As far as activism goes, I would not call myself a seasoned veteran in terms of protests. In fact, I would call myself a beginner.
My experience with protests, rallies, and marches has most often been as an observer. Whether I am casually passing by in Washington or reporting on a labor march in California, as a journalist and citizen I often view protests as a critical outsider.
That’s not to say that I am against protesting; in fact, I believe that targeted direct action can be one of the most useful ways to voice dissent, start a conversation and, ultimately, enact change.
The New York Times piece I have linked to here brings up an essential issue: time, place, and manner restrictions on speech. Today, it’s harder than ever to hold a protest that isn’t overly governed by regulations. In many cases, protests are so marginalized by authorities in the name of “security” that they lose their voice.
In a nation that is supposed to defend the free market of ideas, we are silencing dissenting opinions that inherently improve the tenor of our national discourse.
Let’s jump forward to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this coming Summer, and see just how many protesters rights are violated in one way or another: I would venture that there will be quite a few horror stories from each.
As a side note, I find it important to mention both the Republicans and the Democrats. Conservatives often get all the flack for silencing those they disagree with, but Democrats have traditionally been quite guilty of this as well.
It seems that the status quo often prevails. All Americans, even the most mild-mannered or politically apathetic, should be working hard to ensure that the freedom to assemble remains thoroughly intact.
Many thanks to Dan Segal, Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at Pitzer College, for sending me the Times article. You can connect with Professor Segal at his blog, Shake Well Before Using or on twitter @DanielASegal