Orange County has answered public calls to provide more information and release the video of Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour’s controversial March 31 speech for Women’s History Month.
County officials said the final cost for the event was $9,193. The town of Hillsborough paid another $120 to provide a police officer to help with traffic.
Calls for the county to post the full video of Sarsour’s speech grew last week. The speech attracted at least 60 protesters and counter-protesters. Those who attended were told not to record Sarsour, although some did anyway.
Annette Moore, director of the county’s Human Rights and Relations Department, said it took time to negotiate for the whole video, since the county’s initial contract only allowed it to use clips for promotional purposes.
She understands why people wanted to see the speech, Moore said last week, but the county did not negotiate for more to keep the costs low. Posting the full video did not increase the cost for the event, she said.
“I think it’s important for people to see,” Moore said. “I don’t know how many people have said to me, I want to see it. So we get that.”
She also addressed questions about people in the audience who recorded Sarsour despite the county’s prohibition on audio and video recording. Staff did not enforce the rule, Moore said, because to do that would have disrupted the event.
It’s important to note, Moore said, that the speech was only “a jumping-off point” for the community’s conversation about activism, discrimination and social justice.
“Part of it is we get to know each other by having conversations,” Moore said. “It’s not like we’re all going to agree, because we’re not, but we come to a better understanding. A conversation presents an issue that then we have conversations about, because sometimes they’re hard conversations and sometimes they poke at rules. They’re not always going to be easy conversations.”
Sarsour, the co-leader of the Women’s March on Washington was given a choice of topics, county officials have said. In her speech, Sarsour talked at length about the Women’s March and how it came to be. She also addressed racism, activism, politics and her critics.
But her comments on Israel and the Palestinians have drawn the most controversy, even prompting a group of Jewish rabbis in Chapel Hill and Durham to write a letter warning the county that her speech risked dividing the community. Sarsour only briefly touched on that issue March 31, and those who call her “anti-Semitic.”
The Pittsburgh synagogue gunman and the white supremacists and racists who support President Donald Trump are not influenced by what she says, Sarsour said. Calling her an anti-Semite for her opinions is a distraction from those who have the power.
“I’m not saying don’t disagree with people. I’m not saying that what this person is saying is wrong,” she said.
“What’s wrong is wrong, and that’s absolutely acceptable, and I understand that people get hurt by things that people say that are hurtful, and we should be able to say that when someone says something that hurts us, that it hurts us,” Sarsour said. “But if we focus our attention on the people with the words and not the people with the power and the guns, we’re having a big problem here.”
Moore and the county’s Human Relations Commission, which co-hosted the event, briefly discussed the event at the commission’s meeting last week and whether there were lessons for the future. Commission members agreed it was an important conversation but had few suggestions for the next one.
County officials released the final expenses Tuesday for Sarsour’s speech, billed as a “Courageous Conversation.”
Besides a $5,000 speaker fee, the cost included $1,425 in overtime for 10 Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputies to provide security for the event.
The county also paid $1,631.39 for Sarsour’s mileage, hotel, airfare, and event decorations, equipment and set up, including rental fees for chairs, a stage skirt and audio/visual equipment.
Roughly $2,500 of that money came out of the commission’s $8,000 annual budget, Moore said. Her department paid the rest, she said. The county initially provided information that showed the commission’s annual budget was $5,000.
Moore told the commission she thought at first about charging a small fee for tickets to the event; members said that could be a discussion for the next time. Just over 190 tickets were reserved, including 30 for elected and county officials, Moore said.
A community can be complacent about what’s happening with human rights and relationships, Moore said, but its outlook on life, its children and its residents still will be affected.
“We should have conversations about it,” she said. “We should see what other people are thinking about, not just what we think about something, but other people, what is their vision for this country, for this world, for our kids, why they think the way they do, and it will lead us to a better understanding.”