Henry Norr isn’t letting a suspension stop him from making his voice heard.
The San Francisco Chronicle tech writer who was suspended after taking time off work to attend an anti-war protest spoke to a crowd of more than 100 people gathered at a rally held Saturday in UC Berkeley’s Lower Sproul Plaza.
The rally prefaced a march by hundreds of protesters down Telegraph Avenue toward Mosswood Park in Oakland.
The march terminated later in the day at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland, where about 9,000 demonstrators gathered to hear community members, youth activists, state Rep. Barbara Lee and entertainer and longtime political activist Harry Belafonte urge an end to the war in Iraq and a replenishing of the country’s domestic resources, including education and health care.
At the noon rally at UC Berkeley, Norr, a Berkeley resident, told the crowd to continue to fight back against the wave of jingoism and anti-Muslim propaganda. He said his case demonstrates the dangers that are increasingly faced by “anyone who is progressive-minded or shows a streak of critical thinking.”
Norr was suspended when the Chronicle discovered that he participated and was arrested in an anti-war demonstration in San Francisco. He was technically given the two-week suspension for falsifying his time card, a reference to the fact that he took a sick day to attend the protest.
He told the crowd that he was talking to attorneys about the possibility of filing a legal claim against the company and that the union has already filed two grievances. One grievance addresses his suspension specifically; the other takes issue with a new policy, adopted by the Chronicle soon after his suspension, that forbids employees from engaging in any war-related political activity.
Norr said he doesn’t yet know how he will reconcile his desire to continue his political activity is following a trend in American journalism that explicitly tries “to make journalists into a class of scribes who wear blinders and aren’t involved in the world.”
He said The New York Times and The Washington Post have similar bans on political expression. Fairness, accuracy and balance can be achieved but total objectivity never can, he said.
“What we need is engaged people, people who are involved in their communities, who have commitments and passions and stand up for things,” he said. “I think the way to have a balanced paper is to have multiple voices, to get people with different opinions and to be up front about it.”