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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

A New Low for Union Thuggishness

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  • Print low, in fact, that the editor of the Beloit Daily News called them out on it. 


I happened to see a Facebook post put up by Mark Finnegan. Mark and his family run Finnegan’s RV, but he and his brother John are best known in recent years for the outstanding VetsRoll program. The project has taken hundreds of World War II and Korea Era veterans, all expenses paid, to Washington to view the war memorials and receive the honors they so richly deserve. It’s one of the best and most selfless efforts in our area, which is why the Finnegans received last year’s Beloit Daily News Laurence A. Raymer Headliner Award.

Mark was an invited guest at the Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner. He wasn’t there to be political. As Mark noted, “I go to great lengths to remain politically neutral.” He was there strictly to tell the group about the VetsRoll program.

He brought three others with him: “I had three honored guests with me, a WWII veteran who arrived by himself, plus an 87-year-old (I believe) WWII Navy WAVE (female veteran) and my own 86-year-old mother, a ‘Rosie-the-Riveter’ during WWII.”

I SHOULD NOTE here that Mark did not seek out the newspapers’ attention. He posted on Facebook; I saw it; I contacted him. This is a story that needs telling.

Mark said as they arrived he saw a crowd of “boisterous” protesters, “with a few even laying down on the ground in front of the doors to disrupt guests from entering. As I escorted my WAVE guest through the crowd, we were met with an onslaught of profanity, boos, taunting and a childish, obnoxious guy with a bullhorn.”

From that point, it got worse.

“After I guided her safely inside, I went back out to meet my arriving mother and to escort her through this intimidating group. Someone in the group recognized who I was and immediately the crowd began a chant of ‘Boycott Finnegans’ RV Center!’ ... I met my mother and convinced her that these people were simply expressing their ‘rights’ and that she would be safe. She somewhat reluctantly agreed to walk in. ... As we tried to walk through the group again, these people (not kids, mostly in their 40s to 60s) continued to focus their boycott chant on our family name and business of 43 years, crowding, screaming and booing not only me, but my beloved 86-year-old mother. The moron with the bullhorn walked beside us while leading the ‘Boycott Finnegans’ chant with that thing only about 12 inches from my ear and that of my mother’s.”

Mark notes that, on behalf of VetsRoll, he has spoken to and received enthusiastic support from various unions in several communities. He points out that VetsRoll supporters come from all walks of life, with the full diversity of political opinions.

But because he dared show up at this gathering — not as a political advocate, but to represent VetsRoll — he and his elderly guests were abused.

REGULAR READERS of the Beloit Daily News know I am about as close to an absolutist as you will find on the First Amendment. It goes beyond a free press. The First Amendment guarantees the people’s right to speak freely and in defiance of political authority. It protects people who choose to dissent as a group, or, as the Amendment itself reads: “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Constitution even protects the obnoxious, the rude, the loudmouth louts who seem hell-bent to offend.

And I would stand in defense of that constitutional right until the sky falls.

But I would hasten to add a few thoughts:

• First, the Finnegans are wonderful people making wonderful things happen for a group of Americans deserving honor and respect. Mark, his mom and the others did not deserve such mistreatment. What’s that word the protesters like so much? Oh, yes — “Shame!”

• The more obnoxious and repellent protesters act out in public, the better Walker’s chances of surviving a recall become. Offending people is not a very good vote-getting strategy.

• Backlash is all but assured. If I were advising the governor, I’d put him out there with this crowd early and often. Bad behavior drives votes to the other side.

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