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Column: Why your name counts

Nik Dirga, Sierra Sun Editor

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration of Independence is a pretty nifty document. It’s the backbone to the principles this country was founded upon, and one of the bravest letters ever written.

It took guts for Thomas Jefferson to write that Declaration, and it took guts for the people whose names are on it to sign that paper.

The Declaration of Independence had 56 signatures on it, good folks such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. The document hit these then-British colonies with the force of a thunderclap, and a great deal of that force was due to the names boldly signed to it.

Can you imagine the effect that as forceful and well-written a document as the Declaration would have had, if instead of signatures at the end there appeared the timid notation, “the authors request to remain anonymous”?

Having an opinion is about sticking your neck out.

The issue of whether or not to run anonymous letters is not a new one in newspapers. It’s been there since the first paper rolled off the presses.

I received an anonymous letter this week that had some pretty good points to make about our paper, but that also had a request I just can’t agree to: that we run anonymous letters to the editor in the Sun.

Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous wrote,

“Your policy on letters to the editors should change to accept anonymous letters for publication. There are a lot of people that have something to say, but would like to protect their privacy for various reasons. Everyone deserves to be heard and still enjoy privacy. I’m sure it would make the reading more provocative.”

I’m sorry, Anonymous, but this statement pretty much goes against every journalistic principle I’ve got.

An anonymous letter means the person writing it doesn’t want to stand up for their convictions. An anonymous letter is the equivalent of a shouted epithet from the audience during a play -it’s rude noise, the polar opposite of a critic’s printed pan.

Anonymous wrote, “Everyone deserves to be heard and still enjoy privacy.”

No, they don’t. Privacy and opinions are oil and water, and they just don’t mix.

I have written opinion columns for the past seven years or so, and more than a few of them have gotten me in trouble. I’ve had nasty unsigned letters asking me to perform anatomical impossibilities, phone messages left at my home number, and been accosted by the occasional irate stranger over things I’ve written or approved in my newspapers. Did I like it? Not particularly. But being able to face your opponents is one of the costs of having an opinion.

Every person whose name appears on these pages each week is brave to write their opinions and sign their name to them, whether they’re writing about politics or Donner Lake or the environment.

In countries less fortunate than ours, dissidents will protest, fully aware that doing so may cost them their lives. People like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Salman Rushdie or Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t request anonymity when their views raised armies of ire against them.

Compared to the threat of being thrown in a gulag for 10 years, is the fear of getting a brusque comment or two about your letter to the editor in the Sierra Sun really that big a deal?

I know, I may be going after a mosquito of an issue with a cannon here, and you can’t really compare Truckee to communist Russia (except for the winters). I do hope Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous doesn’t feel I’m blasting them out of the water either, because even though it was anonymous I appreciated his/her comments.

But I am vehement about this issue because I am passionate about your ability, my ability and everyone’s ability to speak out when they feel the urge – so long as they, like Jefferson and Franklin, have the guts to sign their names.

The Sierra Sun will continue to turn away all unsigned letters of comment, because a letter without someone standing behind it has only the weight of a flimsy sheet of paper – while a letter with a name, has the weight of an entire nation’s proud and defiant history backing it up.

Sierra Sun editor Nik Dirga grew up

in Nevada County.


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