Intimidating Assembly and Redress: Silencing the Constitution

August 22, 2014

The First Amendment unequivocally states “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Beyond being fundamental rights, assembly, petition and redress are necessary and essential tools in the political and governing process. In Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” he noted that the United States more than any other nation valued the principle of association. American history is rich with examples of assembly and redress as building blocks to social movements that changed the country. Women’s suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s would not have been possible without assembly and redress.

The events of this summer, from the conflict in Gaza to unrest in Ferguson, MO have underscored the need for these fundamental governing tools. Earlier this week, activists in California, including Jewish Voices for Peace, human rights defenders and clergy, staged a peaceful sit-in at the offices of U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein until the Senators met with them. These constituents wanted to voice their concerns to the Senators for voting to send an additional $225 million in Iron Dome funding to Israel in the middle of its aggressive onslaught on Gaza.

The Senators did not meet with their constituents, rather the constituents were met with Los Angeles police officers that forcibly removed and arrested them. These constituents are now subject to the $5,000 maximum bail fine for a misdemeanor of unlawful assembly/failure to disperse. Forcible removals and arrests have long been tactics used by federal and local governments unwilling to address the needs of the people. These tactics were not effective in the past and are unlikely to be successful today or in the future.

Both Senators were elected into office to serve the constituents that put them there. Ignoring their constituents’ voices is beyond disappointing, but standing by while their constituents’ fundamental rights were being denied is inexcusable. National Congressional approval is already at an abysmal low of 15 percent, now members of Congress are marginalizing their local constituents through indifference of their Constitutional rights.

Similarly, in Ferguson, peaceful protestors are being met with tear gas, rubber bullets and an imposed curfew. Rather than recognizing the right to peaceful assembly, protesting in this country is being met with fear and intimidation by authorities. We must be concerned with the current treatment of our rights to assembly and redress, which are being confronted with authoritative responses. Without the right of redress in both domestic and foreign affairs, we will become a nation where our liberties mean nothing.

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