“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.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the foundation of American democracy. The strength of the nation flows from it. Even Noam Chomsky, the incisive critic of American excess, notes that “freedom of speech is protected in the United States to an extent that is unique in the world.”
Today, the assembled Democrats are in Charlotte. They eat, drink, mingle, and plan electoral victory in November. The party’s grandees are closer to the people than they normally are, and those that oppose them are keen to take advantage.
Two groups with very different agendas have made their voices heard today. A few dozen Occupy protesters walked the streets of Charlotte center city. What did they want? “Free Bradley Manning, Arrest Barack Obama.” How did they feel about about the DNC? “Bush, Obama, Same Old Drama.” The Occupiers spent the afternoon hemmed in on three sides by police, who at all times outnumbered them.
Just a few blocks away, a group of religious fundamentalists denounced abortion as murder and homosexual sodomy as an offence to God. They held graphic images of aborted fetuses and their message was amplified by a strong speaker system.
Surrounding them were a few hundred pink-clad supporters of Planned Parenthood, who did their best to ignore the unpleasant spectacle. One gentlemen peacefully opposed the anti-abortionists by asking passers by to “give a gay boy a hug” and was rewarded with sustained invective. There was no police presence whatsoever.
And rightly so. The United States is a democracy, and even hate is protected. What good is freedom of speech if it protects only those who agree with power?
So why then are anti-capitalist protesters intimidated by police wherever they go? In 2011, the city of New York spent an estimated $17 million policing the peaceful protests at Zuccotti Park. Today, the expense of hundreds of police observing the Occupy protest must easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. To what end?
Of the Occupy and the anti-abortion movements, there is one with a peaceful history, and one with a violent history. Yet the free expression of the Occupiers is met with police intimidation, and the same expression by the anti-abortionists is met by a benign indifference. Such is the state of free speech in Charlotte today.