THE BLOG
06/20/2013 09:41 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

About Your Banging Blacklist: An Open Letter to the Civitas Institute

Dear Civitas Institute,

Thanks for including me in your Moral Monday Protesters database. I'm sure I speak for many of those arrested for civil disobedience protesting North Carolina's Tea Party legislature who are happy to find our name, residence, and employer are usefully listed on the Internet.

I'd like to thank your funder, Art Pope, for making this project possible and giving it that personal touch. Linking to our mug shots is a nice detail; otherwise, your readers might not be able to recognize us on the street. Also, it has that great Rogues' Gallery effect. I mean, everyone looks like a criminal in a mug shot.

You really enrich the picture by listing arrestees' "interest-group affiliations," such as NAACP, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, and, of course, Occupy Raleigh. But maybe the best grace note is the column devoted to noting everyone whose driver's license address doesn't match their voter registration address. Could that mean rampant voter fraud? You report, we decide.

You've made some really solid aesthetic choices here. The dull, column-ruled, sans-serif layout that we have to click through ten names at a time, like we were turning the pages of a Registry of Deeds? So retro. It's like 1950s public record in a county courthouse. And that little throwback is so of the moment. I mean, hipsters are using "boss" to mean awesome and belting their corduroys high around their waists. Everything old is new again, with a little ironic twist.

And it's way more than aesthetics. The design choices set the mood for what you're really trying to communicate here: 1950s, blacklists, loyalty oaths, right? Am I feeling you?

Maybe it's just because I teach Constitutional Law, so I randomly know all these little Americana details, but this whole project is a really nice allusion to those laws Southern states passed in the 1950s, requiring certain groups, which just happened to be the NAACP and other civil-rights organizations, to disclose their membership. You know, so that employers and neighbors could be informed, make their views known to the troublemakers.

The Supreme Court, which was more of a buzzkill back then, struck down those laws under the First Amendment. But your list has nothing to do with the heavy hand of government. It's just civil society, some internet searches, and a little philanthropic funding -- from the same guy who has purchased himself the highest un-elected office in North Carolina and is calling the tune for the legislature. It's a nifty little public-private partnership. And it's not like you're actually saying anything, you know, mean about us. Just throwing the data out there, amping up the transparency. You report, we decide.

You didn't list any interest-group affiliations for me, so I thought I should fill out the profile a little. Your readers should definitely know that I volunteered at the Occupy Wall Street library back in 2011, that I have sometimes been active in the liberal American Constitution Society, and that I have read more of John Locke's writing, and more carefully, than most people who work at your Art Pope-funded sister Society, the John Locke Foundation. (Here's another crazy little detail: John Locke wrote a constitution for the Carolina Colony that included hereditary slavery and aristocratic landholding. I report, you decide.) And that one of my all-time favorite thinkers and writers is the ur-conservative Edmund Burke. I notice you haven't named any foundations after him, maybe because he was against tearing up the fabric of society to pursue abstract theories.

My religion is Other, and it's complicated, but you can just list me as agnostic. I enjoy trail-running, ultimate frisbee, cooking, and reading literary fiction, plus the occasional high-quality fantasy novel. (I lost a lot of sleep reading Game of Thrones.) Six things I couldn't live without: sunshine, avocados, running shoes, sleep, my friends and family, and contact lenses. My all-time best concert was seeing R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock, and Billy Bragg together in a little theater when I was 16. I snuck in through the roof, and Billy sang "If you've got a blacklist, I wanna be on it." (Somehow that detail comes to mind.)

That's probably enough for now. Oh, except that I'll swear my loyalty to the Constitution, including freedom of association and assembly, anytime you want. I have a flag that goes back generations in my family: I'll take it out, and we can talk together about how Edmund Burke would see what's happening in North Carolina.

Just send a tweet, as my liberal NPR heroine Diane Rehm always says.

On second thought, come to the front door like a man. You know where I live.

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