The Right to Peaceably Assemble makes us not North Korea

Constitution of United StatesCongress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble …. That particular part of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States has been buzzing around my head for the last few days. Likely because of all the people marching up and down in my neighborhood, blocking traffic, smashing windows, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

As I peruse the delightful and polite discourse that flies across the wall of my Facebook feed much like poop flies gently through the air in a full blown, alcohol fueled, chimpanzee brawl, I’m forced to consider why it is we are allowed to assemble and protest what we perceive as wrongs perpetuated by the government. Why did the Founding Fathers include the aforementioned language in the Constitution?

The answer is quite simple. It’s so we don’t end up like North Korea. There is only one effective way to prevent people from assembling to air their grievances; arrest them for doing so. Arrest anyone that doesn’t like the way the government is doing business. Arrest them for stepping one foot off the sidewalk. Arrest them for marching in the street and blocking traffic. Arrest them and throw them in jail for breaking a window. That’s certainly the tenor of much of what I read from those who don’t like the protestors or their cause. This certainly seems to be the attitude of a lot of people in this country.

This path is frightfully dangerous for two reasons. The first reason is that people who feel they have no voice, people who cannot assemble and cause inconvenience, people who think they have no recourse to their complaints are much more likely to become violent. They will attack and kill police officers instead of marching in the streets. I don’t have to argue this point; the evidence is stark and mounting. Police will become afraid of the people and start shooting them at the slightest provocation. Again, I feel no need to support this point. Look around. It is manifestly happening.

The second thing that can happen is that we simply arrest everyone who dares speak out against the government. At that point, the United States will no longer exist in a way the Founding Fathers imagined. We are no longer a nation of laws when we can throw out those parts of the Constitution that cause us inconvenience. We are no longer free.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate seeing broken windows in establishments I frequent. I hate waiting in my car for a long line of protestors to clear the intersection. I might well sympathize with their cause but such behavior makes me less likely to look upon such protestors kindly. Still, I quite clearly understand to prevent them from doing so is a grave danger to this country and to my personal safety.

Terrorism is the child of repression. It was born in the most oppressive nations in the world and thrives when people try to violently destroy it. Where people have nonviolent means to address their government, terrorism has a hard time taking hold.

When we do not allow people to assemble and cause inconvenience we beget violence and rage. When we say arrest them all, we sign the death warrant of our nation.

You may not like the protestors. You may not agree with the protestors. You might find their methods troublesome and inconvenient, but trust me when I say you’ll like the alternative far less.

If protestors plan their marches to coincide with rush and happy hour to make our lives more inconvenient; we must resist the urge to call out law enforcement with riot gear and weapons. We must let them march to wherever they want to go. We must allow them to march where it causes problems because if we don’t, we take away their hope for progress. And people without hope do horrible things.

That’s why the Founding Fathers expressly gave us that particular freedom. I concur with their judgment.

Tom Liberman

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