I would like to bring to your attention a story concerning a member of the elected government who has employed bulling and threats of a libel lawsuit in order to suppress speech over a altered image of her that was intended to publicly lampoon this candidate.
Patti Devine is an at-large city councilor up for re-election here in Holyoke. I have been concerned about her obstructionist and anti-progress motives as a member of our elected government and as my representative on the council. There were a number of votes and opinions by her that I had issue with: She cast the sole vote against the Library renovation; opposition to the Responsible Employer Ordinance that would insure that corporations setting up businesses in the city would hire Holyoke residents or provide opportunities for workforce training apprenticeships; opposition to the bottle bill; her general idea that job creation comes from courting big box businesses like Lowe’s or the likes of a casino; and she was the most outspoken opponent to the well thought out chicken ordinance that would have allowed residents to maintain hens in backyard coops.
Speaking directly to the Chicken Ordinance, this was a one year ~50 trial license for citizens that had the space with volunteer inspectors to reduce efforts by the Health Department – basically overturning a racist 1970′s anti-fowl ordinance that was established to isolate the Puerto Rican population. She tried to shut down discussion of the ordinance before it was even sent to Ordinance Committee, and at a later meeting when proponents to the ordinance came to speak in the council chambers it was Devine that insisted that citizens state whether they owned or rented their homes before being allowed to voice their opinion about the issue. Essentially, your opinion being valid only if you pay property taxes and marginalizing the voice of the poor in the city. This year her opposition to this ordinance fight is a large part of her current re-election campaign.
I am a member of CRUSH (Citizens for the Revitalization and Urban Success of Holyoke). I am a member, not part of the steering committee and not a spokesperson for CRUSH. The CRUSH website allows users to create events, make blog posts, organize in groups, maintain personal pages and upload images much like other social networking sites. Here I posted my image of Patti Devine – an image of her manipulated to make her look like “The Joker” – an image we are all too familiar – and including the text below the image “SLOTH”. Some have said that she is not a sloth and that my image misrepresents her because she actually works very hard against progress. Well, that is where I go the idea. She’s the type that will keep this city from moving forward. Along with the image of Devine I also posted manipulated photos of the mayoral candidates Dan Boyle and Dan Burns with the intent to lampoon a number of politicos in the city. I had only got around to the three when the nonsense began. Ms Devine, upon catching wind of the existence of her image, immediately contacted the media stating her intent to seek legal assistance to remove the image. “This is no laughing matter” she said (read: “oh, no! people are laughing at me!”). I was contacted by a member of CRUSH and I was provided a number to contact Mike Plaisance at the Republican newspaper. I told the CRUSHer that I’d take full responsibility and say that the images were mine alone and not the voice of CRUSH (which claims a non-partisan political statement). I also made a blog post at CRUSH with a public apology, my statement concerning any discussion of censorship and little FU to some jackasses that were over the top in their ass-kissing of Patti – because, she’s a human, after all. Censorship was not yet discussed, only hinted at by a person not on the steering committee and what I figured would be the next conversation. The story was published in the Republican and posted online at Masslive.
The next day the images were gone. I caught wind of this from a Canadian. This person is no longer on the steering committee but had heard the decision through the grapevine. Also, from a number of other people in Holyoke, I was passed an email that they had received from Patti directly or forwarded to them. The email reads:
Date: Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 6:53 AM
Subject: Fwd: RE: CRUSH web site photos
To: (an email list that was abused)
Please read this from below. It’s a shame that this type of thing is allowed by the group CRUSH (Citizens for the Revitilization and Urban Success of Holyoke). We have tried in vain to have these pictures removed without success. Apparently these disgusting pictures that were posted on their web site (CRUSH of Holyoke), are considered “ART” and will not be removed. And for this “Pronoblem” person who posted the pictures and wrote about Mayor Pluta below to consider this art is pathetic.
We are asking everyone in our email contacts to go to the site, read the online story of CRUSH (masslive.com – politics – Holyoke) and then forward this to their own contacts. These pictures were also put on facebook and I understand a complaint has been filed. Unfortunately CRUSH does have a disclaimer that goes unnoticed, and has no mechanism to remove posts or remove people from their “social network”.
I believe Dan Boyle’s picture is particularly offensive, but this is considered “art” by CRUSH. If you click on each picture, there are messages there, particularly on Dan Burn’s photo. It’s a shame that one rotten apple has spoiled the efforts of CRUSH, but so be it. They could have taken appropriate measures but did nothing.
