Friday, March 30, 2007

Statement from Brian Schraum

Washington State University student Brian Schraum was the instigator of the legislation last summer. He has been a tireless champion on behalf of this bill. Here is is heartfelt letter after today's difficult news.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This afternoon the Senate Judiciary Committee took executive action on House Bill 1307, designed to protect high school and college student journalists from censorship. After a long, hard battle in the House of Representatives, this important bill stonewalled in the Senate. It became apparent this morning that the legislation would not pass out of the Judiciary Committee as written. In a final effort to save the bill, an amendment was drafted and moved by Senator Rodney Tom which strikes all sections concerning public high schools.

The amended bill, applying only to public colleges, was passed out of the committee by a strong majority. In addition, an agreement was made that the high school portion of the bill would not be added back in at a later time.

I wanted to take this opportunity to express my extreme disappointment with today’s vote. No one – no one – fought harder for this than the high school students and advisers in our state. Your courage and your determination are admirable. Know that your hard work was not for nothing; even today, the great states of Oregon and Michigan continue their fight for a free high school press. I hope you will agree that they deserve our optimistic support.

The blame for this outcome, in my mind, is three-fold. First, the school administrators in our state launched a pointed, intense, and highly effective lobbying campaign against this legislation. They used scare tactics, they used relationships with legislators, and I fully believe they used phony, misleading information in their war against HB 1307.

No one deserves more credit for killing this bill than the Association of Washington School Principals and the Washington Association of School Administrators.

Secondly, elements of the professional press share a part of the blame. Several newspapers, most notably the Seattle Times, editorialized against HB 1307. While I expected the paid administrator lobbyists to work actively against us, I really did expect better from the Times. I never thought I’d see the day when government censors and professional journalists would join hands against a free press – but the Seattle Times has exceeded my expectations.

Perhaps the greatest, scariest lesson I have learned from this process is not about the student press. It’s about the professional press, and the sad state of affairs this country is in when not even journalists will stand up for the First Amendment. Throughout this fight, I have never felt prouder of being a young person. But I have also, without question, never felt more ashamed to be a journalist. The failure of some in the press to realize how high school student newspapers actually function, to appreciate the role they play, disturbs me greatly. And it gives me great pause as someone weighing a future career in this industry.

It would be unfair, however, not to credit those many professional journalists who supported us all the way. The Seattle P-I, The News Tribune, USA Today, and the Spokesman-Review deserve a very special and heartfelt thanks. Their willingness to go to bat for students, and their refusal to accept the quick and easy “principal-as-publisher” logic gives me hope.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I take a great deal of personal responsibility for today’s outcome. I accept no credit for the creation and progress of HB 1307 – that goes to the great many supporters, students, educators, and lawmakers who believed so strongly in what this bill was all about. However, I felt very passionately when this idea started brewing that high school students should be included in the bill. I heard criticism from both high schools and colleges that including younger students in the bill would be disastrous. But I believed then, as I do now, that free speech and a free press have no age limit or maturity clause.

Some told me that high schools would simply be cut out in favor of passing the college portion. Today, you were proven right. Maybe I was wrong from the beginning. But it seems clear to me that a high school-only bill would have died long before it reached this point. Nevertheless, the responsibility for getting your hopes up, for encouraging optimism, and for the great disappointment you must now feel – that rests with me and me alone.

To my friends at the college level – I look forward to joining you at the bill signing. We will set an important precedent for states across the country that censoring college students is not effective and it is not right. But it will be a bittersweet day.

For those many of you at the high school level who I’m sure are disheartened – I echo the words of Senator Adam Kline in hoping that at some future day, in some future legislature, we will complete the mission that was intended for this bill.

Take comfort in knowing that other states are now energized and working to further this cause. People across the nation are continuing to have important conversations about the student press and expression rights in our schools, often in the context of HB 1307. Sometimes it’s the little victories that matter most.

Finally, a quick thank you to the people I have met and the friends I have made throughout this process – you are among the finest people I have ever known.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove deserves our eternal gratitude. I met him by chance, but I know now that we could never have found a better person to champion free expression in Washington state. For the many hours and the enormous political capital he had to spend on this bill, we owe him a lot. Rachel Smith, Dave’s assistant, was absolutely amazing from the very beginning – I’m sure we all wore down her patience with our constant barrage of requests for updates. She coordinated everything, and without her, I’d still be sitting in an ice cream shop waiting to talk with Dave.

Kathy Schrier, Fern Valentine, Vince DeMiero, Jeff Nusser, Logan Aimone and EVERYONE at WJEA – you made this possible. You carried the torch higher and brighter than anyone could have hoped. You invested your time and you invested a big part of yourselves in this legislation. I know you will continue this fight long after 1307 is off the radar screen. Thank you a million times over.

Mike Hiestand at SPLC is probably the most brilliant First Amendment advocate I’ve ever met. We are so fortunate to have him here in Washington. I have no doubt that without his expertise and passion on this issue, we would have never gathered the legislative support that we did. Thank you for answering our endless questions and for driving endless hours to meet, talk and testify. Mark Goodman, I know, was with us strongly from “the other Washington.” Your organization is keeping the student press alive, and I wish you continued success.

Angela Thomas, Warren Watson, and everyone with J-IDEAS at Ball State – I never could have imagined so much support coming from halfway across the country. You are the future of this public policy battle. You did so much, whether it was flying me cross-country to have the privilege of discussing this with First Amendment leaders, or Angela flying out here – not once but twice! – for our committee hearings. I am speechless. Thank you!

I’d be forgetting a huge component of this if I didn’t thank Victor Wallace and John Knowlton for being amazing journalism advisers. You taught me what it means to be a journalist. You changed my life for the better, and those experiences kept me going and believing.

Most importantly, my gratitude goes to the countless students who were behind this from the very beginning. I was consistently blown away by your show of support at the committee hearings – this was always about you, and it was always your fight. We may have lost this brief battle, but we will win the war on censorship. I’m proud to call you my peers, my colleagues and my friends. Please, please keep in touch.

I’ve left out countless other people – so let me send out a blanket THANK YOU to everyone who sent letters, called, e-mailed, drove, or even just kept up on this issue. This was a grassroots effort from the start.

As for me, I’m disappointed but I’m not regretful. I’m not giving up either. Wherever I should end up, this is an issue that will remain important to me always. I hope I can continue to work with the great free speech advocates both in our state and across the country, in ensuring that the rights we cherish do not stop at the schoolhouse gate.

I know in my gut that one day we will return to those same steps in Olympia, and the outcome will be different. But until that day, never forget what we started here.

Thank you all.

Best always,

Brian Schraum

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