Results tagged “Free Speech” from Six Hours A Week: Adventures in American Exile

cheerleader-yelling-into-megaphone.jpg[If links aren't working on your browser, go down to the end of the post.]

After ignoring for ten days the fact that someone claiming to represent Organic Bouquet committed the federal crime of cyberharassing and threatening me, CEO Robert McLaughlin has finally offered a strange and unconvincing response.

Again, this is a free speech issue. We're talking about a company purposefully targeting and threatening a vocally dissatisfied customer and attempting to bully her out of exercising her right to criticize the company. What is so scary about questions surrounding whether OB's PR matched its practices, or whether its current growth trajectory was sustainable? All of these questions should be fair game for a company that represents itself as "green" and "socially conscious." McLaughlin seems to have responded not because he was concerned about any illegality or how these threats were affecting a former customer, but because I blogged about him.

To put his response in context, after a terrible product and customer service experience, I had written a review of the company on Sustainlane.com. On May 13, venomous cyber-harasser Andes B. wrote in response

My rep at Organic Bouquet sent me your pictures. In those picture [sic] I can see tulips obviously from another company and receipts from local grocery stores where you obviously bought other flowers as part of your research on flower companies. You’re a disgrace and should be reported to the appropriate credible journalist organization for breaking the code of ethics and acting in a manner that is unbecoming of an American or international journalist.

I had sent pictures of the second set of wrong and wilting flowers I received to personnel at Organic Bouquet and was amazed that someone in Columbia supposedly already had them, and was ready to comment on my reivew within hours of my having written it. I immediately sent a link to the cyber-harassing threats to Mr. McLaughlin and wrote to him:

Healthy tulips from my own yard, the roses you sent that never opened in the background, and some receipts amount to some sort of scheme to sell an article? Bizarre. Can't you fight your battles directly with facts rather than having me personally attacked?

Mr. McLaughlin ignored my message and chose not to address the fact that someone was advocating on behalf of Organic Bouquet in a felonious manner. He took no steps to assure me that the threats were empty, or would cease. Instead, the day after he was notified of the illegal online threats, he elected to use the same arguments in his rebuttal to my Better Business Bureau complaint:

Ms. Sayer is a freelance writer with a history of aggressive behavior in search of a major headline. She provided pictures not only of flowers she received from us, but in the background what appears [sic] to be flowers from other sources as well. It is my suspicion that she is doing research for a story and she has attacked us on blogs…

So at this point McLaughlin has been notified of the cyber-harassing and has received my clear denial about my order having been part of any weird scheme related to a story.  He chooses not to address the fact that while I posted a truthful account of my experience with the company and raised questions about its growth model using facts gleaned from publicly available articles, someone representing OB cyber-harassed, smeared and threatened me. Rather than objecting to the attacks in any discernible form, he used my online review as evidence of my supposed scheming for the Better Business Bureau.

And today (Sunday), apparently after someone notified him about my post regarding the cyber-harassing and threats, he has finally been bothered to address the issue. He writes, in contradiction of his own Better Business Bureau filing:

I understand you had a regrettable consumer experience for which I attempted to reconcile with you..... The exchanges you had with a person online claiming to be our supplier is not condoned or requested and certainly not me in anyway. [sic].

So, again, he doesn’t condone them, but doesn’t address why he failed to inform the cyber-harassed and threatened customer of that, or why he used the cyber-harasser’s arguments himself. He doesn’t address how this commenter happened to have the pictures that I supplied to the company. He continues, strangely:

I don’t know anything about you.... what your intentions are or were..... I assumed from your original email that you received poor service for which I personally tried to help you resolve....very regrettable that we were unsuccessful in making things right for you....and your actions and back and forth posts do leave me perplexed as to your motives.

Huh? So, he has told the BBB that my ordering my Mother’s Day bouquet from OB was some sort of grand, journalistic scheme. He knows that I have a copy of his filing. Yet, he tells me today that he doesn’t “know anything about me” or “what my intentions are or were.” Despite this claim, he was certainly confident enough to make up information about me and assign motives to me in his BBB report.

Mr. McLaughlin seems very confused. I asked him to clarify these points. I’m still interested in having my questions about downsizing answered as well. Since all of this seems to have been a smokescreen to avoid answering those questions, though, I’m not holding my breath.

[Continue reading for working links.]

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North-American-Silva221.jpg[Update 5/24/10: Finally, ten days after being notified of he illegal cyber-harassing and threats, apparently in response to this post, Mr. McLaughlin offered a very tepid and unconvincing response.]

What is with "progressive" companies like Whole Foods, TreeHugger, and now Organic Bouquet  using weird/dirty tactics to deflect criticism? (If the links don't show up on your browser, you can find them at the end of the post.)

This very strange situation wouldn't have been something to write about here except that what should have been a dispute over a commercial transaction settled through legitimate channels quickly devolved into a civil liberties issue. Rather than use facts to dispute my claims, Organic Bouquet chose to attack me personally and use threats and intimidation in an effort to cyber-bully me out of criticizing the company.

The short version of the story is that after a really horrible product and customer service experience I took a number of actions, including writing a negative review of the company on Sustainlane (again, active link at the end of the post). In response to the review, someone claiming to be one of OB's Colombian suppliers wrote a bunch of nasty comments attacking me personally and eventually threatening that "Our association of floral exporters in Colombia, California and Ecuador need to follow you and advise your every potential employer of your inability to be fair and objective in your reporting." This person had copies of pictures that I had sent the company (to show the sad and pathetic state of the second order of wrong flowers they sent), and used them to concoct a story about my motivation for complaining.

