RE: Politics, UNICON and control freak mentalities
> american, who’s foundng fathers fought and died to establish and
> institutionalize the very concept of freedom of speech, and who went so far as
> to include it first and foremost in The Constitution of The United States,
> only makes it that much sadder.
AU, thank you for sharing your views.
This is not about freedom of speech. It is about having large groups of
international people gather in countries which have varying levels of freedom of
expression. Some countries are less tolerant than others. UNICON and the IUF
were never intended as free speech forums.
If you will, imagine yourself in the position of being an IUF director. Using
China as an example because we were just there, imagine this:
After months of negotiations, the convention hosts have gotten permission for us
to do a big event in Tiananmen Square. They supply us with our own UNICON subway
train to get there, and several hundred unicyclists, peacefully gathered from
around the globe, arrive with smiles on their faces. The international press and
TV are there to see us, and the convention organizers are very proud to have
made such an amazing event a reality.
Suddenly, one group of riders produces large signs with pictures of a guy on a
unicycle confronting a tank. They also produce a huge paper mache Statue of
Liberty and start to parade around with their props, chanting a message. It
doesn’t matter what the message is (most of us don’t speak the same language
anyway). Let’s assume their message is simply an attempt at humor. They don’t
perceive themselves as being political in any way, they’re just making a joke.
Continuing along in this scary scenario, we have to imagine what might
SCENARIO 1: We can grit our teeth and let them “express themselves”. Very
embarrassing to the convention organizers, the IUF officials, to the other
riders, and especially to the Chinese government in general. Downright insulting
to the hosts, who have put this event together in good faith, and to their
government, who have allowed them to do it. As a result, the government never
allows large groups of unicyclists to perform in public again, the hosts are
unable to organize any more large unicycle conventions, and IUF is no longer
welcome in China.
SCENARIO 2: Chinese police officers run out and confiscate the signs and statue.
The riders, convention hosts, and IUF officers get a legal slap on the wrist.
Same likelihood as above of ever doing a similar event there. How can they
possibly do this? Don’t forget what happened in 1989.
SCENARIO 3: Chinese police arrest the “expressionists”. This still makes
everyone look bad (especially them, depending who’s side you’re on).
SCENARIO 4: Chinese police arrest expressionists, convention hosts and all IUF
officers/directors present. They are interrogated, required to sign statements
of apology, and released one month later.
SCENARIO 5: Worst case - There is a press blackout on the event, and several
people never make it home. Nobody knows what happened to them.
In the China of today, scenarios 3, 4, and 5 are highly unlikely. That’s today,
not a few years ago. Scenario 2 is the most likely. Remember, I personally had
police come running to stop me when I rode there in 1993. Running!
As an IUF director, I don’t want the above scenario to happen. That’s an extreme
example, but the same applies to milder versions. Not only will it make the IUF
look bad, but it will potentially cause problems for the convention that’s going
on, and possibly lead to riders or organizers being imprisoned.
One person estimated that, including everybodys’ travel costs, the last UNICON
cost about $1 million. That’s a lot of time, energy, and money focused on a
singular event. A lot of people converging from the far corners of the Earth to
be part of it. Surely the hosts and organizers should have the “right” to choose
what we do, and what don’t do there. It’s their party, and the unicyclists are
> It is said that tolerance is the hallmark of an enlightened mind, what does
> that say about those who desire to limit and control the peaceful behaviour
> of others?
Sometimes we must enforce tolerance itself, by asking people not to engage in
behavior that can hurt our convention hosts, or hurt peoples’ feelings. We need
rules for this because some people may not think of it on their own.
I would not attempt to define what is offensive. Someone will always get
offended, no matter what you do. But there is also the concept of politeness or
self control. Tolerance goes both ways. Not only should one be flexible when
confronted with unusual ideas (especially when in a large group of international
people), one must also strive to keep from freaking people out, assuming you are
trying to be polite.
That’s why you might avoid walking down the main street of an Amish town wearing
nothing but your Speedos. Or a woman might wear a veil when out in public in
Saudi Arabia. This is your own effort to be tolerant.
> IMHO, unicycle organizations should concern themselves with unicycling and
> naught else.
I’m glad you agree. This does not mean to disallow scooter riders, bicyclists,
jugglers, etc. But what we would like to do is provide the suggestion that our
conventions are not political or religious forums. We get enough politics within
our organizations themselves, we don’t need to bring in more.
> Should such a narrow-minded rule come to pass,
Please don’t call it narrow-minded until a rule has been proposed. So far it
hasn’t, partially because we don’t want it to actually cause limitations on
people within the context of our sport.
> I’d suggest that those who displayed the banner in question change the name of
> their club to “Peace for Vieques Unicycle Club.”
I would be fully in favor. As a unicycle club, it’s completely on-topic; whereas
otherwise the message would be unrelated to unicycling. The riders should be
respected for their choice of a club name. On the same subject though, if the
“Folsom Unicycle Club Kids” got too creative with their banner, I would not feel
like Big Brother if I asked them not to display it. That’s right, censorship.
Shouldn’t they know better? Yes. But if they don’t, you need a policy to explain
why you’re annoyed at them. Their political message is one about language. Again
our convention is not the appropriate forum for addressing it.
Again let me again repeat that our work on an upcoming proposal has nothing to
do with events that happened at UNICON X, or earlier. There has been no policy
or rule, so it could not have been violated yet.
Now back to the freedom of speech. The United States guarantees freedom of
speech in the first amendment. Does that mean Americans can all say whatever
they want, whenever they want? Not at all.
- You cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater.
- You cannot yell much of anything in a crowded theater, without being told
to shut up and being removed by the management if you don’t. It’s not
- You cannot go on most TV shows and say whatever you want. They have rules,
designed to limit offending people (not to stop it).
- You cannot go on and on about religion or politics on this newsgroup, unless
it is unicycling-related. You will be asked to stop or possibly be banned.
- You cannot stand in Bill Gates’ front yard with an anti-Microsoft banner. You
- You cannot build a sculpture in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. Even
though the park is public, they have rules.
- You cannot print whatever you want in the New York Times, even if you pay for
a full page ad. The paper has rules and editorial limits on what it contains.
It’s not your paper.
- You are not free to express yourself with a gun by shooting it all over the
place (though the US comes pretty close), or even carrying it in most places,
especially in public.
The fact is, in most countries you are not allowed to completely express
yourself in an unlimited fashion.
And if the IUF says so, you cannot use completely unlimited freedom of
expression at IUF events. You must play by the IUF’s rules, and also the host’s
rules. Hopefully you will also keep in mind the local customs and cultures. This
may or may not include Freestyle performances, though we can still ask people to
use common sense and good taste there as well (especially IUF officers who
should know better).
For full freedom of speech (or expression), the venue usually has to be public.
Even then, there are still plenty of restrictions and limitations. With all of
our freedoms, the United States is a long way from being an anarchy. The IUF is
perhaps closer to anarchy, but we still have rules.
If you’re at a UNICON and want to express yourself, you can do the same thing
you’d do most places. Step outside to someplace “public”, and express all you
want. What we’re saying is don’t involve the convention hosts, the IUF, or your
fellow riders unless they are part of your cause.
This soap box is getting crowded…
John Foss President, International Unicycling Federation President, Unicycling
Society of America (reply to email@example.com) http://www.unicycling.com