Free speech supporters rally for 'Poetic justice'

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BY BUSTER SOUTHERLEY

ALBUQUERQUE — More than 400 supporters of New Mexico teacher and Green Left Weekly writer Bill Nevins packed the prestigious KiMo Theater here on September 14 for a program of poetry and song titled, "Poetic Justice: Committing Poetry in Times of War".

Organisers report that the benefit concert raised more than US$1000 to offset Nevins's legal expenses in his fight against censorship and illegal job retaliation. Nevins was suspended on March 17, and subsequently fired, from his teaching job at Rio Rancho Public High School (RRHS) in New Mexico.

In a lawsuit filed September 15 in New Mexico court, Nevins' attorney Eric Sirotkin (a famed international peace advocate soon to visit North Korea on a fact-finding mission) claimed that Nevins was victimised by the Rio Rancho school administration because one of Nevins's poetry students read over the school's public address system a poem, "Revolution X", which contained witty and barbed criticism of the Bush administration and its war and education policies.

The suit also asserts that Nevins was fired because he complained publicly when the Rio Rancho administration banned student poetry readings and forced the poetry team to disband. Bethany Spencer, a RRHS junior who was a member of the poetry team and a student in Nevins's humanities class last year, told the local media that she has tried to revive the poetry team, but has failed because "no teacher will sponsor the team. They are scared, after what happened to Mr Nevins".

Meanwhile, in an interview with KUNM-FM radio in Albuquerque, RRHS military liaison officer Colonel Lawrence Morrell stated that he urged RRHS principal Gary Tripp to "adopt a policy" concerning anti-war poems such as "Revolution X". At an official RRHS flag raising ceremony shortly after Nevins was dismissed and the poetry team silenced, Morrell read out a long jingoistic pro-war poem which told anti-war protesters to "shut your faces". Tripp told local media that this event was "a new high" in his career as principal.

At the KiMo Theater benefit concert, more than 30 regional and national poets and songwriters performed strong words of encouragement and resistance. Jenny Bird sang a stirring "alternative" version of "America the Beautiful" which stressed the beauties of peace over the false glory of war.

Chuy Martinez, Priscilla Baca y Candelaria, Adan Baca, Demetria Martinez and dozens of other spoken-word artists and musicians kept the evening very, very real. As attorney Sirotkin declared to thunderous applause, "We are part of a new movement in America. We are going to take back our schools! We are going to take back our country!"

Nevins, who read out a selection of revolutionary Irish verse and briefly played a bodhran drum alongside Francisco Troncosa's rock band, commented with a smile, "Maybe I should get fired more often!"

Meanwhile, world famous songwriter/performer Utah Phillips has announced that Nevins will be Utah's honoured guest at his September 27 concert at Albuquerque's El Rey Golden West Theater. Utah plans to dedicate a song performance specifically to Nevins and the ongoing free speech fight in New Mexico.

"I could not be more honoured, and humbled. Utah is the great workers' bard of America. Venceremos!", Nevin's said.

Visit for the latest developments in Nevins' free speech fight.

From Green Left Weekly, October 1, 2003.
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