AS AN exercise in public democracy it wasn’t quite up there with the fall of the Berlin Wall or the storming of The Bastille.
But the Essex Chronicle Soapbox did show how important it is that free speech continues to have a platform in society.
To recap, we pitched up in Chelmsford High Street on Saturday morning with our own soapbox to give people a chance to air their views free of any editing or interference. As editor Alan Geere said himself from the box: “Forget your Facebook and toss your Twitter, now is the chance for everyone to talk directly to your audience.”
And you duly did. We heard why the troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan, why Stansted should not be developed and why the bible is right or wrong depending on your viewpoint.
But what was most striking was not just the people talking, but also the people listening.
The crowd ebbed and flowed during the two-hour session. Some heckled, some tried to argue but most simply listened in a respectful and admiring silence. All were grateful for the opportunity afforded simply to be part of our democratic exercise.
And now there’s more to come. We plan to make this a fixture on the town calendar. We are working with the Borough Council to find a more permanent home and once we do there will be regular soapbox sessions, featuring the great and good of our community. We’ll invite MPs, community leaders, church and faith organisations, pressure groups and of course you, dear reader.
The media in general and newspapers in particular have an important part to play in the democratic process. People are feeling less and less connected with the process of government and more and more disillusioned with how a chosen (or in some cases appointed) few can have such a dramatic impact on our lives.
We are proud to yet again stand firm with the now not-so-silent majority.
From editorial column on the Essex Chronicle, October 15 2009