SAUGUS, Mass. (AP) — Saugus resident and self-described ‘‘activist’’ Stephanie Fail wants to make sure First Amendment rights remain intact in Saugus.
‘‘I was working on a start up, that was definitely inspired by my activism with Occupy and my activism before that, to change the way people collaborate through social media,’’ said Fail. ‘‘When I saw what was going on in my town, I realized how badly we needed something like that on a local level.’’
Fail started the Saugus Citizens Council (sauguscc.org) in the wake of the controversy surrounding the Saugus Cable Television Station rulebook, which included a provision that would require someone to give a person five-days notice before making disparaging remarks about them.
The SCC is a website that Fail is currently working on that will provide residents a place to speak and collaborate on town issues.
Fail, an anthropology undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said her father Rick Fail first made her aware of the potential vote that selectmen were set to make earlier this month.
‘‘When my father told me what was happening with Saugus Community Television, he asked me to come down and speak because he knows I know about First Amendment issues, and they should hear a young voice,’’ said Fail, who studied journalism and First Amendment rights issues. ‘‘When I was part of Occupy and saw First Amendment rights being violated I got angry, and decided to make a choice to be vocal and not be a journalist but be an activist.’’
Fail first spoke out against the rulebook at a selectmen meeting on Oct. 2, and told the board about her own school trying to censor the student media.
Selectmen delayed the vote that night, and on Oct. 15 voted to send the issue to the SCTS Board of Directors to decide.
However, Fail said having the selectmen appoint the five-member board still doesn’t sit right with her.
‘‘At this point, the selectmen still appoint the Board of Directors, so they have complete power,’’ said Fail. ‘‘Even though they shifted the production of the manual completely to the directors, which we saw as a win, we’re still at risk. The board can do whatever they want, and the discussion starts and ends with them, and it’s closed to public input. What do we do other than continue to rile our selectmen to do what we want?’’
Fail said the SCC can bring people together on issues and can even serve as a way of writing or editing bylaws and other town regulations.
‘‘Saugus is going to be the demo,’’ said Fail. ‘‘I'm going to pour all of my energy into developing this, setting up a way for government to be 100 percent more interactive, 1,000 percent more interactive.’’
The site is still under construction, but the SCTS handbook is posted, and visitors can edit it and add comments. Fail said she hopes to have the site fully functional by late December.
‘‘We had to send our edits directly to (the Board of Directors) so we couldn’t see what other community members were saying,’’ said Fail. ‘‘We thought it would be better if these comments could be seen publicly so citizens can follow along with each other and collaborate. This is a chance for citizens to organize their thoughts, and make sure they’re heard and on the record so they can’t be ignored.’’
For Fail the SCTS handbook is an example of ‘‘what happens when citizens aren’t involved.’’
‘‘I was proud of Saugus when I saw them all stand up for freedom of speech,’’ said Fail. ‘‘People spoke with such heart. I think stuff like this on the digital side can really engage younger voters more and people that are more comfortable on the Internet. Even older people that are stuck in their houses and can’t get to meetings. This would offer a tool for them to access and participate remotely.’’
Fail acknowledged that she hasn’t been involved in town government prior to speaking on Oct. 2, but said she’s now weighing a run at Town Meeting.
‘‘If town officials keep acting like they don’t need us to make decisions about our lives, then very few people are going to have the gall to go down there and weigh in,’’ said Fail. ‘‘Public government can go so much deeper than that.’’