Saturday, August 1, 2009

Wainright Gets Dooced: Free Speech in the USA

For some time now, I've been aware of the word "dooced". To get dooced is to be fired from a job for one's website content. The word originates from the experience of Heather Armstrong who was fired for writing satirically on her blog about her work place.

Before I get to the meat of my post, let me digress. I blurk a lot and occasionally comment at Huckleberries Online, a blog originating from the North Idaho office of the Spokesman Review. Every once in a while the blog's ringleader, Dave Oliveria, raises the question about whether people should be able to post comments behind the protection of a pseudonym. The debate rages. Some people say using a pseudonym is gutless. What outrages me, though, is the number of people who say that they would be fired from their jobs if their bosses knew who they were and read their comments. Because they are lewd? Because they are treasonous? Because they are dangerous? No. No. No. It's because of political differences.

It says a lot about the workplace in the USA. Many Americans spend a huge chunk of their waking hours at work and for that span of time they labor where the backbone of the American way of life is most vigorously denied. The workplace is the least democratic place in American life and it's where free speech is the most vigorously denied. Workers, in many jobs, can be fired if they tell another worker what they earn on the job. Workers have little say regarding the conditions of their employment and rarely participate in how the workplace is governed. Unions help. But, most workers are not a part of a union and often have little voice, little power.

It turns out, of course, that it's not just what a person says on the job, or even about the job, that can get them fired.

Take, for example, my friend Rick Wainright, whom I've known for fifty years.

Earlier this week, he was fired from his job as a shuttle bus driver for the American Hospitality Academy because of content in his blog, Myrtle Beach Ramblings - Writing With A Smirk. Rick posted his thoughts about his firing, here, and posted what management wrote to him about his "Gross Misconduct": On July 9, 2009, AHA Management was notified by concerned students about a blog that was written by Richard Wainright. Due to the nature of the comments made in the blog and for the safety and well being of our students, Richard is (to) be terminated from the American Hospitality Academy.

Huh.

I've been reading Rick's blog since its inception back in April, 2007 and I began to wonder which of his posts might be a threat to the safety and well being of his students.

Maybe it was when he wrote, here, his moving account about growing up in Smelterville, Idaho and all of its dilapidation and the bad air and polluted waterways of the Silver Valley, and zeroed in on the unforgettable education he received at Silver King Elementary School, in the shadow of the Bunker Hill Zinc Plant; or, maybe the AHA students would be endangered by the tribute he paid to my mother, his second grade teacher.

Or maybe it was this poem about a father identifying his deceased son:

Lost Time

Never been in this kind of place
Worst task a dad can face
"Is this your son?" unzipping the bag
Name already on the tag
"We found a note, it wasn't much
There with all the drugs and such"
His son's own hand, his heart it tore
"Dear dad, I wish we'd gone fishing more"

Or maybe it was his soulful voice reading the poem over the images of the video he made of the poem, here.

Or maybe it was the piece he wrote, here, about how shuttling these students from all over the world was helping Rick understand his world more fully, how meeting students from Lebanon softened attitudes he had about people from the Middle East, and how these students he was threatening the safety of were changing his life, very much for the better. Rick put it this way in his dangerous blog:

The mission statement of the American Hospitality Academy includes "fostering international goodwill and friendships." The intent is that the goodwill and friendship occur between the interns. A collateral benefit of the program is to teach a very old dog, new tricks. I have grown as a member of the human race from my contact with these fine ambassadors of a culture that I would have gone to my grave despising for no good reason.

Maybe it was Rick's sense of humor. Maybe he shouldn't posted a picture of a Hooter's waitress.

I don't know what in this blog made it a threat to the safety and well being of the students.

I once wrote to Rick, before he was fired, that I thought these AHA students were very fortunate to have such a fine representative of the USA as their shuttle bus driver. He loved these students. He listened to them. He helped them see and understand the USA more fully and clearly.

And for his love and dedication and openness and good will, he got dooced.

5 comments:

myrtle beached whale said...

This will no doubt go into the Blogging Hall of Fame. Well done, Bill.

JeffK said...

I believe the actions of A.H.A. are probably illegal and could be challenged. That aside, this incident also gives some insight into what their _real_ mission is: to make money through a training program. Educational considerations are not part of their agenda. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

JeffK said...

having trouble leaving comments. If this is a duplicate, my apologies. A.H.A.'s stated mission and their _real_ mission, illuminated by Rick's termination, are quite different. Their real mission is to make money through a training program. Educational considerations are not part of their agenda. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Mike Thorneburg said...

Rick is a wonderful, intelligent guy I've known for a short while through our common love for dogs. We hang out at the Myrtle Beach dog park on Farrow Parkway. Rick normally bounces into the park every morning with something new and interesting to tell me, presumably something so desirous of escaping his brain that it has been banging on the inside of his skull all night. He often surprises me with his insight and unique perspective on common issues to the extent that I stop and rethink some things I had already settled upon. That is not a small feat, given the well established right wing nut
job-iness for which I am known around the neighborhood. To say that such a man could, in any fashion whatsoever, possibly present a "danger" to this group of young people from the AHA of whom he had grown so fond is patently absurd. Were I an attorney and not living in this "right to work" state where no justice for this kind of preposterous firing exists, I would love the opportunity to right this wrong for him. Many people in this age marshall the word "unfair" to describe a hodgepodge of situations that clearly are not. Here, the term applies and the issue should not go unchallenged. I am sad and angry for a good man dismissed in such an inauspicious way. Thanks for letting your posters know about Rick.

myrtle beached whale said...

you guys are great.