I did something today I had earlier promised myself I would not do. I took any trace of my given name off of my political blog.
A former professor of mine had suggested a couple years ago that I do this, as he felt I would not be able to get jobs in the government if any trace of what my political opinions are could be found on the internet. I responded that I was uncomfortable with the idea that even what I think while off duty is considered proper for my employer to use to judge me as an employee. Canadian law, furthermore, makes it clear that, unless a public employee specifically and publicly contradicts policies that he/she plays a role in administering while on the job, the expression of political opinions is generally considered a civil right. My professor basically treated me like I was just rationalising and like I was just asking for trouble because legal right or no legal right, employers (and especially government employers) would eat me for breakfast if I dared to have a public opinion on anything.
After that conversation, I took some steps to protect myself without completely backing down from my contention that free speech is a civil right, even for employees. I set all of my blog posts having anything to do with Canadian politics to “private”, so no Canadian public service employment would be denied to me on the basis of my having commented on any issue the government administrates or on any Canadian “partisan” issue (which I agreed was properly a limitation upon me while I was employed at Elections Canada). I also “privated” Facebook at that time, given my tendency to comment on politics to my friends. My professor was not satisfied with those solutions, however. By commenting publicly on _anything_, I was just asking to be kicked around by prospective employers. Best I take my name off and publish under a pseudonym.
There I dug in. I insisted that free speech is a civil right, and civil rights are not only for the rich and the employed. I had every right to express my opinions as I please, and if employers contravene the law and use my opinions against me in an evaluation, I expected the proper response is to challenge the legality of that, not to knuckle under and do as they say.
But today, I knuckled under. Perhaps it was having yet another friend banish me for daring to say what I thought out loud that led me to do it. I still think it’s outrageous that people expect me to say only Approved Non-Political Things around them, and that it bodes extremely poorly for democracy that this attitude is so pervasive. I also think it’s outrageous that people can be worked up into a civil libertarian frenzy about government sneaking a look at their cell phone metadata, but it’s AOK for employers to not hire a person because they took some time to investigate the political opinions of their prospective employee. Silly me, I’m sure we can all agree that cell phones are more important than whether people have jobs…
I hate that I am doing this. But I’m doing it. This avoids the intimidation factor, but in taking this course of action, I am becoming a small part of the problem.
But I still contend…those who are okay with there being a chilling effect relative to the freedom of speech of those who are dependent upon employers – they’re a larger part of the problem.
I’d tell more of them that personally – but I guess today I decided that the only way they’re going to hear it is from some anonymous entity with a pseudonym. In public, I’m now as agreeable as can be.