We tried to reach out to the Aqua Turf Club after the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL) announced the termination of a 25-year customer relationship, but we were met with a strong but polite “no comment.”
We don’t blame them. After all, the local facility has spent almost a month under fire from all sides when an NRA fundraiser happened to be scheduled on the eve of the March for our Lives protests in March. In the ensuing weeks, the club has been an innocent victim caught between two tyrants.
On one side, a group of anonymous gun protesters were strong arming them with threats of canceling proms and other events to punish the facility for allowing the gun lobby a place to peacefully assemble. This week, the CCDL came out swinging; cutting ties from the place that offered a safe venue for a quarter century saying an Aqua Turf statement took “a political stance in stark contrast with our own.” It looks like a schoolyard brawl with two bullies trying to win their fight by taking turns punching the same innocent bystander.
As members of the press, we feel for the Aqua Turf employees who have carried themselves with dignity during a very trying situation. In full disclosure, the Aqua Turf does not regularly advertise in our newspaper, but they do frequently purchase help wanted ads in our classified pages. But our support isn’t based on any business relationship.
As members of the press, we often find ourselves under similar fire whenever we are covering controversial stories, but The Observer is a newspaper, a forum for public conversation. We cannot claim the right to free speech if we deny it to others, so we vet both sides of an issue, whether it’s a budget quarrel or a protest at the municipal center, the high school, or town green. Like the Aqua Turf, we’ve been ridiculed and attacked for offering people a venue for their free speech as if giving them a voice is somehow an endorsement of their position. We’ve even been physically assaulted by a high school official for trying to give voice to his students.
We can usually judge how thorough and fair we’ve been in our investigation by the complaints we receive. If we’ve done a thorough job, we get complaints (or even praise) from both sides. In politics, we have actually received calls from Republicans charging that we are slanted toward the Democrats just moments after hanging up with a Democrat who argued that the same article was slanted towards Republicans. By that measure, the Aqua Turf should consider themselves winners. Both sides have taken cheap shots at them for giving a group the right to peacefully assemble.
Of course, the Aqua Turf isn’t a newspaper. They were simply running a banquet hall that’s open to all. Yes, they serviced an NRA fundraiser, but the Calvanese Foundation has also generously supported the victims of gun violence in Sandy Hook. They have hosted and supported events for both sides with grace, and they were paid back with contempt.
The same people who protested the Aqua Turf for allowing the NRA to peacefully assemble (a first amendment right) would surely come out in hordes to protest the facility if they were denied their own right to peacefully assemble for their own fundraisers. Damned if they do. Damned if they don’t.
Hosting a banquet for a paying customer is no more of an endorsement of that customer’s political or cultural beliefs than a newspaper running a letter to the editor from a disgruntled reader.
We are sure that the Aqua Turf will survive this and continue to provide excellent service regardless of a customer’s politics, race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. After all, that’s what they’ve been doing for decades.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.