Protest Protestations: The Right to Assemble

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the protests “gone bad” at the University of California, Berkeley that took place at the beginning of February.  If you haven’t, here’s the rundown: Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor for the far-right Breitbart News website, was scheduled to speak at the university that Wednesday night.  Over a thousand people showed up to protest because Breitbart News is part of the alt-right, a movement of conservatives that many equate to white supremacy and racism.  At some point during the night, people started trashing the place: breaking ATMs, smashing cars, and destroying windows.  Due to the violence, the university cancelled the talk and escorted Yiannopoulos off the grounds.

And reactions have been all over the place.  Many defended the protesters, saying that it was the actions of but a few that are now being equated with the whole.  Others attacked them as being too “violent” and “regressive” in their actions.  It got so far that President Trump himself even tweeted “if U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Now, I won’t dig into the tweet that much, except to say that it was hardly U.C. Berkeley’s fault that any of this happened.  They weren’t denying free speech.  They were acting in what they felt were everyone’s best interests.  They only cancelled the event because of safety concerns.  And besides, it goes both ways.  If Yiannopoulos is allowed to speak, then people are allowed to protest him.  It’s part of the first amendment, the right to “peaceably assemble”.  That’s kind of the way freedom of speech works.

I can’t really blame people too much for seeing the entire protest as violent.  I mean, god knows the news stations certainly painted it that way, intentionally or not.  For those two days after the event, the headlines were reading “protest turns violent” over and over again.  And Yiannopoulos himself didn’t help matters, using the event as an excuse to paint liberals as being afraid of free speech.

Because generalizing entire groups of people is the new norm I guess.

Besides, the violence could have been the actions of agitators, not the protesters themselves.  In fact, the university itself released a statement saying that might be the case.  For all the trumpeting of “fake news” on the right side of the spectrum, it’s awfully ironic that they immediately swallow the “violent protesters” story simply because it fits what they want to hear.  And where are they getting all this?  Oh from sources like Breitbart and Fox News, which are hardly unbiased or infallible sources of information.

And while it’s easy to chalk this up to just those “damn crazy liberals”, it’s worth remembering that conservatives protest as well.  They made their opinion of President Obama known and they did it with…uh…style?

 

obama-sign

 

Yep, that’s an actual sign posted during the 2012 campaign cycle.  Now, the person who made this sign absolutely has the right to.  But I also have the right to call that person a piece of shit.

Besides, the vast majority of protests in this country are non-violent.  The Women’s March that occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration was peaceful and had its numbers in the hundreds of thousands.  But of course that only got about a day of news coverage.  Because the news is, after all, a business.  And a story about a protest gone wrong catches far more eyes than a story about a peaceful protest where everyone was supportive of each other.

I also think that in people condemning these protests forget that protests are an integral part of our history.  In fact, one of the singular acts that sparked the American Revolution was a bunch of people throwing property that wasn’t theirs into the harbor.  And back then George Washington (you know, the first president of the United States) even condemned the Boston Tea party, saying that while their cause was the “cause of America”, he disapproved of them destroying the tea because he held the concept of private property in high regard.

So, basically, one of the founding acts of our country would be considered “violent” by some people’s standards.

Here’s the bottom line: protest works.  It worked back during the Boston Tea Party to get the attention of the British.  It worked back in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights Movement.  And it’s working now.  Why do you think Trump and his people are so heated over the subject?  Because they’re afraid of it.  Because they don’t want to deal with it.  They want everybody to just shut up and accept that he’s president, much in the same way that they shut up and accepted that Obama was president.

Oh wait, that never happened.

 

 

Telling someone to “shut up and get over it” is stupid, because it’s their right as an American to not shut up and not get over it.  Americans have protested everything from taxes to abortions to gay rights.  It’s what we do to show our support or disapproval.  And yes, every once in a while a protest will turn rough or inspire agitators to come out and smash up some stuff, but that’s the price we pay for the freedoms we enjoy.  Sometimes we have to accept that not everything will run smoothly.

Let me put it this way: if you accept that not everyone in the pro-life movement is going to bomb or shoot up an abortion clinic, then surely you can accept that not every liberal is a crazy whack job who wants to just smash things.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

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