"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The rights granted by the first amendment have long been heralded as perhaps the most important keys to successful American Democracy. More specifically, the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. Being able to speak out and voice your concerns is imperative, especially in this politically disquietude time.
In the time during and since the 2016 election, there has been a vast increase in public protests and demonstrations; some viewed more favorably than others. Between former San- Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick starting the #TakeAKnee movement and the rise of the "alt-right" and their marches in Charlottesville, many Americans have been left wondering what is considered "free speech" and "peaceful assembly."
Recently, President Trump has unleashed a Twitter tirade against the NFL, calling those who choose to kneel, "Sons of bitches", as well as stating that the protests were "disrespectful" to the country, flag, and anthem. The result of these claims is a false narrative that the players are protesting the flag or anthem itself.
A protest, I will add, that is 100% protected under the first amendment as free speech.
As Americans, we protest when we see injustice or wish for change to take place. However, the way in which we protest is not always seen as appropriate. Some choose to link hands and block highways and are met with death threats and attempts to be run over. These are the protests that create unsafe conditions and should be stopped for the well-being of everyone.
However, some choose to gather and march for their cause. These protesters are met with, "there has to be a better way" by critics. Next, they choose to picket and chant, but are again met with, "there has to be a better way." Now, they choose to kneel or raise a fist peacefully and silently, and are once more met with "there has to be a better way."
At what point will a portion of Americans find protests to be acceptable? Just because you find it inconvenient, does not mean it is disrespectful or wrong.
Now, as for the "alt-right" and neo-Nazi marches, I am just as appalled and disgusted as most other Americans. That being said, if they have the necessary permission, then it is their full right to do so. The first amendment applies to everyone, even if we disagree with what they have to say. We do not need to retaliate with violence and taunting and anger. Instead, we can continue to promote peace, constructive dialogue, and a society that does not answer the calls of bigotry and hate.
For 226 years, Americans have enjoyed the right to speak, assemble, write, practice, and petition freely and peacefully. The day that we forgo those rights is the day that American Democracy dies. The purpose of protesting is to raise awareness of injustice and to eventually create a dialogue that facilitates the necessary changes. As the circumstances of society change, we must be willing to bridge the gaps where they appear.
Although hateful voices will always be given a platform, they can be overcome when we work together to drown them out and show our true America values. Protesting is not intended to divide one another, but to unify people to bring about change. Change that can only occur when you stop replying with scorn and start listening with an open mind.