consensus. One of the points of free association is to be able to pick and choose whom we combine efforts with — and conversely, whom we will not support. Boycotts, divestments, and sanctions are a time-honored, honorable, nonviolent way of doing both. I hope you will resist all efforts to penalize companies or organizations engaged in such actions.
Indeed, I hope you will go further, and support efforts to explicitly guarantee that political boycott, divestment, or sanctions campaigns can not be penalized by the state of Maryland in any way. Don’t just oppose using the state pension fund or the university system to chill speech — affirm that the state of Maryland, its counties, and its cities are not and may not be in the business of regulating free speech and free association in the first place.
(video added 11/24/15, courtesy of Saqib Ali and Freedom2Boycott)