Privacy, Responsibility and General Robert E. Lee

by Janis Patterson

On this and other blogs I have always ranted about the necessity of a writer for privacy, of how we shouldn’t have to open ourselves and our personal lives up just because our fans want us to or because we need the publicity. Privacy is very important to me and always has been. Some say that by being too open, or too outspoken on social media we run the risk of losing or even alienating fans, and that is a distinct possibility. No sane person wants to damage their career deliberately. For some reason writers – especially genre fiction writers – are not supposed to be controversial. Mean people who disagree with us, we are warned, will flock to our retailers and give nothing but bad reviews in an attempt to hurt us and complain about our attacking their freedom of speech if we complain.

That sounds more like bullying than freedom of speech.

However, there are things which supercede a career. We have all been counseled to be quiet or at the most neutral about some things, politics and religion primarily. That’s good advice, but I think we are human beings and citizens first, and some things trump both the career and neutrality cards.

I live in Dallas, which is controlled by a very liberal mayor and city council – all of whom are bound and determined to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee that has been standing for over 80 years – all in a rush of indecent and (in my opinion) barely-legal haste. The powers that be had a crane ready to dismantle the statue within minutes of the council’s vote. (After over 80 years in the same place it suddenly had to be removed THAT AFTERNOON? Sounds like something’s fishy to me.) Had not my wonderful husband rushed to file a Temporary Restraining Order we would have lost an incredible work of art. The statue (or as the council member spearheading this idiocy calls it, the ‘statcha’) is one of the finest examples of heroic-sized bronze art in the country. Whoever/whatever the statue (statcha) represents, the fine detail work, the intricate delineations, the entire piece is exquisite and to take such a work of fine art out of the beautiful park setting created for it decades ago and probably out of public view forever is just plain heinous.

But that’s not the worst. Dallas is a perpetually cash-strapped city where (among other things) it can take months to get a pothole repaired, and where over 400 policemen quit the force last year because of the poor pay and a very shaky, poorly managed pension fund. Even with such financial problems the mayor and the city council simply cannot wait to pay over (and maybe a LOT over) $400,000 just to remove the statue. One statue. And that’s when even the liberal media admits that over 80% of Dallas citizens want the statue (and all such monuments) left alone.

How can I as a tax-paying citizen of this city stand still for such deliberate fiscal irresponsibility? How can I remain silent when our tax dollars are being wasted so egregiously? How can I ignore it when the city is always complaining that they don’t have enough money and say our taxes should go up yet again but our services always seem to shrink? When I think of how that almost HALF A MILLION dollars (and probably more before all is said and done) could be spent on paying our police the salaries they should have, or putting after-school enrichment programs in underprivileged schools, or creating some health-care storefronts in the poorest areas of town, or…

There are so many ways that money could be used constructively, and as a citizen I must raise my voice in spite of the wisdom that says writers should not offend anyone, that stating what you feel or believe or espouse can damage your career. I am not so naïve as to believe that there are not people who will judge my stories by my activism, even though those stories have nothing to do with it. Frankly, I don’t care. I was a human being before I was a writer, and I will be a human being after I quit being a writer.

I have a conscience. I have a voice, and I should have a say about what affects me, be it a statue or a tax increase or a mis-managed pension fund or whatever! After all, it is my hard-earned tax money that the powers that be want to squander so idiotically. I love writing, and I love my career, but life is more important than selling books. If we do not stand up for what is right, for the love of fine art and the integrity of history, for freedom of expression, we have no right to complain when things go wrong. That’s why I’ve spent days urging people to telephone or email the mayor and the city council to stop this attack on freedom, fine art, history and the will of the people.

Plus, my most recent exercise in activism is self-serving, and I believe all writers should applaud. Everything offends someone, so if a small minority can dictate – for no real reason other than they don’t like it – the removal of a statue that the majority wants left alone, how long will it be before they start burning the books they don’t like? Or destroying the art?  And after books and art, what next? People?

Remember, those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.