Suggestion 10

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
7

Citizens can use grassroots efforts to express opposition to pornographic materials to which they object.

Some types of pornographic materials may be harmful, offensive and incompatible with certain community values, but nonetheless fall short of the legal standard for prosecution as obscenity. In these instances grassroots efforts may be an effective countermeasure. Grassroots actions are measures initiated and coordinated privately by citizens, without governmental intervention.

Grassroots measures may include picketing and store boycotts, contacting cable casting companies to protest sexually explicit programs, contacting sponsors of television and radio programs with pornographic or offensive content and the use of the media to express public concern through letters to the editor and audience participation programs.

A number of community action organizations have confronted retailers of pornography with the magnitude of public concern about the display and sale of this material and have experienced positive results. Some stores have been persuaded to store the material in blinder racks behind the counter. Other merchants have elected to discontinue the sale of material altogether.

When discussions with retailers prove ineffective, pickets and economic boycotts are an alternative method of citizen action. Pickets and boycotts serve to publicly identify merchants which sell this type of materials. If utilized appropriately, they can be an effective means of communicating public opposition to such material and alerting retailers that every option available will be exercised to discourage their circulation.

It is well established that citizens have a constitutional right to boycott for political purposes. In Missouri v. National Organization for Women,[1638] the state of Missouri brought an action against the National Organization For Women (N.O.W.) when they organized a campaign for a convention boycott of states which had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. The court held that such boycotts were a legitimate means of petition, protected by the First Amendment.[1639]

This issue was later addressed by the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.[1640] In this case, a local branch of the NAACP launched a boycott of white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi, to secure compliance by both civic and business leaders with a list of demands for racial equality. In 1969, those merchants filed suit against the NAACP for injunctive relief and damages. The Supreme Court upheld the NAACP's actions stating:

In sum, the boycott clearly involved constitutionally protected activity. The established elements of speech, assembly, association and petition, though not identical, are inseparable. (citation omitted). Through exercise of these First Amendment rights, petitioners sought to bring about political, social, and economic chanee.[1641]

While pickets and boycotts are constitutionally permissible, and in some instances socially desirable, citizens exercising these practices should be sensitive to the competing rights of others who adopt an opposing viewpoint. This approach is not only socially responsible but is effective advocacy.

Moreover, the visibility of pickets and lawful boycotts will undoubtedly attract both media and corporate attention. It is important, therefore, that the community action organization carefully articulate their concerns. A rational and logical discussion of these issues is the best method to evoke constructive debate geared toward an acceptable resolution of the pornography problem in the community.

Most importantly, retailers are in business to make money. They realize that their success is a direct product of consumer satisfaction and community patronage. Citizen pickets and boycotts are a sign of community dissatisfaction. Therefore, retailers are unlikely to view organized pickets and lawful economic boycotts lightly.

These types of citizen initiatives can also be effective against cable and satellite television companies who show offensive or sexually explicit programs. Cable operators are not required to offer sexually explicit subscription services.[1642] The economic realities of consumer dissatisfaction with such programming may be felt when customers cancel subscriptions or potential subscribers notify the cable company that they are not subscribing to the basic service because sexually explicit programming is offered on the system. Citizen groups should also actively participate in the cable franchising process by informing local officials and cable company representatives what type of cable programming the community is willing to patronize.

Advertisers may also be influential in furthering grassroot initiatives. Advertisers are in the business of promoting positive public relations. If an advertiser believes that sponsoring a program, advertising in a particular magazine, or using provocative advertisements will have a negative impact on sales, it may reconsider this advertising program.

Community action organizations can also utilize numerous outlets for public comment offered by the media. Newspapers and magazines usually have "letters to the editor" columns which invite comment on current or topical issues. Radio and television talk shows may offer audience participation. These outlets offer a means of reaching large segments of the community.

Another important grassroots measure is organized involvement in the legislative process. Citizen action is essential to the enactment of local pornography-related legislation. Citizens should determine if their community has nuisance, zoning and anti-display laws and if said laws would serve the particular needs of the community.[1643] Nuisance laws prohibit certain illegal activities from taking place in pornographic establishments and often result in closing down the operation if a violation is found. Zoning laws regulate the way land can be used in the community.

Finally, anti-display laws regulate the method by which pornographic materials can be publicly displayed. Statutes or ordinances may be enacted to restrict the display of sexually explicit materials to minors. In order to conform to constitutional requirements, such laws should apply only to materials that are obscene as to minors[1644] and should also contain reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.[1645]

In light of the legislative options available, communities can constitutionally exercise control over the location of pornographic establishments as well as the display of pornographic materials by retailers.

Citizens should contact their legislators, law enforcement officials, community leaders and media representatives to discuss the role such statutes might play in controlling the distribution of pornography in their community. Citizen action groups should educate these individuals and organizations as to how such laws could ease the circulation of pornography in their community. Only by making the control of pornography a community objective, and endorsing legislation toward that end, will the citizen action group realize its goals.

Notes

  1. 620 F.2d, (8th Cir. 1980), p. 1301.
  2. Id., p. 1319.
  3. 458 U.S., (1982), p. 886.
  4. Id., p.911.
  5. See, Chapter 10 for a discussion of the regulation of cable and satellite systems.
  6. See, Chapters 15 and 21 for a detailed legal discussion of the use of effectiveness of these laws.
  7. See, Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S., (1968), pp. 629, 645-47.
  8. See, Young v. American Mini-Theatres, 427 U.S., (1976), pp. 50, 63.