Soapbox Speakers

Speakers’ Corner news.

In The news about Speakers' Corner on September 15, 2013 at 4:13 am

Every Monday the news arrives, along with another episode of ‘Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade’.
For previous posts go to ‘The Weekly Posts’ in the archives.

For Sunday, August 24. 

Boys, boys, boys!
How heartening . . . how worrying it is to see old men carrying on like boys. It was comedy capers today when Norm, heckler and part-time cad, chose to stand near Steve Maxwell and contradict him. Naturally, Steve took umbrage, as seen in the video. The madness continued when an impassioned woman stopped by.

Steve and Norm

Meanwhile, Andrew Toth appears to have recovered from his near-death experience after undergoing a ‘healthy’ cleansing diet. Welcome back, Andrew.

The next instalment of Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade is below.

Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade.

A Pageant of World Soapbox Personalities.

12. Columbus Circle – Part 1.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Columbus Circle in New York became the gathering place for soapbox speakers. They gathered in the park near the USS Maine monument. Radical longshoreman (dock workers) from Manhattan’s West Side docks spoke at the circle in the early 1900’s.

By the 1930’s radical  activists centered in Union Square, leaving Columbus Circle to non-lefty speakers. 

At four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and at seven o’clock in the evening on a week day, speakers would climb their ladders. On top of the last rung of their ladder would be a small flag, or a cross, or some other symbol representing the speaker’s subject. The speakers would be variously engaged in expounding Catholicism, Judaism, Methodism, fundamentalism, modernism, agnosticism, atheism, ant-semitism, anti-“popery”, free will, determinism, relativity, and so forth.

Columbus Circle was more like London’s Hyde Park than Union Square. Religion, philosophy, science, literature, and art became a leading subject in Columbus Circle. In summer, by 8pm or 9pm as many as ten or twelve ladder’s would have speakers, around which clustered the faithful, the skeptical, and the curious.

They could keep such hours because there was still summer light. In some places, when the light went down, the speakers kept speaking under gas light.

Because the leftists monopolised Union Square, right-wing organisations such as America First, Coughlinites, Silver Shirts, Christian Mobilizers, Bundists, Isolationists, and outright Hitlerites were the majority of the speakers.

Most of the right wing groups were ‘Isolationists’, who wanted the US to stay out of all international disputes and not go to war.

’Coughlinites’ were followers of Father Charles Edward Coughlin, Catholic Priest (1891-1979). He was a popular radio broadcaster sympathetic to Fascist Italy and to Hitler. In 1938, Father Coughlin renamed his movement the ‘Christian Front’ and co-operated closely with the ‘Christian Mobilisers’ who acted as the Front’s stormtrooper.

Coughlin also lent his support to the America First Party, an isolationist group founded in 1940 by General Wood and Eddy Rickenbacker (US, WWI Flying Ace). Charles Lindbergh was its leading spokesman. The America First Party gained support from both left and right isolationists. Nonetheless the party dissolved three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Silver Legion of America were a white-supremacist, anti-Semitic group  nicknamed  “Silvershirts ” because they modelled themselves on Hitler’s Brownshirts, but dressed in silver shirts. Their founder was William Dudley Pelly (1890-1965). He also founded the Christian Party that ran him for US President in 1936.  Pelly was arrested for treason in 1942 and jailed until 1954.
The German American Federation (nicknamed the “Bund”) was an American Nazi organisation established in 1936. The Bund was to consist of Americans of German descent. The Bund supported isolationists and promoted Nazism in America. (It is important not to confuse the US ‘Bund’ with the secular Jewish socialist General Jewish Labour Bund. That ‘Bund’ was an anti-communist, and eventually anti-Zionist, movement based in Europe.)

There was a lot of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the US before Pearl Harbor. One such speaker was nicknamed “Fatima” due  to the pantaloons she habitually wore. Her supporters would march to her ladder bearing the Christian cross and American flag. Her performance was trance-like, and as so often happens in such instances, it cast a kind of hypnotic spell over her listeners. She usually drew the biggest crowd of the evening.

One evening one young man could take it no more. He stood behind Fatima, and an opportune moment loudly interjected saying, “Were your born in New York City? Do you know anything about the rest of the United States? Are You not a New York yokel? Did you ever hear of the Ku Klux Klan ? Don’t you know that in most of the United States the people who hate Jews also hate your claque here, the Coughlinites, because they are Catholics? Are you trying to stir up the ugly spirit of the Klan again? When you arouse native American prejudices against the Jews you also arouse them against other minorities, particularly the Catholics. Are you so ignorant of America that you do know these simple facts? Yet you prate about your Americanism!”

