Village Voice Media Owners Get Civil Liberties Award

by francine Hardaway on March 29, 2008

You can imagine how sparsely attended the ACLU dinner is in Arizona. I never put a dress on anymore over the weekend if I can help it, but I had to come pay my respects to Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, for whose struggling New Times I was the first film reviewer, and whose Village Voice published David Mamet’s rejection of liberalism last week. So here I am on Saturday night, in a dress that fits like a sausage casing, dining on overdone chicken and underdone Chardonnay at the Heard Museum On my right is a man in a wheelchair with a medical alert dog in his lap. The dog, Homer, can detect changes in blood sugar and alert his diabetic master that it’s time to eat.

The guests of honor,Lacey and Larkin, have suddenly morphed into two middle-aged men, got arrested last year by our publicity-hungry Sheriff Joe Arpaio and they turned around and sued him. There are probably about 400 civil liberties issues involved here.

Arizona is enlivened by this conflict, which is really about larger issues like conditions in our prisons and the way we treat immigrants. But that doesn’t make this dinner more popular.

This is a sixties crowd. Younger people either don’t care about their civil liberties or don’t even notice they are gone; our civil liberties have eroded slowly over the past forty years, kind of like the boiling frog. But the people at this dinner remember the civil rights movement and Arizona’s Goldwater politics.

Lacey and Larkin are getting the Civil Libertarian of the Year Award for starting New Times after the Kent State shootings and for getting arrested. They actually started a newspaper that still exists today after 38 years, and is now nationwide. This is no joke.

Lacey does not like to speak publicly; he has been nervous all day. He takes this dinner very seriously.

The crowd stands as Larkin and Lacey approach the podium. Jim speaks of being represented by ACLU in the 70s when New Times wanted distribution rights at University of Arizona, and again in 1977 when they wanted to regain control of the paper to publish the entire Investigative Reporters and Editors series. Because of the reporting risks they take, New Times has had a long relationship with the ACLU.

Jim says New Times has repeatedly been sued for its editorial positions and its business practices. Entrenched interests in San Francisco are suing them, as are folks in Cleveland. Jim says on the east coast they are seen as monopolists and on the west coast they are seen as mom and pops without sophistication. Jim says this is fun.

Before he turns it over the Lacey, Jim also calls Sheriff Arpaio a thug with guns.

Lacey then says that Larkin has been a partner who has always put his heart and soul on the line. This is a venerable partnership. They’re like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. Lacey remembers when the ACLU was in the same building as the New Times. Frankly, I’m amazed he remembers anything.

When Lacey launches into his after dinner remarks, he first points out that this dinner is in a place honoring one trampled minority while outside Arpaio is trampling on another minority – Mexican immigrants. He says today they have come for the Mexicans; tomorrow they will come for us. He draws analogies to the Nazi era in Germany and speaks of his own visit to Dachau, which at first was viewed as not such a bad place.

Lacey speaks of the need for resistance, and wonders where the resistance is to the erosion of civil liberties for our immigrants. He says we need to quit following the soccer moms and get behind Donald Duck, the cartoon character who didn’t tread the straight and narrow. He sees too much decency in our world.

His son has accompanied him to the dinner. He listens to his dad talk about how Mickey Mouse would have been jumped at high school in his day by the friends of Donald Duck.

Lacey goes on to say that in his youth, Mad Magazine undermined undue respect for authority. He thinks we have too much respect for authority today, and that Arpaio takes advantage of this to “mask his racist campaign against Mexicans with the doily of law and order.”

Later I meet Colin in the lobby and he tells me he is proud of his dad. I tell him he should be. I’m proud of him, too. Someone has to be willing to get arrested if anything is to change.

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