Many people know the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. Some can even recall something about religion and a free press being in there.
But there are two other parts of at the end of the run-on sentence opening the Bill of Rights that are often overlooked1: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.
It’s a good thing James Madison thought to include them. Assembling and petitioning have gotten a vigorous workout this year.
We certainly need to exercise our rights to push back against the racist, xenophobic, mysoginistic, Islamaphobic, and anti-immigrant policies being forced on us by both the Executive branch as well as the majority party in Congress.
But that need to resist is always there. Anytime governments or organizations, at any level, try to make changes we feel are not in the best interests of society, we should speak up.
We must resist the attempts to privatize our public school system, to degrade health services for women, to remove basic protections for the environment, and to completely unravel the already fragile support system for those on the low end of the economic system.
We need to push back against “leaders” who claim to know it all but don’t want the public to know anything about what they’re doing. Ones who say they have all the answers but won’t reveal even the questions.
However, resistance is not enough.
Pushing back too often results in maintaining the status quo. The same old ideas and leaders who got us to this point in the first place.
Resistance alone does not move society forward.
For that we need leaders who will clearly articulate and advocate for positive policies and laws. The people currently forcing regressive policies on the country need to be replaced with those who are not afraid of change and the future. It’s not enough for candidates to simply be “not them”, or run on trying to make us afraid of what “they” might do.
Unfortunately, that’s very much what is happening in the current off-off-year election for governor and other state-wide offices here in Virginia. The messages from Democratic candidates I’ve seen2, is very much of the “help us resist” variety rather than articulating a vision for the future of the state. And both sides are actively engaged in scaring people rather than giving them something positive to support.
I have no idea what will happen in this election. Despite all the noise, I suspect there are still too many indifferent people who are not paying attention and will not vote, leaving the choice to a minority of activists more concerned with gaining power than with building a better society.
I can only hope I’m wrong.
1. According to polls, only 12% of Americans know about their right to assemble. On the other hand, many also misread the part about Congress not making any laws abridging the right of speech and assume everyone else has a Constitutional obligation to put up with their rants.
2. I admit I haven’t seen all that many political messages since I actively avoid advertising of all kind. But the negative campaign has been very hard to miss.
The image is from an article in the Washington Post about an activist who pulled off an interesting protest at the Old Post Office building in DC, currently occupied by the Trump Organization.