Free Speech Means “Free,” Not “Until it Becomes Inconvenient”


Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a minor (major) addiction to ridiculous celebrity gossip. I read my celeb blogs before I read the real news. I don’t engage in that many forms of blatant escapism, but my gossip is one of those.

As per usual, I came in from work, turned on the A/C, dropped my groceries, and headed for the computer. I like to check my Facebook, gossips, and email before anyone else gets home and tries to hijack the computer. I have to say, I was rather surprised to find a picture of Daryl Hannah in handcuffs staring back at me from the “front page” of People.

I liked Daryl in “Kill Bill,” but that’s about as far as my knowledge of her as actress goes. I think I saw her in some 80’s movie, but it was forgettable, and her acting was cringe-worthy. But I digress. The point is that I was somewhat surprised to find that she’d been arrested for protesting in front of the White House.

I have read through three articles now, all of them short. In a nutshell, Hannah and others were protesting outside of a gate in front of the White House. The reason? There is a pipeline being built from Canada to the US Gulf Coast called the Keystone XL. It would appear, based on the articles, that the protest was environmentally-motivated and, according to Hannah, was attended by mostly “moms, grandmothers, and school teachers.” None of the articles have indicated that the protesters were being in any way violent. None of them have yet indicated the formal reason for the arrest.

Of course, we all know what the unofficial reason for the arrest is: the group was protesting, and let’s face it, cops hate protesters. Truthfully, in my experience, cops hate just about everything that can’t be directly controlled by them in some way. Now, I’m sure the police will come up with some excuse, such as “obstructing the sidewalk” or “noise violation” or perhaps “being a public nuisance.” It has happened to friends of mine and friends of theirs, and I’m sure it will continue to happen. But should it?

I will freely admit that I don’t know much of anything about this Keystone pipeline. Fortunately, I’m not writing this to debate about the pipeline itself. That can be accomplished another time. What I do care about is the fact that people are being arrested – implicitly or explicitly – for exercising their right to free speech.

I would be willing to bet that a lot of people think protesters are a nuisance. That’s probably because they are. But you know what? So is free speech. Don’t you just hate it when someone tells you where to go? Don’t you hate it when people tell you things that you don’t really want to hear? But isn’t it exceptionally satisfying when you get to spout off to everyone or tell the guy who just cut you off to politely accept your boot in his behind?

While these are trivial examples, they illustrate a larger picture. When the government or a person or group of persons tells us that we can’t say something somewhere just because they don’t want to hear it, it isn’t right. People have the right to their opinions, regardless of how obnoxious, ignorant, outdated, racist, strange, or environmentally (un)sound they might be.

By allowing the government to tell us when we can and can’t have an opinion, we’re also allowing them to tell us what opinions we can and can’t have. The scary thing about that is that we then find ourselves at the mercy of whatever regime or political party or individual is currently in power. If anyone has ever been to a country with a dictator, regardless of how benevolent he (sorry guys, they always seem to be men) is, most people won’t say anything against him for fear of what may happen.

Is that really what we want for the United States? Do we really want people to be afraid to say things just because the opinion or the place or the type of speech is not convenient for someone else? If we start limiting one person’s rights for arbitrary reasons, it would be downright foolish to think that the same rules couldn’t be turned back on us.

This seems to be one more case of the authorities attempting to abridge our rights without any cause. Although I am uncertain whether or not I would agree with these protesters, I am certain that I support their rights to assemble and protest, regardless of their motivations for doing so. In fact, I admire anyone who is willing to risk arrest – because let’s face it, if you do anything that is even mildly disobedient anymore, you’re risking arrest – for something in which they believe.

Free speech has long been one of the definitive attributes of American society. We all need to do our part to make sure that we aren’t just paying lip service to something we have allowed, through negligence and disinterest, to disappear.

For those who are interested, the People online still seems to have the most informative article. Here is the link:
http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2011/08/30/actress-daryl-hannah-arrested-at-white-house-protest/?test=faces

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About The Lady Libertarian
I am American, currently expatriated but hopeful about getting back home one of these days. Besides reading and writing about politics, I enjoy camping, sailing, canoeing, making pie, and traveling. I hope you'll enjoy this blog and find it informative and accessible.

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