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Commentary: Sadly, Free Speech Must Look For A New Executive Director
By: Mark Kernes (Courtesy of AVN.com)
Posted: 8/2/2006

Chatsworth, Calif. – In a surprise announcement yesterday, Free Speech Coalition revealed that its current executive director (ED), Michelle Freridge, will be stepping down from that position, and that a search for a new ED is currently being mounted.

"I think I’ve made a really positive impact on the organization," Freridge told AVN.com, "and the organization has made an extremely positive impact within the industry under my leadership — and with our federal lobbyists, we’ve made the first ongoing national impact on public policy."

"It’s a very challenging position," she continued. "The executive director is responsible to a board of directors that’s elected by the membership, and sadly, not everyone in the industry sees the need for the range of services and the sometimes subtle impact that those services have on the industry. The percentage of industry folks who are members and who make contributions to our litigation fight [against the federal recordkeeping and labeling law, as well as the Utah e-mail filtering law] is relatively small – much smaller than it should be considering how many people will be affected by that legislation – and as a result, the membership, the board and the staff carry a very heavy burden trying to save an industry, a large part of which won’t help itself. It’s very difficult trying to save an industry from opposition when a large part of that industry won’t support those efforts."

Certainly, mounting the legal challenges to 18 U.S.C. §2257, the alleged anti-child porn law that’s burdened the (all adult) adult video industry for more than a decade, and to the bill that requires that all e-mail sent to a certain list of Utahans be screened for objectionable content (at a steep price), have been major accomplishments under Freridge’s tenure, but it isn’t the lawsuits themselves of which she’s most proud. It’s the speed with which she established the phone banks that allowed industry workers and companies to become FSC members before the Justice Department’s deadline last June, so that those industry members could be covered by the preliminary injunction in the anti-2257 lawsuit – a fact that’s only now showing its true value, as the Justice Department has begun a series of 2257 records inspections.

But whatever Freridge herself thinks, one obvious accomplishment of her tenure has been the restructuring of Free Speech itself into a more efficient, more accountable organization, and Freridge’s rebuilding of relationships that have foundered over the years of less-able Coalition leadership.

"I’m very pleased to have been able to bring in some very talented people to FSC, including our communications director, Tom Hymes," she said. "I’m also pleased that the organization has pretty successfully started building relationships with the online industry while maintaining and continuing to develop relationships with the clubs, the novelty manufacturers and the production companies. We’ve also begun to bridge the gap between the heterosexual and gay markets, to the point of attracting some members of the gay community onto the Free Speech board. Board development is now more representative of the membership as a whole."

By almost all standards of measure, Freridge has done more for Free Speech Coalition in just two years than its leadership had been able to accomplish in the previous 15 years of its existence – an observation that makes Freridge proud, and has spurred her to remain active in the free speech community.

"Having worked with the First Amendment attorneys, having had oversight on and worked on the lawsuits, because I’ve been responding to the Interrogatories and some of the other stuff, I found it really interesting," she said, "and I feel as if I can really contribute in areas of legal research and public policy development. I’m currently looking into Ph.D./J.D.D. programs. I have a Master’s degree in Public Administration, and I’m looking at a Public Policy Ph.D. and law school. There are several combined programs available. I’m not particularly interested in becoming a litigator; I think that’s probably the only thing that would be more stressful than my current position, but I’m really interested and I already have talked with multiple attorneys in the industry who have expressed their interest in mentoring me and providing support and encouragement."

"I’m not leaving the fight, and I’m not abandoning the industry; it’s just that after a two-year tour of leading the free Speech Coalition, it’s time for me to step aside for someone who can take the organization to that next level, and for me to pursue opportunities to contribute in another way."

Freridge will be staying on as the search for a new ED continues, and will be involved in training that person once he/she has been selected by the FSC board, but as anyone who’s been involved in adult industry politics and leadership over the past few years can attest, Michelle Freridge’s service to FSC and the adult community will be sorely missed.

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