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A note on cancel culture, from Amb. Allan Katz (ret.), CEO-American Public Square

On Tuesday, March 21, APS is partnering with KCPBS and The National WWI Museum and Memorial to present a program that will address our society’s increasing unwillingness to tolerate divergent viewpoints. The “Canceled, Censored, Banned” program will feature a panel of experts entrenched in the issues of book banning, free speech, freedom of information, and more.  APS initiated this program because we can see the divide between two sides who seem to sincerely believe they are making a stronger, more civil society by imposing their beliefs about what should be seen, said, heard or read.

The March program panel includes:

  • Jay Ashcroft, a Secretary of State who is advocating for policies he believes will protect minors from non-age-appropriate materials.
  • Sally Bradshaw, a longtime political advisor turned bookstore owner focused on providing wide ranging content and programming that improves civil discourse in Florida.
  • Michael Ryan, an author and career journalist who has lived the experience of being a lone conservative voice in newsrooms.
  • Emerson Sykes, an ACLU attorney focused on free speech protections through the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology project.

This panel is undoubtedly qualified to examine this growing phenomenon in America.

As I consider the cancel culture topic, it’s easy to feel that it’s unique to contemporary society, but this is not a new issue. I am reading Adam Hochschild’s recent book “American Midnight” which chronicles what happened in America when we entered World War I. While I was familiar with the horror of slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese American internment, and the McCarthy era, I was unaware that Americans were jailed, beaten, and even killed for expressing dissent after the U.S. entered the first world war. Books with German titles were burned, and public gatherings were frequently and violently disrupted with no intervention by legal authorities.  Perhaps the most surprising is that this happened with the approval of President Woodrow Wilson, largely viewed as a progressive era icon.

We have a history of intolerance, particularly centered on the belief that the books or speeches of those with whom we disagree are dangerous. We have a history of using the coercive power of the state to “strong-arm” compliance with given perspectives. And today, I believe we are seeing similar risks with the growing propensity to want to silence, or cancel, perspectives that conflict with our own.

APS’ mission centers on providing platforms for those who feel strongly about one perspective to engage with those who have a different perspective–not as enemies in violent or contentious political conflict, but as fellow community members who need to be challenged by different perspectives so that the community can determine a path forward together. Our work at APS is not to advocate, but we welcome advocates in our midst. We fervently believe all of us will be better for understanding the basis of opposing beliefs, even if we are not moved from our original position.

If this is the way we more consistently address public issues, we believe our community and our nation will be a better, more dynamic, and successful society. We have no doubt you have your own opinions on cancel culture, book banning, political and social censorship—so join us on March 21. Come challenge your own perspective and engage in a meaningful conversation alongside those with whom you may disagree. It is sure to be a lively conversation about an important issue in American culture, past and present.

See you there.

Ambassador Allan Katz (ret.)