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Watchdog Wire congratulates Maggi Cook, the winner of our first-ever essay contest! We asked Citizen Watchdogs to respond to President Obama’s speech before the United Nations following the Benghazi attack, in which he labeled intolerant speech as a form of violence. Although we received a large number of thought-provoking, well-written submissions, Maggi’s essay, “In Defense of Free Speech,” stood out from the field.
You can read Maggi’s full essay here. Watchdog Wire’s judges were especially impressed with her unique perspective on the rights and duties of the intellectual minority, as she argued:
Robust and heartfelt expression is about challenging societal norms and taboos, guaranteeing that someone somewhere will be offended and angry. It is misguided to attempt to anticipate how person X will react to person Y’s statement, pretending to enforce mutual respect through censorship. The government of a free people depends on the consent of the majority. Our Bill of Rights guarantees the majority cannot always win.
Paraphrasing Jonah Goldberg, In America the hero is not the majority. The hero is the man who stands up to the majority and says No.
The only appropriate response to intolerant speech is more speech.
Although Maggi grew up in a political family, it wasn’t until 2009 that she took a more active role in citizen activism. Maggi feared that the country she loved would be fundamentally transformed following the election of 2008, and followed the Tea Party movement in its early stages the following year, agreeing with their message but not participating in their events. But one day, Maggi saw Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) giving an interview on TV, in which the Senator belittled Tea Partiers by saying, “They can’t be real protesters. They’re wearing oxford cloth shirts, they have to be astroturfers.”
Maggi located a meeting of her local Tea Party the very next day, and got involved because, as she discovered, “they were real people.” She ended up running a campaign for a Tea Party candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives in 2010.
A bitterly contested race for a local judgeship spurred Maggi’s interest in voter fraud, and led her to start her own blog, The Madison Project, which promotes conservative causes and fair elections. Maggi took a hiatus from The Madison project to work with the Romney-Ryan campaign in Ohio this fall, but is already working on her first post-election article, called “The Myth of Non-Partisanship.”
When I asked her why she was interested in voter fraud, Maggi told me, “I’ve lived in countries where 99% of the people vote, including the USSR before it fell. Elections there have as much integrity as the election for homecoming queen.”
And what does being a Citizen Watchdog mean to Maggi?
“It means being aware. People complain a lot about how government did this or didn’t do that, or how you had to get 4 permits to put a deck on your house. You can’t have employees that are unsupervised–in any business you need someone holding people accountable. As citizens, we’ve gotten very lazy with that. Whether it’s going to school board meetings or talking about subsidized housing, you have to make the effort. That’s what Citizen Watchdogs do. It’s about not offloading the effort. These people work for us and it’s about what kind of country were going to have.”
She added, “Communication is everything. If you have the cure for cancer and you can’t communicate it, it doesn’t do anyone any good.”
And as it turns out, Maggi believes that our essay contest came along at exactly the right time for her. “It gave me a chance to say what I really wanted to say.”
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