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Rants And Raves Welcomed At Newberry's Bughouse Square Debates

By Quinn Ford | July 28, 2013 8:42am
 The 28th annual Bughouse Square Debates was held in Washington Square Park Saturday.
Bughouse Square Debates
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GOLD COAST — Russel Bruzek wears a hearing aid and says hearing loss is a topic that's near and dear to his heart.

So at last year's Bughouse Square Debates, Bruzek got up on a soapbox in front of a crowd and began talking about the push to include captions in movie showings at theaters across the country.

"Believe it or not, when I was talking, a lot of people booed and hissed," he said.

But Bruzek said he kept right on talking because he believed including captions at movies is for "the common good."

And that's kind of the point of the Bughouse Square Debates.

Each July, the Newberry Library hosts a public discussion across the street at Washington Square Park where people are free to get up and talk about whatever they feel like.

The event is a throwback to the early 1900s when the park was a well-known free speech zone, especially for labor rights activists, where anyone could say anything. 

The park — the first public park in Chicago — was eventually nicknamed "Bughouse Square" because of all the eccentric people who came in search of a soapbox. "Bughouse" was a slang term for a mental health facility.

Things changes after World War II when there was a national crackdown on communists, but the Newberry Library decided to revive the tradition 28 years ago for one Saturday each summer.

And just like back in the early 1900s, heckling speakers is encouraged, as long as hecklers are "civil and friendly," the library said.

On Saturday, crowds heard from speakers about everything from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to Jesus Christ to the Chicago Cubs.

Each year, the "Dill Pickle Award" is given to the best orator of the day. On Saturday, Enrique Perez won the honor for his rant on "why Rahm Emanuel is unbeatable."

After raising the trophy — a four-foot pickle — above his head, Perez said he felt similar to some other Chicago champions.

"Not quite the Stanley Cup, but it feels just as good, I imagine," Perez said with a smile.

But Perez said he was just happy the Newberry Library held the event and said he hopes they happen more often.

"I got a chance to come out here, say my piece, say what I really believe, and I was glad I was able to win," he said.

And despite the hisses, Bruzek said he may have plans to climb back on the soapbox next year. He said he has been coming to the Bughouse Square debates for a decade.

"There's a sense of history with it," he said. "It's a very worthwhile adventure to come here. You learn something."