Somehow, readers were meant to believe that my whole motivation for making a Mother's Day order and then complaining when it was wrong (and then the replacement order was wrong, and the company refused to do anything about it because it had issued a refund I didn't request), was all some sort of complex plan to "get a big headline." Weird, since I have made three other recent orders from the company without event or complaint because the company did not mess them up. The company itself has to perform pretty craptastically to get me to the point of feeling the need to speak out.

So, I reported the totally creepy comments to the FBI since they are so clearly a violation of federal law and in my now three-year long history of near nonstop harassment and intimidation no one has been so sloppy and careless as to carry it out in such an obviously illegal and traceable manner. At that point it seemed clear that the commenter was writing on behalf of Organic Bouquet, but I thought it might be someone hired to make positive comments for the company on blogs, or to defend criticism of the company and that this person went too far. Though I definitely thought OB was of course legally responsible since this person was acting on their behalf, I wouldn't have dreamed that the CEO himself would possibly pathetically disguise his identity in an effort to defame me in defense of the company.

Then, I received Mr. McLaughlin's rebuttal to a report I had filed with the Better Business Bureau. It was written the day after the online threats and contained the same weird accusation about my pictures supposedly illustrating that I was ordering multiple bouquets of flowers from different companies as part of a story I was supposedly writing. I couldn't believe it. Really, the same person had to have written it or to have had access to the same arguments and definitely the same pictures. I wrote to OB PR and Mr. McLaughlin himself for a confirmation or denial that he was the cyber-harasser, and received no response. [Update 5/24/10: Finally, ten days after being notified of he illegal cyber-harassing and threats, apparently in response to this post, Mr. McLaughlin offered a very tepid and unconvincing response.]

Free Speech: Not Left, Right, Red or Blue

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wctu.gifLast fall I read about a man in Georgia whose Operation Rescue truck was impounded because it displayed mangled fetuses. This alarmed me. Though I wouldn't want to see a Truth Truck, I believe in an individual's right to one.

Bob Roethlisberger was arrested and jailed over Thanksgiving weekend in a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, on the charge of "Disorderly Conduct" for driving Operation Rescue's Truth Truck bearing signs with photos of aborted babies. The Truth Truck was impounded.

Gwinnett County Police Department officers arrested Roethlisberger Saturday after telling him that signage on the Truth Truck was "vulgar and obscene." According to Operation Rescue, officers ransacked the back of the Truth Truck without a warrant and ordered Roethlisberger to change or remove the signs. When he refused, he was arrested and incarcerated for three days before being released on $1,000 bond.

Disorderly conduct charges were eventually dropped by the county Solicitor:

"I have reviewed the evidence and law in this case and concluded that the physical display of the images in question—as shocking and offensive as they are—does not constitute 'obscene and vulgar or profane language' as specifically prohibited by this statute."
This story was covered extensively by pro-life and religious blogs, but elsewhere not so much. It's a bummer when we let ideology blind us to what binds us. While we disagree profoundly, our rights to free speech unite us as Americans.

Operation Rescue wasn't alone in dealing with not-so-peachy speech restrictions last year. The ACLU of Georgia advocated for residents of a community called Avondale Estates that prohibited the display of signs on residents' property.

Ultimately, the Court struck down some of the sign ordinance provisions as unconstitutional.  In addition, the Court has awarded the ACLU of Georgia $142,329 in attorneys fees and expenses.  This ruling is significant because it analyzes and deals with the scenario where defendants may attempt to avoid fee liability by repeatedly and unilaterally changing ordinances.

Sheesh! Nonstop signage interference!

The bummer is that a lot of free speech advocates may turn up their noses at defending Operation Rescue.  When I mentioned the Truth Truck issue to a politically engaged left-leaner, she couldn't get past the anti-abortion aspect. On the flip side, isn't it likely that pro-life advocates won't be able to look past the ACLU's church/state separation agenda?

This divisiveness is disappointing when we all want safe, free, happy futures. It sounds as though evangelicals are turning more toward issues of racial disharmony, poverty, and the environment. It behooves those on the left to ensure that our free speech advocacy is as inclusive as possible -- even of people who might find our art offensive, or don't approve of our lifestyle choices.

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Six Hours A Week Is:

A coping strategy, advocacy outlet, and form of protection. My life has been nearly destroyed by the unconstitutional practices of politically/socially-motivated private intelligence contractors and the corruption and cronyism that allow them. Apparently because I speak out in ways that prioritize the little guy and human and environmental health above gargantuan profit margins, and believe that facts are as important as PR spin, I was someone who had to be completely discredited. In 2007, after a few months of a surreal and relentless invasion of privacy and dignity, I started to spend six hours each week researching, communicating about, and advocating legal and ethical responses to assaults on our shared democratic and republican ideals. For most of that time I was writing from the perspective of someone whose life was manipulated into a constant state of terror and emergency. In 2010, many of the array of entrapment attempts seem to have failed and it seems no longer possible to get away with such excessive, obvious harassment and overt interference. As we take more practical steps to address what has been allowed to happen to my family, we do expect to see some more harassment and intimidation. But I should be able to chronicle it from a more measured perspective, rather than that of someone in constant fear. Part of me would like to go back and delete earlier posts, because even I find them hard to relate to in some ways. But this blog has been one of our only forms of protection as everyone in any official capacity ignored the truth and tried to spin and frame us into the troublemakers and perpetrators of one form or another. So I leave it up as a form of protection, a record of what has occurred, and (with luck) the account of our way back to credibility and some form of legitimate justice. All content on this site is property of Kyeann Sayer. All rights reserved.

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