Former Long Beach Councilman Steven Neal speaks during a press conference about voter suppression outside the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library Tuesday morning. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
A group of community leaders including pastors, a former city councilman and nonprofit executives gathered outside the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library Tuesday morning to send a message to residents: go vote.
However, the call to action was not spurred by the mere fact that today is Election Day in Long Beach, but by a video posted by a local newspaper editor telling people to stay home.
In his latest weekly rant published yesterday, Harry Saltzgaver, executive editor of the Grunion Gazette, told uninformed voters that he would rather see them stay home than participate in the democratic process, further suggesting that voters should have to pass a political literacy test before they be allowed to exercise their right to vote.
His weekly “rant of the week” videos feature Saltzgaver opining on topics from the serious to the frivolous, such as adult use of marijuana, political correctness, and click-bait in media.
Saltzgaver told the Post he occasionally mixes in some attempts at humor, along the lines of the late television writer Andy Rooney who had a short commentary segment on CBS’ 60 Minutes from 1978 to 2011.
The late Rooney did take on the issue of voter apathy in a segment from 1984, saying that if “[…] someone has a natural inclination not to vote, because he or she isn’t interested, that’s OK with [him].”
Rooney’s suggestion, tongue-in-cheek or not, was for voluntary abstention from voting; while he did say he didn’t want his “vote cancelled out by some numbskull who hasn’t thought about the issues,” he stopped short of suggesting voter suppression by way of any sort of literacy test.
By the 2004 election season, Rooney seems to have changed his tune, encouraging—still with a humorous bent—undecided voters educate themselves on the candidates and make a choice.
Monday’s video from the Gazettes seemed to have missed the humor mark; within hours local blog Longbeachize had a post questioning the intent behind the video, drawing a line from Saltzgaver’s suggestion that voters be required to take a political literacy test to voter suppression efforts from the birth of the country, through the Jim Crow era and today.
Longbeachize had previously questioned Saltzgaver over an earlier rant where he proposed homeless people take part in a contest where the most creative mode of transportation for their belongings could win them one month of free rent, a suggestion Saltzgaver insisted was obvious satire, in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal”.
Not long after Monday’s mishap, local community leaders organized a press conference, despite a follow-up video posted by Saltzgaver clarifying his position.
An addendum to the original “rant of the week” video by Grunion Gazette Executive Editor Harry Saltzgaver.
“Speech is free but its effect on a nation and consciousness are not,” said Long Beach Ministers Alliance President Gregory Sanders during the press conference. “Our history is proof that the seeds of ignorance planted by the inconsiderate have produced a current crop of misguided Americans and many of the groups represented here today have been tasked with reconciling a generation dismissed by discouragement back to their cultural and civic responsibilities our forefathers died to establish for them so the comments made yesterday I feel almost produce a set back.”
Southern Christian Leadership Conference representative and former Ninth District Councilman Steven Neal, who also attended the event, said the comments struck a chord with him having worked in states where voter suppression was a reality.
“The message that we want to send collectively is that here in Long Beach we are about uplifting, a rising tide lifts all boats, and we’re trying to encourage our residents to participate in the electoral process and not discourage them,” Neal said.
Longtime civil rights activist and local pastor Rev. Leon Wood said the video reminded him of when 1960s activists were fighting for the right to vote.
“What this gentleman has put in his paper, it is not humorous, it is not funny, and for some of us who have the memory, we remember people who literally died just so they could help others to vote,” Wood said.
Saltzgaver told the Post it was never his intention to dissuade people from voting.
“I’ve been working in this city for more than a quarter century, and have consistently not only supported, but advocated, for people to vote,” Saltzgaver said.
Tom Bray, senior editor of Southern California News Group’s Los Angeles County properties—including the Grunion Gazette and the Long Beach Press-Telegram, called Saltzgaver’s video a statement of his frustration.
“I think Harry intended what he did as satire and he intended it as a commentary,” Bray told the Post following the press conference. “He’s in the past spoken and in favor of voter registration and getting people out to vote and I think this was a statement of his frustration in satirical form. Clearly it wasn’t received that way and we’re assessing it as that.”