This s a group that seems to want to do good things in Holyoke, but then how can you take them seriously when they allow this garbage. What’s next? Pornagraphy via cutting and pasting? We are asking that the Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Chamber of Commerce and the Holyoke Taxpayers Association ban CRUSH from their sponsorship of the upcoming October debates. We are hoping that these professional groups (unlike the childness of people associated with CRUSH) will heed our call.
Remember – you are who you are associated with. If CRUSH wants to be taken seriously, then they need to act it.
Thank you. Please fell free to forward this to your contacts and boycott any events sponsored by this group CRUSH.
…and there was this one that was forwarded to me:
Dear Rory and Christine:
I am writing you in hopes that not only will you have these pictures removed from your web site, but in addition remove this James Bickford as well.
I quote from your own disclaimer:
Harassing activity such as spam and libelous misrepresentation will result in immediate removal from the network.” I take this to mean remove the person, not the photo.
I am asking you personally to remove these photos and remove him as well. This is not the way to get your message across. You may say you don’t censor anyone but perhaps you should. You should create a link to have garbage like this removed like they do in masslive. I didn’t even know these were on your site, but someone called me to let me know they were on facebook. Then I went to your site.
This person is bringing your organization down. Not only did he post these pictures on your site, but facebook as well. He may think this is art, but his art is having a profound negative effect on your site.
What if someone posts something pronographic? Is that allowed to stay on? Is that person allowed to stay on? You need to take this seriously, particularly when your organization sponsors events with other organization like the Chamber, the Boys and Girls Club, etc. I’ve heard from people that are actually going to boycott anything you do now, particularly the debates. This has not bode well in the community. And regardless of what you think, the fact that these pictures and he remains as a member does reflect negatively on CRUSH.
He puts your group into a very serious predicament to be sued as well.
I am seeking legal recourse against him, art or no art. I am also hoping that you will do the right thing and remove him and those pictures today.
That first email, I am told, went out to the Chamber of Commerce and Holyoke Taxpayers association email lists. Bad enough she is threatening what would amount to a SLAPP suit with no legal leg to stand in; I am not sure if she should be abusing these email lists with her attempts at harassing CRUSH. That in itself should be investigated.
An official statement was issued by CRUSH outlining their decision to capitulate to the bully and another story appeared in the Republican and online at Masslive detailing the actions of the CRUSH steering committee.
Further adding to the bullying that exists in the shadowy world that is Holyoke’s mafia styled politics and the typical of the hateful bile that one witnesses on Masslive, there were a number of anonymous comments issued – now deleted – from these Masslive articles. The irony in these is that most of them were angry insults about my “hiding behind the 1st Amendment” while they posted from their mother’s basements using the anonymity of a screen name. In these comments my girlfriend was threatened, I was told, “I should not worry about being censored, rather I should worry about having my skull broken” and that “I should watch my back”. Her supporters are genuinely nice people.
The opinion of many here is that she was simply waiting for an opportunity to discredit CRUSH because the steering committee has two council members that she considers threatening as they are outsiders to the good ‘ol boy cronyism that is embedded in city politics… and that CRUSH, a grassroots organization, wants to “Northampton-ize” our fair city. We should not forget that in 2010 Patti did receive the well deserved Valley Advocate’s dishonor of “Horns” for her opposition to the chicken ordinance and in 2011 CRUSH won the Best of the Valley award for activism; beating out groups like Project No One Leaves, ARISE, Food Bank of Western Mass. This award reeks about as much as Obama’s Nobel Prize with his now five wars, expanded war chest and continued rendition flights to torture prisons constructed under his admin.
It was said by Patti that I was “bringing the organization down”. The Steering Committee decision sets a far worse precedent than some absurd lampooning in Photoshop found online. CRUSH is now divided. One person took their ball and left when they saw the images. A number of others have contacted me in support. A couple of folks are quitting the organization due to the censorship. It seems all too extreme from both sides. Sure, personally, I am offended by CRUSH’s decision to capitulate to her bullying… sure, I would have worked with the steering committee had they contacted me before they began to discuss a vote to censure. That is not at all what is important here and it is not why I write. I am writing in the hopes that people would see the heart of the issue which is a government official using threats and bullying to suppress legitimate public speech because it was criticism and satire directed their way and that the Republican failed in its coverage of this story.