A little over a year ago, I flew into Philadelphia to interview for an open position with FIRE (spoiler alert: I got the job). Sitting in the conference room with my soon-to-be coworkers, they asked me to name a few cases with which I was familiar.
My calm, calculated interview demeanor dropped as I grinned and laughed like the nerd girl I am. “The Firefly case. I love Firefly.”
I was, of course, referring to the case at the University of Wisconsin–Stout. Professor Jim Miller posted a flyer outside his door featuring the devilishly handsome Nathan Fillion in his Firefly browncoat with the words of his character, Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds:
You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.
This quote comes from the series‘ pilot. One of the characters, new to the crew and somewhat skeptical of Captain Reynolds’ character (as he is a sometimes-thief), asks him how he knows the captain won’t kill him in his sleep, and Mal replies with his statement of principles. He lives by his own code of conduct, but he has honor and integrity that he will not break under any circumstances.
The poster, with Mal’s declaration of fair play and honor, got Professor Miller in trouble with the university’s threat assessment team because it “refer[red] to killing.” Professor Miller was even threatened with criminal charges after he posted another flyer satirizing the university’s censorship.
Luckily, Miller contacted FIRE, and we got the word out. After a whirlwind multimedia campaign—including attention from Firefly stars Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin and from legendary author Neil Gaiman—the university finally folded like it was facing down Vera, and Professor Miller’s job was again safe.
Later that year, FIRE also produced a short film featuring Neil Gaiman documenting the case, “DonDon’t Mess with Firefly: How Scifi Fans Made a Campus Safe for Free Speech” The film went on to win an Anthem Award at FreedomFest this year.
Even with the media frenzy, the award-winning short film, and the great poster we made to accompany the film, the heart of this case never changed: Professor Miller stuck to his guns and fought for his right to free expression, despite authorities telling him that he was not allowed to do so. FIRE helps people like Jim Miller and fights administrations that seek to suppress student and faculty rights on campus. And we won.
Through much of the Firefly series, Mal and his crew dodge, evade, and flat out run from the authorities that attempt to deny them basic freedoms. However, in the movie Serenity, the as-of-now final chapter of the story, Mal finally stands up and declares to his crew, “No more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.”
Aiming to misbehave in the face of the violations of student and faculty rights is what brought me to work here. FIRE upends the absolute worst of campus oppression, even long-standing, established policies. And like Mal and his crew, we win.
The crew of Serenity have to take “less-than-honest” jobs from time to time to make ends meet, but, thankfully, FIRE can stay on the straight and narrow because we have a crew of generous donors who have our backs. We cannot do what we do without you. With your donations we aim to keep “misbehaving” all through 2013. Plus, if you donate $50 or more you will receive our “Don‘t Mess With Firefly!” commemorative poster< (It's the one at the beginning of this blog entry.) I highly recommend the poster. It's hanging in my office—right where I can always see it. GoFIRE! GoBrowncoats!