They're petitioners, not protesters
Freedom of speech and the press are considered so fundamental to our form of government that lying and the dissemination of misinformation are considered acceptable.
The encroachment of religion into our personal social morality and our government pits a representative democracy against an unrepresentative theocracy, but we find a way to accommodate.
The right to bear arms is considered absolute by many Americans regardless of the number of senseless deaths by uncontrolled firearms each year.
Regardless of the abuses, we accept each of these rights and their inherent dangers and damages as fundamental to a functioning democracy.
Enter "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Early in our history, First Amendment "petitioners" were redefined as "protesters." The intent was clearly to imply a collection of potential malcontents and troublemakers right out of the gate.
In recent days, the rights to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances have increasingly been characterized as a free speech issue. No! These are the rights to assemble and petition for redress — fundamental and standalone First Amendment rights.
Outside of the ballot box, these critical First Amendment rights are the only constitutional mechanisms to identify representative failures and to publicly demand the necessary changes.
The more powerful the right, the greater the danger of authoritarian demonization and attempts at suppression. For every looter and vandal in an otherwise peaceable assembly, there are hundreds of petitioners seeking justice and change. The Black Lives Matter list of abuses, the grievances, are very real, very old, and have gone and are still going unaddressed. But look over there! Someone broke a window.
When I see my fellow citizens writing letters, making speeches and even forming counterprotests against constitutionally blessed First Amendment petitioners, I cannot help but wonder what kind of America they ultimately want to live in.
When I see powerful politicians characterizing peacefully assembled petitioners as terrorists and calling for their wholesale suppression, I see constitutional usurpers unfit to serve and self-delegitimizing under the 14th Amendment.
For the rest of my fellow Americans, be very careful about the voices that you wish to silence, because yours may be next.
William Allen is a St. Helens resident.
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