The Bughouse Square Debates- Photo Gallery

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In 1842, the American Land Company donated a three acre site of land to the City of Chicago. The tract, a former cow path with a well, was to be used as a public park. The land company owners stipulated the park be named Washington Square. The American Land Company was developing sites around the tract and wanted a beautiful park to be the centerpiece.

Washington Square Park is considered the first park in the City of Chicago. The park is located at 901 N. Clark Street, at Walton, across the street from the Newberry Library.

Washington Square Park, also known as Bughouse Square (Old slang for mental institution), has been the center of free speech in Chicago. Since its inception, it has been a place where people congregated to discuss public and community issues of the day. Over the years it developed into a place where activists, radicals, bohemians, and others would get on their soapboxes and give rousing speeches, hold debates, and protest. It was most active from around 1910 through the 1960s.

Bughouse Square was the hub of free speech in the nation. It was celebrated and a popular tourist attraction. The square’s heyday was in the 1920s-30s. It was an era of political, social religious, and artistic movements. Anarchists, socialists, International Workers of the World (Wobblies), preachers, atheists, freethinkers, and cranks would stand up, speak, be heckled, or debated.

Chicago’s free speech movement flourished during the first half of the Twentieth Century. At one point there were over two hundred venues where people could express themselves. Most were ordinary working people with little education. Many of Chicago’s famous writers attended these forums. They wrote about them in their stories, keeping the venues alive long past their demise.

In 1986 the Newberry Library revived the Bughouse Square Debates. The annual event is a celebration of the freedom of speech. It is held on the last Saturday in July. Yesterday marked the 28th annual Bughouse Square Debates. The Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan was the master of ceremonies. He offered to lead any who asked to the spot where Studs Terkel is buried in the park. Pulitzer Prize winner, Mark Konkol was one of the debate judges.

The debates are organized but still lively and even raucous. They consist of the Open Soapbox, where anyone can have their say and be heckled, The Soapbox Debates, which is a judged competition, The Main Debate, which tackles a predominant issue of the day. There is also the presentation of the John Peter Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award for defending free speech and civil liberties.

This year’s winner of the Altgeld Award was Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools. (CSOSOS) CSOSOS is “a student-led organization dedicated to amplifying student voice and engaging students in educational activism”.

Our First Amendment Rights are being eroded. Politicians and high level bumbling bureaucrats claim we must surrender some of our individual rights for the safety, security, and to protect the tender sensitivities of the collective wad. It is important we celebrate freedom of speech and expression. It is extremely important we remember these are unalienable individual rights. They should never be sacrificed or surrendered for the safety, security, or sensitivity of the collective wad.

There is no such thing as hate,, dangerous, violent, racist, politically incorrect, politically unpalatable, insensitive, treasonous or seditious speech and expression. There is only free speech and free expression. There are few limits on speech and expression. The limits are restricted to imminent or clear and present danger of illegal or violent acts occurring. That is a very high burden by design.

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