In civics and history classes in our Republic, we hear the same stories so much that some of us just tune out completely, we end up forgetting things. As for myself, I lapped it all up. Civics, history, political theory, the question of citizenship, all of those are like drugs to me. I recently purchased a copy of the Federalist Papers, which I know will relegate me to “nerdy political junkie” status for the rest of my life, and I am more than happy to own up to it.
In those same stories we hear, the buildup to the Revolution goes something like this: King George taxes the colonists. Colonists say “no taxation without representation.” King George and Prime Minister North said, “eat my shorts” and enacted the Intolerable Acts. Boston Massacre. Lexington and Concord. Bunker Hill. War. Declaration of Independence. America wins, the end.
What’s lost but so very crucial, is the role of the protest. The Boston Massacre happened during a protest. The Tea Party was a protest. Protests were organized over the Tea Act, Stamp Act, Sugar Act, the Quartering Act, the Intolerable Acts, and the idea of “virtual representation.” Protest is in our national DNA and the lifeblood of a free and functioning Republic. Those who would engage in the criminalization of protest are against democracy itself.
In Minnesota, there’s a debate going on about criminalizing protests and then permitting the State and Local Governments to sue those involved to recover police costs. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River), authored such a bill to attack the right of protestors and chill the effect of public discourse in this State. Essentially saying “speak up and go to jail,” Mr. Zerwas does not believe that Black Lives Matter protests, Women’s Marches, the March for Science, or other mass public demonstrations belong in the public’s eye.
Apparently, the majority of the Minnesota House of Representatives is fine with criminalizing speech, as it was passed on April 3rd. By voting for these restrictions on free speech, they are undermining our Republic, whether or not they realize it. They have become the very evil they swore to destroy. A Republic is only as free as its citizenry, and by essentially creating a gag rule, a huge blow against the liberties of all citizens could be struck.
The irony, of course, is that “public safety” is cited. Ben Franklin said that “Those who would give up their liberty for temporary safety deserve neither.” We have all seen those videos of sports fans rioting, looting, setting cars on fire, and getting in fights with police. Where is the bill to prohibit that? Why is criminalizing free speech okay but not rioting after a victory? Is it maybe because the group doing most of the protesting is a group called “Black Lives Matter”? More and more interesting, this becomes.
Regardless if you agree with the Black Lives Matter principles, don’t you want your rights to speech and protest protected? What about the Women’s Day March? March for Science? Pro-life rallies? NRA rallies? If you agree or disagree with even one of these groups, it means you have your own opinions and values. Therefore, in the interest of your own self-interest wouldn’t you want to protect everyone’s rights? Once rights begin to be eroded, it is hard to stop it. This is why, when asked if we had a democracy, Franklin replied, “If you can keep it.”