“If you see something that’s wrong, you speak up and do what you can to fix it.”
We spoke with Judy Meyer, executive editor of the Lewiston Sun Journal, for the eighth episode of our First Amendment interview series, One on 1.
With decades of experience in journalism, as well as a penchant for being a “nudge”, Judy talks about how we can change our world with the First Amendment.
JUDY MEYER: And it’s not always pretty and it’s hardly ever clean, but boy when it works it is very satisfying.
CHRISTIAN COTZ: Hi, I’m Christian Cotz. I’m the CEO at the First Amendment Museum in Augusta, Maine.
Today, I’m joined by Judy Meyer who’s the Lewiston Sun Journal‘s executive editor.
Judy worked her way up from the trenches of journalism starting as a freelance writer in the 90s then becoming a staff writer and then editorial page editor. She took over the executive editor’s office in 2016.
In 2018, Judy received the 18th annual Judith Vance Weld Brown Spirit of Journalism Award, which recognizes the accomplishments and pioneering spirit of an outstanding woman in journalism.
Thanks for being with us today, Judy.
JUDY MEYER: You’re quite welcome. I’m looking forward to this.
CHRISTIAN COTZ: Why do you think the First Amendment is important?
JUDY MEYER: Because it’s how we change our world. It’s how we change our tiny world for our families and ourselves and our communities but it’s how we change the greater world. And it’s not always pretty and it’s hardly ever clean but boy when it works, it is very satisfying.
CHRISTIAN COTZ: So, as a journalist, how has the First Amendment intersected with your daily personal and/or professional life?
JUDY MEYER: As a journalist, professionally, it’s something that we lean on every day. Government is accountable to the people and it’s the press’ role to be kind of be like that vehicle. To help inform people and speak for them and speak to them.
It’s something that I don’t think of as a daily tool but it is in fact is a daily tool.
CHRISTIAN COTZ: Do you think people in society understand or recognize their First Amendment rights?
JUDY MEYER: The protections under the First Amendment probably are not something that we think about until we need them.
Certainly, the Black Lives Matter movement tells us that assembling peaceably is something that’s important to people to affect change. I get that we’ve had this conversation in this country for centuries already but as many people have already said, something feels different
about this now.
Maybe because there’s more involved, maybe because the voices are louder, maybe it’s because young people
are involved and they’re articulate about what they want for their future.
CHRISTIAN COTZ: Maybe you could speak for just a minute about how people utilize their First Amendment,
rights, sometimes without even knowing it.
JUDY MEYER: People really can do very small things and make a huge difference. I’ll give you just from my personal life an example.
My family and I used to live in Buckfield, a very rural area. And one day, I noticed a swastika had been spray-painted on the speed limit sign on what is a state road. Every single day that week, I drove by. I’m like, oh, the swastika’s still
So, I called DOT, talked to a very nice lady and I said, “Hey, just want to let you know there’s this, you know, hate
symbol painted on your road sign.” I gave her the precise location. She said, “Okay, we’ll get on it.” Like another
week went by, it still was up there and I called this very nice lady again, said the same thing and I said, “It’s
highly offensive. This is something you must address.” And she said, “I’ve put in the word with my supervisor. They know it’s there. They will get to it when they can.”
Another week goes by. The sign is still up and I called her again and I said, “Look, if that sign is not down tomorrow morning, I’m gonna take it down myself.” And I was really looking forward to it. I was really wanted to like demonstrate some civil disobedience. And I made the turn and the sign was gone and it was just like, that’s so cool. I did that because I was such a nudge.
But it doesn’t take much. If you see something that’s wrong, you speak up and do what you can to fix it. If we keep persevering, there’s great successes.
I mean, look at suffrage. Look at how long it took women to assemble, file grievances, speak loudly, pray. I mean, that’s the First Amendment embodied in that whole movement and they were able to win the right to vote over strong, strong objection.
CHRISTIAN COTZ: If you had one wish for the people of the United States that had to do with their First Amendment freedoms, what would you wish for our society?
JUDY MEYER: I would say for people to embrace it.
So, I think when people exercise their rights under the First Amendment, there’s no 100% right way, no 100% wrong way. We’re all gonna disagree about a whole lot of things and the First Amendment gives us the structure to disagree in a mostly organized way. Not always civilized but maybe mostly organized way.
CHRISTIAN COTZ: Well, thank you so much for talking to us today, and thanks everybody out there who’s been listening. There’ll be more One on 1 coming in the future. So, stay tuned to this channel.