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The Right To Peacefully Assemble

The Right to Assemble

The Right to Peacefully Assemble

I despise my own nation most. Because I know it best. Because I still love it, suffering from Hope. For me, that’s patriotism. ~Edward Abbey

I choked back tears as I stood beside the mailbox outside of Argos Tea on Michigan Ave trying to take pictures. Each wave of chanting people walking past evoked another wave of tears, another surge I had to fight to keep them from spilling out of my eyes. Not that anyone would have noticed for a light rain was falling intermittently moistening my glasses and my face on this cold day.

It’s been over a week now and I am still not completely sure as to why I had such a visceral reaction to the scene.

Why? Why? Why?

Was it the for the untimely death of a 17-year-old young man, a person with a potential 60 years taken from him, when he was shot 16 times by a person who had pledged to Serve and Protect all Chicagoans when he earned his badge? Was it for all his loved ones that must suffer the pain of premature death? True the young man was high on drugs when he was shot dead.  But a sentence of death for a victimless crime is a punishment that heavily upsets the balance in the scale of justice.

Was I feeling the collective pain of those suffering decades of oppression for the trivial difference of skin color? Was it because their anger permeating the air while they marched within inches of me, holding signs and chanting about the death of one of their own, painfully tipped the scale of justice in my heart? Was it because my country is rife with examples of people demonizing others because they have a different skin color, a rival political bent, a religion they don’t understand?

Was it for the many excellent policemen and policewoman feeling unappreciated, feeling vilified, feeling at life risk on the job because of the actions of a few sour apples in their ranks? Was it for their families who don’t know if the officer will return at the end of their shift every time they walk out the door? Was it for those police officers that find they must struggle and violate their own integrity because they are expected to stand with their own even when they know one of their own acts criminally? Was it for the hatred I witnessed when two of the marchers verbally assaulted a policeman of color for betraying his people?

Was it for the seemingly never ending specter of racism that keeps pockets of our world in turmoil? Or because this act of violence, when added to the collective violence initiated by humans, grieves my soul?

Perhaps I was grieving my own lack of participation in the event, by my choosing to take photos instead of putting my feet on the pavement in affinity with the protesters. Was my internal conversation rationalizing I could reach more people by writing a blog with pictures than by adding one more person to this protest a reality check or a lack of personal courage or, worse, callous indifference to the issues of my day?

I am not 100% sure what exactly drew tears from my soul but I am leaning heavily toward it being a combination of those reasons plus one more…

 The First Amendment

One of the foundational beliefs on which my country was formed, a pillar on which this great experiment rests, is the American Bill of Rights. In this grand document, the right I love most is the guarantee of “the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances“.

The entire 1st Amendment guaranteed in the Bill of Rights states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I see assembly as a physical manifestation of freedom of speech, the basis for which all the other Guaranteed Rights exist. Man is a thinking, feeling, expressive being. To deny the right to free speech denies humanity, treats individuals as less human. Man is a social being. To deny the right to assembly is also an attempt to render the individual as less than human. To deny assembly is an attempt to limit the sharing of ideas…another attack on freedom of speech.

Without freedom of speech…without freedom of assembly…the great experiment would be an abject failure, our democracy would be a failure.

 Democracy in Action

I have come to believe the tears came because my heart was moved by all those reasons above and because I was experiencing democracy in action. My soul was moved as I had a front row seat to witness the people assembling. I was witnessing people of all colors speaking, speaking loud, speaking unified, speaking from grieved hearts. And I was witnessing representatives of the government ensuring the people were able to exercise those rights safely. This despite those representatives of the government, the police, being the ones who were being protested against. This despite those representatives being verbally abused by some of the protesters.

It was the second time in less than a year, I was witnessing the Chicago Police protecting people protesting the police. The first, a much smaller protest, came after Michael Brown was killed in Missouri. I was sitting in a restaurant when I saw a small band of protesters marching down North Avenue.  This, the second, was the protest over the killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago under the backdrop of the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue on the day after Thanksgiving.

I am tormented to be living during a time when some are treated as 2nd class citizens, as something less than human. But I am also excited to be living in a country where all humans are believed to be created equal before God and that all humans are guaranteed basic human rights which include the assemble and speak freely.

No Violence

No Violence

I hope, one day, I will live in an America where each and every individual is valued just for being themselves. I hope, one day, I will live in an America where not one human, neither domestic nor foreign, is oppressed by either another individual or by an agent of the government or by the government itself. I hope, one day, I will live in an America where protests are not required because we the people find it anathema to deny anyone the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and by the Constitution of the United States. Until then, I am glad we have those protections even though they are not yet applied uniformly to all.


Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.


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