The crowd waited for a reaction but Fatima froze in mid sentence, tongue-tied. The crowd exploded in applause.

Next week: Columbus Circle part II – how the GAG laws tried to gag free speech.

You will find Steve’s previous postings in ‘Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade’ at the very top.

The speakers and hecklers!

In Speakers and hecklers. on September 15, 2013 at 4:12 am

2013 Speaker highlights.

Helmut 4

The speakers at Speakers’ Corner are not shy and retiring. Or well mannered, for that matter. Some people say they’re a little eccentric, and there might be a skerrick of merit in that point of view. Whatever the case, they’re an entertaining bunch. Click here to see highlights of them in action.

The Speakers and Hecklers.

Steve Maxwell, historian and political commentator.

Steve Maxwell

In various personas, but always engaging, Steve talks about Australian history and politics. Click here for highlights.
To see more videos of Steve, go to the archives site.

From his book, ‘Soapbox Oratory‘ Steve writes: ‘In a modern city, there must be a place where strangers can meet and discuss the issues of the day without fear of persecution; where the right to retain one’s individuality is allowed.

Helmut Cerncic, metaphysicist.

Helmut once beat Arnold Schwartzenegger in a body building contest. He knows a lot about metaphysics, (more than Arnold Schwartzenegger), and is happy to explain why Isaac Newton was an ignoramus. But his battles with hecklers are fun.
Here are some highlights.
For more videos of Helmut, go to the archives site and to his own site, ‘Is Science the New Religion?’.

Mirko Terzic, 21st Century inventor.


Mirko has created a phonetic alphabet to be used world-wide, and it’s better than Esperento. He has solved the problem of perpetual motion and has diagrams explaining how to get free unlimited energy from hydropower. Mirko knows how to think outside the square.

Here are a few highlights of Mirko.
For more videos of Mirko go to the archives site.

Ray, Christian.

Ray is concerned about your soul.

 Ray is passionate about spreading the word of God. He takes the task seriously but isn’t confronting. He is a gentle man willing to answer your questions. Here are a few highlights.
For more videos of Ray, go the the archives site, the archives site.

Mr Bashful, the epiphany specialist.

Mr B 2

Mr Bashful, the epiphany specialist.

Mr Bashful calls his listeners his ‘grasshoppers’. (“You have much to learn.”) Among other things, Mr Bashful talks about New Age scams, happiness myths, and why we should burn the Mona Lisa. One thing he isn’t, is bashful.

Tony, atheist. (Speaker and  heckler)


New-Zealander Tony is a fervent atheist and scathing of the Catholic Church. When he is not berating Christianity he is either sinking the boot into other religions, or supporting Palestine. In this video Tony expresses a few of his well considered opinions. For more videos of Tony click here.

Scott, heretic. (Occasional speaker)


Scott is a young man adept at independent thinking. Calm, thoughtful and considered, Scott likes to take commonly held views and turn them upside down – not for the sake of it, but because he seeks the truth.  Here are a few examples.
For more videos of Scott go to the archives site.

Mitch: “All is consciousness”
(Occasional speaker)

Mitch 2

Mitch claims everything is consciousness – even rocks and atoms. Mitch’s theory answers questions posed by Eastern religions, it resolves divine paradoxes, it addresses the mind/body problem and the free will problem, and it answers other philosophical dead-ends. Even acknowledging that everything is consciousness is a step towards Buddhist enlightenment, says Mitch, because we experience a different reality. For a glimpse of his theory click here. For a more detailed explanation go to the archives site.

 Jovo (occasional speaker)


 Jovo is a charismatic man, which may explain why he is also known as ‘Rasputin’ and ‘The Wild Man of Serbia’. Throughout the world he is envied by monks, yogis and gurus for his ability to tap into a stream of consciousness and verbalise it. 


Heckler highlights – 2013

A gleeful looking Peter about to cause trouble.

A gleeful looking Peter about to cause trouble.

Is it any wonder the speakers are a touch testy sometimes, with hecklers like these guys? Click here to see the heckler highlights for 2013.

Peter the heckler.

Peter - best

Peter, a Speakers’ Corner heckler, enjoys challenging the speakers’ claims. But he doesn’t always win the encounter. Click here for a few highlights. For more videos of Peter, go to the archives site.

