Last Modified: Monday, July 02, 2012 6:21 PM
Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2009, art historian Bruce Cole described “Freedom of Speech,” Norman Rockwell’s 1943 painting of a citizen speaking at a public meeting, as a national “blockbuster” that turned the painter and illustrator into a household name.
The oil painting was one of four in a set by Rockwell, paintings based upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech delivered in January 1941, almost a year before America’s entry into World War II. The “Four Freedoms” that Roosevelt touted for all people were Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The first of these four paintings, which particularly resonated with Americans, depicts a common man standing at a public meeting, ostensibly speaking out on a matter of town business. He is younger than many of those sitting around him; his clothes are more worn, his appearance sets him apart as a laborer rather than a professional. But speak out he does, thoughtfully and well, we might hope. The painting speaks to the best of what our government promises us — the right to challenge our elected leaders.
That character brings to mind Charlie Atherton, focus of the American Press’ latest installment of “Forerunners,” our series of stories that shed light on the lives of people who have made an impact on our community. Atherton has long been involved as a citizen participant in public affairs. Atherton routinely educates himself on matters of public concern, attends meetings and speaks out on issues that have great impact in his life and in the lives of his neighbors.
Atherton recounted that his first citizen effort in public life came in 1964, when he questioned the parish budget. Since then, he’s spent much of his spare time researching issues, asking questions and making a pest of himself at public meetings — all for the public good.
Bryan Beam, parish administrator, said Atherton works hard on researching issues and that he is a “good example” of an active citizen who “brings awareness” of issues.
Atherton, now 70, laments that there may be no one to replace him when the press of family business makes him stop his citizen participation. We may all regret that day.
Atherton has risked public scorn and personal well-being in becoming, in some cases, the burr under the saddle of public government. But his one-man efforts have surely caused public leaders to occasionally rethink their positions and question how they go about doing the public’s business. He wants other citizens to pick up grassroots efforts and to challenge their governments.
Who will replace Charlie Atherton when he steps back? A lot of Charlie Athertons, we hope.
That would be a “blockbuster.”
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.