Unfortunately, I missed the Kangaroo Court held at the Camden Select Board meeting last night [May 3]. I wasn’t invited, or even notified. That’s a little odd, considering I was the person on trial. But then, the prosecutors did not want to hear from me, since there was always the chance that I would interrupt their false assumptions, phony accusations and baseless slander with the truth. So they went off on me for nearly an hour, on television.

What had I done to deserve such a public pillorying? I had committed the small town’s ultimate social sin: I had made “anti-business” remarks. And in doing so, I had openly dissented from the strongly-held opinion of the entire Camden Select Board, not to mention various local business people.

I was accused not only of dissent, but of cyber-bullying, because I’d posted a few editorial cartoons opposing the tannery/movie studio project on Facebook where they could be seen not by the public, but by my friends. Cyber-bullying. The elephant was objecting because the mouse was standing on its foot.

I had, my accusers said, mobilized the “social media” against them, meaning I’d not only expressed my dissent at the Opera House public meeting, but — gasp — on the Internet! But of course, I was using Facebook the same way the Egyptians and the Tunisians and the Libyans were using it — to challenge the powers-that-be. In my opinion, the powers-that-be need challenging, not only in the Middle East, but here. They’re not always right, you know.

And then there was the specific charge, that I was “anti-business.” I am not anti-business. I was, and am, anti the funny business of trying to shoehorn a movie studio into the Apollo Tannery property, an enterprise that deserves to be mocked, especially by people who know more about the industry — by far — than the rank amateurs who were proposing the project.

The project was nothing more than an embarrassment waiting to happen, an idea doomed from the start because the people proposing it had about as much chance of pulling it off as Camden Hills High School has of turning into Hogwarts. This was obvious to the film community here, but the Select Board was not only oblivious, but hypnotized by visions of Hollywood east.

And last night, of course, one of my accusers cited the movie studio project now being developed at an armory near Portland, as if to say, “that could have been us.” No, it couldn’t. The two projects are vastly different, one of them relying on an appropriate existing structure, the other requiring the investment of millions on bare land, one of them involving people who knew what they were doing, the other involving people who didn’t have the foggiest idea.

And so I and my film industry friends here dissented, publicly and vigorously. “Get out of the road,” we said, “there’s a semi bearing down on you!” “You’re wrong and we need all the truck traffic we can get,” retorted the Select People, obliviously.

How could they be so dense? It’s easy to understand. They had turned into “it’s good for business” zombies. Not everything is good for business, even more business. There are bad businesses, there are foolish enterprises, there are silly proposals, which bring with them a big helping of egg-on-your-face and money-out-of-your-pocket. The movie studio/tannery project is a perfect example.

In a way, this reminds me of the oft-cited mantra of the federal government: “It’s a matter of national security.” Vietnam was a matter of national security. Watergate was a matter of national security. Iraq was a matter of national security. The tannery movie studio project was an example of good for business. Same thing, local version.

And so my friends and I dissented. Not only did we have every right to do so, but we had an obligation to do so. We have been rewarded with a demonstration of how dissent is met in Camden, Maine, if it is perceived to be “not good for business.” At the public meeting at the Opera House, they asked for the proponents to speak, then—with obvious reluctance—for the opponents. But they weren’t asking for opposition. They were asking and expecting the endorsement of a stupid idea.

Maybe next time, they won’t offer opponents a chance to speak. They’ll just do what they want, opinion of the citizens, even informed opinion, be damned.

 

Jack Churchill lives in Camden.

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