Andrew, the exhibitionist. (Heckler.)

 Andrew used to be a speaker – he used to be the only flasher in the world prepared to stand up and talk about flashing, and support it. There are four entertaining videos of Andrew speaking.  Here is just one. For more videos of Andrew, go to the archives site.
His award winning book about the subject is available on Amazon.
But unfortunately for Speakers’ Corner, and for the public, and especially for the other speakers, he has become a heckler. He arrives at about 4.20pm and gives the speakers curry. If he is there, and you are there, you won’t miss him.

Arthur (Heckler)

 Arthur 1

Arthur is not what you call the shy type, and is generous with his opinion. I caught him searching for disciples.

David (heckler).

David is dead against any view supporting the existence of ghosts, telepathy, UFO’s, psychics, and any other new-age rubbish you might try to foist upon him, but when it comes to religion he is fervently agnostic. He leaves no stone unturned in his search for the truth.

John (Placid heckler.)

Philosopher, skeptic, atheist, and all around good guy, John makes his way to Speakers’ Corner just often enough to get a mention here.

Jack (Quiet observer)


“The old grey owl sat on an oak.
The more he heard, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Now, wasn’t he a wise old bird?”

Click here to hear a few words from Jack.

Kevin (visitor)


Kevin speaks out against forced medication with psychotropic drugs.



This column is for you, the passer-by!

In For the passers-by., Uncategorized on September 15, 2013 at 4:08 am

At Speakers’ Corner all passers-by are invited to step up onto The Ladder of Knowledge and speak, and become a part of Speaker Corner history. The brave souls who take the opportunity are a diverse lot, and enrich Speakers’ Corner considerably. 

How about you? Will you stand on The Ladder of Knowledge and tell us what you think?

 Click here to see the 2012 highlights.
(To see the full videos click here.)


   Click here to see the 2013 highlights.
(To see the full videos click here.)



John August

John August 3

Today John talks about abiogenesis (the origin of life). Click here.



Ali, from Lebanon, has a few words to say about the problems of democracy. Click here.

John August

John August 2

John has a few thoughts about Israel and Palestine. Click here.



Tony has a few words of advice for the passers-by. Click here.



Click here to hear Jaiya talk about her school project.



This young fellow wanted to talk about the environment, but it was a hard job with Mr Bashful and an old geezer asking questions, and with his sister Jaiya assisting in the background. Click here.



Up from Melbourne, Rosali chose to philosophical. Click here.



Click here to learn why dancing should be an Olympic sport.



Who knows what this guy said? But he said it well!

You can’t find the staff!


In the first few seconds of his speech on The Ladder of Knowledge, this brave fellow had to suffer Tony’s interjections. Tony seems to think any speaker is fair game – age and inexperience aren’t factors to take into account. One wonders: if a sparrow perched on the Ladder of Knoweldge, would Tony heckle it in a battle of wits? Who knows? Though one thing is for sure: the sparrow would win. Click here.


John August

John stood on The Ladder of Knowledge to talk about coal as a source of energy, and other stuff.  Click here to see what he said. He has opinions on all sorts of things. Here is his site.

The hug man.

The hug man

Mr Bashful was one of the lucky ones to get a hug from this warm fellow. Click  here.

A protestor.


This hirsute gentleman was protesting outside the gallery. I asked him why.



This passer-by delivered a few epiphanies of her own, but we can’t reveal what she said, and there is a clue in this excerpt to suggest why.



The wind was a nuisance, and Mirko more-so, but Poppy still managed to represent the charity, Plan International, with gusto. It was her day off, but you can see where her passion lies. Click here.



With a strong New Zealand accent, Jacob praised which country? Click here to find out.



Steve, a regular but silent visitor, explained why it was unjust and unacceptable to solely blame Japan and Germany for World War II. Click here.

J.S.T. (Jessica)

JST Jessica

There is more wisdom in this passer-by than in all of the hecklers combined. Click here.

Little French Girl.

Little girl

Despite her reluctance to speak it is easy to see this little girl is delightful. Click here.

Janet, of the Australian Heritage Dancers.

Janet best

Click here to meet a delightful young maiden from the Australian Heritage Dancers.

The atheist God? God of himself?


Brendon was understandably reluctant to get up onto the Ladder of Knowledge and speak, but his girlfriend Dana wanted him to. So, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.  He got up and did a good job. Click here.

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